Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Word of the Year

A few years ago I was introduced to a concept on Lisa Call's blog. It made some sense to me so I tried it and was pleased by the results. I now use the last two weeks of each year to decide on my approach for the following year. Last December I wrote a class profile (script and music) about the concept for the Indoor Cycling Association. It was well-received and I enjoyed teaching it. While I might not offer similar advice to someone outside of class I feel comfortable doing so for the people with whom I have created meaningful relationships. I taught it again last Saturday to a group who weren't in classes at this time last year.

The concept is described in my intro and extro remarks, drawn from the script. The actual cycling work is related and gives me the opportunity to suggest about forty words by embedding them in my script. My actual delivery is more relaxed than this but the scripts need to be more formal.

During warm-up:
There is something about this time of year - with the lengthening days and the opportunity to turn the page on our calendars - that inspires people to make changes in their lives. In the Western world this often takes the form of New Year’s resolutions. You know what I am talking about - “I will quit smoking.” “I will spend more time with my family.” “I will lose weight.”
Studies show that about 50% of Americans set some sort of New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately about 88% of them fail to complete their resolutions. Why is that? There are many reasons and most of you can probably identify one of the major problems with the resolutions I quoted earlier. Most resolutions are vague. There are no clearly stated and achievable goals and very few people go on to create a plan which will help them achieve what they desire. On the other hand, I find that resolutions are problematic because they are so specific. They are not structured so that the success, if you have any, on one resolution can leak into and influence other areas of your life. 
You are faced with an uncountable number of choices each day. Some of those are consequential, some less so. What if you had a guiding principle for those choices? Would it help you become more aware of your path through life and how each little thing you do either removes or installs obstacles on that path?
I want to introduce you to another way to approach the New Year. This was made popular by business coach Christine Kane starting in 2006. She suggests choosing one word which will guide your actions throughout the year. Each time you are faced with a choice you invoke your word and evaluate your decisions in the context of the word. Any word will work if it is right for you. It can be a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. (Note: This link contains a long list of suggested words.) 

During cooldown: 
The experts tell us that one of the reasons that people fail to execute their New Year’s resolutions is that the format of the resolutions is not conducive to forming a habit. In contrast, after a year spent evaluating your choices in the context of a single word you will have formed a habit. When you choose a new word the following year you will be adding a new habit but not losing the previous one. Your decision-making will become more refined and your goals more attainable. 
As I said earlier, the words I used today are just suggestions. I used words which had a direct application to indoor and outdoor cycling because that’s where your experience and mine intersect. You may want to choose something which is more relevant to another aspect of your life or which you judge will be more useful to you. You might also want to choose a phrase; it is your life so you get to make the rules. 
If this approach appeals to you and you would like some help choosing your word Christine Kane has a worksheet which can guide you through the process. You don’t have to use the worksheet because there are no rights and wrongs to this process. If you choose something that doesn’t work you can always choose again. Christine Kane recommends that you reveal your word to one or two of your closest friends. As you discuss choices with them they will be able to remind you to use your word. That will increase the chance that you will form a robust new habit.

This November I realized that my word had changed in mid-year, around the time of my cancer diagnosis. It wasn't a conscious choice on my part but in hindsight the change was very clear. On reflection, I have decided to formally adopt that word for 2015. It certainly served me well over the last few months. I look forward to creating an even stronger habit in the next year.

Time = 1 hr, 43 min

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Behaviour change, part two

It seems to make a lot of sense at the end of the work day to leave out the tools and other materials that I will use the next time I return to the studio. After all, it took a finite amount of time to get those things out. Why spend the time to put them away when they might be needed just a few hours later.

I have discovered that I am much more motivated to return to work on a project when the decks are clear - no tools, no loose pins, no bits of thread, fabric stacked back where I found it. So I am going to tidy at the end of each day. It won't be an afterthought - it will actually count against working time. I think this will be an easy habit to form. There is the proximate reinforcement of returning things to their places and then there will be the ultimate satisfaction of starting anew in a neat work space.

Time = 1 hr, 25 mins   (not bad for a day of five indoor cycling classes)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Behaviour change

The gifts are made and the party is over. It is time to get back to work. I haven't pursued art quilting with any vigour in seven to eight months. I suddenly am interested again and ready to do some serious work. I'm not sure why I feel the urgency right now - perhaps it is the brush with mortality, or the advent of a new year, or a looming deadline for a show I must enter.  

