The Scar

Middle has a scar on his cheek. He got it in the spring, when he had a fall biking home one evening from soccer. Sometimes when I look at it I find myself back on the road, biking with the spouse and Little in front of me, and Middle behind me. Then I hear a crash and a scream, and I brake my bike swiftly, and look around to see him lying on the road. I get off my bike, but my limbs seem to be moving through water and it takes seemingly hours to disentangle them. I run back to him, still lying next to his bike, and as I run, I see a car approaching him from behind. My heart leaps in my throat. The car has time and room to pass, and I lift my boy and carry him to the sidewalk. The spouse runs to get the bike. Middle sobs on the sidewalk. There is blood on his cheek and his leg, and he is clutching his arm.

We get into coping-parent mode, and decide I will take him to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for X-rays, in the car-share car. Luckily there is a Vrtucar parked about 200 m from the accident. I stop off at home, for snacks and drinks and books and a blanket, because I am experienced in the ways of CHEO and know what I will need in the emergency room. We get to the hospital, he is registered, and finally I can sit with my arms around my boy and the blanket around both of us. Then the images come back, and I am seeing him on the road again, with the car bearing down on us, and I’m trying not to cry. What if? What if that car had been right behind him when he fell?

His arm was not broken and neither was his cheekbone. The scrape on his cheek didn’t look deep at the time, but still it left a scar. The doctor who examined him asked me several times whether he was wearing his helmet. Yes, yes, of course, but that is not the question, I kept thinking. The question you need to ask is, what sort of infrastructure was he biking on? That would yield you some useful data. But I didn’t say any of this.

He was biking on North River Road south of Montreal Road. There was little traffic and there was no collision with another vehicle. His wheel hit something in the road a bit askew and suddenly he was off his bike. There is no painted or segregated bike lane there. Usually on the way home from soccer we would all be biking on the Rideau River Eastern Pathway, a National Capital Commission multi-user path. It’s a lovely safe route right along the river, well away from the road over most of its length, and the children have been cycling there since they learned to ride. It’s our route to the wider world spring, summer and fall.

It was a very wet spring in Ottawa, and the path was closed because of flooding. Earlier that day I had seen lots of bike traffic on that stretch of road, including our very own city councillor biking to work. I thought to myself then that it might be a good idea to put out some pylons to make a temporary separate path for the cyclists on the road. All over Ottawa this spring, while the MUPs were flooded, so many cyclists were forced onto roads. I don’t think temporary segregated lanes were provided on any of those roads.

I recently read that a (segregated, protected) cycle track along a road is one ninth as dangerous for cyclists as a road with no marked cycle lane at all. That statistic is one good reason to keep asking for safe transportation infrastructure for all, including children. A lot of my motivation for bike advocacy is based on statistics. There is a good solid evidence-based case for why safe cities are better, and cheaper, for us all. But now, in addition, I remember that feeling, the feeling as I looked up and saw 2 tons of metal bearing down on my own child.

I didn’t cry at the hospital. I held it together and took my boy home and was in bed by 1 a.m. Then I cried. I wept my fear and terror into the spouse’s shoulder. I know now that I did not weep it all out that night. Every time I see the scar on Middle’s cheek, the fear is back. Please make the city safe for all. Please.

Back-to-school Baguette

Back-to-school Baguette


I’m spending part of this Labour Day baking baguettes. It’s a cool and rainy day and tolerable to have the oven on. I’m glad to have a bit of baking therapy to help me get over the back-to-school anxiety pervading the house. And this way the sandwiches on the first day of school will be amazing.

On our summer holiday this year we spent a few days in Quebec City. One day we walked all over the Plains of Abraham, the fort and the old city. (Thank you, National Battlefields Commission, for such an informative website about the whole struggle for Quebec, and not just the battle on September 13, 1759. And I learned a new word: justaucorps, the long fitted eighteenth-century coat.)

We paused for lunch in the glorious Jardin des Gouverneurs, overlooking the St. Lawrence, with a big monument to Wolfe and Montcalm, the victor and the vanquished.

