Saturday, January 29, 2011


While living in Toronto I had the great pleasure of two tea shops nearby, and I got quite into the various varieties of looseleaf black teas. I now have a hard time with teabags, just not the same thing. Here in Nova Scotia there are lots of tea drinkers, but they're not so picky I guess because I am having a hard time finding good looseleaf black tea. The two fair trade coffee shops in this town also sell fair trade tea, but sadly not nearly as good as their coffees or as tea in such places as Toronto and Vancouver.

Yesterday I was in Eos looking for black tea and it turned out that one of the cashiers there was also into good tea and she commiserated. She said they used to have good black tea, but for some reason their supplier has stopped providing it. She recommended a packaged tea to try that she said came close to what she herself liked, and she was quite knowledgeable about various tea varieties. She said she really liked a Marks and Spencer blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan tea, she recommended the Scottish breakfast tea that Eos carries, mixed with a Ceylon tea available at Lee Valley Tools. I was shocked to learn that Lee Valley sells tea, let alone good tea. I also have never tried Kenyan tea, so I will have to keep an eye out for that. Unfortunately maybe not here in Nova Scotia.

I went on the internet looking for tea that I could mail order. In Toronto there is Tealish but I thought their shipping charges were awfully high. Murchie's in Vancouver has slightly higher tea prices but cheaper shipping, and a great reputation for high quality combined with an excellent selection of both blends and estate teas. I browsed their selection and picked out my dream list, it very quickly ended up in the $100 range. Sigh. The nice thing about tea is that it keeps so much better than coffee, looseleaf tea is still drinkable after a couple of years on a shelf somewhere.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Storm a week

Yet another storm. I heard someone refer to it as The Storm A Week, it certainly seems like they're coming that regularly. This one has it all: snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, rain, more snow, high winds. I still have power but who knows how long it will last. Yesterday I did a big shopping, including bags of sand for the ice and weight in the back of the truck, and last night I charged up all batteries and made sure I had enough firewood in. Bird feeders are full, I am good to go.

Last night's Community Chorus practice was great, I am really enjoying this. At one point our director made a funny but disparaging remark about bagpipes, eliciting many hisses and disappointed Ohhhhs. In Nova Scotia? Definitely the wrong crowd for that particular joke. Afterward, a few Altos discussed bringing a piper in to the next practice to surprise her.

I've been invited to the next Alto practice, half an hour before the Chorus practice. The Altos in my church choir are not a strong group but in this choir they are. I am kind of a borderline Soprano-Alto, but I think the social life of an Alto is better, so I'll stick with that. LOL.

Some of the Altos secretly sing along with the Baritones because they are borderline Alto-Baritones, and because our Baritones are not strong. They need all the support they can get. Baritones are usually all men, and men don't come out much for this kind of thing, so the few that do need lots of encouragement to stay. These guys lap it up I think, maybe they fluff their notes deliberately.

I'm one to talk though, staying in tune is not my forte either. I'm hoping practice helps, that's why I am in two choirs.

The director of the Community Chorus is a serious singer and singing teacher, so every practice is also a lesson. I learn a lot and it's fun. She explains how we are supposed to pronounce things differently when singing than when speaking normally ("diction"), what the various cryptic notations in the music sheets mean, how to make timing work to embellish the music, and how to breathe. I think the fact that the choir director is focussed on performing well in music competitions makes her more motivated to get us to do it right. She knows how choirs are scored in competitions, so she knows what things are important to develop. It reflects on her ability to teach and direct when her chorus does well.

The church choirmaster is good too, but she doesn't explain things quite as much so I have to rely on the people around me more. They have been there a long time and understand the music and her direction much better than I. We do the same warm-up exercises, but I wasn't doing them right because I didn't understand them until the director of the other choir explained their purpose and how to do them correctly. In the church choir we are not focussed on competition, so I think having us all understand the techniques of choir singing are not quite as important. Plus, the church choir has the advantage of four university music students with excellent voices who can carry the choir through the tough bits.

They're saying we may have 30 cm of snow today and then rain on top of that so I am debating the best strategic time to go out and shovel the stuff. The rain makes the snow heavy, plus it freezes into an icy crust making things even more difficult. The trick is to shovel before that happens but after the bulk of the snow has fallen. I just don't know when that is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bird visitors

Over the past couple of weeks I've tried to photograph some of my bird visitors. I can only photograph them through the window so these photos vary in quality from poor to OK-but-not -great. And so far I have not been able to get one of the flicker.