I want to take advantage of the motivation I feel now to make a permanent change in my behaviour. In the fitness/wellness industry it is well known that behaviour changes as soon as you start to monitor it. For example, once you are asked to keep a food diary you start to edit the choices you make every day. If you wear a Fitbit or similar device your daily step count increases simply because you can observe a number.

I have decided to take a measure/monitor approach. The only realistic metric is 'time spent'. So today I started the timer on my iPad and turned it off each time I was interrupted. I intend to keep a record of my daily investment of time. I am sure that just knowing the timer is running will change my behaviour and cause me to focus more intensely on the work at hand. In a few months I will also have developed the habit of incorporating that work into my days.  

At 2:30 am this morning I got up and drafted a design for an idea that has been niggling me, related to the 'Structures' show. This morning I had to go to Staples to pick up an order so I had them enlarge it for me, just to 18x18 for now. I will probably make several and then toss the pattern and use what I have learned to do a final piece. 

At home I began the construction. My time total includes some research I did on construction methods, transfer of the pattern to my working materials and some piecing.

Time = 2 hrs, 35 min

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Party day

There's nothing better than the sound of a group of people talking and eating and drinking.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

At last - a use for that yarn

Many years ago my friend Joan and her family took a summer vacation on Prince Edward Island. They visited Belfast Mini Mills and had a wonderful tour of the mill. Their experience is what prompted my visit a few months ago. Joan came home with a beautiful yarn that had been produced by the staff at the mini mills operation. It was a two ply yarn, about 100 m/50 g, in a really unusual combination of colours. There is green and orange and a pinky colour. It almost glows in both skeins and balls. When I saw her yarn I asked Joan if she would mind if I ordered some to arrive by mail. She said I should go ahead so I bought three or four skeins.

Over the years both Joan and I have struggled to find a project that made best use of the yarn. Both of us have knit up and ripped out projects. A few months ago Joan asked if I would sell her one of my skeins because she had finally settled on a pattern and needed more yarn. I was happy to help by supplying a skein - I still didn't have any ideas about how I would use my lot.

Last week I had to go to a series of doctors' appointments, at the same location but separated by hours. I had finished my gift knitting but I needed a project to make the waiting bearable. I poked about on Ravelry and found an interesting hat pattern. Then I went into my yarn room and grabbed a couple of things that appealed to me. I took a heathered brown in Cascade 220 and a skein of the PEI yarn. The pattern I had chosen used two colours in two row stripes.

About ten minutes after I started the striping I realized why we had been unable to make effective use of the beautiful and unique yarn. It needs help to stand out. It needs a backdrop against which to glow. When knit up on its own it just looks weird. With another yarn it looks exotic.

I finished the hat a few days later. George will wear it and seems to like it. He went and peered at himself in the mirror the first time he put it on.

Lesson learned. The next time I struggle with an unusual yarn I will pair it with a solid which will help set if off.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Captured gifts

I have been busy making gifts. So busy that I didn't photograph most of them. A knitted cowl and a pair of bright socks got away without a picture. So did some silk/rayon devore scarves that I dyed. And a journal cover.

Here are a couple of things I did manage to capture. First an alpaca/silk scarf for one of my surgeons.

A journal cover for a friend. The appliqued bits were a challenge. I had visions of printing with bike tires but that turned out to be remarkably difficult. I had to let out a lot of air and then put all my weight into the tire to get a wide enough impression. It is scary to realize just how little tire actually touches the road when we are riding. In the end I only got one piece I liked so I supplemented with a rubber stamp with a zigzag pattern.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


After I was dischargedfor the hospital I had to turn my mind to the problem of what to make family for Christmas gifts. After my bike crash in August my right thumb made it difficult to knit so I knew that I might have to crochet something, at least to start with. I cast about for ideas and for reasons I cannot now remember I hit upon a pattern for a crocheted and stuffed bear. It was not just any bear. It was large and idiosyncratic and I laughed as I looked at all the versions on Ravelry.

My mother already has several stuffed bears (realistic, not teddies) and she had also admired the rose covered bear in the Oh Canada! exhibit when she saw the photo on this blog. So I decided to make the bear for her. I ordered yarn from a wonderful Maine manufacturer in colours that I thought would lend an aged look to the finished product. When the yarn came one colour was not what I expected. Luckily I found a good substitute (in the same type of yarn) in my collection. There was a lot of crocheting and to make it more complicated the pattern called for units made with six different size hooks so there was also a lot of organization required.

