Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Five starling day

This is the view from my kitchen window, the next door neighbour's roof.

See the chimney?

See the starlings sitting on the chimney?

I can pretty much tell how cold it is outside by counting the starlings huddled around the chimney for warmth.

This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago, it's just a 3-starling day. Today it is colder, it's a 5-starling day, and their feathers are all fluffed out.

On the coldest day so far I counted eight starlings sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on that chimney, so today's not so bad!

Christmas has come and gone, the highlight for me was Sam visiting for a week.

Here he is playing a game on his brother's iPod Touch, something he spent a lot of time doing when he was upstairs. When he was downstairs he played on the Wii with the kids.

We managed to get him out for a few walks, but mostly he said he just wanted to hang out and chill. So that's what he did.

I haven't taken a lot of pictures lately, and only downloaded the few that I had today. There were some photos from the trip to the Royal Winter Fair that Tristan and I did in November...

Kids and kids...

Gross pumpkin...

Kids and chicks...

Feeding the goats...

And this one that I had forgotten about. I don't remember exactly where this house was, but somewhere in our neighbourhood...

The emergency bike...

Oh yes, and this is Dobby thinking he's a lapdog...

I haven't been in much of a mood for writing here, nevermind taking photos. I don't see much prospect of the mood lifting anytime soon, so I'm afraid postings here are going to be sporadic at best for the time being.

Wish you all well in the new year!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who's on first, what's the score?

Canadian politics are getting out of hand, if I turn off the radio for even an hour or two, I miss the latest upheavals. Yesterday I spent half the day with the radio turned off, knitting and catching up on snail-mail, and apparently I missed the resignation of Stephan Dion, Bob Rae backing out of the Liberal leadership race, the de facto crowning of Michael Ignatieff as new Liberal leader, and some speech by Steven Harper exhorting everyone to work together. Of course once again he could not resist a bit of mudslinging in the process, this time aimed at the NDP.

This morning lying in bed gathering my courage to leap naked out of bed into the 12C air of my bedroom (the perils of older age, wearing PJs to bed runs the risk of seriously overheating during the night), I contemplated the almost daily momentous changes in the Canadian political landscape. What will today bring? Who's on first? When do the rest of us get to say something?

My brother described The Daily Show episode on the so-called Canadian Crisis to me over the phone, it sounded quite funny. How we were in the process of forcing our current leader out of office, and Jon Stewart asking, You can do this?!? 'Cause we gotta guy...

Anyway, it occurred to me that one of the fundamental differences between the American and Canadian systems is that once elected, Canadian MPs are required to vote the party line, while in the US elected Senators and Representatives are free to vote their conscience. For the most part this means voting the party line, but it does allow for forming temporary coalitions to get legislation through.

In Canada, legislators don't get to do that. Forming a Coalition is a Big Deal. But on another level I think it promotes (in Canada) a more vicious level of talking to or about each other. If you know that you will never have to negotiate a liaison with a member of the opposing party, then you are free to bad-mouth them as much as you want. But if you knew that one day in the future you might be obliged to cosy up to members of the opposing party in order to get your legislation through, you might be a little more circumspect in your insults.

Negative campaigning during elections seems to be a big part of American politics. It's catching on here too, but I have to say that my two weeks in the US during their election was a little disconcerting, it seemed like everybody hated everybody else. Maybe election-time is the only time American politicians get to vent their spleen, the rest of the time they have to mind their mouths in order to make their political system work.

A little bit of that here would be a Good Thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rally 'round the Coalition, boys and girls

Across Canada on December 6 were rallies for both the Conservative government and the Liberal-NDP Coalition. As to be expected, the bigger pro-Conservative rallies were in the west while the Coalition rallies predominated in the east. The perennial East-West split in this country (in addition to the Quebec/rest-of-Canada split).

We went to the Coalition rally at Toronto City Hall, on one of the colder days so far. Tristan got a lesson in parliamentary democracy (see Gretel's post about that here) and then prepared a sign for the rally. He came prepared to educate any who asked on what was going on with his props, two bottles full of red (Liberal), blue (Conservative), orange (NDP) and grey? (Bloc) painted macaronis, carefully counted and bottled to numerically represent the Government and the (Coalition) Loyal Opposition.

