Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I wish you all the very best in the new year, 2010. 

I am enjoying a quiet evening with old friends in Whistler, we are all hoping we will manage to stay awake to toast the new year in with champagne (old fogeys that we are!). 

This afternoon some of us went cross-country skiing, some of us went snowshoeing. Leia the dog fell through the ice into a lake! But she valiantly pulled herself out, shook herself off, and proceeded as if nothing had happened. We however, noting the shivering of her hind legs, decided that our little expedition was over and we should hurry home. 

Hope everyone else manages to stay awake for the new year too...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Night walk

Last night I tried to take Hiro for a solo walk after dark, he just went crazy with joy to be out on the trail, running, leaping, jumping, even twirling in mid-air. It was great to see him so happy, but it did some damage to his wound so he doesn't get to go out off-leash any more. If you look closely you can just make Hiro out at the edge of the darkness. He's wearing a T-shirt to protect his wound.

While he was leaping for joy and tearing his wound apart, I was taking night photos...

The moon was only half full, but it was enough light to see quite clearly by, and there were sharp shadows on the bright snow.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Downed in D'Arcy

The Teeny Tiny computer went belly up last night. It's been just over six weeks since I bought it and it appears to be kaput.

Wow. Probably the shortest lived computer I've ever had.

I called the store where I bought it and they said bring it in to the nearest outlet and they'd see what they could do for me. Because I bought the extended warranty the fellow I talked to said they would attempt to go the extra mile for me. Technically it's still under manufacturer's warranty so I'm supposed to deal with the manufacturer.

I have not backed up this computer since I left Toronto, but I don't think I've lost a lot. All my photos are still on my camera memory card, and my email on a Yahoo server. A few small files that I have downloaded might be lost but the fellow I talked to seemed to think they could recover the data from my hard drive at a reasonable cost. In the meantime Sam is loaning me the use of his laptop while I am at his place. After I leave here I'll be netbook-less until I get back to Toronto as I really don't have time to drop in at the nearest computer store outlet to have them look at my computer. And this still being the Christmas season I imagine they are terribly busy right now anyway.

It does feel weird though, not having my little netbook. You know you're an addict when a brief period of no access sends you into a tailspin! Really should do something about that, but I am at a loss as to what.

Aside from that setback things are fine here, we're just hanging out with the dogs.

Hiro is wounded and although he is feeling fine any rambunctious behaviour stresses the stitches and the wound is not healing properly. So we are trying to keep him more or less immobilized. Might be do-able if it were just him, but Hapi really really wants to play with him, so we have two very big, very frustrated dogs here.

This afternoon Hiro got loose just when I was trying to bring Hapi in from a walk; the two dogs took off in a great play fight all over the field in front of the cabin. I spent several minutes chasing them and yelling at them to quit that, which of course they had no intention of doing. I finally managed to collar Hiro but Hapi kept trying to attack him anyway.

I think it's going to take another couple of weeks for Hiro's wound to heal enough for him to be free to play again, I am sorry I will not be able to witness that.

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Christmas Day, so this must be D'Arcy

Merry Christmas to everybody. I am at my son Sam's place in D'Arcy for a week, enjoying a winter wonderland in the mountains.

We celebrated Christmas a little early, a couple of days ago at Josh and Kim's place in New Westminster. It was a bit of a comedy of errors, Josh planned to have the turkey in the oven by 2pm, but with traffic delays and whatnot, we did not manage the trick until 4pm. However all turned out well, it was a great turkey and a great dinner. We took a break between the turkey and the apple pie to walk Brewster (the resident shih tzu) around the neighbourhood and look at Christmas lights.
I'll be in Whistler for New Year's, and if my stamina holds out, I'll be visiting Seattle briefly before heading home to Toronto. Am thoroughly missing my little truck for getting around!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A shameful first: child soldier faces trial for war crimes

According to today's Toronto Star, Omar Khadr---the only Canadian imprisoned at Guantanamo---may be moved to a new facility, "Gitmo North", just outside of Chicago. Omar faces trial before an American military commission, and will be the only child soldier in world history to be tried for war crimes. He was captured at age 15, seriously wounded, and charged with the murder of an American soldier (the evidence supporting this charge is rather sketchy).

Omar has been imprisoned without trial since 2002, suffered torture, and not been permitted any visits from his family in Canada.

Shame on the American government for torturing, charging and trying a child soldier, shame on the Canadian government for keeping silent.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This 'n' that

I'm not finding a lot of time to keep up the blog right now, so I'm afraid you're just going to have to be patient with me. However a few quickies today:

1) Yesterday the coldest place in the world was Edmonton Alberta, at -49C. Yikes!

2) A link on Rebecca's Pocket to The Seven Foods Experts Won't Eat. Yikes again, I'd say at least half of them are regulars in my diet...

3) I'm in Victoria BC now; we decorated a Christmas tree last night with eggnogs and rum in hand, Carolling, Carolling on the CD player, and a gentle snowfall outdoors. How seasonable! However the forecast is for warm temperatures and rain for the rest of the week so the snow will be short-lived.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

D'Arcy expedition

Josh and I drove up to Sam's place in D'Arcy last week, and I have only just now had a chance to write about it. Josh beat me to the punch, you can read his version of the trip at his blog. We photographed some of the same stuff, although I didn't photograph the Noxious Weed. Or the CC-177.

It was just an overnight trip, a three hour drive and arriving early afternoon, then leaving early afternoon the following day. We drove into town to see Sam's house and the D'Arcy waterfront (Sam lives in a rental cabin, and rents out his house), then walked back in the bush to see the now abandoned runway.

I had to laugh, Sam invited us to make sandwiches when we arrived, and Josh had to clean Sam's kitchen before attempting to prepare food in it. Usually that's what I do, clean up the kitchen as soon as I arrive there, but this time Josh did it. Since the last time I was there Sam has acquired a dishwasher, so at least the sink wasn't piled high with dirty dishes.

