July 2007


In just a few days Bill and I and his daughters are leaving for Newfoundland. Bill and I went there in July 2004, on our motorcycles. That was a fun little adventure. We loved being there, exploring the backroads and remote little communities on our bikes. After staying for a few days in St. John’s in a house owned by well-known (in Newfoundland) writer Des Walsh, we headed off with a vague plan to make our way toward Gros Morne National Park and eventually to the ferry at Port aux Basques. After our comfortable stay in town, we camped for most of the rest of the trip. In Newfoundland you are expected to practice “gravel-pit camping” which means camping wherever opportunity strikes.

Searching for a campsite

While we never camped in an actual gravel pit, we pitched our tent in several scenic locations that were not graced by the usual infrastructure of a campground.

 Very picturesque … until that foghorn starts blowing in the pre-dawn hours!

We loved every minute of our visit, but our favourite had to be Fogo Island. It is like a microcosm of everything that is beautiful, breathtaking and tragic about Newfoundland. We spent a few days there and it felt odd to think of Newfoundland as the “mainland” when we took the return ferry from Fogo.

Some of the most beautiful hiking trails I’ve ever seen were on Fogo Island. On this day, a family was out for a picnic on the beach, down where you can see the boats. They had a boombox that was blasting accordion music,and the sound was clearly audible up where we were. I loved it because I have a secret wish to be able to play the button accordion.

We mostly went where our fancy took us, but one place I had insisted we include on our itinerary was Glover’s Harbour, Home of the Giant Squid. This was definitely off the beaten tourist path, despite the attraction of the Giant Squid. Here we had a truly Newfoundland experience: after spending a night or two in the only campground we actually paid for (a lovely campground, with an iceberg in the background) we were looking for a breakfast spot before heading back toward the Trans-Canada highway. We made a second stop at the Giant Squid museum for a souvenir purchase, and I asked the nice ladies working there where they recommended we go for breakfast. They informed us that the one and only restaurant in the community did not serve breakfast. When they saw my dismay, they whipped out their own supplies and fed me Purity crackers and margarine. Yumm! Newfoundland Giant Squid ladies to the rescue! That was such a good snack, we later bought the same crackers and margarine for our ferry crossing when we returned to Nova Scotia.

We spent a few days in the Gros Morne area, camping for free near Cow Head. Free camping is great and adventurous but after a while I miss the finer things in life like furniture. Even just a simple picnic table seems like a luxury. So I have to admit that I was a little relieved when heavy rains were forecast and we decided to find a place with a roof and furniture. We were scrambling for a rare motel room when I bumped into a fellow motorcyclist. To be specific, I was riding along on my own, heading back to our campsite to start packing up while Bill completed a hike. A guy on a fully tricked-out Goldwing pulled alongside me and waved me over, so I pulled over. I didn’t know if he was trying to pick me up or what (so I made sure to mention that my boyfriend was on his way somewhere behind me). It turned out that he was just a friendly Newfoundlander (imagine that!) who noticed my Nova Scotia licence plate and wanted to say hi to a fellow biker. I explained that we were hurrying to try to find a room before the inclement weather struck. The only one available was in Woody Point, half an hour’s ride from where we were camping. Didn’t it happen that this guy had a house he rented out to tourists, that was available, and only two minutes drive from our campsite! So for a very reasonable rate we had a whole house with a kitchen and a laundry room, right in Cow Head for the next two nights.

This summer’s trip will be a different kind of adventure. Bill’s two daughters are going with us, for their first trip to Newfoundland, so we won’t be taking the bikes. All four of us, plus Molly the dog, will pile into Bill’s tiny little car. It will be a challenge for me to be confined in a small space with anyone for that amount of time (planned trip duration: 10 to 14 days). I’m trying to be optimistic about how I’ll manage my personality flaws during those long drives. But of course we will spend lots of time in the great outdoors too.

*Vehicle may not be exactly as pictured

Each of us has a personal MP3 player so I think that will help create the illusion of personal space when necessary. It will be fun to show the girls what The Rock is like, I think they will enjoy it. Also it’s the longest stretch of time I will spend with them, so it should be a bonding experience for all of us. I can’t wait to get there again!

