Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fire and ice in the City

There's a big fire on Queen Street West today, near Bathurst. They have diverted all the TTC streetcars in the vicinity, and moved in buses as temporary shelter for now homeless residents. Many businesses destroyed, one, Duke's Cycle, having been there almost a hundred years. This is not far from where I live, I was walking along that stretch of Queen Street on Saturday. I am however relieved that Romni Wool is not involved in the fire.

I am reading a good book, Consolation by Michael Redhill. Toronto Public Library has a program called Keep Toronto Reading: One Book in the month of February, and this is the first book for the program. It is an historical novel set in Toronto, partly in the 1850s and partly in the 1990s. I have to say I am enjoying this book better than I did Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, somehow less pretentious, more intimate, more like the Toronto I know. It's just a good read.

In its ongoing effort to clear the streets of ice and snow, the City sent machinery to our street at three o'clock in the morning to scrape ice off the centre of the road and pile it up around my truck. On Monday I spent time digging my truck out and now I am iced in again. This time it is going to be harder to dig out. Loose snow I could throw in the road to melt, but large chunks of ice are a driving hazard and there is absolutely no other place to put them. I just made an appointment to take the truck into a garage tomorrow morning, I have my shift at the foodbank this afternoon and my writing class in the evening so I have no idea how or when I am going to get the truck out. Very frustrating.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A more detailed view of the ROM

Monday was the first Family Day holiday in Ontario. I ended up going to the ROM again that day. What a line-up! There were people lined up around the block to get in! I would have turned around and said forget it were it not for my newly-purchased membership card, because they had a separate and much shorter line-up for members.

I realized that the place was going to be crowded as all get-out but decided to do it anyway. I actually spent a couple of hours in the museum checking out as many of the galleries as I could.

The Dinosaurs exhibit was, as I expected, the most crowded. Really really REALLY crowded. But I think it will be worthwhile to go back with Tristan, there was quite a lot to see there. I had looked at the information on the web about that exhibit so was curious to see how it looked in real life. On the website the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus Rex looked rather small, but in "real life" it was not so small. The head was huge! And very toothy.

My summary opinion is that the overall quality is very mixed. It is clearly "a work in progress". Some galleries were well setup and informative and interesting, others not so much. I particularly appreciated the galleries on Egyptian history and European history.

The Canadian gallery was kind of helter skelter, I didn't get a clear picture of timeline or thematic approach there. But I was positively surprised by the paintings there. Works by early Canadian artists depicting the country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And I didn't realize that the Death of General Wolfe was at the ROM, it was kind of neat to be able to walk right up to it and look at the detail of it. Other paintings showed scenes of First Nations encampments with awesome scenic backdrops. The idea was to show both the "Noble Savage" and the amazing scenery of the New World.

The European gallery was arranged as a series of tableaux of household furnishings from the Middle Ages through to the Twentieth Century. It really gave a sense of how things changed in everyday life, although it clearly was depicting the households of upperclass Europeans up until the twentieth century. I cannot imagine that ordinary Europeans had furniture and room decor that spectacular. For the Victorian age, the exhibit description said there was no distinct Victorian style, rather a mix of revived styles from the past, mixed with the beginnings of industrial elements. By the twentieth century industrial and mass produced furnishings dominated. Although obviously in ordinary households that would not necessarily hold true for all Europeans, many would have furnishings of a former era, many would not have the latest and greatest in modern styles. But overall the gallery was informative, and both the timeline and the themes being described were very clear and easy to follow.

I felt similarly about the Egyptian gallery, I could follow the timeline and it was informative. I got a sense of the development of Egyptian culture by following the fairly clearly marked route through the gallery. Although it did take me a few minutes to figure out what direction you had to go in order to get the progression. Of course the small area where the mummies were displayed was about as crowded as the Dinosaur exhibit, clearly the ROM is most famous in many people's minds for its dinosaurs and mummies.

Another gallery I appreciated was the temporary exhibit for Black History Month. This display depicted slavery in Canada, in particular Ontario and Quebec. What I learned was that slavery was officially abolished in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1793 by Lord Simcoe, as the result of an incident involving the sale of a female slave in Detroit. She was forcibly removed from Ontario to be sold in Detroit, this event was witnessed by a free black man who reported it to Simcoe, who actually acted on it. Amazing. I don't know much about Simcoe and did not have an opinion one way or the other about him, but that hugely ups him in my estimation. There were also posters describing the slave trade and showing the appalling conditions of slave ships. It was a moving display.

A number of galleries are not yet open and according to my ROM floorplan map (online PDF version here), will not be open until as late as sometime in 2009. Signs in various places note the fact that some items on display or soon to be on display have not been available to the public for thirty years. So for the past thirty years, most of which time the museum was not being renovated, they had much of their material in storage. Not for lack of space because that material was available in the 1960s and '70s, but because of stupid curatorial decisions. In my opinion. Well they can't get that stuff out again too soon for my liking. I miss the Early Life gallery, the Gems and Minerals gallery, the old Geology gallery and the Africa gallery.

And I hope they do something to make the First Nations gallery a little less appallingly bad.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

And now rain

It's raining, raining....

Toronto is getting a storm from Texas now. If you watched the satellite images over the last couple of days, you could see it forming in Texas and moving north into Canada. It is supposed to be mostly freezing rain and rain around here, snow further north. I am hoping it will melt some snow.

