Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 New Year's resolution follow up

This year I made a resolution to start drawing again. I stopped when I graduated from college. Though to be fair, I only started drawing again when I wanted to get into college. I needed to get back into school, because I didn't want to work in kitchens anymore and I was academic scorched earth. The term St.F.X. used was "dismissed".

There was also something about being banned for five years, but with my newly drawn portfolio and the assistance of my art-school grad spouse I was back in four.

Applied Communication Arts stands as my favorite year of school and also the year that taught me I had no business being a graphic designer. I switched to public relations. Bullet dodged. I did some illustrations during my PR workterm for a brochure series and put my pencils away. Need fulfilled. New job obtained.

It stayed that way for 15 years. Adult colouring books came on the scene and I remembered that I liked colouring (drawing, same eyes, same hand, just a little more knowledge in the application).

The key to a good New Year's resolution is to pick something you like doing that you don't currently do and pledge to start doing it. That's how this blog happened. I pledged to write, which I was doing anyway, I just wouldn't let anyone else read what I wrote (work writing is a whole other ballgame). It was a big, anxiety-laden deal for me so I made it my resolution for for 2015.

I also resolve to lose 25 pounds every year, but that's not something I like doing and never accomplish. I remain an exceptionally well rounded (too well rounded) figure.

To succeed at resolutions pick something you like and do that. For 2016 I pledged to start drawing again.

I started with a trip to the dollar store for a pad and coloured pencils. I wanted to colour and Georgia O'Keefe is my go-to for colour.

I'm sure there's people out there who don't need grids and outlines, but I'm not one of them.

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Map it out. Fill it in.

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The final picture is what's important.

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 Bowie died and I gave portraits a go.

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Then Lemmy died. I bought nicer pencils. See how much richer the blacks are. I'm getting back into the swing of things and the illustration is better. He's still too pretty, though.

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I bought nicer coloured pencils and went back to my BFF, O'Keefe.

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I love the grain in water colour pads. Even with nicer gear, this is still a very inexpensive hobby.

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They were framed. Shawn came with a matt cutter. It makes framing cheap and easy.

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Then summer came and life happened and nothing drawing happened until I decided I wanted to make my music teacher, whose school is predominately made up of youngsters, a homemade present like all the other kids. (They probably don't do this anymore, I am old and remembering my own ill fated piano lessons.)

My music teacher taught me some Amy Winehouse songs, so I drew her Winehouse. This is also the first drawing I've ever signed. I thought it was good enough.

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My New Year's resolution for this year is to keep writing, to keep drawing, and, new for 2017, keep singing. I feel these things make me a better me.

I would also like to lose 25 pounds, but as long as I keep up with the other three and my mind and all my body parts work, I'm okay with being exceptionally well rounded for another year.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016 "The Good and the Bad"

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Snapdragons grow through a broken sandbag

A note from an old friend, entitled "2009 'The Good and the Bad'", appeared in my Facebook memories this morning. It was a deeply personal and unflinching account of a difficult year, but despite that, the note ended positively and with gratitude.

2016 has been a very difficult year.

It will always be the year my sister died. I feel I exist in this Schrödinger's cat exercise where my sister is dead and I am grieving interspersed with moments where I forget and all is well. 

The latter is fleeting, because I know my sister is dead. I watched her die. I felt the utter absence of the electric thrum of her pulse through the fistula in her arm. I watched the man who loved her for the last two decades do the same.

When speak of her passing, I say she was unable to live any longer, which is true, but I suppose that is true of everyone who dies.

My sister was my hero. She was one of many heroes that died this year.

We lost a poet and a princess, stardust and metal, a Greek god and a prince, a beloved villain and a stinging butterfly. Our mockingbird fell silent.

We lost the lives of tens of thousands of men, women, and children to wars with no winner.

We saw reason and self-interest abandoned for false promises and false messiahs: $350 m a week to NHS! Make America Great Again!

We expanded our vocabularies to include "alt right" and "post truth", defining things that should not exist.

Dark days for sure, but as the poet said, "There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

For everything that is awful in the world, there are people the world over trying to make things better. From the leaders who open their borders to the doctors and nurses without them, all the way to the grandmother knitting mittens for refugees, there is light.

There are people willing to stand up and say I am my brother's keeper.

In my own darkest days of the year, I was enveloped in the exquisite care and compassion of strangers. The women who cared for my sister extended that care to us as we waited for the end. For that, and for having witnessed their love and affection for my sister, they have my eternal esteem.

There is hope, even in the worst of it. I have hope that the fighting will stop. I have hope that peace and love will prevail over violence and hatred. I have hope that recent electoral upsets, while devastating, will put an end to apathy and inspire engagement among the disillusioned for a better future.

