Monday, May 31, 2010

Wednesday in Ayton

The Wednesday field trip was wonderful.

I signed up for it several weeks ago in weaving class, but I was uncertain whether I would actually be going since I didn't know when I would be leaving for Nova Scotia. Consequently I didn't really pay attention to the details, such as where we were going or why. I understood that I was to ride in Cheryl's car and that lunch would be provided.

I was up early in order to be at the Islington subway station at 8am to be picked up by Cheryl. She told me what her car looked like, but I promptly forgot. Fortunately there were two other women from weaving class also meeting Cheryl at the Islington station, and between us we managed to recognize Cheryl's car when she arrived.

Once we were settled in the car, I did ask where we were going and why. It turned out I was not the only person who had not been paying attention! But at least Cheryl the driver knew where we were going. A little tiny place called Ayton, to visit a tapestry weaver named Peter Harris.

Cheryl had a GPS that gave voice directions for our route. It was in a woman's voice so we called it Gladys. Gladys also had a moving map view showing the details of our route. Gladys never lost her cool, even when we took a wrong turn. She simply said, "Recalculating... recalculating... recalculating alternate route."

At one point Gladys told us to turn right on George Street. Just before George Street we saw a Tim Horton's, and several of us requested a bathroom and coffee break, so Cheryl turned right into the Timmy's parking lot instead of onto George Street. Gladys kept saying, "Turn right on George Street, turn right on George Street, turn right on GEORGE STREET." She wasn't impressed with our flouting of her direction.

As it turned out none of us were fans of Timmy's, but it's hard to avoid in southern Ontario. If you want coffee, you got Timmy's.

After two and a half hours on the road, we arrived at Peter's small farm in Ayton. He lives in a lovely old Ontario farm house not visible from the road due to all the trees and shrubs, and has several outbuildings including a barn and a chicken coop. We inspected the chickens, which were Hungarian Yellows (?). I thought they were Rhode Island Reds, but they weren't. There were two roosters and a chick, the rest were hens, or so Peter thinks. Peter said he also had a cat, but he had locked the cat in the barn for the day so she would not get underfoot.

We hung around outdoors admiring Peter's flowers while we waited for the rest of our group. When everyone had arrived and Peter had given us all a little introduction to his place and himself, we finally went indoors, where it was considerably cooler. Although Peter did not require us to remove our shoes, we did because the floor was so cool to touch.

Peter and his partner Ellen bought this 12-acre farm back in the '80s after graduating from the Ontario College of Art (OCA). There they indulged themselves in their artistic pursuits, Ellen doing quilts and Peter woven tapestries. Unfortunately Ellen died of cancer nine years ago and Peter continues to live there by himself.

Peter took us on a slow tour of his studio and home, showing and explaining his tapestries to us. They vary in size, up to 5'x8'. One was an experiment in three dimensions; if you looked at it with the special 3D glasses you could see the image in three dimensions! Another showed five figures, two playing cards while three looked on. He said that the three onlookers were self-portraits, one was himself as a young man, the second was himself old and the third was his imagined self, a woman in black fishnet stockings selling picture cards, kind of like a cigarette girl at a casino. I guess that's how he sees himself when he is marketing his art.

Two tapestries were of Indian or south Asian subjects, some terraced hillsides in one and some people walking through rice paddies in another.

One tapestry he said was shattered memories, it looked like a glacier with icebergs breaking off of it. On the face of the glacier and on the icebergs were faint images of old photos, people and scenes. Peter said he used old personal photos for those images.

We broke for a sumptuous feast that Peter had prepared for us. There were four quiches, three salads, three or four different kinds of bread, steamed asparagus and lemon slices, fruit salad and wine. Later there were a couple of desserts, some kind of custard pie or cheese cake topped with berry spreads.

We spread out over the house and outdoor lawn to eat and drink and chat.

Eventually we reconvened for Peter to demonstrate a new tapestry technique that he was exploring. Before he went to OCA Peter travelled extensively in India and in particular in Kashmir, where he became fascinated by the shawl weavers there. Yes they still do it. Peter talked briefly about the kinds of yarn and threads they used for it. He said that the most prized fleeces were from a wild animal (I am afraid the wine got to me, my memory for some of the details is a bit frayed) that had to be killed to collect the fleece, so he didn't much like that aspect of the shawls. Peter is a vegetarian who is not thrilled by the killing of animals. In his own work he uses fairly coarse wool, he said he is not so much concerned with the quality of the materials as he is with the quality of the techniques.

