Saturday, July 28, 2007

Breaking the Ice

Hello out there. I haven't checked my comments in a while, and didn't realize people were inquiring about me. I sincerely apologize for seeming to ignore you all. I am truly touched by your interest. Believe me, reading your blogs every day has been a lifeline for me during the past few months.

It's hard to talk about painful events. Everyone has enough pain in their own lives and I figure nobody needs a play-by-play commentary on mine. Nevertheless, here's a little background to explain my long absence.

My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April, at the end of the school year. She has been battling depression since her last year of high school, with baffling recurrences every spring and fall. We thought that for some reason she just couldn't stand the pressure of exams, never suspecting bipolar disorder because we never saw her in a manic phase. Until now. Lithium makes her sick. They're still trying to find the right medication.

As she was in no condition to take on a summer job, she couldn't renew the lease on her apartment in Kingston. She has moved back home, putting her furniture in storage and her education plans on hold. This arrangement is far from ideal. The quiet lifestyle that we enjoy here has limited appeal to a young woman in her twenties. Besides, living with her father's health issues is stressful in itself, and that's not a level of stress that she's well equipped to handle at the moment.

Her psychiatrist is in Kingston. You can imagine the awkwardness of that in a family with no driver's license and a $50 taxi ride from the nearest bus or train station. Let's just say life has gotten expensive, but we have been blessed with great friends who help as much as they can.

This has kick-started us into a decision we've been putting off for years: to sell our house and move to a city that has better transportation and medical facilities.

We've known for a long time that we would have to move one day. At the very least, we need a more handicapped-friendly house for my husband. He's no longer able to manage stairs, and he's not able to tolerate extreme temperatures, so air conditioning is becoming a must-have for summer. He also needs to be closer to a good hospital. However, he's always resisted change of any kind, even little changes like switching the furniture around. Up to now he has refused to consider even the possibility of moving. The seriousness of Alex's condition has finally convinced him to make the effort. Having made up his mind to it, he's become enthusiastic and is looking forward to it now, so that's one huge obstacle out of the way. As a Queen's graduate, he knows and likes Kingston. Ottawa would have been an equally acceptable choice, but the price of housing there is far beyond our budget, so Kingston is where we will be house hunting once we get to that.

We decided on this way back in early May, and hoped to have the house on the market sometime in June, after doing a thorough house cleaning and a few repairs, aiming to be out by early fall. It's all taking a lot longer than expected.

So many little home repair jobs were postponed over the last couple of years while we lurched from one crisis to the next. Now they all had to be done at once. Summer being the the peak busy season for workmen, getting professional help for some of the jobs proved impossible. I still have two doors that need hanging, and a loose stair railing that needs securing. I seem to have spent the entire summer on a ladder, with a paint roller or a screw driver, a drill or a staple gun; or else on my hands and knees with a scrubbing brush, or hauling huge loads of garbage to the curb.

I must say, the house has never looked so nice. We've finally reached the stage where we enjoy it, between sweepings and moppings. The windows are clean, the floors are clean, we are clutter-free. My pictures are hung on the walls instead of being stuck behind the furniture.

The cats are not so pleased - they are locked out of the bedrooms for fear of getting the new bedspreads all haired up.

The downside for me is that all my art supplies were stuffed into a closet, and there's no corner of the house that I dare to mess up enough to get into anything interesting. I'm looking forward to getting settled again, but have no idea when that will be. We haven't had any offers on the house yet. Of course, fall wasn't the ideal best season for selling, but there was no way to get the work done any sooner. We're now expecting to be here all winter at least. At some point we'll probably slip back into normal living, which will mean another big clean-up effort next spring... I know, it's useless to try to look that far ahead.

I did try to keep up my daily sketching, and succeeded (at least sporadically) into July, but then lapsed for a couple of months. In December I started dabbling again. The watercolour above is an attempt to capture a snowy day. I think it looks more like rain.

It feels good to get this posted. When you've neglected a blog as long as I have, you wonder what you can possibly say to start off again. If anyone is reading, Happy New Year.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I've Been Tagged!

Imagine my surprise, while reading Casey Klahn's blog,"The Colorist", to find myself in the list of blogs being tagged. Why, I had no idea that Casey knew I read his blog daily. Apparently, there are ways of knowing who's reading you. One of these days I really have to sit down and find out how to do all these things. Anyway, I'm totally flattered and also have a huge case of stage-fright. What's everybody looking at me for?

Hmm, seven little-known things about me. There are a lot of things I hope are not known, but seven little things I wouldn't be embarrassed to have known...


1. Most of my gainful employment has been as a secretary. I started in my home town in a lawyer's office. After moving to Ottawa I worked for five years at RCMP Headquarters as the secretary to the Officer in Charge of Criminal History Files.
The main thing I took away from that experience was the determination never to name a child of mine Wayne or Wade, since that was what all the criminals were named.

