Thursday, December 14, 2017


I woke up early today and decided to see if I could see any meteors from the Geminid meteor shower.  My track record to date for watching celestial phenomenon has not been great so far, at least from Toronto, which has massive light pollution and often is overcast.  And indeed, when I went outside, there were clouds everywhere, though curiously enough, I did see a patch of sky to the north.

Frustrated, I turned to the internet and was reminded that I should try to book my tickets to Yayoi Kusama's upcoming Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the AGO.  This is going to be one of the hottest tickets of the spring, and already there are no advance members' tickets left for the entire month of March.  There was limited availabilty from mid-April onwards, and late May wasn't too bad.  However, it is pretty clear if you want to go, you should sign up as a member, and if you are willing to go in the middle of the day, then tickets are much easier to come by.  I ended up booking a spot for myself and my son in mid May, and then one follow-up trip for myself in late May.  Reading through the exhibit rules, it sounds like it could be a kind of frustrating experience where only 4 people at a time can enter 6 rooms and then only for 20-30 seconds.  The wait time for each room is estimated at 20 minutes.  (We took a sneak peak at the exhibition catalogue, and I certainly hope there are other things to look at rather than just the 6 rooms!)  I think it is a good thing that it will mostly be members getting tickets and that Canadians are, on average, a bit more polite than Americans, since this could be a fairly stressful experience.  I do worry that the hype will overshadow the art; in fact, I think it is inevitable that it will.

After I booked my tickets, I did take a look outside and the clouds had more or less lifted, so I went outside.  I was wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me, showing me little light streaks that could be meteors.  Finally, I saw one meteor go shooting by, which was pretty cool.  It's the only one I can recall seeing.  Perhaps if there hadn't been so much snow out on the porch, I would have waited to see one or two more before going in.  Still, it hadn't been quite as amazing as I had been told, with a meteor every minute or so lighting up the sky.  I decided to watch from inside the house for a bit and saw two short squibs and then one more meteor with a longer path.  It is a case of blink, and you'll miss it, but at least I can say that I did see a few this time around.  Now if I can just arrange to be somewhere north of here the next time that the Aurora Borealis flares up...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Missing Day Off

It's getting close to year's end, and, for some of us, that means checking to see if all our vacation is rolling over or if we are going to lose days.  In my case, I had two personal days that I had to use, plus about three days of excess vacation and lieu time that won't roll over.  So that meant I had to take a few days off without really having a plan on how to use them.

Monday was my first day off.  However, because two deadlines to submit abstracts crept up on me, and I only got a moderate amount done on them over the weekend, that meant I really was working yesterday, but on my own dime.  I'm not happy about it when that happens.  However, I did manage to get the abstracts in on time.

I did a little bit of reading and a bit more sewing, but I didn't go to the movies.  And I certainly didn't laze around, as I had hoped.  Then today I had to wake up early to shovel snow!  I'm hoping that Friday I can succeed a bit more in actually relaxing.

Anyway, I now have 100 of the squares for the quilt cut out, and 30% of them are sewn in with another 60% sewn on one side only.  Again, this was the trade-off of having to do less unstitching to get the loops to line up properly.  It's going relatively fast, but it is too early to predict when it will actually be finished.  I should have some of the full strips pieced together and then sewn together lengthwise tomorrow, and then the pattern will really start emerging.  Exciting.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Japanese texiles at the Textile Museum

I had put off this trip for a few weekends, but I decided I really needed to go soon, since my free pass from the library was expiring soon.  So, after breakfast, my son and I set off for the Textile Museum.  (The downside of procrastination was that it was fairly cold out today.)  It had been a while since my last visit, and I forgot which cross street it was on, but eventually I found it.

The more impressive exhibit is the one on Japanese textiles (mostly kimonos in fact).  This exhibit runs about another month.  Not all my photos turned out that well, but these give a bit of a flavour of the exhibit.

Detail of the dragon cloth

It was a brief, but nice visit.  I did pick up one ornament in the gift shop.  (Oddly enough it is made of metal, not fabric...)

We went over to the AGO, which was fairly empty.  We did a very quick pass through the Del Toro exhibit, then saw some of the other galleries.  I was surprised to see that they finally changed the hall off of the main entrance.  It mostly has prints by Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec now, which are interesting, but some of my favourite paintings now seem to be in storage.  I'm glad that they finally have put one smaller room to better use (than the frankly terrible two modern paintings it hosted), though I wonder if perhaps they could have mixed it up a bit more (rather than devoting the entire room to Canadian painters, given that Canadians so dominate the 2nd floor).  We didn't stay too long, but it was still a good visit.  I saw that they did have the Janvier catalog at the gift shop for $40 (and I'd get a 10% members' discount), though that is still a bit more than I want to pay, so I'll keep my eyes out at BMV in another couple of months.