The ubiquitous blue jays. They come in a gang, usually in the morning, spend a few minutes and then they're gone till the next day.

The female cardinal. She comes fairly often, I hardly ever see the male at this feeder although he is around as much as she is.

Lots of chickadees...

And nuthatches...

And goldfinches. They are a dusky yellow in the winter.

Occasionally a hairy woodpecker comes by, I put this suet cake out in hopes of attracting this fellow.

I have not been able to get a good photo of any of the juncoes, these photos make it look black but it is slate grey-blue in colour.

The fox sparrow. He has an incredibly cute face, but again, I've had a hard time getting a good photo of him.

Just behind the left side of the feeder roof is a junco waiting his turn, he won't go into the feeder until the sparrow has left.

The sparrow knows that and is taking his time.

Another goldfinch, perched a few feet from my window calmly peering in at me. As I moved around her eyes followed me.

Crows hang around most of the day, but rarely come close. The other day I watched one investigating one of the feeders but I think he found it a little precarious for him. The crows keep the hawks away.

The male cardinal. Just before he went into the box he was perched on a nearby post and would have made a stunning photo, unfortunately my camera was in another room and by the time I retrieved it he had moved into the box.

The other day I was driving out the old highway toward the Avon River, I saw at least a half a dozen bald eagles gliding above me. Half of them were adults with the white heads, the others were juveniles who did not yet have the white head feathers. They were gorgeous, a wonderful sight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Friends of Jane

It is bitterly cold out today, with low temperatures and high winds the chill factor is supposed to be -30C. Along with about 100 others I spent over an hour this morning standing in front of the local RCMP office bearing witness and hopefully providing some moral support in a tragic event. A young woman, a student at the local university is being deported.

Jane came to Canada from Bangladesh a few years ago to study computer science. She met another Bangladeshi student, fell in love, got pregnant and had a baby. At 7 weeks old that baby was rushed to hospital in distress, and very shortly after Jane and her boyfriend were arrested as suspects. While Jane was in custody her baby died. She never saw her baby again, she wasn't even allowed to see it before the baby was buried in an unmarked grave. She was held in prison for almost a year. This past year she was released but required to stay in the country to testify in an upcoming court case related to her baby's death. All her belongings and documents and money had disappeared while she was in prison.

The prison chaplain put Jane in touch with a local pastor who has taken Jane under her wing and tried to provide some support to her in desolated state. Jane has been trying to pick up the pieces of her life, re-registering for courses she needs to complete her degree, volunteering locally, and awaiting the trial. Meanwhile Canadian Border Services has determined that she should be deported, but this is at odds with the court's requirement that she stay in the country to testify in the upcoming trial.

So today, we were at the RCMP office awaiting the Border Services arrival to formally speak with Jane and determine her fate. We bore signs, "Friends of Jane" and "We Support Jane" while we waited. A local coffee shop invited us to drop by for free coffee and tea while we waited in that very bitter bitter cold. We were so bundled up that it was hard to recognize each other through the scarves and hoods and balaclavas. Cars driving by stopped to ask what was going on. The RCMP treated us kindly, they used their back door to come and go and we stayed clear of the exit from their parking lot.

Jane's lawyer accompanied her to the interview with the Border Services people. He came out with her when they were done to tell us how it went. He is the top immigration lawyer in the province and he had volunteered his services to Jane. He said that there are two kinds of deportation orders, a regular deportation order and an exclusion order. The exclusion order is the milder of the two and that was what was issued to Jane. She must leave but she can return after a year. However because of the pending court case the order is not enforceable, so she can stay and continue her school studies. In the meantime the lawyer said, there are several things we can do to have the exclusion order changed, and now there is time to do that. He said that community support was the most important thing, and we had already made an impression on the Border Services people. One of the first things they said to Jane was, We see that you have friends!

Jane expressed her tremendous gratitude to us, she said she couldn't believe the love and support she was receiving and it was hard for her to find words to express how grateful she was.

I try to put myself in her shoes and I think about how terribly awry one's life can go by making mistakes when one is young. I don't know the full details but it seems to me that she made some mistakes that have cost her dearly. I cannot imagine how it must have been for her to lose her infant daughter in the way that she did.

I've been singing in a local church choir the past couple of months, and every Sunday I wonder what the heck I am doing here. But this past Sunday a woman in the congregation got up to tell us Jane's story and invite us to support her the next morning at the RCMP office. I would not have known about this had I not been there. She also contacted several other church congregations in town and many of the people at the RCMP office this morning came because of that. Others were students who knew Jane from school, and others knew about it from a recent NDP meeting at which this woman spoke. This brings home to me the important role local churches can play in a community, to provide support and galvanize citizens to do the same.

