Thursday, January 31, 2013

Memories of Ikea

Mid-winter bleakness and cold temperatures often take a toll on Canadians by the end of January.  One antidote to the sub-zero doldrums is a trip to Ikea, where bright colours, clean design and Scandinavian products with names like Klingsbo and Vallvik are sure to cheer you up.

Peg loom weaving
I have fond memories of visiting the mammoth Ikea store in Edmonton, Alberta on cold afternoons in January.   Though the intent was to look at products displayed in the showroom, my shopping cart would inevitably fill up with boxes of dripless candles, a textured rag rug, a striped duvet cover, a sleek coffee table (some assembly required) and a bottle of glogg mix for making mulled wine.  I would come home from those excursions feeling renewed, ready to replace bland neutral decor with splashes of bold primary colours.  Sadly, there are no Ikea stores in N.B. or any of the other Canadian maritime provinces - the  nearest outlet is 1,011 km away in Boucherville, Quebec. Lacking access to the Swedish source for home furnishings, I decided to make my own rag rug from scraps of fabric.  This handwoven item would be a practical covering for the cold spot where my bare feet land first thing in the morning.

Robert created a peg loom by drilling holes into a piece of wood and fitting a set of round dowels into those round holes.  Each dowel is pierced with a hole that's large enough for a string or strand of wool to be threaded through.

The origin of the peg loom is not clearly documented, but it seems to be an ancient concept that some Egyptian, Viking, African or Chinese weaver figured out using a handful of sticks and a length of string. Today the peg loom is enjoying a revival among craft enthusiasts, particularly in the U.K.   It's a method that produces quick results and is easy enough for a three-year old Montessori preschooler to master.

While Robert was busy at his workbench drilling holes, I cut fabric strips (1 1/2" wide) from a pile of sewing remnants.  The pieces were joined together by cutting a slit in the ends and looping one through the other to make a long chain.  I like a degree randomness, so the strips were of varied lengths, distributed without any specific colour sequence.   Any material can be used for this type of project - wool, cotton, synthetics or even plastic. You can re-purpose old socks, t-shirts, ties, towels, sheets or shopping bags and feel good about making a useful item from all those throw-aways.

A slit in the fabric strip is used to loop the ends together

Kitchen string threaded through the dowel holes serves as a warp
Peg weaving involves winding the weft fabric around the sticks in a back and forth motion until you have completed enough rows to fill the pegs.  The pegs are then removed from their holes, pulled up and over the weaving and replaced as the weft slides down over the warp strings.    The beauty of this system is that the weaving holds a consistent tension and does not pull in or narrow at the centre of the work.  It's a stress-free process that doesn't involve the mathematics of knitting or the accurate needle skills of cross-stitch.  I find that I can successfully weave and listen to podcasts of Paul Kennedy's "Ideas" program on CBC radio at the same time.

No more morning shocks

"We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning."      - Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow Buntings

They arrived with the first major snowfall, a Maritime storm that left door-blocking drifts at the front of the house.
A drift of snow

On the sunny morning after the storm a flock of black and white Buntings swarmed the backyard feeder looking for seeds and suet.  They are fast-moving, skittish birds who tend to soar, veer, land and take off in unison.  My NB field guide indicates that in the poetic argot of ornithology, one refers to the group as "a drift of Buntings."

A drift of Snow Buntings  - photo D. Whitaker

Snow Buntings are hardy Arctic birds who nest on barren, rocky tundra.  The female is known for her steadfast dedication to child-rearing under difficult circumstances.  In order to protect the young from cold temperatures, she does not leave the nest during incubation and relies entirely on her mate to fetch food.

Our January guests

Migration to a warmer zone during the winter must offer a welcome break, so I want to make sure our avian guests have a wonderful vacation.  They especially enjoy perching in our poplar trees, just as snowbird Canadians love the shade of palms in Florida.  At the Bulk Barn in Moncton, I insist on buying shelled sunflower seeds, because after all, the Buntings are on holiday.

They seem to appreciate the fast food and make a habit of feeding with gusto three times a day.  Now that a warm front has moved across the province and it's an unseasonable 10 degrees C in NB, the Snow Buntings have disappeared.  I miss their excited flutter and chatter.  The cherry tree feeding station sits deserted in a backyard of bare grass and slush.

I came across this clever poem by Edwin Morgan which was written as an elegy for the poet Basil Bunting who passed away in 1985.  It is composed like a birdwatcher's list with notes describing the particular characteristics of each variety.

A Trace of Wings                                                                                              
Corn Bunting             shy but perky; haunts fields; grain-scatterer
Reed Bunting            sedge-scuttler; swayer; a cool perch
Cirl Bunting               small whistler; shrill early; find him!
Indigo Bunting           blue darter; like metal; the sheen
Ortolan Bunting         haunts gardens; is caught; favours tables
Painted Bunting         gaudy flasher; red, blue, green; what a whisk!
Snow Bunting            Arctic flyer; ghost-white; blizzard-hardened
Basil Bunting             the sweetest singer; prince of finches; gone from
                                   these parts

Friday, January 4, 2013

StatsCan knocks

The first letter to arrive in our mailbox in 2013 was marked with the bright red maple leaf flag logo of the Federal Government of Canada.  Was it an invitation to Rideau Hall for the Governor General's  Levee?  Notification of an appointment to the Order of Canada, perhaps?

Alas, no offers of free eggnog or a medal for our contribution to the arts; the official letter turns out to be a directive from Ottawa number crunchers.  It informs us that we've been randomly selected to complete the Labour Force Survey conducted by Statistics Canada.  This household fact-finding mission involves answering important questions in a series of interviews and follow-up interviews scheduled to take place over the next six months.  "Don't be surprised if a StatsCan interviewer shows up at your door or contacts you by phone in the evening or on weekends," we are warned on the StatsCan website.

The words "required by law" jump out from the fourth paragraph.  This is where the tone of the letter shifts from polite request (optional participation) to Draconian command (mandatory).   It is a shock to discover that there's a $500 fine to pay or a jail term to serve if you do not comply with StatsCan's request for personal information regarding your employment and unemployment history, labour participation, industry, occupation, hours, wages earned, union affiliation, age, sex, level of education and family characteristics.  You must participate, regardless of whether you are currently working, not working, or retired.

To force Canadians to divulge detailed private information under threat of fines and jail sentences is an outrage that calls to mind tactics used in less-civilized countries - the ones where a Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't exist or isn't enforced.  Aren't Canadian citizens protected by the Charter from invasion of privacy?

Robert's family lived through the harsh conditions of  the World War II occupation of The Netherlands, a period when Dutch civilians were subjected to regular interrogation by Nazi soldiers.  He remembers situations where his parents were forced to answer questions under duress.   It was the excessive intervention of government in their daily lives that strongly influenced their decision to emigrate to Canada.

 I think the intimidating message we received from Statistics Canada this week would bring tears to their eyes.

NB: There is a website that provides more information about the legal interpretation of the Statistics Act. Some claim that the Labour Force Survey is not, in fact, mandatory and that the government is guilty of misrepresenting the terms of participation to Canadians.