Wednesday, December 12, 2018

No Mail Guarantee this Christmas

Canada Post says it can't guarantee your mail will get delivered in time for Christmas this year. We had a postal strike, after all.  Mail had piled sky high at major distributing sites even before people started ordering gifts online or adding to the pile by mailing early cards and long distance parcels.

I seem to have been caught in this mess too as I ordered something from Amazon back in November. It got shipped out on November 27, and I was given a tracking number. I have been able to watch this parcel since it left Amazon.

Even though it said there was a delay in delivery due to weather or natural disaster it got to Ottawa quickly enough. I went to the post office the day after it arrived there, expecting to pick it up. It wasn't there. It didn't come the next day either so I used the tracking number and discovered an amazing thing. My parcel had gone to Winnipeg!

Why would my parcel go to Winnipeg when it got so close to me so quickly?  It had to be a mistake, I thought, and it somehow got into the wrong pile. Then it came back to Ottawa. Each day the message continued to say that there was a delay due to weather or natural disaster, but we all know this was a man made disaster created at the post office due to failed negotiations or poor timing by the government as to when to order the postal workers back to work. True, the postal workers have every right to strike. If the government wanted to mess with that, and put them back to work, they should have done it before the piles became so unmanageable that the postal workers not only didn't get what they were after but also had to work so much overtime to try and clear out the mountains that have accumulated at the busiest time of the year.

The next time I looked, my parcel was in Montreal!  What???  How could that happen?  Why was my parcel getting to Ottawa, and then moving on again?  Could it be the mountains there were already so high the workers just waved at the trucks and said, "No way are you unloading here! We don't have room for any more!"  I don't know but what other reason could there be?

Meanwhile two of my friends ordered something from Amazon and their orders arrived in less than a week. I'm wondering if they have an Amazon Prime membership. It's Christmas and you can have that for free for 30 days, so why didn't I think of that?  It would likely have meant my parcel would have been sent by priority post. Why else would theirs get here before mine?

I just checked again on Tuesday and it's finally gotten closer to me. It actually traveled in the right direction this time! It seems it got stuck again though as it spent 4 days just 12 miles away before
finally showing up here today.  Oh, and look, they did stick a priority post label on it.  Can you imagine how long it would have taken if they had not done that? 

What ever happened to  "Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"?  Oh ya, I forgot, that's the American creed not ours. Ours is simply, “From anywhere … to anyone.”  It doesn't promise a quick delivery, or even a direct route.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Unbidden Memories

For the past couple of weeks there has been a song stuck in my head. It's in a commercial that plays very frequently during a show I watch on  I've heard it so often all I remember is the song and not actually what they are selling.  I'd just as soon forget the song too, as it brings back a memory I think I could live without.

When I was a little girl living in Nova Scotia, we used to come to Ottawa to visit my grandmother and my aunt. I didn't know anyone else in that area, but one summer there was another little girl about my age who was living next door, and someone introduced me to her. I suddenly had a new friend in the city. One day she came up with the idea that we should set up a lemonade stand on the corner. Her mother agreed to make the lemonade for us, and we lugged out a small table and some chairs and made a sign and set ourselves up on the corner of Gilmour and Kent. By then a big jug of lemonade and some glasses were delivered to us and we were in business. A few people stopped by and remarked that it was a perfect day for such a business. They wished us well and sampled our wares. Then my dad came along and told me he was going to a movie and asked if I wanted to come. I really did, because I loved spending time with my dad, and I liked movies but I felt obligated to stay with my new friend. She could see I wanted to go, and told me it was alright, just go and she'd see me later. So I went.

I don't think I enjoyed that movie much. I felt guilty the whole time. I felt even worse when my new friend tried to split the earnings with me when I got back. I couldn't accept, but even her mom wanted her to do that because I was there in the beginning.

I think now that this is the only bad experience I ever had with my dad, and likely the only mistake he ever made while raising me. He shouldn't have put temptation before me like that, or he should have scolded me for accepting it. Meanwhile my friend's mom was teaching her to have a kind and generous spirit. We went home shortly after that and she wasn't there the following summer. I still feel guilty to this day for walking away from a friend.

The song is Que Sera Sera, but when I look up the movie it came from that doesn't seem like the one we saw. It doesn't really matter since it is the one that triggered the memory.  What will be, will be.

