Cancer. We’ll talk about it once and never mention it again.

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It’s amazing how long one can stare at the screen. The words and stoicism for this post didn’t come till now and the terror still hasn’t stopped, and, mainly, coming to the decision to publish this at all, AT ALL, has been a long and tortuous route.

Today I read a post from a lovely girl whose blog I enjoy, who had a nasty experience with a customer accusing her of making silly crafts with her children and buying over-priced Christmas trees instead of tending to her shop. Behind the scenes, behind the two lovely post of crafting with her children and buying their Christmas tree, this mother of four young boys, (one of them a newborn), dealt with sick babies, volunteer hours at her son’s school, answering emails, running a business, preparing for her eldest’s birthday party, nursing round the clock, staying up till 2am fulfilling orders, and a million other things not reflected in those two blog posts, and I thought, yeah, that’s it right there, mostly what I show here is the lovely side of my life, and I do that purposefully, because it is also MY refuge from the occasional trauma of my day to day. But there are some things that take us out of our lovely, bucolic romanticism and plonk us squarely on the cold, cement floor of life…on our face…naked and exposed.

One such thing happened mid September.

Remember way back when I checked myself into surgical daycare to have a tumour in a saliva gland removed? Remember how these things are 99.9% benign? Well, this one turned out to be the .1% malignant! And thereby ensued months of terror, reflection, a new relationship with my malfunctioning body, with therapy, with specialists, with the conveyor belt which is the BC Cancer Agency, with my family, with the people I trust.

As soon as I received the diagnosis, I told my children and Robert and my mother. My children understandably panicked with fear for my life, but Robert and my mother stayed level headed. My mother then said something to me. She said, “we have to take it as it comes.”

Later that week, C and I were at the grocery store, and a lovely blond woman said hello to C. They exchanged a few sentences and then she turned to me and said, “Oh, are you out and about? How are you feeling?” with an incredibly concerned voice. I must say that my first initial reaction was to grab C’s hand and back away slowly from this “mad” woman, but then it dawned on me that she was a relative of my son-in-law’s and by virtue of my telling Kers, his family knew. And then I knew I didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted to control the dissemination of this info. I didn’t want the sympathy, the platitudes, the awkward gestures from people who just didn’t know what to say…how to cope, and mainly, I didn’t want to be seen as different, as “not me”. Does that make sense? I does in my own mind.

But now that I’ve coped, now that I’ve come thru this and out the other end of the conveyor belt, I can talk about this. So I invite you to use my vast bank of experience and knowledge if you need to. Ask me anything. We’ll talk about this once, right here, and then we’ll forget all about it and get back to our lovely lives, but you’re welcome to ask me again, whenever and if ever you need to.

The word “cancer” is a horrible word. I have trouble saying it. Robert suggested that I call it wonky cells…because, after all, that’s all they are, just a bunch of wonky cells…and that’s what we’ll call it. It’s not a battle, it’s not a dragon to be slayed, it’s just a bunch of wonky cells who have no thought, no emotion, no purpose except to replicate. As a matter of fact, they don’t want to kill this organism which is my body, because then they would also die. They just need to be delicately and forcefully removed and persuaded never to come back.

This type of wonky cellness is called Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, and it’s exceedingly rare. It makes up 1% of the rarest 5% of all wonky cellnosity. Now don’t go looking it up on Wiki, you’ll only upset yourself. The main thing to remember is that it is highly responsive to radiation therapy, it hides and travels thru nerves, and this tumour had only a 30% breach of its lining, so probably not a lot of cells managed to travel thru the nerves and to my brain.

The several tests, CT scans, MRIs, didn’t show any metastasis or any other clusters in lymph nodes or other glands, so a course of largely preventative radiation therapy was undertaken with daily one minute doses for 37 treatments.

As usual, I found my solace in art. Robert, again being my saviour, strongly suggested I keep one of my art journals throughout the treatment, and at the very last minute, I ran down to my friend Dalyce’s second hand book store, and bought a book. The book I chose I chose for the name, “sense and nonsense”. I liked the small pocket size, I liked the calm blue cover, I liked holding a random book (which I knew nothing about), I liked how it felt, I liked the randomness of it all, the having to take it as it comes. I counted the pages and worked out that gluing every four pages together would give me enough pages to complete my course of treatment plus a couple pages to spare. The book was written by Eric Patrick Nicol; a Canadian writer of some 40 books (none of which I read or knew anything about). I’m ever so grateful to Mr Nicol for his work and for this book. I do believe it saved my sanity, and my knowledge and sharing of it may possibly go a long way towards helping others trying to cope thru the devastating fear of a wonky cell diagnosis.

