Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time And Space

Ah, the big night is upon us. That single evening, once a year, when the clock hands meet at twelve. That one night that we've grown to believe holds the power to change our lives. Some of us set out to make positive changes in the form of resolutions. Resolving to forgo bad habits and embrace good habits.

The most profitable month for new gym memberships is January due in no small part to all those new resolutions. And the best part, for the gym, is that ninety percent of those signing up for memberships will never show up - ever. The other ten percent will train in fits and starts and fade after about two or three weeks. It's very rare to ever see a January sign-up stick it out.
When I worked at a gym part of my job was to take those individuals, that walk in off the street, and sell them a membership. So my advice to those of you planning on a gym membership, as a resolution, is to wait until February to sign up. Not only will you get a better price but you're already beating the attendance odds.
In keeping with the mystery of time and space my pic today is of Stonehenge. Definitely on my list of things to experience before I die.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BFF...No Really

Just ask any person that shares their life with a canine companion and they will surely refer to an almost psychic-like link that they enjoy. Man and dog have cohabited for thousands of years and science has now proven that the evolution of the domestic dog has been shaped in part by their interaction with man.

A day doesn't pass that I'm not amazed by the relationship I have with 'the Goose', my English Bull Terrier, my Bully. He arrived on the scene in the spring of 1998 as a puppy. And from day one he was my pal, my sidekick. He drew attention wherever we went which conveniently went hand in hand with his penchant for being an attention junkie.

In the earliest days, when I could still scoop him up in one hand, he travelled in an open book sack worn on my back. The same sack I used to haul my art supplies around campus years earlier. As he grew larger he would ride shotgun in the cab of my old restored pickup. Sometimes while wearing a pair of my Rayban sunglasses. Always a crowd pleaser at red lights or at the drive-through window.

I like to refer to Goose as my million dollar dog. Simply put that's the figure that he's worth to me. Sounds crazy, I know. But if you think about it we all have something in our lives that's bigger than money. And if you don't, why are you here?

Here's a pic of Goose at around four months old.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Last Leg

Christmas is now only a few days away and it's about this time every year that I'm reminded of my first experience with an extraordinary act of selflessness. It's been twenty nine years and I still can't fully explain it.

The year was 1979 just days before Christmas and I was en route from Oakland California where I had been living and was now travelling via bus to Toronto. I was a teen aged student living by my wits and trying to get home for the holidays. I started out from California on a Wednesday afternoon and was scheduled to arrive at Toronto's Union Station on the following Saturday night.

The trip was an adventure but took its toll physically and mentally due to the fact that I had been trying to sleep sitting upright for several days and had no access to a shower. My money and food ran out by Saturday morning which wasn't a problem that was insurmountable since I would be rolling into Toronto within ten more hours.

We pulled into the Detroit terminal at around 6:30 a.m. Saturday where I was supposed to change buses for the last leg of my trip across the border into Canada and ultimately Toronto. No problem until I got to the counter of the bus line and was told my connecting bus was about a twenty minute drive away in a different terminal and it left in forty five minutes. I was stunned. I couldn't think clearly. And I was broke.

Once I explained my dilemma the young guy behind the counter pointed out the window and said "those people are going to the same terminal...ask them for a ride". Through the window I saw a couple hurriedly arranging their luggage in the trunk of a cab. I legged it outside and approached the couple all the while blurting out my situation and requesting a lift. Not surprisingly they shut the door in my face and drove off.

I re-entered the now desolate terminal almost resigned to my fate which in all honesty wasn't looking good. In addition to my teetering situation I had drawn the attention of three gang members. They had been shadowing me while eyeing my travel gear. Now after living in Oakland I recognized the routine well...I was being sized up. I had enough street smarts to bluff for a while but I was cornered and I knew it. I was definitely prey. At the very least I was going to lose my case and my wallet and it was going to happen any minute. The sense of dread was overwhelming.

Suddenly the same young guy re-appeared, very animated this time, and said there was another cab and to hurry I didn't have a lot of time. He physically grabbed my arm and led me out the door of the terminal. Struggling with my case I started to lag behind as he then ran ahead of me to talk to the driver of the cab.

Everything now began to go very fast. Faster than I could respond. The driver quickly got out and met me halfway. He took my case and heaved it into the trunk. He also relayed that I only had a few minutes and to "hurry up and get in". And get in I did. I was relieved to be extricated from the situation inside the terminal. The driver took off like he himself had a bus to catch.