Monday, November 26, 2018

You Never Know What Life Brings

A long time ago I learned that every decision you make will affect the rest of your life. Some decisions are difficult, some are easy. Some bring you trouble, some bring you success, and apparently some bring you family you never knew you had.

I don't know what made me decide within the past couple of years to try to draw. My high-school art teacher told me I had no talent for it, so I stopped even trying more than 55 years ago.  A funny thing happens as you age. You no longer care how good you are at something, or what others think of your efforts to do things you enjoy. For instance, I sing when I'm among other seniors. I doubt that I can carry a tune, but seniors don't make fun of each other the way kids do. I'll get up in front of them and talk too. I don't know if I make any sense when I do that as I don't write out a speech first, but for some reason it doesn't make me nervous anymore. And so, now I also draw and post the results on social media for all to see. I did that all through the month of October for Inktober. The rules said to draw something every day in ink and post it online no matter how it turned out.  I got lots of support, in most cases, and it gave me confidence to continue.

This is where the decision to take part had an effect. Someone I didn't even know liked my drawings enough to reach out and ask me if I would draw their dog. I basically said it would depend on the photograph. After a week or so she sent me a few photos to choose from. Most of them had the dog in the distance, and I could have gotten off easily doing one of them, but I wanted her to be able to recognize her pooch. So, I chose a picture that was more of a close up, but it was really hard for me to see certain key parts of it, like the eyes, and the ears. I ran it through my photo editor a few times until I thought I had some idea of how to attack it. Then I told her I'd give it a try.

She had offered to pay me, so this would have been my first commissioned work. But I didn't know how to charge for that. I have sold photographs and paintings in the past, but I figured a commission is likely worth more, since you are trying to make someone else happy, instead of them just finding something you have already done that they would like to take home. I sent out feelers to people who have done commissions and got a lot of advise.  A common theme seemed to be that I should charge by the hour a fee of  at least minimum wage, for however long it would take me to draw the subject and then add on the cost of my supplies. They also insisted that I should get half before I even began. Well, I had no idea how long it would take, and so I didn't know how much half would be either. Worse than that, since I'm new at this, I wasn't even sure I could produce a dog that would be recognizable to the owner.

Coming up with a price and taking anything up front was causing me to stall. I wasn't comfortable with that at all. I asked questions while I was thinking about it. I asked what kind of dog it was as it looked like it might be a poodle cross of some kind. It had the curly hair, but didn't have as pointy a snout as I'd expect a poodle to have. It turned out to be a purebred Parti Poodle. I'd never heard of those before, but it at least gave me something to look up online if I needed to clarify the shape of things. I asked how big she wanted the drawing and she left that up to me, as long as it was at least 5 x 7. I asked which of my Inktober drawings had caught her eye enough to contact me for this job. There were, after all, various styles done with all different kinds of pens. She just said she like my drawings. I decided ballpoint pen would be the best choice, for this particular dog. I told her I had to get some better paper as I didn't want to just do it in my sketchbook. That was really just another stall tactic.  I went off to look for some hot press watercolour paper and had decided I would draw the dog as an 8 x 10 since I knew how to price a photo at that size, so I at least had a base number to work from.  I found a pack of mixed media boards that said they were good for crisp smooth lines. I'd never worked on such a surface before, and they were 9 x 12 but I bought them anyway.  She seemed happy with my size choice.

That's when I made a whole new decision. I had been enjoying the whole process of drawing everyday until someone mentioned a possible payment. As we had not discussed that further and I really didn't want to bring it up again, I decided I would just do the job for the fun and experience and accept whatever I was offered upon delivery. I could have just mailed it, but I wanted to see her face when she saw the drawing as I hoped to be able to tell if she was happy with it or not. We arranged to meet.

When she arrived she was not alone. She had a sister with her.  As I mentioned previously, I had never met this lady before.  I did know that we were related in some way though but I didn't know she had a sister. Automatically, I got another relative!  It seems that while they also knew we were related, they didn't know exactly how. Once I verified who their father was I was able to explain that my uncle was their grandfather, and while we had all met this man at some point in our childhood, none of us ever knew him well. We had a lovely visit, and I do hope to see more of them in the future.

