Friday, February 27, 2009

Dogs will be dogs

Last Sunday was Sam's birthday, I called to wish him Happy Birthday (and see if he got my package) (he did). Isaac got on the phone too and we had a long conversation about scuba diving with sea lions (Sam, not me), weather, his work, movies and TV shows, dogs (of course!), and so forth. He said I should bring Dobby to play with his dogs, he thought they would get along well. I pointed out that it was a bit far (like across the continent!), so maybe not tomorrow.

Sam said that his dogs attacked his boss's dog Grizz last week, an unfortunate episode. Grizz was injured and ran off, Sam spent a couple of hours searching for her. She's OK, small wound and thoroughly shaken up, she sure wasn't expecting that attack when visiting Sam. Sam used to take care of her when her owner was out of country and she often came to visit on her own because she got along well with Sam. Before he got his own dogs.

Grizz is a very nice dog, a kind of blond German Shepherd looking dog, and quite old. Her health is failing. She's a bit of a loner, and in her heyday she brooked no interference from other dogs. I once brought my friend's dog Leia to visit and Grizz just about took her head off! But now she is old and the tables are turned. Sam didn't see what happened, but apparently Grizz arrived at the office with Sam's other boss who was looking after her while Boss #1 (Sam has three bosses!) was out of country. Hapi and Hiro came to check her out and she probably growled or snapped at them and they were affronted. When Sam and Boss #2 arrived on the scene Hapi and Hiro were on top of Grizz and Grizz had blood on her coat.

Since that episode Sam says he's had Grizz come stay with him and Hapi and Hiro leave her alone because Sam told them to, but Grizz hides in Sam's bedroom most of the time. Also, Sam took Hapi and Hiro to a local dog daycare for a few hours for observation on how they get along with other dogs and a bit of play therapy. They seem to do OK with other dogs, so hopefully the incident with Grizz was just an isolated occurrence. She's a very sweet dog, but she has never gotten along with other dogs, and Hapi and Hiro are pretty self-sufficient, they don't interact much with other dogs because they have each other.

Sam seemed disappointed when I said I might not be out there this summer, with or without Dobby. Sigh, wish I could afford it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Project progress reports

Right now I have two knitting projects on the go, slippers and a beret.

Here is the status of the beret project. I am working from a pattern in Anna Zilboorg's 45 Fine and Fanciful Hats to Knit, using Cascade yarn. I've been choosing the colours I want to work with, graphing them into a particular beret design in the book, doing up swatches in different needle sizes (the book calls for a 5 stitch per inch gauge) and experimenting a bit with how the colours will go together as well.

I graphed the design in black and white first, then redid it with coloured pencils to get a better idea of what it would look like with the modifications I was making.

Over the past year I have been buying skeins of Cascade Peruvian highland (Cascade 220 and The Heathers) yarn and stashing them away, four of these colours I used for Sam's toque. I use paper bags to hold the yarn balls I am currently working with, to keep them from rolling away and also to keep them clean.

The colours I chose for the beret are blue and green for the background and yellow and pink for the design elements. The beret is started on 3.25mm circular needle (lower left). In the centre are a series of swatches all knit together to test different needle sizes and see how some of the colours will go together.

The slippers are almost finished, the knitting part is done. I used Judy's Magic Cast-on and a toe-up short-row design that I got from Vogue's Ultimate Sock Book. The yarn is Atkinson yarn, a locally spun yarn that is not really good quality, it has a lot of dry grass in it and is quite coarse. But suitable for slippers.

For the toe, I started with 32 stitches total, 16 for the top and 16 for the bottom. Working the 16 bottom stitches, I shaped the toe using the short-row technique, until there were 6 stitches between yarn-overs, then back up to 16 stitches and then continued knitting in the round until I the point at which I wanted to split the cuff.

An inch before I reached the start of the leg (and two inches before the start of the heel), I switched from circular knitting to back and forth knitting, creating a gap in the rows to separate the cuffs. I increased at each end of every other row (the knit rows) until I had added an extra sixteen stitches to the row length.

I worked the heel exactly the same as the toe. When the heel was completed I began decreasing at the back of the heel, two decreases every four rows. In the meantime, after adding the 16 stitches at the front of the cuff I began to decrease, this time every row instead of every other row. I continued to decrease until there was only one stitch left on the needle, at the very back of the heel, and tied it off.

Many years ago my brother gave me some scraps of leather which I have saved "for a rainy day". Pack rat.

I don't know if you can see it so well, but right now the slippers are covered in Dobby dog hair. Them's the hazards around here!

My intention is to cut soles for the slippers and sew them on, in part to protect the bottom of the slippers (from wear and hair!) and in part to make them less slippery on the wood floor. But I need an awl or leather punch to make holes in the leather, so for the moment the project is on hold until I get one.