Back home we finally put up the outside Xmas lights.  I was thinking perhaps of putting up the indoor tree, but I think I ought to wait until everyone has gotten over their colds and there aren't as many germs going around the house, so perhaps this Friday (fingers crossed).  I got a bit of work done, but still more to do.  And I did sew together the first three strips of the quilt.

While there is a lot of work left to do on this, I think it may come together a bit faster than the first one, since it does have some areas you can save some time.  Anyway, I'll see how I am feeling about it in another week or two...

Friday, December 8, 2017

New Quilt Project

I'm running probably 2-3 weeks late, but I finally got serious about the second quilt.  This one is going to be for my son.  Fortunately, he will be more understanding if the quilt is not actually delivered on time.  There is a very small chance I will have the top layer completed by Xmas, but then it takes 2-3 weeks for the long-arm quilting to be completed (and maybe even longer, given that many people are trying to complete quilts by the holidays).  But even a January delivery will be fine with him.

I decided that I wanted to do a Trip Around the World quilt.  Inspired by this post, I had a fairly good idea of how to proceed.  However, a different post warned me that if you have directional fabric, then you end up ripping and resewing a lot of squares (as they end up at a 90 degree angle when you sew the strips lengthwise and then rotate).  So I will just cut out that fabric into squares.  While it does mean extra sewing and some extra cutting, I will have to do far less ripping in the second stage of quilt construction.

I went through the fabrics I had available and decided on these 10.  I've cut out the strips, but still need to turn the directional fabrics (4 of them!) into individual squares.  Also, I have not cut out any of the border material (which will be a bit more autumnal, not quite as Christmas-y), but obviously I need to see how big the final quilt size ends up before I cut out any borders.*

Then I used a photo editor to simulate what a Trip Around the World would look like.  This is very raw, but still gives a decent sense of how it should turn out.  (If there isn't actually an app that does this, there should be, and I may work with my son to rig something up.)

The important thing is that there do appear to be enough offsetting light and dark fabrics.  I have a slight preference for putting the yellow deer on blue fabric in the center of the quilt, so I think I will organize it that way.  I am leaning towards swapping the penguin and the blue mitten/hat fabric, though that might entail slightly more work in the short-term, but I think the contrast would be better.  Perhaps I will mock that up tonight just to be sure.

While I am always excited when these projects come together, there is definitely a sense of "what I am I getting myself into?" that sets in a few weeks into a project.  However, I was able to keep pushing through with the previous one and that turned out well.

Edit (12/9): I've put together one more version of what this quilt might look like, and I think I will go with this pattern.

Also, as I was laying out the strips, it actually looks like the strips are not rotated 90 degrees, so that I could just cut them all at once.  Given some of the issues with getting different fabrics to line up (the red dog fabric doesn't even seem to be 40 inches wide), I think I will just line up 3 at a time to sew together length-wise and then do the stub cuts.  This will mean a bit more cutting, but more control.  And definitely less ripping out of any stitching.  My goal is to actually get a few of these strips sewn together this weekend just to see how it goes.

* It looks like these quilts are usually made with 17 strips across and 21 down.  That works out to 357 squares, which is a bit of a waste, since 10 fabrics leaves you with 400 squares.  I'm fairly likely to extend it lengthwise, and 17 x 23 is 391 squares.  Depending on how it looks, I might actually attempt 19 x 23.  This takes 437 squares, generally 4 squares more of each fabric.  I've checked, and I have enough left over of all of the fabrics, though in some cases just barely.  Anyway, I'll lay it out as 17 x 23 first before extending it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Retreat into fiction

There's a lot on my mind these days, but generally it is too political and too angry to want to post on it.  On top of everything else, I might change my mind (which does happen on rare occasions) and I'd regret having it out there.

There have definitely been times when I have been so frustrated by work or a general overall unhappiness about life that I go on long reading jags, pretty much shutting out the rest of the world.  This was particularly the case when I was teaching in Newark.  So much of what I read back then all blurred together, and I don't even remember much of it, which is a shame.  (And apparently 2008-2010, I was in the dumps a lot as well.)  Even posting a line or two about a book helps me set my thoughts in some kind of order.  I'd say that right now, my happiness at work is increasing to some degree but the awfulness of watching what is going on south of here is a real grind.  Still, I'm so glad to be out of it.  I can watch from a distance, but, more importantly, I can tune it all out, since I am only indirectly impacted at the moment by the Cheeto-in-Chief (until he starts a war with North Korea of course).

There are a few more detailed posts I still expect to make (on Isherwood's A Single Man and on Narayan's work), but why don't I go ahead and put down some mini-reports on my reading.  I'll go back a few months a least.