I believe the drawing was somewhat recognizable, and accepted by the new owner. My decisions all worked out in the end. I was rewarded with a bag of expensive goodies, I earned valuable experience, and scored a couple of new cousins.  Not bad for having a bit of fun and learning a lot in the process and all because I made the decision to start drawing again after so many years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Gift From the Squirrels

Last spring while I was planting my garden I discovered a good looking little plant growing in the grass near the garage. I had no idea what it was but decided to keep my eye on it for a while. When I was watering one of my flower pots a week or so later, I saw another of these interesting plants  It didn't belong in my flower pot, so I dug it out. That's when I discovered a peanut at it's base, so I decided to move it to the edge of the vegetable garden.  One of my neighbours must have been feeding the squirrels peanuts, and the squirrels had apparently planted a couple of peanuts for me. I immediately moved the one from the grass into the garden with the other one.  One of these plants ended up under the canopy of leaves created by the zucchini and tomatoes, but it survived, even if it didn't grow as well as it's neighbour.

It was a long hot, dry summer, but I watered the plants everyday when I watered the rest of the garden, though apparently peanuts don't require a lot of water compared to other nuts.

Peanut plants produce small yellow flowers close to the ground. The flowers send spikes into the ground and the peanuts grow on those. I don't know of anything else that grows in this manner, but if you do, I'd be happy to hear about it.

I looked up when to harvest the peanuts, and it said to wait until the leaves on the plants turned yellow. Well, we had snow before that happened so once that melted away I decided to dig up the plants and see if there were actually any new peanuts in the ground.

Each plant had several new peanuts, though definitely not the 40 my research says they might produce. I shook the dirt off the roots and put the plants in the basement to dry.  After a couple of weeks I removed the peanuts from the roots and put them in a single layer to dry some more. 

I may eat them raw or roast them. I might even replant them next spring. I am thankful to the squirrels for supplying me with these little treats.  I never would have learned so much about peanuts without their help.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


In 2009 a guy named Jake Parker created a challenge for himself to draw something in ink everyday for the entire month of October. He called it Inktober and hoped that it would improve his drawing skills and instill a more positive habit of drawing on a regular basis.  Inktober has since spread throughout the world with thousands of people of all skill levels taking part.  This year I was one of them.  I even enrolled in Jake's course through Sktchy to learn how to handle the pens better.

I've just finished taking part in my first Inktober. It's been quite the experience.  Until recently you would have heard me say, "I can't draw."  Now, though I know I still have a lot to learn, I have gained the confidence to go ahead and at least attempt to draw just about anything.  For the month of October, I pledged to draw something in ink every day, and to post it online, good or bad. Believe me when I tell you there were some really bad ones. I used all sorts of different pens and drew in all kinds of different styles, and not only gained confidence along the way, I also gained a good many Instagram followers from the art community and learned some valuable lessons.

I learned that certain pens don't work well for certain subjects. Though I seem to have accumulated a good number of different types of pens over the past year or two, I have discovered that the plain old ballpoint pen is my best friend. I am totally amazed at what I can accomplish with that one simple tool.

 I also learned that though this was supposed to be an exercise in drawing with ink, I frequently reverted to colour rather than the laborious job of shading with pen. Also, I felt that in many cases, the picture would only satisfy me if it was in colour. People used to ask me what I liked to photograph, and though I know they really wanted to know if I liked landscapes, people or extreme closeups, etc, my standard answer was "colour"  It was always the beautiful colours that caused me to point the camera in any particular direction. Well, apparently the same goes for my art. I just need to add colour or in many cases I just don't find the drawing interesting, or finished. In fact, I find colour helps hide things that I might otherwise consider to be flaws.  I learned that trick while urban sketching last year.

I discovered that I can draw a somewhat recognizable portrait better than just about anything. How that happens is beyond me, but it works well in both pencil and ballpoint pen.

I don't do too badly with food either, though that requires colour and comes off more as an illustration.

A lady I have never met liked something I did so much she actually asked me if I'd draw her dog. I told her that I will attempt that if she comes up with a decent photo I can work from. (This one belongs to my neighbour). I would never have even considered such a thing a year ago!  Friends are commenting on how far I've come in such a short period of time. I can't wait to see where it all leads me.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Even a Bad Reaction Can Be Good

I'm taking part in Inktober this year. I couldn't have done that in the past as I never could draw, but I've come a long way in the past year and I figured that Inktober would be great experience. For those of you who don't know, Inktober requires you to draw something in ink every day for the month of October, and post it online. Well, therein lies the reason for this post.

A long time ago I explained to someone who commented on something I had written that it really didn't bother me that he didn't agree with what I was saying. All that mattered was that he took the time to have read it, and then let me know by voicing his opinion.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I feel, and I accept that it might not necessarily agree with my own.  If what I write elicits a response of any kind, I'm thrilled. It proves I've done my job well.

