Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Birthday adventures :)

Took my birthday off work today.  The original plan was either the ropes course in Niagara or a local beach - both of which got toasted by weather that was going to be on and off rain all day interrupted by thunderstorms.  Awesome.

So backup plan - went out for breakfast as a solid start :).  And then went hiking at Short Hills.  I found a just slightly less than 5k loop "Terrace Creek Trail".  Sb good to go right?   Well for the first half it was; the trail was well marked, we were clearly on the right one, and despite a few raindrops making it through, for the most part the weather was holding.   And then...  There were multiple trail options and none of them were ours :(. We spent a fair bit of time (and a couple kms) walking around to see if we could find the 2nd half of our loop and eventually failed at took a completely random other half loop back.  Our walk ended up being an extra couple kms long and with a soundtrack of increasingly angry thunder.   However, we didn’t have to double back so I actually really enjoyed both parts other than the frustration of not knowing where we went wrong 🀣    Any the trees protected us from most of the rain, so I’m still deeming it a pretty strong start to the day :)

This was my favourite spot on the trail

We made it back before the serious rain though and home with no challenges, only a few minutes before the torrential rain hit.  Chilled for the afternoon with my critters and looked up some promising restaurants for dinner, completely forgot that basically everything that step nicer is closed on Mondays around here.  Fail.  Ah well - we went to Chilie and Agauve for nachos and fondido which was super tasty.  Stopped on the way back to snag some birthday cake and overall a really lovely day.

Lake Superior Circle Tour - first full day in Thunder Bay

lol the lady who took our photo at Kakabeka falls told us we had to move apart
so the river would be in the picture ;).  
You know, instead of moving one step either direction ;-P.  
But I love how much it made us laugh.

 Our first full day in Thunder Bay was both packed and amazing.

While the hotel we stayed in was maybe not in the prettiest part of town, it was super convenient to everything.  But mostly they had the best breakfast worker ever.   lol breakfast was included and one of the women working there, Wynona, was possibly the most pleasant and cheerful human I’ve ever met.  She made you smile just to see her.  Also, she had a phenomenal memory for details about random small talk w a stranger.  We very quickly started looking forward to seeing her in the morning, alas our last day was clearly her day off.

Loved this shot I took on the trail at Kakabeka Falls

Anyways - we weren't there for the hotel; it was more a place to sleep.   AND we lucked out w weather again so we started the day with visiting Kakabeka Falls, which was one of the key things Mum wanted to do, having been there both as a teen and later w Dad.  I’m so glad she did - it was a more intimate version of Niagara :).  

I love most waterfalls, but this one was special

A fraction of the people (the most we saw on our trip but still comparatively super quiet), the trail we did first was legitimately accessible - which means compared to our previous day’s adventure was a walk in the park ;). 


At the top of the falls

Sorry, couldn’t resist.  But yeah - about a km give or take a bit, wide, flat, even, wheelchair-accessible, surface with lots of info breaks on the way.  And then a gorgeous boardwalk to see the falls from either side.  

The bridge over the falls allowed for this shot\

The falls were stunning, the mist made a rainbow in places, the sound was crashing water and birds, and it was overall just gorgeous.  

I really enjoyed this rainbow

I have always been drawn to water and waterfalls, so it prob isn’t much of a surprise, but I really enjoyed this one. 

The falls from the other side

The other thing that got me at Kakabeka falls was imagining people trying to portage that when they didn’t know the land or where they were going.  Even with trails smoothly marked it’s hard to imagine - with the thick trees it must’ve been a significant challenge.  

Gratuitous calm with mist photo.
The crashing sound of the falls belied the innocence of the scene. 

Anyways - things like that spin my imagination wildly so I came back to my not quite reality and topped off the wonderful experience with ice cream πŸ˜‚.  Little things in life.  It was not even lunch time when we finished, so we decided to head over to Ouimet Canyon as well and do that hike as well.  

This bridge on the hike to the canyon struck me as very photogenic ;)

Mum on the path - this was also a lovely and *mostly* accessible trail
(aka you could do it in a wheelchair if you were fit,
 but some of it I suspect would be a bit challenging)

Ouimet Canyon
Impressive, even without water ;)

If you look far enough, there was water in the distance at least ;)

Almost as easy a hike, but no water (which surprised me - somehow in my head canyons have water), lots of info to learn both the science and the legends, and a really spectacular canyon. 

