December 22, 2011

Lights illuminate nothing

December 19-21, 2011
Pregnancy hormones have kept me awake lately and work is very busy. I've gotten a bit anxious, and nightmares wake me most nights. In Tuesday's dream, MacGyver pursued me through Toronto back alleys, punching and hitting me from behind as I scrambled over chain-link fences. Funny - check. Woken with heart racing - also check.

I would love a few sunny days! This picture shows the nightscape of my way home. It would be awesome if I had some kind of glaze to bring out the wet sheen on the rocks and road. The Transitway at night is atmospheric and lonely – the buses plunging through darkness, lights illuminating nothing.

Bring on the snow, the bright white blanket! Happily, patches of snow forecasted for Christmas.

December 19, 2011

Ypres and Houlten, November 2011

Ypres countryside, Belgium

During my visits to World War I sites in the Ypres Salient in Belgium, my companion was a German woman. Her presence was a reminder to remember to look for the faces on the other side of the front. The enemy wore uniforms a person designed, occupied trenches in mortal flesh and blood, was remembered by worried relatives, lay in too many graves.

At Passchendaele Museum, an elderly Belgian volunteer, a serviceman of 40 years who had never seen combat, let us through the tiny rooms. The usual dioramas, munitions, gas cylinders, bunker replica -- brought into vivid relief by his attention. I loved his stories. I probably would have tramped through the day's balance of monuments and plaques with little interest if it weren't for him.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Some of the things I remember: Africans serving in the Great War were outfitted in the light and bright uniforms of their own climates. In that gear, they would have practically frozen. The French wore uniforms dyed in their flag colours -- but bright blue is rotten camouflage in the muck of trench warfare.

The first time people waged war with gas was in 1915 in Belgium. I'm told that Canadian troops took the worst of the gas attacks and didn't break under the charges.

At a certain point, armies replaced chlorine with mustard gas. Once it got on the skin, the only remedy was for surgeons to flay off the skin. Nurses who touched affected patients with their bare hands suffered the same bubbling burns on their hands. It stayed on clothes and skin a long time. After the war, everyone knew people with disfigurements.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

My companion and I drove next to Tyne Cot Cemetery. I learned there that all graves of Commonwealth soldiers are attended by its War Graves Commission, which dedication may explain why the stones and plots seem so new.

Many things struck me as I looked at the rows. The sensitivity of those who laid out the graves, Scots next to South Africans, the bemedalled by the common soldier. It left me feeling grateful that principles were behind some of it all, that at least in death, their lives, lost, were accorded the equal respect they should have had in life.

I appreciated the care taken by those (gardeners?) responsible for tending the graves. Each stone looks down upon short, soft grass and tiny bushes and succulents. The stones themselves are not at all the bulky granite you see in regular cemeteries. They have the look and heft of gravestones in old graveyards across Ontario. Light in color, slim. I could lift one, I think.

Each gravestone bears, if known, a national insignia (a symbol like the maple leaf or some sort of military crest), the name, dates of birth and death of the person interred. They often feature a phrase provided by the family. These lament sons, some in grief rage at their losses, many are proud, a few perplexed by a beloved child's enlistment.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

I'm riding very slowly by Parliament as I record my thoughts. It's December, so Centre Block wears a façade of storey-high snowflakes, limned by Christmas lights. The torch leans to the west in a warm wind. It's very beautiful.

The new building at Tyne Cot Cemetery is a squat, rectangular box. Inside, dead soldiers' names are spoken by a recording. When laying a poppy on war graves, it is customary to say the name of the dead aloud, so they are remembered. My solemn wish has always been that none of my children go to war.

In the Great War, nine million combatants died. The toll of deaths to civilians from infectious diseases and other things exacerbated by famine, displacement and food shortages, etc., is very high. The worst example is the 50 million lost to flu alone, in 1918.

It was the last war among Western nations where the main ammunition was the individual soldier. They were dispensable where munitions and matériel were expensive. The two sides in the conflict were fairly evenly matched, it seems, and for four years they waged a war of attrition. In the Ypres Salient, the front moved back and forth by mere kilometres.