2. Some years later, I had a few temporary and part-time jobs that sometimes overlapped. I worked for the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, and at the same time for the Ottawa Torah Institute, a Jewish yeshiva. They were both very nice work-places, but working two part-time jobs sucks. There's a lot of travel time involved, and you don't get paid for that. I finally got a permanent job with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order of Catholic priests and brothers. For a week I went around asking, "Did you hear the one about the priest, the minister, and the rabbi who needed a secretary?" The Anglicans and the Catholics laughed, but the rabbis only looked puzzled. I think they were waiting for the punch line. Unfortunately, I never did think of one.

3. I have a phantom child. My daughter Alex is an only child, but some people don't believe that. When she was little, she had one of those dolls that looks like a real baby, a girl doll named Jenny, but she wore a blue sleeper because we didn't believe in colour-stereotyping girl dolls. Alex took it everywhere, but she would get tired of carrying it and hand her over to me. I would walk around with this doll on my shoulder and go into automatic-mother-mode, absently patting it as if it needed to be burped. Apparently quite a few people thought it was a real baby. To this day, I run into old acquaintances from Ottawa who, after being updated on family news, ask, "And your son? How is he doing? He must be big now!" When I tell them I don't have a son, never did have one, no second child at all, they stare suspiciously at me. Clearly, they think I'm lying. Maybe they think I named him Wade and he ended up in prison.

4. I have one near-sighted eye and one far-sighted eye. I may have mentioned this before; it's one of the excuses I trot out regularly to explain blurry detail and bad perspective in my pictures. It's supposed to be quite a rare condition, but in my family of four siblings, three of us have it, and I've met a surprising number of other people who have it as well. Maybe the doctor who told us this was just trying to make us feel special.

5. I won a prize for shooting at targets with a pellet gun. That's the only kind of gun I've ever handled, and I was nagged into trying it by my husband, who likes guns of all kinds, but to my surprise I enjoyed it and did well in the gun club competitions. I was only in the beginner's category, but I got the top score. Seldom in my life have I been able to brag about anything requiring eye-hand coordination, so I'm making the most of it here. My sister, the one with the 20-20 vision, could hardly believe her ears when she heard. "You????!!!" she exclaimed. Yes, me!

6. In the past year or so, I've taught myself a small bit of Scottish Gaelic, and hope to learn more. It was the first language of both of my MacNeil grandparents, he a MacNeil from Christmas Island in Cape Breton and she another MacNeil from the Codroy Valley in Newfoundland. It wasn't passed down, except for a few snatches of song. A few years ago I was reading a novel by Jane Langdon in which a character remarks that most of us, if we met one of our own ancestors, would be so separated from them by barriers of language, education, culture and custom that we would have practically nothing to say to each other. In other words, we would be strangers, foreigners, to each other. For some reason that bothered me, and reignited an old desire to learn Gaelic. If I meet my ancestors in the hereafter, at least I'll be able to say Hello.

7. I don't have a driver's license. Well, this one really is embarrassing, and something I've avoided mentioning in blogland. Furthermore, I live in a rural village with no buses or taxis. Yes, it is a horrible inconvenience. No, I don't intend to get my license. I actually did learn to drive, and would be all right if the roads were kept clear for me, preferably with no other car within sight, but the Ministry of Transport is strangely unwilling to do that for me. Consequently, I'm a great walker.

Whew! That was hard. I don't think I could find another seven facts about myself to save my soul. As it was, I had to dip into the dodgy stuff for the last one. Now to put the arm on...I mean, graciously nominate - seven more bloggers to be tagged. I hope I'm not committing some terrible faux pas here. I have a long list of favourites that I visit frequently, quite apart from the daily reads s listed in my sidebar. Some of them are so illustrious that I would feel presumptuous tagging them, and others are just so popular that they must have been tagged many times before. However, here are seven that I enjoy hugely, and I would love to hear seven facts about them.

Some of these links aren't working right. I will try to correct them, but it's quite late at night and I really need to leave it for now. I think the names are right, though.

1. Doreyme. Edith Dora Rey, a vibrant and prolific professional artist who lives in Montreal. There's almost always something new here, and it's always fresh and original. I loved her tree series all winter. For some reason she gets very few comments. I don't understand why that's so. I myself have never commented there, because I'm intimidated by the lack of other people's comments. They must know something I don't.

2. Hashi at Hashiworks is always making something interesting. She has recently taken on the "One Mile from Home" challenge since Julie finished her 365 days and retired. I'd love to join her, but my life is too chaotic right now to commit to anything like that. I'd have to call it "ten feet from home".

