Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quiltsville II

I didn't go far from home on Sunday (partly because the weather forecast was for huge thunderstorms that never arrived).  I did a bit of reading and straightening up, and then spent the rest of the time on the quilt.

I stitched row #2 (short-ways).  It generally takes a bit less than an hour.  The first two laid out look like this.

This is definitely going to be a massive quilt (and I actually scaled it down just a bit!).  I haven't quite decided when to start sewing the rows together.  Maybe when I have five or six of the rows ready.  I'll definitely need to iron the seams first though.  I'm just trying to visualize how I'm actually going to sew this.  Probably adding one at a time and then sort of rolling up the rest is the best approach.

Towards the end of the day, I did the cutting for rows 3 and 4 and even a bit of row 5.   Starting to look pretty good!

I should have enough material for all the squares I need for this quilt, but the material probably won't stretch to another quilt.  So maybe I'll end up back at Fabricland after all (or the fabric store in Stratford, since I have an hour or two between the shows on my visit in mid July).

But one thing at a time.  My goal is to have the top all sewn by the end of summer, and I'd say I am on track for that.

On the Shaw bus and back

I thought I would report on the Shaw shuttle bus in its inaugural season.  While I have been trying to spread the word, it is definitely a bit of an insiders' secret.  The bus was not quite half full.  Interestingly, one of the actors from Dracula was on the bus Instagramming it.  He came over and took my photo and asked some questions, but I think he was having a lot of trouble either logging in or with a weak connection, since several of the photos and videos had to be taken twice.  In the end, my photo didn't get loaded, so my moment in the glare of social media was avoided.

I was really glad not to have to drive, but they played the soundtrack to Me and My Girl on the way in (eventually dropping the volume a bit) and then a video covering the entire season.*  This made it very hard to focus on reading, so next time I will have to bring my iPod.  I don't think Shaw quite gets that we don't want to be overloaded with Shaw stuff on the bus, we just want to get to the Festival.  That is my main complaint about the bus.

I was there to see Shaw's Saint Joan.  I thought the staging was stark and interesting.  I was kind of surprised at how little attention was paid to Joan's success on the field of war.  We basically see her gearing up to raise the siege of Orléans and then we see the aftermath after she is captured (at Compiègne about a year later).  Shaw's decision is interesting and not wholly successful in my mind.  The political intrigue that ends the first act is too long.  Also, the Inquisition scene also dragged quite a bit.  I thought the dream sequence that ended the play was reasonably successful, particularly when Joan threatens to resurrect herself and all her admirers suggest it better that she stay in Heaven.  There are not too many playwrights who are quite so political (or as "talky") as Shaw, though I suppose Kushner is a direct descendant of Shaw, though Kushner is a bit better at exploring the emotional side of things.  To some extent, the machinations of the Church reminded me a bit of Brecht's Galileo, though that is actually a more interesting play since you see Galileo recant under pressure to save his skin.  Joan is actually a very one-note character, and while she is spunky, I actually was fairly bored by her.

But of course, I don't take religion seriously at all, other than the fact that others take it so seriously that it often imposes itself on my life.  To sort of complement Saint Joan, I was reading St. Augustine's Confessions on the bus ride.  I hoped to get a bit further, but in the end I only made it halfway through.  While there are a few interesting moments, in general it was too much (sort of like if John Donne had given up the poetry and spent all his time blogging...).  I find it tragic that an intelligent man ends up throwing away his critical facilities and goes in for the line that this omniscient being is so beyond reason or providing any kind of proof, that one must just have faith in it (completely leaving aside the issue of why God needs all this acknowledgement from his creations**).  In general, Augustine's discussion of his struggles over the the issue of the presence of evil in the world are so general and vague that I don't see how anyone would be convinced by them.  For some reason, he takes nearly the last 100 pages to discuss Genesis, so I suppose that at least will be more detailed.  It is a little hard for me to swallow that this is actually a masterpiece of world literature, since there is so little of interest for anyone who is not Christian.  But I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't actually read it.  Soon I can cross it off my list and donate it to someone who will appreciate it more.

Back to this Shaw season, there are two plays (1979 and the musical Me and My Girl) that I would consider if they transferred to Toronto, but I am not willing to make the trek back, even with the bus.  I really don't like Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I find it tacky and completely overrun with tourists.  Stratford is just so much nicer, and I always enjoy my time there.  I'll just have to see what next season at the Shaw has to offer.  I'd probably go see Man and Superman, but in general there are not that many plays by Shaw that I am dying to see.