Some of my friends were quietly doubtful about the project. I think some wondered about the bear concept and others did not like my color choices. But I knew I was on the right track when the time finally came to join the units together to form legs and arms and a head and body. The ears, in particular, delighted me. They were a perfect shape and very fleshy.

As soon as the project came together I began to wonder about the bear's gender but decided that wasn't up to me. And I also thought about and researched clothing. I spent far too much time seeing if I could size up American Girl patterns. Since I didn't have time to make anything I purchased two types of ribbon which my mother could choose to put around the bear's neck

I photographed and packed up the bear and the other gifts I had made and shipped them to Maine. I truly did not know the reaction it would provoke when my mother unwrapped it.

My mother opens her gifts on the solstice so I was out when she called. The message she left said something about not stopping laughing since she opened the package. Based on this photo, I would say that the gift was well-received. Better yet, my mother named it as soon as she saw it - Flora. And she mentioned that Flora needs some clothes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Solstice poem

Every year for some time my mother has written a poem and sent it as a gift to her friends on the occasion of the winter solstice. A few years ago I became involved in designing and producing the card. I didn't know if there would be a poem this year since my mother has been dealing with some health issues for the last little while. I was therefore delighted when in late November I received a poem and an inquiry about whether I had time to design a card. My first idea was a total bust but I liked the second one well enough to take advantage of's cyber-Monday sale.

Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, we all anticipate the return of the sun.

Here's the poem, reproduced with permission of the author Nancy Nielsen.

The Old Woman And The Far-Flying Bird

The old woman searched everywhere –
in a drawer full of shells
in a box full of bones
in the bookcase behind the dictionaries.
She looked in the garden
and in the gathered-at-the-river grove.
At last she called the Far-Flying Bird.

While she waited she looked in the pencil jar
and in the sock drawer.  She searched and
she slept and she waited day-waits
and week-waits and many-week waits.
No-bird waits.

One morning she heard a noise on the roof.
Far-Flying Bird!  Where have you been?
I've flown latitudes and longitudes
said the bird.  I've flown the compass rose
and the zodiac and here I am.  Look:
I found it tiptoeing back from Montevideo.

Oh thank you bird, thank you
said the old woman, and she took the sun
very carefully and put it on the windowsill.

                                                                                            Straight Bay
                                                                                            Solstice, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014


Is there anything better than the buzz you get once you find an idea that will work? My concept for Photo 51 has evolved to a tri-partite piece. I have spent lots of time researching imagery and quotes and now have all of the elements nailed down. It feels right - walks the line between representational and abstract and is dense with meaning. I am comfortable with the fact that most viewers won't 'get' it.

I am happy to report that I will be able to include an ivory tower in a piece destined for a show with structure as a theme. So much for my commitment to avoid architecture.

While I was Googling I had another idea about structure. It is also based in my experience and addresses an issue I care about. I will let it roll around in my head for a while and see whether it evolves.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pieces come together

For the last month or so I have been seriously considering how I will respond to the call for entry for our SAQA region's (Atlantic Canada) second juried show. I am excited about the prospect for the show - our membership numbers are up and the curator, Regina Marzlin, has done a great job of securing multiple venues in two provinces. I am very proud of the fact that Alan Syliboy has agreed to be the juror for the show.

Since the outset I have been stymied, as I always am, by the fact that the show has a theme. The membership chose Structures. The only thing I have known since I heard that word is that I wouldn't be addressing anything related to architecture.

Last week I realized that I wanted to do a piece about X-ray diffraction which is a technique used to determine the structure of crystals. When I went to the FAB meeting today I brought along a sample to work to test some of my ideas for an X-ray quilt. Today at FAB Regina demonstrated a mono-printing technique that permits the application of thin lines of color to a quilt. In the experimentation that followed Susan Lilley created a sample of handwriting transferred to her fabric. Everyone loved it. 

I had never thought about adding text to a quilt but on my way home the idea for the X-ray quilt gelled completely. It will be titled Photo 51 which is a reference to a photo taken by scientist Rosalind Franklin who was part of the team that determined the structure of DNA. She was ultimately not given as much credit for her contributions as she probably deserved.