There was a large contingent of about-to-be-laid-off Canadian autoworkers (CAW) surrounding us in the large crowd. We could hardly see the stage where Mary Walsh presided and Stephan Dion and Jack Layton gave rousing speeches. When folks around us got excited and waved their signs, we saw nothing at all except signs and backs of heads, the iconic City Hall looming in the background.

This is a pic of the young activist in the making...

On the streetcar ride home I talked to a woman sitting behind me, visiting from Halifax. We agreed that while we supported the Coalition we did not really believe it would survive very long, that PM Harper has narrowly escaped an ignominious end, grace a the Gov-Gen Michaelle John.

I'm listening today to The Sunday Edition on CBC radio, which is totally focussed this week on what it all means. Who is in the right? Who is in the wrong? What's all the fuss about? The main thing I'm hearing is that never before have people all across the country been so up in arms about government. Too bad this didn't happen during the election in October! Politicians are receiving tons of messages from constituents about the situation, and it is a close call as to who is getting the most public support, the Government or the Coalition.

Another interesting thing that was said was that our form of government is not about majority rule, it is about parliamentary confidence. A minority can rule so long as they retain the confidence of the House. This is the issue that has everybody screwed up in knots here now.

Oh, and on a personal note? The hat and scarves in this picture are grace a moi and my amateur knitting needles...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Exciting times

Exciting times here in Canada. Long but excellent explanation of what's going on over at the Yarn Harlot. I quibble with a few of the definitions and details, and she definitely gives a biased opinion on the matter, but since I share her bias I'm not going to quibble too much on that. I have yet to hear an unbiased opinion from anyone, so I guess it's just not possible to sit on the fence on this one.

Within half an hour this post will be obsolete, the Prime Minister is or has just finished speaking with the GG about what to do next. I am hoping she (the GG) will refuse the PM's request to prorogue Parliament, effectively handing the government over to the new Coalition. However, this is a polarizing issue here, essentially western Canada supports the PM and eastern Canada supports the Coalition, with of course lots of exceptions at both ends of the country. But it is divisive and that is unfortunate.

One commentator I heard said that Harper is truly amazing, in his short career he has successfully united both the Right and the Left, something probably no politician in the world has ever achieved. Gotta hand it to the guy, impressive accomplishment!

Friday, November 28, 2008

More off-grid, kind of

Yet more drama on the phone/internet front. Huge cell phone bills attempting to get problem resolved. As it turns out, the issue is entirely with the ISP, even the bits of our internal system that failed can be put at their feet. They insisted it was our problem not theirs and we dutifully made changes to attempt to resolve "our" problem, only to end up screwing up a perfectly good system. Argh!

The worst of it was, tech support folks who said "do this, it will work for sure" and ended the call there (and of course "this" didn't work at all), and who promised to call back in a couple of hours and never did. Three times. Someone eventually did call back late last night but the household was in bed, exhausted from frustration and the contemplation of huge cell phone bills racked up troubleshooting a problem that wasn't ours in the first place.

We heard, via our friendly young dog walker, that others in the neighbourhood were going through exactly the same process, being assured by the same ISP that the system was just fine thank you, the problem must be with them, the customers. Also getting the same assurances of a callback within two hours and nothing happening.

So now the system appears to be functional, but trust is completely out the window.

Would that we could simply shop somewhere else!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Off-grid, kind of

A couple of days ago our ISP went down in our neighbourhood. Initially they said they had fixed it within the first day, but that turned out to be premature, they were still working on it late last night. Today it is fixed, we think.

Problem for us is, our phone service is VOIP. In order to make that work my son has created a complicated arrangement of modems and routers (involving many many many wires). When it works, it works beautifully, but when it doesn't, oh boy!

To compound the problem, my son is not only out-of-town but out-of-country on business, many time zones away. Not due to return for at least another ten days. He's the one who set up the system and really the only one who understands its intricacies.