There is compassion. If there is a New Year's resolution I could make for the world, it's that we all try to be a bit kinder and a bit more understanding than we were yesterday.

And there is love. When the priest shook my hand at my sister's burial I was crying. He said that tears were a representation of how much we care. This year has presented no shortage of things to cry about, but it has also seen us united in shared grief.

Grief is a crack inside us, it lets the light, the love we feel, shine outward.

Friday, 9 December 2016

It's been a month and it's almost Chistmas

Image result for you never know what someone else is going through christmas

I am not one for tying grief to dates. I mean the first birthday they weren't here to celebrate. The first Christmas their sock wasn't hung.

The first year that they weren't here anymore.

The second year. The fifth and so on.

But it's been a month.

It feels like yesterday and forever ago.

It's easy enough in the beginning. Duty takes over. From the get go there's calls to make, emails to send, a funeral to plan, clothes to collect, and clothes to buy when geography comes into play.

There's an obituary to write. Both my biggest honour and the worst thing I've ever put into words.

There's trips to the mall and trips to the grocery store. Tabloids to stare at while standing in line contemplating those "you never know what someone is going through, be kind" memes on Facebook.

At that moment, you are the meme.

There's wakes and food coming from every corner.

The funeral.

The burial was a week later, because of the cremation. I told my brother in law that I was glad it was the following week, because it was one more thing we could do.

One more way we could be there for her.

The burial came and went. She is to the left of our father, which is perfect. She's left handed and he's right handed.

We went into a cabin in the woods for four days during which I thought all kind of catharsis would happen. Turns out you can't will that. I was better for it, but not even close to what I wanted.

Because I was still horribly sad and horribly emotional and weirdly sentimental.

I am not a sentimental person. Stuff is stuff. I bought the perfume she used to wear. I don't even like perfume.  I gave it to her daughter. I cried when I deposited her last CPP cheque in her bank account earlier this week (FYI the government will pay you for the full month in which you die) and I've cried a bunch of other times.

Crying is okay, there's no shame in it. I've been told that a lot. Mostly when crying. But it's on good authority, sadly from far too many people who have known far too much loss. Grief is a representation of how much you cared.

But it's not the only measure. My sister had a zeal for life. She was exceptionally kind and exceptionally positive. She lived in the here and now and she embraced the act of living as fully as anyone could, no matter an ever growing list of limitations.

I was Christmas shopping yesterday and I came across a pewter ring that said "celebrate life". Foreign sentimentality reared its head again and I bought it. It was $9 and it's staining my pinky black, but that's okay too. I have clear nail polish to coat it with when I get around to it and soap until then.

It's the message that's important.

Celebrate life.

Don't read this and feel sad for me. For her, yes, but not for me. I've got that covered.  But what you can do is be kind. Be kind for her and be kind for me.

The last time I had Sher out for dinner we went to the Townhouse Pub. There's a couple tight doors to get through and her chair had grown in size with her disability. A bar patron jumped to the occasion. He said it was okay to run over his foot. As with lots of things, it just took backing up and taking a second run at it, but he was there, in the moment, doing all he could to be kind.

There's people grieving the loss of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands, wives, and friends this Christmas.  Let's honour them all by being kind. Everyone will be the better for it.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Dear Kellie

This image came from an email. I looked online for it so I could provide a link to an image for credit purposes, but Kellie is just not that popular.


Dear Kellie,

I've been watching your fundraising campaign unfold through the emails you send.

This last one struck a chord. You said that the handling of the Syrian refugee program has been a disaster since day one. I could not agree more, though we will disagree on the start date.

Remember back in 2015 when your Conservatives were in charge of it? And how your party intentionally delayed refugee settlement until a dead kid washed up on a beach and made you guys look bad?

I agree, the actual refugee settlement – not the Conservatives bullshit do-nothing strategy – but the one that got Syrians on Canadian soil may have cost more than estimated, but for The Canadian Values Queen, that should be A-O-fucking K*. We've taken nearly 30,000 people out of harms way – over half of them children.

What can be more Canadian than going to bat for humanity in times of war? Why, we had beautiful ceremonies all over the country last month for doing just that. There was wreath laying and two minutes of silence nationwide.

There's certainly no Canadian pride to be found when we stayed on the bench; and we've already done our share of bench warming.

I get it, Kellie, based on your parliamentary performance to date you're pissed that we're spending money on foreigners. Well to that I say your party spent a shitload on foreigners too. Remember the G$ summits? For that gazebo-laden extravaganza, your Conservative government spent $1.1 billion on a party for global elites.

At $13,000 a refugee, we could have rescued almost 77,000 people with that money. Instead the Muskoka cottages region got a makeover. Be still my patriotic heart.