Charlotte Bronte -- Jane Eyre: This was one of the real gaps in my reading.  (When in university I was assigned Wuthering Heights instead.  I'm glad for my 19-year-old self as Jane Eyre is about twice as long.)  The first part of the novel was fairly interesting, but I definitely lost interest when Jane fell so deeply in love with Rochester, who certainly didn't seem such a catch, even before the fire.  I'm glad to finally have read it, but it was a bit of a let-down for me.

I then read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  This was just a bit too experimental for me.  I am not entirely sure I would have even understood it was about Rochester and his first wife if this hadn't been pointed out by others.  I didn't feel it added to my understanding of the situation nor did it work (for me) as a feminist reworking of the Jane Eyre story.  I prefer Rhys's more straight-forward semi-autobiographical accounts of her days in relative poverty in Europe (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, etc.).

Right after I got through those novels, I reread Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  Someone on Goodreads wrote it was about two terrible (or at least deeply selfish) people doing terrible things to each other and then to their offspring.  That sounds about right.  It basically is a Gothic romance, full of deep (and terrible?) emotions.  The novel affected me more as a young adult.  As a more jaded adult, I mostly was thinking how this corner of England seemed like the Ozarks where people didn't seem to realize that there was society down the road and that one didn't have to marry one's neighbors, i.e. there were more options in this wider world.  Even Jane Eyre includes much more travel -- and visitors from elsewhere coming through.  I hadn't remembered that the narrator was quite such a bumbling twit nor that he seemed to want to make a play for the young widow, though fortunately he stepped aside to allow for the nascent romance to blossom and for the presumably happy ending to arrive.

I reread Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and then finally read Pride and Prejudice.  While it may be somewhat heretical, I definitely preferred Sense and Sensibility, in large part because I preferred the secondary characters.*  Emily Bennet's younger sisters are a bunch of annoying simpletons.  Also, for a man who didn't care much for his wife, Mr. Bennet sure had a lot of children, though I suppose they were desperately trying for a male heir.  I generally found the difficulties that the Bennet sisters faced in getting married were more contrived (and thus more easily overcome) than the situation in Sense and Sensibility.

William Trevor -- Nights at the Alexandra.  This is a novella rather than a true novel.  I found it quite unsatisfying, as it basically seemed to be an older man reflecting back on his teen-aged crush on a young married woman, who moved to his village with her German husband.  The strong implication is that his impossible love for her stunted his emotional growth and he never managed to find anyone else in his life who measured up, and thus remained a bachelor all his days.  I'm not saying this never happens, but I found it a fairly shallow story and of no particular interest.

I may end up writing more on Isherwood later, but A Single Man offers up an interesting comparison.  Here the focus is on a "single" man, George (and the novel could be summarized as A Single Day in the Life of a Single Man).  However, the man is involuntarily single.  He was in a long-term homosexual relationship, long before this was accepted by broader society and indeed at a time (1964) when gay sex was illegal in Canada and virtually all U.S. states, including California, where the novel was set.  But he isn't single because his partner left him but rather he died suddenly.  While the narrator seems somewhat emotionally stunted, it could largely be because he is still in emotional shock.  We don't really get a sense of how much he was at his ease while in the relationship, but it seems to have been a happy one.  On the other hand, much is made of the fact that George is an outsider, a British immigrant to California (with all the reserve that implies).  It is interesting to compare the fairly buttoned-down George to the let-it-all-hang-out  Tommy/Wilhelm from Bellow's Seize the Day. To be fair, there was a point (in the past) when George broke down in the company of his friend Charlotte, over the death of his lover, but now George keeps these emotions in check. However, given the rivers of booze that flow through this novel (indicating perhaps Mad Men wasn't so far off the mark) and poor George's liver, there is a bit of suspense over what exactly will come out of his mouth while he is drunk. The novel is actually quite radical in how it describes an older male lusting (privately) after a fair number of younger men he runs across.

Chigozie Obioma -- The Fishermen.  This had a lot of the trappings of a Greek myth, specifically Oedipus Rex, but set in Nigeria, where a prophecy spoken by a madman sets off a series of tragic events for the four elder boys.  I was also reminded a fair bit of The Brothers Karamazov, though in this case, the brothers do not turn on their father, who is only a middling tyrant.

Emmanuel Bove -- A Singular Man. Too long for what it is, sort of a nothing burger. It's about a man, dependent on others for charity most of his life, who marries far above his station, but the happy couple never gets their share of the family fortune. While he is "singular" in that he doesn't really rail against fate or go around begging for help (like the self-indulgent Tommy from Seize the Day), he also does little in the way of work. For instance, he seems to give up a job in advertising without any kind of a back-up plan. I'm kind of allergic to Bove's characters and their way of thinking. (I really detested the main character of A Man Who Knows; here I am more indifferent.) I probably ought to just stop reading Bove.