In preparation the city is trying to clear some of the snow from side streets and we have snow removal equipment working on our street now, the piles of snow in combination with the rain is going to be a huge mess.

The "foggy" marks on these pictures are due to taking the pictures through the plastic on my windows.

This morning Gretel and Isaac and Tristan and neighbour Olivia built a snow pirate ship in the front yard.

This is Olivia "manning" the ship. If you can't make it out, there is a skull and crossbones and the words "Beware of Pirates" painted on the snow.

Another view of the snow pirate ship.

We'll see what's left of it tomorrow after the rainstorm has passed through.

Knitting chronicles

I finished one hand warmer and am very pleased with it so am working "feverishly" to finish the second one. It's almost done, I only have the thumb to complete. Pictures later.

On Saturday I was in a funk, feeling very "trapped" by the city and the frozen truck and the snow. I got out a map to see where I could walk to and was discouraged by the great distances to parks and ravines other than High Park. But I had to get out so just set out down Dundas Street to Trinity Bellwoods Park. Eventually I ended up at Romni Wool and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there. First browsing in the book section and then in the basement remnant sales. Sigh, if I was rich I'd buy up a cartload of Romni Wool.

I ended up with two books and a kind of pamphlet. The books are the Harmony Guides Volume 3: 440 More Knitting Stitches and The Big Book of Knitting. The Harmony Guides to knitting stitches are amazing, I am looking forward to getting more of them (there are at least five volumes of knitting stitches, one of techniques, and two more related to crocheting). The Big Book covers techniques and tools and provides a few basic patterns and stitches. Lots of colour pictures.

The pamphlet is The Knitter's Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements. This tells you how much yarn you need, approximately, for different projects, depending on stitch gauge and project size. The stitch gauge is also related to type of yarn and needle size in another table. Pretty darn handy!

Good ol' shopping therapy, I feel so much better now!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Blogs I read

My daily routine is getting a little out of hand these days, I spend more and more time reading blogs. Over the past month or so I have built up a list of blogs I like to check in on first thing in the morning. I frequently spend the whole morning doing that! Not a good habit to expand on. I am especially susceptible to blogs that have long lists of links to favourite blogs, I end up following links long past the large cup of coffee I take to the computer with me.

I have a few categories of blogs. First is my Elderbloggers, bloggers of a certain age. The Queen of Elderbloggers is Ronni Bennett at As Time Goes By. She writes almost every day, from Portland Maine. The next two are Dr. Bill Thomas at Changing Aging and Steven at Projections, also regular bloggers. Serene Ambition is a group blog of "boomers in transition".

The next category is what I call Ecobloggers, people who blog on some kind of sustainability or environmental theme. No Impact Man is a good one. This is a fellow in NYC who spent a year living in a way that would not impact negatively on our environment, all in an urban apartment with a wife and child. That year was pretty extreme and it ended some time in the fall, now he blogs about related issues and ideas. He has removed his archive of old posts and since he says he is working on a book I think that might be why. Which is too bad, some of the discussions that happened during his No Impact year were really quite interesting, some were hilarious (like the long discussion of no-impact alternatives to toilet paper).

Also in the Ecoblogger category, Little Blog in the Big Woods occasionally has some interesting stuff.

The Eco-Tour of North America is in hiatus now but is a fascinating read (with lots of pictures) of one Ontario man's tour of North American ecovillages since 2005. He did this tour driving a camper truck powered by veggie oil or diesel. He was not always able to get veggie oil so especially toward the end he used a lot of diesel I think. I met him in Tennessee at the The Farm in the summer of 2006, so I feel I have a personal connection to that blog. This past fall he also visited some ecovillages in Ontario and western Canada, that was interesting to read about too.

I have one blog in the food category, Pioneer Woman Cooks. Lots of photos of culinary delights, beware!

I have several in the knitting blog category, the chiefest being Yarn Harlot, a Toronto knitter, blogger and writer. A must-read if you knit. Or even if you don't. A couple of other interesting knitting blogs are Mason-Dixon Knitting and I'm Knitting As Fast As I Can.

Then there's my Mixed Bag category. I like Shorpy, "the hundred-year-old photo blog", The Vanity Press, a Canadian political commentator, and Web Teacher, a mixed bag of web-related stuff. There's What's In Rebecca's Pocket, Ran Prieur, and WanderingStan. I like Roundtop Ruminations for photos, and Garrison Keillor for daily poems. Diary of a Mad DC Cabbie is a unique look at a blogging subculture I wouldn't have guessed at, taxi drivers. I've just added Eclectic Closet for its book reviews and long list of yet more blogs, especially knitting blogs.

Finally there's A Pithy Mood. This blog appears to have ended, but it was written by a Vancouver woman who is an amazing writer and photographer. She also has a photography blog. I wish she would write more, some of her posts are just priceless.

In which Bunny gets a scare and defends herself admirably

Library knitting group last night, there were only four of us this time. Jennifer took my email address so she could warn me next time they cancelled a knitting group meeting. Last week I walked to the library only to find that the group was cancelled due to the snow storm. I didn't really mind, I had some books to pick up anyway and it was a nice evening for a walk. I am almost finished my first hand warmer, the second one should go faster now that I have some idea of what I am doing.

The big news yesterday was the arrival of the puppy, now named Dobby. Gretel describes the event here with pictures here.