And Kellie, lest you write me off as one of those "elites" you rail against. I don't have a medical degree, nor do I have a medical specialty or an MBA. I don't have surgery privileges at an O.R. and I have never taught a class at university let alone held a chair. I have never served a public office and have obviously never achieved the lofty title of cabinet minister.

I sure as hell haven't run for leadership of a federal party.

I went to community college and I hail from and reside in a province your old boss described as one of "cultural defeat". Remarkably, I get up and go to work every day to a job where I earn a fraction of what you do, like the majority of Canadians, including those evil "elite" that work in the media, and act as a taxpaying cog in the wheel that keeps this country going.

You can huff and puff and spit all you want about the "elites", Kellie. Fill your boots. Engage in whatever cognitive dissonance it takes you to get through your day, but don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

When it comes to being an elite, you're at the top of the pile and your pandering to the lowest common denominator cements your elite status. It's a bloody lot easier to toy with people's emotions than it is to have an actual fucking plan.

It's the very elite in you.


*My apologies for all the swearing, I blame my non-elite lack of class.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sheri Anne Balawyder 1968-2016

Balawyder, Sheri Anne (Kell), 48, of Loch Katrine, Antigonish, passed away on November 9, 2016, at the R.K Nursing Home.
Born in Durham, Ontario, Sheri was the daughter of Brenda Kell and the late Leo Kell.

A spirit of joy and laughter, Sheri gifted us with her company for as long as she was able. Always ready with a big smile and never one to complain, Sheri lived her life in a way that serves as an inspiration and a template for all of us. She taught us to live bravely and courageously in the face of indomitable hardship, to seize hold of all the good that remains rather than the regret of what is lost, and to love, to laugh, and to enjoy each day as it comes.

Sheri will forever live in the hearts of her daughter Jessica MacDonald (Arthur Pettipas), husband Bernard Balawyder, mother Brenda, sisters Janet Phinney (Brett Phinney), and Peggy Kell (Shawn Dalton), brother Ron Kell (Evie Kell), nephews Leo and Logan Phinney, Jake and Ben Kell, and step-son Dennis Simms (Sammie Simms).

We express our heartfelt gratitude to the nursing staff of the R.K. who embraced Sheri as family.

Visitation will be held Friday from 2–4 and 7–9 p.m. at the C.L. Curry Funeral Home, 135 College Street, Antigonish. Funeral Mass will be Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at the Saint Ninian Cathedral Parish, Antigonish.

In memoriam, donations may be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Monday, 7 November 2016

A love song for my sister Sheri



It wasn't until my late teens that I was grown up enough to be friends with my oldest sister. Born one day before her seventh birthday, I joke that I've been stealing Sher's birthday thunder for as many years as I've been alive. If she minded having her birthday overthrown, she never let me know.

She's always been kinder than me.

Before we were friends, I worshiped her from across the hallway in our house. Tall and impossibly thin, she had better legs than my Barbies, thicker hair and a bigger grin. She wore make-up and white-musk perfume and listened to metal and Meatloaf and the Rolling Stones. In an entirely myopic household, she had contact lenses. They made her humongous green eyes blue.

I wanted to be her.

Sher got me my first job when I was 15, working with her in a fish and chip shop in the mall. She taught me to work. I taught her to be more reserved when it came to filling job vacancies with family members.

She never fired me.

The first time I was went to a bar was with Sher. Bored and on Christmas break, we tested our father's patience to the point where he gave us his blessing to head off to the bar in a light snowstorm. We drank beers, we talked to boys, we went home.

It was spectacular.

As I got older, our friendship solidified. In my university days, her household was my safe place. She was light of heart, a free spirit, always up for adventure and never one to complain. Her daughter and future husband were of the same mind. I counterbalanced that with the doom-and-gloom angst of a liberal arts education.

The free spirits always won.

Our family has polycystic kidney disease (PDK). It's hereditary. Sher was diagnosed with it around the same time our father was having a transplant. It was never much of a concern when we were younger, there were four kids in our family, two with PDK and two without. There were enough healthy kidneys to go around.

My brother came up first. The thing I struggled with the most was knowing that if I gave up a kidney, I wouldn't have one for Sher. He was my brother and she was my BFF long before there was such a thing as BFFs.  But Sher's kidneys weren't failing and my brother's were.

I gave him my spare.

After my surgery, Sher and her husband came up to visit with their not-cat-friendly malamute. She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years before the transplant. At the time, she was in a wheelchair and I was laid up on the couch. Our spouses were off somewhere. We agreed the malamute could eat my cat if it lacked the survival skills to stay where Sher could wheel to defend it from her chair. She was an adept wheeler in those days.

