Friday, January 30, 2009

Chicken pox itch

Tristan has the chicken pox. We made Chicken Pox Cookies yesterday. Really they are Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies, but they have lots of chocolate spots.

Tristan has his own blog now. Chicken Pox Itch. If you've forgotten what it's like, or you never had it, this is a refresher course.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Textile Museum, part II: War Rugs of Afghanistan

The plaque on the wall at the start of this exhibit says it all.

There have never been rugs like this before.

This exhibit at the Canadian Textile Museum was amazing, shocking, beautiful, haunting.

A traditional Persian or Afghan rug is based on the concept of a walled garden, beautiful flowers, birds and trees represented in the centre or main body of the rug, and a protective wall or border surrounding it all.

Look closely and you will see in this rug that weapons and military vehicles have replaced the flowers, trees and animals. Click the image to see a more detailed view of it.

All of these carpets were filled with images of war, either blatantly or subtly.

Four million Afghans have fled to refugee camps, one of the largest refugee populations ever. People who had lived their entire lives in small villages, never travelling very far, now trekked across their country to find safe haven, passing through cities for the first time ever. They have ended in massive refugee camps, people from all parts of this country jumbled together. Once you could tell where a rug came from by its unique design and patterns, now the rug weavers from all over share images and weaving heritages in the camps, it is impossible to tell anymore where a rug comes from, or whether its content is a comment for or against war.

A kalashnikov is an Aghan man's most prized possession.

A very sad rug, a lady lute player surrounded by tanks and grenades.

Afghans have been exposed to the world, whether by foreign soldiers, news broadcasts on TV, or their own relatives fled to other countries and sending postcards home. Several of the displayed rugs showed foreign cities: Melbourne, Paris, London, New York. Each one incorporating weapons and machinery of war (a carpet depicting London showed the sky filled with bombers).

This rug shows the Twin Towers of New York City.

Afghans struggle to understand what is going on in their country through the stories and symbols of mythology. This rug depicts the story of Rustam and the dragon, how Rustam's trusty horse Rakhsh saved his master and aided in the destruction of the dragon.

This rug is a symbolic representation of the battle between good and evil, being fought in the land of Afghanistan.

The military insignia worn as patches by foreign soldiers are a rich source of images and symbols for Afghan weavers.

This rug bears a terrible message. In the centre you see a butterfly. At the bottom you see the butterfly landmine (small pink shape). This was widely used by Soviet soldiers, and Afghan children would pick them up because they looked like interesting toys, with devastating results.

Afghanistan is still heavily mined, most of the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan action were killed by landmines. Some of the rugs depict Afghans with missing limbs, due to landmines.

The Ottawa Convention (Mine Ban Treaty) was signed by 122 nations in 1997, banning the use of anti-personnel landmines. Princess Diana worked hard for this treaty, and her death spurred many recalcitrant nations to ratify it. However, thirty nations have yet to sign, including Russia, India, China and the United States. Although this treaty was historical in gaining widespread ratification of a weapons ban, it is still almost useless because those four great nations refuse to sign.

The exhibit included a slide show of photos gleaned from various websites depicting the war in Afghanistan. A few minutes of watching the endless loop of grim photos conveyed what a little of what it was like to live there.

The photos in the slide show are mostly taken by foreign soldiers and show what they see there every day. There were a very few photos of battlefields, but most of the photos were of everyday life. It painted a pretty grim picture. Thirty years of war! Many people there have never known another way of life!

This exhibit of exquisite workmanship and artistry is indeed an eye-opener!

A visit to the Textile Museum, the Cutting Edge

On Tuesday I went to the Canadian Textile Museum. I am still feeling sick, but this is the last day of the Afghan Rug Exhibit so I needed to get to the museum whether I felt like it or not. I took a lot of photos so I am dividing them into two posts, one on the Afghan rugs and one on everything else. This is the "everything else" post.

The first exhibit at the museum is called The Cutting Edge, it is about the construction of clothing. It was interesting, but not an area that I am especially interested in so I don't have much to say about it. Except this.

When I visited the ROM a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the ROM had acquired a large collection of imperial Chinese robes around the turn of the century. Apparently most of them are now in the Textile Museum.

