Monday, November 30, 2009

C'est Tout (That's Enough)

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. I had the feeling I was going to drive myself crazy if I kept going to my french class each week, expecting it to be different. I kept hoping that the next class would be interesting and/or fun and/or would actually involve something more than just conjugating verbs in the past tense and learning how to use pronouns. I missed two classes when I went to Tucson and still nothing changed; when I went back the following week, it was just more of the same. So I have decided not to attend the final couple of classes.

This is a difficult choice for me. It feels totally radical, like I am breaking rules, wasting money, giving up. Even though I come away from these classes each week angry, frustrated and disappointed, it somehow feels wrong to just...stop going to class. And yet, the sense of freedom is undeniable. Knowing that I don't have to go back and waste two hours of my life each week in that class comes with a huge sense of relief.

I don't know if I will try again next term. Perhaps another teacher would be better, one who doesn't mind telling you what the verb you are conjugating actually means so that you might actually be able to use it in a sentence at some point in the future. One who might actually promote the idea of making conversation in the language which you are using, rather than reading exercises off a photocopied page. I know, I am just full of radical thoughts tonight!

Or, I might just rely on this iPod program I recently picked up for a mere $4.99, whereby I can make my iPod a pocket translator. There are more than 1,500 essential words and phrases available on a variety of topics such as "at the restaurant" and "asking directions". Surely that will be all I will need next summer in France??

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beadwork - Dec 09/Jan 10 Issue

Just a quick post as I continue to celebrate my birthday this weekend...

Have you picked up your copy of the latest issue of Beadwork magazine yet? It's twice as good as a regular issue because (1) it features Kate McKinnon's "Modern Art Cuff" (a.k.a. the Groovy Cuff, apparently the magazine wanted to go with a different name) on page 68 (I've got the kit, just haven't worked it up yet - I don't have much experience with right angle weave yet but I've seen this cuff in person and I love it! The sequins are totally fabulous.); (2) Marcia DeCoster's "Diamonds Are Forever" bracelet is on the cover, with directions starting on page 48.

I have been fortunate to take classes from both these women and enjoyed them so much. They are each talented bead artists and lovely personalities. In fact, they're working together next weekend and if you happen to be in the San Diego area, you might want to stop by, as there are still spots available. Go to Kate's website to sign up if you are interested (click on the link on the right hand column of this blog).

(photos shamelessly copied with thanks from Interweave's website:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday and as part of the celebration, I thought you might enjoy seeing this picture of my grandma and me, once upon a time, long long ago, when I was just a wee, wee baby.

At least, I think it's me in the photo. Mom? Am I right? Geez, it would be embarassing if it wasn't me, now that I've said that, wouldn't it? Oh well, if I'm wrong, I'll say I was having a senior's moment. Except, of course, chronologically, I'm not nearly old enough for those. What they don't tell you is, they actually start happening soon after you turn 30!

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Am So Not Ready Yet

I was driving home last night and saw a car with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof. What is that all about? For heaven's sake, people, it's still only November! Isn't it too early to be buying trees?? I didn't mind when I saw them putting up this tree back in the second week of November, the festive lights at night are the one thing I don't have a problem with. I do find it harder to get in the mood for Christmas when we're having such mild weather. It's great for putting up Xmas lights on your house and the rest of the outdoor decorations, I'm sure - who wants to be up on a ladder in a freezing cold winter with a bunch of cold wet stuff flying around your face?. But we haven't even had a flake of snow all month, at least not here in the city, which is SO unusual. Because I have a birthday in late November, whenever it snows early in the month and people worry that winter has well and truly arrived, I have always been able to say that it never sticks to the ground before the end of November. This year, I haven't even needed to say that, because we haven't had any snow on the ground whatsoever. We've had a few nights of heavy frost but that's about all. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. If this is global warming, I'm okay with that. Today was the first day for a couple of weeks that actually felt close to wintery cool in the morning. But I'm still not ready to get in the Christmas spirit. I'm going to have to wait until at least December 1st to even think about getting into that groove.