The rock on the left caught my attention (you might have to zoom)
as it kinda looks like a sentry guarding the canyon
Apparently same for others since there are indigenous legends about it

It's a LONG way down

We had a super healthy lunch of raspberries and cookies (aka what was in the car) at a random picnic table and then headed out.  On the way out we stopped at a photo spot that was so very different from the cayon, so close to it, that I was astounded.  Again with the imagination - hiking and camping not knowing what was coming, the challenges would have been wild (literally ;-P). 

Still, flat, and marsh - except for the Beaver Palace

On the way back we detoured to visit the Terry Fox monument.   This was where we met the other super-friendly and outgoing staff of our trip.  Seriously an incredible combination of people who seem to be well suited to and genuinely loving their jobs  across this trip really added to the experience.   This one we chatted w for a bit and she gave us recommendations and then we went to the monument itself, which is not far from where Terry Fox’s run ended.  The whole thing is exceptionally well cared for and laid out, and the monument itself can be viewed from the highway if you think to look up :).  Really well done.   It amused me to no end though that I was able to take a pic of Mum w NO cars on the hwy behind her.  Traffic really doesn’t appear to be much of a thing ;). At least not that we’ve seen.

Terry Fox Monument

That was a LOT for one day so we found some dinner and chilled.   At that point I was really regretting that I hadn't brought my sketchbook with me, so we went over to the Superstore across the street in search of drawing materials or some other form of killing time, and some other form won in a big way!   Mum found me a Wooble - importantly a MOOOSE.  What better a souvinere from this trip than a stuffed toy I made ON the trip.  Lol I've made exactly one Wooble before and have had zero success at other forms of wool-craft (I'm much better with string).  But still, I loved the idea, and in the hotel we had enough internet that I'd be able to watch the videos, so giant win.   I was more excited than I should've been lol, but those who know me won't be terribly surprised by that ;)

Introducing Roosevelt

Lake Superior Circle Tour - Overview and Home to Thunder Bay

We didn't know it was a "thing" when we originally decided to go :)
Also, it took way more tries than it should've to actually get a photo of one of these signs!

Mum and I decided we were due for another road trip and  did the Lake Superior Circle Tour.  Mum's been around a good part of it before, but I've never been that far north at all, and I'm pretty sure the US side was new to both of us.

I wrote some short snippets as we went along that combined turned into a very long blog post lol.  We'll see how many it turns into.   Some things that stood out to me:

- Sand River Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park was my favourite of all the hikes we did, by a lot.  I really loved it, and it has motivated me to find some light hiking opportunities nearer to home.  

- Nature, especially when it involves water and no extra people, is 100% the fastest mental health reset possible for me.   I felt so much better SO quickly.

- Kakabeka Falls was stunning, relatively few people, and with a completely accessible trail.  100% worth a visit if you happen to be up there.

- Duluth has a disproportionate number of churches and also an entire aisle of bibles in the local Barnes & Nobel.   This terrified me but was also becoming a bit of a joke.  Other than that, it was a truly lovely and very hilly town (I like hills and mountains almost as much as water ;)).

- My grasp of geography is way off.   lol like I know logically that the Can/US border makes a dip down where I've lived most of my life, but I never really internalised how much of the US is significantly north of where I live.   Therefore it was really disconcerting that I could spend a day driving north and still be 10 minutes from the border (I'm looking at you Sault Ste Marie - also, don't ask how long it took me to figure out how to spell that having never seen it written, only spoken ;).   Of course, the border continued all the way up to Thunder Bay with us but it was SSM where the light went on for me.


Okay - so...  The details as I wrote them along the way - this is the first couple days as we drove to Thunder Bay:

The drive to Sault St Marie was almost entirely in the rain.  I hadn’t ever really realized there were mini mountains up here (Mum more accurately defined them as "rolling hills" but I like mini-mountains) - it would’ve been nice if we could’ve actually seen them!

Mini-Mountains in the distance :)

Went for a walk to find dinner and to see the waterfront.  Kept it short cause of the rain, but was happy to get to see the Roberta Bondar park all of about a week after hearing her speak.  Incredibly impressive woman and - on top of it - a fabulous speaker.  If you ever get the chance to hear her, take it.  The park is less exciting, but the waterfront was nice and we had it to ourself due to the less perfect weather.