Oh but it was cold cold cold out there!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Red Green show

We have a pair of cardinals in our neighbourhood. I see the female at my bird feeder fairly often, the male only occasionally.

This morning on my way to the bathroom, I saw him out the bathroom window, perched in a pine tree. Tried to get a closer photo of him, but he saw me and flew away.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Stupid Pete Award

Yesterday I cleaned out my tool trunk. I don't think I have sorted and cleaned that trunk since the mid-90s sometime. Anyway, seemed like it was time again.

Many decades ago in my very early 20s I left home, for good I thought. Some time later I came back to retrieve belongings that I had left in storage in my parents' basement. At that time my brother was using the basement as a workshop. I discovered that he had been into my stuff and left his "calling card" in the form of stickers with his name on it, all over my stuff. For years after I kept finding those stickers in odd places.

And yesterday, I found another on a cheesebox in that tool trunk.

Well brother, when you leave your name all over your big sister's stuff, you have only yourself to blame when it gets blasted all over the internet.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The War of the World

The book that currently sits at the top of the pile by my bed is The War of the World by Niall Ferguson (2006). Subtitled Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. It is one of those big fat daunting books with more than 800 pages of fine print, and I have three weeks to read it.

One thing I have learned to do with big non-fiction books is to read the first and last chapters first, and then read the middle. The author presents his thesis in the first chapter, and ties it up in the last; everything in the middle is details. By the time I've read the first and last chapters, I know whether I want to bother with the rest.

This book is no different, although there are in effect two first chapters, the preface and the official first chapter, and two last chapters, the official last chapter and an appendix. Oh well. It still works.

Parts of the middle were hard to read. This being essentially a book about war, it has its fair share of atrocities described in it. No one is spared, atrocities are committed by all, to all. The graphic detail is a little hard to read, and it is hard to escape the notion that atrocity is just under the skin for most peoples. However, having said that, obviously the first and last chapters were sufficiently interesting to entice me to dip into the middle. I am actually not done yet, I have only just made it to the end of "World War I".

It is Ferguson's contention that the entire twentieth century was just one big fat world war. The title of his book is a deliberate play on H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Ferguson says that Wells' book, written at the beginning of the twentieth century, was prescient; the only thing different from what actually happened was that it identified the enemy as aliens from Mars when in fact it was humans.

Another contention is that although the West thinks it won the war(s), it in fact lost. The underlying story is the Descent of the West and the Rise of the East.

In the opening chapters he describes what the world was like at the beginning of the twentieth century, how it was globalized to a point not seen before or for the rest of the century. He describes a world where products from all over the world are readily available, communications by mail, telephone and telegraph are highly developed and quite rapid, no passport is necessary for extensive travel and one is free to live almost anywhere. The movement of capital, labour, resources and products was free and extensive.

Racism and ethnic hatred was growing---the early twentieth century was much more racist than the early nineteenth century---and this was one of the major contributing factors to coming conflicts and warfare.

Another theme of this book is about empires and nation-states. Empires became too costly to maintain for most nations, all European empires were disbanded due to the cost. We think of empires as lucrative, the wealth of subject areas flowing to the centre, but what was actually happening was that the wealth was flowing to increasingly wealthier corporations and the expense of running the empire being born by central governments. The only thing that happened with the demise of an empire was that the central government divested itself of the cost; the wealth continued to flow to the corporations in most cases.

Nation-states are a recent phenomenon and have their own set of problems. The idea of a nation is that it should consist of people of a single ethnic "nationality", but the reality is that ethnic groups are too diffusely spread out to create geographic nations corresponding to ethnic nationalities. He describes the problem of Germany as a case in point, ethnic Germans being located as far east as Moscow, westward into the European lowlands and France, and southward into Italy. The "ethnic problem" is pervasive, examples abound in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

In describing the so-called Cold War, Ferguson says that it wasn't really cold, active warfare continued but not in Western Europe or North America. The Cold War merely spared those areas from being the battlefields, which were moved to Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Korea.

Something that Ferguson makes explicit and I have being suspecting, is that major conflicts are in effect swan songs, even (and perhaps especially) for the victors. Warfare is always expensive, winning a war in no way mitigates that. We are witnessing the swan song of Western power, the East is rising.