They brought the puppy home late at night and unfortunately I neglected to close the door to my apartment so within minutes of arriving in the house the puppy went upstairs. Bunny was sitting in the hallway and the second Dobby rounded the corner from the stairway into the hall, Bunny was off and running.

I had blocked the livingroom doorway with a low barrier, which under normal circumstances is enough to keep Bunny out of there, but she easily leaped the barrier and disappeared under the couch at the far side of the room. Dobby gave chase as far as the barrier but did not try to go over and I caught him and took him back downstairs. It all happened so quickly that I am not sure Dobby even really knew what he was chasing, Bunny was just a small black-and-white blur.

I eventually got Bunny out from under the couch---I had to grab her behind the head and drag her out---as I did not want her spending the night there due to all the exposed electric cords in the vicinity.

Today she is calm but on the alert. She built her own barricade under the kitchen shelving unit, using a box of plastic bags I had left under the table.

Dobby is very cute but not house-trained and he barks a lot when left alone in his crate. I hope he gets over that soon.

Foodbank day

Wednesday is my foodbank day. With my cold I was not wanting to go in yesterday, but I didn't want them thinking I was some kind of flake who shows up once and never returns. I probably wasn't doing them any favours though, coughing all over their food. Well, I did try to aim at my sleeve not their faces or their food, but still.

I met another volunteer there who just moved to Toronto from California last July, same time I moved here. She was a teacher in California and is looking for a teaching job here, but says she half hopes she doesn't find one because she kind of likes being off work and able to do things like volunteering at the foodbank.

Due to the snow the Second Harvest truck came very late. It usually comes around 1.00 pm, but this time it was close to 3.00 pm when it arrived, and the foodbank closes at 4.00 pm. We were running out of food so we were giving people the choice of going through now and getting what little there was, or waiting for more and better after the truck came. People were quite patient with waiting.

When the truck did arrive we tried to unload it through the front door onto King St, but the only place the truck could park blocked the streetcars so the driver had to go around to the back of the building and we unloaded it there. It meant hauling boxes the full length of the foodbank and through the waiting area, but it went pretty well, some of the patrons helped unload. There was no meat and no milk, but there was yogurt and chocolate milk and lots of fresh fruit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Yet more snow

Boy did it snow yesterday! I shovelled the sidewalk around our place and halfway down the block twice and Gretel did our place again before bedtime, and it was still coming down. I heard that it was only 20 cm, but I think we got more than that.

Here's another picture of my truck. The snowpiles in front and behind are half ice and half snow.

Gretel is not biking to work, her bike is snowed in for now.

The street is looking very picturesque under the snow. I'm impressed by the 8-foot pile of snow in this picture, somebody was very busy yesterday and this morning. Strictly speaking, it's illegal to put snow in the street, so this is 8 feet of lawbreaking. But these people have absolutely nowhere else to put it, the front of their building is entirely driveway. They have managed to clear it right down to bare concrete.

Isaac and Gretel are getting a puppy this coming weekend from Gretel's Dad. Her Dad's dog Maggie actually. Her Dad offered to take Bunny back to PEI to live out her remaining days on the farm but I said I'd miss her so we decided to try moving her upstairs with me. We just thought that it would make things easier all round not to have Bunny and the new puppy living together.

So last night we moved her upstairs, setting up her hutch and water bottle and food bowl in my pantry cupboard.

She's been exploring the rest of the apartment from there. She's much more mobile here because I have carpets and she can get some purchase for hopping. Downstairs there are no carpets and the floors are slippery for her. I think that is why she is chubby, she doesn't get enough exercise. I have to keep an eye on her though, bunnies are notorious for chewing on electric cords.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My museum rant

I extracted this from an email I wrote to a friend. Since I mention "my museum rant" a couple of times in other blog posts (here, and here) I thought I should reproduce this here. It is not entirely my current opinion, but it certainly was at the time of writing, February 12, 2008.

~ ~ ~ ~

... Last week I went to the ROM and am in awe of how badly it is curated. Unbelievable. One of the best museums in the country and they have completely ruined it.

I used to practically live at the ROM when I was a kid, they had so much stuff to see. Curating in those days meant simply putting it all out under glass and letting you wander around staring at it. Now curating means it has to look pretty, kind of like what you say in your ad. So they get rid of the clutter (aka "the stuff") and display a few items very tastefully with little labels thanking the donors. No explanation, no context, but oh so aesthetic.

Went to see their latest Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers exhibit:

"Incorporating evocative objects from the Museum's collections, this thought-provoking exhibition presents eight contemporary Aboriginal artists whose works explore the ways in which past and present continue to merge and shape one another."

This consisted of 3 framed pictures of mysterious relevance, a carved tusk, a set of headphones, a large nondescript rock, and a latter day version of "Nanook of the North" playing in a corner, all housed in a huge otherwise empty gallery. Grrrr!

We visited a couple of other galleries as well but they were not much better. We ate a not too bad Curried Carrot Soup in, not the cafeteria, not the Food Court, but the "Food Studio" (basement cafeteria).

Monday, February 11, 2008

I have a cold, Toronto has cold

My cold has expanded, all of Toronto is having a cold snap.

Isaac thought he'd avoid the cold this morning by driving Tristan to school instead of using the bike or streetcar, but he spent an hour trying to get the car out of its parking spot! He didn't have a shovel and the snow had frozen to ice and the car just wouldn't budge.

I've been teasing him a bit about how his use of the car is expanding due to it being much more easily available. It is so easy to say "oh let's just take the car" when faced with inclement weather or recalcitrant kids or time crunches. In this case, taking the car proved to be not so efficient.