And those radio stations that are already playing Christmas carols 24/7? Are you kidding me???! Puhleeze.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2.0

My friends south of the border are celebrating Thanksgiving today. Here are some of the things I am grateful for today (in no particular order):

1. The one hour phone call I had with my youngest brother.

2. The opportunity to make art.

3. My new friends from class and our plans to keep in touch and continue getting together to make stuff when class is over.

4. Fond memories of old friends.

5. Being able to keep in touch with the people I love who are far away via phone, email, Facebook, Twitter and occasionally, snail mail.

6. Stationery stores.

7. A positive performance review at work.

8. Winning an auction for Season 3 of Boston Legal on eBay.

9. This mild November weather we've been having, even if it has been grey and raining for several days in a row now.

10. My beloved cat Max, who continues to intrigue and entertain me, as I wonder what is going on in his head. His latest thing is to jump up on the bathroom counter when I'm getting ready in the morning and wait for me to put fresh water in his bowl, which he then has to consume right away. I like watching the reflection of his face in the bottom of the dish as he laps up the water. I tried to capture it in this photo and you get a good look at his cute little nose but can't quite see the little pink tongue slurping away the way I do when I'm standing beside him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where to Eat in Tucson

If you're ever in Tucson and wondering where to eat, you should make your way downtown to a place on East Pennington Street called Cafe Poca Cosa (

Not only do they have very funky decor - check out this lamp and this painting - the food is absolutely fabulous. It's Mexican food but like nothing you have ever tasted before. The menu selections are written on a chalkboard which the wait staff brings to your table and uses to describe every item in detail. Of course, by the time you get to the bottom of the list, you've forgotten everything about the first few choices but that's okay, they'll repeat it if necessary. There is also one item that is a sampler place, a combination of 3 items off the menu - the trick is that you can't specify which three items you want, you have to leave it up to the chef to decide. If more than one person at a table picks the sampler plate, no two will be the same. The presentation of each meal is absolutely fabulous, as you can see from this photo. I was lucky enough to get to eat there twice during my week's stay in Tucson - we had dinner there on the evening of our first day of the workshop, with all of the students present, and we also went back there for lunch on my last day in Tucson, when it was just myself, Kate, Heather and 2 friends of Kate's, Ed and Cindy, who were in town visiting from St. Louis. Here's a picture of all of us together. (Bryan, if you're reading this, now you know you're not the only guy I've met who likes to wear these wild and crazy patterned shirts!)

Then again, you could also try In and Out Burger, a drive-through hamburger joint that I had read about in various American magazines but hadn't visited before. All week, we had driven by this place almost every day and finally Heather, Kate and I picked up food there on our last night in town. Kate turned us on to the special menu selections that apparently you have to read about on their website, because they don't mention it on the menu board at the drive-through window. Like, ordering your burger "animal style", which means your burger is cooked in mustard (sounds weird but trust me, it's delicious) and they add grilled onions. Here's the link to their website so you can get yourself up to speed (click on the folder called "not so secret menu"):

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bird Watching in Tucson

One morning before class, a bunch of us went for a walk around Kate's neighbourhood to do a little bird watching. Tucson is somewhat of a mecca for birdwatchers, as it is situated on the north-south migratory path between Canada and Mexico.

Two of the students in our group, Allison and Karen, are avid bird watchers and they were very helpful in identifying a number of different specimens. Allison actually writes about her bird-watching adventures on her blog, which you may enjoy: I found her entry regarding a Cooper's hawk sighting on November 22nd to be especially interesting, since we'd seen one in a tree near Kate's house one morning but I wasn't able to get a very good look at it and as you can see from my photo, you can only tell there's a hawk in the shot if you take my word for it!

By the way, Allison is a very talented clay artist and Kate's home is filled with many of her pieces, most of which I neglected to photograph. I particularly liked this mug, and the detail on the bottom of it.

But I digress. Back to the birds. The only one of which I was actually able to get a clear photo was this Curve-billed Thrasher with his distinctive yellow eye.