The nice thing about living in a neighbourhood of small houses crowded together is that we have several overlapping wireless networks here, and some of our neighbours don't see the need for security. So we have been able to piggyback off our neighbours' internet service, in part because they get it from another provider. But that doesn't give us back our phone service. The ISP has resolved their problem, our modem is getting an internet signal, but it doesn't appear to be continuing on from the modem into the morass of routers and wires, we still don't have our phone service back.

So, here's the thing about VOIP. It's cheap and it works great when it works. The very few internet outages would be OK, but when it triggers a catastrophic failure of the complicated home system, an ISP glitch of maybe a few hours duration turns into several days of head-scratching and hair-pulling. I'm not so sure that that is worth it.

OK now, where does this wire go to...?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh joy oh joy

My copy of 45 Fine and Fanciful Hats has arrived! Can't tell you how excited and pleased I am to own it now.

Now I just have to find (at a price I can afford!) Magnificent Mittens...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Toronto obsession, The Fair

...Royal Winter, that is.

This is a bit late, the fair is over now, but here's a selection of postings (with pics!) about the Fair:

Scenes from the Fair (Gadzooks!)

Randomly on a Monday (the Yarn Harlot)

Royal Winter Fair - Animal Planet Up Close (Christie's Corner)

I took Tristan to the Fair for his birthday, we watched some rodeo acts, a goat show, a dog show and looked at all the animals we could fit in. At the Petting Farm we fed lots of goats, sheep, llamas and a yak.

We took the bus to get there, the bus driver told us that she drives that route early in the morning and sees all the cows and horses and goats being taken out for exercise. They walk along the sidewalks through the area before dawn, in a long farm parade.

The goat show was a kind of 4-H thing, kids and their kids, so to speak. You could tell who were the beginners and who were the old hands at it, but the beginners, little guys (and gals) with goats as big as themselves, were quite cute.

The dog show was Superdogs!---a bunch of rescue dogs doing tricks. The tricks are not particularly unusual, mostly jumping hurdles and fetching frisbees and obstacle racing, but it is all done with such showmanship that the brief half hour show is quite exhilarating. And the dogs are very obviously really really into it. They are just beside themselves with excitement!

We didn't see the whole rodeo show, that would have cost me my other arm and leg, but we got to the Fair early enough that we could watch---for free---the cowboys practicing. Mostly bucking bronco stuff. Watched one horse drag a fallen rider around the ring a couple of times while two more cowboys chased him and the fallen rider kept trying to climb back on. All ended well, but pretty heart-stopping to watch. Once they caught the horse and the rider freed himself and walked away, the horse just stood there, no more fun and games.

On our way home from that we saw a hearse all decorated for Hallowe'en, Tristan was staring at it so I explained to him what a hearse was, to take dead people to the cemetery. He said his grandpa didn't go in a hearse, he got burned. I asked him if he was sad about his grandpa being gone and he said no, because now he had new uncles. He went to the memorial service in Edmonton and met Isaac's brother Josh and half-sibs Jason, Amber and Luke and all their kids for the first time, so I guess he figures it was more of a gain than a loss.


The last few days I've been sorting through my yarn stash and working on ideas for using it. I have several projects in mind, and have gone searching on the internet and in the library for patterns for those projects. But I am feeling a bit stymied by the sock I am currently working on.

Actually, I've been working on this sock since last winter, I took it with me to Nova Scotia and British Columbia last summer, and worked on it sporadically. Right now I am turning the heel, which means I am about halfway through it. Not a lot of progress.

The problem is, it is the second sock of a pair (the first sock I started several years ago, and only finished last March) and I am thoroughly thoroughly bored with it. But yet determined to finish it before starting anything else. So, I dream about new projects with new yarn and stare at the old project and old yarn, willing it to finish itself. Hasn't worked so far, but as the old saying goes, Perhaps the horse will learn to sing.

And my feet are cold, I really do need some nice warm socks! Socks figure large in my plans for that yarn stash.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And so it begins again

It snowed yesterday, not a lot, just enough to leave a thin blanket of white everywhere. Skies are a grey-white to match. I can hear a neighbour shoveling snow from the sidewalk, that trademark
metal-against-concrete scraping sound. Actually it's plastic, but at these temperatures it may as well be metal.