Then there's the dogs, Hapi and Hiro. Very sweet dogs. Huge, but sweet. Their fur is thoroughly matted with burrs from their daily walks in the bush, and it must be over four inches thick. It will have to be cut off before it can be brushed or combed, it is quite badly matted. They are used to sleeping outdoors, Sam has a very good kennel setup for them.

We went for quite a long walk the next morning up a logging road to a viewpoint and then back again in a large loop. It was cold and frosty with snow on the mountains but not in the valley.

The pine beetle is a huge problem in BC, I don't know how much pine forest has been lost to it, but it's a lot. The land where Sam lives has a lot of beautiful old ponderosa pine on it, the owner is trying to save it. This involves cutting down and destroying infected trees, and using pheromones to keep beetles away from healthy trees. They look like little white paper packets stapled to the tree trunks; they are supposed to convince the beetles that these trees are already occupied and they should look elsewhere for a pine tree to infest.

Trees that have to be cut down are debarked so that the cold winter will kill any beetles remaining in the tree.

Beetle traps are also attached to downed trees.

The beetles don't actually kill the tree themselves, but they carry a fungus that clogs the tree phloem and chokes the tree. All the needles turn red and fall off. An infested forest turns red, then grey.

When an infested tree is cut down, you can see the fungus stained wood just under the bark. It turns the wood blue.

They are attempting to market this blue-stained wood as interesting building material; it is still perfectly good pine wood but with a mix of the normal and blue colours.

The drive to and from D'Arcy is magnificent. We had lovely clear sunny weather for it, and Josh was driving so I got to enjoy the scenery. Many mountain vistas, views across Howe Sound to the mountains beyond, the ski hills of Whistler (mountains, not hills), the tall trees, and more.

There was snow on the ground in Whistler and the snow-making machines were very busy there preparing for the Winter Olympics. Josh tells me they imported hundreds of snow making machines for the occasion. Usually Whistler gets more than enough snow, but there has been the occasional winter when nature just didn't come through with the white stuff, so they're not taking any chances.

Security has flipped into high gear here, all the stories I heard about how China allowed no nonsense to occur there during the Olympics is no different from what is happening here. The place is turning into a police state for the occasion.

But I love the time I get to spend in D'Arcy, it is a wonderful place.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I had dinner with a friend last night. Mona (not her real name) used to be president of the strata council of the condo complex where I lived in New Westminster. In BC a condo complex is known as a strata. She sold and moved out about a year before I did, and when I sold my condo she offered me a house-sit while she went off to Arizona to visit family. It was timely for me, my condo was sold but I was not yet ready to move eastward.

Mona's parents lived in Burnaby, they were working class folks who raised a family and lived in the same house for over forty years. Mona is the youngest of three sibs, she has a sister in North Van and a brother in Arizona. As these things go, her parents began to show signs of dementia in their 80s. Mona, as the never-married daughter, became more and more involved in their lives, until last year she was spending all her weekends and after-work time at their home. She did get home-care help but it was tricky, her mother resented strangers in the house.

Then last August on a fine summer evening her parents went walk-about. For six hours. Mona was frantic, called the police, helicopters were called in, the whole nine yards. Eventually she got a phone call from someone who lived many miles away who had noticed an older couple sitting on the kerb in front of their home and had managed to coax a phone number out of them. It was time for a nursing home.

In BC you can get into a nursing home situation on subsidy fairly quickly, but there are strings attached. Major strings. You can for example look around your region and pick three nursing homes you like, but you won't get into any of them. You get slotted into one you don't particularly like and wait for a "lateral transfer" to one of your top three picks.

If you are a dementia patient, that first move into a crappy nursing home far from friends and family will probably kill you, so the lateral transfer will in all likelihood be unnecessary. In addition, if you are a married couple, you will be separated. The province will guarantee that you will be placed in the same complex, but the chances of being in the same room together are pretty slim if not non-existent. If you are a married couple with dementia, then for sure that move will kill you.

Mona's parents were hardworking frugal folks, it turned out when the kids went through all their papers, they realized that their parents were well off enough to afford private care. There would be no estate but their parents now had options. With private care they could be placed in a nursing home nearby in the same room.

"Private care" sounds superior, but in fact it is exactly the same as "public care". Mona and her sibs placed their parents in a nursing home that also has public care residents, and there is the slim possibility that her parents can shift to public care in the future and stay in the same accommodation. So the family home was sold, the family finances arranged to pay for the nursing home, at a whopping $9,000 a month. For a tiny room and less-than-perfect care.

Mona says that her parents got better care when they were still at home. At the nursing home she has found her Dad in dirty diapers, apparently unchanged for many hours. Their room reeks of urine, she has taken their laundry to her own home to wash. On $9,000 a month.

Mona is no wimp, she has reamed the nursing staff out on more that one occasion, made threats of dire consequences if they don't smarten up and treat her parents with dignity and respect. Her sister on the other hand is afraid of retaliation from the nursing home and tries to get Mona to shut up about the abuse, the sister is afraid that the parents will never get on the public care option if they rock the boat too much. Mona angers both the nursing home and her sister by continuing to advocate for her parents. I'm a bitch, she says.

Mona has no social life, she has lost a significant amount of weight in the past year. Her doctor applauds the weight loss but not the method of achieving it. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt because her mother is rather upset about losing her home and being forced by her own family to live in this godforsaken place. They are somewhat safer there, but have on occasion gone walk-about from the nursing home.

Once Mona was in Arizona visiting her brother when she was called that her parents had gone missing. Her response was, "And you are calling me because?" Did they expect her to rush back from Arizona to help in the search? Mona's mother can present as sufficiently normal to exit the nursing home as if she were a visitor there. But there is nowhere for them to go, their home has been sold to pay for the nursing home care.

Mona's sister says she will kill herself before she will let this happen to her. Mona says, How will you know when it is time? Do you know that dementia runs in families? Will you follow through on that plan when your mind is gone?