* While in general, the AD seems like a fairly reasonable person, he says that the Shaw festival audience is the best in the world.    What a crazy thing to say, and how hard it will be to live down if he ever applies to work at Stratford...  Anyway, I thought I would relate that the woman next to me spent the entire first act knitting!  While it wasn't actually loud, it was still very distracting and incredibly rude.  Fortunately, there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony and I was able to move over.

** In particular, the God of the Old Testament is incredibly thin-skinned and insecure like a schoolyard bully.  And what he gets up to in the Book of Job is so unreasonable that I can't understand how anyone who took it seriously would remain a Christian.  I'm glad that Ursula Le Guin, at least, agrees with me.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dreaming of Brando

This was another one of those over-stuffed dreams where I was off in a hotel in another city, probably Montreal.  It only became obvious a bit later on why I was there, which was as the producer of a play (or at least evening entertainment).  It was one of those things where everything only came together at the last minute -- so (according to movie plot logic) it would either be an amazing triumph against all odds or a disaster.  It was looking like a looming disaster.

The director only turned up on the day before.  He was keeping it a secret who the lead actor was!  Due to the lateness, there was going to be one rehearsal combined with the dress rehearsal.  I was trying not to get too nervous over this, but obviously, this seemed like a bad idea.  I don't think we even had enough copies of the script, though we had a few printed in book form, which was only moderately helpful.  Marlon Brando was name-checked in the script, which I somehow knew.

I was sitting at a table in the hotel dining room and realized that the man at the next table over was Marlon Brando, and he was the secret actor.  What a coup!  But he hadn't rehearsed either, so I went over and tried to get him to read the book version of the script.  Marlon was toward the end of the mid-point of his career, so he had shaggy white hair, but hadn't completely blimped out, like he did at the end.  He looked basically like this, but slightly older and with wilder hair.

I decided to move on and hang out in a different part of the lobby where there was a large toy structure.  While some children were playing with it, there was also an older German? professor-type, explaining something about its aesthetic merits.  I realized that I really ought to be putting on Ibsen's A Doll's House, rather than whatever play we were going to attempt that evening.  As I was leaving the hotel and walking down the fancy staircase, it came to me that the actors would probably expect me to pay for their hotel stay (this wasn't explicit in their contract, however) because of their likely humiliation on stage.  It struck me that this would end up being quite an expensive adventure.

There are two anxieties very present in this dream (not even properly pushed into the subconscious realm).  First, I am obviously stressing a bit over what will unfold in November, even though I have quite a bit of time to prepare.  Still, unless I start locking in a few more actors, I am going to worry.  But I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be a good time, with funny scripts that aren't supposed to be taken all that seriously.  On those terms, it should work out reasonably well.

The other is a second-hand anxiety, fortunately.  We have been extremely pressed at work, and in fact four of us stayed until 8:30 last night.  I was the first of the group to leave, and I realized it was going to start raining, which hadn't really been in the forecast.  In the past, I have almost made it to the bridge by the time it starts raining, but I was definitely further behind and only made it to Shuter when the first drops started falling.  However, instead of being a bit of a shower, ramping up, it just poured and there was even lightning.  I was definitely not happy, but there really were no good rest stops along the way nor was I close enough to the TTC to just ride the rest of the way.  So I was thoroughly unhappy when I came home and obviously didn't do any shopping.

Anyway, due to all this pressure, one of my co-workers hasn't really prepared for a conference where he is due to present on Sunday.  Or rather it is a joint presentation, and he will largely hand over the mike to others.  But he somehow forgot to register for the conference, so he is just going to have to show up and see if he can get into his panel.  The registration fee was kind of shocking, so I feel badly for him, but can't imagine letting myself fall into that situation.  Of course, maybe I will have to eat my words as the various expenses pile up for my theatrical experience.  Still going in with my eyes open and trying to be prepared for these eventualities should help me avoid some of the things that happened in the dream.

Friday, June 16, 2017

First steps to Quiltsville

So I am well underway on making a quilt top for the very first time.

Not surprisingly, at least for stitching together the individual rows, it takes much longer to cut all the cloth and arrange the pieces than to actually sew the seams.  Here are the first two rows.  This is going to be quite a large quilt in the end, and my daughter wants a purple border as well, though I don't know right now if I actually will have sufficient material based on what I bought (before Fabricland moved to a different location).

