Adventures in Paddle Boarding

My aunt and uncle have all the best toys.  They wind surf, kneeboard, wake board, water ski, canoe, kayak and anything else you can think of involving water.

So when I first started to see people stand-up paddle boarding, I knew who I should go to for information, and possibly even a chance to try it out.  Since I spent last summer watching and becoming increasingly jealous of the paddle boarders going through my construction site, it’s clear it’s just taken me a while to get there.

By this past weekend, when I got to try paddle boarding, I’d seen friends post about stand up paddle board yoga at dawn, I’d read posts about people doing it with their dog on board, and I had seen all sorts of people doing it, even on the Toronto shoreline.  Lake Ontario may be lovely elsewhere, but on the Toronto shoreline, the ideal water sport is one that keeps you out of the water.

I was pretty excited to get up to their cottage and give it a go.  Even more excited when I saw my uncle just coming back from a paddle.

A paddle using a stand up paddle board paddle… and a windsurfing board.  Their sturdy crossover board (good for flat and wavy water) was at home, where they live by a lake large enough to get some actual waves for them to use it on.

My uncle assured me that this one was better anyways – less stable means more core workout, and it’s narrower, making it skim through the water more quickly, ideal for the nearly glassy surface of the lake at their cottage.

Seeing my uncle glide effortlessly off into the distance, I figured he was right.  And that my aunt was right that maybe this wouldn’t be the time to try bringing Gwynn out with me.

Stand up Paddle Boards differ from windsurfing boards in a few key ways.  They have a rubbery foam surface for gripping your feet to the board, wet or dry.  They vary in width and length, depending on what kind of conditions you have planned for them, but looking at a good beginners’ type board, I’d say it’s about the same length as a windsurfing board, and considerably wider.

Wider is more stable.  It doesn’t glide as easily through the water, but it isn’t as wobbly.

Having helped me in previous attempts at new water sports, my aunt and uncle made sure the life jacket they provided me with had an emergency whistle.  They also strongly recommended that I start off kneeling, at least until I was far enough from the dock to avoid knocking myself senseless, should I fall.

Not that I would, they hastened to reassure me.  You’ll be fine.  It’s only water, anyways.  Just don’t go too close to shore.  Rocks, you know.  I left my sunglasses behind, just in case.

Using a windsurfing board to paddle is definitely harder than I suspect your typical beginners’ board would be.  Either type is a great core workout.  The windsurfer added a bit of legs, and kept my core tight regardless of if I was paddling or just standing there.

Paddle Boarding was really great.  It’s a quiet and relaxed activity, once you get used to the wobble, just you and the sound of water, and a great view of the surrounding land.

It didn’t take long to start to feel like I was really getting into the groove of things, really feeling confident.  At which point, of course, a spider crawled up my leg.

Wobble.

Daddy Long Legs aren’t really spiders.  In any case, I’m not afraid of spiders.  Or Daddy Long Legs.  When one is creeping up the inside of my leg while I’m precariously balanced on a floating piece of plastic… I have trouble keeping that knowledge in mind.

Cue swatting frantically at the inside of my knee, paddle held rigidly out in front of me to try to maintain balance.  Insect gone (or at least relocated to the surface of the board), balance regained, aaaah, peace, isn’t it a beautiful day.

Next hazard – people driving around in motor boats.  Like they own the place or something.  Of course, they’re polite about it, keeping to the opposite side of the narrow passage in the lake that I’m currently paddling through, but still!

Seeing a tsunami (at least a foot – no, foot and a half! – high) rapidly approaching me (at a moderate walking pace), I do my best to turn my wobbling vessel into the wave, to avoid being hit side-on.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty good about my amazing paddle-board abilities.  I survived all the huge waves sent my way, an attack by predators (daddy long legs are poisonous, you know… even if their jaws are too weak to pierce human skin) and managed to turn back towards the cottage with only a brief moment of panic at nearly hitting the shore head-on.  It’s just a really hard to notice obstacle – like a shoal or a reef.