These two robes are interesting because one is "real" and one is "fake". Can you tell which is which?

They both actually date from roughly the same time period, but one is a true imperial robe that would have been worn by a member of the Chinese Emperor's family, the other is most likely a theatrical fake, worn in a theatrical drama to represent someone of imperial status.

The gaudy gold and blue robe is the "fake". The telltale is the helter skelter positioning of the embroidered dragons.

On a "real" imperial robe, the dragons are positioned in proper symbolic poses: bottom left facing right, bottom right facing left and upper centre facing forward. There are other differences as well, but those are the most obvious. The point being that an imperial robe means something, there is nothing on it that doesn't signify the royalty of the wearer. Mixing up the symbolic components immediately testifies the garment's inauthenticity.

Embroidery for such robes was often done on separate pieces of fabric and then cut out to apply to the garment.

Moving on, there was a tiny collection of quilts. Unfortunately the lighting in the Museum is a bit poor for photos, you either get blurry pics without flash, or too-bright pics with. And since I really don't know a lot about quilts, I can't comment too much on them either.

So here is one quilt and a close-up of some of the detail of it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good food cheap

When I was a young single mother on welfare, I came across a small book entitled "Eating Well on $5 a Week", or something to that effect, the key words being "$5 a Week." Now, this was back in the '70s, so $5 a week is a little less outrageous than it would be today (it's tough to produce a single decent meal on $5 today!), but still, even by 1970s standards, a grocery bill of $5 a week was pretty damn good.

This book was written by a Ph.D student at either the University of Manitoba or the University of Winnipeg, not sure which but the book was published in Winnipeg. Her doctoral thesis was about nutrition, her goal was to show how a person could eat healthily on the prescribed budget for welfare recipients at that time. So presumably the welfare folks in Manitoba had decreed that recipients of government largesse should subsist on $5 a week.

The introduction to the book explained what she set out to do, and how one should shop for groceries with only $5 in one's pocket. She gave a list of basic staples to keep in one's pantry, described how to build the supply of spices and flavourings over a period of time, and listed fresh foods to be bought weekly so that meals could be prepared very thriftily. She was a big believer in only shopping for groceries once a week. She also described how each food item contributed to a healthy balanced diet. It was a fairly restricted diet, but it covered the basics and included a few sweet treats.

The rest of the book was recipes and meal plans. The diet she proposed was vegetarian, but without the "exotic" items available to today's vegetarians: no tofu (yay!), no yogurt, no soy beans, no bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts, no "ancient grains". Instead she relied on very traditional foods: navy beans, cabbage, wheat flour, milk powder. In those days, milk powder was very cheap and plentiful. Eggs were treated as an expensive treat, to be used sparingly.

I remember one recipe/meal plan in particular. It was a navy bean soup that you made in quantity on Sunday, and then each successive day you did something different with it, and there were seven recipes for the whole week. If you were single it lasted the week, if you were feeding a family, then it would be gone after a few days. Boy, I loved that bean soup!

I don't know what I did with that book, it was a real gem and I can't find the book title anywhere now. I imagine that diet would cost considerably more than $5 a week now, but it sure was a great idea for a cookbook. Good healthy food for cheap!

Friday, January 23, 2009

I haven't written because...

It's been a week since my last blog post, figure I should write something, but feeling pretty low energy these days. Think I might have sinus infection: low energy, light-headed, I want to sleep all day and can't sleep at night.

I signed up for a few courses, initially two on Wednesday and one on Thursday. But then I got the brilliant (sarcasm) idea to switch the Thursday class to Wednesday and get it all over with at once. The net result is, I spend a whole day feeling stupid and klutzy. Can't weave, can't woodcarve and can't tai chi.

Isaac says I am cultivating Beginner's Mind.

Want to get out and do other stuff, like visit the Textile Museum, but just too low energy for it.

I am however happy about the American inauguration, I truly hope this is the beginning of something good.

A few pictures of this past week.

Everyone downstairs has been ill, so a lot of hanging out on the couch watching videos...

...also hanging out at Granne's so Mom can get some work done.