Postcard, bought at a shop by Hill 62

Every minor elevation was a strategic advantage and for its extra visibility and what have you was granted a name: Hill 60, Hill 62, and so on.

There were, what, five battles in four years in Ypres, including the Battle of Passchendaele, just a few kilometers away. Canada had 16,000 casualties there. My husband was born in a town of 16,000.

After Tyne Cot Cemetery, we stopped briefly at Canada's Passchendaele memorial. It faces a lovely row of houses and an agreeable vista of farms. A few sheep stand in the Belgian mist atop the gentle slope. It seems timeless. Brownstone farmhouses, red roofs. Of course, it was all rebuilt less than 100 years ago by the survivors and their families. Can you imagine the first meal over the kitchen table?

The brooding soldier

Menin Gate, view of town of Ypres

Cemetery by Dr John McRae's dressing station

"Their name liveth for evermore" (next to Dr McCrae's station)

A New Coat for Anna is a children's story about a little girl whose (single now) mother trades her jewelry and family heirlooms for the wool and weaving of a winter coat for little Anna. The drawings by Anita Lobel are very gentle and full of color. They're also quite sober. The story takes place in the aftermath of World War II. In the background of the kitchen are broken windows; ceiling joists hang low in the parlour. Everyone is so thin.

I've made it to the age of 36, and I think I will never know what to think of war. Is violence never just?

Houlten War Cemetery

The spines of the military staff were very straight, and their faces sad as they saluted the cross at Houlten War Cemetery on Remembrance Day. In comparison to them, what I know of war is all imagination and stories.

As an adult, the First World War's senseless loss of young life haunts me. But it was World War II that loomed in my mind as a youth. I suffered from insomnia, and when I ran out of sci-fi/fantasy novels, I would take to mining my parents' bookshelves.

There was some pretty exciting stuff. The Hite Report, Fear of Flying. And a few volumes about the Holocaust, including Treblinka. Of course, I had read Anne Frank in school, too.

Houlten War Cemetery recently built a new visitors' center. There you can access files about each person in the cemetery. I looked up a name from the cemetery, a stone bearing my mother's maiden name. She says we're not related.

It was Remembrance Day and there was a wreath-laying ceremony, attended by about thirty people, including several aged veterans responsible for founding and running the centre.

Houlten was the last wartime cemetery and memorial that I visited during Veterans Week. The gravestones appeared to have been replaced earlier than the stones of WWI cemeteries in Belgium. They are darker and craggy with moss. The gardens are beautiful, and the vegetation reminded me of home. A stand of birch flanks the far wall.

Houlten War Cemetery

I ate lunch at a nearby museum called Memory. I munched on a sandwich with my back to a tank. In one display, next to some trinkets and letters, lay a wallet made of human skin.

The currency of war is flesh.

In Belgium, I visited the Passchendaele Museum, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Dr John McRae's dressing station (he of In Flanders Fields poetic reknown), the Brooding Soldier, Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, Menin Gate and Hill 62, where I bought this postcard at a nearby cafe. In the Netherlands, I visited Houlten War Cemetery and the Museum of Memory.

December 17, 2011

A top by any other name

December 7 and 17, 2011
Anybody know what this odd building along the Transitway near Woodroffe might be?

December 13, 2011

Although it's been said

December 12-13, 2011

I've been writing a longer post about my trip to Belgian and Dutch war sites. I am about halfway through now. Maybe life will smile on me tomorrow, and I will finish :)  Or instead I might wrap Christmas presents. The sentimentality of the season embodied in all the time devoted to thinking and caring for others really appeals to me. I love it every year, even when the list of loved ones overwhelms my budget. The communal meal-making has a place among my Christmas faves, too, but the annual chief pleasure has to be the houseclothes-clad gathering in the den of a morning, over mimosas, crackers and cheese. The stores are closed, the world is covered in white and quiet. There's just my dear family.