And as you can see, Phelan has already been by for a visit, the chickens have been put to bed in the living room. This time he didn't cover their heads, I guess for daytime naps he lets them peek out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Night night, chickens

Whenever Phelan comes to visit he puts my chickens to bed. He carefully lays them on the floor and covers them with the dish towel that normally hangs on the stove beside them.

All the while he talks quietly to them, I can't quite make out what he is saying but I think he is telling them to go to sleep now.

Sometimes I come home to see the dishtowel laid out on the kitchen floor, and I know Phelan has been there. The chickens are under the towel.

The other night when Phelan was heading off to bed himself, he put the chickens to bed as usual, but he wanted to wave goodbye to them and realized that they couldn't see him waving. So he rolled back the towel to uncover their eyes, waved at them, and then covered them up again!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Family Day in the park

Today we went for a walk in High Park with the kids.

This was our Family Day activity, all of us going for a walk in the park.

We visited the small zoo there and saw Llamas, Yaks, Bison, Barbary Sheep...

...White Fallow Deer

(close-up of the stag)

...and Peacocks.

Tristan is practicing his newfound reading skills, reading all the signs describing the animals in the zoo. I think he spent more time reading the signs than actually looking at the animals.

There were some large hairy cattle in one pen with very large spreading horns. Isaac was scratching the head of one of them through the fence and it seemed to enjoy it.

But when I tried to scratch its head, it butted the fence in clear warning. Hands off!

It was OK for Isaac to do it, but it definitely did not want me coming anywhere near it.

Later we walked down to Grenadier Pond and Tristan chased some Canada Geese that were trying to eat peanut shells on the ground.

On our way out of the park we ended up on an extremely icy trail, definitely a challenge with Phelan's stroller. At one point Gretel and Tristan took a shortcut down a steep icy trail through the trees to reach a bare asphalt pathway at the bottom. They slid most of the way down.

Isaac and I took Phelan in his stroller the long way around, we didn't think we could control the stroller on that steep path. Even so, Isaac had to sit on the ice and hold the stroller handles to make it through the slipperiest part.

We've had some lovely weather the past few days, sunny and clear and just warm enough for a lot of melting.

There are lots of bare dry sidewalks now. I hear there is more snow on the way though.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A winter walk on the island

On Sunday I went to Toronto Island with A Stroll In the Park, a one-woman operation that organizes walks in various parks of the city.

I had wanted to see the island in the winter so this seemed like a good way to do it, I would probably never get it together to do it on my own.

We crossed the Toronto Harbour in a small open ferry. In the wintertime only one ferry operates, to Ward's Island at the eastern end of the Island.

At one time I guess this was a separate island but now it is joined to Centre Island and Hanlan's Point, as Toronto Island.

The Harbour is mostly free of ice except around the Island, our ferry had to cut through the ice to get to the ferry dock.

The ice in its path had already been broken up into large chunks, we could hear loud banging of the ice chunks against the hull of the ferry.

It was like motoring through a very thick stew of ice chunks. In the distance we could see skaters on the ice, which was glassy smooth.

We walked through the Ward's Island neighbourhood, several blocks of delightful cottage-like homes.

No cars are allowed on the island, so all the roads are just sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists.

Many of the residents have bikes or trikes with wagons for carting stuff to and from the ferry dock.

Back in the '60s the City wanted to convert the entire island to a park, it was at the time full of homes.

Many homes were expropriated and bulldozed to make way for the park, but the residents of Ward's Island successfully fought to keep their homes.

Now they have 200-year leases and are not allowed to sell their homes to anyone except the City.

To own a home on the Island would be priceless.

I imagine that owners will them to their descendants, there's still a lot of time left on those 200-year leases.

We walked along the Boardwalk on the south side of the island, facing Lake Ontario.

It was a gorgeous sunny warm day.

I was hoping to see a lot of ice, but there really wasn't much, too warm for it.

We crossed a lagoon and ended up at the Island Farm, a little petting farm for kids.

Apparently the animals there get lonely in the winter, they all seemed very happy to see us and get petted by us.

I put my hand down in one pen for a sheep ram to sniff, after a moment of sniffing he turned his head sideways like a cat for me to scratch behind his horns.

There were horses and donkeys all lined up at the fences to be petted, and a goat ram showing off his beautiful horns.

He came to the fence and then ran back into his enclosure and jumped up on a picnic table to display himself. He did a couple of turns while I photographed him. When I moved on, he followed along on his side of the fence.

The nanny goat in the enclosure took this as an opportunity to jump up on the picnic table, but as soon as he saw her there he ran back to chase her off. No Girls Allowed!

I saw several people skating on the glass-smooth ice of the lagoon. They all carried hockey sticks. I realized that they weren't playing hockey but carrying the sticks for safety.