I was hoping to get my truck out on the road just to keep the battery in more or less good shape, but all hope of that has vanished. The truck is thoroughly frozen into place so I just have to wait for things to thaw and hope for the best...

Between having a cold and it being cold outdoors, I have no problem staying in and puttering around doing indoor stuff. Knitting, writing, going through old pictures. I found some small prints of paintings by Judith Currelly who lives in Atlin BC. Now there's a really cold place! It occurred to me that places like that make great retreats for artists because you have all that indoor time to work on stuff. Then you can take the summer off to get out and get inspired.

Home decorating

Spent the weekend putting up pictures. I probably overdid it, my place is now looking a little cluttered with pictures. But it was fun. A lot of them are pictures I have had in storage for over 15 years, since I last left Ontario.

I have some calendar pictures of flowers, close-ups from Kew Gardens, that I put on the kitchen cupboards.

I was looking at them and realizing that I never put them up in my place in BC because there really are only a couple of months, if that, when you can't see flowers blooming outdoors. Frequently there are winter pansies and primulas growing through the winter, and crocuses are up by February.

But in Ontario there is a long period of no flowers, more than half the year. So having pictures of them on the walls is uplifting.

Gretel also noted that the pictures of yellow flowers on the green cupboards helped link the green of the cupboards to the yellow walls, making them less starkly contrasting. She never liked those green cupboards.

In the stairway I put up some posters that are sort of odd. They are from a calendar probably dating from the early 70s, that my Dad would have brought home when he worked as an estimator for a printing company.

For example a floral print shirt being put through a meat grinder with real flowers coming out of the business end, or making a green polka dot shirt using a can of peas and a rolling pin.

I have eight of them in the stairway and the kids come up the stairs very slowly, staring at each picture. They both are quite fascinated by them.

The plaster in my apartment is quite old, mostly old-fashioned lathe and plaster. This makes it harder to put thumbtacks in it so for posters I had to use tape. Gretel recommended painter's tape which holds well without damaging the paint when you want to remove it.

But I have one wall that I am sure is not plaster at all but concrete, I cannot even hammer a nail into it! I'm going to have to drill holes to put up a couple of framed prints.

<-- the concrete wall...

Going through old prints and photos inspired a huge amount of nostalgia. I have a stack of old letters and postcards that completely sucked me in for over an hour. I was thinking of making a kind of collage of some of the postcards, but given how cluttered everything is starting to look, I have no idea where I'd put it so maybe that's an idea best left alone.

While I was going through old postcards and letters from my desk I pulled out my old camera and Isaac happened to be visiting at the time and was interested in it since it is very similar to the camera that he is in the process of selling. His and Gretel's camera for sale is a Canon AE-1 and mine is a Canon AE-1 Program. Turns out he has a flash attachment that will work on my camera. He said he was going to include it with the camera for sale but if I could use it I could have it. We tried playing around with the different lenses on my camera and his new camera, a Canon EOS Rebel (it's digital).

I used his telephoto lens on my camera and took a few pictures, it will be interesting to see how they turn out. The AE-1 is a film camera of course so I have to wait till the film roll is used up before I can see the pictures. Unfortunately the film in the camera is quite old, there is at least one picture in there that I know I took in 2003. Be interesting to see if anything turns out!

Young visitors

I had visits from both Tristan and Phelan at different times over the weekend.

Phelan likes to come up here to explore and look for "trouble", things he can do that might evoke a reaction. So far he has tried playing with the buttons on the electric space heater or the air purifier and banging the strings on the banjo, nothing too dangerous as long as an adult is present. I used to have a box of toy tools for him but they went back downstairs one day to keep him away from the real tools when Gretel was doing some carpentry. This weekend I got a new box of toys, the Thomas the Train tracks and trains. We'll see how popular that is.

On Sunday I had Phelan practicing jumping, his balance is not quite there so sometimes he falls down when he jumps. He likes it though. So we jumped, and sang the bus song ("the wheels on the bus go round and round...") until we both got bored with it all and I escorted him downstairs again.

He's OK coming up the stairs, but very scary going down. Gretel's trying to get him to go down backwards but he prefers the much riskier face forward upright position that bigger people use.

Tristan came up here to do a puzzle without Phelan's interference. I gave him a book of pirate puzzles for his birthday last fall, there are four puzzles with 32 pieces each in a hardboard book. I've been showing him "the system": first you find the corners, then the edges, then the inside pieces. And you check each piece against the little picture of how the puzzle is supposed to end up. I think he's getting it, he managed to do most of one puzzle by himself. We've done three of the four puzzles, by the time he finishes the last one he'll be ready to tackle larger puzzles on his own I think.

In discussion with Gretel we decided it would be better to give Tristan the scarf that looks like his brother's scarf because it is 75% acrylic and therefore easier to throw in the washing machine. So I finished that one up and presented it to Tristan and he was happy with it. I'll finish the other one which is pure wool for myself.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Another take on economic decline

Now here's an interesting thing.

According to this article in the Washington Post, "For Japan a Long Slow Slide", the Japanese economy is in a gradual decline due to an aging population. They have one of the oldest populations, with the fewest children, in the world. And yet they have low crime, low unemployment, good health care and a relatively healthy happy and well-off population. Nobody seems too worried about the current economic downturn there.