Dobby likes my window, he can watch the street or the room, depending on which is more exciting at the time (and doesn't he look excited?).

Kayak still hanging there, a constant reminder of better times...

OK, this obviously isn't mine but I like it:

Friday, January 16, 2009


Last night at 10pm all the lights suddenly went out. Looked out the window and the street was dark, it wasn't just us! After groping around in the dark for a few minutes looking for flashlights and candles, we all decided it was bedtime. From my bedroom window I could see some lights on in an apartment building on the other side of the train tracks, and the CN Tower still lit up. So it wasn't the whole city, just our neighbourhood, but I couldn't see how far it extended.

I kept waking up in the night expecting to see my clock radio flashing at me, but no. Fortunately I had piles of duvets on the bed so under the covers it was warm, but by morning the temperature was 12C not just in my bedroom, but in the entire house. Using my headlamp I got up to make porridge and tea (thank goodness for a gas stove!) and then went downstairs to commiserate with the rest of the household.

Phelan has been sick since yesterday with stomach flu, he's still sick and completely miserable. He refuses to wear warm clothes and cries for food which we have to refuse because he just throws it back up. Isaac manages to get internet service on his iPod Touch, sufficient to know that this blackout is serious and widespread.

Gretel gets on her cell phone (once again, having no landline, only VOIP, we are handicapped as far as phone service is concerned) and calls a friend outside the affected area to see if she can take the kids there for the day. On the radio they are saying service may not be back for up to another 24 hours, and this is one of the coldest days so far, -30C with wind chill!

Phelan being sick is a problem, we know he his pretty contagious and don't really want to expose other people's kids to him, but what else is there to do?

Even Dobby is feeling the cold, we are all huddled on the couch, Phelan in Gretel's lap, Tristan in Isaac's lap and Dobby in mine. We are planning for the day, getting the kids someplace warm and leaving taps dripping to prevent pipes from freezing. School and daycare are of course closed, they will have no heat until the power is back.

It feels very strange, very isolating, having no idea what is going on, no access to the internet or radio or TV. Our cell phone batteries are not well charged, we are trying to be careful using them. I manage to find enough batteries to power one radio, the radios here sure need a lot of batteries! Our sole source of heat is two candles. We can't use the gas stoves because they have some safety mechanism that prevents you from lighting the oven without electricity. The gas furnace won't work without the electric fans. We can however use the stove burners to make coffee, tea and porridge.

Gretel calls the daughter of Ross, the older single man across the street, to find out if she has checked on him. Turns out she took him to her home last night before the power outage, and she lives outside the affected area.

While Gretel is talking to her, the lights flick on and the furnace starts up. Yippee, power!

In another hour or two, I'll take off the gloves and hat, the house is slowly getting back up to warm.

The mayor has been on the radio telling people what to do, there are warming stations set up in the affected area. Turn the tap on! Check on your neighbours, especially seniors and the health-challenged! Move your cars off main streets! Go someplace warm!

Around 100,000 people have had their power cut, and Ontario Hydro is gradually restoring service. We were among the lucky 11,000 who got power back before 9.00am. The problem was caused by flooding of a power station at Dufferin and Bloor, they must have been working on the problem all night. The subway could run, but it couldn't stop in our area, it just ran right through to the other side. Streetcars couldn't run at all, they had shuttle buses instead. The affected area is from somewhere west of High Park to east of Spadina, and from St. Clair in the north to Queen in the south. The Bloor subway won't stop between Jane and St. George. That's a long way!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cast of characters at the dogpark

I finally took a camera to the dog park!

John and I built a snowman last week and it got knocked down on Thursday but John set it back up on Friday, a few inches shorter, and it survived the weekend! It's still upright! I think it was a matter of principle with John, he was kind of annoyed at the local young vandals who knocked it down. Myself I was surprised it lasted more than a day, and even more impressed that it survived the weekend!

So. Here are some of the local dog characters.

Grover is the King of the dogpark, all dogs either worship Grover or try to challenge him, so far no challenger has succeeded. Still the King.