We went for supper at The Rectory, a very nice small restaurant on the Island. I had an Angus Beefburger and some kind of very chocolate-y cake square (good but expensive, my bill came to $26!).

We left after dark and went down the ferry dock to wait for the ferry. None of us were sure when the ferry was due, we joked about what would happen if it didn't come, how we were going to get through the night on the island. There aren't any hotels or anything there! But it did come and a fifteen minute ride through the ice had us back on "the mainland" again.

The city skyline at night across the water was beautiful!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Art and life

On Thursday a friend and I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the Canadian collection. We went before Christmas and only made it through the European collection on the ground floor, so it was our intention to go back in the new year to see the rest. As usual these things take time to organize, so we only made it back in mid-February.

We started with Krieghoff, an artist born in Europe who came to Canada in the early 19th century and painted what he saw. There were a lot of winter scenes, mostly set in the Quebec countryside, of people engaged in various winter activities, a lot of which seemed to involve getting drunk and tipping over horse-drawn sleighs full of laughing people flying into the snowbanks. It was interesting to see the clothing, some wore furs with the fur side out, others wore them with the fur side in, like the Inuit do. The long red stocking caps that many wore immediately identified these people as Quebec habitants.

In many of the paintings there is a structure that I have seen in Nova Scotia, related to the early Acadians. It is a roadside cross, standing maybe 12 or 16 feet high, with a metal ring at the cross pieces, and an angled cross on the metal ring made of two arrows. I'm not sure what it is supposed to signify, but it appeared in many of his paintings. I've seen it in one Alex Colville painting as well. Apparently it was significant to both Acadians and Quebecois.

There were other 19th century paintings that try to convey the landscape and the native people, but tinged with a European perspective. There were mountains in the background, and native people and tipis in the foreground, but something about the way the scenes were painted conveyed a very European countryside feeling. Stately trees, very European peasant-like native people. Some portraits of First Nations people looked for all the world like dark-skinned Europeans. A portrait of Joseph Brant showed a gentleman who looked very European except for the Mohawk hairstyle.

The AGO has a great collection of Group of Seven paintings. There are whole rooms devoted to each artist in the group, and it really gave you a sense of their differences and similarities. One room split in half contained paintings by two of the Group of Seven (one was MacDonald, I don't remember who the other one was) and the paintings were mostly produced in the late teens early '20s up in the Algoma region of Ontario. So the subject matter was pretty much the same but the sense of the landscapes soo-o-o-o different! MacDonald showed the forest just boiling with life, a riot of trees, water, undergrowth, rocks. The other artist showed the forest as a place of deep stillness, the sky was not simply a background as in MacDonald's paintings but a living part of the whole landscape. Amazing how two artists can see the same landscape so differently.

Along the front of the AGO on the second level is the Galleria Italia, with one wall and the roof being a single curved expanse of glass. On the facing wall are huge upright planks bolted to the wall, each one maybe 14" wide and 8" or 10" deep. They appear to have cutaways with trees inserted into them, but what they really are is the plank has been carved in such a way as to reveal the heartwood as a tree trunk within the plank, complete with branches sticking out and back into the plank. So what it looks like is a tree within a plank. On the floor are similar planks on legs like benches, except they all have "Do Not Touch" signs on them so you can't sit down. They've been similarly cut, only the heartwood is now hollowed out and filled with something that looks like golden sap (since you're not allowed to touch I don't know if it is really liquid or some kind of plastic resin made to look like a liquid). So instead of seeing the tree inside the plank, you see the empty space left by removing the tree from the plank.

Interesting idea, but I don't think they should put something that looks awfully like a bench out and then cover it with "Do Not Touch" signs!

We went for lunch in the basement cafeteria. My friend told me about the art therapy program she is taking, she's in the second year of a three year program. This term her class is doing Veil Painting. She said that they focussed on their own lives in seven year stages, and did one painting representing each stage. Using various exercises they try to get in touch with the major elements of each period for them, so for example my friend said that what she got in touch with in her first seven years was pure joy. The next seven years she said was all about legs and arms and elbows and knees. For her third period she was quite shocked by the revelation of her sense of failure, of being a failure.

In class she related the events that led up to her failing a grade in school then, after having been one of the better performing students in school. But one of her classmates pointed out that she did not "fail", she deliberately sabotaged herself by refusing to study or do homework. She set herself up to fail. She said this was a big revelation for her and it completely changed her view of herself in realizing this. All these years she has worked and lived under the cloud of being a failure, traced back to this single event in her teen years, and she wasn't a failure at all, she just set it up to look like that. She said that it felt like a huge weight lifted from her shoulders, a new beginning. This only happened recently, so she wonders if the feeling will stick or is going to be shortlived, but she thinks it is a major turning point in her view of herself, she thinks it will stick.