If you’re looking for something new to try out, you should definitely head out and find a paddle board rental.  You might even get as good as I did this weekend!  I’m practically a professional, you know.

Snow

My drive in to work today was terrible.  I mean, quadruple the length of time, three lanes down to two down to one down to what the hell is that guy doing, cars sliding into and out of my ‘lane’, holy cow gentle on the brakes, come-on-car-let’s-survive-this, gee I wish my windshield wipers were doing more than spreading the slush on my windshield, TERRIBLE.  At least I wasn’t stupid enough to get on the highway.

Toronto really doesn’t get much snow.  We’re in Canada, so you would think that we’d get a fair bit, but Lake-effects+location means that Toronto winters are grey, occasionally slushy, and gross.  So, despite the terribleness of my drive this morning, I am definitely not complaining.

We have snow.

The kind that drowns the city in soft white fluff, covers the mud, the dead grass and the neverending discarded Timmy’s cups.  It rounds the hard edges of buildings, makes every tree look like a confectioner’s dream, and muffles the noises of living.

When I was younger, I loved to bundle up in as many layers as possible to keep myself warm and sit in the snow.  Preferably the deep fluffy banks of it that let you sink in like a lazyboy sofa made specifically for me.

Now, with at least as many layers of warming clothing, I like to walk in it.  I love the crunch of snow under boot.  I love my morning walks when the snow is falling so heavily, the roads are untouched by tire tread, and the world is covered in a blanket of white.  Before people have had much chance to go out and shovel, layer the inevitable and hated coating of salt down, and start churning up dirt.

Gwynn likes to stick his whole head into piles of snow, shoving it in there as though the snow is the downy pile of fluffy white feathers it resembles.  On mornings like this, I can’t resist letting go.

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Gwynn treats snow like a reason to be on his best behaviour.  Any other morning, if I were to drop the leash in the neighbourhood, he’d be up on peoples’ porches, worming his way into their back yards, and generally causing a huge pain of himself.  With the snow thick on the sidewalk, he sticks close, dashing forward and back and rooting through the snow in search of smells.

Tonight, we’ll go out for an extra long walk through the snow-lit woods.  Even after dark, the snow glows, like it stores the sunlight for later use.

Magic.

The Runaround

Gwynn and I have been taking agility classes for the past few months.  Shocking, right?  I bet, based on my absenteeism in dog-post-land, you assumed I’d gotten rid of my furry buddy.  Considering how remiss I’ve been in posting at all, you could also make the judgement that I’ve also gone away.  Perhaps we both went ‘to the farm’.

We have been doing agility, though, and, if I do say so myself, we’ve been improving at it.  If any of you in the Toronto area are interested in doing some classes yourself, I highly recommend All About Dogs.  They also have doggy first aid classes, rally-o, disc-dog, flyball and other classes, which I’d bet are just as good as the agility.  They are all about training in steps, so that the final performance is how it should be.  They are also all about making sure the dogs are enjoying themselves.   Gwynn is in love with Renee.  She is a fluent speaker of Dog-ish, and can do amazing things when she takes one of the dogs in the class for a demo of an exercise.  I completely believe that the levels of training in dog agility are mostly for the owner.

Agility is a great way of continuing your dog’s obedience training in a fun way.  You might not be practicing anything very obviously command-like, but it’s in there.  I’m finding that our agility training is improving things so much outside of class for Gwynn and I.  He pays a lot more attention to me when he’s off-leash, his recall has improved drastically, and we are overall working better as a team.

I’m learning a lot about what my body language is telling Gwynn.  Very little of what I’m saying as we go through the course has any impact on what Gwynn is doing.  It’s my own fault in guiding him when, despite my enthusiastic shout of “Tunnel!”, he follows me along the outside of the tunnel.  In the same way, when I shout “Table” while directing him (properly)towards the tunnel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he does the tunnel anyways.