20170817_124101We bought our lunch at a little grocery store nearby. The non-celiacs had baguette with ham and cheese, reportedly absolutely delicious. I promised the family then that I would make baguette in time for the first day of school. This week I stocked up on ham and Jarlsberg, and here I am baking the bread.

One piece of specialized equipment can be used here: the baguette pan. You can also make your own out of several layers of aluminum foil (more relaxing handwork) or just bake the loaves on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. They will spread a bit that way, but still be delicious. 20160422_143831

The recipe is from my old favourite, Kneadlessly Simple. As with all the recipes in that book, you start the day before by mixing up the sponge so that it can rise overnight. The dough could not be simpler to mix up. Then, the next day there is a certain amount of forming and shaping. This is where the anxiety-calming occurs: sprinkling a handful of flour over the pieces of dough, forming rectangles, folding and rolling, and finally slitting the narrow loaves with a sharp knife. I’ve made this bread enough times that I can feel when the dough is the right texture and it’s somehow comforting to know this with my body rather than my brain.

Here is the basic recipe. I always double it since the children can eat a batch in the wink of an eye.


3 1/4 cups white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast
1 1/2 cups cold water, or a bit more


Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix (with a wooden spoon or dough whisk) until spongy but still quite firm. Add a bit more water if the dough is too floury. Cover with a silicone mat and leave overnight to rise.

The next day, the dough will look quite wet with little bubbles on top. Scatter a handful of flour over the top and massage it into the bread. As the dough becomes less wet, start kneading it with one hand (leaving the other hand clean for touching your tap or knives or whatever). When it feels dry and squishy and springy, dump it out onto a silicone mat with a little flour dusted on it. Cut the lump of dough in two and leave it alone for ten minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and make shaping easier. 20160422_143827

In the meantime, oil your nifty french bread pan or whatever pan you are using.

After ten minutes, start shaping your dough. Push it into a rectangle about the shape of a piece of paper and fold it in thirds as if you were folding a letter. Then make it into the same size of rectangle, but this time roll it along the long side so that you have a sort of snake. Pinch the edges well together and continue rolling your snake until it’s the same length as your loaf pan. Put the snake in the loaf pan and slash the tops diagonally three or four times with a serrated knife. Admire the professional effect.


Allow to rise for 45 minutes to two hours, whatever works best for your schedule. About 20 minutes before you want to bake, put a broiler pan or cookie sheet in the bottom of your oven and turn it on to 500°F.

When the oven is hot, spray the loaves with water and put the pan towards the back of the oven. I use the middle rack, but a lower rack may work better in your oven. Carefully pour 1 cup of cold water into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. Shut the door quickly to capture the steam. Turn the oven down to 475°F.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, and then remove the pan from the oven. The loaves will look somewhat solid and slightly coloured. Using a palette knife or thin spatula, loosen the loaves and slide them onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. Put back in the oven for 6-8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 4-6 minutes. These times are a bit approximate and will depend on your oven.

Then remove your glorious loaves and allow them to cool. I will guard mine until it’s time for the lunches to be made.





Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The OCDSB has, in two recent decisions, decided to sentence all high school age children in Overbrook and Vanier to a bus commute to a suburban school, Gloucester High School. On March 7, the board voted to close Rideau High School, after vigourous opposition from the community. This decision ensures that all children in the English stream in Overbrook and Vanier would be sent to Gloucester High School. I wrote a letter after their initial vote and attended the meeting at which the final vote was taken. An excerpt from my letter:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with your vote to close Rideau High School, and to urge you to change your vote the next time around.
Rideau High School serves a very special community within Ottawa. It has a high number of indigenous and Inuit students, as well as a high proportion of new Canadians. The programs that are in place there work well and there is no compelling argument that setting them up again at a school that is further away will provide any improvement. 
There is significant evidence to suggest that students in need do better at smaller schools. A growing body of research shows that it is particularly important for students in high school to have physical activity built into their day. Walking or cycling to Rideau High currently provides at least part of that. Gloucester High School is not at all a pleasant place to cycle to, and putting high school students on buses will not improve their mental or physical health. 
I understand the point that Rideau High School is underpopulated at the moment. I have seen no evidence of creative problem-solving on the part of the board to deal with this issue. Closing the school seems to be a very blunt instrument; in recent years, Viscount Alexander was also under threat of closure and has seen something of a Renaissance once a French immersion program was introduced there. 
Last night saw me again at the headquarters of the OCDSB on Greenbank Road. (I booked a Vrtucar; because I got home at 10, the spouse returned it so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. How jolly it will be to book a car every time I need to get the children’s high school: read on).

