Amy (old posts, page 15)

Toys for Babies

There will come a day, probably when your baby is around five or six months, that she will no longer be amused by brightly coloured or pastel coloured, hard or squishy baby toys. No matter how novel they are, your baby will somehow be able to detect that they are intended for her, and as such she will turn her little baby nose up at them, especially when you particularly want her to be quietly absorbed in something, like when you're at a restaurant or on a plane.

It is at those times that you will have to resort to baby toys that aren't. Fortunately there are plenty of them, and anyone who has had a baby for a while has a few tricks up their sleeve.

In Your Bag

Keys, of course, are classic. They jingle, there are lots of different and interesting textures, they are cold and hard on itchy teething gums, and it doesn't matter if you slobber all over them. Provided you clean them off before you give them to the baby.

Credit cards (or perhaps more sensibly, loyalty cards or something else you can easily replace) are nice too. They're a good size and weight to hold on to, and they have those interesting embossed letters on them.

Water bottles -- for some reason babies love water bottles. Both Cordelia and Delphine played with them for hours! Well, minutes, which are like hours in baby years.

In Your Kitchen

The kitchen is packed with interesting things to chew on. Wooden spoons are great -- you hardly ever see baby toys made of wood, so it's probably a new and exciting texture for your baby. Teaspoons are nice, too -- smooth and hard and shiny. Delphine really liked a silicone spatula, and Cordelia amused herself for half-an-hour the other day with a bright red silicone basting brush. It must have felt so interesting in her mouth, all those little soft silicone bristles.

Measuring cups and small bowls are fun too, especially when you drop them on the floor and they make a spectacular rang-tang-tanging noise. (Unless you have a baby who startles easily, in which case she will probably scare herself and cry and cry.)

I had a surprise hit the other day with one of those mesh bags you wash your bras in -- Cordelia sucked it, she chewed it, she stuffed it in her mouth and pulled it out again (it was like a magic trick), she found the label and chewed on that. No end of amusement!

In Your Living Room

Okay, there's not much in here -- you don't want your kid playing with your CDs or chewing your books. But there is one thing that every baby covets: the remote control. And don't try and buy one of those brightly coloured fake-o toy remotes, either, your kid is too smart for that. She wants the real thing! The only hope is to find an old remote that doesn't work any more, take out the batteries and make sure none of the bits are going to come off, and let her have it.

In Your Bedroom

Hairbrushes and combs keep Cordelia amused while I change her diaper, and sometimes when I'm desperate I give her a lotion bottle for a few moments (after checking that the lid is secure.)

Fabric is fun for babies; I have had success with a lovely pair of brightly printed silk boxer shorts (sorry Blake). Silk is especially good for a baby who is just beginning to grip, because it is incredibly light and easy to get a grip on. Cordelia seems to enjoy the texture of a wet or dry facecloth.

The bottom line is, don't feel that you have to limit your baby to baby toys. You can give her any old thing provided it's reasonably clean, and that it's not going to break up into chokeable or sharp pieces. Use your common sense, and you and your baby will be quietly amused for, well, minutes.

Lazy Man's Homemade Ice Cream

Put some frozen blueberries in a bowl. (I like Europe's Best if you can get them.) Pour in just enough whipping cream to almost cover the berries. Wait a few seconds and the berries will freeze the cream -- voila, quick frosty goodness that's almost good for you!

God's Own Chocolate Cake

This is the world's best chocolate cake recipe -- it's really easy, it always comes out moist and rich and delicious, and best of all it calls for cocoa powder, which I always have in the house, not unsweetened chocolate, which I never have. Use the leftover buttermilk to make pancakes.

Cocoa Fudge Cake
from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1969 Edition

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups buttermilk
½ cup shortening
2 eggs (1/3 to ½ cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour baking pan, 13x9x2 inches, or 2 round layer pans, 8 or 9x1½ inches.

Measure all ingredients into large mixer bowl. Blend ½ minute on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan(s).

Bake oblong 35 to 40 minutes, layers 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool.

If desired (!), frost cake.

Cocoa Butter Frosting
from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1969 Edition

Here's a frosting recipe I've used, with similarly excellent results.

1/3 cup soft butter
1/3 cup cocoa
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
About 2 tablespoons milk

Mix thoroughly butter and cocoa. Blend in sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk; beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.

Fills and frosts two 8- or 9-inch layers or frosts a 13x9 inch cake.


Why is it that we have three thousand different pens and pencils of varying styles and manufacturers in this house, but only two good ones? One of which is at all times attached to last week's cryptic crossword?

Urbane and Mellow

One of the things -- one of the many things -- I love about this condo is that it's right on a major street, so when I open the windows the sounds of the city come into my living room. Traffic, sirens, the "beep, beep, beep" of a truck backing up, people shouting to their friends... crazy people yelling, the odd car crash. To most people, I guess, this doesn't sound so hot, but I like the feeling of being in the middle of something without having to actually leave the house.

Today a lone saxophonist plays on the corner outside Starbucks, adding an urbane, mellow touch to the sunny afternoon soundscape.


I finally posted some pictures in the gallery, here. Enjoy!

Oh, and Jillian, Jillian Arnott, if you are out there, please email me. I don't have your email address and I miss you!

Renovation: One Week Down

We're one week into the reno, and the dust is flying. The electrical is almost done; we are replacing all the old knob-and-tube wiring with the modern stuff, putting in mostly new light fixtures and light switches in sensible places, instead of three feet into the bedroom, or behind the far door to the dining room, or just nowhere at all in Delphine's room. (She had one of those bank-pen-chain pull switches that she didn't have a hope of reaching for another ten years.)