If we treated children like this, there would be public outrage about child abuse. It is OK to treat elders this way. Sooner or later, we are all elders.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rain rain rain

This has been an historically wet month in Vancouver, so I've seen plenty of rain so far! I can probably count on one finger how many hours of unfiltered sunlight I've seen. OK, maybe two fingers.

Gretel drove me to the Toronto airport for 5.30am, kind of a hurry-up-and-wait deal, where you scramble to be at the airport in time and then sit around for two hours waiting for your flight to take off. But at that hour the airplane was not crowded, I had a row to myself. I had made lunch for myself but left it at home, Gretel made me a bagel for breakfast and that had to do for lunch as well.

Johanna picked me up at the airport in Vancouver, we drove downtown for breakfast (it was just past 10 in the morning by the time we left the airport) at a little place on the harbourfront. It rained solidly all day, we didn't go outdoors all day except to get into the car. Just as well, I was thoroughly jetlagged anyway.

Last year I stayed with my friends Dave and Johanna in New Westminster, but they moved to North Vancouver just over a month ago so now I am staying with them in North Van. Since they only just moved, and they both work full-time, they are not fully unpacked, but it looks pretty good. On my first full day here I went out to buy a few groceries, including english muffins for breakfast, only to discover that they have no toaster or toaster oven. They probably do have one, they certainly used to, but it is probably buried in the as-yet unopened boxes in the basement.

They have lots of trails for walking the dog, the sense of living in a rainforest is pretty unavoidable here. Lots of very big trees dripping wet most of the time.

I connected with number 2 son Josh for dinner and a walk on the harbour seawall, last time I was here parts of it were blocked off due to construction but it is all open now. Walking the seawall after dark was quite lovely with all the lights and seaplanes. Out in the harbour there's a float with gigantic Olympic rings displayed, they light up after dark but the middle ring is for some reason not lit. The 2010 winter games will be here in February so they are still working on getting the city ready for that. I'm kind of glad to be missing that, it'll be a madhouse.

We are going to drive up to D'Arcy to see Sam on Wednesday, Josh has never been there. Sam plans to take some time off work to show us a good time in the boonies. He said to be sure to check weather and road conditions before setting out, most of mainland BC is under snow already and some roads in his area are already a bit tricky. After that I have a busy schedule of trips to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, back to D'Arcy for Christmas and Whistler for New Year's, then down to Seattle for a quick visit there before flying back to Toronto in the new year.

I got out to a movie at Tinseltown with an old friend, we saw Pirate Radio. Quite funny with a lot of good '60s rock and roll. Last time I was at Tinseltown it was like a ghost town. Huge downtown shopping centre with no shops except the movie theatre. They built it just in time for the housing and dot com crash in Vancouver around 2000, it sat empty for years. The cinema is on the top floor, you had to pass through several levels of deserted shops to get to it, very bizarre. But Tinseltown survived the lean years and now it's full of open shops.

Afterward we went for dinner at a favourite Indian restaurant down on 4th. It's a family business, usually empty, not sure how they survive, but they've been there a long time and we usually end up chatting with the owners in the course of the evening. They make the best chai ever.

It's a bit strange not to have my truck handy, I have to take buses everywhere. But so far it's working OK. I rode on the new skytrain for a couple of stops, the train cars are slightly bigger than the regular skytrain cars. Actually, the new line is not called the skytrain, because much of it is underground so it doesn't make sense to call it a skytrain. So what I rode on was really the Canada Line. It goes through a part of Vancouver that in my opinion badly needed a skytrain line, but there was a lot of opposition to putting it in. However the coming Olympics caused the government to ram it through in spite of public opposition. Quite frankly I am glad they did that. This new 'skytrain' goes through the relatively wealthy part of Vancouver, the opposition was largely from folks who didn't want mass transit in their nice neighbourhoods. In my not-so-humble opinion. It used to bug me that I could not skytrain to that part of the city, I pretty much had to drive because the bus system was so inadequate.

So that's my trip so far, I really should get outdoors for the surprise appearance of the sun this afternoon. And this blog post is coming to you from the keyboard of Dora! So far, so good!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Leaving again

I'm off on a jet plane to the west coast, to spend all of December and Christmas with family and friends there. Dora's coming along for the ride, this will be its first trip and hopefully not its last!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Power of soup, skates and simplicity

Here's a great little news article from close to my neighbourhood (Dufferin Grove Park), about a local community activist, Jutta Mason. Very cool lady.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Goodbye SippyCup, Hello Dora

I just bought a Teeny Tiny computer to replace my old laptop. The laptop is over seven years old, a venerable age for any computer but positively ancient for a laptop. Even though I am happy with it and would much rather just get it repaired than replace it, I also like the idea of getting new(er), faster (maybe) technology, so I went out and bought the Teeny Tiny computer.

I give my computers names. My last desktop was called BamBam, and its replacement is too. My old laptop is SippyCup, but I decided not to give the new computer the same name so its name is Dora. As in Dora the Explorer.

As it turned out, Dora was not entirely "all there" when I brought it home; it is supposed to be a netbook but it couldn't access the net. What kind of netbook is that?!? As it turned out the store had not installed all the drivers so I had to take it back on a day when the technician was in to get that done.

The netbook comes with a CD of drivers but no CD drive, so unless you also purchase an external CD drive, the CD of drivers is kind of useless. And if you're missing the driver that lets the netbook access the net, downloading software from the net becomes a bit of a Catch 22. Can't access the net without the driver, can't get the driver without the net access.

Anyway, with that taken care of then there's the whole day and more of loading favourite bits of software, all my data and whatever personal configuration I want. It really takes the edge off the initial pleasure at acquiring new technology! Dora is no longer a shiny bright new toy but rather the source of seemingly endless work and aggravation.