Having a weekly class has also encouraged me to do more training at home (sorely lacking at times).  We’ve been working on our tricks as well, and Gwynn, I must say, is very enthusiastic in playing dead.  Not terribly good at acting… but definitely enthusiastic.  You’ve never seen someone fake-get-shot and fake-die with such a huge grin on his face until you’ve seen Gwynn do it.

My sister came with me to last week’s class, and videotaped some of our runs.  And then, with the magic of her Mac laptop, she fancied up her videos for your enjoyment.  I now have a Youtube channel.  Just understand that it might be under my email, but it was set up by my sister, who took the video, laughed most of her way through the filming of it, formatted the video and posted it on Youtube for me.  Pretty much the only thing I did was come up with an alternate name when it turned out the channel name “Gone for a Walk” was taken!

Check it out:

Polar Trex Dog Boot Review

In a recent post, I told you a little bit about how much of a pain the dog boots I first got Gwynn were.  I also explained why the weather in Toronto last winter was such a bizarre combination of abysmal (seriously, SO. MUCH. RAIN.), and lacking in severe weather conditions.  I got new boots… Gwynn got new boots… it’s a miracle winter came this year, frankly.

Ruffwear was nice enough to send me a set of their Polar Trex dog boot.  What most interested me about their boots was that they don’t use velcro.  The boot is held on with (and I quote, here) a Cam buckle ankle strap and cord loop closure system.  My hope for this was that, if snow did get into the system, it would still function.

winter evenings... not ideal for photography.  deep snow... not ideal for showing off boots.
winter evenings… not ideal for photography. deep snow… not ideal for showing off boots.

The next thing I noticed was that the rubber sole of the boot is by the same company that produced my toe shoes.  That isn’t what you’d call ‘pertinent’ information, but it is information.

I’m going to break it down into aspects of the whole boot experience, so bear with me.

Ordering:

If you’re not in the United States, trying them on in-store won’t be an option.  That being said, they go into great detail about the sizing online, and I chose the right size pair for Gwynn based on the measurements of his paws.  DO trace your dog’s foot and measure it – I think they quite purposely didn’t mark their sizing down as small, medium, large, etc – because your large dog might have medium sized feet.  Gwynn looks like a ballerina in his boots, his surprisingly dainty feet usually covered in a thick muppet-like coating of hair.  4/4 paws!

Donning and Fitting

The back ones are easy – he practically puts them on himself by trying to put his foot down.  The front ones require a bit more shimmying around, but with practice, it’s getting easier to do – basically, his wrist gets in the way.

They have some good tips, and a video talking about how to adjust the boot properly, which I found very helpful.  The strap needs to be pulled tighter than I did the first few times, but I’m getting better at it.

I am very happy with the buckle closure, and with the additional strap and loop closure at the top of the boot.  The only way I could think of to improve that would be to make it a plastic snapping-buckle with adjustable strap (like on many collars).  Then I could, mostly, keep each boot at the correct tightness for fore- and hind-legs.

I’m not entirely happy about the way the boots fit on his front legs – they come up over his Carpal Pad, which I think is a big part of why the front boots don’t stay on nearly as well as the back boots.  It doesn’t seem to make him uncomfortable, but it’s not ideal.  They should consider selling the boots with a shorter front-set.  If either of their other types of (non-winter) boots had the buckle closure, I’d consider getting two of those to use on his front legs, since they’re a lower boot.  Velcro+snow, however, generally means rummaging through snowbanks, trying to find that boot.  Based on some of the reviews on their site, I wonder if Gwynn might need a different size of boot for his front paws.

Gearing up and Fit – 2/4 paws!

The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.
The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.

Quality

The boots have held up quite well to a few months of off-and-on usage.  They don’t seem to be getting salt-damaged, and all the seams are solid.  After they’ve been out in fresh snow, they look just as good as when I took them out of the box.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Just based on the construction of these boots, I wouldn’t have any concerns with ordering other products from the Ruffwear website.  4/4 paws!

Wear

The first time I put them on him, I held in so much laughter that my stomach hurt for days.  Want to see a dog act like the ground is lava?  Yeah.