I will play with the basics of this image.

And the following text, a quote from a 1951 presentation by Rosalind Franklin, will appear somehow.

Conclusion: Big helix in several chains, phosphates on outside, phosphate-phosphate inter-helical bonds disrupted by water. Phosphate links available to proteins.

As will this one.

Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Caught up in real life

The problem with recovering as quickly as I did is that I didn't get to enjoy many dayswriting and creating with fabric. Instead, things have returned to a normal kind of busy and then some. So far this week I have taught more indoor cycling classes than ever before, including five classes on Tuesday alone. And then there are the volunteer responsibilities which were deferred by my surgery.

Here are some things have made me happy and kept my brain spinning over the last few days when I wasn't able to write a blog post.

This song gets me singing along. It is very poppy but that's what we need as the darkness of the winter starts to creeps in. The video doesn't make any sense. I suspect that's bound to happen when an Australian band uses the name of an Apache leader as a hook for their song. Nonsense was bound to be the outcome.

I am blown away by what Zemer Peled does with shards of pottery. Follow the link and see for yourself.

Untitled     Zemer Peled

Shannon Weber creates art from objects and materials she finds in nature. It is easy to dismiss work like hers with thoughts like "I could do that." Try it. It is much more difficult than it looks. She prefers that people not share her images so go to her website to see the magical forms she creates.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lights at night

Sometime in 1976 or 1977 I was doing field research in rainforests of El Junque on Puerto Rico and four of us drove to the southern shore of the island. The trip took us to Ponce on the Caribbean shore. We stayed in a rustic guest house and I remember a great dinner of local fish. But the highlight of our time away was a night trip on a boat into a bay that was full of bioluminescent plankton. At the time there was a single operator but it seems to have turned into a big tourist attraction. The patterns of light in the water were magical and the experience was made more memorable because it was my first experience of semi-tropical nights.

Many years later my husband and I joined a sea kayak paddle in the waters of Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia on a very dark August night. All of the boats were equipped with a single light which faced both forward and backward. It was so calm that we did not need to keep the boats together. The outlines of the boats were lost as soon as they were a few feet away. All that was left was the light. I remember being entranced by the sight of the lights dancing across the bay. My husband and I have night kayaked many times near our home but we have always been alone so have not been able to reproduce the magic of that group paddle.

I was reminded of those two events when I saw the photos of a new project in the Netherlands.  Daan Roosegaarde has used glow in the dark paint and some LED lights to create a pattern on a kilometre long section of bike path. The pattern references the swirling stars of Van Gogh's Starry Night. Follow some of the links in this article to see some or Roosegarde's other ideas about how to light public spaces.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Birthday Tock

In March 1987 I flew to Toronto and rented a car so that I could visit five Bernese Mountain Dog breeders who lived west, north and east of the city. I had also arranged to stop at the house of a breeder of Bearded Collies. I knew nothing about the breed but there was a very intriguing picture in a magazine just before the Bernese section. I wanted to do some research in case we wanted to add a Beardie our household in the future.

One of the Bernese breeders was to meet me at a dog show she was attending. As I waited for her I wandered around and saw a Bearded Collie being groomed on a table. I took the opportunity to talk to the owners (and breeders). When I described why I was interested in the breed and what life would be like at my house, they told me that Beardies weren't for me. They were especially concerned that the long coat would mat when exposed to rain and ocean swims.

I went to dinner, found a hotel room and thought about everything I had learned that day. I was discouraged but Beardies weren't the real reason for my trip. For that reason I considered cancelling my appointment to see the Beardie breeder the next morning. But manners got the best of me. I thought it would be rude to make a call that late at night.

The following morning I ended up at a small house in downtown Toronto. I went in, sat down on the sofa and my life was transformed. There was one male and three (I think) females in the household. I loved everything about them. As we talked I learned that I hadn't landed in just any Beardie household. Carol Gold was a pioneer in introducing the breed to Canada. She was, for all intents and purposes, the expert. I stayed as long as I could but I had other appointments that afternoon so I said my goodbyes and thought that was that.

A day after I returned home I was offered a puppy by my favorite Bernese breeder. That was exciting but I couldn't stop thinking about the Beardies. So I wrote to Carol and asked her how old the Berner would have to be before I could add a Beardie. She wrote back immediately to say that a six month difference would be fine and that she was expecting a litter of puppies that would be whelped in the state of Washington. She was going to fly out to select one and she could choose one for me at that time. I said Yes immediately.