On the main floor, where most of the big changes are happening, the demolition is nearly complete. They have taken down all the walls except that between the kitchen and the dining room, and that which defines the front hall (and keeps the drafts out). They've taken out the old cabinet in the kitchen, the sink and its cabinet, and the old gnarly linoleum tiles and subfloor. They've cut and framed a hole between the kitchen and the dining room, which is going to be finished with some trim salvaged from the original arch between the dining room and the living room. The only demolition which remains to be done is taking up the hardwood in the front hall (we are going to put in vintage-style black and white mosaic tile instead).

Next week the inspector is coming in for the electrical, and then they will patch the walls and start painting upstairs. They are going to move the plumbing for the sink, and put in the vent for the range hood, and lay the new subfloor in the kitchen. It's been fun watching them tear the place apart, but I am really going to enjoy watching them put it back together.

We haven't been able, to the shock of no-one, to salvage and reuse as much as I originally thought we would. I said we would keep the cabinet in the kitchen but quickly changed my mind when I realized how much I like runners on my drawers, and base cabinets that don't go all the way to the floor, and not having huge frames in the way of my stuff, and maybe upper cabinets that are deep enough to store a dinner plate. I got rid of the metal trim on the counter because Jillian's right, it's a total pain to keep clean. I got rid of the stove because there's just no way to make an ancient electric stove into a modern gas stove. I got rid of the cabinet for the sink because again, I wanted to get rid of the frames and have more versatile cabinetry (we are putting a bunch of drawers under the sink cabinet).

I haven't even kept many light fixtures; I kept the pretty fixtures in the girls' rooms, but almost all of the others are gone, with the exception of a gorgeous Nouveau fixture from the front hall which is too dim to be useful but which we will reuse somewhere where we don't need all that much light.

Ironically, we are ripping out a genuine vintage kitchen and replacing it with a vintage-inspired kitchen. Our cabinets are going to be Applad White which is flat-panel painted white, very much like the original cabinet. The floor is going to be Marmoleum in Caribbean, and the countertops will be Formica's Skylark Boomerang. Oh, and the paint is Benjamin Moore's Standish White, which almost exactly matches the floor. I am going to look for a vintage-style wallpaper to do a focal point, and maybe a cute fabric for a little curtain. Three more weeks to go!

Dead Insects

Some dude has figure out how to, um, harvest the insects he kills with his car and photograph them with a fancy microscope. The results are strangely compelling. (Cordelia says "flower!")

Not Sleeping, No Sir.

Well, it's four in the morning and I've been wide awake for at least three-quarters of an hour. I finally decided to stop lying in bed thinking the same five thoughts over and over, and creep down the world's creakiest stairs and make myself useful. I don't think I will be sleeping again tonight, and I know I'll regret it later this afternoon, but what can you do? This must be what it's like to be Baba, or my brother Dave.

We are less than a week from the start of "demolition", a rather grand name for clearing out the kitchen and taking down a couple of walls. I suppose removing the little porch from the back is pretty demolishy. It all begins on Monday, and in the intervening four days we need to clear as much stuff as we can out of the main floor, and set up a makeshift kitchen in the basement. In the next month we are going to become very familiar with what meals can and cannot be prepared with a microwave, a toaster oven, a kettle and a crock pot. I predict we will eat a lot of President's Choice frozen meals. And did you know they have microwave pizza? Yeah...

The girls and I will also become very familiar with places to hang out that are not home; Baba and Zaida's, the library, the ROM, the park (if spring ever comes), Tanya's place, the other library... It's going to be a bit of a pain in the ass, but I think the satisfaction of seeing the work progress day after day will make up for it, unlike the changeless agony of, say, trying to keep a condo clean and tidy while you're selling it.

The Reno Begins

We signed a contract for the reno last week, and now the work is beginning. The work, for now, is mostly just talking about what goes where and where to get stuff and what colours, and Blake and I have to buy lots of stuff; new light fixtures, appliances, a kitchen faucet, tiles for the backsplash and the front hall floor. It would be swell if we had a car right now.

We got a couple of quotes, one which was horrifyingly high and one which was alarmingly low. Fortunately the people who quoted low come highly recommended and they basically lowballed us, I think, because they like Blake's dad and because they know that we have years and years of work to do on this house and they want in on the ground floor, so to speak.

So this reno looks like this:

  • Kitchen:
    • new Marmoleum floor
    • new cabinets, probably from Ikea
    • big pass-through window to the dining room
    • new (gas!) stove
    • dishwasher (hallelujah!)
    • new fridge
    • funky Formica countertops
  • new electrical throughout, because we still have knob and tube almost everywhere
  • new light fixtures some places
  • knock out most of the walls on the main floor to make it more open, although I would stop short of calling it "open concept" because we'll still have a well-defined front hall and the kitchen will still be cut off by a wall, albeit a wall with a big pass-through window
  • replace the hardwood in the front hall with black and white mosaic tile in some cool retro pattern (we'll use the hardwood from the front hall to patch the holes from taking out the walls.)
  • New deck!

All in all it's a fairly small reno; we are not adding any rooms or messing with any outside walls. It is scheduled to take about a month, with the actual work beginning mid-March.

I am really excited; once the reno is done we will still have a crappy old house, but it will be a crappy old house with a really nice, functional kitchen and light switches in logical places, and I can deal with that!