The boardwalk was really nicely done, if a little wet ;)

The other highlight of Sault Ste Marie was as we were leaving.  Just on the edge of town a juvenile moose randomly trotted out across the road.   I didn’t get a pic but still super excited to have seen him.  With sunrise super early and sunset super late this time of year, I really wasn’t expecting to get to see one.

Weather for Day 2 driving was just about perfect.

Next day rain was forecast all day but it didn’t happen!!!   Which was awesome cause it lead to one of my favourite parts of the trip.  

For the vast majority of our trip, there would be only one road on the map
and our directions would cover several hundred kms at a time - often just to stay on the same road at the next change.

So imagine how annoyed our GPS got when we *still* managed to go off-track at Sand River ;)

The drive was, of course, all kinds of stunning, and when we got to Lake Superior Provincial Park we went into the visitor centre where two super friendly and enthusiastic guides helped us determine where we should consider visiting - we got our day pass and some recommendations for appropriate-for-us trails and off we went.  

We got in a very short walk at the visitor's centre before getting back in the car.

The first one we did was Sand River (worth annoying the GPS for) and it was my favourite hike overall, by a lot.  The footing was entertaining (lots of rocks etc so not just a flat walk, but very clear trail) and the whole thing followed a river with many rapids and a water fall.  

The contrast of the rapids and the falls...

With the complete stillness, was incredible.

We did about half of it - which the visitor’s centre person had mentioned would take us to a waterfall and it did.  I loved that everything wasn’t blocked off - if you wanted to go out on the rocks, you could.  They suggested avoiding falling in ;).  Also - Mum is definitely braver than I when it comes to heights!   πŸ˜‚ 

Getting the perfect shot :)

We didn’t see any other people; the only sounds were the river, the falls, and the birds.  And the weather was perfect. It was the single best mental health refresh in a long time.  

I sat and enjoyed the falls for a while before we headed back.
Even the rock I happened to sit on had a natural chair to it.

We did another hike very shortly after that that was flatter but not flat πŸ˜‚ and by a marsh (Trapper's).  This one came w all the killer mosquitos.  

Mosquito-friendly habitat, yet still very pretty

It was a loop so we did the whole loop, and had we done it first I prob would’ve loved it.  But there was no comparison to the other one.  

Seriously stunning

So definitely glad we did it - even if just for the comparison of terrain.  But the first one was way more impressive.

Almost at the end of the loop at Trapper's

Before leaving the park we also stopped at the Old Woman.  We didn’t hike there, just looked around the beach a bit and took some pictures.  

Can you see the Old Woman's face on the right side of the hill?

Then continued on our way to Thunder Bay, which would be our home for the next few days.  

It's a Canadian thing.

On the way we saw not one but TWO giant geese and some amazing scenery.   Got a good laugh at signs that warned “don’t tailgate” when we literally couldn’t even see another car!

SO much of the drive was breathtakingly stunning.
And I really don't think there was much risk of tailgating ;) 

Draw what you see

So coloured pencil week is over and I’m back to my learning to sketch class which is phenomenally well put together BUT also horrendously boring at times.   It really is from scratch so there’s lots of shading circles to turn them into spheres and drawing apples etc.  And while I both 100% see the need and the reason for it, I also sometimes find it tediously boring.   Watched a YouTube the other day about a guy who spent 100 hours learning to draw “from scratch” (wife is a pro artist so he had a custom built program and pro coaching along the way) and I was mildly amused that he was just as bored as I was and had all the same exercises (although he started slightly better than I did - albeit not by much).  AND ended up really decent.  So I have hope.  He said about hour 30 it started to be less painful and about hour 60 it started to be enjoyable πŸ˜‚ 

So maybe there’s hope.  So far I’ve done:

YouTube (and book) Follow Along tutorials.  These were a good start and helped me get a feel for certain things, and, of course, instant gratification.  But they don’t help w actual learning.   Like the skills weren’t highly transferable to my own work.

