Sunday, January 31, 2010

Roadtrip art and a mystery

In my description of our latest road trip to and from Pittsburgh, I completely forgot to mention one of the most offbeat, beautiful things we saw: PennDOT sign art in Meadville, PA. We hadn't planned on going into Meadville - it's off the highway - but we were hungry, there was food there, and it's not too far off the highway.

The sign art was made entirely out of old road signs: the people at PennDOT made them into sculptures and murals around their office and along the road. Here's an online presentation about the art and some other pics for you (we didn't take any). If you happen to be in the Meadville area, you should definitely stop by and have a look at this art installation; it really is an amazing bunch of work.

Now for the mystery. When we got home from this road trip, I was surprised to see was a FedEx delivery notice thingy waiting for me. Apparently they require a signature for a package.

The thing is, I don't remember ordering anything that would have shipped last Monday, and I'm not sure that anyone sending me unexpected stuff would do so via FedEx because it's expensive. So I'm confused - not to mention hugely curious - about this package and its origins. What could it possibly be? Did I order something ages ago and forget about it? Is it a present of some kind? I just don't know.

I'm going to have to make myself wait to pick up this package until Tuesday because I don't want or otherwise need the car tomorrow. Fortunately, the package is being held at the main facility until Tuesday night so I should be able to sign for it that day. Until then, I live with this mystery.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Home again

Ian woke up at about 5:30am this morning so we were on the road by 6am and home just after noon. You probably won't be surprised to read that I slept all afternoon :)

Yesterday I did go back to the Carnegie Art and Natural History Museums (these two museums are in one building) to see the exhibits I wasn't able to see the day before. I loved looking through the museum - they had a great dinosaur exhibit as well as a lovely whale exhibit.

I think I liked the exhibits in the museum of art more than the ones in the natural history museum. One exhibit was on photographs of Palm Springs Modern architecture. This architecture has lots of clean lines, big windows, and high-tech materials; the mid-century modern look. I don't know if I could live in a place like that (and it's not the right architecture style for Canada), but I love the look.

I also loved the Forum 64: Cecil Balmond exhibit, which was mainly comprised of an installation made of stainless steel sylized H-forms inserted into chains, making it look like it's being hung from the ceiling but in fact it's built from the ground up. I like his style - there are pictures here (the first is him standing in front of this exhibit). There were interesting math-related displays on the wall, too.

And of course I loved the exhibition involving the tapestries because they're textiles and I do love textiles. :) There was an example of a tapestry in progress and it was interesting to see how they were constructed, with the picture drawn behind it and the way the different colours are woven in together.

I didn't take pictures of that stuff, though - and not just because you're not supposed to take photos in these temporary exhibits, because people were taking photos. Almost all the photos I took were of rocks and minerals in the rock and mineral exhibit. I love rocks. I love the different textures the minerals make in the rocks; how some are smooth and others look like puffballs and some look like cubes. I love the infinite variety of these rocks - so much so that I visited that exhibit on both days I was there.

I also took a few pictures of some contemporary art pieces and a fossil or two... but most of my pictures are of rocks. You can see all the pictures I took here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This trip is almost over

Tomorrow is our last full day here. I've really enjoyed myself here, even though I've done hardly any shopping. I'd thought about going to a suburban mall tomorrow but I think I've changed my plans. I can go to a mall any time, and if I want to go to a US mall, I can do that - Buffalo is only an hour and a half away, after all.

Plus I have better plans for tomorrow. I went to the Carnegie Museums today but I couldn't see all of it so I'll go back tomorrow. It turns out that I can only be on my feet for about four hours at a time. I'll tell you all about the museums tomorrow.

On my way to the museum, I popped into a cathedral... It was beautiful. I would have wandered around and taken some photos but they had started Mass and I wasn't comfortable walking around taking photos then. It would be rude to take pictures of the building during a religious ceremony, after all. Maybe I can stop by again tomorrow for some photos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shopping but no buying

I decided today to do some shopping downtown. I went to Macy's and Burlington Coat Factory but didn't buy anything. I think I do want some new clothes or shoes but I'm not exactly sure what I want, so I got nothing.

Instead of driving to and from downtown and trying to find parking there, I took the bus there and back. It worked out really well; I didn't have to wait and I was able to easily find my way to the bus stops.

When I got back I was looking forward to soaking in a hot bath and having a nap. I was surprised to see that the housekeepers hadn't cleaned the room but left a bag with towels at the door. I called the front desk - having a clean room is important to me - and housekeeping showed up about a half-hour later. It seems that she'd been by my room at around 10:30am and the Do Not Disturb sign was up. She left this side of the hotel and came back to put the towels there (after I'd gone and the Do Not Disturb sign was gone). I sensed that she had had no plans to clean the room.

I talked to the front desk, describing what had happened and how important it is to me that the room be cleaned while I'm out. They've asked me to call as I leave so that they know the room is ready for them and so it'll get done while I'm out.

While waiting for the housekeeper, I went and had a big meltdown... sobbing and crying and sobbing some more, over a 20 minute period. This was a huge sign that I was overwhelmed - at home I don't leave the house for days, and here I've been leaving the room and walking a lot every day. So I took Ativan to calm myself down and tried to relax.