There is something very comforting and peaceful about all that white, all that stillness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Living green and loud

Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, has a great post today about living green and loud, a kind of public green lifestyle that gets people around you thinking about changes they could make too. Like carrying a mason jar he pulled out of the garbage to the coffee shop for fill-ups, to avoid buying more stuff (a travel mug) or producing more garbage (paper or plastic cup), and politely explaining why to anyone who asks.

Two birds with one stone, you reduce your own carbon footprint, and you encourage others to do the same.

The Comments section has lots of good ideas too.

Winter is a comin' in, loud sing goddam

Long underwear time! Dug out the long underwear this morning, to go with the scarf, fleecy vest and fleecy overshirt and fingerless gloves. And this is indoor wear!

Must be winter...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

She lets the dogs out

Lately I've been taking Dobby for his daily mid-morning walk.

In our neighbourhood is an unused Catholic public school. It has a fenced grassy playing area that is being used by local dog owners as a place to let their dogs off the leash to play. This is where I take Dobby.

A local couple have a dog walking business, every day they collect some twenty dogs from their homes and take them to this school yard to play for an hour just before noon. Several other dog owners show up at the same time because it is a wonderful opportunity to let their dogs play with the dog walkers' charges, and to learn from them.

You see, Teresca, the woman of the couple, is an amazing dog handler.

She is The Alpha Alpha Dog, She Who Must Be Obeyed.

And they adore her for it too!

We watch and try to learn from her. I mean, really, any woman who can control over twenty unleashed dogs and make it look easy has got to be amazing, right? And these are not dogs who have been trained by her over time, many of them have only just met her and are instantly at her command. She uses a certain tone---The Voice---to let a dog know that she does not approve of its behaviour, and the dog quickly comes to her and lies down and takes her lecture, all delivered in The Voice.

We, the novice dog owner-masters, practice The Voice, but with varying results. Mostly I think our dogs just laugh at us.

After usually less than a minute, Teresca switches to her usually sweet loving persona and the cowering dog gets up in relief that the lecture is over. Depending on how bad the behaviour really was the dog is then either let off scot-free, or else handed over to her partner, who leashes the dog and keeps it at the sidelines in a Time-Out for bad behaviour.

This outing to play with Teresca's dogs is one of the major highlights of Dobby's day. He is so excited to go! Just like he used to be when I would take him to meet Sheila and her dogs in the Harbour this past summer. And I enjoy spending time there too, getting to know all the different dog personalities and chatting with the other owners, and maybe picking up a tip or two in how to manage doggie behaviour.

Today however, we got a little bad news. Apparently a neighbour has complained to the Catholic school board and Teresca has been warned that dogs are not to be off-leash in the unused schoolyard. There are no off-leash dog parks nearby, and local dog owners have already had it made clear to them that the next nearest park is off-limits to dogs. Teresca asked us to find somebody who knows somebody on the school board in hopes of intervening on her behalf.

We don't want to lose this doggie play space, and we don't want to lose Teresca either. It's such a great thing to see so many dogs having such a good time and behaving so well, thanks to her.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Kids at the ROM

On Sunday Isaac and I took the kids to the ROM. We got on the Dundas streetcar near our place, but it was a long slow trip because another streetcar had mechanical problems and the streetcars on Dundas ended up being backed up behind it until someone could come and fix it. But eventually that happened and we transferred to the subway for two stops to the Museum. Isaac and I realized that we had both forgotten cameras, so there will be no pictures for this posting.

There are a couple of special exhibits right now, one on diamonds and one called The Unbuilt Toronto, urban design projects that never happened. We were told at the admission desk that we should go to the diamond exhibit first.

Lately Tristan is especially interested in dressup accessories so he actually was interested in seeing the diamond exhibit. And on the streetcar he found a little glass "diamond" so he especially wanted to take it to the exhibit and see if the one he found was real. However the exhibit was just new and thus very crowded, and it wasn't really geared for kids. I think Tristan got a lot out of it but Phelan got bored pretty quick. So Isaac took Phelan on to the dinosaur exhibit while Tristan and I continued to look at the diamonds.