He got used to them within short order – just get the dog moving around outside, and they’ll tend to forget about the boots.  Both Ruffwear and I strongly recommend tightening the boot after you’ve been walking for a while.

Additionally, I’d suggest checking/tightening the strap every half hour or so, if your dog is off-leash and running around in the snow.  We had a beautiful snowfall last friday, and spent 2 hours out walking in the woods, with Gwynn off-leash and running like a madman.  By then, I’d had much more practice with getting the boots tight enough, and before letting him offleash at the park, I retightened them.  An hour later, he still had the boots on.  Downside – I didn’t check them and retighten at that point, and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find a lost boot (soon followed by the other front boot) in the snow at dusk.  They stay on as well as I think is reasonable to expect – but all that running around does loosen the straps a bit, so tighten them on a regular basis.  While I wish I could just put his boots on at the beginning of a few hours of off-leash hike and forget about them, I think the only way that would happen is if his boots were part of a full-body snowsuit, or were attached to each other in a harness over his back.

On-leash, I didn’t bother tightening them at all, and could forget about them entirely.

Wearability – 3/4 paws

Price: 89.95 USD

The price seemed kind of steep, especally compared to the 40 I spent on the frankenboots (pre-modification).  The frankenboots were terrible quality, however, and the Polar Trex should last me quite a few years without any modification or repair.  You really do get what you pay for.  One nice feature of the product is that, if you do lose a boot, they sell individual replacements online.

Great for on-leash walking.  Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.
Great for on-leash walking. Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.

Overall:

+ great quality

+ helps a lot to keep our walks enjoyable with snow and salt

+ stays on perfectly while on-leash

– have to tighten straps regularly if the dog is running around loose

– The boots are too high to fit the front paw comfortably, based on my dog.

+ easy to order spares

– boots will fall off

– definitely requires practice putting them on.

Would I recommend them?  Depending on their purpose, yes.  On-leash, they’re wonderful – they’re sturdy, protect Gwynn from all the things that ruin our walks, and Gwynn doesn’t seem bothered by them at all.  They aren’t a perfect product, though, and I do have to spend a bit more time than I like counting red-feet when Gwynn is bounding through the snow.  If your dog spends a lot of time out of your sight when they’re off-leash, that could become a particularly big problem.

Gwynn and I are giving them a 70%.  Slightly less than 3 paws!

**The company gave me a pair of boots to review, but the opinions are my own, and not influenced by Ruffwear.**

Footloose

I got Gwynn in the fall, at 6 months.  My neighbour, longtime dog owner, asked me if I would be getting Gwynn some boots for the winter.

I scoffed.  I proudly informed her that I would never dress my dog up in silly and unnecessary people-clothes.  He’s a dog.  I’m letting his hair grow long to keep him warm in the winter, and mid-October he was already deep into his transformation to wooly mammoth.  Wooly mammoths don’t need boots or hats or coats or vests.

You know what else wooly mammoths are?  55 lbs of dog whose feet are being burnt and cut by the massive amount of road salt my neighbourhood is coated with in winter.  55lbs of dog is A LOT to carry home, having made it 4 blocks before he refused to budge.  And in winter, my hands were unimpressed at their new use as de-icer of dog-paws.

I also discovered that the fur between his toes, no matter how I trimmed it, still collected clumps of snow until his toes were splayed painfully and a wad of ice was applying pressure to his palm.  Yet another painfully-cold hand-melting of puppy paws on the side of the road.

I ate my words.

The boots I bought him that first year were useless.  Within days of first purchase, the straps were fraying.  If I’d left them as they were headed, the boots would have been strapless by the end of the month.  Velcro, by the way, does NOT hold up to being covered in snow.  Nor does it work to re-velcro once there’s snow in the tines.  The leather sole to the boot also started coming unwound within a few uses – yet another sewing project for me.  The damn things didn’t stay on at all well, either – they flew off no matter how well I’d snugged them on his feet.