The Teeny Tiny keyboard is actually only slightly smaller than the laptop keyboard, but for some reason it has extra keys that I don't know the use of and get in my way. The Shift keys seem to have moved so I can't hit them intuitively but have to stop, look and carefully place my fingers on them. The mouse touchpad is OK but the two buttons for it have been replaced by a single button that I find hard to manipulate.

Then there's the Teeny Tiny screen! Well whatever, hopefully I'll get used to it.

But what I really like about Dora, is its Teeny Tiny weight. Sippycup weighs in at six and a half pounds, Dora at a little over two pounds, or one kilo. Sweet.

This post comes to you from the keyboard of BamBam, Dora is still a "work in progress".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Speaking of critters...

We knew we had mice in the house, it's that time of year and the evidence has been mounting. Yesterday afternoon I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and sure enough, there was a tiny mouse scurrying between the closet door and the heat vent in my livingroom.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening I caught glimpses of this tiny creature (or one of its peers!) in various places in the livingroom and hallway. As the room darkened (I'm not a big fan of bright lights after dark) the mouse got bolder and forayed into the middle of the room, inches from my feet. I wondered if it was a youngster, it's head was at least half of its total size.

Later I saw it heading into my bedroom and that worried me, I was not up for dealing with it in my bed! However, chasing mice is counterproductive and I have no traps.

Later still, Gretel found a dead mouse at the foot of my stairs. We surmise that Dobby got it. Having gotten to know this particular mouse a little bit, I was somewhat saddened by its abrupt demise. But I am glad that Dobby takes his vermin-catching responsibilities seriously.

Don't palm us off

In the righthand column of my blog I have a link to a website called Zooborns. It posts photos and videos of very cute animal babies from zoos all over the world. I followed the link today to yesterday's Zooborn post, Perth's newest primate: "Don't palm us off!"

For many people, zoos are controversial. Keeping sentient animals in cages, imprisoned for their entire lives for our pleasure and edification just seems wrong, if not cruel. My own position on this is that due to human overpopulation and environmental destruction, many of these animal species will probably not survive the 21st century in the wild, they will go extinct. Zoo populations will be all that remain, despite our efforts to protect wild populations. From that perspective alone, I approve of zoos.

Zoos also help to educate us and particularly our young about the importance of these animals to our world and about their precarious existence and the need for more effort to protect them. And there have been great advances in how zoo animals are taken care of, modern zoos are a far cry from the zoos of my childhood. I remember very clearly the bears in small concrete and steel cages at the old Toronto Riverdale Zoo (which is now a farm setting with mostly farm animals in paddocks and barns).

Anyway, if you go take a look at this particular Zooborn post, you will see lovely photos and a video of a mother orangutan and her baby. Most endearing. But as well, there is an important message about how orangutans are endangered by oil palm plantations in Malaysia. The Perth Zoo has started a campaign (Don't Palm Us Off) to have obligatory labelling of palm oil in products, to increase awareness of how huge oil palm plantations cause the deaths of thousands of orangutans in the wild every year. Take a look at the (just under) 2 minute video on that Zooborn webpost.

Friday, November 20, 2009

T 'n' me do the 'muzee'

Tristan and I made a trip to the ROM on Tuesday, his last day before going to Hong Kong. What a kid, he gets to spend two weeks with one of his many grandmothers at her home in Hong Kong!

Tristan has a new camera to take to Hong Kong, so he got to test it at the ROM. He took many photos of all the exhibits we visited. I told him to be careful of using the flash because if he photographed something behind glass all he would get was a photo of the reflection of the flash. So he was careful about that. He also managed to photograph me on the streetcar from 18" away without blinding me (whew!).

We alternated between stuff he wanted to see (dinosaurs and mummies of course!) and stuff I wanted to see. The Dead Sea Scrolls are in Toronto now, in the basement of the ROM, and one of my favourite galleries, the Triple-AP (Africa, Americas, and Asia-Pacific). Tristan had mixed feelings about those but I think I managed to keep him sufficiently interested for me to soak up what I wanted out of it.

Tristan started to take a photo in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit but a security guard stopped him. The guard was very nice about it, he carefully explained to Tristan that he was welcome to take pictures of anything the ROM owned, but unfortunately the ROM did not own the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit, and the people who did own it forbade photo-taking for copyright reasons.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in caves around the Dead Sea in Israel, or what would soon become Israel. They have been dated to around 800 BCE (Before Common Era); they are some of the oldest written documents yet found. Some were well preserved in pottery jars, others were disintegrated into tiny fragments on the cave floors. But expert archaeologists flocked to the area to salvage as much as possible, going into those caves with tweezers to pick up every shred they could find. In those days the area was a dangerous battleground, so it was all high drama. But they gathered up as much as they could and attempted to piece the fragments together, like a massive archaeological jigsaw puzzle.

In the 1940s and '50s the methods and technology for preserving ancient documents were rudimentary, and in many cases counterproductive. For example, the scrolls were manipulated in rooms brightly lit by sunshine streaming in from big windows, a disaster for materials hitherto kept in the dark for thousands of years. They bound the pieces together with ordinary adhesive tapes and glues; chemicals leached from those adhesives into the parchment and papyrus fragments, disintegrating them further. So it has been a massive job to recover the scrolls from their initial "preservation" in the 1950s.

Ironically the librarians and original creators of those scrolls used far superior methods and technologies to preserve their documents than we moderns were capable of. The religious community of Qumran had the sole responsibility for storing religious documents created in the ancient state of Israel. They were a sect that put heavy emphasis on physical and spiritual purity, so ritual baths were an important part of the community. They had elaborate waterworks to draw precious water from local mountains into their many baths. They stored their documents in earthenware jars, so another feature of the community was its many kilns to fire the jars. Archaeologists say that in its heyday, Qumran would have had air thick with smoke from those kilns.

The Dead Sea area is hot and dry, the caves in the surrounding cliffs cool, dark and dry. This was a perfect location for preserving almost anything for many millenia. Almost certainly the scrolls were not all created on site, but were brought here for storage as precious religious objects. Writing was a holy activity, only a few trained religious experts would have been able to do it. The written word was about as holy a thing as you can imagine. So it was exceedingly important to preserve written scrolls as well as possible.