In early January 1988 we drove to the airport, waited forever in the cargo terminal and finally took possession of a charming ball of black and white fur. That day changed our lives. The puppy, named Milo after the boy in The Phantom Tollbooth, soon took charge of our lives. Over the first few years he had extremely serious health and emotional issues but he never faltered and became more robust as he aged. He and I went on to do very well in competitive obedience, we travelled the country with Real Canadian Superdogs and he became a character in our community.

Milo was the first of ten Beardies to live with us over the years. Every one has been remarkable and memorable. Today we celebrate the first birthday of the latest. Tock (LarksLane Hickory Dickory Tock), named after the dog in The Phantom Tollbooth, turns one year old today. We see echoes of all the past Beardies in him but he is his own dog, with unique behaviours, a look of his own and a special place in our hearts. While the Beardies have been a treasure, I have also valued the fact that Carol has become a dear friend. She no longer owns Beardies but they will never leave her heart. Tock and I stayed with her in Toronto when I picked him up last January and it was great to see a Beardie in her house one more time.

I have more videos than still photos of him but here are a few shots taken from before he arrived up to some photos taken at daycare last month.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


A while ago I wrote about a mule that had been invited to the US Equestrian Federation dressage finals. I wondered today how they had done. Here's a link with an interview with the mule's owner and a video of one of their two tests. If you don't want to take the time to follow the link, the answer is - they did well but not well enough to place. I never had a doubt. They were there for the right reasons and that always helps with nerves.


Saturday, November 15, 2014


It is difficult to keep secrets as I work on projects which will be gifts next month. But it is fun to offer teasers.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ideas collide

Among my various activities I provide physical and emotional support to people who work with dogs. I am in constantly in awe of those who work in rescue and shelter environments. It is a very very difficult world. Recently I became aware of a talented young woman, Jessica Dolce, who has started to address the issue of compassion fatigue in animal care workers. Today a friend sent me to a recent post on Jessica's blog. I think it is valuable reading for everyone, not just those in the small animal care community.

I see ideas which coincide with some thinking I have been doing about my approach to my cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I have just downloaded My Stroke of Insight. I will write more after I have finished reading it

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What is an art quilt?

It is difficult to explain to people exactly what an art quilt is and can be. This blog post which reviews a recent SAQA exhibition does a good job of inviting viewers to consider quilts, using the SAQA definition*, as art.

The selection process for the Earth Stories show invited artists to identify a person or organization that "enhance the planet, make a significant difference in restoring and/or protecting the environment, increase sustainability and otherwise improve the earth we all occupy." Artists were selected based on their portfolio and their theme proposal. It appears that each artist made two pieces and that the juror chose one for the show. This selection method offers artists much more freedom to create something that truly conforms to their vision. They need not second guess the juror or be concerned that their excellent work might be rejected because the juror needed to create a balanced show or one that elucidated themes of his or her own.

* ART QUILT: "a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched and layered structure."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


I have been thinking about inspiration a lot lately. I took a shortcut and checked to see what the Free Dictionary site had to say. Of course, I also had to look up inspire.

I am no farther ahead in my understanding. I am beginning to think that it is a throw-away term that people use in lieu of a more precise statement.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gift (2)

More than a year ago my friend Susan Tilsley Manley proposed that we barter - I would provide some coaching with respect to her website and business and she would interpret a photo that I had shared with her. The photo showed my mother and Shelby, my pet porcupine. The story about why I had a pet porcupine can wait for another day. It is enough that the photo is precious to me.

I agreed to Susan's proposal even though I would have gladly helped her without compensation of any sort. Then our lives took various turns, with deadlines and family illness and finally my cancer diagnosis. We never found a time to get together to do the work we needed to do.

At the Anna Torma workshop Susan thrust something into my hands and suggested that I knew what it was. I didn't, in fact. But when I unwrapped it here is what I found.

It hadn't occurred to me that Susan would work on her half of the exchange. I am familiar with the pressures she faces in caring for her family, volunteering in her community and keeping her art business going. There really wasn't time for another project. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that she took the time to work on this for me. The true gift, though, is a friendship beyond value.