Grover's principle admirer is Pickles, who licks Grover's face every time he sees him. If Grover is late arriving at the dogpark, Pickles sits by the gate, staring down the road that Grover will arrive by. G.rover appreciates Pickles adoration, although sometimes he wishes Pickles wasn't quite so enthusiastic in his face-licking.

Tereska, She Who Must Be Obeyed. The dogs love and fear her, even Grover. It was funny the other day when Tereska came up to Grover and gave him hell for hogging a ball, I've never seen Grover look sheepish and a trifle scared before.

The dogs surrounding Tereska include Magnum and Chico (two black dogs on the left), Pickles (foreground), Petunia the boxer, Sheba an older all white swaybacked dog staring up at Tereska, Abbie the little spaniel with the jacket behind Sheba, Sophie the white and tan foxhound with her face just below Petunia's belly, and I am afraid I don't remember the name of the black and white dog behind Tereska.

This is Dobby and Shiva play fighting. Shiva is the fastest dog in the park, he looks terribly handsome in his sleek yellow and black racing jacket.

The big grey poodle in this picture is Henry, he literally bounces up and down when he is excited. The little one next to him is Abbie. In the background are Petunia the boxer, Magnum (black), Sheba (white) and I think Digby, who looks a bit fox-like. Henry and Abbie are sniffing a snowpile that serves as a surrogate fire hydrant, while the rest of the dogs are checking out the fallen snowman.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stories of Ruthe and Bill

I went to Barrie and Bobcageon over the weekend to visit Tim, Lori, Ruthe, Bill and Corrine. I returned home Sunday afternoon, quite exhausted. Since we didn't really do a lot, I think it was as much emotional exhaustion as it was physical.

Ruthe and Bill are my aunt and uncle, the last of my Dad's family. They are both in nursing homes in Bobcageon. Ruthe has kidney failure and has refused dialysis, we thought she would not survive the summer but she's still kicking along. Bill had a stroke a number of years ago and his physical care requires a lot more than his wife Corrine could handle at home. Both of them are otherwise bright and communicative.

I drove up to Barrie on Friday to stay overnight at my brother and sister-in-law Tim and Lori's place, and then on Saturday Tim and I drove to Bobcageon, a couple of hours further away. Although very cold (-25C overnight), the roads were all bare and dry so the driving was good.

We went early to catch Ruthe in the morning while she was still feeling pretty good, she fades in the afternoon. She said this was not one of her better days but still she seemed pretty good. I think we were with her for almost an hour and by the end she was reluctant to let us go but barely able to keep her eyes open. She said she spent a lot of time remembering the old days, especially her very young days at Balsam Lake. She said as she got closer to death her memories were more vivid and alive for her. Tim told her that Mum had said that just before he died, Dad (Ruthe's older brother) had had a conversation with Jess, their oldest but then dead brother. Ruthe reiterated that she did not believe in God or an afterlife, but still, she felt very close now to her parents. Ruthe is a confirmed atheist, no amount of tribulation will sway her conviction.

Ruthe and Bill are in different nursing homes in the same small town. Bill's wife Corrine lives just outside of Bobcageon. Our timing was such that we just had time for a brief visit with Bill before he went to lunch, so we did that and then when Bill went for lunch we also went for lunch with Corrine, at a local restaurant called MacGoo's. We had All-day breakfasts for about $5.00 each. Then we went back to Bill's nursing home for a second visit with him. Bill is in better shape than Ruthe but he also tires after awhile.

Corrine got Bill talking about the old days and about our Dad, she got him to tell a couple of stories and then we asked him questions about his family memories and about some of his own life stories. Our Dad was eleven years older than Bill, who was the youngest in that family. I remember Bill babysitting for Tim and I and mentioned that to Bill, and he said, Yeah, your Mom and Dad were probably out dancing.

Bill remembered Dad riding a horse that was kept in a field near the old Mills place on Long Point, Dad would have made a bridle for the horse and mounted it by leading it to a fence and climbing on from there. Bill would have been just a little kid who looked up to his two older brothers, Ted and Jess. Their Dad was very musical and very handy, Bill remembers Grandad playing the cello, well enough that he played for money and also practiced with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. One time he brought home an accordion, and Jess learned in the space of a weekend how to play it better than Grandad could. Our Dad played fiddle, the three of them often played together, fiddle, accordion and cello.