So, what follows are the pages of my journal. I’ll try to describe the days briefly, but feel free to ask me any questions you like. Feel free to have these images for whatever purpose, but please remember that this original book is the intellectual property of the estate of Mr Nicol…to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

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As you probably already know, I’m luckier than most people. Both my parents are/were doctors, all their friends are doctors, and I’m an only child. Than means that every course of treatment, every test, every decision was shopped around a consortium of doctors before it was agreed on.

One of the best things I ever did was join a wellness centre called Inspire Health and upped my yoga, my meditation, my creative visualisation, and researched all supporting natural remedies.

So for anyone who must undertake a course of radiation therapy, let me very strongly advise you to take daily doses of 3000 iu of vitamin D, super critically extracted turmeric, a very good probiotic well ahead of time and all the way thru to boost white blood cell production, and form a relationship with miso soup, which is shown to dissipate radiation toxins out of the body.

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And keep a journal. For you that might look very different from mine. But sitting around in waiting rooms, feeling scared, looking at the devastatingly sick and suffering people around, their grey faces, their panicked but stoic expressions, it’s very helpful to shut the world out and concentrate on your journal.

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Working thru the days in my book I found words which said something about the way I was feeling each day. I circled the words, sketched a drawing which felt right, and outlined everything in a sepia ink pen.

These were simple tasks to do while sitting in waiting rooms.

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I took my supplies with me in a pencil case in my purse, switching out the coloured Faber-Castell markers to suit each day.

Some days were optimistic, some days less so. I drew my feelings around Mr Nicol’s words.

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I think one of the hardest times was seeing children coming in from Children’s Hospital for radiation treatment since Children’s doesn’t have radiation chambers. Another difficult thing was waiting for radiation symptoms to come on and dreading each twinge.

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It took to me the first week before I felt I could open my eyes in that radiation mask and actually watch the machine sweep past me. The mask is tight, locked down to the table one lies on and breathing is somewhat restricted. The feeling of stuckedness, of vulnerability, of claustrophobia are acute and real. Meditating thru the few minutes of one’s confinement is very helpful. I tended to visualise myself walking thru a semipermeable membrane, which allowed my body thru it but not the dark, smoking wonky cells, which fell down to the ground behind me.

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The days leading up to Remembrance Day were difficult. Most of you know my father was the doctor for the BC war vets and he took them to places such as Vimy Ridge and to meet the Queen, and most of you probably know that he died before his “old boys” of a terrible terminal cancer. Actually, the only two episodes of wonky cellness in my family, my father and my aunt, were both discovered too late and terminal within two years.

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The days post R.D. I felt a sadness which was hard to shake. But I went for an acupuncture treatment at the wellness centre and that helped me flip back to a more positive outlook.

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The second week into treatment, as with most people who have radiation in the region of their head, my taste buds started to shut off and die. The first taste which went was salt, then sugar, then, gradually, everything began to taste like a mix of alkaline water, (that sulphuric kind you get at hot springs and certain spas) and flour mixed to different degrees of texture.

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It’s funny, you know. You can blindfold yourself and experience what it’s like to be blind to some degree. You can stuff cotton in your ears and feel a little deaf, but you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to lose your sense of taste because there just is no reference point. No way to test it out before hand.

I can still acutely feel sitting at the sushi bar with Clover and dipping a piece of California roll into some soy sauce. The character of the soy sauce turned to the most horrible bitterness in my mouth. Very unexpected.

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By the 21st on November everything tasted foul and the only thing palatable was my Earl Grey tea with a heaping spoon of super sweet Stevia and another of Manuka honey, miso soup, toast without butter and, for some bizzare reason, tempura prawns.