For day six of Inktober the word prompt was "drooling".  My initial idea was to draw a drooling dog. Some sort of hound was what I had in mind, but most of the pictures I found were of other dogs that I thought might be more difficult. They either had more wrinkles or more hair to deal with. Then I got the bright idea of  drawing some guy drooling over a pretty woman. I set out to find such pictures and had no problem coming up with one I really thought I could handle. It was a man in a suit and it was done in cartoon style. So I set out to basically copy that. I managed to make him heavier though and when I got to the tie part, I had this notion that he needed a different head. I flipped though a bunch of pictures and found one with the head in the right position and proceeded to draw that onto the shoulders of the guy I'd already started. Well, he was supposed to be drooling over a pretty girl so then I went in search of one of those. The first one I drew was more in line with what I had in mind. She was a blonde, curvy bombshell.  But I had not placed things on the page properly so I started over and ended up with a different girl. Oh well. It was getting late and I decided to add watercolour to this drawing rather than trying to shade it all in with ink.

Once I was finished I posted it first on Instagram with the appropriate hashtags, like I was supposed to. I shared it to both Facebook and Twitter.  I also shared it on a separate Facebook page. Later I saw someone requesting people to post their latest watercolour works on another group page and I dropped it in there. While there was no problem anywhere else, a major controversy broke out on that new page.  Many people on all three pages saw the humour in the post and poked the Laugh button. But on the new site, there were a few who were either angry or just plain upset when they spotted this drawing. I sat back and watched as they all argued among themselves.  I didn't feel the need to defend myself from what they were reading into the image. I didn't think of it as a political statement. Some of them definitely did. It's a scientific fact that it's normal for a man to drool over a pretty woman. The assignment was drooling. That's all I was thinking.  But the controversy went on all that day and into the next.  Actually, out of the 108 responses (so far) on that particular page, less than 10% had any kind of problem with it, but even that number surprised me.

Guess what, people.  Just like with my writing, I'm not bothered by this. It tells me these people not only didn't scroll past my drawing but that it actually created a response in them. People were either loving it, or telling me off. That's cool. I got a reaction either way.   Isn't that what art is for? My poor little drawing was an amazing success.  I made people feel something and respond to it. I have never referred to myself as an artist in the past, but I'm certainly feeling like one now.

Here's the sketch in question.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

We All Need to go Buggy!

The weather had finally started to cool down. Normally that causes my entryway to fill up with hundreds of Japanese beetles. I've only seen two or three anywhere so far so I couldn't help wondering where they went.

Have you noticed a decline in the number of certain insects this year too?  Of course we had fewer mosquitoes due to the dry summer causing fewer places for them to breed but I've also noticed a lack of other bugs that I'm used to seeing in large numbers around here.

There were virtually no earwigs in my garden, or in the apples I cut up this year. I don't spray my apple tree and it's never been unusual to cut an apple in half and discover an inhabitant. This year I saw very few earwigs anywhere. Also during apple season I usually have to create numerous fruit fly traps in my kitchen as the little devils are everywhere. Not this year. I only had a few and they were  no problem at all.  The other day two of my friends mentioned seeing swarms of flying ants. We have had a colony near our side door for many years now. They usually emerge from the crack between two slabs of my sidewalk. This year, just like the Japanese beetles, there is no sign of them. Where have all these bugs gone?

I was chalking all this up to this year's hot, dry weather but an article on CTV news let me know this is not  just a local phenomenon. A lot of non-pest type insects seem to be in the decline throughout the world. Unfortunately mosquitoes, ticks, aphids and cockroaches all seem to be doing fine.

Scientists are starting to worry about the decline in the inset population. They are pretty sure that across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80% of what we eat. Without insects we will have a total ecosystem collapse. We have heard a lot about the decline of the bee populations in recent years but it is becoming evident that the problem goes much further than that.  The use of pesticides, the spread of mono-culture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization and the destruction of the natural habitats as the human population grows are all factors. Hopefully we all start to see the insects as necessary to our own survival and find a way to take action  to reverse the  situation before it becomes too late. As happy as we are not to have them pestering us, we have to come to realize they are necessary for our very survival. There is an old saying about men that we will now have to apply to insects as well. You can't live with them but you can't live without them. Think about that.