I began to stammer that I didn't have any money to pay for the fare. When the driver didn't respond I figured he hadn't heard me because of the thick plate glass between the front and back seat. So I leaned down to the cash slot and repeated that I didn't have any money. The driver half looked over his shoulder and bellowed "your friend paid your fare" then directed his focus back to the road ahead.

It took a second for me to realize he was talking about the young guy from the terminal. I twisted in my seat but saw only empty sidewalk behind us. I slumped back as it all sank in.

Without any explanation he had pulled me from a bleak situation in the terminal, placed me into a paid cab and then disappeared. He might have very well saved my life. And not only did I not thank him but I was ashamed to realize that I had barely paid attention to what he looked like.

Suddenly I was no longer tired or hungry. My mind instantly felt the sickening weight of what had just happened and what could have happened. And that's pretty well the way the rest of the journey went. I tried to make sense of it all but it was beyond my life experience repertoire. And I've never experienced anything like it since.

Every year at this time my thoughts are with that person. I hope that he is safe and healthy. And if I could have my way I'd simply like to be able to say thank you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Foot In Cold Water

Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down by routine. You know when life seems to get in the way of...well, life. I guess it happens to the best of us and then again maybe it's just that time of year.

Usually the last thing I do each night is jot down what needs to be done the following day...basically my to do list. And quite honestly I have a tendency to be a little over-ambitious in my planning.

More often than not I run out of day well before I run out of to do's. Not only can it get frustrating but it can become downright paralyzing if you dwell on it.

So while laboring to clear our drive from today's massive snowfall I did some mental rummaging to help pass the time - sounds so much better than daydreaming. And while sorting through old thoughts I found this forgotten gem languishing in a dark recess...just behind some old Foot In Cold Water lyrics.

"Focus not on where you are but on where you want to go..."

Sounds beautifully simple and the perfect first entry on tomorrows to do list.

My pic today is an old post mounted bird feeder that has been partially enveloped by the smallest of our white pines.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The more often you look at something, the less you really see it. Often we take visual cues for granted.

Call it what you like but I believe that thought patterns are like water, they follow the path of least resistance towards an answer. And then when they find an answer they settle. Rarely do they seek a second answer. It wouldn't be practical.

But I also believe that new answers and sometimes even better answers lie just beyond the unfamiliar route or the unconventional path.

Looking and seeing are two very different things. Seeing is a skill that is developed and polished throughout ones life. I also believe that seeing is affected directly by ones attitude and perspective.

Remember back to a scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin William's character had asked all of his students to stand on their chairs?...absolutely brilliant.

Today I have a pic of a cedar rail that I had liberated from what the garden center called the burn pile...basically scrap and broken pieces that are of no profitable use. If you look close enough you can read its life story. It now stands inside one of our garden beds.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fade To White

Though I am supposed to be working on various projects my mind is wandering and I find myself thinking of my love hate relationship with the snow.

Just when our summer garden gets up to speed the seasons change and once again I am forced to watch it wither as the colder nights of autumn bully their way into our lives. As sobering as it is to be reminded of how little control we have I still dread it every year.

But it's simply the cycle of life. It's a reaction to the lower temps that herald in the oncoming snow that will soon blanket the garden and drape the trees.

Burying our drive and blocking in our vehicles. Challenging my patience and my back. Yes, it's very easy to resent the snow.

Until I look at it from a different perspective...a different window. The heavy blanket of snow also protects the dormant root systems from freezing winds. It keeps insect pests in check by breaking their life cycle. The melt provides much needed water to the waking plants in spring by topping up the water table. And it really can look beautiful under a full moon.

Which window do you see it from? In scriptwriting the writer has various scene transition tools at their disposal. Fade To White is what comes to mind today and I think it's a fitting title for this post.

Today I'm showing a pic of one of the many birdhouses and feeders in our yard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Viva La Diva !

So the news is good. The Diva has been awarded Second Place for Best Family Blog in the Canadian Blog Awards. That's the whole of Canada people...sea to shining sea. It's right up there with the double-double, Timbits and such Canadian linguistic pearls as...eh?

For those not familiar with the Diva or to read what the buzz is all about it's as easy as clicking on DonMillsDiva.