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Midway point and a private little celebration. I bought myself a few beautiful coffee table books. I was also offered the radiation mask to take home after treatment. My initial reaction was, “not a hope in hell!!!”, but I had a think about it. I didn’t change my mind because taking the mask home would have put the onus on me to dispose of it. The material is not recyclable, it would take too much effort and (by now my rapidly diminishing) strength to cut it up, and it would have to hang around till the spring time till I got to the cabin to burn it safely, (still releasing toxic plastics into the atmosphere). No thank you. I captured the mask on these pages instead. It can stay here too.

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Into the final half of treatment I began to think about how “normal” my new life was feeling. Daily drives across town for radiation, lack of taste, losing weight, avoidance of meals, while still trying to run the household and my business, while keeping my children, my family, my relationship with Robbie a priority, while trying to distract myself with TV or the computer to try to eat revoltingly tasting foods, which often trigger a gag reflex, in an effort to nourish myself. Robert helped again by telling me to focus on foods as necessary medicine.

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I remembered my father and my aunt going thru chemo, barely strength enough to walk, how quickly we adopt a situation to a new normal. Some chronic fatigue hit at about this time. But sleep is restorative, so I happily gave in.

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November came to a close and December took its place and with that a new focus. Christmas lights went up in the hood, trees in windows, carols on the radio…a much happier state of affairs. I also focused on my art more. My precious gift of creativity which saves me time and time again.

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I counted down the treatment days. Nine, then eight more to go. Life seemed a bit more uplifted even with worsening symptoms. I also focused on and counted my blessings when I got too down.

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And poured my feelings into my book. Each day Mr Nicol came thru with brilliant words that felt just right, and on the pages which fell on the book’s illustrations, I created myself little collages.

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All thru this treatment I was under that care of an oncologist, as is expected, and a psychologist. The very rare and not understood nature of this wonky cellness made it difficult for me to relate to any other person. As far as I know, there is one man, who is ten years post treatment and doing exceptionally well, here in BC and 20 more across Canada. It left me feeling very alone and, I must admit to having stupid thoughts like, “why couldn’t I have had breast wonkynossity and be part of a better understood crowd?” How stupid am I? I did slap myself out of that!

The skin on the left side of my neck gradually changed, became frail, wrinkly, red, flaky, but thanks to the heavy doses of turmeric and the miso soup, and, I suppose, thanks to my oily Mediterranean skin, these symptoms were not as bad as some of the people’s going thru similar.

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But with only four treatments left, things were beginning to look more positive, more survivable. Robert arrived, and it isn’t only me having to hold down the fort. He held my hand on the evening of Friday Dec 12th and said, “just think, this is the worst you’ll ever feel. Things will never be this bad again.” Two days to recover over the weekend, and three treatments to go. By now the nerves leading from my jaw to my brain have been so affected that yawning, sneezing, blowing my nose are various degrees of excruciatingly painful. But pain or no pain, how lucky am I to live in this time, in this city, with access to government funded medical help, with a treatment which has been modernised, a treatment, which as early as ten years ago, would have scattered a dangerous 66 grays of radiation over my entire head, neck and chest, which now confined to and pinpointed to complete accuracy withing one computer controlled channel thru the brain. And above all, how lucky am I for my mother, for her medical knowledge and council, for Robert for holding me up day or night, for his positive loving guidance, for my precious Chloe, who never left my side, insisted on accompanying me to every treatment, with the exception of three which she couldn’t manage, joked with and befriended the team of technicians, helped to decorate the radiation ward Christmas tree, and for Jonathan and Kerstin who checked in on me and showed loving concern despite their own busy lives. They have been the bright shining stars in my life for these past months.

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Finally, the last two days, the last day, and my normal was about to be restructured into a newer normal.

And now, the normal is that of recovery, of regeneration, of health, of life, of happiness, of reduced stress, of fulfilling dreams, hopes, of love, of love for my strong, healthy, wonky cell free body, for my children, for Robert, for my mother, for friends, a new normal of living a long and happy life.

We have to take it as it comes.

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Chloe cuts her hair for Cancer

Chloe has been wanting to do this for some time now, and even threatening a shaved head for a period of time, (We are ever so glad she reconsidered the shaved bit), but she sent us examples of styles and finally settled on a short-ish bob which would allow her to donate the maximum length to her chosen charity, 360 Hair, a local non-profit, pro bono business, which makes wigs for children suffering thru chemotherapy.