Also - I want colour!   πŸ˜‚ so I did Coloured Pencil week which was awesome.  And then back down the YouTube rabbit hole cause it turns out there are a ton of artists who just teach colouring?!?!    Who knew?   So when I want “easy” learning I do one of those (I even bought a colouring book?!?) cause it’s helping me expand on coloured pencil week with layering, colour theory (I may or may not have also acquired a book for that), techniques, etc.

That, however, is also frustrating cause I can spend HOURS on something and work really hard on it and be mildly impressed w the outcome and still feel like it’s “just colouring”.  Sigh.  Baby steps.

So today I had gathered all my supplies, sat down, had done one of my drawing class exercises and was pleased w it, then one that was brutal but got better - in which I was pleased I made it less-bad πŸ˜‚. So overall a pretty good mood.  But for the next section I needed my laptop which was upstairs.  And both Tucker and Nola were sleeping on me, so obviously I couldn’t move (completely trapped by a blanket being held down w a pet on either side).   I wasn’t quite ready to close up for the night but any and all reference material was out of reach :(

Except….  I mean, the whole point of this is to just draw right?   So while it’s fast and basic - I’m pretty happy w this beginner sketch of my sleeping critters from the viewpoint I had, with no how tos, measuring, or anything else.   I’d put it in the “5 min sketch” category (or maybe 10 cause there’s two critters).  Except that most of the sketches I’ve done from my 5 min sketches book take me 20-30 so yeah.  It’s not fast, but I enjoy it, and I’d argue this time both animals are reasonably recognizable :).  I’ll take the wins where I can find them!

When your tiny animals work together,
they can trap you using only a blanket!

Trying to learn two unrelated skills? Why not practice them together? ;-P

Right, so I was flipping through YouTube to find a drawing tutorial for the night (I'm taking a course but it requires more brainpower - YouTube usually delivers that quick hit of "finished product" endorphins ;) and thought I'd go back to the original driver of dragons.   However, I couldn't find any I really liked, but I did find a lion that looked good.  

When I clicked through to the video, the instruction was good, but the person was definitely new-ish to English and I couldn't tell if his accent was Spanish or Italian -- until he happened to mention he had the same video in Spanish.   So I went to his channel and while English videos are a new endeavour for him, he has a TON of Spanish ones.   And one I just LOVED and it was like 20 mins.  Perfect.

Okay so just to put in perspective - 20 min videos even in English usually take me at least an hour.  Sometimes more.  And this drawing...   well, suffice to say it's well beyond my current capabilities.   But I wanted it.   And so down the rabbit hole I jumped.

20 min video - that showed start to finish him drawing the same picture he was teaching, took me about 3h.  Maybe 2.5 given a quick "walk Sasha around the block" and a few other minor things that came up.  And I would've placed it at about 45 min.  I really lose time when I'm drawing, but I kinda love that because it's the ultimate "in the moment".    Now, let's put this in perspective.

1 - the first 3 mins of his drawing took me about 20.  It involved drawing a person.  I have never drawn a person before.  The first effort got scrapped and I started over. All good learning but wow so slow.

2 - It's FULLY possible that he filmed it first and then sped up the drawing with a voice over.  There was no time lapse that some you-tube artists use, but he was SUPER-FAST.  Speaking in Spanish and drawing faster than he spoke.   Which means I feel justified that it was taking me longer ;) 

3 - And it was more of a follow along so the language wasn't super necessary, although it certainly did add extra value it wasn't critical to understand to be able to execute the drawing.  But that also means there was no instruction beyond trying to mirror what he was doing (which conveniently applies the same techniques as in my sketching class - win!).

4 - I can understand Spanish or I can draw.  I cannot do both at the same time.  (I also cannot read out loud in Spanish and understand what I said, or listen in Spanish and write notes at the same time).   So basically I'm at the level where I can follow most things barring extreme speed or accents - both of which pro YouTubers tend to avoid - BUT, it takes 100% of my attention.   So at very least, I had to watch/listen, and then replicate.  Sometimes more than once.

5 - I've drawn some very cool animals (all with the help of YouTube) and some average things either by myself or with books, but I've never done a person, or a landscape...   And this picture?  It was a fairy looking at the sea (or some random body of water at least).  I HAVE at least drawn butterfly wings before -- that was how the teacher recommended thinking of it πŸ˜‚.  And the landscape part was pretty simple.  And I've done hair before and for some reason disproportionately enjoy it.   So sure, why not?