Jess and Grandad built a kind of mini-railway to put their boat in and out of the water. They got the tracks from an old railway that used to be out on Toronto Island. Grandad made a fiddle out of an old wooden cigar box, a broomstick and some wire. He used his cello bow to play it.

Dad signed up in the Army and went off to War in 1939 when he was twenty. He came back about six years later, a very different man. Bill said he was older and kind of stressed. Because of his service in the war Grandad gave Dad the family sailboat. Unfortunately, Bill would have been around 15 at the time and he was becoming an excellent sailor, having won a race or two with that boat. He was not so keen on having Dad take the boat away. Dad was moving north to Fraserdale and of course took the boat with him. Just before he did, Grandad and Jesse had made a keel for the boat and bolted it on, changing it from a centreboard boat to a keelboat. It was a pretty good job that they did, but the boat leaked ever after, probably because of the bolts. Anyway, Dad had to make special arrangements to take the boat to Fraserdale as there were no roads there, they had to build a cradle for it and put it on the train. A few years later Mum and Dad returned from Fraserdale, but he did not bring the boat back with them, apparently because it leaked so much that he didn't see the point. Bill is still kind of annoyed with Dad about that. If you take it away, you should bring it back!

I can see that this would have been very upsetting for Bill, he was a young man who had his boat taken away from him just at what would have been the start of his sailing career. As a teenager and the youngest kid in the family, he had no say in the matter.

Something interesting, Bill said that Dad wanted to learn to sail (he woke Bill up very early one morning to get him to teach Dad to sail) in order to impress our mother, Anne. Bill said Anne was an excellent sailor, always was and still is a better sailor than Dad. Which surprised Tim and me, as kids we remember Dad being the sailor, not Mum. We also have no memories of Dad playing any kind of musical instrument, so it was surprising to hear how musical he was before the War. A lot of things changed with the War.

The other regret Bill had was over Grandad selling the cottage at Long Point. He loved that place. Grandad sold it because he just couldn't keep up with the maintenance.

Grandad ran away from home at age 14 to join the circus. He travelled to Chicago and other places, he learned to play the cello and he learned a trade, something to do with printing. He met Grandma in Montreal just as she was arriving from Edinburgh. They settled in Toronto where Grandad grew up but relations with his family were strained. I guess they never really forgave him for running away. Or maybe he had good reason to run away? Bill didn't have any memories of his grandfather, he didn't know why they didn't see much of the grandparents, he just knows that they didn't. Grandad went to Jesse Ketchum Elementary as a kid. Grandad was a very hard worker who was careful with his money and took care of his family, but one time he co-signed a loan for someone and that person defaulted on the loan so Grandad got stuck with it. He impressed on his kids never to co-sign on a loan for anybody, no matter what.

Bill was pretty handy too, I remember him building a sea flea (a little speedboat) and when I told him about building the kayak last summer, he told us about building a canvas and plywood kayak. His description of it sounded awfully like Mike's baidarka! For a long time he flew airplanes for a living, he still is intensely interested in airplanes. By his bed he had a lot of photos, including one of the Avro Arrow which was on display at a museum recently. I was surprised at the photo, I thought all the Arrows had been destroyed, but Bill said there were models that they tested and sank over Lake Ontario; someone went and pulled them out of the Lake. I would like to find out where that model is now, I would love to see it.

Both nursing homes are big and modern, clean and bright. Being in a small town they are surrounded by trees and nice views. Bill's nursing home has more common spaces for residents to gather in, Ruthe's doesn't have common rooms except for the dining room and instead residents gather in the wider hallways in front of the elevator. Corrine thought that Bill was better off sharing a room, she thought that Ruthe got lonely being in a room by herself. She knew a lot of the residents and we said Hi to several people that she knew there. So in many ways it seemed more sociable than Ruthe's home, but it's hard to say from just a short visit. However I think seeing so many very old people like that makes one very conscious of one's mortality; these are among the nicer places to end up, but still...