Uninformed about other types of boots (unwilling to just refund/exchange the damaged boots every few weeks), I stuck with them, adding snaps, sewing repairs and turning them into frankenboots that still… really didn’t stay on adequately.  We ended up using hockey tape at the ankle every time we went out skiing.  We still played the 1-2-3-4 game, and I carried spare hockey tape in my pocket.

Last year, I contacted RuffWear and asked if they’d be interested in a review of their Polar Trex boot.  It looked like it already had a lot of the things I’d added to the frankenboots, without any handiwork on my part.  I’d read some good reviews of their other projects by You did What with your Weiner, so I had hopes that this product might also be good.  They were nice enough to send me a set.

It was fate – that (and my own purchase of new Sorels) would explain why Toronto’s winter last year consisted of a low of just about freezing, no snow, no de-icing salts and a whole heck of a lot of rain.

This year, however, do I got a tale to tell!  We had snow for a little while, we’ve had some bloody cold temperatures, and my neighbours are putting salt down like it holds the key to spring arriving on time.

Gwynn and I have finally had a chance to give these boots a thorough workout, and I’m ready to give you all my honest opinion of them.  I’ll be posting that this week, so stay tuned!

Foreign Dogs

No.  Not an insulting term for people of a different nationality than me.  Just to be clear, I mean Canines.  Canines in Foreign lands.  Frankly, I think it’s an improvement on my working title of “Mexican Dogs”.

I was lucky enough to spend a week this winter in beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Gwynn also spent a week at the beach – just one in more northern climes.  He visited a friend of ours at her cottage while we were gone, a week straight of snow-frolicking and wrestling with her two dogs, and picking up a few bad habits along the way.

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Dogless, I redirected my usual doggy time to observing everyone elses pooch.  I’m not sure why I was so surprised to see so many people walking their dogs down 5th street in the evening.  I know dogs aren’t limited to Canada, US and Europe.  I just tend to imagine them being far less pet, and far more work elsewhere.

I think most cultures have, to some extent, a sweet spot for our furry friends.  And the differences in their treatment of dogs is one of the things that stands out most to me about being in a strange country.

In France, dogs are permitted in restaurants and cafes, and generally most places. If someone had their dog very well trained – chances are, that dog wasn’t on-leash.  And I’m talking about Paris, not some very rural community where leash laws are kind of ignored.  Dogs there are welcomed into far more places than they are in Canada – but they also have higher expectations placed on them, in my opinion.  It’s very much a society of “You are welcome here, but you’d better behave yourself.”  Another big difference I noticed was in equipment – simply put, male dogs in France still have it.  A British woman I walk with on occasion was baffled at the North American predilection towards neutered males.  Her female dog is altered, but her male is fully equipped.

The downside I found when I was in France was an apparent lack of responsibility on the owners’ part for dealing with business.  You know… business.  Charming cobblestone streets, beautiful treelined paths – it’s PARIS, and P is definitely for Picturesque… but also for Poop.  Watch where you step.

A friend recently returned home from a two year contract teaching English in Vietnam.  She told me about how many street dogs and street cats there were.  We have wild cats – in fact, we have a wild cat problem in Toronto – but wild, roaming, dogs is outside my realm of experience.  She told me about how many of these animals found homes with the temporary immigrants who came for limited-time contracts in Vietnam.  While it is possible to bring your beloved Vietnamese pet home with you at the end of your time there, after vet bills and vaccines and all the hoops you have to jump through, it comes out to a very expensive second plane ticket home.  A common occurence there is for more newly-arrived friends to adopt departing friends’ animals, passing that creature on when it’s time for them to depart as well.  I’m frankly not sure if I could bear the idea of parting ways, but I find it sweet that people make such a point of finding their street-dog or street-cat a replacement caregiver before they leave.