3. African Tapestry. A recent discovery for me, but a very impressive blog, mind-blowing in fact, full of wonderful paintings and equally wonderful writing.

4. Carol Marine's Painting a Day. Very good quality paintings produced with great regularity.

5. Dawn Breeze Daily Paintings Beautiful and inspiring work.

6. Christopher Stott. Beautiful paintings in lovely, cool, Canadian light.

7. Dee Farnsworth at Check out her remarkable pictures of fires.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Crocus, Finally

As everyone knows, April has been unusually cold this year. The crocuses (croci?) in our yard got snowed on twice after first rearing their brave little heads, but here they are at last, none the worse for it. It was such a beautiful day that I was comfortable in short sleeves as I toured the yard for the first time this season. The recent wind storms did a lot of minor damage, leaving a litter of small broken branches all over the ground, but no large ones. My vegetable garden is almost dry enough to start working the soil. I tied up a new clothesline and hung the wash out to dry in the sun. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out the clothes in summer, and working in the garden. After being housebound all winter, being able to get outdoors is like a whole new life opening up.

Cranberry Glass

Another piece of family history, at the opposite end of the scale from the homely horn cup. This pretty little glass, about the right size for juice, was brought over from Ireland and treasured through what must have been very rough-living decades. Perhaps it was once part of a set. My husband remembers being allowed to drink milk out of it when he was a small boy visiting his grandmother, but since its gilt and paint trim is starting to wear off, we never use it now, except for the times when I take it out of the china cabinet and try to capture it in paint.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Horn Cup

This little charred cup made out of a cow's horn has been passed down through my husband's family, who were early settlers in what is now Stittsville, Ontario.

One day their log cabin burnt to the ground, and the horn cup was the only thing recovered from the ashes.

It probably was never very pretty on its best day. After its trip through the flames it was charred, scarred, and ugly, but for a hundred years it has spoken about endurance and survival.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My infatuation with Ukrainian Easter eggs did interfere with daily drawing, unless you count drawing on eggs, but I'm back at it now. Just some carnations...

a few objects from the cupboard...

and, of course, a cat.

Jelly in the Bowl

My daughter, home for Easter, found a forgotten package of orange Jello in the back of the cabinet. "Ooh, Jello! Let's make it right now."

It seemed like a lot of excitement over plain old Jello after I had gone to some trouble to stock all her favourite foods for the holiday, but, oh, well, it's certainly not hard to make. On goes the kettle and out comes the mixing bowl.

Confronted with that familiar chemical fragrance and in-your-face colour, I was suddenly catapulted back through time. Food fads come and go, but there's always Jello. An old skipping rhyme popped into my head, one of the first I ever learned.

Jelly in the bowl, jelly in the bowl,
A-wig-a-wag, a-wig-a-wag, Jelly in the bowl.

Sausage in the pan, sausage in the pan,
A-wig-a-wag, a-wig-a-wag, sausage in the pan.

This was accompanied by vigorous waggling of one's hind end, hopefully without missing a step, which is quite a feat if you are very small and just learning to skip. We children thought it was hilarious and a little naughty.My daughter had never heard that one. She thought it was funny, too. We spent some time recalling other skipping rhymes, coming up with a dozen or so off the tops of our heads.

My old granny, ninety-nine,
She can drink a barrel of wine.
She can drink a bowl of soup,
To make her belly go boop-boop-boop.

Passed orally from child to child down through how who-knows-how-many ages, they tend to be irreverent, ungrammatical, impolite, sexist, ageist, probably racist, certainly politically incorrect. Raw kid culture.

Do not leave this rope be empty.
If you do, you shall be out!

I hardly ever see groups of girls skipping in the street anymore. In my day (that's the Jurassic era, not the Antedeluvian) it was one of the certain signs of spring.

Of course, I was a baby boomer in a Catholic town. Almost every house teemed with children, and it was usually easy to get a gang together just by stepping outside with a long rope in your hand. Parents were also eager (not to say desperate) to keep the kids outdoors as much as possible, as the houses were pretty small for the size of the families. Skipping drew in a wide age group, from about five to about thirteen. Once you were in high school, you didn't skip anymore, even if you wished you could.

In this village where I live now, there are fewer young families, fewer children, and I suppose less willingness to let children entertain themselves for hours outdoors, especially on the street (although road hockey still flourishes). However, I still see skipping ropes for sale in the stores, and sometimes I see a rope turning on a school playground. So I'm hoping the rhymes are still alive and being passed on.

Cinderella dressed in yella
Went downtown to see her fella.
Guess how many kisseshe got?
One, two, three...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Did I Say Distracted?