Peter did his demonstration on a tiny rigid heddle loom that he made from firewood. Whenever he sees interesting wood in his annual purchases of cordwood, he sets them aside to be milled for little building projects around his place. In this case he used cherry I think to build the frame of the loom, and he scavenged three rigid heddles from an old loom of his grandmother's. Remember my 2/2 twill scarf? Well, he does tapestry in 2/2 twill. I think I said something about 2/2 twill involving two heddle harnesses at a time, the other defining feature of 2/2 twill is that there are four harnesses in total. Peter only has three, but since a rigid heddle has both slots and eyes, he uses the eyes on each rigid heddle to thread the warp for that harness, and then for the fourth harness he threads the warp through the slots on all the rigid heddles.

Anyway, it was fascinating to see how he did the tapestry weaving on this little loom. He designed the tapestry using software on his Windows 98 computer, and it created row by row instructions that he followed. The design he was using was of columbine flowers; he thinks that one of the traditional Kashmiri floral designs is of columbines. He showed us another tapestry he did of poppies, another traditional Kashmiri floral design.

We all loved his Kashmiri tapestry designs, and his tiny rigid heddle loom. It can only produce a 10" or 12" wide strip, but it is so portable! Throughout his home there were nifty little creations of wood and at one point Line our weaving instructor commented on how handy Peter was. It reminded me of the Red Green Show, where Red would always say, If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!

Definitely a handy man.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the jungle

Friday was a little cooler than the previous few days, there was a breeze and the temperature was forecast to only go up to 24C. So I cleaned up the truck in preparation for leaving.

We live close to the railway tracks, which is generally considered not a good thing due to the noise and vibration of passing trains. But we only have GO trains, the green and white double decker commuter trains. They are short and zip by quite fast, and mostly run during rush hour.

The interesting thing about being near the train tracks is that they provide a corridor for wildlife to come into the city, so we regularly see creatures that don't normally live in city centres. We
have rabbits and possums and hawks and redwing blackbirds. Plus the usual raccoons and skunks.

There's a spot where the street passes close to the tracks, a small stretch of no-man's-land filled with trees and shrubs. A few locals have taken it on to keep the area clear of garbage and planted in native flowers. When you walk by that spot it is raucous with birds. I am not sure what kind of birds, maybe robins maybe something else, but they sure are noisy. It's like being in a jungle listening to them. I've seen people walking that stretch of street and stopping
under the trees there just to listen to the birds.

Between the snow and the jungle birds, this is definitely a magical faerie land.

June snow

It's snowing on Wyndham. Has been for over a week and there's no end in sight. It's also very hot.

The snow fills the air, turns lawns white and makes flowers look as if they are covered in white mould.

It piles up along curbs and walls and in side alleys, you have to wade through the stuff. Huge flakes, some almost as big as a fist, blow and float down the street.

When I open the front door, it swirls into the front hallway. I left the windows cracked on my truck because of the heat, and now the truck is full of snow.

Where is it coming from? Why, the great big old cottonwood in Casey's front yard! Looking up into that tree I see no end in sight, the leaves are obscured by balls of cotton everywhere.

I guess I've never been in Toronto at this time of year, or at least not in Toronto on Wyndham Street, because this is my first experience of June snow. Due to climate change, the snow has arrived early, June isn't until next week.

Some residents love it, it's a magical sight to see all this fluff floating, dancing, piling up everywhere. And as soon as you turn the corner off our little street, the snow is gone, no one else has it. Others hate it, Casey says that in the past some neighbours have attempted to cut the tree down. She always feels a little embarrassed on behalf of the tree when its snow is blowing.

Kids kick the snow up in the air, try to collect it in great mounds. There are no green (or even brown) lawns on our street, they are all white. Looking up into the sky, you see it dancing everywhere. And as I sit typing on our front porch my hands and arms are growing fluffy cobwebs, it looks like the kind of stuff people decorate with at Hallowe'en.

Isaac tells me this will last at least another week, and I believe it, there's a ton of snow still up in that tree.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the roof

This year we have to get our roof redone. There is a peak at the front of the house and then a very gently sloped flat roof to the back. In Toronto, houses are classified as houses, sheds and shacks, ours falls in the category of "shed" because of its roof style. The peak has three layers of shingles on it, this is the maximum you can have before all the layers have to be removed in order to put a new layer on. From the street you can see that the shingles on that peaked roof have had the biscuit, we know that roof needs work, and soon.