This year I have a pre-Christmas favourite: music! To prepare my two-year-old daughter for Christmas, I started singing carols to her at night sometime in October. Everything from Silent Night to Jingle Bells. Her favourite is "Little Toy Trains." The link is to the version by Nana Mouskouri that my parents played when I was a child. I loved to sing along with her.

We also loved Mahalia Jackson, and I think we had a Leona Boyd Christmas album, too. Of course Ella Fitzgerald's Swinging Christmas and Bing Crosby are terrific (and should I mention my husband's pick, Bony M's Christmas?) but my favourite is the Nat King Cole Trios' Christmas Song. It's probably wrong that someone with a voice like that also had so much talent on piano, too, but I lap it up like a cat.

It's taking me longer and longer to draw my bus pictures because they're more elaborate now. But I like the results, even if they never look like I spent two hours on them!

December 5, 2011

Transitway, at dark

December 5, 2011
Route #95, somewhere near Tunney's Pasture, before the heavy rain began.

December 1, 2011

City orchard

November 30 - December 1, 2011

This perspective-challenged picture comes from the orchard at Lincoln Fields. Does it still produce apples? I'm reading Jane Urquhart's Sanctuary Line, a contemplative novel about the last member of an orchard and lighthouse-keeping dynasty, a butterfly scientist. She says apple trees produce for 16 years. Seems so short.

November 30, 2011


November 29, 2011
Along the Transitway one fogged morning, a crane on Lebreton Flats appeared in the distance above or between buildings, maybe the new condo development. The crane seemed to tear into the clouds, leaving the only rent in the gloom across the sky.

I made all this up, then filled the rest of the page with a few dozen lines. Bumps and crowds have increased of late, though it might be a faulty perception caused by my need for extra space and seats these days. What you see here are a few genuine and frustrated-then-amused attempts at straight lines. My difficulty with this is that our buildings crave straight lines, which I can't supply. So, I cope. I think the thirties are all about coping. Older housing, younger children, mid-life career, the body tempering. Fog, mist, snow and rain are ideal subjects -- in-between weather for the middle of things.

November 23, 2011

Stillness, absolute zero

Finally winter! Cleansing, absence, quiet, beauty. Floating along, flush with the first snow, when --
Bam! Passed an overturned bus in a ditch.

What he wants is
stillness, absolute zero
when everything becomes
the same, perfectly still,

Patrick Lane, from Winter

November 22, 2011

Grey skies. Red skies.

November 22, 2011
November 21, 2011

These are maybe a bit bland? I am still getting used to these markers. Do you guys like them? Too marker-y? I need more colours. Grey skies are getting a bit dull. Happily, as you may observe from these images, I own three different greys.

November 18, 2011

No more cage for Ada

November 18, 2011

You guys getting sick of all these drawings of the Parkway yet? Why didn't I buy a light blue marker, hmm? And I lost a light green marker in Europe. Drat.

My little girl sleeps in a bed tonight for the first time. I feel proud and wistful. Good thing it's just the mattress on the floor (for now). We heard a thump and found her lying body on bed, head on floor!

November 17, 2011

Pedestrian bridge by Lincoln Fields

November 17, 2011

If you know this scene, you know this drawing is all wrong. I get a few seconds to put things down, and the rest is from memory. The real world is so detailed! I don't let it get to me. I wasn't meant to see clearly anyway, otherwise why would I need glasses? This drawing resembles the way my real eyes see the world.

November 16, 2011

Drawing what's in front of me

November 15-16, 2011

We drove by the Champlain Bridge, so I drew it. We cut through the market, so I took down a lamppost. We idled in front of Urban Outfitters, so I drew their mobile display and the woman across from me. The Transitway filled in the white space below her.

What I absorb through my hearing and reading often jumbles me up. So many things competing for attention, and more difficult, so many worthy -- and mutually exclusive -- opinions and experiences. By contrast, what I see adds up to something, or at least the pieces of my days seem coherent, when I draw them side by side. It's a relief and a way of calming my sense of the world.

No drawings from my trip last week, alas! Six planes, three trains, and two busses took more out of me than I had. However, I took photos and will clean any decent ones up to share with you this week.