Tomorrow am is why not.  But for tonight, it's still all good :).  In the end, I'm thrilled with what I did.  I'd like to do it again, with colour (which is not on the video so I'd be all on my own - scary!).  And I'm disproportionately pleased that both I found a channel I like in Spanish AND that it was essentially a non-issue.   All round, it's been a long time since I've had a 3am night for anything other than work or stress, and it's put me solidly in my happy place.

The end result makes me wonder what is she thinking?  What is she watching for?
I want to tell her story, but now it's bedtime.
Credit to the original artist:

Coloured Pencil Week

So Coloured Pencil Week with the Bonny Snowdon Academy was an adventure.  I learned more than my little brain could take in and I really enjoyed it.  And I was super proud of my "cumulating" project ;).   The focus of the academy is realistic drawing w coloured pencils.   Their work that group turns out is nothing shy of stunning.  However, they also have a collection of material for us beginners ;)

I knew going in that we would learn to draw a cat's eye, a dog's nose, some fur, and an otter.   One of the things I wasn't expecting though, was the whole focus really was colour.  As in to the point of providing you a sketch to trace.  In all cases I used the sketch provided to make mine occur, but the only one I actually *traced* was the dog's nose, mostly cause I was lazy that day and in a hurry ;).  The otter I would've traced just for the sheer overwhelmingness of the project (a scheduled FOUR hours of drawing?!?!) but I wanted to use the "real" coloured pencil paper (still not the stuff they use, but the one I found at Michaels that was aptly named "coloured pencil paper" πŸ˜‚) and it is too think to trace through even if I'd wanted to.   My sketchbook, however, is not - so I traced the nose.  The eye I've done several variants before and, let's be honest, cat's eyes are as simple to freehand as it gets.   And the fur was just a few squiggly lines on a paper - I figured I could make that up as I went along ;)

There were 5 days of live drawing classes and two days of pre-recorded miscellaneous videos: one about materials which I watched but had actually learned most of from YouTube already and the other about mindset which I half-watched on fast forward, but isn't really my thing.   The actual drawing ones though were excellent.  Unfortunately these were at 7pm UK time, which meant 2pm our time, which meant I only got to go to one (and was lucky about that one); they were posted a few hours later though so I did DO every one of them.   The wknd ones were slightly earlier, but I wasn't prepared for the first one and it wasn't a convenient time, so I made the executive decision I'd watch those on repeat.  

It's a REALLY good thing I did, because there was a lot of watching closely, pausing, trying to replicate.  And that "long" four hours???   Oh my sweet summer child.   It took me closer to 10.   And I really didn't notice.   Which, I've discovered before, this new hobby is one that I can fall into the zone and not come out of for a very long time - the only thing other than writing I've ever experienced that with.  Which is a mental health and interest win, but a productivity fail ;-P

I did a thing!
Also - I used 17 colours to make this little guy?!?!

I also discovered I have no interest in full realism.   I want to get to the point that I can both draw and colour something that people can identify, but it doesn't need to look indistinguishable from a photograph.  I probably already have the photograph ;-P.  I AM super-impressed that other people can do that with pencil crayons?!?!   Like completely mind-boggling.   But it is not something I'm inclined to do - at least not right now.  Maybe when I retire ;-P

So in the course I learned a lot about layering, drawing what you see, not what you think is there (although for the life of me I still don't know how they see some of the colours in the fur (17 colours - I'm not exaggerating; and the instructor was lamenting that she hadn't added more to the list)  It all works out in the end, but my eye isn't trained that well yet!), different types of pencil marks to achieve different effects, a tiny bit on blending, some colour theory (super important to me cause I never know what colours to pick!), lots about values (light and dark) and they basically drilled home that if your values are right, the colour doesn't particularly matter.

I learned a ton, it was a super experience, but the actual academy is probably not the right fit for me at this particular moment.  The instructor is a lovely human though and if anyone DOES want to learn it, I'd highly recommend.   She's got a strong business going and very much runs it as a business, which was refreshing to see.  

I AM, however, taking a sketching basics course (all prerecorded) to learn to draw (rather than colour) that I'm getting a ton out of.  It's more the level I need right now.   More on that if/when I actually finish it.  It got paused for this one cause this one was only open for a week.