Tomorrow I'm going to go to the nearby Carnegie Museums. If I get tired, I can stop and come back the next day - the important thing is to not get too worked up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Phipps Conservatory

For the first time in a few days I got a fantastic night's sleep. Normally I don't sleep that well in a hotel but I put in earplugs and slept like a baby who sleeps well. It was heavenly.

After I got myself coffee and breakfast, I decided to head to the Phipps Conservatory. I'd read about it in the "things to do" package in the room; it's fairly close to the hotel and it seemed like an interesting place to visit. It turned out to be an awesome place; even more interesting than I'd hoped it would be, and one that I was very happy I'd visited

The conservatory was built in the late 19th century and is beautiful and huge. According to the fellow who took my ticket, people miss entire rooms when they're taking the tour through the place. The best path to follow is to always take the right-hand path (basically a right-hand rule). You see a few central rooms more than once, from different angles, but you'll definitely get to see every room.

The fellow who took my ticket also told me that there was a Bird of Paradise tree that had not one but two flowers. In his six years there, he'd only ever seen one flower on that tree, so two flowers is very rare and a sight to see. I made it a point to see that plant. :)

Oh, and there's a room with three awesome model train sets. And another room especially for weddings, with a beautiful garden and archway and beautifully scented plants.

Each of the many sections has a different style of plant, from ferns to orchids to cacti and more. The newest room is a replica of the Amazon headwaters; it was very hot and humid but definitely a joy to see. The conservatory is committed to minimizing its power requirements, and there were lots of plaques describing how they managed to put a piece of the Amazon climate into a place where it gets cold. The Amazon room is quite an achievement.

The conservatory also has special exhibits. This week was the tail end of the Frabel glass exhibit and they were setting up for the orchid exhibit that opens next week. Only one room was affected; the glass was removed and orchids were being planted. There were Frabel glass pieces and sculptures throughout the rest of the conservatory so I didn't feel like I missed anything. Plus I got to see lots of orchids.

Frabel pieces were available in the gift shop but they're very expensive. A clear lizard was about $1000 and there were pieces that were much more expensive that that. His work is spectacular and I'd love to own some of these pieces but that's not a practical purchase right now. The gift shop also has a fine selection of orchids for sale... I'd love love love to have those but there's no way that one would make the trip home.

If you're in the Pittsburgh area, I highly recommend a visit to the Phipps Conservatory - even if you don't love plants. There's so much there for everyone.

I took a ton of pictures while I was there so that I could share my visit with you. Here's a selection of those photos, starting with the Frabel glass.

First, some Frabel masks in the wild.

 Next, some Frabel sprites, cavorting about:

Frabel likes to make these Longfellows, or figures with elongated torsos and limbs. Here are pictures of some Longfellow installations:

A Longfellow fountain

Longfellow cubes. I love love love this installation, with the three open cubes and the Longfellows all over the place. I have a lot of pictures of this installation from different angles... between the open cubes and the water and the Longfellows, I was captivated.

Similar to Longfellows are clowns... another favourite Frabel theme.

Clowns on coloured balls. I have a kabillion pictures of this installation, too, because I was fascinated by the interplay between the water, coloured balls, and clowns.

Clown fountain. I thought there would be water running down the fountain but there wasn't.

Frabel also created a number of lizard and frog pieces for the Amazon rainforest exhibit.

How many lizards do you see?

Each one of the frogs in this picture is a life-size replica of an endangered frog.

Frabel doesn't just do figurines; he also creates abstract and flower-like objects. These are at least as beautiful as the other figures.

There are many, many, many more Frabel pieces throughout the conservatory, but I didn't want to post too many pictures of them. :) Instead, I'd like to show some of the other flower and plant pictures that I took.

First, the Bird of Paradise flowers; you can see the second one slightly behind and to the left of the first.

Next, a plant with red puffball flowers. This was the coolest plant ever, I think, because each flower is a puffball. This deserved two pics; a close-up and a picture of the whole plant. You can see one of Frabel's frosted white bowl-type sculptures towards the lower left of the photo of the whole puffball tree.

I have no idea what this plant is, but it's cool.

Finally, pictures of different orchids. Those are some beautiful flowers, all right.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Ian works with an office in Pittsburgh and needed to be here this week, so I decided to come with him. We drove here so I'm not really costing much extra, and it's like a little vacation for me.

We left early the morning and made good time in spite of the fog. Ian was able to do some work this afternoon while I rested. We did go out to dinner, to a place others had recommended.... but it turned out to be not all that good. There was something weird about the texture and taste of some of my food and I just couldn't eat it. Even thinking closely about it now makes me feel very queasy.

We're in the University district and tomorrow I think I'm going to wander around and look at some of the architecture here. Some of the buildings are spectacular! At some point I'll go shopping, too. I'm looking forward to spending the week here, relaxing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lazy Saturdays

I love lazy Saturdays. They aren't much different from normal days except that Ian's beside me and lazy, too. He plays video games while I surf the internet (and later, nap).

I love reading about disasters and Lately I've been looking at plane crashes. I might be wrong, but it seems that while there have been more plane crashes over the last few years, there have been fewer fatalities. Ten years ago the crashes resulted in almost complete fatalities but now people are getting away alive. That's a good thing. Clearly, investigations into earlier crashes have led to safety enhancements.

