Thursday, February 15, 2018

Christmas 2017

I was hoping to get this post out before Valentine's Day, close but ...

We're very fortunate to always spend Christmas with the Scammells. For the past decade we've taken turns hosting the holiday. Last year, when I needed it most, we had the pleasure of being pampered at their home. This past holiday season, our first back in Canmore, we were hosts. I managed well, but certainly accepted help in that last minute crunch of getting the feast to the table.

After the feast, Christmas night

Meanwhile in Manila ...

The Koebel's Christmas family portrait
Amira (6) and Everett (2)

With the wood stoved removed we were able to put up the big tree ...

Avery decorated the tree pretty much single handedly

On Christmas Eve the reading of the old, pop-up Night Before Christmas is a long standing tradition in our family.

Larry and the crazy turkey hat with Denise and Avery reading The Book
Avery trying to guess what's inside the biggest gift on Christmas morning
Hats play a big part in our Christmas celebrations
See what I mean?
And then there is this one!
Looks good on Denise too
Nine and very sparkly in her new Christmas outfit

We opted to not make a gingerbread house in 2016 but our comeback in 2017 was pretty spectacular. Avery spent a few days with us while her parents moved the bulk of their possessions from Calgary to Saskatoon. Before her parents arrived she I got a head start making the dough pieces for the house plus a ton of cookies before her Mom and Dad joined us ...

Lots of industry here
An excessive amount of cookies!

I was all hands on the project Christmas Eve ...

Everyone worked hard at assembling and icing cookies

It's a feat to get all the pieces in place and keep them there until the icing sets
The finished product

The above photo was taken at the small gathering we hosted on Boxing Day at our condo association's club house. It was somewhat of send-off for the Scammells who moved to Saskatoon right after the New Year arrived.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Amira's 6th Birthday Painting

Where Fairies Play  2017 oil on canvas 12" x 16"

Sometimes our daughters give me direction, sometimes the children do and sometimes there is no direction at all. I don't recall asking Amira for input nor do I remember her giving me any feedback, so I was on my own to come up with something a six year old girl would like.

The start

I was pretty excited about how the powdered (pan) pastels looked when I used them over my 12" x 12" commercial tree stencil - on paper.  However, when I used the stencil and the pastel pigments on a prepared canvas they simply wouldn't take.  Not at all.

Laying in colour with acrylic on the canvas

There was to be no shortcut, I had to paint the tree. The castle is borrowed from the internet.  I flipped it because I had placed the tree on the left ...

Internet image of the Disney castle, Anaheim, CA

All coloured in in acrylic - now what?

Once again I was not satisfied with the look of the painting, in acrylic paint, so I switched to oil. You might say I retreated to my comfort zone ...

With a coat of oil paint
Here I extended the bank of trees, to the left, and refined the castle a bit more ...
... and added a couple more fairies

The tree was a challenge. I had difficulty convincing myself that it looked authentic. As the painting dragged on, for eight days, I eventually had to tell myself that it was a fantasy piece, how authentic did that tree have to be after all

The final touch was adding the row of blue cornflowers, from where the fairy on the left had plucked her flower. I chose to leave Tinker Bell out of the painting.

Where Fairies Play  2017 oil  on canvas 12" x 16"

The parcel, with this painting, her brother's painting and the entire Manila family's birthday and Christmas gifts did not make it in time for Christmas. It's arrival, in January, seemed a disappointment at first but it was actually bit of a blessing in that the family had a second Christmas while Bill and I, here in Canmore, were able to witness the gift opening in a FaceTime call.

January 3rd, 2018, next to momma Laura, Amira opens her birthday painting 
The lovely Amira with her painting, February 2nd, 2018

Happy sixth birthday Amira!

Amira's official 6th birthday photo shoot. Her actual birthday is December 9th

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Everett's 2nd Birthday Painting

The Royal Hudson and The Three Sisters (Canmore) 2017 acrylic on cradled panel 13" x 18"

He's all over trains these days, so for Everett's second birthday painting Laura suggested a train and mountains. The Royal Hudson immediately came to mind as I recalled the only time I've seen this train. It was in the interior of B.C., on our way home from the west coast. It was the morning after we'd sprung the clocks forward. Laura was exactly three months old. The time change had the effect of making me think the babe and I had slept through the night, but had we really?  I look so tired because I was!

Yours truly with the baby Laura, April 1st, 1978
The Royal Hudson train when we saw it, April 1st, 1978
The drawing
At work, September 30th, 2017
Day two

If this painting has the feel of a watercolour it's because I used the acrylics transparently and very thinlyIn my time, I've painted many mountain landscapes, a good deal of them in watercolour. I didn't expect to have any trouble with the mountain but I did wonder how I'd manage the train. Miraculously it fell easily off the end of my brush and the painting went from drawing to being finished in just three days.

I scored a Canadian stamp image from the Internet and was rather pleased with myself for changing its denomination to 2, for the little man's birthday, which is September 18th. It was Bill's suggestion to paint the track running right through the stamp which helped the stamp to become a part of the painting. Adding the stamp and the railway crossing sign makes it a bit of a mixed media piece.