Amazing how our beliefs about ourselves can be formed based on interpretations of past events, that could just as easily be interpreted in another way.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Wednesday is my class day, weaving, carving and tai chi. The tai chi remains a challenge, I wonder if I am ever going to get it. In carving I continue to chip away at the wood around the Big Raven, I wonder if I will ever get to actual carving. Maybe next week. I filled two large dust bins with wood chips in the course of the afternoon.

In the morning weaving I do feel like I am making progress though. I've finished the sections of basic weaving and am now working on the parts where you have to be able to "read" the pattern that Line has created for our samplers. She spent a few minutes instructing Kendra and I in how to do that. Line also brought her finished tapestry called Healing. It is a brightly coloured abstract tapestry, about five feet long and a foot and a half wide. Very beautiful. It is the second in a series she is doing.

She also read to us a little essay she had written based on her experience creating this tapestry. She said that during the long process she felt many times that she was making mistakes, it wasn't working the way she designed it, there were problems with it that any fool could see. She said that feelings of defeat, failure, not being good enough and so forth came up continuously. But she realized that the weaknesses, mistakes and failings of this particular work were part of its character, part of the whole creation process.

And she realized the same things about herself, that her own failures and weaknesses were part of her character, part of who she was, not to be lamented but to be celebrated as part of what made her who she was. She said she felt a constant tugging to be down on herself for her various faults and weaknesses, but this was to be resisted.

She pointed out that when we create something we are intimately aware of its faults and our mistakes in creating it, when everyone else is admiring and being impressed by it. We should embrace our flaws as well as our strengths, the sum of it all is who we are and as an act of creation to be celebrated.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Getting there

Yesterday was my school day, all day spent in weaving, carving and tai chi. I feel like I turned a corner in all three classes.

In the weaving class I finally got my warp successfully strung on the loom and could start actually weaving, I managed to get just over six inches done.

In wood carving I mostly spent the class chipping away a lot of the wood. My project is based on an Emily Carr painting that I happen to like a lot, called Big Raven. I have to remove about half the wood in the areas that will be sky and background, so that the raven and the foreground will stand out, I should have most of that done by next class and can start carving the raven itself.

In tai chi I think I'm finally getting it, I was able to do most of the form without getting too lost this time. We're learning the 24 form version, but even that is hard to learn. I tend to focus on the arm movements, but the instructor wants us to focus on breathing and footwork. Interesting. Anyway, it's coming along.

Last week only five of us showed up due to the weather, and this week the instructor wanted to push on to the next positions. But most of the class was lost because they weren't there last week. So one person asked for a review, the instructor asked the class to vote on whether to review or move on, and review won. I was glad of that.

I have an appointment next week at the naturopathy clinic, hopefully they'll have something useful for me to try for my Brain Fog. I was supposed to go to the art gallery with Beth today but she called to cancel because it was so cold and she didn't want to be standing at the bus stop in the cold. I was so tired after yesterday that I was happy to have a day to piddle around.

Almost done

I've been working on a hat for Sam's birthday. Of course, from what he tells me about the weather at his place, he won't get much use out of it before next winter.

The hat is modelled on an old hat of mine, one I made in the '70s. But because I used multiple colours and a softer yarn, the cable pattern does not show up as clearly as on the old hat. It gives it a nice textured look, but you can't really see the cables.

On the first go-round, I ended the top of the hat with a kind of beige and red bull's eye, but it didn't look right. So I redid it.

The old hat has faded a lot, you can see the difference in colour in this picture, with the brim unfolded.

There are still a few ends to weave in but it is otherwise done. I can send it off and move on to another project.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hapi and Hiro

Sam finally posted some photos of his new dogs on Facebook. I guess they are sufficiently acclimatized to their new home that he can take them out off leash, thus freeing up his hands for photo-taking.

I phoned him after looking at his photos, he said that all the snow and ice is a bit illusory as he has not had snow around his cabin since he took these photos back in December.

These new pictures were taken at Birkenhead Lake, up in the mountains above Sam's valley home. At home he's had no snow and above zero temperatures for some time now. Unlike here, where the thermometer climbed above zero yesterday for the first time in weeks (months?), and the snow is still piled high.

Seeing his Facebook pictures was also the first time I'd seen his dogs' names in print, I've been calling them "Happy" and "Hero". Hapi is the female and Hiro the male, the darker dog at the back in the second picture.

The dog ladies tie one on

No pictures for this one!

There was a "Dog Party" on Saturday night, a get-together of various dog owners that meet regularly at the dogpark, involving wine and snacks. Incidentally, a few dogs.

Later, the Dog Party moved on to a neighbourhood Mix and Mingle, also involving wine and snacks. No dogs.

This dog lady toddled home sometime around 1.00am, spent all of the following Sunday mildly hungover.

Oh my.