Susan - get ready.  We are going to go to work very soon!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gifts (1)

I went to work today to prepare for the resumption on Thursday of my indoor cycling classes. As I often do, I stopped in to see Judith. I had several things to show her. Some of those will appear on the blog very soon; others will have to wait until after Christmas.

After I had shown her the first item, Judith broke in to tell me that she had a small gift for me. She reached out and put a white ceramic thimble in my hand. The thimble was marked on the inside with a black X and a signature. She told me to slip it onto my finger and see if I wasn't suddenly struck by the calm that comes from handwork. I did - and I was. She explained that she had picked it up at an exhibition at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic art during a visit in September. The artist, Robin Lambert, had designed his piece to invite visitors to pick up and take away a thimble.

Here is a link to the site for the RBC Emerging Artist People's Choice Award. Each of the photos links to more information on the artists. 

The video gives some insight into Lambert's piece, entitled I Should Like to Give You a Kiss. In October it won the people's choice award. 

It is is difficult to tell from the website but Judith told me that there was a display of white thimbles on the wall with a white shag rug on the floor beneath them. Visitors were allowed to touch the thimbles and even to keep them. Apparently the staff have made some interesting observations about the behaviour of the visitors with respect to what they touch. I am fascinated because this work is parallel to my interest in repeated forms and participatory art. It bears an eerie resemblance to my 'community' piece (which is awaiting a delivery of hundreds of snap fasteners.)

Judith thought that the thimble could serve to calm me during doctor's visits or at other times when I wanted to induce feelings of contentment. But it does much more than that. That small piece of white ceramic reminds me, again, of the number of people who share my interests and who care for me, either in person or in their thoughts. I will never be alone and that is a priceless gift.

Tomorrow I will share another item - another perfect gift.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

HDMGG - November 9

I harvested the last of the peppers today - jalapeƱos and a long green, slightly hot variety which I will use in place off green chiles throughout the winter.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Anna Torma

I spent the afternoon at the St. Francis Xavier University art gallery in a workshop with Anna Torma.  The gallery is currently showing some of her recent work. The free (!) workshop was organized by the All-of-Us Society for Arts Presentation with a grant from the province of Nova Scotia.

Anna embroiders on multiple layers of silk and used the transparency of the silk to great advantage. Sometimes she puts coloured fabric behind the front layer so that the embroidered images appear 'painted'. At other times she uses actual paint and dye on the surface of the fabric and embroiders over the spots of colour. She also uses her needle and thread to draw in black on white.

She was a generous instructor. After a lecture on her inspirations she passed out kits which included two pieces of luscious silk fabric, a hank of hand-dyed silk thread, a needle and a piece of tracing paper which she had previously used to create one of her own pieces. We were encouraged to used the supplied 'pattern' or develop one of our own. After tracing images onto fabric we used coloured fabric to highlight some areas. Then we stitched. This was my first experience with hand-stitching. To some extent, that put me at an advatnage. Anna does not follow some of the common protocols for starting and stopping the line of thread. I was able to do as she suggested while other people found themselves falling back into their old habits.

I brought and used images which will allow me to tell a story that resonates in my household. I got the first part stitched and had enough fun that I will return and finish the small project - after Christmas presents are under control.

Anna Torma and Kate Madeloso

Friday, November 7, 2014

I have seen the future and it is now

This blog doesn't exist to report on every detail of my life and health. But I have made a number of references to my cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery. So I'd like to address my status so we can all move on. This phrase describes how I am feeling: I have seen the future and it is now. I said that when I met with my surgeon this morning and I think he was a little puzzled. What it means to me is this. My surgery was a success, my new bladder works better every day and the pathology shows no remaining cancer. I feel today like I expected to feel in eight to twelve months. I am back to normal activities and next week I will return to teaching indoor cycling classes.

I am amazed that it is only five months since my diagnosis and just nine weeks since the surgery. So much has happened that it seems that much more time must have elapsed. And now that I am on the other side it feels like I have found a way to time travel- thus the future is now.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Flavour profile

People who think they know me often express surprise when they learn that I watch reality TV. I have already written about So You Think You Can Dance. I also watch Survivor, The Amazing Race and Dancing with the Stars. Recently several food shows have made it onto the list of items to be recorded each week. I just finished a season of Master Chef and have started with Master Chef Junior. I also tape all possible episodes of Chopped when my cable provider makes the Food Channel free for a month. I could go on and on about what I learn from watching these shows but I don't think it is necessary. I'm not doing any harm so don't think I need to justify my behaviour.