They had one of the largest diamonds in the world on display, it was over two inches long. But Tristan accidentally dropped his own diamond down a grate in the floor. He was quite upset about losing it and I tried to assure him that it was not a big loss since it was probably fake, but that did not go over too well. He wanted to believe it was real and that he had just lost a real diamond down the floor grate. I was not about to ask for it to be fished out though. After some coaxing we proceeded to look at an exhibit of how diamonds are mined and then I suggested we move on to the dinosaurs.

The dinosaur exhibit is housed in two rooms, we had a bit of searching to do to find Isaac and Phelan. The dinosaur exhibit is much more geared to kids so Tristan was a bit distracted by various hands-on displays and film loops. But we found Isaac and Phelan, and Phelan was clearly enjoying the whole thing immensely. He had told us earlier that he only wanted to see small dinosaurs because he was afraid of big dinosaurs, but he seemed to have gotten over that fear very quickly. He did get to see a couple of miniature dinosaurs though. I chatted for a few minutes with a volunteer lady there about the Museum, and then she revealed that she had a real fossil dinosaur toe to show. I grabbed Tristan and told him he could hold a real dinosaur toe if he wanted and of course he did.

Phelan just wanted to run everywhere. They had a room with a big sandbox full of buried bones, the kids put on goggles and take up brushes to sweep the sand off the "fossil" bones. The sandbox is big enough for many kids to get in at once, and there are rows of chairs around the edge for parents to watch. This kept Phelan busy for quite a while.

I pointed out to Tristan how all the fossil exhibits were colour-coded for real and fake fossil bones; each dinosaur skeleton is built from a mix of real fossils and casts of fossil bones. So we went through the entire exhibit identifying which were real and which were fake. I guess he had fakeness on his mind after losing his fake diamond.

There was still some time left after both boys were satisfied with the dinosaurs, so we offered them a choice, go see the Egyptian mummies or go see the medieval suits of armour and swords. They opted for the mummies, so off we went to the Egyptian exhibit. There are only two mummies on display (there may be more but they are encased in elaborate carved and painted coffin boxes), the rest of the artifacts were of lesser interest to the boys so we still had time to see the armour and swords.

When the boys were still busy with the dinosaurs I went off by myself to see the Unbuilt Toronto exhibit. It was actually just a preview of an exhibit that starts in a few days, consisting of posters describing various projects over the last 150 years or so. Some looked like things that Toronto could easily do without, such as the original Eaton project which entailed tearing down the old Toronto City Hall and an old church. I remember when that happened, and there was such an uproar about losing the old City Hall that the project was seriously scaled back, and the church was saved as well.

But another more recent project, last year, was much more sensible and unfortunately it got canned because the Developers who wanted big highrises got their way. The Ontario Municipal Board is supposed to be a court of last resort for citizens and residents to bring their concerns about ambitious urban projects to the decision makers, but instead it is mostly used by developers to override community protests or concerns. The OMB was responsible for canning the more sensible project, even though the Mayor and all of Toronto City Council were in favour of it, not to mention the local community.

There was an interesting project called Velo City which was an ambitious project of elevated bicycle ways following major commuter routes, that would have allowed cyclists to commute very fast from the suburbs to downtown and back, without having to deal with other vehicular traffic at all.

We all had a great time in spite of lost diamonds and stalled streetcars, and returned home happily exhausted.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Putting the kayak away for the winter

On Saturday Isaac and I mounted my kayak on my hallway ceiling. It took a while to figure out where to put it. At first I had thought in the hallway over the stairwell, but Isaac pointed out how difficult that would be to setup. Then we thought about the grape arbour in the back yard, under the front porch, from the ceiling of the front porch, and finally back to my hallway but this time not over the stairwell.

The biggest part of the job was installing the hardware to get the kayak up to the ceiling. I went to Rona to buy what was needed, some rope and hooks and cleats. I had some difficulty finding what I needed, but eventually got someone at Rona to help me and he gave me some suggestions for how to do it. I came home with rope, hooks, pulleys and rings. Then Isaac had to find the ceiling joists.