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If you are from Halifax and reading this, you probably know that last Friday was White Stripes day in Halifax. Jack and Meg had been playing free secret shows in most towns during their cross-Canada tour, so anticipation had built to fever pitch by Friday the 13th, the date of their Halifax show. That afternoon hordes of fans were seen scuttling between Citadel Hill and the Public Gardens, as laptops and cell phones buzzed with rumours of where the show would be. Some lucky Haligonians witnessed the White Stripes as they (well, Meg) supervised the firing of the daily noon gun.

I had given up on the possibility of seeing the freebie show, because a friend I hadn’t seen in years was in town for an all-too-brief visit. But while was wandering the waterfront with my friend and her cousins, admiring the tall ships, we got a phone call. It was Bill who said he was standing outside Locas Bar and I was all like, yeah so what? Then it hit me and I knew exactly why he was calling before he said another word. So I temporarily ditched my dear pal and scuttled up the hill and there we were. Bill and the girls had happened to be passing by and overheard people saying this was The Place. They had gotten there early, but the crowd was getting really big. We were not too far back and if the rumour was true this time, we thought we might have a chance to get in.

We were so close, we were touching the door when they stopped letting people in. Drag. It was annoying because of the little shits who butted in the line and got in ahead of us, but since we had tickets for the show later that night, we weren’t too upset.

I hope this makes The Loop a little bit cool by association. The Loop is already super-cool, but now that The White Stripes played in the building next door – even cooler.

The show that night was really good. Loud, energetic, fun. If you really want to you will be able to find eloquent reviews elsewhere. One thing I found interesting about the experience is that several people (mostly family) asked us “Who are the White Stripes?”. If they don’t know, how do you explain it? “They are a blues band.” “They are a really loud and talented rock band. But it’s only two people. They used to be married to each other, but now he is married to a supermodel.” It’s almost easier not to try to explain them to people who don’t listen to “alternative” music. It was a great event in part because bands like this – probably as ‘big’ as it gets without being mainstream – don’t come to Halifax much.

Bill took a lot of really good photos. Here are a couple.

Meg looking deceptively peaceful

Jack lookin’ kinda hot in a skirt

Since I first learned to ride a motorcycle, I’ve noticed that many motorcyclists have a lot of nostalgia for the bikes of their youth. The first bike I owned was a 1983 Suzuki GS750E, which was a hot sportbike in its day.

At the time I bought it, I didn’t know enough to notice that this is not exactly a standard exhaust pipe … !

The thing is, I bought it in 1999. It was a 16-year-old bike but it was strong and sexy, and I took it on a few road trips. I enjoyed riding it but I didn’t always feel 100% comfortable on it.

Here I am on a road trip for work, visiting a massasauga rattlesnake research project.

It turns out it was a bit too much for me as a newbie rider, so I sold it after one year. I managed to find a used BMW F650 that I could afford. I continue to be uncomfortable with the fact that it’s a BMW because that fact leads most people to make all sorts of annoying assumptions. But the first time I rode it, the F650 felt like it was my bike, like it was designed for me physically. The seating position is such that I felt more like I was in the bike than on it, because of the seat design and handlebar position. Also it was newer and thus lighter to handle. I wanted a dual-sport style bike, and the options in Canada at that time were pretty limited.

Road trip!

Honda makes several dual-sport bikes, but not in North America. (Now, years later, Suzuki makes a great dual-sport bike in two displacements. It’s what I would have bought if it existed at the time.)

Now that I have more experience and have ridden a few more bikes, I would love to get back on the GS750E (the E is very important you know) and take it for a spin. So even though I started riding relatively late in life, I feel that nostalgia for my first bike, since in a way it was my first love. It’s not a very common bike so on the rare occasion that I see one, I just about get whiplash watching it go by.

Unlike me, Bill has ridden motorcycles since he was a teenager. (And very luckily for me, he is quite handy when it comes to taking them apart and fixing things and putting them back together.)

Bill fixing my carbs in his kitchen!

The photo above is from a couple of years ago – just a little maintenance work on the carbs.