It was wrenching to leave them, if they had had the energy I would have loved to stay longer. I know Ruthe's days are numbered, I hope I see her again.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sunday afternoon at the ROM

I just emptied my camera of its pictures in hopes of finding one suitable for yesterday's post, and found a bunch of photos I took at the ROM on Sunday.

(Museum subway station)

I totally forgot about that trip!

Isaac and I decided to take Tristan to the Museum on Sunday afternoon.

Tristan wanted to see the Diamonds exhibit but neither Isaac nor I were interested in it, so we hoped to substitute the new Gems and Minerals exhibit instead.

And I wanted to see the Costumes and Textiles exhibit and the Ancient Ukraine exhibit.

I think Tristan enjoyed it, but we stayed until closing time and as we were leaving Tristan said, But wait! We haven't seen the Diamonds yet!

And of course it was too late, the Museum was closing.

Ah well. I on the other hand was completely satisfied with the trip.

Most of my photos were from the Gems and Minerals gallery, I guess I got tired of taking photos after that.

(Malachite, and close-up)

The colours of the minerals were totally amazing. Absolutely brilliant.

And they weren't even gems, they were "just" minerals.

It must be an amazing experience to find these brilliantly coloured minerals in the ground.

(Copper sheet, five feet high)

The Ancient Ukraine exhibit was about a Neolithic civilization in the Ukraine, called the Trypillians (the ROM spelled it "Trypilian", but I found a Ukrainian website that insisted that the correct spelling was "Trypillian").

These people lived in the Ukraine around 5000-2500 BC, their disappearance remains mysterious. They had the huge settlements, the biggest at that time in history, but they were not "cities" in the sense that they did not have separate buildings or structures for industry, governance or religious activities. Just houses.


And the houses were fairly widely spaced, with little in the way of defensive structures between or around them. The houses were arranged in two or three large concentric rings.

The exhibit showed an aerial photo of a modern farming area, and you could make out the very faint outlines of an ancient Trypillian settlement, more than 5,000 years old.

They had household altars, wheeled toys and presumably wheeled carts, but no pottery wheels. They made quite beautiful large jars without access to pottery wheels, which I think is impressive.

Their diet was based largely on grains that they grew. They did not keep large herds of animals, although they probably kept a few goats.

So they were not nomadic or pastoral, but their settlements didn't last more than a few decades before they moved on, never to return to that location again.

This civilization pre-dates both the pyramids and Stonehenge.

The third gallery I wanted to see was Costumes and Textiles, up on the fourth floor in the Chin Crystal. There are only two galleries up there so not a lot of people go there.

(Amethyst, in basalt)

I think I want to visit that gallery again as by the time we got there I was getting tired and not really taking it all in. Some absolutely gorgeous costumes from previous centuries though. In the very early 20th century the ROM acquired a huge collection of Chinese imperial costumes, clothing only worn by Chinese emperors and empresses.

I guess after the fall of the last Chinese empire in 1905 those costumes were going cheap on local Chinese markets and the ROM saw a deal. They only had one or two of those costumes on display, what looked like silk kimonos with embroidered dragon emblems.


Apparently there were strict rules about who could wear embroidered dragons, and the colours indicated your rank in the royal court.

Next to the Costumes and Textiles gallery was an exhibit that is hard to describe.

Last year there was an art project on the site of an old Tent City in Toronto, what was once a community of homeless people that last for a few years before being shut down by the police. That land has since been filled with big box stores like Home Depot.

For the project they roped off an area and constructed "houses" that artists painted, the art commemorating the homeless people who used to live there. All of those painted houses are now standing in the top floor of the ROM.


My membership in the ROM runs out at the end of February, I am not sure that I will renew, so I have to get in as many visits as possible before then.

(Tin soldiers)

I think I would like to get a membership in the Canadian Textile Museum next, it's also of interest to me and it's cheaper. I hope to visit there before the end of January as there are a couple of temporary exhibits that I would like to see, of textiles from Afghanistan.

Between the ROM and the AGO and the Textile Museum, these are as far as I am concerned the saving graces of wintering in Toronto.

(Tristan trying out a "chair" in the Spirit Gallery)