We got two estimates so far, one from a local guy who eyeballed the roof from the sidewalk and gave us a price, another from someone who actually climbed up on the roof to examine it before estimating the cost. His estimate is higher. And, he discovered that we have a bit of a problem with the flat part of our roof.

There are two membranes there, and between them is a big bubble of water, right over my bedroom. The two membranes are sealed together at the bottom edge of the roof, so wherever the water is getting in, it flows to the lowest part of the roof and then just sits there because it can't get out. The roofer who looked at it says he thinks the water is getting in either at the chimney or at the point where the peaked roof joins the flat roof.

It was a bit scary watching him get up on the roof. First of all, he arrived with his office assistant, who he explained had to drive for him because he had lost his driver's licence. He said roofers were always losing their licences. Hmmm....

Then it turned out that his ladder wasn't long enough to get up onto the roof. He went around to the back of our house and saw the lean-to mudroom, so he put his ladder up against that and directed his young office assistant to climb up. He told me that when he hired her, he required that she be able to climb a ladder. Hmmm....

The office assistant climbed up onto the lean-to roof. She didn't look too happy about it. Once up there she clung to an old satellite dish attached to the house there. Then the roofer climbed up and pulled his ladder up after him. He set the ladder up on the lean-to roof where it now reached the main house roof. The office assistant held onto the satellite dish with one hand and the ladder with the other, while the roofer climbed up onto the house roof. I stayed well clear and tried not to watch; the whole thing looked so rickety and dangerous that I did not want to be anywhere near when they all came tumbling down.

So the cheap estimate came from the guy who didn't bother to go up to look, the more expensive estimate came from the guy without a drivers licence who brought a ladder too short for the job. Hmmm....

I think we are going to get another estimate...

Also, my place desperately needs painting. Initially I thought I would do it, but the fact is I hate painting. So now I have to get estimates for that job, in hopes of having someone come in and do it while I am away. I shouldn't have left it to the last week before leaving.

There are big changes in the wind. It looks like I will be reducing my share of the house from one third to one quarter; Isaac and Gretel will buy my bedroom for Gretel to use as her office, and my apartment will be reduced to a kind of bedsitting room with kitchen and bathroom. Likewise I will be reducing the amount of time I spend here. There are things in Toronto I really am not ready to give up, in particular the Mimico Adult Ed Centre, so I would like to keep a foothold here. But I will be looking more seriously for a home in Nova Scotia.

This is going to be tricky as I am cutting short the time I spend there this year, I plan to go west in the late summer. I am not sure how this is going to work, I don't have much time. I came very close to buying a place in a cohousing complex in BC, in the end I got cold feet because of the cost, but part of me is quite disappointed that that did not work out.

Things are very much up in the air for me, I feel like that roofer on his ladder on the lean-to roof...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dobby and the Queen

Dobby I am sure is fine with the Queen. He'd be happy to celebrate her birthday. But perhaps not with fireworks. This long weekend in celebration of the old Queen's birthday---Queen Victoria that is---is just one long firecracker fest. Yesterday Dobby was fairly nonchalant about it during the daytime, but sometime after supper he caved. For the first time ever, he started hiding in my bedroom. Realizing what was going on, I invited him to spend the night and he gratefully accepted. It was a bit hot with one huge boxer in the bed with me, but what can you do. Same thing tonight, he has already spread himself out on my bed and I am sure he has no intention of leaving before the morning. Earlier this evening he was following me very closely. If I went upstairs, he went upstairs, and if I went down so did he. If I paused halfway up or down, then so did he.

We put the kayak on the truck roof tonight. It has been hanging from my ceiling all winter and spring, now it is on the truck. Getting it down the stairs was awkward, especially with Dobby in the middle. When we paused, so did he. I felt like whacking him with a paddle.

The other thing we did this weekend was sod the backyard. In all the time we have owned this house, it has never had grass in the backyard, now it is full of lush green grass. It was a lot of work and our backs are aching, but it sure looks good now. We will water it twice a day for a couple of weeks and fence it off from kids and dogs.

Tristan has just joined Cubs and has discovered the joy of badges. He pores over the book of badges to see which ones he can qualify for. Turns out sodding a lawn qualifies him for a couple of badges, so we had one very willing helper. Several of the local little boys have just joined Cubs, they are all very excited about the badges. Interestingly, they are all boys who dislike competitive sports. Cubs is a very noncompetitive alternative. They get to go camping and collect badges to their little hearts content.