As you can see, I've included a couple of photos of the group looking at birds, with and without binoculars. I especially like the lighting in this last photo, the way the sun is glowing in a cone shape over their heads.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sabino Canyon

Last Monday morning, we went for a walk in Sabino Canyon, which is located right on the edge of the city of Tucson, AZ. We got there about 9 a.m. and hopped on the tram to take us along the paved road into the canyon before getting off around stop 6 to start walking. At that time of the morning, the sun had not yet risen over the top of the canyon wall so it was initially quite chilly but soon warmed up once the sun crested the ridge.

The canyon itself is quite beautiful, lots of cactus and trees and rocks and blue sky. We'd seen a sign as we came in warning that mountain lion activity in the area was quite high so every time I hung back behind the group to take a photo, I was reminded of those movies showing a cougar perched on top of a rock stalking its prey and I worried if there were any about, they might think I was the weak link because I couldn't keep up with the others, and I'd walk a little faster to catch up. But I was safe, we didn't see any mountain lions. But we did see one rare example of Arizona wild life...

When we got to Stop 8, Kate took us off the road to show us where she and her husband had been married 17 years ago. It's a beautiful spot, with a large rock overlooking a sandy area. Kate told us the terrain has changed a bit since that long ago day, as the result of a major flood that altered quite a bit of the canyon floor back in 2006. They've only just recently reopened the road above stop 4 after repairing the damage caused by that flood.

While we were standing around enjoying this spot and Kate was reminiscing, Allison all of a sudden got really excited and pointed out an animal crossing behind us. It was a coati. It's a member of the raccoon family, although it looks more like an aardvark, if you ask me. You can read a bit more about them here: Apparently, sightings of them are rare, which is why Allison was so excited. He walked past behind us and crawled under a rock. A few minutes later, we saw what we think was a second coati (or coatimundi, as the lone males are called) and were able to get some photos. The photo on the left shows what he looked like. People on the road who had heard Allison's excited shouts had come down to see what all the fuss was about, wondering if we had seen a mountain lion and when we explained we had seen a coati, they wanted to know if they are dangerous and seemed disappointed to learn that they are not.

On the tram ride back down to the parking lot, the tour guide pointed out this rock formation that looks like a winking face.

All in all, it was a lovely walk and a nice way to experience just a little bit of the beauty of the Arizona desert.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

PMC Workshop in Tucson

The main purpose of my visit to Tucson last week was to take a 3 day workshop taught by Kate McKinnon involving making jewellery components out of precious metal clay. There were 10 students all together, some of whom, like myself, had worked with PMC before and had also taken classes with Kate. Some of the others didn't have any prior experience with PMC, although a couple were familiar with working with regular clay.

The top picture shows (from left to right) Robyn, Hannah, Karen, Baba, Kate and Andrea. In the photo on the right, you can see Kate with Debi and Heather. And here's a picture of Stefanie with various tools of the trade surrounding her.

PMC consists of fine silver particles suspended in clay. You shape pieces out of the clay and then fire them in a kiln. The high temperature of the kiln burns off the clay and leaves the silver. The fired piece can then be tumbled in a tumbler to leave it with a bright, shiny finish or a patina can be added to colour the silver. The picture on the right shows various pieces of formed clay made by Stefanie and myself, drying on a kiln shelf before they are fired in the kiln.

Here's a picture of a pair of earrings I made as they first appeared out of the kiln. The whitish colour is fine silver oxide. Once they are polished up, they look like this:

This last photo shows a flower ring I made, based on one of Kate's designs and using a flower bead made by Amy Waldman-Smith, in which the silver has been patinaed by dipping it in liver of sulphur. Pretty!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter Camping in Tucson

One of the most common questions I have been asked about going to Tucson was "how was the weather?" My sister had been there only a week before and every day was in the 80's while she was there. Of course, it's the desert so it cooled down at night but she told me it was still warm enough that she just needed to wear long sleeves or a light jacket at night.

Sadly, this was not my experience of the weather in Tucson. Don't get me wrong, it was still quite pleasant and definitely warmer than Ontario in November but I ended up wearing the same long-sleeved shirt and pair of jeans almost every day since the majority of the warm weather clothing I had brought with me wasn't appropriate for the suddenly cooler temperatures that prevailed while I was there. I also wore my fleece jacket most of the time when we were outdoors and definitely needed it at night.