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So off to our salon, Raw Hair Lounge, and an appointment with the lovely Chelsie, who brushed C’s hair and separated it into sections…

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…and cut it off. (Yes, C kept her eyes closed for it)

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And there we are. Twelve inches of clean, lustrous auburn locks all ready to be mailed away.

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Then a little bit of trimming, a little bit of product, a feeling of freedom and the soft, warm-hearted glow of doing something good and right…

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…and VOILA! Our beautiful child.

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I’m so proud of her drive to help, to save the world, to do all she can. :D

Hello from Sunday night

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Hello everyone. :D I know it’s been an age since I posted, and to tell you the truth, I’ve missed photographing and posting something rotten.

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Speaking of something rotten, C came down with a nasty little cold last week. Tis the season, huh? We drove down to our favourite juice bar, the Juicery, and picked up some good medicine. She was over the cold in no time.

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One big bit of news, Robert has flown in for Christmas. :D It’s so lovely to have him home again. And, with R here, we went to find a Christmas tree. We found a beautiful, slightly imperfect, spruce, which a) we could afford!!! (seen the price of Christmas trees this year?) and b) reached up the nine feet to the ceiling.

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Then it was just a matter of decorating it. I’ve been collecting glass ornaments for about a million years now. I love them more than anything. It’s been two years since we got them out because Christmas has been in England for the past two years, and I was so excited to see them again. They’re like old friends…do you know what I mean? There’s that wonderful familial comfort in seeing Jonathan’s baby ornament, (34 yrs old now), my grandmother’s favourite one to remember her by, one special glass bird we somehow brought out of the Czech republic in 1968, the street car from San Francisco, vintage silvered glass bells from the antique markets in England…so many special stories attached to so many of them.

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So many beautiful ornaments gathered in various places over many years. It took me four hours to put most of them on.

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Especially since you can see just how much help I had…lol.

Sharing with Judith and the mosaic bunch.

Hello from Sunday night

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Well, here is a turn-up for the books!
I know all my friends on the less temperate parts of the old globe will be thinking “oh, just shut up V!”, but we’re thrilled to bits with the Friday night to Saturday morning snow. Oh yes we are!

We didn’t mind the frozen fingers and the scraping of the car first thing Saturday morning either. Didn’t mind one bit because we were invited to our wonderful Realtor‘s client appreciation party at the cinema. C was incredibly excited because the film on offer was the third Hunger Games film. At some point in C’s young teen life, apparently I agreed to see all those dreadful Twilight movies with her and she held me to that, and now, teen-agy films, especially if she’s read the books, seem to be a C and my tradition. Anyway, these films are much better than Twilight, so there’s that, and there was hot tea and glazed doughnuts.

The sun shone cool and crisp for rest of the weekend, and, with the exception of a bit of laundry and a bit of grocery shopping, I really didn’t do much else except enjoy the sun and some good books.

And sometimes that’s as it should be. :D

Linking with Judith and the mosaic bunch.

Getting into the holiday spirit

It’s beginning to feel very wintery here…as much as the West Coast gets “winter”, but as you can see from this “artfully arranged” reflections shot :D the atmosphere here is cooler, whiter, and darker than ever.

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Recently mom bought some beautiful little Christmas lights at Anthropologie and I helped her string them up in her living room. They’re the same ones I have, (which stay on all the year long), except mom’s are a longer chain. Aren’t they lovely and twinkly?

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Yesterday we had a walk in mom’s neck of Vancouver, Kerrisdale, grabbed mom a coffee and had a good mooch around some of the stores. This place has changed so much recently. The sky-high rent prices have forced almost all the quaint little boutiques to relocate or close, and ubiquitous chains have moved in. Shame really, but that’s life. Still, a couple of little boutique stores remain. In front of mom’s favourite coffee shop, Cafe Artigiano, was this tiny little dog waiting for his master. He was so friendly and so super cute. Across the street is one of the last remaining boutiques, a flower shop, with a completely different animal in the window. Isn’t that fabulous? Chloe said, “Narnia”. Talk about holiday spirit!

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The other side of the shop had this wonderful window full of branches. So many surprises dotted around this window that we couldn’t stop looking into it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to replicate something at home for Christmas? I think so.