Tristan had his first Cub camping experience on the Mother's Day weekend, it was cold and rainy and there was even thunder and lightening, but the thrill of sharing a little tent with another Wolf Cub out in the woods made him oblivious to the weather. He came home exhausted, dirty and very happy. And of course got a badge for it. Not any old badge, but a badge that requires a Scout blanket to attach it to. His Mom was mystified by the concept of a Scout blanket, but having acquired one myself for Tristan's Uncle Sam when he was a Cub, I explained it to her. Now Tristan has his own Scout blanket, and his first badge for it.

I have a busy schedule this week. On Wednesday there is a weaving class field trip, all day. The rest of the week will be spent preparing to leave for Nova Scotia. Lots of packing and errands to take care of.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


In the last few days I have completed or almost completed two projects, a knitted beret and a woven scarf.

I took the photos of the beret while it was being blocked on a large plate. The bottom side shows a wave pattern.

On the top side of the beret are little pink fishing boats, and multiple Cape Splits. I am sure you would never recognize them if I hadn't told you.

In the centre is a star and it isn't really a stella maris because that would have five points not six.

Around the edge of the star are the words Baxters Harbour. I am sure you would never recognize them if I hadn't told you.

The scarf is in a pattern called 2/2 twill. I think that means that it is a twill pattern in which you lift two shafts at a time. Looking at this picture I see an error in the pattern that I hadn't noticed before. Oh well. I'm afraid there are a couple of places where I screwed up the pattern.

This scarf is not quite complete, I still have to weave in the weft ends and cut the fringe to even lengths.

I don't have time to start any more projects right now, this will be it for a while.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another dogless doglady brunch

It was a truly excellent sunny Sunday for a brunch get together! Five of the dog ladies gathered at The Henhouse, a local bar, for brunch. Grace said she might come by later but she didn't make it. Catherine, who managed to sleep right through the last brunch, made it this time, and Cherie the owner of Chip joined us as well. The food was really good and so was the coffee. I had two cups of strong coffee and I was still feeling the effect eight hours later.

Cherie told Barbara and I that The Henhouse opened at 10am and she needed to be somewhere at noon so it would be good if we met there at 10 for our Sunday brunch. I thought I was going to be late but arrived first, followed shortly by Barbara. We waited a half hour and no one else showed up so Barbara thought she'd walk the half block to Cherie's store and see if she was coming. Cherie's husband said she was in the shower. When Barbara told him we were supposed to be meeting for brunch he yelled at her to get out of the shower right now. Barbara returned to the Henhouse, and a few minutes later a wet-haired and breathless Cherie ran in. By that time Fatima and Catherine had also arrived and we were a full table.

Barbara by the way is an officially published author now, her first book Now What? A Practical Guide to Aging, Illness and Dying has just been released. The descriptive blurb implies that this book is all about issues around dying and bereavement, but in fact it covers a lot more, including nursing and old age facilities, home care, dementia, estate management and legal matters.

Catherine is a real estate agent and she says the real estate market is hopping, in spite of forecasts for a slowdown. We discussed the real estate market for a little while and then later, after we got the bill, she asked for the receipt to use for a business expense claim, since we had talked business with her. I know she works really hard at her business, and she's a good agent.

Fatima and I continue to do our walk-runs at MacGregor and Catherine wants to join us. That will be fun.

We have had to stop bringing the dogs with us because the field there is now being used for soccer and Fatima's dog Alpy loves chasing balls---even soccer balls---too much. We went there early this morning before brunch and brought the dogs because we thought surely no one would be out playing soccer that early on a Sunday morning. That was true, although a couple of dedicated soccer players were there practicing.

As it happens I was dogsitting another dog---Valentine---this past weekend, so we had three big dogs: Alpy, Dobby and Val. Val unfortunately is a runner, always on the lookout for an escape route, and that seriously interfered with our ability to concentrate on running. Fatima says we really need to give up on taking the dogs with us, they are just too much of a distraction. It got warm quite fast and the dogs got quite hot trying to keep up with us, it's a good thing I brought a water bottle for them. But Alpy is such a ball hound that given the choice between holding onto his ball or getting a drink of water, he chooses the ball.