The snobbish food-speak of the hosts and participants on the cooking shows is often hard to take. Recently the hot phrase has been "flavour profile". I have no idea what that means and I often suspect the participants are also vague about the term. But yesterday I got an inkling about what they might be describing.

In an effort to use two huge squash from the CSA I searched for a recipe for squash soup - something different from my usual approach. In a book about the cooking of the indigenous peoples of the southwestern US I found a recipe that would also let me use some old frozen corn, the end of a piece of ginger and some limes that wouldn't hold up much longer. The corn and squash went into the soup and the ginger and lime were mixed into whipped cream that was served on top of the soup. When I took my first bite, I suddenly understood what a flavour profile might be. I could taste layer upon layer. Some of the associations were familiar and others were surprising. Here's the recipe if you want to taste for yourself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I have written about my visit to the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Centre in Auburn, NY. The Schweinfurth has a special interest in textiles and each year mounts a show of art quilts called Quilts=Art=Quilts. The 2014 show opened a couple of days ago. 

This is the quilt awarded best in show. It is 65" x 65".

Chaos: the Butterfly Effect, made by Kit Vincent of Ontario

You will get a different view of the quilt by visiting Kathy Loomis's blog. She was one of two jurors for the show and selected the prizewinners. This post contains a closeup photo of the surface of the quilt. I think it illustrates the magic of fabric as a medium. While paintings and sculptures can often look different as we get closer, I think there are more surprises when the artwork is composed of fabric and thread. That might be because we have certain expectations with regard to those media, based on our familiarity with them in a domestic setting. No matter - it is fun to think about how something will read from a distance and what changes can be induced in the viewers when they are allowed to carefully inspect the surface.

Kathy has also written about some of the other prizewinners. The Schweinfurth website has a link to a virtual tour of the show.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

This makes me smile

This news makes me smile. Check it out.

You might not be interested in equestrian events or mules but there is a lot to admire and be learned from this competitor.

On the subject of crowd funding - I can't tell whether this is a joke.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The value of a stash

My yarn arrived today. There was much more in the box than the supplies for the mystery knit-a-long. I also ordered what I need to create several Christmas gifts. I made a deal with myself that I had to start one of those gifts before I can cast on for the Stephen West shawl. So I immediately pulled out the four colours for one of my secret projects. One of the colours looked so wrong that I had to double check to confirm that my order had been filled properly. It was. It turned out that I was subject to the common phenomenon that a large skein looks very very different than a small sample on a card.

I hummed and hawed for a bit and then I went upstairs and rooted in my yarn collection. I came up with a different but related colour in the same yarn. When placed with my other choices the new yarn was just right. I have already incorporated it into the project and am very happy with the results.

New choice on top
But this experience got me thinking about the term 'stash'. All hobbyists need supplies. Woodworkers have drawers or bins of hardware and stacks of exotic wood, people who tie fishing flies own a huge selection of beads and feathers and colored thread, model airplane builders have bits of wood and plastic and electronics .... Most of the items in those workshops were acquired and stored without a specific project in mind. They are kept just in case they are needed.

People who work in fibre (mostly women) also maintain large collections of fabric and yarn and thread. Yet those collections are often disparagingly referred to as 'stash'. People who visit are not impressed by the forethought required to create the collections, but instead wonder if all of the supplies can be used before death intervenes. 

Is it a gender difference or a function of fibre-related activities being seen as a domestic activity rather than a 'proper' hobby?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What is the attraction of a knit-a-long?

A couple of years ago I did my first mystery knit-a-long. For those you who have not participated in something similar (knitting or quilting or crocheting), a designer creates a pattern but does not release it immediately. Instead s/he announces a mystery a-long and states what materials will be required. Then a section of the pattern is released every one to two weeks. The final form of the project is not revealed until the very end.

Participants spend the weeks preceding the first release choosing their yarns or fabrics and they often share and discuss their choices on line. As soon as the first pattern section is released many people drop everything to work on it and post photos on line. Most knit-a-longs are carefully managed so that people who do not want to see the project until they have done the work can avoid spoilers. On Ravelry, there are separate chat and spoiler threads and moderators are vigilant and remove offending posts quickly.