An airplane is definitely a very complex piece of equipment. There have been terrible crashes that come down to a piece of tape in the wrong place. If maintenance gets lazy, a problem and a crash would be almost inevitable. I'm so happy that I live in Canada where I can believe that the maintenance people are held to a high standard and do a good job.

Friday, January 22, 2010

No news is good news

As I expected, I did not hear from my oncologist today - which is great news, because it means that the soreness in that rib is not new mets and I don't have any progression.

So my cancer is still minimal and stable. Yay!

This doesn't explain why I have sore spots on my bones. I tried to find out by searching for "tender ribs" in google; I got lots of recipes for making yummy ribs, if I wanted to eat them, which I don't. Figuring out the right search term is a job in itself :)

Ian thinks that I'm a hypochondriac because I look up my symptoms on the internet. Who doesn't do that? I do try not to let myself get all worked up about what I read, because it's a waste of time doing that. In the past I definitely used to get worried about whatever I'd read but I'm more relaxed now. Maybe studying The Power of Now is actually doing me some good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Regular oncology appointment

I saw my oncologist today for an uneventful appointment. My last bone scan and mammogram were clean, and all of my bloodwork is good. My tumour markers went down to 28 from 35 so are still well within normal (normal is under 38).

I do have a tender, achy spot on one rib on the lower right that's been giving me pain and making that side feel weird and we talked about that. The problem almost certainly isn't the liver, even though that's below that bone, because my liver function numbers were fine and it isn't inflamed or anything. Plus the bone scan two months ago showed nothing and my tumour markers taken two weeks ago are still normal. So she sent me for an xray and she'll call tomorrow if it shows anything.

I don't think the pain in that rib is from more mets so I don't expect her to call tomorrow. I have no idea what else would make a bone tender to the touch but there must be something that'll do it. My left shoulder blade is also extremely tender - I knew one of them hurt to the touch so asked Ian to check and when he ran his finger down the bone I dropped to my knees from the pain - and so I figure that I might just have sensitive bones.

Maybe it's a long-term side effect of the neupogen I received when I had my primary cancer; I had extreme bone pain when I was getting that, so maybe my bones are still sensitive. I'll be seeing my family doctor soon so I'll talk to him about my tender bones then.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More awesome fabrics

I'd ordered a ton of fabric and it's all here. I feel like a kid in a candy store! I just want to sit and play with all these yards of gorgeous fabric. I could do that for hours.

Not everything I got was a hit, though, and I'm a little disappointed by that. I'd ordered some stretch dress crepe and I thought it would be like other stuff I'd seen. It ended up not being as nice as I thought. It feels more like a polyester doubleknit. I'd also ordered some 70 denier jersey that I thought would be awesome and that ended up being not quite so awesome. More like icky polyester, really.

I'll be able to use those fabrics for test garments or something; it's possible that I might even be able to make a garment that looks nice with them. We'll see.

I did get some super-awesome fabrics... satin-face navy chiffon, black silk/rayon burnout velvet, gorgeous white silk charmeuse with a black flower pattern on it, white embroidered navy poplin, awesome (free!) purple jersey, (free!) black metallic-faced crinkled black chiffon, (free!) ivory stretch cotton sateen... and more that I can't remember right now. It was all on sale, so I didn't spend that much.

The free fabrics came when I ordered some minimum amount of fabric - which turned out to be easy, between the beautiful burnout velvet and charmeuse. I was supposed to get 10 yards of fabric and I think I ended up with a little extra.

I can hardly wait to get the fabric all washed and ready to be used. I still don't know what I'm going to sew with all of this wonderful fabric, but it'll be something. I do very much want to sew something for myself, but I'm not ready to do that yet. One reason I'm putting it off is because I don't much like the way that I look at my current bigger weight, and I don't get as much enjoyment out of making clothes for me at this weight.

Yes, I know that a person should sew and buy clothes for the weight that they are currently at, and I've done that. But the weight for which I like to make my clothes starts at only about five pounds less than my current weight, so it's not like I'm being unrealistic about things or putting it off for forever. Lucky for me, the weight is slowly starting to go down. Each pound that drops off brings me closer to making myself some awesome clothes out of my awesome fabrics.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My favourite Golden Globes dresses

There were lots of red carpet dresses from last night's Golden Globes that I liked, which is kind of a first for me. Normally I like a couple and dislike most of them, but things are different this year. It seems that the trends are more my style, for whatever reason. For the first time, there were so many gorgeous dresses that I can't really talk about them without pictures... so to discuss the dresses, I'm going to show them.

Let's start with the black dresses.

First up, the incomparable Sophia Loren, in a classic black sweetheart gown with net sleeves and ombre crystals. While I'm not wild about the slight shoulder pad look to the dress, I love the way that the ombre crystal design at the shoulders is picked up again at the sleeves. It's a beautiful dress and totally appropriate for a sophisticated woman. 

Apparently there's a huge scandal surrounding this dress, because Ms. Loren wore it before (gasp!) in November. Some think that red carpet dresses should be worn only once but that's just silly, really. Why wear a beautiful gown like that just once? Especially when one event was barely publicized at all, and you're Sophia Loren? 