Remember when I could hardly do 30 seconds? Well I am up to one and half minutes with ease now. Fatima can still walk faster than me, but I can run longer than her. My aerobic capacity is greatly improved. I saw my doctor last week and she gave me the green light to continue. Catherine is undaunted, she says she won't run she'll just walk, and that is fine.

1491 and all that

I just finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann and I can't recommend it enough as a thought-provoking and enthralling read. I was sorry to come to the end of the book, I wanted the author to go on and on. He says in his preface that he kept waiting for someone to write this book, and when his own son was in elementary school and the book still had not been written, he realized he would have to write it himself. He was appalled at the distortions and untruths his kid was learning in school, thanks to the conventional teaching of the history of the Americas.

As one might expect, a history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas includes a lot of atrocities at the hands of European "invaders", and of course the huge tragedy of the introduction of Eurasian diseases onto the American continents, but this book also provides a fascinating account of the uniquely American (as in the continents, not the nation) cultures, ideas and philosophies that were both lost and transmitted back to Eurasia. There is plenty of food for thought in this book!

One very thought-provoking idea discussed in this book is about Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) notions of personal liberty and democratic government. The Haudenosaunee Confederation was based on unique principles of governance particularly emphasizing gender equality (not total, but definitely way ahead of any other culture at the time), consensus, and respect for the personal liberty and equality of individuals. Mann suggests that the transmission of these ideas was almost immediate when Europeans first arrived on the shores of northeastern North America; European colonists defected to Indian settlements in large numbers, once they realized the profound differences in attitude. Colonists were expected to respect their "betters", Indians had no such concept and found that expectation quite bizarre.

It was inevitable that these subversive ideas would make there way back to Europe, and Mann suggests that the great revolutions of democracy, liberty and equality subsequently occurring in many European countries can be traced back to the introduction of those North American Indian traditions. Certainly they were incorporated into the American Constitution, and they were very likely the inspiration for the American Revolution in the first place. Whether you agree or disagree with this formulation of history, Mann's chapter on this interpretation is fascinating and provoking.

Another idea that I found personally fascinating was Mann's description of the huge impact of textile arts on Central and South American thought, technology and politics. Mann says that in feats of engineering, Eurasians emphasized the force of compression, Andean and Mesoamerican cultures emphasized compression. The archway, an architectural feature absent from American monumental architecture, is an example of how Europeans employ the force of compression. Andeans on the other hand built rope bridges that scared the pants off the Spanish conquistadors. Andeans solved basic engineering problems through the manipulation of fibres rather than creating and joining hard wooden or metal objects. There is controversial evidence that Andean cultures had an elaborate and sophisticated form of "writing" based on fibre, the Incan khipu or knotted strings. Agriculture may have first been invented in South America, about the same time as agriculture in Sumer, but it was for the culture of cotton, not food. The first intensively agricultural society in the Americas (the Norte Chico of Peru) had a diet based solely on food from the sea, they practiced irrigation, terracing and all the other techniques of farming for the production of cotton.

Indian civilization was unique. On the Eurasian continent, there were a very few centres of innovation where agriculture and urban living were first invented, the rest of that vast continent begged, borrowed or stole the results. Over thousands of years Eurasians and Africans traded ideas and inventions, philosophies and religious traditions. the American continents were isolated, there was no trade of ideas with other continents until the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans, and unfortunately they brought diseases which so devastated American civilizations that any fruitful trade in ideas was abruptly and almost permanently cut off.

We like to think that European technologies, particularly the technologies of warfare, were so superior to American indigenous technologies that it was inevitable that Europeans would defeat any defense by the locals. Mann shows that actually this might not be the case at all. He cites accounts of the early conquistadors in South America quickly realizing that the cotton armour of the Inkans was superior to their own metal armour, and that an Inkan with a slingshot could outperform a conquistador with a gun. What the conquistadors had on their side was bizarre Inkan politics (from a European perspective of course), the diseases that preceded their arrival, and the initial surprise and shock of horse-mounted warriors. The Inkan warriors could have survived that last one, they quickly developed techniques for dealing with horses, but in combination with their vulnerability to devastating epidemics and their own political infighting (this may seem outrageous, but they were ruled by mummies, the mummies were kept and treated as if alive, and the destruction of a mummy king could devastate an entire Inkan faction) the conquistadors quickly overran and destroyed their centuries-old civilization.