This is an old house so the ceiling is plaster and lathe, so the usual methods for finding joists just don't work. Isaac drilled a few exploratory holes but none hit a joist. Then he dismantled the ceiling light to see where the joist was that the light fixture was attached to, and he measured 16" lengths from there and drilled yet more holes to find the joists. It was a long slow process but eventually he found two joists and was able to mount the rings and hooks on the ceiling. The pulleys went on the hooks and the rings were to tie the ends of the two ropes to. Rona didn't have proper cleats, but the Rona guy had suggested using double coat hooks instead so we screwed those to the bathroom and kitchen doorframes.

With the rope strung through and large loops resting on the floor, we were ready to mount the kayak. We took the kayak off the truck roof and carried it into the house. The kayak is 16' long and my hallway is a few inches longer than that. Carrying it up the stairs to my hallway we had to manoeuvre the kayak into my bedroom to get it to clear the stairwell.

The hallway is just 2' wide (between the wall and the stairwell banister) and so is the kayak, so we had to put it down on the floor very carefully. Once in the loops we started pulling both ropes through the pulleys to raise the kayak. Isaac and I pulled the ropes while Gretel kept the kayak more or less level, as it kept wanting to tip over onto its side as we pulled it up. After we tied the ropes off on the coat hooks, I cut one of my pieces of pipe insulation in half and inserted one piece on each rope under the hull of the kayak.

Gretel took a few photos of Isaac and I mounting the kayak, she posted them in her blog, here.

It took most of the afternoon to accomplish this task, I bought some beer to celebrate and we watched a Jackie Chan kung fu movie (The Forbidden Kingdom) after dinner. Tristan performed a little fashion show with some of his newly acquired dressup stuff.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hallowe'en in the Triangle

Since I got home I've been busy unpacking and organizing. There was all of the stuff in the truck, plus stuff that I dropped off between trips east and west, and also all of the stuff that I put into storage before I sublet my place. I still haven't managed to get out and do some grocery shopping, but Gretel kindly stocked my fridge with the basics, milk, bread, cheese and eggs, and I have some leftovers from the trip.

I went with Gretel and Dobby a couple of times to the local dog park, there is a couple who walk dogs for a living who bring all their charges to this park for an hour every weekday and Dobby loves the chance to run and play with them. There are around twenty dogs there! I admire these people for how well they handle that many dogs, and they all seem to have fun at the park. I am learning many of their names and personalities. When one of the dogs misbehaves, it gets a stern lecture from the woman, and then must spend a time-out on a leash held by the man. The dogs take it very seriously. Several other dog owners show up with their dogs to participate in the daily dog melee, it's quite a party.

On Friday we went to the Shirley Street Elementary School to watch the Hallowe'en parade. It's a small school with a nice community feel to it. The principal was dressed as Superman, one of the teachers as Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon (he carried a huge hamburger). There was one kid dressed as the Toronto CN Tower. There's a daycare in the school too, the oldest kids in the daycare got to participate in the parade as well. They started from the schoolyard, then paraded around the block and back to the school. It was a nice sunny warm day for it!

Friday evening of course was Hallowe'en, Tristan and Phelan went out Trick or Treating with their Aunt Sarah while Isaac, Gretel and I stayed home to hand out candy. Because it was so warm (unusual for Hallowe'en but wonderful!), we sat out on the porch drinking wine and watching the action. Our neighbours in the other half of our attached houses did the same, and there were families across the road on their porches as well, so it was quite a friendly scene. Parents taking their kids on the rounds stopped to chat, envious of us and our glasses of wine. We got to see all of the great costumes going by. There were several Anne of Green Gables, lots of super heroes, the CN Tower kid came by, a couple of Wonderwomen, at least one Ninja Turtle, and many more.

Most of the costumes were actually home-made, which was nice to see.


Tristan and friend

Mr. CN Tower

Dobby and friends

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A cold trip home

I've not posted for a while so I am going to be brief about my trip home.

I arrived in Toronto Tuesday night around 6.00pm, in time to crawl home along the Gardiner "Expressway", actually pulling up at 37 Wyndham just before 7.00pm. Pretty much safe and sound.

