Drifting, floating

Speaking of things that have washed ashore:


These old glass fishermen’s floats were picked up on a family trip to the Maritimes in the early ’70s. Before plastic and styrofoam took over, these handmade glass bubbles were widely used to keep fishing nets afloat. They were often made of recycled glass. Many are bottle-green, but you’ll also find them in a rainbow of colours, like the ones above. From what I’ve read, glass floats originated in Norway in the 1840s and became popular world-wide, especially in Japan. The Japanese ones were made from sake bottles.

There are roughly three grades of floats if you’re a collector:
1) Authentic old ones that were used by fishermen.
2) Authentically made ones that were sold directly to gift shops. While they never saw action on the seas, they were made by the same glass makers who made the working ones, and they’re identical in form. Collectors call these “contemporaries”.
3) Reproductions. These are made from thinner glass that would likely shatter if used as floats. These started to appear in the early ’80s when the supply of the authentic and contemporary floats dwindled.

The bowl above is full of contemporaries. Back when we got them, they were a popular souvenir of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and were in every gift shop and lawn sale. When I returned to Nova Scotia several years later they were harder to find.

I have a few more hanging around picking up the light:


I have a few authentic ones that I picked up that are made from recycled bottles. You can see the circles of the bottle bottoms beneath their rotting rope. They’re not as pretty as the contemporaries, but they have character:


If you live near an ocean you may still come across the odd one that washes ashore after being adrift for many years. And supposedly there are large numbers of them somewhere in the North Pacific that have been stuck going around in circular currents for decades. I know all the man-made pollution in the oceans is a tragedy, but I can’t help thinking there’s something whimsical about all those pretty glass baubles spiralling around on the waves.

Ooh I just spotted another Nautically-themed item in one of these pictures that may get its own post eventually…



Yes, my attention has drifted away from this blog, but I’ve been getting a few requests to resurrect it.  As some downsizing is happening in my life, I may uncover a few oddities to blather on about. Or I may just get completely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I own. There’s a part of me that recognizes that attachment to things can be emotionally and spiritually detrimental. I’m working on that. Really. But dang, then I uncover something that is just too weird/sentimental/story-worthy/weird to part with.

Like my friend here:

DriftWoody This is Drift Woody.

For the first seven years of my life our family had a cottage a bit south of the one that later became my second home for the next 40 years. Spiritual home(s), really – both the first and second cottage. That first property was on low ground and would flood every spring. One day there was a lot of flotsam on our shore, among which was this piece of driftwood. My mother was about to pitch it back into the lake, but my grandmother stopped her and said, “Wait! It looks like Woody Woodpecker!” (For those not as old as I, Woody was a popular cartoon character of the day.)

So Grandma brought it inside, glued a bit of cork in an auspiciously placed knothole for an eye, shellacked the whole thing, and hung it on our wall.

Drift Woody came with us when we sold the cottage. It was later re-hung when we bought the second cottage. Now that cottage is being sold, and Drift Woody is coming with me. He will look completely out of place in a downtown Toronto condo. And for all I know, I may be the only person (after my late Grandma) who thinks it looks like Woody Woodpecker.


Happy St. Pat’s to the Irish and the Wannabees

Today’s find: a Guinness-flavoured macaron:

It’s pretty much my only concession to St. Patrick’s Day this year. I am one-quarter Irish—giving me licence to legitimately celebrate, but not enough to feel obligated. As I hate being around really drunk people, I will likely not be going out tonight.

However, being one-quarter Irish, I can say I’ve done some pretty stereotypical Irishy things that have not necessarily involved alcohol. Like being in Dublin on Bloomsday, and taking part in a 24-hour reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. And having a pretty extensive collection of Van Morrison, the Chieftans, et al.

And letting a complete stranger dangle me by the legs 125 feet above the ground so that I could kiss the Blarney stone.

It doesn’t look all that challenging when you see in on video, but once you’re up there, you realize a) you’re really high up; b) those “safety bars” are still wide enough apart that you could fall through, and c) when you’re only 5 feet tall, a significant section of your body has to hang over the gap. I was comforted by the knowledge that my great-grandfather, who came from Cork not far from Blarney Castle, likely may have also kissed the Blarney Stone, before they installed the safety bars. He was apparently the genetic source of my shortness, being himself only five feet tall, so if he could pull it off, so could I.

But now that I’m older and lamer, I’m just going to stay home and eat a Guinness-flavoured macaron* and call it a day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day—have fun and stay safe, folks!

*from Nadege patisserie on Queen West in Toronto. (Also accompanied by a salted caramel and a mocha…did you really think I’d only buy one macaron?)