An interesting and ironic anecdote concerns CIA interventions. I don't know if they are quite so active in this regard now, but certainly in the '50s and '60s they were actively fomenting coups in countries seen as potentially threatening to the USA in some way or another. One of the coups instigated by the CIA was in Guatemala, which resulted in active genocide of thousands of Mayans over several decades. However, it also resulted in the politicization of a certain lawyer, Castro by name, who successfully instigated his own coup in Cuba and also successfully resisted several CIA attempts to overthrow him.

Ferguson points out that many wars fought to quell Communism around the world were actually genocides of aboriginal peoples in the countries those wars were being fought in. The CIA perceived Communism in every instance of poor people fighting for land and human rights.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wrote this post several weeks ago, I have since finished the book and would recommend it if you have the stomach and perseverance for it. Or, you could just do as I do and read only the first and last chapters.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bring it about that the people will return

Bring it about that the people will return to the use of the knotted rope,
Will find relish in their food
And beauty in their clothes,
Will be content in their abode
And happy in the way they live.

I saw this mysterious bit of I-don't-know-what (poetry? advice? aphorism?) on a scrap of paper tacked to a post in a friend's house in the woods. He didn't know the source of it. It struck me and I wrote it down. A couple of years later I finally Googled it, and it turns out that it comes from chapter 80 in D.C. Lau's translation of the Tao Te Ching.

I think it is about the attainment of simplicity, the richness of a life when even the most mundane of things are valued, cherished and made beautiful. I like the first line, it is so jarring (what the heck do we do with a knotted rope?!?) but I think it speaks to how we go about achieving that simplicity and richness, by learning old intricate skills that actually serve a purpose of some kind in a simple life. There is deep happiness, contentment, in that.

In the past couple of years I have had need of knotted rope, and I know that there are many kinds of knots, each one serving a particular purpose. Knowing your knots can be a handy thing indeed.

I am laying low for a bit. I took delivery of two cord of firewood the day before a major snow storm here. I spent as much time as I could chucking and stacking that wood in a shed before the storm started, and then a major amount of time shovelling snow afterwards. Between those two things my back is complaining bitterly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Final curve

When you turn the corner
And you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left.

~Langston Hughes, in Montage of a Dream Deferred, 1951

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy finds

I just got email from my brother in Ontario pointing me to a website in California where someone has a copy of Folk Songs for Little Sailors available for download. What a treat!

This album was released in 1966 by Riverside Records, it is a compilation of sea chanteys apparently intended for children, but in fact for anyone who likes that kind of music. Back in the '60s my parents gave this record album to my sister for Christmas, but it quickly became a family classic.

Somehow it was lost. I remember borrowing the album from my parents as an adult, but I was pretty sure I had returned it. However it hasn't been seen since and I don't have it. What can I say.

Anyway. This morning I downloaded it from the website, firing off a Thank you note to the website owner (and she wrote back "May you and your family enjoy a rousing chorus of Twinkie-doodle-um, twinkie-doodle-um, sang the bold fisherman."). Now I am listening to it as I write this. It is scratchy, as one would expect from forty-year-old well-played vinyl, but still a treat.

Sail Away, Sail Away – Bob Gibson
The Walloping Windowblind – Oscar Brand
The Bold Fisherman – Oscar Brand
High Barbary – Billy Faier
The Sailor's Hornpipe – Billy Faier
The Fishes Song – Peggy Seeger & Ewan MacColl
The Golden Vanitee – Peggy Seeger & Ewan MacColl
Two Little Boats I Spy – Louise DeCormier
The Mermaid – John Runge
The Flying Dutchman – Dean Gitter
Belfast Hornpipe – Margaret Barry
Sir Patrick Spens – Ed McCurdy
Bunch Of Roses – Oscar Brand
Midnight On The Ocean – Oscar Brand
Sailing Along And Singing – The Renaissance Chorus

"Sir Patrick Spens" was one of Dad's favourites, "The Flying Dutchman" one of mine. But they're all good.

Another delightful find:

Last year I went to the spring One Of A Kind craft show in Toronto and bought--among other things--a wooden fountain pen. Again, I managed to lose it. Don't know how or where, but it is gone. And of course I didn't remember who I bought it from and there were no clues on the OneOfAKind website. I just remembered that the fellow who made it was francophone, I thought maybe from Montreal. I did a search on that information, but nothing that tweaked my memory showed up.