I found Mexico to be a bit like Canada, and a bit like France, and a bit all its own.  All the male dogs I saw were fully equipped, and stores didn’t seem to have a problem with dogs coming into them with their owners.  The streets were spotless.  Maybe it’s because I was mostly in areas where lots of restauranteurs and shop owners were basically right out in the street, watching you , or maybe it’s simply that the dog owners of Mexico believe in not leaving a mess behind (after my own heart).  Whatever the reason, the streets I went down in Playa Del Carmen were cleaner than my own neighbourhood, when it came to dog business.  Possibly because most of the places I saw dogs in were quite busy, most people had their dogs on-leash.  Very different from Canada, nearly every dog I saw was a naturally short coated animal.  Makes sense, considering that, visiting in the middle of their winter, I experienced the warmest of Toronto’s summer conditions.

Afghan Hound With Short Hair
Even the Afghan hound I saw there had his hair cropped shorter than this, to deal with the heat

It’s when I travel that I wish Gwynn were more travel-sized.  I miss him immensely when I’m gone, and feel a bit of irrational jealousy of people just going about their usual day with their dogs at their sides.  I love it, though – seeing those commonalities between myself and the people whose country I’ve travelled to.  It really doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll always find someone out for a walk.

Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil.

For the Dogs

There are dog people, and then there are dog people.  Eileen was dog people. They were her passion and her life’s work.  I met her through the Muttley Crew – a dog hiking group through Meetup.com.  She introduced me to so many local trails I would never have known existed – places near Toronto that have hidden away from the urban life.  She brought together a group of people whose only real commonality was dogs, and made sure to socialize with everyone on the hike.  And their dogs, of course.  She hardly knew me, but she still checked in on me when I didn’t make it out to any hikes for a few months.

She was the treat lady, she was the go-to person for pettings.  She was in the creek with the dogs, encouraging the more timid of them to try swimming.  She got Gwynn deeper into the water than he’d been before.  Ten minutes into the hike, she wsa the pied-piper, leading the dogs on a merry chase.  You’re having issues with your dog jumping up, not responding to ‘come’, being timid, toy guarding?  She would give you encouragement, advice if you wanted it, and absolute positivity.  She believed 100% in your dog.

She worked to get her own dog out of his own anxiety and wariness so that he could, completely comfortably, join a large group of people and dogs in the woods.

Dirty dogs are happy dogs – by the end of our hikes, the dogs were certainly happy!

She was doing what made her happiest – hiking with dogs – and that knowledge makes me glad.  While I wish it could have been years and years from now, she died with her hiking boots on.

Eileen will be missed.  I have no doubt that wherever she is now, there are happy dogs, wide open spaces, and forests for miles.

Watery Wednesday

A few weeks ago, we went to the Australian Shepherd Meetup at Cherry Beach.

Meetup.com is a great site to find people with similar interests on.  In my case, I’m part of two GTA dog groups, one of which happens to cater to Australian Shepherds.  The group has every possible colour combination of Aussie you could imagine – they are such pretty dogs, and 15-20 of them all running around and playing together is a very cool sight.

This particular Aussie Playdate was at the offleash dog park at Cherry Beach.  Our fearless Meetup Leader, Suzanne, is also a fantastic photographer, whose photos I snagged from the playdate page.

Gwynn stands out a bit, being taller and curlier than his half-siblings, but they all play the same, and it is hilarious watching a big group of Aussies (or any breed, I’m sure) playing together.  Making it a day at the beach – the off-leash Dog Beach, no less – makes it doubly fun.

Cherry Beach is located at the end of Cherry Street in downtown Toronto.  The dog beach is not fully enclosed – the water end of the fence is easily gotten around by dogs – so if you do go there and are concerned that your dog might be a runner, keep him on-leash until the second section of beach.

The beach stretches quite a ways, broken up by patches of shrub, and the park extends back into the trees, perfect for cooling off in the shade, and drying off before heading back to the car.

There’s a ton of parking down there – if the parking next to the dog beach is full, there’s a long gravel parking lot running parallel to the not-for-dogs beach on the other side.