November 3, 2011


November 3, 2011

Next week I will visit Ypres and Passchendaele in Belgium as part of a familiarisation tour of important First World War sites. On Remembrance Day I'll be in Houlten, one of three Canadian WWII cemeteries in the Netherlands. I won't be able to steal any moments alone for drawing, so I'll have to take very good memory pictures. I had also wanted Jeff to come with me so that we could have the evenings together -- our first ever overnight time without our daughter -- but it wasn't to be. Happily, his mum is coming to help him out while I'm off.

I read a tutorial about how to blend with the Copic markers (basically, saturate the page a bit). Here is a five-minute attempt on the Gatineau waterfront from this afternoon during the only decent drawing time I got. Looks like paint, eh?

November 1, 2011

Sketches of the Ottawa River Parkway and Transitway

Still trying to get a feel for these new Copic markers. Turns out they sell blending markers to help blend colours. At this point, I'm just wondering if their strong smell should be a warning to me while pregnant.

October 31, 2011

Cap city, cap cap city!

If you like your Ottawa truth delivered in rhyme:

"Take a deep breath cuz it's so fresh outside"
"The grass don't get much greener than this"
"So take a second now and think about where you'd rather live?"

October 29, 2011

I'll have to read the tutorials before I reach a verdict, but.

October 28, 2011
115$ bucks later, these Copic markers disappoint. I was so sure that I'd like them, that I spent some overtime dollars buying a dozen of them. They're like high-end Sharpies, no fine line or colour gradation. Lots of bleed and bright colours, but I didn't need to spend 8$ a marker to get that. Anyway, the rule is, if I buy it, I use it. So I'll have to figure out a style of drawing to match the Copic' strengths. One of those is refillability... but I won't be taking advantage of that.

October 27, 2011

October 24, 2011

Maybe, maybe, maybe

Canon says the new scanner should reach us by Wednesday or so. I hope the stars align, and that this time it works out of the box. I never imagined a broken scanner would wipe out 5 weeks of blogging. Sad face. I've been drawing, but since they tightened up the rules at my workplace's resource centre there has been no way to get them to you.

I now own two broken all-in-one printer/scanner/copiers, which suits my budding hardware-engineer-of-a-husband just fine. He's hoping to follow up on his victory over a broken monitor earlier this week. I console my alienation from the blog world by making Hallowe'en decorations.

It has been the most spectacular fall. I hope we have a clear, cold night next Monday. My daughter will dress up as a robot, which is most fitting (she chose it) for a girl named after the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter. On Saturday I took her to her first skating lesson, then to play on the snow piles behind the rink. (No, Ada, don't touch that. Why? It's poo. But why? Because of the colour. But why? I just told you, the colour. But how do you know? ... ...) Back home we treated ourselves to hot chocolate with cream whipped by her dad. Her first hot chocolate. Can you remember that moment? The cold and the heat, their delicious combination.

All the best to you and your loved ones during these pre-snow days, as the temperature plunges and our blood slows for the long winter.

October 4, 2011


The scanner arrived today! They shipped it Sunday and it arrived all the way from British Columbia today! This means I can blog tonight, assuming the new machine works or, wait, no. I have swimming class. Darnit. Tomorrow, this means I can blog tomorrow!

October 2, 2011

Scanners and storks

I am going to sort this scanner crap out today. Fracking scanners. I have lots of drawings. Time to display!

I'm going to get a Canon MX870. Finally got this figured out. Should take one week to arrive or so. That's put me in shape for a solid October.

Also, I'm making a baby. The stork should show up next April.

September 17, 2011

Scanner scores Pyrrhic victory

Where is the rest of my body?
And what is this, a tractor beam?
Ack! Aliens! Saaavee meeee...
Isn't this lame? My scanner broke for real this time. It scans like half of the screen, and burns long rectangles across the page. Total fail. It was thrown in free with a computer purchase 7 years ago and finally gave up the ghost. Why can't things last forever, grumble grumble.

So while I've been beaten back for the moment, and am waving the olde white flag, I'll return to the fray. After doing lots of research on models and finally giving NCIX some of my money. Your scanner recommendations welcome!