I'm completely in love with this dress worn by Jayma Mays (who plays Charlie in Heroes and Emma, one of the teachers, in Glee). The top doesn't do much for me, but I swoon over the fabric on the bottom. I love the delicate geometric pattern on the fabric... it's so beautiful. I think there's a trend for very delicate, not-quite-lace shapes on fabric right now. I like it.

This dress, worn by Olivia Wilde (Thirteen on House) reminds me of a starry night with its dark, allover sparkles. The bias cut, draping, asymmetry, and drama are all reminiscent of those gorgeous gowns from the thirties. This is the ultimate thirties-inspired dress with its updated, "now" fabric and styling. I wish I was tall enough and thin enough to be able to carry off this gorgeous look because I love it so much. If I had the right body type, I'd buy it; Ms. Wilde is auctioning it off to support the relief efforts in Haiti.

The final black dress I loved was this one. Every time I saw Penelope Cruz on-screen, I was struck by the beauty of the lace up near her face. The rest of the dress is as stunning as the top and is perfectly suited to her. I'm not a huge fan of this mermaid shape but it works on the red carpet and I like the way the layers of lace echo the lace at the top. The sleeves make this dress even more interesting and beautiful.

Not everyone wore black to the Golden Globes. In fact, I'd say that there were as many women wearing nude and neutral shades as there were wearing black, so let's look at dresses of this colour next.

First, the pinkish dress George Clooney's date Elisabetta Canalis wore. I loving the woven detailing under the bust. It's clearly been constructed by weaving the chiffon and satin together and it really makes this dress unique and beautiful. I like the hints of bare skin there as well; it makes the design much more unusual.

Drew Barrymore looked better at the 2010 Golden Globes than she has in years; her hair is gorgeous and her girls are totally contained. Sure, the shoulder and hip crystal poufy things are a bit strange, but the rest of the dress is completely flattering on her. It fits her beautifully, sparkled under the stage lights, and the poufy things add some interest to the outfit. She's finally grown up, and this sophisticated gown shows it.

I don't know what it is about Jaime Pressly's dress that I like. Of course I love the sparkles, and I definitely love the way there's a subtle pattern to the sequins, and I even like the asymmetry. There's something about the whole package that one might dismiss at first but there's enough there that makes it interesting. And of course the shoes are awesome. :)

This last neutral dress is one that I wouldn't normally love because a tight empire dress with flowing bottom usually isn't my style. Of course Dianna Agron (who plays Quinn on Glee) looks stunning in this dress, but that's not what draws me to it. There's also something about the easiness of the design and the way that the dress flows that I'm definitely loving, and I'm also completely in love with the colour. It looks almost like moonlight on water to me, and that's a colour that I've had in my head and that I've been in love with forever. This is the kind of dress that would be oh-so-comfortable to wear just about anywhere.

Finally, let's look at the dresses I like that had some colour to them. There was a substantial number of women dressed in colours other than black and neutrals. Purples and pinks were the most popular dress colours, followed by navy.

Both Jane Adams and Fergie wore similar light purple grecian-type dresses with a defined midriff. I think the style of Ms. Adams' dress is much more interesting, with the satin cummerbund and the satin front skirt panel. I also like the fact that it isn't strapless. On the other hand, I like the colour of Fergie's dress more on her and I like that her dress has a slightly slimmer-looking waist.

I do wish Fergie would find herself a new hairstyle, because the center part and long sides make her neck look even shorter than it is and makes her look like a man in drag. I don't understand why, if she's wearing a girly dress anyways, she doesn't try to make herself look as attractive as possible.

The pink dress Diane Kruger wore wasn't a favourite of many. Personally, I like the variegated pink shades in combination with the gathers, giving the upper part of the dress more definition. It's an interesting technique. While this colour is good on her, I think I might have liked it better in shades of grey or silver, and I definitely would have taken the white thingy off.

And there we have it: my favourite 2010 Golden Globes dresses. I know that not everyone will love these dresses but there are definitely some gorgeous pieces here. I can hardly wait for the Academy Award ceremonies to see what people will be wearing then.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Golden Globes

It's Golden Globes night - aka the beginning of awards season. I love award season, with the red carpet dresses, awards, speeches, and glamour. Sophia Loren even made an appearance in tonight's show wearing a spectacular black dress with sheer yoke and sleeves, decorated with ombre sparkles at the shoulders, neck, and sleeves. It was heavenly.

Tonight's show isn't all pretty dresses and slightly long speeches. The spectacle is overshadowed by the recent earthquake disaster in Haiti, where up to two hundred thousand people are dead. Many of the presenters and attendees are wearing ribbons to symbolize the disaster there, and several speeches have mentioned it as well. I guess it's can be hard to focus on celebration when an entire nation of people is suffering - not to mention the fact that just one winner's salary could make such a huge difference there - and several of the people making speeches have seemed uncomfortable. Many have mentioned Haiti and encouraged people to give.

Speaking of the disaster in Haiti, apparently the UN is saying that it's a greater humanitarian crisis than even the tsunami a few years ago. I don't even know how that's possible, but since the country is so very poor and has been hit by so much in the last few years, it can't have been well-equipped to deal with the quake.