Ninja Dog Defeated by invisible opponent
Suddenly became an animal magnet…

Playing with Fire

**NOTE: Much as I appreciate the regular correspondence with people looking for skilled glass-blowers in the GTA… Ontario… Canada… I am NOT one of them.  I’m not sure why my blog has turned up so high on the google list.  If you are looking for someone, I recommend: 

Minna Koistinen from Playing With Fire. You can find her here:
http://www.playingwithfire.ca/ , and if the thing you’re looking for is relatively simple, she might even teach you how to make it yourself, which is a very cool experience.  ***

I recently went to a Glassblowing workshop at Playing with Fire in Toronto.  Glassblowing is terrifying, thrilling, and so much more stressful than a glass artist makes it look.  Given the opportunity, do it. 

Our instructors going through the process for making a paperweight

Our teacher, Minna Koistinen is a member of the Geisterblitz Glass Studio, an internationally renowned partnership of glass professionals, artists, and designers.  She has her own line of glass fine art, sold Canada-wide.  She makes glassblowing look effortless, like the most natural thing in the world is to swing a blowpipe just so to make that small lumpy piece of glass into a thin, elegant vase, all without setting anything on fire.

rolling our first blob of glass into coloured glass. Picking my colours was a huge decision!  Please don’t mix into each other and form some terrible shade of awful!  Luckily, Minna and Andrea were there to give suggestions

Her assistant, Andrea, is apprenticing in the art form.   There are very few trades (or so it seems to me) that still use this as a means of instruction, but most art forms seem to need that time observing and helping out to really learn the techniques.  Especially when it comes to things like glass-blowing, where learning to get a feel for the material is a big part of determining just what it is you will make.

Minna walked us through the equipment we would be using, and then ran through each exercise, while maintaining a steady stream of comments and instructions for us.  She and Andrea helped each of us through the exercises, which is good because the minute I got the rod in my hands, the only thing going through my mind was a kind of dull roar of “MAKING GLASS!!!”, mixed with paranoia at potential death by fire.  Step by step instructions were enormously helpful!

you then go to the bench with your piece and use tongs to twist the coloured-glass-ball like taffy, focusing on trying to get all the coloured glass off the rod, and getting some interesting twists and patterns.

When you’re dealing with a material whose temperature starts off at a molten yellow glow above 2000 degrees Celsius, safety is a very important feature.  Even after it is cooled to the point of solidifying, the glass is still hot enough to cause severe burns and nerve damage.  Throughout the entire process, all I kept thinking to myself was Don’t Touch the Glass!

Minna dipped the newly gnarled glass back into the molten glass to coat it, and then we balanced our pieces by rolling the rod and letting the glass sink slowly until the roll felt smooth.  Right hand under bum to resist the temptation to touch that half of the rod, or, worse, the glass itself.

I was a little bit concerned that I would do something that would cause shattering of glass, set something on fire, or just plain experience some of that terrifying nerve damage.  I am not exactly graceful.

Another distinct possibility was getting that oh-so embarrassing teacher feedback of “well, isn’t that… special.  I had no idea you could make that particular shade of brown out of such pretty starting colours of glass.”

tapping it off the end of the rod. Next step is to cool it very slowly in an oven, and then grind the jagged pieces where it was broken off the end of the pipe

We each made a clear-glass ornament by letting strings of glass slip off the pipe and swishing the stick around to create a pattern.  Next, we made paperweights (all the pictures show this), with coloured glass inside them.  All the movements that appear to come so naturally to Minna are considerably more difficult than they appear.   Focusing on not burning oneself while also keeping the rod turning to catch the molten glass that wants to slide to the floor, and following instructions – it’s all a bit stressful!  It’s also amazing.  As an art-form, I found glasswork to be a terrifying rush that I have never encountered while doing watercolours.  There’s the time-constraint of rapidly solidifying glass, the paranoia about catching things on fire* and the thrill of making something that will be completely individual to me, even if the next person makes the exact same moves as I do, uses the exact same colours.

All the coloured glass burnt red-orange when it was added to the original molten clear glass.  The art of glass blowing doesn’t end at the point of tapping off – the glass has to cool very slowly and evenly, or you risk it shattering, or, at the very least, cracking into pieces.  Yes, my other fear apart from fire was explosion.  The last I saw of our paperweights that day, they were orange-filled, despite the fact that only one of us actually put red and orange tones of glass into her piece.