My route home was south on I-5 from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, then east on I-84 along the Columbia River valley, through Idaho and down into Utah. The highway turns eastward just before Salt Lake City and joins I-80, which took me through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois to Chicago. In Nebraska I left I-80 to follow Route 30 which parallels the interstate but is a little more scenic and a little slower. I eventually rejoined I-80 in Iowa, but left it again just south of Chicago to skirt around Chicago on Route 30, rejoining I-29 in Indiana and following it through Michigan to Detroit. Across the border in Ontario I took the 401 to around Brantford, switched to the 403 through Hamilton and then onto the QEW which became the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

The first few days were sunny and clear, with great scenery along the Columbia River in Oregon, and through the mountains and foothills of Utah and western Wyoming. Nights were cold, but not too cold. I stayed at a campground in the Columbia Valley the first night and another campground on Great Salt Lake just south of Brigham City on the second night.

Along the interstate highways of the western states, you can get free coffee refills in many service stations, so I took advantage of that to avoid having to make breakfast in the cold morning air. I also made a honey sandwich the day before when it was still warm so I would have something to eat first thing in the morning with my coffee.

In Nebraska the wind picked up. At first it was coming from the west and gave me a nice tailwind to ride on, but through the morning it shifted to the northwest and got much stronger. I got off the interstate because now I could, there were local highways paralleling the interstate, and the scenery is a little more pleasant and the traffic slower and more sparse. But as the wind picked up, a lot of big trucks with empty trailers moved off the interstate onto "my" highway also, because the interstate is raised and more exposed to the wind. The little two-lane highway became quite crowded with all of the trucks now on it.

I was having to stop every 15 miles or so to retie the tie-downs on the kayak, as it whipped around on the roof most alarmingly (I could see the tip of the bow sliding back and forth just above the windshield, the stern rope moving in tandem in the rearview mirror). Miles of corn fields with corn fronds(?) being ripped off and blowing across the highway in clouds. At one point the highway was running parallel to train tracks which were windward to the highway. Every time a long slow train went by I got a bit of a respite from the wind, and those breaks were actually fairly frequent.

I stayed at a recreation area in Iowa that was very cold, there was frost on the ground and on the truck windshield in the morning. The wind died a bit and I had some not too bad driving weather through Iowa and Illinois. Through most of Wyoming and Nebraska the trees were few and far between, but in Iowa great oak forests interspersed with cornfields began to appear. The oaks were turning colour, but the reds and yellows were muted in comparison to sugar maples.

I passed through Chicago after dark, and just after crossing into Michigan I hit a blizzard blowing in off the lake. Almost immediately at least 10cm (4") on the ground and zero visibility due to blowing snow, big wet flakes that just filled the air. Crawled along the highway at 20 clicks (15 mph), thankfully everyone else doing the same. Was looking for a place to pull off, but the damn highway was under construction and they had closed all the rest area pull-offs. Twice I tried just pulling off on a side road, but the conditions were even worse, at least on the highway there were tracks in the snow made by the big trucks. Those tracks were not only good for being easier to drive in but also actually marked where the highway was, as there was no other way to tell in the blowing snow.

Blowing snow at night is mesmerizing, you have to be careful not to look at it or it will put you into a trance. And if you're already tired, it is crazy-making. But on the other hand, the fear of sliding off the road or into another vehicle certainly keeps the adrenalin flowing, a good antidote to sleepiness!

Moving away from the lake the snow cleared and I could see stars. My map showed a campground somewhere around Fort Custer military base, but I spent an hour looking for it and never found it. Tried asking some of the locals, but at 1.00am they were either too zonked to help me or the place never actually existed. There was a sign for it on the interstate and it was marked on my map, but otherwise there was no sign of its existence.

So at 2.00am I finally gave up the search and pulled into a highway rest area that wasn't closed by road construction. Got maybe 4 hours of sleep, it was way too cold for more than that (and I was fully dressed under as many blankets as I could muster). In the morning the entire truck was encased in ice. But after a week on the road I had my morning routine down pat, managed to make coffee and warm up the truck in record time (and having a warm rest area washroom certainly helped!).