A friend of mine does volunteer work at a hospital and they're sending as many supplies for children and babies as they can spare. So much more is needed, though, because of the number of people that have been affected and the state of the country. I've donated to the relief efforts through the Red Cross and I encourage you all to do what you can to help as well. Then you can enjoy the award shows :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More house shopping

Our realtor took us to see three properties this afternoon: two we'd asked to see and one that she recommended.

The two we'd wanted to see turned out to be not at all what we'd actually want. The first, a two-storey house, had a lovely great room and kitchen but the upstairs bedrooms were really designed to be bedrooms. The master bedroom had an ensuite and the other two bedrooms had this "jack and jill" bathroom between them, so each room could access the bathroom and the bathroom could only be accessed by going through one of the rooms.

We knew going into the second house that it wouldn't work for us, but we wanted to see it because we couldn't figure out its layout from the pictures. This house was on a corner lot and they'd expanded it at one point, taking up most of the side yard for a new master bedroom next to the garage. Most of the rest of the yard was taken up by a great deck - but the deck completely blocked two of the three windows in the basement room on that side of the house.

Upstairs, they'd converted part of the attic into a room with electric baseboard heat. Actually, the whole upstairs was strange because you went up a flight of stairs to a landing and then each room (including the bathroom and associated landing overlooking the foyer) was another two or three stairs up. Weird. Clearly, much of this work was a DIY job, because who puts a door in the middle of a three-stair staircase? They had changed the house for their own uses and unfortunately what they ended up with couldn't easily be converted to other purposes.

Even though these houses weren't right for us, both had large kitchens with comfortable living spaces and lots of space, and they were located in nice areas. So they weren't all bad... just not right for us.

The house that the realtor recommended was awesome. It's a bungalow with partly-finished basement, a deck and screened gazebo from the family room, and a walk-out basement. The bedroom area was separate from the living areas of the house and could be closed behind a door. We liked that because it means that Ian can play video games while I sleep. :) The kitchen was also quite large with lots of counter and cupboard space, and the foyer, family room, and dining area were bright and spacious. Downstairs, there was another full bathroom and two guest rooms in addition to a huge rec area and the unfinished part of the basement.

We didn't like that there was a powder room between the laundry room and the hallway and that this extra powder room was located in the closed-off bedroom area. Plus, the master bedroom ensuite was also accessible from the hallway om the bedroom area. We don't much love the idea of a bathroom that can be accessed by two different doors because that can be a lot to keep track of, you know? It would be hard to defend during a zombie apocalypse.

The other main disadvantage to the house was that it backed onto a semi-busy road just north of here that feeds the farmer's market. The land right between the property and road is unused and is presumably being held until the road is widened. Traffic on the road will be noisy, especially on market days, and when they widen the road there'll be even more noise and dust.

But still, if we had to find a house right now, this one probably would have been it because we felt so comfortable there right away. It'll definitely be the house to which we compare the others we'll see. We also loved that we were most happy with the realtor's pick; this has increase our confidence in her. Clearly, she's getting a feel for who we are and what we want/need in our house.

Looking at the houses today was fun and well worth doing - even though two of the three properties were totally unsuitable for us. Knowing what doesn't work and what we don't want is as important as knowing what we do want. The more properties we see, the more refined our requirements will be, and the more we'll know when we've found the right one.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Movie night

We went to a friend's tonight to watch The Hangover. I'd seen the ads for it when it first came out but I wasn't sure if I'd like it: it's about guys who head to Vegas for a bachelor party and when they wake up the next morning they not only can't find the groom, they can't remember anything that happened the night before. Sure, that sounds kind of funny, but I have a slightly odd sense of humour and I usually don't find most mainstream comedies all that funny so I approached this with some trepidation.

It turns out that this is a hilarious movie. Sure, it's sort of ridiculous - not as ridiculous as Dude, Where's My Car? - and some parts of it are far-fetched, but overall, the story was sort of realistic and funny. More than once I broke down laughing at what happened up on screen, as did my friends (even the ones with a slightly more conventional sense of humour).

I'm not going to tell you how the movie goes or what the funny bits are in this movie because I don't want to spoil it for you - but take it from me, this one is definitely worth watching if you're in need of a laugh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What does China think it's doing?

Have you been following the Google/China thing going on? To recap the situation, it seems that there was a targeted attack, originating in China, against Google about a month ago that somehow managed to get some intellectual property. Google was apparently not the only company attacked in this way. It also seems that the attack had a more ulterior - even sinister - motive: to access information about human rights activists in China.

It seems that information about these human rights activists was not retrieved, thank goodness, but such an attack has prompted Google to stop censoring search results in China, something they'd previously done at the request of the government. They're even talking about pulling out of China if they can't offer uncensored results. It's like they declared war on China, almost.

This incident bothers me. I don't like the idea of hacking into a place like Google - or anywhere, really - and stealing stuff, and I especially don't like the idea that someone is targeting human rights activists. There are many people in the world - especially in China, whose human rights violations are notorious - that need people to advocate for human rights. I can't imagine anyone sneaking to get that kind of information for good purposes, can you?

So who would do such a despicable thing? My money is on the Chinese government. Who else would want to surreptitiously gather intelligence about human rights activists there? Who else would have the technology to launch that kind of attack? Even if it isn't the government itself, whoever tried to get that information almost certainly has the backing of the government. For all the front they put up, China has done terrible things to some of its people.