September 7, 2011

Scan Wars: Weapons out

Here are the first drawings from my brand new drawing book. (If someone had told me at the beginning of this adventure that I'd be on my third book 8 months later, I'd have laughed in her face.) Scanning was rough. My finicky machine doesn't like soft watery colours. Well, too bad! The Curves tool in Photoshop is my weapon in the Scan Wars! Take that, foul scanner, and that! Clack, clang ... CRASH! Lia, for the win ;)

September 6, 2011

September 2, 2011

September 1, 2011

Soft lines and blurry maggots

September 1, 2011

I'm not very focussed on drawing this week (work is really exciting) but the one thing really driving my doodling is softness. The gentle colour and tone of watercolour-style brush markers is so soothing. I don't want any hard edges right now.

I finished Tiny Drawing Book today. It seemed like this day would never come! Tomorrow to start a Moleskine lookalike I bought in the Munich airport: Conceptum by the German company Sigel.

August 30, 2011
In unrelated and kind of pervy news, I came upon a shocking fact while researching fruit fly reproduction today. Why was I performing this research, you ask?

Upon returning from our vacation we discovered our compost bin completely shrink-wrapped and tucked back by the garden shed. Our neighbours informed us that thousands of maggots crawled out the bin and swarmed the entire shared driveway during our absence. Coming home from work at 2 a.m., my neighbour had to cross a carpet of wet, beige larvae. Apparently the smell was somewhere between rotting squirrels remains and eau de sewage treatment plant. (We put cat litter in our bin.)

Hundreds of sheepish apologies later, Jeff and I have been debating whether the small maggots squirming among the larger ones are:

(a) baby regular fly maggots [Dear husband's position], or
(b) fruit fly maggots. [My position]

Today while plumbing for evidence to support my argument, I learned that wheensy little fruit flies have some of the largest sperm in the world. It's many times larger than yours, male human reader, at 1.8 or 5 cm (depending on the news source), and up to twenty times the little critter's own size! (Um, then, where does it come from, Internet? Does he spin it out of ether?) When so inclined, the amorous male fly deposits his sperm in a little coil upon his lover. Apparently it drugs her into submission. Charming!

August 30, 2011

Look at me! Over here! I'm the one with the pen-cil, yoo hoo!

August 29, 2011

August 26, 2011

(I shouldn't have put those hearts there. They look dumb. I just got lazy and didn't want to reproduce my drawing in miniature.) Why didn't any of these people ask me what I was doing? You can't draw pictures like this without taking advantage of people's good manners! I should prob'ly get a refresher on operating in stealth mode.

August 24, 2011

For Limpy

August 24, 2011

This blog entry is about my cat, Bear. If you don't like cats, there's a little button at the top that says "next blog." But please come back tomorrow!

The vet tripped over herself with joy on our voicemail today -- she managed to discuss his case with the internist and the medicated food rep, and now she has excellent news she can't wait to share with us!

Internet, if only you knew what Bear has been through.

The Life and Times of Awesome Bear, a.k.a. Limpy

Bear was born in a barn that, eleven years ago, housed dozens of cats, many rescued from the road where owners left them. Bear developed an eye infection at an early age and suffered minor corneal scarring. This same infection afflicted most of the other cats born in the barn, and it cost most of them the use of part or all their sight in the affected eye. For the same reason, the barn owner and my parents' beloved neighbour George, eventually decided to spay and neuter everyone in the barn. In 2 decades, no treatment had ever stopped the mysterious disease, and so the last resort became the only one.

But in those days, George thought that maybe if he raised Bear and his half-brother Socks (who was also sick) in his own house, they might escape the worst of the disease. The gamble paid off in their cases. The downside was that George's daughter was terribly allergic to cats, and so the only home he could make for them was in his unfinished, dark basement.

And there they lived for five years until I came along.

Bear is a lovable cat. He's called Bear because he sits up on his hind legs. He lies down for anyone, and chooses caresses over food. He forgives my brutal 2-year-old anything. He has also limped, almost from birth, and suffered from arthritis in both hindquarters.