I'm still playing a bit with the machine settings.  It's close but not quite right, so I'll fiddle around a bit more tomorrow.  Anyway, I have sewn together the top row and it didn't take all that long.  It's pretty well squared up, so I'll just have to continue to pay attention while cutting the fabric.

Since the instructions are just a bit vague in terms of pressing the seams before joining the rows together, I am a bit worried about that.  It may help that most of the time a seam in one row will actually join up to the middle of a cross in the other row, so maybe it won't bunch up too much.  I think I'll assemble 3 or 4 individual rows before attempting to join them up length-wise.

Anyway, there are 15 more rows of material left to cut out (before deciding on the border).  I'll certainly need to get more white thread before this is all over.  If I plug away at it, I think I can be done with the top by the end of summer and then investigate the options for bundling it up for someone else to do the joining and long-arm sewing.  I won't know for a while, but I think I will have enough material for a second, perhaps slightly smaller, Xmas quilt for my son, but this one will be a Trip Around the World, which requires simpler and fewer cuts, at least when getting it started. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sewing jag

It has been so hot these past few days that it has been difficult to sleep.  And I think my daughter may have actually had heat stroke this morning, so it looks like the next time it gets this hot, we'll have to turn on the AC.

Anyway, I spent a fair bit of time in the basement, trying to cool down, and I started to use the time to cut out the pieces for the Christmas quilt I promised my daughter.  She liked the Plus pattern the best, but unfortunately for me it involves a huge amount of cutting.  More than any of the other patterns I am considering, which take advantage of clever recycling of material so the actually cutting is relatively minimal.  It's taking me some time to get used to the cutting board and squaring up the material, but it's getting easier as I get used to it.  Also, as there is less material left on the bolt, so to speak, with each cut, it gets somewhat simpler.

I have most of the pieces cut for the first two rows and should finish that up tomorrow night.  I'll press the pieces flat (all of these quilts involve a fair bit of pressing the seams, and I assume I'll get the hang of it before too long).  And then see how it goes to sew the first two rows.  Then only 15 more rows to go!

I thought I was going a bit mad, as I couldn't find this reddish pattern with dogs on it.  After much searching, I realized that I had washed it and hung it to dry.  I had really wanted to make some pajamas with it and then only after would I cut the necessary squares.

I followed a fairly simple pattern off of the internet, but the problem is that my son is just a bit too big, so there wasn't enough material in the seat area.  I'm sure if I had really thought it through, I could have staggered the pattern to get enough material, but I tried to sort of cheat on the material and cut it very close indeed.  That meant that I got a bit lost in the pattern and sewed too far up the inseam.  Then I had to rip the seams out, but I think I got a bit lazy and stopped too short.  Nonetheless, the pajamas actually look pretty decent, but I don't think they will actually fit him.  (And trying to rip the seams a second time is basically impossible.)

But he is fairly skinny, so I'll have him try them on anyway, before I worry about hemming or adding elastic.  I suspect this is the last time I will try to make him clothing, but I might make some clothes for my daughter now and again.

Amazingly, they do fit since he has almost no butt (oh to be that young and thin...), so I'll see if I can get red or black elastic for the top and then hem the bottoms.  It shouldn't take more than another hour or so to knock these off.

Monday, June 12, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 33nd Review - The Stone Carvers

Jane Urquhart's novel about WWI and the Vimy Memorial was a massive best seller back in 2001-2.  It appears it was long-listed for the Man Booker Award and a finalist for the Governor General's Award, but it didn't win either.  It's always hard to know why certain books win awards, but it may have been a few episodes that really strain credulity in The Stone Carvers that prevented it from finishing "in the money," as it were.

The novel opens with sort of an omniscient view where several generations' worth of stories are telescoped.  We find out that a German priest ends up being sent to Canada where he befriends a man who knows how to carve statues for his church.  This carver is the spinster Klara's grandfather.  I found this opening a bit annoying, partly because it felt like the technique had been lifted from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and partly because the author threw in occasional asides to prove how clever she was.

I persevered, however, and the story did get a bit more engaging, as it stopped jumping around and focused on Klara.  The reader learns that Klara's brother, Tilman, would run away from home so often and for so long, that finally their parents chain him up in the shed.  After he escapes, he leaves their lives forever.  Klara loses her first love to WWI (he somewhat foolishly enlists, hoping to learn how to fly aeroplanes for the army).  At one point she learned to carve from her grandfather (even though he had really wanted to teach Tilman), but she eventually hangs up her chisels and focuses on being the tailor for the village.  So she has a life that seems fairly cramped and mostly marked by loss. 