Some say that these statements are a way for Google to pull out of China because they're not doing as well there as everywhere else. I guess there could be some merit to that, maybe... possibly... but that explanation doesn't feel like the whole truth to me. After all, even if Google is a distant second in search engines in China, they have market share there. Plus, the market there is ginormous, so even a relatively small amount of market share is still a large number of users. So abandoning the market because they don't have enough of it just doesn't make sense to me.

Plus, I believe Google's mission to do no evil. I see their statement as a way to be true to themselves and offer information to the people who want it. Censoring results is not something they wanted to do in the first place, but they did it because they had to. The fact that the attack originated in China says that the Chinese government isn't going to play by the rules, so why should Google continue to censor the world that the Chinese see?

I expect that Google will not be pulling completely out of China but will end up with some kind of compromise. I think that the result will depend in part on whether the companies that were also attacked come forward and stand up to China the way Google has. The more companies that talk about what happened, the stronger their collective position against China. If the US government actually steps in as well - which one might think they would, given that the attack went from China to the US - then perhaps Google and the other companies may have other options.

I have a sense that this could end up being an historic set of events when all is said and done. I hope that the end result is good for Google and the free world, and that it helps make the Chinese people freer and safe from attack.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My books are here!

My new pattern making books, including two of the three Japanese books I wanted, arrived today. I was so excited that I dropped everything that second to flip through all of them!

The Japanese books are everything I thought they'd be and more. They explain how to draft the different patterns and how to do fitting. Some of the things they suggest are a little bit different than what I've seen previously, but the changes suggested make sense. There's more than one way to make flat pattern changes, after all.

The instructions in these pages are very dense; there's a lot included in each diagram and if I were to be working out of this book, I'd have to really concentrate on what to do, at least at the beginning. Even so, these instructions are definitely more complete than other instructions I've seen, and there are a number of different styles that they make.

I had also bought two editions of vintage pattern making books; one was published in 1938 and the other in 1946. It's quite interesting to be able to compare the two books, because in a way they embody the changes in the world as a result of world war II.

Much of the content in both is the same, and both books have the same section, but in each book, one section has been expanded to include more information than the equivalent section in the other book. In the later book, it's the section on "making do" that has been greatly expanded. This section has a lot of ideas on how to alter clothes to hide worn spots or to create entirely new clothes altogether out of worn ones. This section exists in the earlier book but it's much, much smaller.

The expanded section in the earlier edition is the one on embroidery stitches and ways to prettify the world around the reader. There are lots of examples and patterns and ideas on ways to use the embroidery in the earlier edition, but much of that is lacking in the later edition.

Seeing that difference really does kind of bring home how much world war II and the rationing affected people. Going from having the means and the ability to create beauty around you to not having enough and having to make do with and reuse everything. The beauty was still there but it wasn't as important as learning to make do, just as before people knew how to make do but it was a lesser focus than making things beautiful.

I think that all four of these books are a real find and I'm very much looking forward to exploring them even more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are we alone here?

I watched a show on tv today that discussed that ten most plausible or verifiable UFO sightings. These are sightings where multiple people in multiple locations have seen the same objects. It seems that many of those sightings have occurred on or near US military bases. Some of those site contain nuclear warheads and those that do had all of the missiles turned off - not by the military - while the UFO was in sight. How weird is that?

The show mostly featured sightings that have occurred in the "Western world". I don't know why that is, but I suspect that it's because the countries had shared the investigation they'd done. The show did say that the top 20 most verifiable UFO sightings would come from a much broader selection of countries, although countries like Russia were not mentioned there. I'm thinking that if the show had had information from every single country, they'd have listed some sightings in, say, Russia or China. There are a lot of secrets in those countries.

I'm fairly certain that there is other life in this universe. Statistically, it doesn't make sense that we're the only intelligent life in the entire universe. For all we know, that other life set things in motion here and the UFO sightings are them checking up on their work. Even if that's not the case, the very idea that they'd be coming to visit us totally excites me..... aliens! coming here! that's so cool!

I do wonder why they haven't made that much contact yet: are they waiting for our civilization to get its act together and get along, or are they waiting for it to fall apart? Either way, someday, those aliens are going to actually stop and say something to the people on this planet. How profound an experience would that be, to finally know without a doubt that we are not alone here... to see beings that come from places we probably can't even imagine. I wish I were here to see that.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Looking at houses

We're making headway in this house-hunting endeavour: we went to an open house and explored one of the areas of the city we don't know well.  We only really know those areas where we've lived as students... and we don't want to live in high-student areas. We're looking for a place at least as big as what we have now in a not-too-snooty, not-too-studenty, not-too-bad area.

The house was at the low end of our price range. Had the owners not replaced the roof, bathrooms, and done a lot of other cosmetic work, it would have been below our range because it was too small. It was definitely smaller than the place we have now and would have needed some work to be functional for us.

The area itself was ok, although the lots were a bit smaller than we'd like. The area is very similar to the one where we live right now but not quite as nice, maybe because it's a bit newer than our current area and is still under development.