The cat made it. Split open, the laughter nearly killed me.

It's bad enough to have one life threatening disease, but to have two is too much for one person. I feel it is too much for one person to witness from the sidelines, let alone to be that person. That I couldn't give her a kidney became a moot point. Multiple sclerosis ruled her out as a transplant candidate.

But we endured, because she endured. Spectacularly.

And she has spectacularly endured. Through the endless invasive tests, through the loss of mobility that had me smiling at her in her hospital bed until I could go home and howl with grief over shin bones poking up like razors in what used to be better than Barbie legs. Through injections, seizures, infections, dialysis, paralysis and a mind that gaslights itself, she has spectacularly endured.

She taught me that grace and dignity are a state of mind.

She has enriched the lives of everyone around her, and even saved a life or two.

The head nurse at the home told me late this summer that they were refocusing Sher's care from aggressive treatment to a regime of comfort and compassionate care. She was quick to point out that Sher's still Sher. She is light of heart. She is free of spirit. She does not complain.

A little while ago, my brother-in-law asked her how she felt about the possibility of having to stop dialysis. She said she thought everyone would be okay. He asked her how she felt for herself. She said she was tired. She said on the upside, she would get to see our father soon. Also, her obsessively devoted dog Lucky.

Sher is is my sister and she is my friend and she is my heart. Wherever I've been she's been my safe harbour, she's been my home. Given a hundred years I will never be as strong as her, but I am strong enough to let her go.

Dialysis has ended and palliative care has started. My heart is breaking, but keep telling it that Sher is tired. There is no one more deserving of a rest.

I love you Sheri.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Second Presidential Debate Or What in the Hell Did I Just Watch?

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)
Some observations on last night's second presidential debate.

Trump responds to audio recording of him bragging about forcing himself on married women by calling it "locker room talk". What locker rooms does he hang out in? San Quintin?

Trump compared avoiding venereal disease to his own personal Vietnam in the 70s. He cheated on his first wife with his second wife and his second wife with his third wife. If there is a moral high ground to be found here, it's in the woman who has honoured her marriage vows for over 40 years, not the guy whose current wife is literally the third model.

Trump says if he becomes president he will throw Hillary Clinton in jail. If Trump is trying to channel Reagan he's doing it wrong. Reagan may have propped up banana republics, but he sure as hell didn't turn his own country into one. Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway later said Trump's comment was just a "quip". If that's what passes for a clever comment in the Trump camp, they possess the collective wit of a bowl of dog food.

After ducking the chance to go first like a little kid on a high diving board, Trump has a plan for healthcare. It's called "something" and it involves removing borders to increase competition and eliminate monopolies. This might be the first fiscal-conservative statement Trump has ever made, because his solution to healthcare is free trade. The same economic policy that Trump says is destroying America will result in the "finest health care plan there is." I wished for more time, just to see how much irony he could shovel down the same hole.

For Muslims seeking inclusion under a Republican president, sorry, according to Trump, the bombings you had nothing to do with are still your fault. But you got a witty hashtag, #MuslimsReportStuff, and you are with nearly 70 per cent of Americans that aren't angry old white Christian dudes. Welcome.

Don't even get me started on the Syria question. Shoot down your running mate, partner with Russia, Assad, and possibly Iran? Sneak attacks at night? My god why didn't anyone think of that before? After two minutes of Trump talking foreign policy it's fairly clear that anyone who has watched a Tom Clancy movie adaptation or read a newspaper or a book has a better grasp on it than he does. Trump ended by saying Aleppo had already fallen. It's like a business bankruptcy, but instead of writing off bad debts, it's human beings.

The breakdown of lies told by candidates on this debate is 33 Trump : 5 Clinton. Last debate was 34 Trump : 4 Clinton. On this measure I will concur with Trump base and camp, he absolutely won both debates. No one lied more than him.

Trump is no conservative, he is an overindulged man child with the morals of an alley cat and a decades long history of racism and sexism. If this is the standard bearer, GOP, you've gone from the grand old party to the gross old party. Republicans, you need to fix this and you need to fix it now.



To anyone who reads this and cries Crooked Hillary, shut up. Shut your mouth and the shut the mouths of everyone you know who thinks like you. And, less abrasively, to folks who just have a general sense of unease about Hillary Clinton. The Republican party spared no expense and exhausted untold labour in launching what constituted an eight (to 30 year) inquisition into the actions of Hillary Clinton. The witch hunt came up empty. It's over. Hillary Clinton has been in public service for more than 30 years and over the course of those years she did compromised her ideals to find consensus? Absolutely. Because she was working with the same men who thought a government shut down would serve them well.