It was 80 degrees on the day I arrived which turned into a lovely, warm evening. My sleeping quarters were in what Kate calls the "Barbie camper", a fabulous trailer she has installed at the back of her property. The photo on the right is Kate and Stefanie, just after we finished making up the beds in the camper. That first night was so warm, I slept under just a sheet until about 3 a.m. when I woke up cold and pulled the oh-so-cozy down duvet over top of me.

The next day, the temperature dropped about ten degrees and that night, it was a little chillier in the camper and I definitely needed the duvet from the beginning. It got progressively colder in the evenings, as the days were cloudy and cool and there was no residual heat to warm up the camper and by the third night, I was sleeping with my fleece jacket over my pyjamas. On the fourth night, Kate gave me a second duvet. Suddenly, sleeping in a camper in Tucson was starting to feel all too familiar - just like October nights at the cottage. We made jokes about winter camping and how we were now ready to stay at an ice hotel. In reality, I was warm as toast sleeping under these conditions, as long as a hand or elbow did not peek out from under the bedclothes, as the cold air would quickly wake me up with the realization it was time to pull that chilled body part under cover again!

Of course, it wasn't until the day after our coldest night that Kate remembered she had a couple of space heaters in the house that she could have brought out for us to use in the camper. Oh how we laughed! By then, we didn't need them - we moved into the house that night, as some of the other guests had left by then, freeing up a couple of the beds.

Still, it was so much fun to sleep in the Barbie camper. It was like camping out in a tree fort or pitching a tent in the backyard when we were kids, remember that feeling? When you feel totally safe knowing the house is just a few feet away and the door is unlocked, in case you need to go to the bathroom or a crazed ax murderer shows up, but also just a little adventurous because you're not sleeping in your regular bed, technically you are outdoors and potentially anything could happen.

The first night, I even stayed out there alone! Boy, did I feel brave, staying in a new place in a new city all alone outside in the yard! Surely Nancy Drew and/or Amelia Earheart would have been proud of me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tucson - Day 1

Before I flew out of Toronto at 6:30 a.m. last Thursday to head to Tucson, Arizona, the plane had to be de-iced. Can you believe it? Apparently, even a little skiff of frost on the wings and top of the plane can add a lot of weight and create a potentially dangerous situation. Hey, I'm all about the safety. Besides, it was fun to watch the guy in the big yellow cherry picker spray the wings with water.

As I mentioned before, you can't actually fly directly from Toronto to Tucson, so I had a stopover in Chicago on the way there. The flight to Chicago is a short one, we got there in about a hour and a half, and it was quite a trip to be flying so low so early in the morning, as the sun was rising behind us. I got some great cloud photos and the views of the three Great Lakes that we flew over (Erie, Huron and Michigan) were pretty amazing. Hard to imagine they are so BIG but seeing them from the air really drives the message home.

I was able to take this totally cool photo of a cloud over downtown Chicago as we were coming in to land at O'Hare Airport. Doesn't it look like there is a flying saucer hovering over the city???

I had close to 3 hours to hang about the airport in Chicago while I waited for the flight to Tucson, so I checked out the shops and ate some breakfast at The Great American Bagel, which is known as The Great Canadian Bagel where I come from!

The flight to Tucson was just over 3.5 hours long and unbelievably, there were no TVs or audio, so no in-flight movies or radio programs to pass the time. Thank goodness I had a good book and an iPod to entertain myself. Then again, I'd been awake since 3 a.m. so napping was also on my agenda.

My friend Stefanie met me at the luggage carousel in Tucson, where she had arrived from St. Louis about half an hour before me. While we were waiting for Heather to arrive, we got a phone call from her to let us know her original flight from D.C. to Denver had been cancelled and she was currently en route via San Francisco instead and would be arriving a couple of hours later than planned.