Day three and The Royal Hudson and The Three Sisters (Canmore) is complete 

Initially all of us were bummed that the Manila parcel, with all their birthday and Christmas gifts, arrived after Christmas but as it turned out it was a good thing. They are 14 or 15 hours ahead of us so we would never have been able to watch them opening their gifts Christmas morning. On January 3rd, the family got a second Christmas and we able to view it all via FaceTime.

Everett opens his painting in Manila, January 3rd, 2018

Cutest little man with his painting, January 23rd, 2018

Monday, January 1, 2018

Avery's 9th Birthday Painting

The Night a Dragon Hatched Under Northern Lights  oil on panel  12" x 16" 

Avery turned nine October 16th. That evening, we came bearing gifts but no painting. I hadn't even started hers yet because, first, I had to create a painting each for the Manila kids so they could be wrapped and ready to ship before my hip replacement. Bill dropped the parcel (filled with birthday and Christmas gifts for the entire Koebel family) at Forex, Calgary on October 19th. Sadly it didn't arrive in time for Christmas making the birthday paintings for Amira (six on December 9th) and Everett (two on September 18th) late as well. I made a clean sweep of tardiness last year. The three birthday paintings were the sum total of paintings I created in 2017. 

Avery was gracious when I apologized for being late. Later that birthday evening she made this precious announcement "I'm into dragons and Northern Lights, just some thoughts for my birthday painting." 

As I researched dragons online it came to me that, as fascinating as they are, a painting of an adult, fire breathing dragon, in Avery's darkened bedroom would have the potential to give her nightmares. And so I decided to depict a hatchling because, well, aren't all babies adorable and basically non-threatening? 

The drawing.  I textured the cave walls using a palette knife and heavy gel medium.
The acrylic underpainting 

The garishness of the painting, as it was in the stage above, bothered me. Blending acrylics has always been incredibly difficult for me. I haven't invested in the "open" slower drying acrylics. I knew I would need to switch to oils to get the look I was after.

Thinly applied oil on the sky

Using Super Sparkle Lustre Pigment (from Papertrail, Waterloo, ON) I sprinkled the milky way onto the wet oil paint. I was too heavy handed with the powder and I considered it a fail which necessitated painting over the sky. The second time around I was a great deal more cautious in sprinkling the milky way ...

The auroras repainted with the new milky way.  Here, the dragon and nest are still acrylic.

I further blended, refined the borealis and painted the dragon in oil. You'll notice I opted to paint the trees out, thinking that they didn't really add to the overall composition. 

Here the dragon has a coat of oil paint

The brightness of the dragon's upper right arm and chest required darkening plus the scales of the chest needed to be realigned in a better curve ...

All finished - The Night a Dragon Hatched Under Northern Lights  oil on panel  12" x 16"

At the beginning of December, the Scammells a came for a weekend providing me with the opportunity to gift the painting. It gives me great pleasure that Avery likes her dragon, whom she has named Winksey.

December 3rd, 2017
December 3rd, 2017, I'm that Avery is happy!

Up next, once they are received, will be Amira's and Everett's birthday paintings.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Second New Hip ...

... is four weeks old today. Now I have two, but they don't match. The surgery for my first replaced hip (right) was on January 17th, 2014, by Dr. Malcom Chang in Lethbridge. That one is steel. The left hip, replaced by Dr. Jim MacKenzie in Calgary on October 17th, 2017, is titanium. I am healing well and will have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon on December 6th.

This is what medical science is capable of! 

In my last medical blog post I told you how my left leg went totally lame and the pain of that hip went completely off the charts. This put me in the Canmore hospital for five nights (August 20th to 25th) while the appropriate dosage of morphine was established. It certainly helped but by no means eliminated the pain. It did not permit me to bear weight on that leg forcing us to buy a walker the day I was discharged simply because I couldn't walk without one.

The three month wait for my consult with Dr. MacKenzie, ended September 6th. He deemed me an urgent case. I was so grateful to have been fast tracked, jumping his usual year long waiting list to be given a surgery date of October 17th. 

Karen Minish, curator of "Art For The Heart", and Bill installed some of my paintings at the Canmore Hospital, September 11th.

Our friends, Dave and Cathy, hosted a delightful dinner party for me on my 69th birthday. Dave's son is a paraplegic and they have an outdoor lift for his wheelchair which made entering their home really easy for me. Stairs posed a terrible problem for me during this stage. I'd go up and down indoor steps on my butt. 

September 13th, 2017, Dave helping me into his and Cathy's home. 

The pressure of needing to paint birthday paintings for our three grandchildren saw me finally take up the brushes. At the end of September I started my first painting of 2017, for grandson Everett, who turned two on September 18th. As it hasn't been received yet I've obliterated it in the photo. I laboured over a second painting for his sister, Amira, who will be six on December 9th. The paintings plus the young family's Christmas and birthday gifts began their journey October 19th via a slow boat to Manila. When the box arrives I can show you those paintings. 