I've always looked at Ukrainian Easter eggs with enchantment and awe. Such moving symbolism. Such beautiful colours and patterns. How do they draw those straight lines on eggs? How do they do that tiny cross-hatch thing? >

Last week I finally got to attend the annual workshop which has been offered by our local library for the past seven years. Turns out, it really is simple. It does take time, for sure. Nothing about this process is fast, but it's so absorbing that you hardly notice the time passing.

Obviously, experience and practice count for a lot in turning out a really high-quality piece. My lines are still wobbly and I often have to compensate for blobs of wax in the wrong place. Honestly, though, anybody can make these. You only need the kistka, the little tool for applying the wax, and of course the special dyes.


As soon as I got home from the library, I went online and ordered supplies from They were great to deal with. Everything is reasonably priced. My package arrived within six days and everything was in perfect order.

I got the basic beginner's kit, which consists of five dyes, a medium-size kistka, a piece of beeswax, and instructions. I chose the plastic kistka, which costs more, because that's what we were using at the workshop, and some people who had attended in previous years said they're much easier to use than the old wooden ones. I also ordered a packet of black dye, which wasn't included in the basic kit. I knew I wanted black after seeing the eggs the instructor had made. All the other colours just glow against it.

I once read in a magazine article that many Ukrainians regard making pysanky as a prayerful activity. They meditate and pray as they work with the ancient symbols of life and faith handed down to them by their ancestors. It certainly isn't necessary to take that approach in order to make beautiful eggs and enjoy them. For myself, I thought that trying to be too pious might rob me of some of the fun, so I didn't consciously set out to do that. However, I found that sitting by a lit candle, calming the mind enough to draw the simple shapes on the surface of an egg, and thinking in the most general way about the ideas expressed by the cross, the fish, the rose, the little dots that represent Mary's Tears, has been spiritually uplifting in a totally unexpected way. I'm definitely planning to make this an annual event.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Habit Almost Formed

It's a popular theory that it takes 28 days to form a new habit. Alas, in my case, it seems to take a lot longer than that. 88 days have passed since I started this drawing practice, and it has reached the point where I do draw something every day. It's become routine to pick up the pencil each morning, after coffee and blog-reading but before anything else.


Still, I don't think it's an actual habit yet. I feel that any little change in my routine, any distraction, could disrupt the practice, and I might not get back to it. Perhaps it needs another month.

I don't think my drawing has improved at all. Sometimes it's awkward, sometimes it flows, but there doesn't seem to be any way of predicting which it will be. My learning pattern tends toward sudden leaps after a long season on a plateau, so I hope to see a change soon.

I am discovering a little about the use of pencil, which is something my spotty art-education missed. I suppose my art college teachers assumed we had all done that in high school, but my school had no art program, and I lived in a town where you couldn't buy drawing pencils. Willow charcoal sticks were available, which I used and loved, but this made me very resistant to the harder pencils when I was asked to use them. I thought life was way too short for shading in teeny-tiny lines with an 8-H. Nobody told me you could expose a long length of lead and use it on its side. I always thought those pale leads were terribly fragile, but they are actually stronger than the big soft leads.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Study of Irises

This week's winter storm didn't live up to its billing for us. A few hours of freezing rain were followed by some gloopy wet snow, but nowhere near the amount predicted. It was warm enough yesterday to bring flowers home from the grocery store without their turning into purple popsicles.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


My plan to do more sketching is coming along pretty well.

I sketched in the local diner, learning that coats on hooks sit pretty still, people not so much.

I drew a guy in a wheelchair having coffee at Mac's Milk. (I knew he wouldn't mind being drawn because he's my husband.)

A guy in a baseball cap. No relation.

The cats were happy to pose. This is Vinnie, a very large, gentle, sweet, ten-year-old tabby. He likes to lie on his back to take the weight off his feet.

I even dabbled in a little colour. Of course, Jake took up a lot of room on the table, distracting attention from the fuji apple which was supposed to be the subject.

So I'm an almost-regular sketcher now, but obviously the blogging still needs work. I'll try to show up more often from now on.

Friday, January 05, 2007


This is a pencil sketch of Jake, our Himalayan, taking a snooze. The lower one is the undoctored photo. The upper one was "fixed" in photoshop to make it more visible. Maybe I need a more high-contrast medium.
After trying for weeks to come up with a plan for developing my drawing skills during the coming year, no particular subject appealed to me as a focus, so the plan, if you can call it that, is to pick up some kind of drawing tool and wiggle my fingers until black marks appear on the page, then publish the results on this blog.
The only rule is that I must draw from life, not photos. I see wonderful work by other artists done from photos, but I know that working from life is what I need at this time. If it limits me to cats, pears, and coffee cups, so be it. Sigh.

Yesterday was the the first day. Not only am I rusty, but I've also lost the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes. My brain does not want to observe. It whines that it wants to go watch the food network. I expect to be pretty creaky for a while, but hopefully the brain and I will limber up.