So yesterday, I was browsing old blog entries, and it turns out I had one about that visit to the OneOfAKind. Not only that, but I had (very thoughtfully I think ;-) put weblinks to the sites of the artisans that I purchased items from. And there he was, Richard Boucher at Stylos Boucher. I emailed him and he told me which model he thought I had purchased. He said it was out of stock, but if I told him what kind of wood I wanted he'd make another one for me. It'll cost me more than I paid for the first one but I suppose that's what you get for losing something valuable.

I chose spalted maple, which is maple wood with black lines running along the grain from some kind of fungus. Quite pretty I think. I am looking forward to its arrival.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tour of the new-old place

1. The back door, in the kitchen. Immediately to the right in this photo is the stairway down to the basement.

2. The left hand side of the kitchen counter...

3. ...and the right hand side.

4. Looking from the kitchen toward the living room.

5. The front door and vestibule, to the right of the dining table in the photo above. The floor in the vestibule is uninsulated so I keep the inner door closed.

6. Big rocking armchair chair (that doesn't really rock so it's safe to put a mug of coffee on the wooden arms) and couch on the left facing toward the kitchen.

7. Woodstove and desk on the right.

8. View from living room toward the kitchen.

9. Sunset on the living room wall above the couch.

10. Standing between living room and kitchen, looking down the hallway toward the bathroom, loomroom (on the left) and bedroom (on the right).

11. Standing at the other end of the hallway, looking toward the kitchen (on the left) and the living room (on the right). That door on the right is a closet, but when I used to live here before it was the door to the stairway to the basement. I keep walking into that closet when I want to go downstairs.

12. Loom and computer desk in the loomroom...

13. There's no closet in my bedroom because it isn't really intended to be a bedroom. The loomroom is supposed to be the master bedroom so it has the closet.

14. Across the hall from the loomroom, looking into my bedroom.

I haven't done much with the basement yet, and I haven't put up pictures yet either. Lots of time for that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Old Toronto pics

I happened on a website last week, unfortunately I don't have the URL so I am afraid I can't attribute it, but at any rate there were many old photos from the City of Toronto Archives there. A few of them caught my eye:

I love this one!

Iceboats! I'd never heard of nor seen such a thing until I saw this photo and the next one. Amazing!

In 1912, a race between an iceboat and some motorcycles on the frozen Toronto harbour.

The old Rosedale Hotel at Shaftesbury and Yonge, near where I lived as a teenager.

I remember this building. Around the corner were two doors marked "Gents" and "Ladies and Escorts", both opening into the same room. But in days gone by---or so my parents told me---they opened into separate rooms because "Ladies" and "Gents" did not mix in Public Rooms (pubs). This building was torn down and replaced with the Ports of Call restaurant in the mid '60s, it became a favourite site for our family get-togethers in those days, but that too is gone now. [I looked it up, the Ports of Call was built in 1963 and torn down in 1984.]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Midnight at the barn

Happy new year to all of you. May it bring good things into your life and leave sleeping dogs lie.

I'm still in my PJs lounging in bed with tea and toast and laptop. Yesterday I was wide awake at 4.00am and managed to stay awake until some time after midnight, at which time it then became impossible to sleep for another couple of hours, so I am quite exhausted now. I look forward to some kind of normal sleep regime in the near future, I hope.

Why 4.00am? Don't ask me, it certainly wasn't my idea.

A few of us gathered for a kind of Last Supper of the Year: some gorgeous big fat scallops, veggies, "German junk food" as our host called it (chocolates from Germany) and a bit of sparkling wine for a toast. These were friends from the '70s and '80s, so we shared a few memories of "the good ol' days". Turns out our shared memories conflicted a bit, we remembered things happening in a different order, to different people, or in a different place entirely.

Then we hied ourselves off to a New Year's dance at the Old O Barn. A kind of barn dance I guess. The band played a unique mix of '70s-'80s rock and Celtic jigs and reels, and most folks were on the dance floor unless they had medical reason not to be. Well, most of the women that is. For some reason guys don't dance. Medical condition maybe?

The age range was pretty broad, I'd say late teens to late eighties. On the dance floor you could tell how old a dancer was by how high they bounced. One young woman in flying pigtails wore what looked like skiboots with gigantic rubber heels and soles, she towered over us even when she wasn't bouncing.

With the 4.00am rising bit, I found I had to stay on the dance floor or else I'd go catatonic in a chair somewhere.

Countdown at midnight, hugs and kisses all 'round, then I was out the door and scooting home before collapsing altogether. Some midnight bean bacon and kale soup and off to bed, only to lie there another hour or two waiting for sleep. Argh!