In any other state I would have just bought coffee, but here in Michigan they have The Worst Coffee Ever (I can't drink it, it makes me gag), so I made my own in spite of freezing temperatures.

At the border crossing in Detroit, the woman there wanted to know about the thing on my roof. I explained what it was and that it was from Canada. She asked if I was bringing in firewood. Firewood? She was still looking at the roof when she asked that, then asked, So what is that thing beside the kayak? Ah, the wooden ramp! Also from Canada. Then she asked, Any mishaps? Mishaps? Yeah, misadventures. Oh, misadventures. I had to think about that. Wind in Nebraska? Snow in Michigan? That seemed acceptable, she then warned me about snow in Ontario, heading eastward. And wished me a good trip. Fortunately the snow in Ontario was not due until late in the evening, overcast skies and high winds again were all I had to deal with. And closed rest areas. Very ironic that. You'd see a sign that said Fatigue Kills Take a Break, then the next sign said Rest Area Closed Next Rest Area [A Zillion] Km Away. Gee thanks.

Got a wonderful greeting from Dobby when I arrived home, he was ecstatic. He's changed, his face and chest are broader, his ribs less prominent, his bum muscles finally filled out some. He's still skinny, but no longer looks like he hasn't eaten in weeks.

Listened a lot to NPR in the US. It was, needless to say, pretty much focussed on the election. Quite interesting actually. I thought I would be completely burned out on US election commentary, but after a couple of days found I was getting addicted to it. Although, I did listen to the same two-hour Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor) show twice over the weekend, just as a bit of a respite from All Election All The Time.

Isaac asked me when I got home if I could tell when I was passing through a "red" or "blue" state and to tell the truth, I couldn't. Very few McCain or Obama signs, but a lot of signs for local Congress representatives and senators, and sheriffs. And unlike here in Canada, no colour distinctions, you couldn't tell from the sign colour which party a candidate belonged to, and most of the time the party affiliation wasn't mentioned on the sign at all! I had to listen to local radio call-in shows to get any sense of whether this was a red or blue state. Lots of evangelical Christian stations, they didn't seem to talk about the election at all.

So I've learned that Republicans are all over the map on whether Palin is a good idea or not, that some Hillary Clinton Democrats have switched to McCain because they are appalled at how Obama Democrats treated her ("basically they threw her under the bus"), that there are huge problems with how the US handles voter registration (the US is the most difficult democratic country in the world for actually exercising your right to vote), abortion and gay marriage are still big issues but are being dealt with in state-wide initiatives rather than in the Presidential election rhetoric, and that with a Democrat majority assured in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, some pundits think that a Republican President might actually be a good thing as a kind of balancing act to keep America in a more palatable centrist position.

Now I have to get to work putting my place back in order. The tenants left it clean and tidy, but all my stuff is still either in storage or as yet unpacked, it looks like a daunting task! Hopefully I'll have everything to my liking within a week! And I have to figure out what to do with the kayak now...

I am posting a few photos I took en route, just to give a sense of the scenery I was seeing. I read recently that the US interstate highway system allows one to travel all over the US without seeing anything at all, and to a great extent I think that is true. It's great for travelling fast, it has a very good system of rest areas and service centres, but it is not exactly charming. I wish I could have gotten some photos of the snow, but it was dark and I was kind of busy trying to stay on the road.

Thursday, Washington

Truck ready to go, in Seattle

Thursday, Oregon

Columbia River

Truck in Columbia River valley

Columbia valley

Columbia valley

Friday, Idaho

Is that snow?

Truck in Idaho




Saturday, Utah

Truck in Utah


More rocks

Coal train headed west


Saturday, Wyoming

Wind turbines

Hills of Wyoming

Pyramids of Wyoming

Rocks of Wyoming

Ravens at rest area

Ravens huddling in the wind

Truck in Wyoming

Definitely snow

Sunday, Nebraska

Cold morning in Nebraska

Coal train heading west

Tumbleweed on Irrigation pipes


Small town Nebraska

Monday, Iowa

Oak forest, muted fall colours

Corn fields

Tuesday, Michigan

Maples in full glory

No pictures for Ontario, the horse can smell the barn!