Just like a computer, my bike is great when it works. When it doesn’t work, life is not as good. In the past couple of years I have had a lot of problems with my bike. Most recently, it stopped running at the end of the May 24 weekend… something to do with the engine. Bill removed the cylinder head so now the top half of the engine is in my bedroom. (It’s priceless having a boyfriend who can disassemble your engine when necessary!) We will be taking it to an engine place soon so they can check it out and possibly do some work on the valves.

Like many men of a certain age, Bill has a thing for the motorcycles of his youth. The temporary unavailability of my F650 was a bit of a trigger for Bill to act on something he had been thinking about for a while … so we bought a darling little Kawasaki a few weeks ago. It’s a 1978 KZ400. We looked at a few bikes but we were sold on this one because it was in such good shape, was in our price range and it came with almost enough spare parts to build a second bike. The spares include two wheels, another engine, two sets of carbs, another gas tank & body panels (in black), part of the exhaust system, front forks, and I think handlebars too. Pretty much everything but a frame. With a ‘vintage’ bike, there is something to be said for having spare parts handy, just in case they aren’t easy to track down at the local Kawasaki dealer!

So I still have wheels for getting around town, and I’m enjoying getting to know another bike. And this one gets a lot of comments – evidently this 29-year-old strikes a nostalgic chord in many hearts.

Sometime last fall, my charming and brilliant eight-year-old niece Claire asked me if I would make her a sweater. I live in Halifax and she lives in Vancouver, so we could hardly live much further apart and still both be in Canada. I don’t get to visit her as often as I like. Last time I was there she was six and she was interested in learning to knit, but her little hands and her attention span weren’t quite ready for it.

Since that last visit, Claire has learned to knit, coached by her grandmother who lives in Vancouver. Since that time, I have opened a knitting store. So now Claire is more interested in knitting, and I was flattered and pleased that she asked me to make her a sweater. That meant she was sure to like it – especially since the request was accompanied by a detailed, annotated design sketch and a series of measurements. A long cardigan in orange and hot pink, with a hood and pockets. She asked for it in the fall, politely implying that it would be nice for a birthday or Christmas gift but it would be okay if it took longer. I let her know that that wouldn’t be possible but I would get right at it.

The one thing Claire didn’t realize was that I have never made a cardigan. In fact I had only completed two sweaters. Technically I have knit a couple more, but they are still in pieces not sewn together and I have recently accepted the fact that they will never be sewn up. They predate my enlightenment regarding natural fibres.

Of course, there is the Earth Sweater. I’ve made this twice. This is not a photo from a 1986 Sears catalogue … this is my former co-worker and favourite surfer dude Marty, right here in Halifax a few years ago.

 

The pattern for this sweater was my original inspiration to knit. When I was in grad school and was truly honing my procrastination skills, circa 1991, I decided to learn to knit. Perusing the giant knitting store which was then the only one in downtown Toronto, I saw a pattern pamphlet with two super-stylin’ folks wearing sweaters with earth maps on them. I found the map really intriguing, although these wimps had done it in only one colour – BO-ring! My vision for this project was that it had to look like an outer-space photo of the earth. (Or is it inner space when the photographer is still orbiting the earth?) I also recognized that many design elements would have to be changed to bring this pattern into a more modern era: No shoulder pads! No tighty waist & cuff ribbing! (Though you can see that I still managed to make the sleeves pretty goofy-looking.)

I didn’t try knitting it until many years later. I found satellite photos of the earth online, which I used as a guide to colour onto the chart for the pattern. Then I dove in and learned to do intarsia by trial and error, having no idea it was called intarsia.

Hey! There’s Nova Scotia!

 

 

 

I didn’t know how to sew it together properly but finally I finished this. And even though I had made the smallest size in the pattern, it was huge. This was probably for two reasons: the pattern was designed in the 1980s, and I had no idea what a gauge swatch was. So I gave the sweater away and made another one for me, but smaller.

 

The thing is I don’t like wearing sweaters much. They make me too warm. Especially wool/acrylic blend sweaters. So I have all the pieces of this sweater that I completed years ago. But I am going to try to turn it into a pillow instead of a sweater. Someday.

So back to Claire … she thinks I am some kind of genius knitting expert, based on her experience as a six-year old student and based on the fact that I am co-owner of a knitting store. She had no idea that in my recent knitting life, post-Earth sweaters, I have made only one top-down raglan sweater. A pullover. But you can’t say no to an 8-year-old’s hot pink and orange cardigan request.