The content of the scrolls was almost entirely religious, they contained scriptures of virtually all of our modern Christian Bible (with the exception of the Book of Esther) and many more religious texts outside of the modern Bible. They revealed an interesting biblical secret, that the texts vary and conflict, multiple versions of the same stories exist. Abraham, the father of both the Jewish and Islamic religions, and by extension the Christian religion, is the subject of many stories and legends, often contradictory. For example, according to the Qu'ran Abraham was directed by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael, not Isaac, and Ishmael was the father of Islam. But according to Jewish tradition, it was Isaac, the father of Judaism, not Ishmael that was to be sacrificed.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the ROM had actual examples of the scrolls specially preserved and displayed in a darkened room, at the end of a long display giving context to the scroll fragments. I was wondering before I went how seeing fragments of ancient documents was going to be spun into a whole exhibit, but the information about how the scrolls were discovered, translated and preserved, and what has been learned about the ancient community of Qumran in the process was indeed fascinating.

The ROM also had an exhibit about The Ten Commandments that had ended before we got there, but in fact it was still mostly in place. A security guard told me that they had removed the original artifacts but left the surrounding and background exhibits in place. So, according to this exhibit, The Ten Commandments were actually The Ten Words. They were not so much commandments or laws as they were the clauses of a contract or treaty between God and the Israelites.

The language used in the original texts followed the form and content of other treaties and contracts from the same place and time. God states his identity, and then why this contract or treaty is being proposed. The clauses that follow stipulate the requirements for being part of the treaty community. The first and most important of course is recognizing the authority of God in the community. It does not deny the existence or power of other Gods, but simply states that this community must turn away from those other Gods and pay attention only to the one God named in the treaty.

If you want to be a member in good standing of this treaty community, you must follow certain rules, among them being not committing murder, theft or adultery. Honouring your parents is simply good insurance: you look after your parents and your children are likewise required to look after you, and in this way everyone has a shot at a long life.

The last commandment---the one about not coveting your neighbour's wife or ox---is the most interesting, it cautions against even thinking of doing bad things. It shows that in those days religious leaders were aware that Desire was at the root of wrongdoing and must be guarded against.

You can imagine that an eight year old boy, particularly an eight year old boy with no knowledge of holy scriptures would find these exhibits rather boring. However he was quite interested in the many films and I tried to give him a historical context of why this stuff was important.

The Triple-AP gallery is fascinating to me because it lumps together many arts and crafts from all over the world. These are mostly "soft" crafts, artifacts made from wood, fibre, shells and feathers. Consequently most of them are relatively recent, they are made from materials that do not survive well over the millennia. In a previous posting I speculated that we get a biased view of the history of our species when we look at the ancient record of preserved artifacts, they appear to be created predominantly by men and are such things as religious objects and weaponry, even the pottery objects are often ascribed to masculine creative genius. But in the Triple-AP gallery you get to see so much of what women create: clothing, basketry, and elaborate ornaments for both everyday and special occasion use. These are beautiful creations that do not survive the test of time, they do not preserve well. So when we look at archaeological artifacts we often get a very biased view of who was making what.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blues 'n' booze at Hugh's

Went to see Matt Andersen and Mike Stevens play at Hugh's Room last night, dropped a hundred bucks and had a marvelous time. Total blast. Am paying the price this morning though for the bottle of wine Grace and I shared. But I have a new Andersen CD on the stereo so that's OK. I feel like a teenager, I actually got his autograph on my CD! Hoo-wee!

I had wanted to see Matt in Lunenburg before I left Nova Scotia, but it just didn't work out. I checked his website and sure enough he was playing Toronto, but last night was the one and only night, and after that no hope of crossing paths with him for many months. So I hooked up with Grace, one of the Dog Ladies, and we booked a table at Hugh's Room for dinner and the show. It's a great venue, seats around 200 people mostly at tables, and every table is a good table---good views and good sound. Grace looked around the room and noted the wide mix of ages, opined that that was a good sign. Gotta be good to attract that kind of audience.

I'd never heard Mike before, he's a harmonica player with many years behind him of The Grand Ol' Opry (Nashville) and touring Innu and Innuit communities of Canada's north. It shows in his music, a unique mix of many styles. He talked about his experiences on tour and some of the work he is doing bringing music to northern communities as an alternative to drug use among youth.

I have never heard a harmonica "speak" before, but Mike makes his harmonicas speak. You can hear the words coming out of the harmonica! His harmonica said: "Grew up in Sarnia/From Sarnia still/If the air don't get ya/Then the fries will", or words to that effect. Mike's from Sarnia.

Matt is Matt, fabulous voice and virtuoso guitar playing, and an engaging personal style on stage. He bantered with Mike and with the audience, and used his long curly hair like another instrument. He'd swing his head so his hair whipped around like a halo. When Matt sings the blues it pierces your soul. He doesn't just sing the words, he IS the blues. He did one song about returning troops that hit hard. And of course his signature rendition of She Takes The Sunshine. I first heard him sing that two years ago at Deep Roots in Wolfville, and it literally choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. This time he has polished his rendition some, and in the process lost some of the emotional rawness, but it was still a great performance.

Grace and I arrived early to eat dinner before the performance. The format at Hugh's Room is they want you to come early if you want dinner so they can get you fed and the dishes cleared in time for the show. So you have lots of time to eat and chat before the music. Grace and I don't really know each other that well, we met a few times last winter at Dog Lady get-togethers, so this was a chance to get to know each other. We ordered Concert Specials from the menu, and a bottle of a good red wine.

Grace's background is Japanese Canadian, her ancestors settled in the Steveston area of British Columbia. During World War II her parents' family was split up because some of them had been sent back to Japan for school, so they had to stay in Japan while the rest of the family was interned---like most Japanese in Canada at the time---in camps in the interior of BC. They would have lost everything during that time, and most of them did not return to Steveston after the war because their old community was gone.

