Friday, April 30, 2010

What I saw

I went for a walk up to the Annex yesterday, I wanted to buy some shampoo at a store that sells non-toxic cleaning products in bulk (bring your own container). It was a gorgeous day, the sidewalks were full, the sidewalk patios busy and all the fruit and vegetable stands full of mouth-watering produce and flowers.

I'm on a no (or almost no) sugar diet so it pained me to walk by the Korean bakery that sells those delightful little walnut cakes (shaped like walnuts, filled with sweetened bean paste). I stopped to read all the blown-up newspaper ads on the walls of Honest Ed's.

On my way I walked along several tree-lined residential streets, it was wonderful to see and smell the gardens full of flowers and experience the green shade of lovely old maples. There were cherry blossoms and lilacs too. It must be summer already!

I saw a man sitting on his stoop with his little girl, reading a book to her in the sunshine. He had a lovely accent, I think he might have been South Asian, via the UK.

I saw a cyclist towing a huge trailer full of heavy plastic bins of stuff. The trailer was maybe 6' long and 4' wide, and piled up at least 3' high. Behind was another guy, on his skateboard, pushing and steering the unwieldy trailer. They were moving along at a fair clip, it looked like such an efficient way to move a cart full of stuff around city streets! And fun too!

The store didn't have the shampoo in bulk, the clerk said they were in the midst of negotiating a new source for it, so I bought a small bottle of shampoo instead.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More textile arts

The other exhibit we went to see at the Textile Museum was called People Place and Thing, it consisted of three mini-exhibits. I am not sure why they called it that, but the names of the mini-exhibits made a little more sense.

The first one is called Skin and Bone. The artist, David Halper, has applied some very interesting embroidery to various furs and skins.

The most striking is a large embroidery of a woman on the flank of a full-sized horse. The horse looks real, but it is a model of a horse covered in cowskin, complete with fur.

Then there is a series of embroideries of shadow creatures on animal hides. For example a shadow eagle with the two hands held up to create the shadow. The embroidery is accurate enough to be able to follow it to create your own shadow eagle.

A little bizarre was the set of faces embroidered onto the cross-sections of deer lying on the floor. Each "deer" was a full-sized model of the front half of a deer. Something just a little macabre about that display.

But the embroidery was amazing, the level of detail and shading in the portraits very impressive.

The second mini-exhibit was Faces and Mazes. Here, the artist Lia Cook has executed woven hangings that look like photographs in the level of detail. She used computer software to translate pictures into weaving instructions. The close-up detail of how it was done has a maze-like quality to it, and one hanging actually looks like a maze. Then it looks like a close-up of the weave structure, but when you look at it closely, it is essentially patches of black and white woven in very fine detail. Her work is fascinating, you can get lost in it. Most of the faces were doll faces, but some were actual baby faces.

The third exhibit was called Stumble, it consisted of outsized male heads and figures put together with bits of fabric sewn together and then inflated to form three dimensional figures. The technique was interesting; apparently the artist (Stephen Schofield) wets down the fabric with sugar water and then inflates it, the sugar in the water stiffens the fabric as the water evaporates so that the figure holds its three dimensional shape. To take it down, it is sprayed with ordinary water which washes out the sugar and deflates the figure. The figures are remarkably well done, you can see the musculature reproduced in the fabric.

Of the three exhibits, the last one interested me the least, but only because I have a personal interest in embroidery and weaving; I might be more interested in Stumble if I was a quilter.

The last special exhibit we saw was of Orenburg Shawls. Orenburg is a Russian town, they knit shawls there out of local wool. The shawls are uncommonly light and warm, they are knitted up in lacy patterns. When you see how fine the lace is, you wonder how such a shawl could keep you warm. The description of the display noted that when Russia became Communist, the production of the shawls was collectivized, but after the Communist era ended it went back to being a cottage industry as it was before 1917. Women are so resilient, they just keep on keeping on!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fashionably wrapped

On Friday several of us from the weaving class went to the Textile Museum to see a couple of exhibits: People Place and Thing and the Kashmiri Shawls.

People Place and Thing was interesting, but the Kashmiri Shawls were enthralling.

In the Kashmir valley of northwest India they used to weave amazing shawls made from the hair of Himalayan goats, called pashmina, or cashmere. They were light, colourful and very finely woven. In the early 19th century they became very popular in Europe, ladies would pay a hundred guineas for a handwoven Kashmiri shawl.

A Kashmiri shawl could have 250 warp threads to the inch, and could be five feet or more in width. Some shawls were so wide that they had to be woven in pieces and handsewn together. The stitches joining the woven pieces into a single shawl were so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye!

The shawls quickly became very fashionable, and agents would travel to Kashmir to direct the weaving of designs currently favoured by European fashions. Kashmiri weavers were initially resentful of this intrusion into their design process, but I guess the money talked and they began to weave to the dictates of European fashion.