This week we're planning to see a couple of listings at different price points and maybe explore some different areas of the city. We'd like to compare what we get at each price point/area combination to get a better sense of what's out there. Today was fun; I hope it stays that way.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A new and improved Wonderland

I think I like this idea of re-imagining fairy tales and other stories into the modern world. I like the way that the re-telling or re-imagining of the story makes it more accessible and relevant to the world we live in today. Sure, they could just put the actors and set into a strictly modern setting, and even modify the dialogue slightly to reflect modern times, but that wouldn't be the same. This world has a lot of technology and if some kind of high technology isn't part of the story, it just doesn't feel quite right, does it?

Speaking of re-imaginings, we finally managed to watch Alice, a re-imagining (sequel?) to the original Alice in Wonderland story. This is not to be confused with Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland, which I'm very much looking forward to seeing; this was a four-hour miniseries produced by the same company who produced Tin Man, which was a re-imagining or sequel to The Wizard of Oz.

In each case, the familiar characters are there. The story is that Alice follows Jack, her current boyfriend, into Wonderland to return the ring he left with her. This isn't the pastoral Wonderland that we know from the original story, but a more high-tech, modern version, with modern, very tall, buildings and very high-tech biochemistry. The story follows Alice as she first tries to find Jack and then to go home. There's lots of action, funny moments, romance, and interesting characters throughout.

The story is fairly well-written and the acting is quite good. I loved the little shock of recognition I got when I figured out which original character each one was portraying; that invested me more into the whole story. I especially loved the casting - there are lots of well-known actors in the many roles and they all do a great job - as well as the costuming and sets. I loved how so much of it looked like it was straight out of a 60's mod set, with the short a-line skirts, plastic, mirrors, geometrics, and makeup. The art direction really solidified the movie.

There were a few continuity problems, a few parts that didn't totally make sense, and a couple of CGI compositing issues. However, I felt that these issues didn't detract from the story at all. I liked this miniseries quite a bit and I hope that you get a chance to watch it.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finally getting started on this house-buying thing

As you might know, we've been thinking about buying a house for quite some time. We're both supposed to be adults and have made the decision to stay in Waterloo for a while, so we figure that buying a house makes sense. Plus we're getting to that stage where we've got a lot of stuff and we can't make the kinds of changes to this place that we want to in order to store this stuff.

As you might also know, we're lazy, so while we've talked about buying a house, we've done next to nothing to get the process started. We did talk to the financial advisor in... August? but we'd let things slide since then.

Fortunately, we have friends who are way more organized than we are, and one of them emailed both us and the realtor they'd recommended to introduce us. That was the impetus we needed to get off our butts and get this house-buying party started. I'm grateful to our friend for giving us the recommendation and following through the way she did.

We met with that realtor tonight and we liked her, so she'll be our realtor. She first talked about the process of choosing and buying a house because we're complete newbies at this. After that, we talked a bit about what we're looking for in a house and where we want to start looking.

Out of that talk came twelve listings that we're going to look through over the next few days. If any appeal to us, we'll arrange to see the houses - to do some window shopping, really. We're also going to take a look at some of the areas that we don't know so well, just to get a feel for what the neighbourhoods are like.

The realtor will take us to see a few places so that she can also get a feel for what we like and want in a home. After a while, I expect that she'll be able to look at a listing and know whether it's right for us or not. That'll make the process easier.

Our goal right now is to get a sense of what we can get for our money. Even if the financial advisor hadn't made us promise that we wouldn't buy the first house we saw (which she did), we don't want to just buy a house without really knowing what's out there. We also don't want to be buying a house in the winter because we want to be able to see the foundation and yard.

Our realtor explained that after we've spent time looking through houses and really getting to know what's out there, we'll be able to walk into a house and know quite quickly whether it's right for us. That will make the buying process much easier because good houses tend to go very fast here when it's not cold and snowy.

I'm quite excited about the prospect of buying a house and having a place of our own. This is going to be quite a year, I think.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book club

My Meditation group has been cancelled as the facilitator felt that she'd kind of done all she could do for that group right now. She decided instead to have a book club/study group where we would read through and try to incorporate a book into our lives while meeting every two weeks to discuss the book.

Since this group is located a cancer support center, we're not going to study something practical like The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. Learning how to survive during and after the zombie apocalypse doesn't do much to help us live with and beyond our cancer diagnosis, apparently.

Instead, we're studying The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. To be honest, I was a bit concerned when she told us that this was the book selection. I'm a very analytical, left-brained person and sometimes books in that category don't stand up to the kind of logical scrutiny I give them. Some have no underlying logic and the reader is asked to take the ideas completely on faith. Some have logic but that logic is clearly twisted to support only the theory presented.Those books get yelled at and then thrown across the room.

When I expressed these concerns to someone (who also said she was left-brained), she said, "well, it's been on the best-seller list for over ten years so there must be something to it." What was that about twisted logic? Believe me when I say that a book need not be good or have anything "to it" to be on the best-seller list for over ten years.

However, I'm pleased and not a little relieved to say that the book is interesting, a good read, and has ideas that could work. The premise of the book (forgive me if I'm spoiling it for you) is that if you can stop thinking all the time then you can start being, and by being, you live in the now and you have access to the most creative, joyful, peaceful energy. It is a spiritual book but definitely not a religious one, and I'm ok with spirituality.