After the war Grace's parents came to Toronto, where she was born and grew up. We shared experiences of growing up in Toronto, of travelling to other parts of the world and coming back here, realizing what a great place it was right here. We remembered going to the 'Ex' as kids, the Royal Winter Fair, the AGO and the Grange Park behind, the Superdog show (well of course! We're Dog Ladies!).

We both get a big kick out of travelling on the streetcar, on Queen, Dundas or College, and being surrounded by the sights and sounds of people from all over the globe riding the same streetcar. It's a magical experience, it makes you feel like a real Citizen of the World, being surrounded by all those ordinary people from everywhere, settled and jostling up against each other in this very international city. I don't want to call it "cosmopolitan", that somehow implies something sophisticated and this is not. Toronto certainly can do sophisticated, but it also has a real down-on-the-ground regular-folks international feel as well.

That bottle of wine disappeared pretty darn quick.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

World Leaders Agree...

I like to read the New York Times online in the morning. I get an email telling me the major headlines for the day and I click on the ones that look interesting to see the article in full. So today, I clicked on "World Leaders Agree to Delay a Deal on Climate Change" thinking, Well, that's typical! So what else is new?

The article opens up and I see this photo directly beneath the heading:

I swear, the first thing I thought was, Oh it's a joke, those aren't World Leaders, that's an elementary school class!

I did! I really did! Look at them! Don't they look like schoolkids grinning and waving for the camera?

The subheading for this photo says "President Obama in Singapore on Saturday for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting." Well, it's an American newspaper so whattaya expect? If it had been the Globe&Mail I'm sure it would have said "Prime Minister Harper finally shows up for photo op" (I think I can see him there, but I could be wrong). If you look closely you will see President Obama in the photo, he's one of the kids who resolutely refuse to wave for the camera (the kid I think is Harper is waving, good boy!)

The small print of the article of course explains how difficult it would be to hammer out an agreement in 22 days, but really, given the urgency of the matter, aren't they just acting like a bunch of little kids saying, Oh this is too hard, let's not do it! Let's just dress up and wave for the camera!

I do love this photo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Large print, hard read

The other day I went to the library to pick up some books I had put on hold for myself. One of them turned out to be the large print version of the book, I guess I had not read the full description of the book in the online library catalog and had ordered up the large print version instead of the regular version.

Ah well, no worries, I am getting to the age when large print is probably a bonus anyway. So I started thumbing through the book as I usually do when I get a book from the library, to get the gist of the book. I order so many books 'on spec' that it often turns out that the gist of the book is not really something I want to spend any more time on, so that quick summary reading is quite often the only reading I do of many of the books I order.

Well here's the thing I noticed. Large print turns out to be not so easy to read after all. I think this is a book I am actually going to want to read in more detail, but I think it's going to be a tough slog with the large print version.

When I was a technical writer we used to pay a lot of attention to making text readable, whether by using simple direct language, formatting content in small chunks, using easy-to-read typefaces and font sizes, or by laying the text out in a pleasing manner on the page. There are a number of things you can do, and it does make a difference. With technical material you want to make your text as easy to read as possible because often the content is not so easy but is important to understand.

The problem with the large print I quickly found was that in order to keep the size of the book down even though the print was larger than usual, they have crowded every page as full as they can. There is hardly any margin space and no space between paragraphs. The text looks really dense. And as your eyes follow each line, it is really easy to lose track of which line you are reading because they all look the same, there is no white space anywhere to give you a sense of where you are on the page.

I realize that they make large print books for people who are visually impaired and for older people who are often visually challenged. Some folks have serious impairments that make them legally blind, and I can understand that white space is probably irrelevant to them. But for the rest of us who just have trouble with small print, they have sacrificed other readability factors such as white space, and I find that counterproductive.

I will manage to read this book anyway, but it will be a tough slog. Note to self: avoid large print books!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bloggers' lunch

On Wednesday I went for lunch with a fellow blogger, Wisewebwoman. We've been reading and commenting on each other's blogs for a while, this week we are in the same place at the same time so it seemed like a great opportunity to meet.

I had a fabulous time! We had a long leisurely lunch and chatted about all things bloggy, traded a few life stories and opinions, and laughed a lot. I guess when you've been reading what someone else is writing over a period of time you have an immediate point to start from, I don't think there was an awkward moment in the entire time.

And I could have listened to WWW all day long, she has a wonderful Irish lilt to her voice, and twinkling eyes to match.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Down to the fair

On Tuesday Tristan and I went to the Royal Winter Fair again. We went last year too. It's the upscale version of a country fair, with lots of booths selling stuff I wouldn't normally associate with a fair. But they do still have lots of cows and goats and sheep and chickens, lots of judging competitions and horse shows.

We caught the bus near our street and it took us all the way to the Fair in downtown Toronto. They have to change the route of this particular bus because of the Fair, but our driver apparently did not know that and proceeded down the route the bus usually took. And very quickly we were surrounded by cows! The driver didn't know what to do. He slowed right down and started wondering out loud if maybe he was supposed to be somewhere else. Then there was a barricade across the street and he knew he was supposed to be somewhere else! So he made a right turn onto a street that was not part of the route; he was laughing, we were all laughing, as he created a new route for his bus. I pointed out the entrance to the Fair to him and he pulled over to let us off. No bus stop, not even a bus route, but we were in exactly the right place!

We started with the Superdog show. It's great fun, the dogs seem to hugely enjoy their moments in the spotlight. There was one performance of a border collie salsa dancing with his Brazilian trainer; I'm not sure who I was more impressed with, the handsome Brazilian or the amazing collie!

Sorry, couldn't photograph the Brazilian---I mean the border collie---my camera couldn't pick up things in motion so I only got photos of people and animals that weren't moving too fast.