Another odd novel about a dissolute character who doesn't really want to work is English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee. The main character is a young man who has won a position with IAS, but seems to want to do nothing but laze around all day smoking weed and occasionally reading Marcus Aurelius. There is a lot here about the absurdities of trying to govern India through a civil service that is thoroughly corrupt, but it is still a novel centered on a callow young man, and the narrative/plot doesn't do much to challenge his self-centered view.

I was going to write on a few other novels I have read lately, but I think this is enough for now.  It is late, and I have other things to do.

* That said, Pride and Prejudice has one of the best opening lines I've come across: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gibson House in North York

On Sat. I took my daughter up to Gibson House, which reflects the period around 1851.  Interestingly, David Gibson was originally a farmer and land surveyor in North York (he actually had a hired hand for most of the farm work and he mostly stayed busy surveying the surrounding territory).  However, he was an associate of William Mackenzie and supported the 1837 Rebellion.  Not only was he forced to flee, but the British forces putting down the rebellion burned down his house!  If my understanding is correct, Mackenzie and his entire family fled to the States and then Mackenzie and his wife and daughters returned after the amnesty.  In Gibson's case, he was the only one who left Canada.  After he was pardoned and returned, he built a second house on the site of the first.  Unlike some of the other museums, only a few items actually belonged to the Gibson family, including a couple of dolls with real human hair.

I've been to North York Centre/Mel Lastman Square a few times, but didn't even realize that the Gibson House was there right to the north.  I'm glad that they didn't wipe it out in an effort to modernize the area.

What was quite different is how few visitors they had.  We were the only ones, so we got a personalized tour.  I don't know if everyone that had planned to visit went during November, when it was free, or if the distance from the downtown core frightens people off, but it is still quite easy to get to.

I had thought the house would be more decked out for Christmas, but apparently "Christmas" wasn't a big thing in the 1850s, particularly for the Scottish immigrants.  Instead, they celebrated Hogmanay, which is a New Year festival.  There were some pine branches hung on the windows and mantles in the parlor and dining room to represent Hogmanay, even though it is a few weeks early for that.

Dining room

While the Gibsons had somewhat simpler style of life than the Mackenzies (probably fewer visitors as well), the house definitely feels more open.*  There were still two children in each bed, however.

Front parlor

David Gibson's office

Boys' bedroom

Girls' bedroom (with original dolls)

Bed in master bedroom

Chest of drawers in master bedroom

On the way out, we stopped in the kitchen again, and they gave us shortbread and mulled cider.  Very nice!  All in all, another very informative trip, and I would definitely come back again at some point.  (However, I would certainly check beforehand to ensure that the TTC isn't suspending service on Line 1, as they will be doing for the upcoming weekend!)

Kitchen corner (with wood for fireplace)

* I don't know if it is a function of Gibson House generally getting fewer visitors (or having fewer original artifacts), but we were able to walk around in the parlor and dining room without any of the typical visitor ropes and could even touch the horsehair sofa, so that was neat.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Making an elephant

Quite a while back, I mentioned how I was cutting up work shirts with the intent of someday using the material for a quilt.  When I cut apart the sleeves, I was a bit surprised to see how much they looked like an elephant (well, maybe an elephant as drawn by the narrator of The Little Prince).  Anyhow, here is one of the pieces of fabric (perhaps appropriately wrinkled).

In this case, the cuffs make reasonably good, if somewhat small, ears.  For the other shirt, they seem even smaller, and I'll probably have to figure out something else.

And here is the cut-out version with one eye stitched in (backwards naturally).

Now I have to sew on the ears and then go around the body of the elephant.  (I'm a bit worried about not leaving enough tail on this elephant.)  While I had tried to think of a way to sew on the tusks beforehand, I think the way that they stick out past the trunk means they'll have to be sewn on last.

The moment of truth comes when you have to invert the entire thing through the hole you leave for stuffing it.  (I think sea stars and even some species of squid can turn themselves inside out at least temporarily, and you get a real appreciation for their ability when you do this.)

I left the hole quite small and then realized that the ears were too big, but eventually I  managed to work them through.  This is how it turned out (and yes the tail area is definitely too short, but otherwise, it came out looking pretty good).

I ironed it a bit, especially the ears, then started stuffing.  I took a break from stuffing and extended the tail and added the tusks.  Then I went back to stuffing.  In the end, I probably used half a bag of the filler.  In some ways this is more like a pillow than a stuffed animal.  Here is the final incarnation of the elephant, though actually I am going to let it settle overnight and then add any last stuffing and seal up the two holes (one in the stomach and one at the end of the trunk).

Sadly, my daughter doesn't really like home-made gifts so I suspect in the long run, I'll either reclaim it or give it to my son, who would appreciate it.  It really was only about a day's worth of work, but I still don't think I want to get into the business of trying to make and sell these.  I have a few too many other things on the go...