The link between declining economy and aging population is not so much the expense of caring for elders but rather that elders just don't spend that much, they're out of the consumer game. We elders may very well have a dampening effect on the economy, but it won't be because we cost so much. It'll be because we don't spend so much. And with the growing crises of climate change, pollution and dwindling resources, is this such a bad thing?

Here's another interesting thing.

Another article in the New York Times, "Economy Fitful, Americans Start to Pay As They Go", suggests that the seemingly bottomless pocket of American consumer credit has been tapped out. Consumers can't spend any more because it's already spent. Credit cards are maxed out, homes are mortgaged to the hilt or lost in the sub-prime crisis, etc., etc.

Greenpa at Little Blog in the Big Woods jokes that not only are we experiencing Peak Oil but also Peak Patsy, the supply of "patsies" (aka fools, aka consumers) has peaked and is running out. There are no more savings to stripmine.

Americans have gone from a 10% savings rate in the 1980s to -13% (yes, that's a minus sign) last year. As a result many consumers are forced to spend much less, with the ultimate effect of dampening the economy. The economy is based on consumer spending and consumer spending is tapped out. True, there are a number of very rich people getting richer every day, but no matter how hard and fast they spend they are not going to keep the economy going all by themselves. So it's not just the elders spending less, it's everybody.

This may just be a good thing. The experts say that we baby boomers won't cut back on our high-rolling lifestyles, that exhorting us to take conservation measures and cut back on our profligate use of dwindling resources is useless, that we're a hardcore bunch of spoiled consumers who want to have our cake and eat it too. But perhaps we don't need to be exhorted, perhaps stripping us of our credit and our savings will do the job just as well.

And as for us leading edge boomers now in our 50s and early 60s, perhaps we've spent enough and are happy to get off that treadmill and smell the roses. Or just happy not to spend our time working 9 to 5 (now that's a joke, how about more like 8 to 6? or 9 to 9?) and then rushing from mall to mall to do our patriotic duty of keeping the economy rolling.

Last one out please turn off the lights...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

More snow

More snow today. Heard someone talking about how Toronto people aren't used to this much snow all at once, but this is the way it used to be when some of us older types were kids. This is the "keep 'em guessing" part of global warming, just when you think everything has changed forever, it goes back to the way it was before.

Last night I showed Tristan the scarf I was knitting from the leftover yarn of his Dad's scarf. Then I showed him the extra ball of yarn I have from Phelan's scarf, and asked him which he liked better. I said I was going to do two scarves, one for him and one for me, and he could choose which one he wanted. He decided to wait to see how they look when they're done before choosing. Smart man.

I ripped out my wrist warmer once again. Didn't like the way the thumb gusset was shaping up and thought I'd like the wrist part to be longer. I go back and forth on that, started with 2" then decided that 1" was better, now I'm back to 2". It'll be spring before I get it done.

Yesterday I took some photos, a couple of the Portuguese church up the street, one of the new entrance to the ROM (I like the old entrance better)(but enough of trashing the ROM!), and one of the little church kitty corner to the ROM. My grandfather used to play accordion? fiddle? there. I'm not sure which it was, I have two memories of being told what he did but no confirmation for either.

The Portuguese church was too big to fit into a single photo so I took two and superimposed them. Here is how it turned out:

You can see the discrepancy between the two photos on the left side of the picture.

This is the tallest building in our neighbourhood, so you can see the spire and the rose window looming over the houses from quite a distance. The angle of the photo doesn't do it justice, it is really quite large. One day I'd like to go in and see the stained glass of the rose window from inside.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Got a cold

Got a cold on Thursday. Did some snow shovelling in the morning and that pretty much did me in so I had to cancel out of skating with Helen. It was so nice out though, sunny and clear with lots of snow on the ground. Would have been nice to go skating. When I went out to shovel there were half a dozen other people on our short little street out shovelling too.

Everyone tries to do a little more than their own sidewalk. I'm glad Casey got out before Ross did, last snowfall he shovelled the snow for four houses and he's in his 80s. He's already had a couple of bad falls this winter. But Casey got his sidewalk shovelled before he was out, so later in the day he just shovelled his own steps.

I picked the kids up at the day care and we walked home through an alleyway that was not ploughed. Several people were trying to shovel it out. One woman said,"I love snow, but I'm starting to get a little tired of it!" Phelan looked like a tiny walking snowman coming down that alley. About halfway I picked him up and carried him the rest of the way home. He was eating an apple and had taken his mittens off to do that, his hands were starting to get cold.

Today I went to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) with Beth. We looked at the First Nations exhibit, the Black Star Sapphire from Queensland, and the Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers exhibit. All disappointing, the last one especially. I must say, the quality of ROM exhibits has sure deteriorated since I was a kid! When I got home afterwards I launched into a 15 minute rant on how bad it was when Isaac asked me how my ROM trip was. So I won't do it again here. I did buy a family membership though, so Tristan sure better enjoy the Dinosaurs exhibit!

Beth and I ended up having soup at the ROM "Food Studio" (I think this must be the hip way to say "Cafeteria") and spending a couple of hours there just talking. I think next visit we won't bother going anywhere special, we'll just talk.

My cold is worse; having been sick with one thing or another since early December I am giving up hope of being healthy before spring. If then.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My new job: foodbank volunteer

As the weatherman predicted, lots of snow on Wednesday. 30 cm., setting a record here for amount of snow in a single day. Started in the night, took a breather in the morning and then back at it in the afternoon and evening.