Our school trustee made the following motion:

Trustee Ellis has given notice that he intends to move as follows at the Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 21 March 2017:

Therefore be it resolved:

A. THAT starting in the school year 2017-2018, grade nine students residing in the York Street Public School grade 7 to 8 English attendance boundary east of the Rideau River, and south of Beechwood and Hemlock be directed to LisgarCollegiate Institute (see attached map);

B. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, grade nine students residing in the Manor Park English attendance boundary (see attached map) be directed to Lisgar Collegiate Institute; and

C. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, Lisgar Collegiate Institute will accept grade nine students to the Gifted Congregated program if Lisgar Collegiate Institute is the closest high school offering that program to where the student resides. (This will create space for students from the above areas.)

I spoke in favour of the motion, noting that we live in Overbrook, 2.4 km from Lisgar, a safe and pleasant walk or bike ride for our grade 9 student.  Sending the children of Overbrook and Vanier to Gloucester would take them away from this reasonable commute and send them on to a very unsafe bike lane on Ogilvie, or more likely, the bus. We have no interest in sending our children to a suburban school, 5 km from our house, along an appallingly unsafe bike route, unprotected from vehicular traffic.  Here is some video of the bike lane on Ogilvie. The OCTranspo quick planner tells me that the route from my house to Gloucester High School involves 3 buses and would take 45 minutes (on good days when the connections work, of course).  There is also a two bus option taking 56 minutes. Friends in Vanier, living over 7 km from Gloucester High School, have a number of options, ranging from 38 to 56 minutes and two of those options involve 3 buses. My child can ride his bike to Lisgar in 10 minutes.
Several delegations spoke at last night’s meeting, and all were in favour of the motion. The board then voted against the motion. I am appalled that the board did so and now proposes to send all students from some of the poorest areas in Ottawa to a suburban school. Two other high schools are closer to my house than Gloucester: Glebe and Hillcrest.
Study after study has shown that the best outcomes for children occur when active transportation is built into their day. Further studies have shown that walkable neighbourhoods have more social capital. The school board seems to be disregarding recent social studies research in its decisions, to say the least. I thought the Prime Minister said when he was sworn in that we were in a new age of evidence-based decision making. The PM has no sway at the OCDSB, of course, although if his children went to high school in that board they would be going to Lisgar.
We bought a house about 3 km from Parliament Hill so that we could raise our children in an urban environment. We have endured the bussing during elementary school from our house to Manor Park PS with the expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel come high school. The board’s decision ensures that no child in French Immersion living in Ottawa or Vanier can walk or bike to school DURING THEIR ENTIRE SCHOOL CAREER FROM JK TO GRADE 12. I am enraged. Please excuse the yelling.
My fury is not abated by the fact that a neighbourhood significantly further away from Lisgar than ours, Lindenlea-New Edinburgh-Rockcliffe Park, continues to be able to send its children to Lisgar. Lisgar is much more my neighbourhood high school than it is theirs. If I lived in Lindenlea, my house would be about 4.8 km from Lisgar and an 18-minute bike ride. I can only conclude that the school board continues to draw its boundaries along class lines.
I turned to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study for more information. Their website notes: We are a team that brings together the University of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, local Community Health & Resource Centres, Ottawa Public Health, United Way/Centraide Ottawa, The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, and other community-based partners. Our goal is to better understand the neighbourhoods in which we live, work and play in order to offer evidence about the dimensions that are important for community health and well-being. We also provide the City of Ottawa, health service providers, social service agencies, community organizations and residents with information on 107 neighbourhoods in Ottawa in order to help them to identify what is working well, and where community development is needed.
The survey provides the following information. The percentage of the population in the bottom half of the Canadian income distribution is 61.9 % for Overbrook-McArthur; 53.9% for Vanier North; 22.4% for Rockcliffe Park; and 25.6 % for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The average percentage for Ottawa is 35.3%. Furthermore, median income after taxes is $25117 for Overbrook-McArthur; $28848 for Vanier North; $43788 for Rockcliffe Park; and $46050 for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh. The average median income for all of Ottawa is $35554.90.
I am not arguing that the residents of Rockcliffe Park etc. should stop sending their children to Lisgar. The bus routes from those neighbourhoods to Gloucester High School are similarly daft. I am pointing out the injustice that the children of  Overbrook and Vanier,who live much closer to Lisgar, and whose families are much less able to weather the extra expense and strain of having children attending a school much further away, are being shifted before those in wealthy neighbourhoods who live further away from Lisgar.
The school board is using the French Immersion children of Overbrook and Vanier in order to bolster an already bad decision to close Rideau High School. The board needs to show high levels of enrolment at Gloucester for next year in order to be able to pronounce the closure a success. This is a face-saving, self-serving exercise and is bad for the children of my neighbourhood.
Overbrook and Vanier children need to be able to use active transportation to get to school, and would benefit immensely from the Lisgar environment. The school board appears to be set on a series of policies (the closure of Rideau High School and now this) that would hollow out an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood that needs all the help it can get. This is not the way to plan for a successful future for our community.
The reason that the board is drawing the boundary this way is that residents of wealthier neighbourhoods have better contacts, more social capital, more time to spend on activism and are more adroit at navigating administrative systems. The poor cannot do this so well. The OCDSB does not want a posse of Lindenlea parents screaming bloody murder. I am an Overbrook resident with a lot of social capital myself, so watch me: BLOODY MURDER.