Mann suggests that what we moderns think of as wilderness is actually not. He proposes that huge swathes of the two American continents were actually vast ranches and gardens developed and maintained over thousands of years by indigenous peoples. When Europeans settled eastern North America, the land had only recently been abandoned by native people killed off by disease. The forests were actually relatively new rebound vegetation after native peoples abandoned their farms and villages. What the first arrivals on the northeastern coasts saw was a vast cemetery, but they did not recognize it as such, they thought it was pristine wilderness. The Amazon basin was intensively farmed and settled, Amazonians practiced agrofrestry and a methodology for soil creation and augmentation unmatched anywhere in the world, now or ever. So-called traditional slash-and-burn subsistence (swidden) farming was never traditional, rather it was a survivor's response to the destruction of their once-productive way of life. Further, it could not have been practiced at all with stone tools, only the introduction of European steel tools allowed swidden farming to be practiced.

Mann laments the devastation of disease and conquest on American civilization. Not only was it a huge loss of human life, but a huge loss of cultural treasures that could have been shared with the rest of the world. He talks about the cross-fertilization of different societies around the world and the enrichment of human life and culture resulting from that process. The Americas were unique, civilizations developed in isolation based on principles quite different in some ways and very similar in other ways to civilizations on other continents. Much of that was destroyed and lost forever, and we all could have benefitted so much from those lost lifeways and knowledge. Whatever can be done to restore and preserve what remains can still add to the quality of human life and the array of potential solutions for modern environmental, social and political challenges.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I think I need a Guest Blogger. You know, someone who will write a blog post here instead of me. Like Ronni has at Time Goes By. Someone to fill in for me when I am running a blank.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A weekend of nothing

Weaving and woodcarving classes at Mimico Adult Ed end on the 19th, I have two more classes left. I didn't think my weaving project would be done by then and our instructor wants everything off the looms because there are no classes in the summer and she wants everything to be ready for new students in September. So she let me take the loom---it's a collapsible table loom---home this week to try to get my project finished. It is not completed but it's on target.

My woodcarving is progressing, but I am at a point where I need to be referring to my plasticine model for direction. I haven't actually completed the model, I left parts of it rather vague. So I brought it home to work on as well. My subject is the Emily Carr painting, Big Raven. It's interesting, she translated a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional painting, and now I am trying to translate her two-dimensional painting into a three-dimensional carving. Not as easy or as simple as it might sound!

The blob in the upper right corner is intended to become a tree. I may or may not finish that, I have already blocked the tree into my carving so I am not too worried about that part. The area that really needs work though is the bottom, particularly on the right hand side. I have a set of small carving tools that are not very sharp, but they are perfect for working the plasticine.

Also, I am knitting another beret, this one without a brim. I am knitting it for a friend in Nova Scotia, I promised it to her last year. The pattern is complicated, I have been working on designing it all weekend, and now there are bits of coloured graph paper everywhere. I think I have it worked out though, I just have to knit it. It will have waves and little fishing boats and Cape Split as seen from Baxter's Harbour, and an Acadian stella maris (gold star on blue background) on the top.

The stella maris is both the Star of the Sea and the Star of the Virgin Mary, the Acadian patron saint. I am not Catholic (or Acadian) but I have a bit of a fondness for the Virgin Mary. She has many titles, one of them is Queen of Heaven. Some say that this harks back to her previous incarnation as the Goddess. She is not all that she seems. The Catholic Church only reluctantly admitted her to their pantheon of saints, she came to be there by popular demand.

And in my spare time I am reading Aging Well by George Vaillant, a very interesting book. He's a doctor who spent a lifetime working on a project to follow several hundred men and women through their lifetimes, from the teen years well into their eighties, to study adult development. He says, "And so whenever ... I write pedantically of successful aging---think joy. The heart speaks with so much more vitality than the head."

My only quibble so far with this book is that it seems very skewed toward the masculine experience. Women are included in the project, but I sense a distinct masculine filter, even though he tries very hard to be non-sexist.

I have not been outdoors except for some grocery shopping, a trip to the library and a couple of trips to the dogpark. When I don't get outdoors I feel like I am not doing much. Somehow I equate going outside with doing things, doing stuff indoors doesn't count. So even though I actually have been quite busy, I feel like I haven't done a thing all weekend, except drink seemingly endless cups of tea.