On Tuesday night I went to a meeting of the Operating Committee of the Parkdale Foodbank, at St Francis' Table. This is an outreach centre operated by of a small group of Capuchin-Franciscan friars who up until recently ran the foodbank, then called St. Philip's Pantry. But last fall it was decided that this was no longer part of their mandate, so the foodbank is being cut loose. Which means among other things that all of a sudden it's on the hook for $2000 a month in rent. So since that time the volunteers at the foodbank have been scrambling to save the foodbank, since it is actually the last foodbank in Parkdale, one of the poorer areas of the city. The whole thing got some media attention last November and there's been a lot of people stepping forward to volunteer and donate funds, and Brother John of St. Francis' Table is trying to get the foodbank on a self-supporting footing. The Operating Committee was formed to do that.

I met someone from that committee a couple of weeks ago and she suggested I come to this meeting. At the meeting the chairperson Robert suggested that I spend some time volunteering at the foodbank before getting any further involved and on Wednesday I did my first shift. They have a storefront on King St. Folks come in the back door and register at a desk where they are given a number. Volunteers lead each person through the front part of the store where the food is laid out on shelves and help them pick out a week's worth of groceries.

The people who get there first get slightly better choices than the people who arrive later. Things like milk and eggs are in short supply, fresh fruit and veggies are of variable quality. It's all pretty friendly, many of the volunteers are on welfare themselves, or live in the area, or both. A lot of immigrants pass through Parkdale, it's where many get their start in Canada.

Toronto has a very large Tibetan population, the largest in Canada. Many of them came here from the U.S. and already speak English fairly well. Many came to the U.S. in the 1990s on tourist visas, and when their visas expired they had to leave. In 1998-2001 over a thousand of them moved from New York to Toronto. Queen St. has a lot of Tibetan craft stores and restaurants, although it's unclear to me who eats there other than Tibetans since Tibetan cuisine is not exactly in high demand. Anyway, the foodbank users include many Tibetans, some Sudanese refugees, and lots of other groups.

Michael supervises the shifts, he oriented me by walking through with a patron and describing how he decides how much they can have. There are signs saying how much per order, but you have to make judgments based on how many people in the household and that kind of thing. Michael knows everyone. For instance one man that I led through Michael told me that he had recently been kicked out of his place and hadn't made it to the foodbank the previous week, so he should get double rations. And sometimes they want to make deals with you (like maybe no veggies but more bread) and that's OK too. You have to know what's in short supply and what you can be liberal with. And you have to stay with them so you can keep an eye on what they take. They leave by the front door, which has to be locked after each person leaves.

The first half hour is really hectic, I think we had forty people come through, then over the next three hours another forty people came. Forty people doesn't sound like a lot but when you have four patrons and four volunteers trying to pick food in that tiny space, well, it's crowded. The foodbank is open three days a week and people are only supposed to come once a week. But all these rules get bent for particular patrons.

I should have brought a bottle of water with me, I got really thirsty and all there was to drink was really strong coffee. When they first opened the doors there was pizza and coffee, so early patrons got that while they waited their turns. It pays to go early!

Robert came by late in the shift and talked to Daphne, another older woman volunteering there, and I about possibly starting a mentoring program. Another woman that I met the night before, Sue-Anne, suggested this idea and Robert has decided that it's a "woman thing" so he's trying to draft all the older women into it. Whatever, it does sound like an interesting idea.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Toronto swans and a little history

Went for a bike ride along the lakeshore on Tuesday. It was plus 8 and seemed a shame to miss out on the warm weather, especially since they were forecasting another storm on its way for Wednesday. I remembered to bring my camera this time, I'm getting better at that.

Got some pictures of the Whistling Swan family and a Mute Swan.

There are lots of the Mute Swans along the lakeshore and one family of Whistling Swans. Mute Swans are imports from Europe but the Whistling Swan is native.

You can see the differences between them in these photos, the orange bill and curved neck of the Mute Swan (above)...

...and the black bill and straight neck of the Whistling Swan (right).

The two darker swans in the family photo are the youngsters. One of them always bites my shoe when I come by, today was no exception. I guess I had salty slush on my shoe today, he (or she) chewed on it a couple of times.

Here's the best I could do in photographing a pair of Buffleheads. The Mallards and the Swans are happy to come up close but the Buffleheads keep their distance.

This building is Sunnyside Pool. Or it used to be. Today the pool is beside this building, which now houses the change rooms and a restaurant. It was very popular in my parents time.

The beach in front of it is Sunnyside Beach, where the Americans landed in 1813 to attack Fort York. They miscalculated, the fort was actually several miles to the east of here. But this didn't stop them from looting and burning the parliament buildings of Upper Canada, such as they were.

In retaliation the British burned the city of Washington, thus causing the White House.

And that's the history lesson for today.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sunday at the zoo

On Sunday Isaac and Gretel decided we should go to the zoo. Tristan has been saving "stars" (rewards for exceptional good behaviour) and had been promised a trip to the zoo when he got 15 of them. We headed off to the zoo which is about a half hour's drive on the 401 northeast of our house. When we got there I saw hundreds of geese on a snowy slope by the parking lot, I wondered if they were the same geese I'd seen the day before flying overhead. I speculate that they spend their days "grazing" at the zoo, and return in the late afternoon to their home on the lakeshore.