We collected a few free food samples and pamphlets, checked out the poultry. Male turkeys were strategically placed in adjacent cages so they were in a constant state of arousal, fanning their tails and slowly turning to display themselves in all directions, gobbling all the way. Not to be outdone, roosters crowed and ducks chattered.

We watched some lambs being judged. The lambs did not seem too happy about this, the judge kept pinching their backs and thighs; I suspect he was checking how meaty they were and the lambs knew darn well what that was about. Later I saw three of the lambs huddled together in a pen, they looked like they had been through hell and were just standing there, shell-shocked.

We saw lots of jumping horses, a few little horses pulling little two-wheeled carts with very fancily dressed drivers, and four teams of big Percherons pulling huge wagons. The Percherons were impressive, each team consisted of four huge horses decked out in black and silver collars and harnesses, the wagons each held two drivers in cowboy hats, one to hold the reins and the other to hold the whip. The whip-holder didn't actually use the whip, but when the wagons halted it was his job to jump down and hold the horses still. I have no idea how they judged these teams, but in any case the team from Nova Scotia won.

The last jumping show we watched had horses and riders from all over the world and the jumps were quite high and wide. I found myself holding my breath as each horse attempted to clear a jump, it was quite suspenseful. The course was in two parts, if a horse and rider made it through the first part without any problem then they could continue into the second part, but more than half were disqualified after the first part. One rider was thrown from his horse after a jump, but he was OK and everyone applauded as he left the arena. Getting applause for falling in a competition may seem odd, but it did seem like a nice thing to do.

Tristan always wants to go into the car races, so I bought him one round. They are little radio-controlled cars and it takes the kids most of the race to learn how to control their cars, but if one kid manages to get his car across the finish line then he gets a little checkered flag. Maybe next year Tristan!

Then there is the petting farm, for two bucks you get a little cup of feed and can dole it out to the goats and llamas and calves who clamour at the fence. It is complete raucous chaos but of course the kids love it, and the goats and llamas gladly compete for the food treats.

I was tired before I went, utterly exhausted by the time we got home in the late afternoon. But I love the Fair, and we had a good time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dogpark gossip

At the dogpark this morning the flu was a topic of conversation. Who we knew who had it, whether we were getting "the shot". I had heard that older folks might have some natural immunity to it but the stories today were about older people who had it bad. People who got "the shot" and then promptly came down with the flu. How shots are just bad news all 'round.


Dobby's two best dog buddies---Billy and Val---were there and it was a delight to watch them all play together. They chase each other round and round, nipping at necks and heels, falling and rolling in the mud on top of each other.

Nov 9, 1965: The Blackout

I just read in the New York Times that 44 years ago on this day was one of the great eastern North America blackouts. I was 17 then, in high school, and I remember that day. The Toronto subway went past our neighbourhood, and for a few blocks it was in an open-air but below-grade trench. It's covered over now I think.

I remember walking out to one of the bridges over the subway and looking down to see a train jam-packed with evening rush-hour commuters stalled in that trench. No lights, nothing moving, just a train full of people so crowded that many could not sit down.

In those days I often took the subway to school, but frequently walked home afterward. I do not remember whether I took the subway home that day or not, if so, I was very lucky that the blackout did not occur earlier in the day.

Every time I hear about blackouts, I think of that scene.

On November 9 2009 (today) it is supposed to go up to 18C. A far more pleasant prospect. I'd like to do something to make it a memorable day but unfortunately I scheduled a medical appointment smack in the middle of the afternoon. Not exactly memory-making material!

Nov 9, 1989: The Fall

Today is the much-touted 20th anniversary of the fall of The Wall, the Berlin Wall. At the time it was celebrated as the end of communism, the fall of Democracy's arch-enemy.

What many thought was that the world would move forward into a free-market democratic utopia, finally the enemies of rational progress had been defeated.

For over 40 years after World War II, we in North America saw the world as polarized between Good Free-Market Democracies and Evil Communist Tyrannies. Those evil tyrannies were hell-bent to destroy us, we had to be on our guard constantly, to preserve our democratic freedoms. And then in 1989, it suddenly came to an end, our enemies were vanquished.

Sadly we have not given up the habit of seeing the human world divided into Good and Evil forces. We continue to exhort each other to be on guard against Evil Enemies, whether Al Queda, Taliban, nuclear terrorist countries, Somali pirates or what-have-you. The lessons of fear and paranoia have been thoroughly learned and internalized.

At this point in human history there is a certain urgency to come together to solve daunting problems facing us all---poverty, overpopulation, climate change, environmental degradation, the end of cheap energy to fuel our technological societies, and so on. None of these problems will be solved by conflict and confrontation, all of them require unprecedented cooperation amongst us humans.

It is disappointing that twenty years later we have made little progress in that direction. But the urgency grows.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kayak on the Humber

Isaac and Gretel sent me these photos from their cell phones, they took them yesterday at the Humber.

We saw the fox on the other shore you see in these photos, he first appeared right around the pile of driftwood there and then slowly made his way leftward. Those darn fleas just wouldn't leave him alone, he could hardly take more than a few steps before stopping to scratch again!

Humber paddle

Wonderful warm sunny weekend in November, we enjoy the last bits of warm weather as we can.

I didn't put my kayak away when I got here last weekend, in hopes of getting out in it one last time here in Toronto. Well, it would be the first time in Toronto, but last time of the season. So yesterday afternoon the entire family packed ourselves into truck and van and drove to a boat launch spot on the Humber River. I would have liked to try the lake itself, but the breeze did not bode well for calm paddling weather so I opted for the Humber River as a safer Plan B.


Turns out that earlier in the day, a couple of folks decided to drive madly up a dead end street, one of them ending up teetering on the edge of a cliff at the end of the road, the other plunging over the cliff and flipping upside down in the river below.

The Humber River. Only a few metres away from the boat launch.