Thanks goes out to everyone that took the time to vote. You have used your collective keyboards wisely grasshopper(s).

Congrats Kelly, well done...

...Viva la Diva!

Todays pic shows one of my earliest rock carvings. It now resides in a clients garden...blocking a hole or something broken or...okay I don't really know. Looks happy enough though.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Size 10

When I was a kid I wanted a flying squirrel as a pet. Not just a regular squirrel but a flying squirrel. That is until I found out they don't really fly...they only glide. There is something cool about flying. Remember the Flying Toaster screen saver? ...cool, okay maybe not so much now. How about the flying monkeys on the Wizard Of Oz? ...still freaky years later.

I have always had an interest in flying. A fork in the road of my life journey almost saw me go to Helicopter School in Florida. A path not taken that I daydream about from time to time. Actually pretty well every time I see a helicopter. It's a good daydream.

But I've never considered flying shoes as very interesting. Obviously I'm missing something. But I thought to myself maybe I need to think outside of the shoebox on this one. So for my pic today I'm showing the world the shoes I wore last night to a Christmas concert at a local theatre. Now they don't fly but they have logged dozens of miles on the ground. They are broken in quite nicely thank you and I still like to keep them polished. By the way mine are size 10 as well. So if a pair of old shoes can make it onto CNN why not my boots onto a simple blog? Plus I'm sure I saw a wad of gum stuck to the sole of that other guys.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Since discovering the almost endless creative possibilities that are available with cement and concrete I've been hooked. If I had to point out any limitations it would probably relate more to the working conditions necessary for a good outcome. That would be temperature and humidity of your location. Being located in Canada does present some problems due to the small window of opportunity that I can work effectively outdoors.

But like evolution itself we adapt. And since my global weather controlling machine is still several maniacal years away from completion I've instead directed my focus to altered recipes for cement and concrete. Recipes that play well with others, in this case our generally crappy weather. My favorite mix results in a very plastic clay-like cement.

In my pic today I have a few planters created with just such a mix. They are large organic shapes designed to be partially buried into a garden bed. These particular ones have been finished in blue granite and more than once been mistaken for actual hollowed rock. Now if I could just perfect my weather machine.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stone Eggs

Looking for a cheap Eco friendly alternative to the standard Christmas wrapping paper? Why not print your own? The waste we produce from polished wrapping paper makes me cringe. It can't be recycled not to mention it's used only once and then only for a few days. To be so wasteful would be considered insane at any other time of the year.

I'm always looking for ways to segway into block printing and had an idea for this wrapping alternative. Great project for the little ones as well...supervised of course. Why not block print on sheets of newsprint paper and create your own original wrapping paper? The sheets are forty pieces to a 24 x 18 inch pad and cost around a dollar and a half for the whole pad. Check your local art supply...I buy them in bulk from Curry's.

Make your own stamping blocks from potato halves...another artsy session with the kiddies. Not to mention the chance for them to experiment with some personal expression and find an identity within the family hierarchy. Sorry, first year Psychology flashback. For those of you unfamiliar with potato stamping, a design is carved into the flat face of the potato to create a stamp surface. Try Google for ideas on potato stamping. The whole clan could get involved in this one. Let your budding Picasso(s) go wild.

So there you go. You can now pull all of your children out of school, set them up in the garage and your new cottage industry business will be born. Just think of the cost savings. No more lunch money, school uniforms or books. Plus if they are really young they'll work for macaroni and cheese. Mix in some sliced wieners as an added incentive on the days you want them to work in excess of twelve hours.

Once Christmas is over the paper can be recycled (depending on the ink you use) and the discarded potato stamps can be introduced to the composter, fed to your pet Iguana or launched at passing traffic from a Spud Gun. It's win win all around.

Today's pic shows a stone Hosta leaf waiting to be discovered under a genuine Hosta leaf. The three stone eggs add a touch of interest.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Skelton's People

Early one Saturday morning, around November 1969, I would make my way in to watch my Father as he gets ready to leave for the day. He's just finished putting on a crisp white shirt. A tie is draped around his neck as he adjusts his collar. I'm just in time to watch him fling and twist the necktie into submission. Within seconds he's cinched the perfect knot. The precision and grace registers for the first time in my young mind.

I begged him to teach me this slight of hand. Looking mildly amused and maybe just a little impressed he was surely having flashes of me stepping up to the corporate ladder whereas I was thinking how cool this would look performed for my friends. It was right up there with Michael being able to blow soda out of his nose or Gordon's folding eyelid trick.

