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