Another almost-spring post

A friend just returned from Japan and brought me this lovely tea:

She told me it’s a “spring” tea. It contains cherry blossoms (Sakura) that are symbolic of springtime. Houjicha (also spelled Hojicha) is a green tea, but it’s been roasted, so it’s darker, richer, and more complex than regular green teas. I’ve heard it called “tea for coffee drinkers,” which I think is a good description. Anyway, it’s delicious. I’m not sure if I was supposed to save it for Cherry Blossom season though, so I’ll try to keep some until April, if I can.

The best part is that it came with matching flower-blossom-y looking sugar! They’re actually more star-shaped, but their colours suggest cherry blossoms, so that’s what I’m going with.

They’re called Kompeito (or Konpeito) and are traditional Japanese candies that are sometimes served at outdoor tea ceremonies. They are pure sugar, like minuscule versions of ye olde fashioned rock sugar on a stick that you buy from gift shops or chi-chi coffee shops. They were initially brought to Japan 400 years ago by the Portuguese, whose own word for them was confeito or “confetti”.

If you’ve ever seen the anime film Spirited Away, there’s a scene where the the little soot sprites go crazy when a character throws handfuls of Kompeito at them. I totally get their enthusiasm. So pretty and tasty!

Pocket Art

I’m overdue posting about this find. Back in the fall, I told you about my tiny art purchase from Artvendu, the art gallery in a vending machine that appeared at Nuit Blanche. The Northern Beaver Gallery vending machines made another appearance recently at the City of Craft sale, and I took the opportunity to add to my art collection. I splurged and bought two pieces, for a grand total of four bucks.

The current series is comprised of three-dimensional Canadiana, created by Rebecca Houston. My two random purchases: on the left is a Raku-fired clay maple key, and on the right, an itsy-bitsy canoe sculpture (for scale, I’ve included a moose i.e. Canadian quarter). I must admit, I let out a little “squeee!” when got the canoe:

Vending machine sculptures from Art Vendu

Bunnies and Bears

Another kitchen-related post…In the unnecessary but cute category, I present bear and bunny shaped egg presses:

What’s an egg press? It’s a mold to reshape a hard-boiled egg so it no longer resembles an egg. You know, for those folks averse to eating a baby chick…maybe it will look more appetizing as a bunny. Cute food? Or disturbing? My eggs now have faces.

The presses are part of the bento tradition—bento is essentially a japanese lunch box, but the contents range from simple to highly elaborate. There’s a sub-category of bento where, it seems, folks try to one-up each other creating seriously complex art/lunches with vegetables carved like cartoon characters, rice balls shaped like animals, and sushi shaped like the entire cast of Harry Potter.

Compared to some efforts (like these examples, verging on the “are you insane?!”), the egg presses are bento for the lazy. All you do is boil some eggs, peel them while they’re still hot, place them in the presses and put them in the fridge to cool for about 10 minutes. Here’s my first attempt:

The eggs I used were  a bit too small, so bear doesn’t quite have all his ears.

The presses also come in other shapes—I saw fish, cars, hearts and stars. I’m amused at the pairing of the bear and bunny, though, because, as any ukulele enthusiast will know, they are reminiscent of U900, the famous crocheted bear and bunny ukulele masters.

Hold the Pepper

It’s the day after Hallowe’een, and I’m all sugared out (for now). I usually have to balance out sweet with savoury, and last night I discovered…

From Loblaws’ President’s Choice Blue Menu line. What salt-loving language nerd wouldn’t love multi-grain, mini alphabet pretzels? They’re semi-healthy and educational!

Kitschen Kitsch Day 5: Friday Finale

After this post, I’m done with the Kitchen Cupboard of Shame (if you’re just tuning in, you can catch up here)…But I have to say, this salt and pepper set is my favourite. Cowboys!

Identical twin cowboys that bear a striking resemblance to a young Conan O’Brien. I have my own personal Team Coco!

These are also made in Occupied Japan, so are vintage 1945-52. Conan O’Brien wasn’t born yet, however. They’re cute, and yet kind of disturbing, actually, as twins. I’m ok with matching tomatoes, and turkeys, and fruit-like objects that may or may not be oranges, but somehow the matching human heads are a little off. I hope real twins don’t get that reaction from people. Maybe it’s just the two-Conan thing.

And how did they decide who got to be salt, and who pepper?

Kitschen Kitsch Day 4: Uh…Fruit?

I don’t know if these are supposed to be oranges or lemons. The colour is ambigious.

Not to mention the fact that they are the most unnatural shape of orange/lemon ever. Before I noticed the flower blossoms on the top, I thought they were ears of corn. But then, they’re not shaped like corn, either.

These are Occupied Japan items. You’d think the Japanese would know what oranges are shaped like, given mandarin oranges come from there. And given their skill with ceramics, it’s not like they couldn’t make them round (see: Tomato Ware). Maybe they were playing a joke on the Americans who would be buying their wares. I really can’t explain it.

I think this was the point where I realized collecting salt and pepper shakers was truly weird, so I may as well go all out. Really, these are weird.