We had a cold low pressure pass through yesterday, it brought strong winds and snow! Well, I didn't actually see the snow, it was late at night and Isaac says he saw it on his way home from work (he's working very late with the Hot Docs film festival). We actually had to turn the furnace back on, it's so cold.

Last weekend I took Dobby to the dogpark with a new toy, a kind of sausage-shaped ball on a rope tether. I would swing it around over my head and let Dobby jump for it, then throw it as far as I could. Well, on one particular throw, I was swinging the thing over my head and Dobby was leaping up trying to get it. He leapt up behind my back and missed, but as he came down one of his legs caught on my shoulder bag strap and he lost his balance. He fell backwards, with his leg still tangled in the shoulder bag strap, which of course brought me down backwards on top of him. I smacked my head hard against the ground.

I was OK, as was Dobby, but a bit shaken up. The next day my neck hurt and I didn't make the connection until a couple of days later when a neighbour suggested it might be whiplash from the fall. My neck still hurts and now I have a headache as well. There's no bruise or tender spot, just the headache and neck stiffness. What with all the other health issues I am reluctant to take aspirin or any other pain killer, so by evening I am just tired of the headache. I hope it clears up soon.

Needless to say, I am not playing with that dog toy anymore.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Floppy beret with brim, not shown

I finished a knitted cap yesterday. I am not showing a picture of it because it would not photograph well. I did it in a dark green chenille yarn which doesn't show the stitches well, and the shape is basically circular. So what you would see would be a fuzzy green circle.

I could wear it and photograph my reflection, but that just sounds like too much work. It's a winter cap, so I won't be wearing it any time soon, and I haven't decided yet whether I like it or not. I may end up ripping it out after a couple of wearings, not sure yet.

It is basically a very large floppy beret with a brim on the front. I like the look of floppiness but I think it might not stay on my head very well because of its floppiness. Also, I was trying for a hat with a brim to protect my glasses from falling snow, and had a hard time finding a pattern for a cap with a brim that I liked. I finally decided to combine two patterns, the floppy beret and a kind of knitted baseball cap.

After several goes at it, involving much ripping out and reknitting, I think I finally got the hang of how to knit a brim on a cap. The instructions I was following were overly complicated, I followed them anyway because I thought there might be a good reason for the complications, but it turns out there wasn't.

So in the future, here is what I would do.

Start the cap or beret with a provisional cast-on, using a crocheted chain in scrap yarn. When the cap is done, remove the crocheted chain and transfer all of the stitches to a circular needle one size smaller than the size you used for the cap. Bind off half the cast-on stitches in the following way: *k2tog, k1, move the stitches back to the left needle*, repeat until all desired stitches are bound off.

With the remaining stitches you will start the brim. Essentially you are knitting a very large sock toe in the toe-up short row method; you knit progressively shorter rows with wrap & turns (W&T) each time you turn a row. When the brim is the desired length (i.e., distance from the cap outward), you knit progressively longer rows until you have a brim-shaped pocket attached to the cap along one side. Cut out a piece of flexible plastic (a cheap plastic kid's placemat is perfect for this) to fit the pocket. Cut the yarn leaving a 20" tail. Insert the plastic stiffener into the pocket and sew up the pocket opening with the 20" tail.

This is not how I did my cap, the instructions I followed left me with two holes to sew up and a little more length on the cap at the brim than I really wanted. I am not sure what the purpose of that was.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why I don't support war in Afghanistan, and neither should you

Here's a really good explanation of what is going on in Afghanistan (video), it takes 17 minutes to watch.

It's probably a good explanation of what is going on anywhere in the world that we have war going on.

I'm reading a book called Constant Battles: Why We Fight by Steven Le Blanc, about humanity's violent past. Basically the author is saying that warfare has always been with us and was probably more prevalent in the distant past than it is today. Mortality due to warfare was routinely as much as 25% of all males among our distant ancestors.

The author suggests that we come by this warlike propensity "honestly", that our ape-ish forebears were probably doing the same with possibly even higher mortality rates. He also proposes that there is a link between big game hunting and warfare; apes that hunt (such as chimpanzees) are more likely to also attack and kill each other. Apes that do not hunt (such as gorillas and bonobo chimps) also do not attack and kill each other.

I haven't finished reading the book but Le Blanc appears to suggest that the good news is that we are actually getting better, we practice warfare far less and are far more horrified by the idea than we ever used to be.

If we don't kill each other all off---either by warfare or by environmental destruction---then we may actually humanize into something pretty decent.

Here's hoping.