Several designers have successfully made a knit-a-long into a major event. For example, last year I was part of Stephen West's third KAL. I don't know how many people bought the pattern but there are over 2000 projects posted on Ravelry. I'll bet there were four to five times as many purchases. I, for one, finished the shawl (and love it) but didn't post a photo. I did, however, lurk in the related on-line forums and enjoyed seeing the choices other people made and others' excitement as the project changed from clue to clue.

Based on that experience, I joined again this year even though at the time I made my purchase I could not knit because of damage to my thumb. Once again, there has been lots of chatter about colour choices. Yesterday morning the first part of the pattern was released. By the way, Mr. West does a great job with these releases. He prepares a video which walks people through the particularly tricky parts of the construction. Within minutes of the availability of the first clue people had posted photos of their own work in progress and a few hours later there were pictures of the completed first section of the shawl. As I write this, 24 hours after the release, there are almost 600 posts in the spoiler thread and close to 3000 in the thread devoted to yarn choice.

Why am I writing all of this? Because I feel left out. My thumb is better but my yarn hasn't arrived yet. I am itching to get started and be part of the group, even though it is unlikely that I will participate in any of the chatter. What is the attraction of working on the same project at the same time as thousands of strangers? What other activities could benefit from a knit-a-long type experience?

If you are curious, I am waiting for this yarn to arrive. I chose barnacle (main colour), syrah, mist and terra cotta.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A wonderful use for drones

The band OK Go never fails to disappoint with their music videos. They develop elaborate (and often unrelated to the lyrics) scenarios and visual effects which are well-rehearsed and often filmed in one take. I like the combination of humour and precision inherent in all of the productions. Their latest release is wonderful.

This article explains more about how the video was conceived and filmed. In case you were wondering the musicians are riding equipment called Uni-Cubs, made by Honda.

Wouldn't it be fun to be part of the band's creative team? It seems like the four musicians are willing to embrace just about any idea and work hard to bring the original vision to life.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time and aging

Ever since my cancer diagnosis I have been much more aware of the value of time and the need to use what is available to me. Yesterday I was offered a senior discount in a store where I occasionally shop. I confess that my first reaction was not to say "Thank you." but to wonder if I now looked much older than I did two months ago. Then today I was part of a conversation about the various seniors' discounts available in my community.

I'm glad to have stumbled on this article from the New York Times as an antidote to the sudden focus on aging.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This and that

Life continues to return to normal. I am trying to fit in more exercise all the time - walking, riding my trainer and this week I will go to body rolling, Pilates and yoga classes.

Recipe review: Our CSA box last week had lots of leeks in it and I wanted to use them up before the new box came today. I was tired of the same old uses for leeks so I Googled and found a sauce for fish made from sauteed and pureed leeks (with a little cream). We tried it tonight and it was really good. It is so simple I wonder why I didn't think of it myself. I will now try the same thing with other veggies.

I had to go out to get embroidery floss for the Fog is Lifting piece. I also picked up a heat gun because there will be a lot of melted plastic in the "crevices". Here is a sneak peak that doesn't actually give you any idea how it will turn out. I can tell you this - it will consist of repeated elements, it will be large and it is derived from my personal experience. I have those three criteria taped to the top of my design wall. It helps to keep me moving forward.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pretty, but ....

About a year ago I stumbled on the work of Janet Edelman. I watched her TED talk and was impressed by the innovation and imagination that it takes to create and mount her sculptures. But, beyond the first impression made by the photos and videos, her work left me cold. I don't know why. It seems like it is something that I would like - she works on a very large scale, there are repeated forms and it would be fair to consider her creations as fabric.

I think it is because the images that I see on my computer screen seem superficial and devoid of meaning. Echelman's artist statement says this: "By combining meaning with physical form, it strives to create a visceral experience in diverse city environments, .....". She references 'meaning' but my research only found a reference to substance beyond form in her piece entitled 1.26 which is derived from the behaviour of a tsunami which originated in Chile.

In the last six weeks several friends have sent me links to her website. Her work is featured in the November 2014 issue of Smithsonian magazine. I  read the article and re-visited her website and was interested to note that her most recent work is certainly based in ideas and meaning. Yet I look at the images and don't see or feel it. I guess I will have to visit a city where she has installed a sculpture to experience it in person.