So Stef and I headed off in her rental car and made our way to Kate's groovy house. The three of us went out for lunch and groceries, then went back to the house to greet the next arrival, Debi, the owner of Beads of Colour in Dundas, Ontario (see my blog posting of August 19th and then Stefanie and I headed back to the airport to pick up Heather. Check out the lovely photo I took of the sunset while we were driving to the airport - I love it!
Once everyone was settled back at Kate's house, we went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner and were joined by some of the other workshop students who were staying at the studio house. Soon it was time for me to head to bed in the Barbie Camper...I'll tell you all about that experience tomorrow!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guest Blogger

My camera battery is totally drained and needs to be re-charged, so I can't unload any pictures from Tucson at the moment. Instead, I thought I'd allow my fellow classmate Annette to guest author this blog posting, as she was kind enough to take photos for me last week during the Creative Art Journals class that I missed while I was away in Tucson and she also wrote a description of the techniques for me. I thought I'd share this with you almost verbatim, with just a few gentle edits by yours truly, so most of the words are Annette's accompanied by photos she took of the pictures created by our teacher, Toni.

"The class was an introduction to different techniques using watercolour paints.

Watercolour is a beautiful art medium; however, just as it can bring you great joy, it is also the least forgiving...but don't let that scare you off. With the different techniques outlined here, you can create many different pieces of artwork.

Your tools are key to helping you create beautiful pieces. When choosing your paper, paints and watercolor brushes, try to purchase the best quality in your price range.

The techniques learned involved the use of: plastic wrap, wax candle/crayon, watercolor pencils, masking/painters tape, toothbrush, a straw and rock salt.

The first picture is one that Toni created with plastic wrap. She painted her paper with a wet technique (the paper was wet) and then she applied her colours working quickly in order for the colour to be wet when she put on the plastic wrap. She took a nice sized piece of plastic wrap and then delicately scrunched it in a size that would fit the paper and then gently pressed the plastic wrap on top of the painting and set aside to dry. The second picture is the final version.

The next technique was candle/crayon. Toni took the base of a candle and then just marked up her page with a pattern, then painted over it with the blue paint. Where the candle had been marked on, the paper stayed white and created an interesting picture.

The third technique involved using painters tape to create a pattern on the page and then painting over top and around it. When the paint dries, you remove the tape and you are left with the white image within the paint. I found this technique creates a beautiful picture but I was discouraged when trying to remove the tape. It is a tricky business, because the process also removed some of my picture.

The fourth technique was done using rock salt. This can give an amazing effect. You paint your paper and while it is still wet, you sprinkle course salt on the paper and then the salt seems to melt and make little explosions on the paper - you can get firework type effects.

The last technique was a combination of toothbrush and straw. The toothbrush creates a splattering effect. You dip your brush in the wet paint color and then splatter the paint onto the page. With the straw you blow onto wet paint and blow the paint into directions to create running lines.

The thing with watercolor is being willing to experiment and take a chance that what you are doing will create something wonderful."

Thanks very much for sharing, Annette!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home from Tucson

I am home today from my week in Tucson. Had a great time taking a 3 day precious metal clay workshop taught by Kate McKinnon, making some new friends and spending time with some old friends. A few of us stayed on a couple of extra days, so we had a chance to see a bit more of the city and the local flora and fauna and it was all wonderful.

I don't really know where to begin to tell you of our adventures. I think that is more a function of the fact that I've been travelling all day and my brain is a little weary by now, it certainly isn't due to a lack of subject matter. But it has been a bit of a long day. You can't fly to Tucson directly from Toronto, you have to take at least two planes (and if you're really unlucky, three!) and fly through either Chicago, Phoenix, Denver or Dallas - unless your flight is cancelled like my friend Heather's was on the way down and then you can go through somewhere even more obscure, like San Francisco! When I flew down, I went by way of Chicago and coming home today, I went through Dallas.

Now that I am home, I have 363 photos to sort through and a bunch of laundry to do but other than that, no major deadlines looming and that feels pretty good. You know how it is when you are going away, there is always so much to be done to get ready and make sure everything is taken care of while you're gone. Strangely enough, now that I am back, my calendar is clear for a couple of days and there isn't really anything on my "to do" list, and that's a good thing. I can ease gently back into my regular day-to-day life.