But wait, there's more.  However, at this point, I have to break out the SPOILERS warning.


The point of view switches over to Tilman who survived after running away and learned the tricks of the road from a variety of hoboes.  Eventually he pairs up with an older Italian man, who eventually returns home to Hamilton.  Tilman is welcomed into the family.  Things finally seem to be looking up, but then the an economic recession hits.  When the army comes recruiting, he and the Italian's man's son enlist and get sent off to France.  Tilman survives, grievously wounded, and makes his way back to his home village, where he reunites with Klara.

As Klara has never gotten over her lost love, she decides it makes perfect sense for them to go back to France and work on the Vimy Memorial.  I was not really aware of this, but it seems pretty astonishing.  Nonetheless, I'm fairly unlikely to ever see it in person.

The plot gets a bit unrealistic and even melodramatic at this point in order for Klara to first, get hired (disguised as a man) and then later have a sort of Indian summer romance with one of the carvers on the monument.  Tilman falls into an even more unlikely relationship.  I was a little annoyed when I thought Urquhart had misled the reader early on (to hide the fact that the novel has a happy ending), though I suppose it is possible to square the first and last parts of the novel.  Some other reviewer talked about the perverseness of giving a novel about WWI a happy ending of sorts, though I suppose life does go on and must go on, even in the aftermath of a massive war.  For me, The Stone Carvers didn't quite live up to the hype, though I'm not sorry that I finally got around to reading it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Green Thumb Weekend

It was a nice weekend, if a bit on the hot side.

I took my son to the AGO to check out the O'Keeffe exhibit.  He liked it, though I wouldn't say he was blown away by it.  We did see where they had moved* the big Moore piece to the Grange Park behind the museum.  I am a bit miffed that basically the entire Grange Park is off limits. They really need to reopen it soon.

Then I found out there was another problem with my bike, so I wasn't getting it back on Sat.  That was unfortunate, and it basically reordered my whole Sunday.  Sat. evening was spent at TCR Writers' Group, and I'm still processing what I heard there.

It was obvious even in the morning that Sunday was going to be a hot day.  So I got my daughter to help weed and clean up the front before I went and did the groceries.

The flowers that get rain are doing well, but the ones closer to the house (which is more sheltered from the rain) aren't coming up.

In general, the yard looks pretty good.  I'm glad most of the plants are perennials that I don't have to think too much about.  Two of the plants I bought last year are fine, but the lavender all died off (due to the drought conditions last year).

Anyway, my daughter really wanted to go see this open house, sort of in the neighbourhood, so I took her around 1:30.  Then we went to the mall and I signed up for the gym that opens there in another week or so, and we also bought a lavender plant for another box in the front.  Actually it is supposed to rain a fair bit this week, so maybe it will take root and do better than the ones from last year.  I also tried to fix up the fence a bit.  We should have done a bit more work in the back, but we were kind of exhausted by that point.  (I should also mention that the pollen seems particularly high and my allergies, though minor, are flaring up.)

In the evening, I decided to go see The Lavender Railroad, which is sort of a SF play where homosexuality has been outlawed across the globe and is punishable by death!  There are two conversations (really more like cat and mouse games) about whether the Lavender Railroad will rescue the individuals from their fates.  It was pretty repetitive, and I can't help but think the script could have used a good dose of tough love, like I got last night.**  I was a little annoyed that the author wasn't there, since I had considered casting him in a part of my night of shorts (and thus wanted to talk to him), but the more I think about it, the more I think I might as well just cut that piece, as I don't think it works all that well.  What I ought to do is dig up the tape recording where it was read in Chicago and just digitize this.  I guess it was apropos that I was rereading PKD's The Man in the High Castle on the streetcar there and back, since this also was basically an alternative future story.

*I don't think anyone know what is going on the side where the Moore used to be, though I guess it will be something taller.  I hope it isn't one of the Caro pieces they were featuring inside, as those are pretty ugly.

** At the same time, it takes a lot of moxy and nerve to get anything produced nowadays, and I have to respect that.  I would say that I am a bit of a dilettante in that I get a bit discouraged when I hear that first no.  So far I am going further than I have before and plan to follow through.