Without missing a beat my Father took an older tie from his closet. And after a brief demo from the master himself I stumbled through my first attempt and then a second. Another demo and a bit of fine tuning and I think I had it. Okay maybe not but it was going in the right direction. My Father gathered his wallet and pocket change from the dresser as he watched me with a smile. "Keep it" he said. "Practice and show me when I get home". And off he went.

I practiced in front of the mirror for hours...like a magician polishing his opening hook. This was great. Such speed and dexterity. I actually looked like I knew what I was doing. I was a genius. I half expected a call from Red Skelton's people. Once they got wind of this kid from Toronto with the amazing necktie schtick surely they would want me on the show.

Well the call never came but I still perfected my act. My Father was duly impressed and had let me now start his necktie on more than one occasion. And for Christmas that year my Father included a necktie as a gift for me. But the real gift had already been given. The necktie is long gone but those few simple minutes he spent with me are still one of my fondest flashbacks.

My pic today is a example of placed stonework from another Japanese garden. It's one that takes your eyes on a journey as they follow the simple path looking for that next amazing discovery just around the bend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Far From Branson

It's been many years since I've had a proper vacation. My lifestyle is such that I never really felt the urgency to plan a scheduled getaway. I'm very fortunate in that I really enjoy what I do. I work outdoors for a good portion of the year on landscape projects and home improvement, or I should say landscape improvement. And when the weather gets unruly or the seasons change I move indoors to work on smaller projects. The rock sculpts I've shown in earlier posts are a good example.

And now with a working shop / studio coming together, as part of our home improvement grand plan, I'll soon be able to expand my efforts even further. But I do sometimes find that my mind will wander recalling fond memories of vacations past. One example would be from today's pic. This was actually a working vacation but it was a great experience nonetheless.

I took this pic while exploring the twenty-five acre Japanese Gardens located in Springfield Missouri not far from Branson Missouri for all of you Country music lovers. I had attended a workshop in Springfield a few years back and each day following our session I would visit another place of interest. The Japanese Garden was on my last day and I think I was the only person there aside from the gate attendant. By the way the people of Springfield were probably some of the nicest I have ever met in my life.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Earth Bones

Boulders and rock have always had a deep connection to our lives. First used as material for tools, weapons and even shelter. And when plots of land began to be worked...boulders, now considered a nuisance, had to be dug up but still found use as building material for walls, wells and foundations. But beyond all the practicalities what is it about rock that is so mesmerising?

We are drawn to its coolness on a hot summer day. Animals look for its warmth on a cold day. And plants growing near by will thrive.

I have always been fascinated with rock. Looking at its scars and gouges I can only imagine the secrets it holds. The events it has been witness to as hundreds of millions of years have washed over its surface. The places it's been as it has settled into the earth and been spit out over and over again. The mountains it has ridden and the lakes it has plumbed. The life it has played host to and the fossils it now hides. They are truly earth bones. Is my Pagan showing?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Expletives Would Fly

As I sort through the top shelf of my fridge I discover tucked into a back corner one of my fave hot weather bevies. Four dark cans of liquid gold. Mined in Dublin Ireland by Guinness & Co. and squirreled away months ago in anticipation of a visit from my friend Rob. Now Rob and I met a handful of years back while I was buying and selling trees, boulders and such for various landscape projects. He is easily the most knowledgeable person I know in the area of horticulture.
The friendship was an easy one and soon Rob began to drop by whenever he was passing through. I would be working somewhere in the backyard and could hear him as he struggled blindly with our impossible gate latch all the while cursing unabashedly. The expletives would fly from his mouth like clay pigeons on a target range. The early days would leave me cringing but I've come to realize it's all part of the package.

Our visits are truly a laugh. But the ritual really begins after we both have sat with our perfectly chilled glasses brimming with the foamy brew. Now if I had to count I probably drink only about a half dozen beer all summer and I could easily drink more and at anytime but it's in combination with the visit that makes this particular beer so memorable.
It's like watching a scheduled movie on television even though you have the same film on DVD. That's how it is when Rob shows up. I never think twice about dropping my work to indulge in his company.

This pic shows the view going into our garden gate. The trumpet vine actually originates from next door but provides a great show for Jewel and I every year. It's not unusual to see a local Hummingbird flitting about but I've yet to capture it on camera.