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

It’s a chilly day in February and about a year since we adopted a life without owning a car. This morning Little and Middle put on snowsuits, boots, ski mitts and balaclavas and went off to catch the schoolbus, chatting. The spouse and I walked together as far as the Rideau Canal (a bit over 2 km) and then I kissed him and walked home again. As we were walking, the teenager passed us, cycling on the winter bike, on his way to high school. Just another normal winter day.

Last week the wind chill was -28 and on Sunday 28 cm of snow fell here in Ottawa.It was this part of the year that most made us hesitate when we were considering giving up the car. It can be brutal.

But it turns out that it really is not difficult at all, and we love having no car.I am delighted every time I see the empty driveway and realize once again that oil changes have no power over me any longer.

Just because we have no car doesn’t mean we never drive. It’s just that driving is now for special occasions and there is a faintly festive air to it. We joined a car-sharing service about a year ago and if I need to do errands that take me far away or to places that are dangerous to bike to, I book a car and walk to the car-sharing station to pick it up. This is the first part of the new normal that makes me think of 1928; novels of that vintage are always having the manservant garaging the car, often in a rented space in a mewsnearby, and then getting it out again when the master wants the motor. Bunter did it for Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. The difference for us is the sad lack of servants in the slow lane.

The closest car-share station is about 1 km away, which initially I found a bit far to go to get a car. It’s about a fifteen minute walk. I got used to it quickly and now I love that there are two walks built into every car journey. The children are quite accustomed to the walk as well and recently Little remarked that we were lucky that the car was so close. Our nearest car is a Toyota Yaris; it’s a very nimble little car and reminds me of our late lamented Tercel. I can park in the tiniest space and the trunk space seems enormous, especially in comparison to a pair of panniers, my usual cargo solution. We booked an SUV for the trek out to the countryside before Christmas to cut down the tree. Now that was luxury, and the tree farm was gorgeous.