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Next we drove down to my favourite garden centre Southlands. I love this fragrant, warm greenhouse and could very easily just move in! :D

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I suppose if I lived in a greenhouse there wouldn’t be much room, or need, for a Christmas tree :( I suppose some vintage Santas and a painting or poster or two might be enough?

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Or maybe just plant some festive flowers, like Christmas cactus, poinsettias or these fabulous red bromeliads or maybe some gingers, or bird of paradise.

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Actually, probably not…lol…I’d still fill it with my millions of glass ornaments (marginal exaggeration) and over-the-top gingerbread houses.

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And just look at the fabulous trees waiting for December! Wow!

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Since this year Christmas is in Canada, I’d love a 11 foot tall tree in the living room. I bet it will end up completely covered by my ornaments.

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But not like this…lol. This is a little over-the-top for me. :D

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I usually get my tree on December 15th and then it stays up till twelfth night. But now I’m so into the Christmas spirit, that I can’t wait to get the tree. I might not last till the 15th. :D

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Hello from Sunday night

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What a fabulously glorious weekend round here! :D

After a solid week of rain the sun peeked out on Saturday making the whole day shiny and bright. Kerstie and Adam came back form their holidays and stopped by with our little girls for a full day of family fun. We’ve missed them like crazy and each time they come for a visit it seems like they’re so much older. Binky (Ever) is now four years old and in preschool, Bunny (Isla) is two and everything a bright and shiny red-headed girl should be, and baby Ziggy (Zoe) is the smiliest, happiest little six month old in the world. There was a whole lot of toy exploring, blanket rolling, baby cradling, book reading, castle building, and crayon drawing going on.

Kerstie found a “professional fire hula hoop” and brought it for Chloe. Chloe tried it on for size and loved it to pieces. Morgan was completely entranced looking at the spinning hoop. No, it isn’t going to be lit on fire at any time.

We explored the grandma hand-knit sweater box to swap out some of the sweaters that the girls can now wear. I guess that for them this is the great-grandma sweater box. Chloe was telling us about how much she loved each sweater. Remembering when and where she wore them and telling us which were her favourites and why. I sometimes think I really should learn how to knit. Maybe just a sock or two. Wait, I guess it would have to be two…lol.

The sun shone all day Sunday as well. My indoor plants, which usually have a nice holiday outdoors all summer, are all doing very well, and I was super excited to find several nice, fat flower buds on my cymbidium orchid. I’m super excited because this is only the third time in, like a million years, that my little miracle plant is promising me a bloom. I must have done something right this year. :D

Hope you’ve all had as shiny and bright a weekend as I have, and if not, I hope your week ahead is wonderful.

Linking with Judith and the mosaic bunch.

Rara Avis, Eric’s drawing challenge

Long ago, the Earth was new and the first group of humans lived in a lush valley and children still had feathers running up and down their spines so they could fly. But the elders were afraid that the children would learn to love the sky more than the ground and leave them alone and so the elders said to the children, “Children, tuck your feathers under your shoulder blades for you will not need them. Stay here on the ground where you belong and let Eagle rule the skies”, and so the children were obedient and did as they were told. But soon the weather began to change and the valley became frozen and the elders died and the children were left alone.

The children cried to Eagle, “Oh Eagle, we gave up our wings so you can rule the sky. Save us, show us a way out of the valley so humans may survive .” Eagle, who was obliged to care for the children, said, “You cannot follow me out of the valley for my voice is too soft, but I will return with help.” And she flew away and the next day she returned with Gull.

“Follow the Gull children,” she said, “His voice is loud and he will lead out of the valley.”
So the children gathered the rest of their possessions and followed the piercing cries of Gull who led them on a secret path thru the mountains, out of the frozen valley, and down to the sea shore.

The children thanked Gull and he said, “Children, here at the shore Eagle and I will watch out for you together.” And from that day on, children, if you’re good and a little lucky, you can just catch glimpses of Gull talking to Eagle. But you are safe because they watch over you from high above the Earth.

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link to Rara Avis
Thank you so much for this drawing challenge Eric.