Even though I was skeptical to begin with, I'm feeling much better about being involved in this group. I think I can get enough out of the book to participate in the group and to maybe even make some positive changes in the way I see things.

Monday, January 04, 2010

So many possibilities

I'm feeling a little antsy, like it's time for me to make or create something. My last project was the dress I made for the holiday party last month and that was quite a while back. So I'm thinking that it's time to turn my attention to another project.

I'm not quite sure what I want to do, however. Part of me wants to knit, because I want to make a hat or two... but I'm a little nervous about hurting my wrist. My wrist has been achy lately although it's better now. Part of me wants to do some sewing, but if I do that, what would I saw? And yet another part of me wants to play with some wire things and maybe making some jewellery - something I haven't done in a while. I'm feeling really indecisive; I just don't know what to do.

I think this is more than just being indecisive. I've been tired and weary for a while now because last year was so difficult. So there's a huge part of me that really does just want to sit around and watch tv all day while surfing the net. That part sits on my shoulder like a little devil whenever I think about doing something else,  whispering into my ear, "but it's easy to sit... making a decision is so hard... you know you don't want to do anything hard.... so don't do anything". Which is all fine and good, because obviously sitting and doing nothing is more immediately satisfying than doing anything else, but at the end of the day I feel angry and guilty that I did nothing productive. Again.

That little voice speaks when I think about doing things like leaving the house to go for walks or to the grocery store. Of course I go out for appointments and stuff that I need to do, but I'm not doing as much outside the house that I used to. It's getting easier and easier to stay in the house while sitting on the couch, watching the tv and surfing the internet. I don't think this is all that healthy for me.

I'm going to have to find a way to quiet that voice. I know that there must be an angel voice there somewhere, counteracting the little devil voice. I'll need to take baby steps - commit to doing something for 10 or 15 minutes, say. This is a whole new year and I don't want it to slide by like last year did. I want to feel like I've accomplished something each day, even if that's just going for a walk or something.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Great pattern drafting books will be mine!

I'm so excited! I bought some awesome pattern making books! These aren't just any pattern making books; they're the books that many people have recommended: Pattern Drafting (volumes 1-3) by Patternmaking, published in the late '60s-early '70s in Japanese and English.

When I was growing up, my mom did a lot of knitting from Japanese knitting magazines. Knitting can be expressed in charts so language isn't as important; what my mom found was that the patterns themselves, and the diagrams given to make the patterns, were much, much better than those found in equivalent English patterns.

As I've started to sew more and more, I've been finding that the same holds true for sewing patterns, too: Japanese sewing patterns are more clearly defined and generally better than their English counterparts. One key difference that I've seen is that Japanese patterns give the measurements by which such-and-such a point should be moved out and how the curve shapes should be determined. Drafting a pattern is therefore much easier because you're just following instructions.English pattern drafting instructions don't define these areas as clearly, you just have to "know" what to do instead of the steps being laid out for you.

You might think that I already know a lot of about sewing, and it's true that I do know some stuff. I don't know it all by any stretch, and there are still areas that I have trouble with. I've tried to draft my own flat pattern and I haven't been successful yet. Pattern making books also have ideas in them along with corresponding pattern changes. The Japanese books are very good at showing what changes need to be made to construct a new pattern. At least, the photos I've seen show that these books are good. :)

So you can imagine how excited I was to see the second and third volumes up for auction on the UK eBay! These didn't necessarily appear in the corresponding directories on, so I knew the price wouldn't go as high for these as they've gone in the past. I won both auctions this afternoon, and I think I paid for both (in separate auctions) the price of just one volume the last time.

I did a bit of poking around yesterday and I was also able to find the first volume through an independent retailer selling via I thought that I would probably win the auctions today but I figured that even if I didn't, having only the first volume would be enough for now.

Luckily, I'm going to own all three volumes. I'm so excited! I can barely wait for them to arrive so that I can hold them in my hot little hands. They'll go nicely with the vintage (1938 and 1946) English pattern making book auctions that I won the other day (you can't have enough sewing books :) ). Yay for me!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

On my own, watching movies

Ian's off today hanging out with friends so I've had most of the evening to myself. I took advantage of this to rent myself a movie On Demand. This time I chose The Bloodstained Bride, an indie flick about a crazy bride who puts her potential husband under her thumb, and who won't let anyone stand in their way. She prefers to do her killing dressed in her first wedding dress while wielding a knife.

This was definitely a low-budget movie, but for all that, it wasn't that bad. The sound was a little iffy and the acting wasn't always good, but the story was hilarious in parts and the effects were good, too. If you saw this one playing on tv, it'd be worth watching.

After that, I watched a Canadian made-for-tv movie starring a young Elisha Cuthbert called Lucky Girl, about a teenaged girl with a gambling addiction. The movie tells the story of her downward spiral and the lengths she goes to continue to gamble. It felt like an honest look at the pull of addiction and how it obliterates everything else around a person. The acting is good and the story is pretty good, too; it shows some of the down sides of gambling without making them look unrealistically bad. I liked and I recommend this movie, especially if you know people who have or might have gambling problems or want to worry about what else teenagers can do to get into trouble.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Now that we're in 2010, I hope that this year brings you and yours happiness, great health, and good fortune. We all deserve the very best and it's about time we got it - here's hoping 2010 is our year!