Out of curiosity, my previous vet examined Bear closely, and discovered via x-ray that both of his back hips are essentially snapped in two at their growth plates. It's a rare condition having to do with the age he was neutered, among other things. (Lesson: don't neuter too early, or your animal might not develop properly.)  Instead of rotating in their sockets, the balls of his thigh bones have fused to their sockets, and his hip "joints" occur at the breaks in the bones.

Yes, it is painful. He walks on broken legs. It's an amazing testimony to the ability of the body to adapt.

We treated the arthritis for years with a powerful drug. Eventually, it caused kidney failure, and Bear almost died. After his week in hospital, we fed him medicated foods he hated, and subjected him to thrice weekly top-ups of fluid subcutaneously (under the skin). He got thin, and we were never able, despite repeated lessons and recourse to the Internet, to do it well. Much cat and human crying was involved. A year passed, and finding good spots among the scar tissue to give him his fluids became next to impossible. We gave up for almost two months.

Then he started vomiting again. Actually, our current vet said, he looks better than last time I saw him. He's gained some weight. So let's do another blood panel, I said, so she wouldn't have to ask me if she could do one (they cost a few hundred bucks). And then I gathered up my courage and asked her for another lesson in giving fluids. Her and the vet tech stayed late at the hospital showing me yet another goddamned time the good places for the needle, the good ways to hold him, and so on.

I have talked across my cat's slim gray back to this woman, whom I adore, so many times since last spring. Every time, her message is, we're doing a great job. But this isn't going away. Kidney disease is usually for life. To make his life as long as possible, let's try this. Or this.

But now she says she has excellent news. She can barely keep herself from spilling it on the machine. What are you going to tell Bear, Doctor?

***Thursday Update***

I spoke with Bear's vet today and received overwhelming news. He is completely, unexpectedly well. No more medicines. No more pokes with needles. His kidney disease is gone. Presumably, his life expectancy is back to normal. He's free.

I'm just ... Wow.

Dr Wara, thank you.

August 23, 2011

Yellow ochre people

This mediocre drawing is me limping back to bus blogging still feeling really sleepy after my holiday. Also, I'm so annoyed by how popular it is to say Ottawa is "mediocre" that I'm just going to claim it. (Somebody published a big article about it this week. I'm not going to link it.)

I think Ottawa rocks. What kind of city would this be anyway if it was just trying to be Toronto and Montreal? No, we're not the cultural or architectural hub for thousands of miles around like Winnipeg or whatever. We gotta be our OWN town. This is a superlative place to live, work, play, raise family, and connect with nature. How come those criteria aren't in the "world-class city" context?

So fine. Yeah! My art is mediocre! I guess this blog belongs here, like me.  

August 22, 2011

What's this! Photographs?

Since I publish under my own name, I don't feel right announcing when I'm going on vacation and leaving the house empty. (Well, not empty. Bear and Socks were here! Ottawa's faithful pet-sit service, Loving Paws, took great care of them. Plug! Plug!) Anyway, if you were wondering what happened to Bus Blog last week, it disguised itself as a middle-aged mom and vanished to the Eastern Townships. It wasn't a perfect trip -- my little family needs more traveling practice (don't we all?). Nor did I make a single drawing. I took these few snaps while Ada threw stones into the river on a pit stop during a hike in Parc Sutton.

August 11, 2011

Today is Thursday

August 10, 2011

Just one quick and jittery drawing today as I didn't get seats too often this week so have little to show. But I wanted to post again once more this week since I rarely post on Fridays.

Anything working for the good of the mentally ill is roses to me. On Sunday evening, theottawagirl's brilliant photos, along with the art and music of a bunch of local talent will be on show at Mercury Lounge to support the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. The artists and performers are largely (all?) drawn from Basement Artists. Starts at 7:30 pm, 10$.

August 9, 2011

Bumpy foots

August 9, 2011

I yearn for more time for "finishing" pictures, even redoing them nicely. Alas!

August 9, 2011

Sitting in the articulated section always produces fun, wobbly results!