Friends and family sometimes offer us their cars when they go on holiday, to our mutual benefit. Their car gets driven occasionally, keeping the battery topped up in our vicious winters, and I am spared the chilly walk to the carshare.

For camping holidays  and to visit family in Toronto we rent a car. The first time we rented we had our eyes opened by the incredible luxury of modern car design. USB plugs! Heated seats! Backup cameras! Back when we bought out last car in 2007, such things were not available, or at least not in the Mazda5.  The best van for camping was a Chrysler Town and Country; we got three tents and associated junk into it without much effort. Note to self: the Ford Flex is a reverse Tardis. It looks huge on the outside and is a beast to park, and the interior has strangely little useable space. When we rent a vehicle, we enjoy the treat of the tons of room and millions of cupholders and return it with thanks at the end of the holiday. camping

The other solution that involves driving is to have things delivered, instead of us running errands in the car. Our pharmacy, in Old Ottawa East, makes deliveries. We get our vegetables from a local supplier and those too are delivered. This is an especial blessing in the winter when lettuce fetched on foot is liable to freeze. Online grocery-shopping in Ottawa is not that useful yet. It tends to be expensive and to offer foods that I never actually buy. Having food and medicine delivered seems delightfully old-fashioned and reminds me of accounts in novels, again, of the butcher’s boy coming on his bicycle or the milk float arriving early in the morning. Remember Father Christmas encountering the milkman in the Raymond Briggs book? Of course all these literary references to a less car-dependent time are grounded in actual fact.

A sort of delivery that in no way is reminiscent of 1928 is e-commerce. More and more I am liable to order things online. Instead of making the trek out to Westboro I can get Mountain Equipment Co-op to deliver for free if the order is over $50. I just save up the order until it’s that much. I try to buy local as much as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t work, as with the recent hanky purchase.

Now to the nitty-gritty. Even with all this renting and car-sharing, we spend less than we would if we owned a car. The total cost of car-share last year was $878.39. Gas is included in the per kilometre charge we pay. Insurance is covered by our credit card insurance. That was with me not skimping, getting a car whenever I thought I needed one, and frequent drives on orthodontist days out to Orleans (about a 40 km round trip). The amount spent on rental cars and gas last year was $1,382.25. All that driving occurred on vacation. Along with the car-share that means auto costs for 2016 were $2260.64. The amount spent on the car, car insurance  and fuel in 2015 was $4136.06. That is a difference of $1875.42. This year I am more used to being car-free and aim to reduce my use of the car-share. Mercifully the orthodontist visits are over for now.

Of course, one of the reasons that had us giving up owning a car was that the Mazda 5 was starting to show its age. Expensive work on the suspension was looming. Buying a new car was just around the corner. If we had bought another Mazda 5 GT in January 2017, and we did like it as a car, that would have cost us about $28, 000. Another car loan — no thanks.

Often we feel like we are cheating and not really doing the genuine car-free thing since our access to a car when we need one is so easy. If we were really hard-core we would never drive anywhere. That’s not quite possible for us in Ottawa yet. More on that later….


Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Two years ago, we decided to splash out and buy new lunchboxes. The old ones were smelly, stained, creased and too small, and that was after one year of use. We had experimented with metal ones, but they were poorly made and the rivets popped or the clasps broke. Surely there must be some sort of lunchbox that was made to last, to be bashed around, and that would survive the numerous yoghurt explosions that seem to be our lot.

And then I found the perfect thing: made in Canada to last 30 years. The Miner’s Lunchbox was invented by Leo May, a miner at INCO in Sudbury, Ontario. He wanted a lunchbox he could sit on. I’m not sure our children have ever done that, but their lunchboxes do get hard wear. The lunchboxes have been made in Sudbury ever since 1956 and at one point almost all of INCO’s miners had a lunchbox from L. May Mfg. I ordered one red anodized version and one bubblegum pink version from They are not cheap; at that time they cost $65 each, plus shipping. They have been worth it a thousand times. OK, possibly not literally, since $13o, 000 for two lunchboxes would be a bit steep.20160905_185724

They are now beginning their third year and look only slightly worn. In that time, I would have bought at least two more soft-shell lunchboxes, which I would have washed by hand and then waited for them to dry at their usual achingly slow pace. The carrots would have left marks on the inside and the split yoghurt would have made the zipper edges stinky. Now, no matter what disaster comes home in those miners’ lunchboxes, I just wash them with the dishes, and they drip dry in two minutes, all ready for the children to fill them again.