The zoo stays open over winter, but many exhibits close. The list of closed exhibits was very long! But, we got to see a rhino and a hippo, orangutans and gorillas, tigers and meerkats. And more.

The tigers were outdoors, there were three in one enclosure and one in another. The tigers were very playful, playing tag in the snow, running around and around the trail in their exhibit. Reminded me of the Little Black Sambo story. Later we were talking to a zookeeper and she said you are supposed to be able to tell tigers apart by the facial markings. Good luck with that! She said they do not normally live in snowy areas but adapt very well to the cold and snow, growing a thick undercoat for the circumstances. The three together were a mother and two grown cubs, the one alone was the father. The tiger in the photo is one of the cubs.

She also told us about the apes that we had been watching. Turns out they all have private areas and public areas. The apes get to choose whether they will go in the public exhibit area or not. So for example, there were supposed to be a male and a couple of females in the public area before noon, but the females chose not to go so only the male was there. The keeper told us that the private quarters for the apes are so nice that when the zookeepers first saw them they wondered if the apes would ever consent to go on display. But apparently they do.

In the afternoon there was a huge male, a mother and baby and another female. The male was twice the size of the females at least and he had long long hair that trailed on the ground behind him. The baby was very mischievous, he would go right up to the male and swat his face trying to get a reaction. His mother likes to interact with the public, she has a spot by the window where she has made a little seat for herself of rags and she sits there watching the people.

Today she was very delicately picking her nose, to the great delight of the children watching. The other female found an old T-shirt in the enclosure and was wearing it. The baby was trying to get it off of her. We learned from the zookeeper that the mother was in her late 40s and this baby was a big surprise to everyone. Its father, not the male we saw, is in his 50s.

We saw meerkats in an indoor enclosure with a window view outdoors. One meerkat always stands on guard and today he was staring out the window. Off in the distance you could see the Canada Geese on the slope, he watched them very intently. The other meerkats played obliviously around him. When the one meerkat tired of standing guard, another one instantly took his place.

I know lots of people have trouble with the idea of zoos. But this zoo is very well set up and it is nice to know that some of the animals at least have a choice in whether they go on display or not.

I have heard zoos justified on two counts, one is educating visitors, especially children, on the dire state that many wild animal populations are in. Kids see these animals in zoos and learn enough about them to be concerned about their welfare. The other is that many of the larger animals are so endangered in the wild that they may not survive at all, if not for captive populations. For example the Indian Rhino we saw was one of 140 in captivity in the world. The wild population is around 2,000, but before strong conservation measures were taken, the wild population had fallen below 500. I didn't think the rhino looked all that happy in his rather small indoor enclosure, but his presence here does help people to understand how important it is to protect wild populations from poaching (they are hunted and killed for their horns which are highly valued for rather questionable medicinal uses) and habitat destruction.

Isaac has a wonderful new camera that he bought from a professional photographer and got some great pictures of the animals, particularly the tigers playing tag, but the few pictures I took did not turn out so well so I'm only posting a couple that did.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Snow in Toronto!

We had a great snow storm here on Friday. Started early in the morning, snowed all day long. Around 20 or 30 cm. I think.

The kids came home early from school, Tristan helped his Mom shovel snow.

On Saturday I went for a walk in High Park, it was so beautiful with the fresh snow. So many people were out walking their dogs, and the dogs were absolutely loving it. Chasing each other through the snow, leaping and cavorting.

I took pictures of one of the little creeks that run through the park. Walked home via Roncesvalles, stopped to pick up fair trade organic coffee and tea for the house.

On the last leg of the walk I heard geese in the sky, looked up to see a pair of Canada Geese flying overhead. Then a minute later more geese, half a dozen flying in formation. Then another half dozen. I kept thinking I should have had my camera out. Then off in the distance I heard honking so this time I had the camera out ready, and it must have been a flock of hundred or more that flew overhead.

This picture only shows part of the flock, like a wave passing over. I'm guessing they were all headed south to the lakeshore.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Screensaver memories

OK, one last thing. I usually do any writing on my laptop, as opposed to the desktop computer, because I can lounge on the couch with the laptop. When I fired up the laptop this morning, I was reading and drinking coffee while it was booting itself up. I left it running for long enough that it went into screensaver mode. My screensaver is a slide show of photos I took around D'arcy BC where Sam lives. I absolutely love that place and I have a ton of photos of the area. A noticeable gap though is that I have no winter photos.

Anyway, the screensaver kicks in and I put down the book to watch it. The photos are in random order, and they bring back memories of the various walks that I took them on.

The time Sam and I drove in his truck up the logging road along Anderson Lake.

The time the river overflowed and flooded the runway back in the woods behind Sam's place.

The times I walked up the mountain taking pictures of wildflowers.

The time the horses came to visit.

The time we went to Birkenhead Provincial Park and tried to ride our bikes along one of the lakeside trails there.

And the many times just sitting on the deck looking at the mountains, listening to the river.

So many fine memories...

So, having no social life I read

...or, having so much to read I have no time for a social life.

Been reading a lot. Since moving to Toronto I've started ordering books and CDs from Amazon. It's not particularly rational but for some reason I've given myself the green light to start accumulating books again. The last time I felt like I could do that was when I lived in Wolfville, over 20 years ago!