September 30th, working on Everett's painting.

On October 5th I had a three month check up at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre when I was told I am in remission. Yahoo, as far as I'm concerned cancer is behind me and I'm on to becoming whole again.

Avery's birthday is October 16th. This year it fell the day before my hip replacement so we went into Calgary that evening to celebrate and then stayed overnight at the Scammell's. I've still got her birthday painting to create. It will be done before this year is out. She knows I'm late (it's happened before) and she's a forgiving child. The evening of her birthday she told me "I'm into dragons and Northern Lights. Just some thoughts for my birthday painting."

Larry, Avery and Denise.  Hard to believe our firstborn grandchild is nine already!

As this recent hip replacement was my third major surgery in eleven months I wasn't convinced I'd live through it. The morning of surgery I was hopelessly emotional. I chocked up watching Avery depart for school, and I was in tears as we drove off for the hospital watching Denise and Larry wave us goodbye from their front door. Hardest of all was kissing Bill just before they wheeled me off to the OR.

Just as with the first hip I had a spinal as opposed to a general anesthetic. I so welcomed the sedation and was beyond grateful to wake up in recovery. There are forty beds in the bone and joint unit at Calgary's, four year old, South Health Campus, but I never saw that unit. I spent my two night stay in recovery. It was great to go home on October 19th.

The upper body strength I gained in the two months of using the walker was remarkable ...

October 21st.  My deltoids and biceps haven't looked this good since I wielded a 5 pound shrink-wrapping gun!

The death grip with which I held onto the walker gave me painful callouses on the heels of my hands, especially my right hand ...

October 21st.  The waterproof bandage stayed on for a week.
October 29th, just like last time I had some swelling but minimal bruising, considering. 

Twenty-three staples, as opposed to thirty-five last time, were removed October 31st by our physician, Dr. Mark Hawkins, here in Canmore. The incision is 5.5" long an inch shorter than the first hip's scar. 

Immediately after surgery the wretched arthritic pain was gone, replaced by the pain of having all those muscles carved through but this is a temporary pain and my healing is going well. The phase one, twice daily exercises no longer cause me to wince. Somewhere in the second week I found I could use the cane as opposed to the walker and now I can take some steps without the cane. How wonderful it is to be able to walk again. On a Sunday drive, around Banff, I even managed the teeniest of hikes at the hoodoos ... 

October 29th, at a hoodoo lookout on Tunnel Mtn., with Mount Rundle in the background.

There are still some issues to overcome. I'm anemic and have been put on iron supplements. The neuropathy which I previously only felt in my feet had been tolerable but sometime in September it showed up in my hands. The ring finger of my right hand is especially affected. It always feels numb and tingly, and is highly sensitive to heat and cold. The burning sensation of both hands and feet, especially at night, is a plague. No one can predict if this will get better or worse. The cannabis oil that I felt was helping ran out October 26th. In the fray I let my registration/prescription lapse (September 9th) but I'm off to see Dr. Abounaja tomorrow to acquire a new prescription and ultimately further oil from Cannimed in the hopes that it will check the neuropathy.  

It's a year ago tomorrow that I had the radical hysterectomy. I was still having discharge. On October 31st, our GP pegged it as yeast and put me on Flagystatin, a suppository antibiotic, for ten days, which cleared that up. As with the other surgeries for six weeks post surgery I'm self-injecting a blood thinner daily (Fragmin this time) to prevent blood clots. 

As for weaning myself off morphine. I did not quit cold turkey but rather followed the recommendation of both the surgeon and our GP. On October 19th, I reduced the intake from 60mg every 8 hours to 30. A week later I halved it again and another week later I took the last 15mg tablet at 6am, on November 3rd. Quite simply it has been hell since. I was lucky to have only vomited once. The withdrawal symptoms both physical and mental are extensive. Worst of all is the insomnia. I long for an uninterrupted night's sleep. My dreams are vivid and plentiful. Some are highly entertaining while others frighten me to the point where I wake myself up to escape them. 

With further weight loss I'm barely 120 pounds. I've no strength or fitness. The diarrhea (another withdrawal symptom) in a colostomy bag is not for the faint of heart. I'm hoping that my colon can be reconnected to my rectum one day, but right now I have a strong aversion to more surgery.


To end on a happy note, one of the delights of being back in Canmore is seeing just how the art community has blossomed. It's so inspirational to find it even broader than it was a decade ago. On November 11th, I was so pleased to attend Pascale Ouellet's 9th solo show, 'Pretexts' at Elevation Gallery ...

Yours truly with gallery owner Cheryl Baxter (left) and artist Pascale Ouellet (right). 

The past year plus has been especially hard on both of us. I could never have survived it without Bill. He does everything and is everything to me. Thanks to family and friends who have been a huge support. I believe we all take the freedom to easily come and go for granted and so I tell you we are truly looking forward to my strength being rebuilt, enabling us to get out more and to resume traveling.