A few days later when I went to pick them up… well… judge for yourself!

If you’re in the Toronto area, I highly recommend taking an afternoon to try Playing with Fire and make your own completely unique creations.  If you aren’t, but see something like it offered in your area, try it!

*the number of times I’ve mentioned it, you’d think I regularly accidentally set things on fire.  Not true, but the paranoia remains.  Also, word to the wise, do not put a muffin in the microwave for ten minutes.

I Can’t Complain

I really, really want to complain about the cold.  SO. MUCH.  It was -12 Celsius (10 F… according to google) on Saturday, and windy, and holy cow, it was cold!

But it’s -27 Celsius (-17 F)(NOT factoring in wind-chill) in Calgary today, so really, I believe the phrase that applies to me is ‘buck up, sissy-girl’.

The other reason that it isn’t reasonable for me to complain is this – half-way through January, and this is the first time it got this cold?  I am spoiled in winter weather this year, and I should shut up before Murphy catches up with me.  This time last year, I was a month and a half into a royally unpleasant season of icy winds and freezing rain – a world of sloppy slushy, gloomy grey standard Toronto Winter.  Last week was the first time they salted the sidewalks (they being ‘everyone other than my one crazy neighbour who just layers down the salt so heavily all winter that I walk on her lawn to avoid the gravel-like dog-foot-doom she creates’).  This winter, apparently the road salt industry (in Ontario, at any rate) is having serious issues – they aren’t selling enough salt, and the people being paid to salt the roads – they aren’t getting paid to salt the roads.

first snow in the GTA that lasted more than the evening-on-which-it-fell. Prior to this, they were salting the roads 'just because', like that time that they thought it might rain, and then might, after that, get very cold, and create ice... but it didn't.

There’s a whole industry that is going into decline.

But HOLY COW, it was COLD out!

random pillars in the park north of the Brickworks. I didn't take any pictures (not wanting to look overly creepy, or have my fingers fall off from the cold), but there are a LOT of really pretty houses along the ridge overlooking this particular creek valley. Nothing like admiring the backyards of the rich and... well... rich.

I think the real problem was that it went from +10 C down to -12 C in the course of hours.  Friday evening, it was chilly – like, around freezing ‘chilly’ – Saturday morning, it was bitter.  Also, going for a three hour walk that went down through the trails by the brickworks, and then back up Yonge street to St. Clair (where I parked my car)… that might not have been the wisest choice.  Not to mention that this walk started at 4pm, with only a brief pause in a doggy boutique (to defrost) on the way back.

part of the brickworks - a very cool bit of Toronto History

Plus side – Gwynn loves it.  This kind of weather is the reason I am letting his coat grow out until spring.  He is completely insulated, and completely ecstatic at any opportunity to roll around in the cold white stuff, even when it’s a windy 12 below, and my face is so cold that my words slur from the numbing effect the wind has on my lips and jaw muscles.  He bounced along beside me, beard crispy with icicles, while I wished I hadn’t let my face freeze into a smiling position.  My teeth hurt from the cold.

brickworks again. I really didn't take many pictures, mainly due to the cold crushing my desire to do anything requiring fingers out-of-mitt

The other plus side is that my reason for driving across Toronto to go for a walk was to join a good friend I don’t see nearly often enough for a walk in the woods.  She is my only friend in the GTA whose idea for ‘what should we do?’ would be (in the winter) ‘go for a long walk’, instead of ‘go to a movie/restaurant/bar’, and I am so grateful for that.  Much as I like movies/food/alcohol, I really think I spend an unhealthy amount of time watching TV, I prefer cooking and trying new recipes, and I really don’t drink all that much (not to mention the ‘past my bedtime’ factor of going to bars or clubs).

the Toronto Skyline

I really can’t complain about the weather, especially now that the temperature is back up to +4 Celsius.  Though, now that it’s warm out, I want to complain about the fact that all the snow is melting into sodden heaps of mush.