And now the best part: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of packed lunches I have made for children. One reason is that we are mean slave-driving parents who have the children make their own lunches from grade two onwards. They have to pack a vegetable, a fruit, a starch and a protein, and otherwise the choice is theirs. Since it’s the first week, they are allowed to take a pudding as well. One of them packs the exact same thing every day. The other two love taking leftovers, veggies and dip and a wide variety of fruit.

The other reason is that I was raised in a household where my dad made the lunches. I can still remember the taste of slightly soggy cookies, wrapped up in wax paper along with a salami sandwich, and bearing the perfume of that same salami. We had to make our lunches starting in grade seven, and packed them in manila envelopes. My mother got a lot of manuscripts in the mail at that time, and I often ate my lunch out of a big UNESCO envelope.

I emerged from the parental home with the firm belief that women do not pack lunches. When I moved in with the spouse, we made a bargain that he would make the lunches until the end of time, and I would do all the ironing to the end of time. It’s 23  years later, and we’re still happy with the arrangement. Unfortunately, my equally firm belief that women do not vacuum or go grocery-shopping did not survive.


Dear Adam van Koeverden

Dear Adam van Koeverden

I recently saw you race your last Olympic race. I always forget how fast you are, and how totally earnest and Canadian you are in interviews. I remember you racing in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. I was in the hospital after giving birth to my third child, our daughter. I watched you in the middle of the night, while I was feeding her. I had never bothered to get a TV in my room when I had the boys, but they were not born during the Olympics. It was totally blissful to have mandated time in bed and nothing to do except look after one baby (the two-year-old  and six-year-old were safely at home with Dad) and watch Olympics.

I remember that there was something in that Olympics about you not doing as well as expected in one of your races, but that is very vague in my mind. What is very clear is an image of you in your boat, racing like the dickens, the picture of health and capability, and let’s face it, good-looking like crazy. I initially felt envious, like you were capable of so much more than I. I also felt surprised that I was able to appreciate your physical beauty not long after a Caesarean section. There was still life in me yet, it seemed. I felt the opposite of capable, with a wound in my abdomen. This was my second C-section. You see, it turns out that when I am pregnant, my pelvis separates, front and back. All three times. My first labour exacerbated the damage, because it lasted 52 hours. I had 9 months of physio, and had another baby boy three years later, by C-section to bypass the pelvis. After that pregnancy, I had 16 months of physio. Our baby girl was born 33 months after our second boy. I had a year of physio, and that was the last baby.

I lay there in my bed, feeding my baby and feeling totally battered. One sweats a lot after giving birth, and I was really itchy after the drugs they gave me for the C-section. I felt lumpish, and could barely walk, and I looked upon you as someone almost from a different species.

But then I realized that our project was really the same: to do something that was not easy for the human body to do, and to keep doing it even though it hurt. I realized that the human body was astonishing in its capabilities, and that your body and my body and the body of my little girl shared that quality. You helped me realize that, and I want to say thank you. I too am super-earnest and Canadian.

The Pink Quilt

The Pink Quilt

It’s finished! Almost a year after I bought the fabric, the pink quilt for Little is finally done. This is my second quilt. The first one was blue and I made it for the teenager out of his father’s old dress shirts and two sheets.