So when we arrived in the afternoon the place was overrun by police and firemen and onlookers, and kayaking down the river was definitely not an option. However the lone policeman at the boat launch did allow me to put in and paddle up river away from the scene of the crime. So that's the view in today's photo.

It's hard to take photos from the kayak, so I didn't get one of the kingfisher who dove into the river right in front of me, went completely under and then emerged a few seconds later and flew directly upward onto a tree branch overhead, with his catch squirming in his beak. The way he plummeted into the river I almost thought that he had suddenly died and fallen in from the tree above. Straight down, and then moments later straight up again.

It was a short paddle, the river quickly becomes very shallow and fast moving over big rocks. So kids and grandkids and dog went for a short stroll up the river valley while I did my nominal paddle in Ontario waters. A couple of local women at the boat launch helped haul my kayak out of the water and filled me in on the story of the car chase. Then a reporter from The Toronto Sun newspaper suddenly appeared with notebook in hand asking my name, address and age. He had photographed me paddling through a flock of geese on the river and intended to submit the photo as a human interest weather shot. Don't know if it was published or not.

The woman who went over the cliff (road rage, woman driver chasing man driver) survived but is in hospital and charges are pending, apparently her blood alcohol was a tad high. Man driver got scare of his life but is otherwise unscathed, not sure if he is facing charges too, but given the speed involved he probably is.

Unfortunately my camera battery was low so I missed another really great shot, a fox! While we were putting the kayak back on the roof a fox appeared on the far shore of the river. He was there for quite a long time, investigating something in the water and then slowly strolling down the river bank. Apparently he had a bit of a flea problem, he kept stopping to scratch. His tail was long and fluffy, it almost appeared bigger than the rest of him. Like he had a long fuzzy balloon following along behind him.

Kind of neat to see a fox in the city.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Back in town

Hi everybody, I am back in Toronto after an uneventful drive from Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Arrived on Hallowe'en in time to see the streets filled with costumed people and swirling leaves, quite dramatic. Unfortunately the grandkids were down and out, 'flu in the household. I suppose it's H1N1 (the "Hyny flu"), that seems to be the going flavour right now. In any case Tristan recovered quickly and technically did not need to miss any school as he came down with it on Friday night and was better by Sunday night. But it just seemed too cruel to make a kid stay home on Hallowe'en AND not get to miss a day of school due to illness, so he got Monday off.

The second box I mailed home was left on the porch overnight when it arrived, and someone broke into it and made off with a few items. While I did not pack anything of great monetary value in that box it nevertheless contained items I was not happy to lose. Since I didn't inventory the box before I mailed it, I couldn't tell right away what was missing, but have been discovering the losses bit by bit. Rather painful I am afraid, I would rather have known all of what was missing right away, grieved it and moved on. But instead I get to realize each day another missing item which throws me into a bad mood each time. I am hoping I've discovered all the losses by now. While the replacement cost to me comes to around $300, the resale value to the thief is probably under $50. My credit card has taken a hit too, truck repairs topped $1300 this billing period, and I bought a round-trip flight to Vancouver as well. So I won't be rushing out to replace everything that is missing, at least not in this billing period.

To top it off, now that I am back in the land of high speed internet I thought I would spend an hour or two catching up on blogs that I have had to ignore while on dial-up. And was rather shocked to discover that someone "borrowed" a photo of mine without acknowledging it. Maybe that's not a big deal, maybe I am just in the bad mood initiated by the thefts, but it bothered me. I posted a comment on her blog to let her know that I didn't like it, I haven't heard back from her so maybe she doesn't care. I got a great kick out of Cyberspace Dawdler asking to use my outhouse photos on his blog, and I happily agreed. If this blogger had asked to use my photo on her blog and had acknowledged where she got it from, I think I would have been happy to agree to that too.

It hasn't all been bad, there have been some nice things happen too. Isn't it funny how the bad chases out the good?

Good things:

I visited the renovated Bloor-Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library and it is marvelous. And, it turns out my favourite Toronto librarian is now working there, so we had a nice little chat. This is a move up for her and she is very happy about it.

Dobby has put on some weight and looks terribly handsome. He gave me an ecstatic welcome when I walked in the door.

I love my apartment, it's good to be back.

I love all the local dogs, including the fellow in my new banner above, Grover. He lives at the corner of my street and has a wonderful view from his bench on the porch. And he is still King of the Dogpark.

Phelan got a haircut and he looks terribly handsome too. Think Prince Valiant, only blond.

Tristan turns 8 years old today! He had a very mild case of the 'flu and is completely recovered and looking great.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Three pools

I'll be off for awhile. Last trips to Mahone Bay and Cape Breton before heading back to Toronto, don't expect to have time to post here until I get to Toronto. I've spent the last couple of days packing the truck and there's still more to do, but I am leaving tomorrow morning.

It hailed and sleeted this morning and now it's howling out, and I am listening to Matt Anderson on Holger Petersen's Saturday Night Blues. My favourite blues man.

This is a favourite spot of mine on the Fraser Brook. We used to call it the Three Pools, but it isn't really three pools. Its main feature is a water slide into the pool at the bottom. When my kids were little we used to come down here in the summer and the kids would slide into the pool while the adults sunned themselves on the rock beside the pool.

Sheila had never been here before, so I took her and her daughter Jana down here the other day. We had to cross someone else's property to get here, but he didn't mind. Sheila has lived in the Harbour for many years and never knew about this spot.

We had a potluck lunch at Valerie's on Friday, it was very fine. Curried squash soup, hummus and pita bread, chicken stirfry, marinated tomato slices on white rolls, and cake and tea. The dog walk ladies gave me a going away card, but Nancy said it wasn't really a going away card, it was a come back again card. Sherry told a horrific story about having hornets in her house walls, she figured she had already killed hundreds and they were still going strong. While she was having lunch with us, the exterminator was trying to find the hornet's nest. She said if any kids showed up at her door on Hallowe'en as hornets, she'd squash 'em.