As the shawls became ever more fashionable and in demand, there was strong pressure to learn to weave such shawls in Europe, to reduce the cost. The draw loom was invented, which allowed warp threads to be manipulated individually for the intricate shawl designs that were so popular. It took two people to operate a draw loom, one to weave and another to manipulate the draw strings and hooks to lift and lower the infinite combinations of warp threads for the intricate designs. The jacquard mechanism was added to the draw loom, this eliminated the need for "draw boys". Punch cards were made to specify the warp manipulation for each design, the cards were then fed into the jacquard mechanism which translated the holes in the cards into instructions to automatically raise or lower specific warp threads.

Very quickly the jacquard loom allowed far more intricate designs to be woven and the price of shawls dropped dramatically. By the late 19th century a shawl was selling for as little as 26 shillings. Europeans used sheep's wool (the weft) and silk (the warp), since pashmina was not strong enough for machine weaving. This made a heavier shawl, but apparently this was a small price to pay for the ability to weave the more intricate designs.

Original Kashmiri handwoven shawls remained expensive, and their designs were not as rich and complex as the newer jacquard loom weaves. By 1870 the Kashmiri weavers were pretty much put out of business. Unfortunately, there was an economic recession and famine at the same time, and in Hindu society weavers occupied a very low status. Very few of them earned enough to support a family at the best of times, and as a result of the collapse of demand for the shawls and the accompanying famine, many weavers died of starvation. Those that survived abandoned their looms to seek out other employment. Within a generation the skills of handweaving these beautiful shawls were lost forever.

European women wore their shawls as full-sized capes that draped attractively over the full hoop skirts also popular at the time.

The popular paisley design is named for the Scottish town of Paisley which is supposed to be the origin of this pattern, but it probably evolved from the traditional "Tree of Life" Kashmiri design. The Tree of Life was the palm, it was usually represented in a teardrop shape.

This is an unusual asymmetric shawl design. The idea for it was that a lady could fold it in such a way that only one quarter would show, and each quarter being different it would seem as if she had four different shawls depending on which quarter she displayed.

The four of us from the weaving class were completely in awe of these wonderful shawls. We are all amateur weavers, we know just enough to know how much we don't know. To see the work of master weavers like this was an amazing experience.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thirty seconds

Yesterday I ran for thirty seconds. A really long thirty seconds.

I used to do the 10K Sun Run in Vancouver back in the '90s, which was pretty hard on my knees. However I did learn one thing from that, interval training. The Vancouver Sun used to promote training for the Sun Run by doing this interval training a few months in advance. You could start in January not being able to run at all, and by the time of the Sun Run in April you could do the full 10K without stopping. Pretty impressive, and it works. So I swear by the Sun Run training, and that's what I am trying to do now.

The way it works is, the first week you walk four and half minutes and run for thirty seconds, repeating for up to an hour. These days I set my limit at thirty minutes because I don't think my knees are up for the full hour. Repeat three times in one week. The next week you add thirty seconds so you are walking four minutes and running one minute. Each week you add thirty seconds till finally you are running the whole time. Pretty simple.

Simple, but not easy. Yesterday was my first go at it, out on the MacGregor track. I've been walking there with Fatima and Grace and the dogs, and I've improved significantly from being totally wasted by a forty minute walk to being able to complete the full forty minutes in reasonable shape. So now I want to up the ante and try running.

That first thirty seconds yesterday just about killed me. The second one I survived. By the eighth one I thought I could tack on a few seconds at the end, just to see how far I could go before running out of breath. Maybe an extra fifteen seconds. I am so out of shape!

But this morning, I woke up raring to go, I can't believe the energy I feel. That alone is motivation to do it again. Fatima was at the dogpark this morning, I told her what I was doing and she is reluctantly agreeing to try it. She is dead set against running. But how bad can thirty seconds be?

I didn't tell her how bad it can be.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alex's vacation

"It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be spread over Europe." ~New York Times, April 19, 2010.

Alex had a 10-day vacation in Europe planned. With lots of European relatives, he made no hotel reservations, he wouldn't need them. Taiga, his dog, would be spending the ten days with a dog buddy just outside of town.

Alex's KLM flight to Amsterdam was to leave Toronto last Friday morning.

All weekend we speculated at the dogpark where Alex was, we were pretty sure he was not in Europe. And this morning Alex and Taiga were at the dogpark.

Alex said he didn't want to disturb Taiga's vacation with his dog buddy, so with no dog he didn't come to the dogpark.

Alex has rescheduled his flight to this coming Friday, KLM was happy to reschedule his flight to Amsterdam for the following week, but they did not want to reschedule his return flight. They expected him to curtail his vacation by seven days! Alex was having none of that, after some discussion he got his return flight rescheduled as appropriate.

I hear that the wind has changed, and now the Icelandic volcanic ash is headed to Canada, with flights out of Newfoundland already being cancelled, and the Toronto airport watching the situation closely.

Bets on Alex getting his European vacation this spring?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A little family history

My Aunt Corrinne (I have no idea if that is the correct spelling, I think maybe not) has a photo album with some photos of my grandparents and her husband and other family members. A lot of photos of her family as well, but I don't know any of them. Anyway, the photos of my grandparents were interesting.