“Tell me your secrets”

Oil on canvas, 18″x 24″ :D

Hello from Sunday night, which turned into a Monday post again

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Well, well, well, after days of leaden skies the promise of sunshine thru the velvet curtains turned the whole room rosy pink. Mornings like these make my world so much better. Milo and Morgan love the sun and try to hang out in the sunniest spot as much as they can; usually upside down on the sofa.

My son has come back from Japan and brought his lovely girlfriend Chantal for lunch. I made us some smoked salmon sandwiches and salad. I took my eye off the salmon for two seconds and Morgan was up on the counter and made off with a slice of salmon. She was told off and pushed out the kitchen door into the garden where she sat for the longest time licking her cheeks. The scrubby little cat! One minute she’s sleeping, the next minute she’s pilfering our lunch. She’s a bit overweight and so on a diet and hating everybody these days.

My children and I had a lovely chat and spent a good hour looking thru the baby Jonathan photo albums. Jonathan wasn’t too pleased at the idea at first, but the girls ganged up and majority won. After a while he really enjoyed seeing the old photos. He asked me if he ever wore any clothes as a baby…lol. There were a good number of photos of naked baby Jon and baby Kers on the beach or in the garden in the summer time. What can I say…they were very European babies. :D Chloe and Chantal decided that I had the best clothes in the 80s and now they want to hunt similar down and wear them. C especially loved my bathing suits, my high-waisted jeans and a one piece safari jumpsuit, which I wore to death. I think it was Rodier and I loved it too.

The sun shone golden for most of the week, but it’s that weak winter sun which never really warms much, and that means the temperature has dropped. I suppose it’s dropped all over the continent because I can see the jet stream dipping way low on the environment maps. Morgan hates the cold and so I didn’t leave her out for long…no matter how bad she is I’ll always love her mushy little face.

Hope your weekend was a lovely and cozy one. Time to check out some weekend movies and have a first open fire in the fireplace I think. :D

Folds, Carole’s drawing challenge

When my wonderful (almost) neighbour Carole suggested “folds” for this weekend’s drawing challenge, I thought of the origami I keep failing at in such spectacular ways...lol.

In the china cabinet are two tiny origami cranes right beside a tiny Alice, a present from a visiting friend, and I can’t even begin to think how such a tiny thing is folded. Chopsticks maybe?

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So I decided that a painting with a bit of collage might be more suited to my style, specifically tissue paper collage.

I love using tissue paper and moving it with the brush and the mat medium, and making it fold in soft waves on the painted page.

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So here is my piece for this week, The Dove. I love the soft folds in the texture, I love the folds of the dove’s wings, I love the gentle folds in the hands. It’s a good one.

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When you have a chance, come hop over to Carole’s for links to the folding bunch. :D

A Sunny Side in the gloom of the West Coast

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What could be better on a gloomy West Coast day than a cup of tea in the afternoon?
Chloe read about a new little tea shop not too far away from us. The Sunny Side tea shop is in the rainiest part of Vancouver, Deep Cove, a small town on the edge of Indian Arm, the only fjord in BC.

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There are samples of all the lovely teas lined up in rows of small jars for us to smell and chose from.

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We chose our teas and the proprietor brewed us a couple of mugs worth.

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We were handed our tea in some beautiful locally handmade mugs.

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Then we sat down with our tea on a little sofa against the window and looked around at the lovely shop.

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It’s so warm and beautiful in here. The shelves are lined with lovely goods handmade by local artists.

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On both sides of the room.

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Also some carefully hand picked books and magazines, like this Kinfolk magazine.

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After our tea, we walked across the street to this little boutique.

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It’s the most amazing little place full of fun outdoor stuff.

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And lovely gifties for Christmas! We loved this fun coaster.

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This little boutique is a hit with C.

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We have to come back here soon with our naughty and nice lists.

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Next door is another lovely little boutique. This one is geared a little more perhaps towards me.

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Except for these beautiful hand dyed wools.

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I don’t knit and my crochet is pathetic, but C knits, and loved the warm, earthy tones.

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This is more my style. And looks very much like the inside of my closet. :D

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This little boutique has so many beautiful things. I can see this will be a great stop on our Christmas shopping week.

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And especially for prezzies for our little ones, Binky, Bunny and Ziggy.

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Has everyone already thought of or even done their Christmas shopping? I’ve started to get organised, but just barely.

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Sharing with Judith and the Mosaic bunch. :D