Friday, December 5, 2008

This 'Intel' Could Be Tainted

It's hard to believe but rumour has it as we speak...or as I write and you read some of the naysayers are cobbling a makeshift covert coalition of sorts to circumvent, hijack and downright bamboozle DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com from moving to number one. Back room shenanigans, meeting in dark corners, hushed voices...wait a sec, that sounds like a teenagers first party...okay, this 'Intel' could be tainted but...

...this just in, let's hope these satellite photos are wrong but since the ante has been upped, the rate of melt from the Polar Ice Cap has increased exponentially. More melt can only spell trouble...rising water levels and...well I'm not sure but Al Gore always seems pretty stoked about it.

We need to address this scenario head on - and there is only one blog up to the task. Cast your vote now, call your friends, call your enemies and make up with them...then ask them to vote for DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com as the Best Family blog. It's as easy as a few clicks away and before you can say .."hey! my basement is flooded"...DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com will be required reading for anyone sentenced to house arrest. You have the power.

My pic today is a 'coalition' (there's that word again) of mushrooms that reside in the old mushroom archive. These are one-offs, experiments etc. that now live happily in our garden.

Make sure you check out my Poll at the top of the page. The results are sure to be monitored by those campaigning for positions of power. If in four years Sarah Palin promises everyone a Woolly Monkey...well let's just say you read it here first. And keep in mind that if I hit 100 votes I'm going out for pizza...I'm just saying.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dented Headbone

I've never been known for having a thin skin. Especially when it comes to constructive criticism of my work. I can't remember ever being overly sensitive but I really think it was in my artsy college years that the die was cast. After several semesters of class critique sessions - 'formal trashing of ones work by the instructor' - I had unwittingly developed the hide of a Rhino. Not always a good thing when dealing with the real world. I don't mind an honest opinion in fact I welcome it and in return I get to be just as honest. And that's where the trouble starts. Jewel once told me I can be a little 'too' honest. So I find myself modifying some old habits...two steps forward one step back so to speak.

And the flip side to this thick skin is that I rarely develop attachments to any of my work. I have sold pieces within days of finishing them without a second thought. But regret is finally beginning to bubble up from deep inside my dented head bone. Case in point would be the carved rocks pictured here. Both sold within days of being finished. And both I regret not keeping.

So what's the answer? I would first have to isolate the question and that would be do I want to be a working artisan that sells regularly or do I want to be surrounded by my art? It's a bigger dilemma than you might think. To be surrounded by your own work provides a very fertile environment to create yet more work but the whole point of the exercise is to develop streams of income...a.k.a. selling my work. But I believe I have found the elusive middle ground.

It's in it's earliest stages mind you but I will showcase it here in the New Year so I hope you will follow along and send me your thoughts, comments, rants and recipes - I like chili.

And if you haven't gone to DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com to cast your vote please do it now. It will only take about fourteen seconds out of your life (I timed it) and you could be saving the planet...swear to god dude...see yesterdays post if you don't believe me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Whales Will Thank You

Today I'm sending out the word to all of you that have visited my post today, whether by accident or by design, to cast a vote. The honor up for grabs is for the Best Family Blog category within the Canadian Blog Awards. DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com has moved up quickly to one of the top five positions but now needs your help to push it to number one.

It's an absolutely great read. And doing so for just five minutes everyday, once before breakfast and once again just before you visit noddyland, is surely to at the very least make you smarter, funnier, wealthier, taller and a better dancer. But don't take my word for it just look at what some past readers had to say...

"I've been reading DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com for about thirty nine days now and my acne has completely disappeared...my family can't believe it...My doctor is astonished...it's a miracle! Thank you Don Mills Diva".

R. K . . . Brazil

"Since I've starting reading DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com our ship has definitely come in. Not only did we hit the jackpot big at Bingo last night but my husbands eye twitch has all but ceased. It's been like a tonic for our lives."

P. M. . . Dublin

"What can I say?...DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com has completely rehabilitated me. It's what keeps me going until my next parole board hearing".

Inmate #25776. . .Location Withheld

So there you have it. Zip on over to DonMillsDiva.blogspot.com and cast your vote while there's still time to save the Ozone layer. A couple of clicks and we'll be on our way to a greener planet before you know it. The whales will thank you... Adios.