There was a great one of Grandma when she was a young woman, in a swim dress standing in water and grinning like the notorious cat. She looks so gay! Very overdressed by modern standards though.

Another one showed Grandad and Grandma as a young couple, standing on the bow of a small sailboat (he is standing, she's sitting I think). He is tall and skinny with long-ish hair combed back, and this look on his face that reminds me of Isaac.

Whenever people would say Isaac looks like me---which isn't very often---I never quite saw it, to me he looks a lot more like his father than like me. But that photo of Grandad as a young man knocked me out, there's a look about him that is so Isaac. A kind of defiant half-smiling "I dare you" look.

There was another photo of Grandad in a top hat, looking very Churchillian. Every inch the successful businessman. Or successful cellist.

Grandad ran away from home at age 13/14 to join the circus. He went to Chicago where he learned a trade in the printing business and came back to Toronto some years later and immediately picked up a good job thanks to the his Chicago training. Although unschooled, he was smart and inventive. He was also an accomplished cellist, playing with a variety of bands and orchestras, and for Jewish weddings. During the depression he worked several jobs and his family fared quite well during those hard times, thanks to his many skills and likeability. He was even able to buy a small cottage on Balsam Lake, which all of his kids remembered fondly, and my parents met there.

Grandad worked at the same company that first hired him when he returned to Toronto until he retired at 65; he had plans for retirement vacations in Florida, but died suddenly in a drugstore only weeks after he retired. My own father took early retirement because he greatly feared the same early demise; he wanted to get in some retirement time before fate took him out. He managed a good 16 years in retirement, dying at age 76. Those 16 years were spent at Balsam Lake, just down the way from his father's old cottage, and I think they were among the very best years of his life.

Aunt Ruthe died this winter at age 82, so far she is the longest-lived of the family. When Peter and I were visiting Uncle Bill in the nursing home, I joked with him that he needed to live at least 2 more years to beat her record, he is now 80. I think he stands a good chance of doing that.

Bill had a stroke at age 70 that left him partially paralyzed. He cannot live at home because he and his wife cannot manage his care. It is kind of sad that he is mentally still very together, but his body just doesn't get him around as we would all like. He also needs to sleep a lot, he just doesn't have a lot of energy anymore. But he reads voraciously.

The nursing home he is in is a good one, and only a few minutes drive from his home where his wife, my Aunt Corrinne, still lives. She comes by every day, knows all the staff by first name and also many of the other residents. The home is set in a very pleasant rural location, and the atmosphere there is generally relaxed and friendly. There always seem to be plenty of staff bustling in the halls, and residents everywhere, in the large bright dining room, smaller gathering rooms and in the wide hallways. In the summer you see lots of people outdoors as well, the property is maintained in a park-like manner with many trees and benches.

Aunt Corrinne says she told their kids that when the time comes they are to put her in that nursing home, she is very happy with it.

The photos are of a pair of osprey nesting near Aunt Corrinne's home, she took us to see the nest. If you look closely at the fourth photo, the one of the osprey flying away from the nest, you can see it is holding something---probably a fish---in its talons. When a bald eagle carries a fish in its talons, it holds it at right angles to the direction of flight, but an osprey holds it in the same direction, making it more aerodynamic.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I'm still here, just don't have a lot to say. Been a busy week or two though.

Bought a loom and had a spring cold, no doubt brought on by dog lady pub crawl.

Whirlwind visit east by Western Brother, visited our parents' grave and various still-living relatives.

Acupuncturist highly disapproving of dietary disruptions, gave me a lecture on proper eating habits: no sugar no animal fat and *definitely* no birthday cake.

Probably no alcohol either, although I seem to have blocked that part of the lecture out.

Life goes on.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday at the fair

It was up to 25C today, Grace and I hit the Oneofakind craft show down at the Ex. We walked down early, stopping for coffee and toast and peanut butter at a little coffee shop en route.

Gretel gave me two Comp tickets for the show so we got in free, but there was a crowd of people lined up for the opening at 10am.

All told we spent about four and a half hours there, that's how long it took to see the whole thing and then go back and buy a few items that we liked and could afford.

Grace bought an outrageous salt and pepper shaker set ($300!!) and three silk screened tees. Two of them were silk screened with designs taken from crop circles in England. The third was a cartoon of a mad princess, Grace thought it looked like herself on a Bad Hair Day.

I bought some gorgeous handspun yarn from Newfoundland, and a turned wood fountain pen ($100, which was his cheapest price: his best pens sold for over $600!!)

We both bought little wooden trivets/cheese boards and jars of specialty mustard.

We stopped by Gretel's Fancy Pants Kids booth in the Rising Star section, she was doing a lot of business selling her dragon tails, capes and crowns. She was doing such good business that Isaac had to make a special delivery of more product, so we helped haul it in from the van to her booth and then Isaac gave us a lift home. Gretel is going to be thoroughly exhausted when this is over.

It was supposed to be sunny all day but it clouded over in the afternoon. Stayed warm though, we are having ridiculously warm weather this Easter long weekend. Kids are out playing in the street and some folks (the industrious ones) are cleaning up their gardens for spring planting.