My quilting journey began in the Ottawa Public Library. I was browsing in the the knitting section and not finding anything new, when I saw on the next shelf a book called The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking by Jane Brocket. The colourful quilts caught my eye and I took it out to have a look. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, I’m never going to be one of those crazy stay-at-home mums who makes quilts.” Hahaha. Jane Brocket’s message is that you don’t have to be the best seamstress in the world, but if you have the urge to create, you should go for it and perfection be hanged. Since I am a recovering perfectionist, I took the bait. In my further reading about quilting, I found that the instructions that began “cut 1024 2 1/2″ squares out of fabric A” did not appeal.

I like the peacefulness of sewing by hand, and so that first quilt was hand-pieced and hand-quilted. It took about 18 months. The time of day when I actually sit down is in the evening, during what we call Mummy and Daddy hour. When the children are in bed, and the work is done, our rule (and haven) is that we spend at least an hour together in the evening, chatting or watching Netflix. Both hand-sewing and knitting are ideal activities for that hour: relaxing but not distracting.

As soon as the blue quilt was done, Little started wishing for a quilt of her own. We looked at lots of images of quilts on Google, and she was inspired by one with lots of pink and blue and red. On a hunch, I got in touch with my friend Kate Austin, an immensely talented artist. Yes, Kate had scraps for me to look at on my next visit to Toronto. That was the nicest shopping expedition ever: cup of tea, gorgeous fabric, and hanging out with Kate and her two adorable sons. I came home with about 90 squares of fabric samples from Kate’s page on Spoonflower. Little laid our her quilt at home the very next day.


I then ironed all the squares (luckily, I like ironing) and pinned them all into rows before putting them in separate bags so I wouldn’t get mixed up. Then the piecing began, this time by machine. I’ve always been a little cautious around sewing machines, since the speed and noise make me nervous. I like activities to be slow, and quiet to silent. Piecing 80 squares together helped me get over an shyness of my sewing machine admirably. The piecing was done last August, but September is the start of my Christmas knitting season and I had a big blanket in the works for one of my sisters and her family.

Work on the quilt resumed in the new year. I trimmed all the edges and ironed them all flat, then made the quilt sandwich: Backing fabric face down, then organic cotton batting bought from Sew Sisters, then the quilt top, face up. I remember not enjoying this task with the blue quilt but Little helped me this time and it went fast. For the backing, I used a sheet with a pretty busy print so that all the pink quilting thread wouldn’t be that obvious. 20160217_161950

Then one evening I armed myself with my needle (a size 9 between, if you please), the quilt sandwich, pink hand-quilting thread and a thimble. Every evening I could, I quilted each individual square according to its own pattern. I really got to know the quilt this way, and grew to love some of the patterns that I had never really paid much attention to while I was piecing. I had liked the small all-over patterns on the page, so to speak, but when it came to quilting the bolder patterns insinuated themselves into my heart. Since I was never quilting the same designs consecutively, the work remained interesting. I was glad that I was friends with the designer, since I felt a bond with her while I was quilting; it was as if we were working on it together. One thing about hand-quilting: the soundtrack of the process is “where the bleep is my bleeping thimble?” I was always losing track of it.

Slowly the number of quilted squares grew. Once I was done the quilting process, binding began. Little had requested that the backing be the binding fabric as well, and she wanted the top striped border of the sheet incorporated into the design. Endless fiddling on the ironing board ensued, and I pinned and repinned the binding and especially the corners. I decided not to do mitred corners as I had on the blue quilt, but rather folded over ones since they seemed to suit the quilt better. After two evenings of hand-sewing, the quilt was bound.

One member of the household who took a special interest in this project was Georgia the cat. Quilting books often have pictures of cats on the quilt tops and Georgia was no more impervious than any other member of her species. She lay on the quilt while we were laying it out; she lay on the parts while I was piecing it; she lay on it every chance she could get while I was quilting it. That is one really excellent way to get boiling hot: sit under a quilt that you are working on and have the cat come and sit on top of you. She added an extra layer of cosiness to what was already a pretty cosy project: making a quilt for my daughter out of fabric designed by an old friend, with my husband at my side.

Little is delighted, and has been sleeping under the quilt for the last week. I am already planning the next quilt (theme: birds), for Middle.