I am very much a fan of travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people, catching up with old friends but it's true what they say, it's always nice to come home. I was realizing today that a very big part of home for me is having my cat Max with me. Boy, did I miss him this past week! He seems to have missed me too. He hasn't left my side since I got home tonight and I'm glad to have him there, purring away. As long as he doesn't find out that I slept with another cat while I was away, all will be okay.

Stay tuned for photos and stories from my adventures but in the meantime, here are a few photos from my travels today. I took these shots from the plane on the flight from Dallas to Toronto. The shot above is clouds over ... Oklahoma, I think, or possibly Indiana. But before we left Texas, we were clearly nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle but we did fly over this configuration and lived to tell the tale:

This last shot is as we were coming down into Toronto. I like the blurry effect and the way you can make a clear distinction between northbound and southbound traffic by the colour of the lights. Who knew traffic congestion could be so pretty?!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Still In Tucson

Okay, it's Nov 17th and I'm still in Tucson. If I was in Toronto, at some point in the past week, I would have told you a tale of an Indian, some beads, a strawberry and a hummingbird, that also involves Niagara Falls, pyramids and Stonehenge. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? And I promise to tell you all about it very soon but in the meantime, I will share this photo of beadwork made by the hero of the story, a man named Samuel Thomas, isn't it beautiful?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Found Cupboard

I picked up a new piece of furniture last week. I mean, literally, picked it up with a dolly and trundled it on home. I was walking home from the grocery store and came in by the back door of my building, which is where the recycle bins are located. We used to have a dumpster there and even though it is now gone, people still pile all sorts of garbage there, mostly old furniture. I noticed this cupboard and went over to check it out. It needs to be cleaned and re-painted but once that's done, I think it will be great! As you can see, it's quite tall with lots of shelves. I'm sure I can store all sorts of bead and/or art supplies in there! I'm excited about the fact that it is plain white in colour and nothing special on the outside, which means I can colour and decorate it any way I want. At the moment, it's sitting in my kitchen, which may or may not be its final destination. Honestly, people throw away the most amazing treasures!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

No Snow in Tucson

At least, there better not be while I'm there taking this 3 day weekend workshop with Kate McKinnon. I don't know if I'll have a chance to blog while I'm here, so I have written several blog postings in advance and scheduled them to post themselves while I'm away. It's a very handy system but I do want to be frank about it and not try to fool you and pretend that I'm writing this from Arizona. If I had a laptop and took it with me, I could but I don't, so I can't.

So for today, while I am enjoying what I hope will be very warm and sunny desert temperatures, I thought I'd share a picture of this snowy, evening painting that I saw last week at Sherway Gardens shopping centre. Unfortunately, I don't know the artist's name but I was absolutely blown away by the look of this painting, the way the light is shining out behind the trees. It's not the best picture, as I took it through the window of the store at the mall and it was dark out, so there is some reflected light on the glass (although I did wait until the headlights of the car driving past had gone!).

I hope you can see it, because it really is a beautiful painting. Up close, it doesn't look like much, because you have to be standing far enough back to get the proper perspective but imagine how clever the artist must be to have captured that?!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Creating with Collage

I'm away on vacation at the moment, taking a PMC workshop in Tucson at Kate McKinnon's home studio, but before I left, I put together a few blogs to tide you over until I return.

This one is about the collage pieces we created last week in my Creative Art Journal class.

I say "we" because I wanted to show you a couple of pieces made by my fellow classmates, Katherine and Annette.

Katherine made this amazing piece with the flowers and the guy with the briefcase and the bird's head. I don't know if it has a name, but I think it's terribly clever and quite visually appealing. I've included a close-up of the wording, which is various clips from horoscopes. Brilliant, eh?

Annette created this beautiful collage. She told me the colours she was working with and I came across this picture of the cheetah as I was flipping through a bunch of magazines, but she did the hard part of putting the picture together. I love the way the colours go together and the mix of textures! Amazing, isn't it?

And finally, here is my concoction. I put the picture and the various bits and pieces together and then was looking through the newspaper for words to go with it and found these two captions, which I think suit it perfectly! :)