In addition to buying books I am taking full advantage of the Toronto Public Library's very generous Holds policy. I can put holds on as many books as I please. I've had as many as 37 holds on at once and I keep adding to it so I always have at least 20 on hold at a time. They keep trickling into the local library for me to pick up. Right now I have more than 15 borrowed books in stacks around my bedroom and living room. The TPL does not have a Central Library as in Vancouver, the closest thing to a central library is the Reference Library, which you cannot borrow books from. Everything else is a branch library. My closest branch is the Parkdale library which is pretty small. The next closest is High Park which is a bit bigger and has a really comfortable feel to it, but at this time of year I am reluctant to walk that far.

The book I am most enjoying right now is Sara Davidson's Leap! (What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? -- Reflections from the Boomer Generation). It's a collection of interviews with aging baby boomers and some of her own experiences as well at the ripe old age of 59. Her style and attitude immensely appeal to me. She has chapter titles like "Change is Gonna Come, or, Another Fucking Opportunity for Growth". Now don't you like her already?

Also trying to read The Toe Bone and the Tooth by Martin Prechtel, something I heard about from one of my guild associates. It's a strange book, a mix of Mayan folk tales and one man's experience living and travelling in Mayan lands. Not sure what to make of it but in leafing through the book I got hooked on the title story itself. A Mayan tale about a young man who falls in love with a goddess, and all the things that befall him as a result. I am totally fascinated by mythology, and this particular myth has echoes of myths from all over the world. At one point the young man must descend into the Afterworld for a particular task and then return to the upper world carrying the results of his journey, and what befalls him as he attempts to return. There must be hundreds of stories like that around the world, it is so archetypal.

I borrowed the biography of Sir John A Macdonald by Donald Creighton as well. It's a huge two volume work, considered the final word on Sir John A. I borrowed that because I heard an interview with someone on CBC, I forget his name, who wrote the same biography recently. Too recent for the TPL to have it so I got Creighton's version instead. What tweaked my interest was the writer who was being interviewed saying that Sir John A was absolutely fixated on creating Canada, as his life's work. And if we ever wonder where our typical anti-Americanism comes from, we can thank him for it. That was his number one motivation to persist in his monumental task, that he abhorred all things American. This writer was talking about Macdonald's personality and character and mentioned his renowned drunkenness. How Macdonald was absolutely unapologetic about it. At one point when questioned about his fitness to be prime minister he said he was a better man drunk than his most significant opponent was to run this country. I keep this book on the couch and just dip into it randomly from time to time. I have no hope of reading the whole thing, not right now at any rate.

I got the not so big life: making room for what really matters by Sarah Susanka, which sounds like a pretty good book, but I am not nearly as taken by it as I am the Davidson book. It has some good stuff in it though. Susanka is an architect whose previous book is called the not so big house in which I gather she describes how to design a home that feels really comfortable and right for you, as opposed to being big and modern and having all the latest in features and furnishings. So this book is a sequel to that in which she counsels people on having a satisfying life as opposed to keeping up with Joneses. Her answer to "is this all there is to life?" Um, I think from that you can pretty much guess the rest of the content of the book.

But enough about borrowed books! I bought The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, by Angeles Arrien. I only ran across this book in searching for something else, and I had to buy that one on spec because the library didn't have it (I like to read things before I buy them, I really only want to buy books I know I'll pick up again). The title interested me at the time. I leafed through it briefly and it is on the back burner for now, simply because there is no time limit on it, no due date for returning it. Another book I bought a while ago and have only half-read for exactly the same reason is Blessed Unrest (How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw it Coming) by Paul Hawken. I want to read it but it has no due date so it sits at the bottom of the heap.

For my writing course I am supposed to be reading short stories, so I have a stack of anthologies to pick through, I find them of variable quality so I am not terribly motivated to read them. But one anthology is Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, that one I did read all the way through. I was particularly interested in the story at the end, which is about a character in his novel American Gods. This story is based on the Beowulf legend, and it was interesting to read, imagining that he was probably working on the screenplay for the movie Beowulf when he wrote that story. He sure has a way with mythology!

My so-called social life

Today is a snow day. We are supposed to get 20 cm by evening. Compared to the rest of Ontario that is hardly anything at all, but right now it is almost white-out conditions, blowing snow and just wet enough to stick to the windows and reduce visibility even further. Toronto gets a bit of a warming effect from the lake which translates on a day like today into freezing rain and ice pellets mixed in with the snow. So I am pretty much house-bound.

Also, my so-called social life pretty much evaporated this week; Helen and I were going to go skating yesterday when it was clear and sunny by kind of cold, we wimped out due to the cold. I suspect we made the wrong decision, it probably would have been really beautiful to get out on skates yesterday. And I was supposed to go out for dinner with Nancy tonight but she emailed last night that due to the coming storm she wanted to postpone. She commutes from Hamilton so I certainly don't blame her for that. We have so far managed one dinner and one lunch since I first arrived in Toronto, postponing seems to be the theme of this friendship.

The last few weekends Gretel and Isaac and I have been alternating going out on Saturday nights, two of us go out while one stays home to babysit. This is my weekend to babysit. Had to cancel out of knitting group last night due to having a counselling appointment, so the only remotely social thing I will have done this week is my Wednesday night writing class. It was OK, but I was in kind of an emotionally raw mental state which seemed to show up big time in any writing I did that night. When it came time to read out loud, I found myself choking back tears. Then when I'd look up at the end, everyone is kind of staring at me with round eyes, like, where did that come from? Usually my stuff is kind of humourous, but not so this week!

I guess I need to get out more...