Top-down raglan to the rescue! Cascade 220 Superwash provided just the right colours.

 

It took me about seven months to complete. It was a busy few months for me and really the sweater took less time than I expected. I did things I have never done before like make a button band (a long one) and a hood.

It’s a little nerve-wracking making something for someone who is thousands of kilometres away and who is possibly growing an inch taller every week I’m knitting. I think I made the body of the sweater and the sleeves nice and long, so she can keep growing into it for a while.

Naturally I had to make special buttons just for Claire’s sweater, since I dabble in such things. Here is a blurry photo of them. Okay it’s a terrible photo. They are orange with little red hearts inside.

 

To personalize it I embroidered a ‘C’ on the yoke, à la Laverne and Shirley.

I washed it and put it in the dryer for a while. The glass buttons made a horrific noise in the dryer so that didn’t last long. I knew the Cascade 220 Superwash is nice wool, but I couldn’t believe how soft it was after washing. People like my non-knitting sister, Claire’s mother, probably won’t believe it’s 100% wool, because it is so soft.

According to Canada Post’s tracking website, the sweater has made it to North Vancouver and will be delivered any day. I can’t wait to see photos of Claire wearing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I posted earlier, I am pleased that I finally got all the elements together and created my Etsy shop for Vivero Glass.

Hundreds of people have told me that they are in suspense to understand just how I create my jewelry. Hundreds I tell you.

I sit and stare into space and random ideas pop into my head. Ideas pop into my head while I am talking to people. Some ideas come from people’s suggestions. I make notes and sketches in a notebook. Then I start cutting pieces of glass, often late at night.

Using a kiln to fire fusing glass is referred to as ‘warm glass’. I fire my work at a final temperature 1475 degrees, but the firing process is precisely staged. The temperature increases and decreases are controlled by a computer unit, to ensure heating and cooling at the appropriate rates for properly annealing the glass. That ensures that the glass will be strong and durable, in addition to being shiny and pretty.

It’s not as exciting or dangerous as forming hot glass, either through lampwork or glassblowing. Since I was 14 I’ve wished to learn to blow glass. Someday …. In the meantime, the most dangerous thing about this work is nicking my fingers and forearms with glass pieces or random slivers. Granted, some days I feel a little like Edward Scissorhands (remember all the little cuts on his face?), but it’s not a huge problem. I hardly ever bleed because of this work.

Some of the glass starts out like this:

 

The beautiful swirly ones are called Opal Art Glass. It’s fun to pick just the right little swirly bit for my tiny necklaces and buttons. I get these pieces cut from the original sheets which are about 4 feet x 3 feet and truly magnificent to look at.

Then there is the ‘regular’ fusing glass. I have certain colours I prefer to work with, in both opaque and translucent forms.

 

 

These were a couple of bundles of glass that I just brought home from Cranberry last week. I had strapped them onto the seat of the ‘new’ little motorcycle and they got home safely. (Bill and I bought a new little motorcycle … did I mention that?) Then, on the way into my building, I dropped one of the packages. Hence the chipped corners and the broken-off pieces! Luckily, this doesn’t matter at all, at the scale of my work. Eventually it will all be cut into tiny pieces anyway. Nonetheless I felt like a spaz.

The Glassline bottles are liquid glass, which I use like paint for some of my designs.

 

And here are most of the tools I use on a regular basis:

Glass cutter, pliers, grozier (that’s the largest set of pliers), a big file, glass snippers, fine paintbrushes, and of course tweezers!

So I cut, snip, tweeze, glue and paint. When I have enough pieces ready, I pack them up to go to the kiln.

Into the oven, my pretties!

 

It’s always exciting to see how things turn out. Most kiln loads have couple of duds, but it’s great when a new idea turns out well.

This was the first of the whale tails I did. It now adorns the neck of a friend of mine who studies endangered right whales for a living.

Now I’ve made my first couple of sales on Etsy which is fun. I’ve also sold things through several stores, but the Etsy experience is a little different and pretty cool. It’s a more personal transaction where someone from far away likes something I made and sends me money for it. I like it!