Monday, December 31, 2007

Wait a second................

Just as I finished writing my last entry I looked out the window and saw this.......a winter sunset. The saying is certainly true, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute."
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There has been record snowfall for December in Maine, so I read in the paper this morning. There is no reason to doubt the statistics here in Eastport, where it just snows and snows. Undeterred, I decided to dig my car out to go to the IGA. I needed ingredients for a recipe Sherillee sent me and wanted to make it NOW. It took some time, but I managed to get on the road and to the store. I pretty much looked out the side window to find my way. The wipers just couldn't keep up with the snow on the windshield.

I took my camera so I could capture the storm, snapping randomly from the store parking lot. Then I went down to the breakwater and photographed the harbor. Between the driving snow and my unsteady hand with the zoom lens, I wasn't able to do as well as I would have liked. Still, the pictures have a certain atmosphere that captures the idea. They are grainy because I had to sharpen them to get any detail. The driving snow obliterated much of what I was looking at.

Along with my being in my old house, the winter is repeating itself weather wise as well. The year I moved here there was a big snow storm beginning just as the mover's drove away. It was followed by an ice storm that crippled the northeast for weeks. I am not expecting a repeat of that, but the snow makes me relive my first days in Eastport. I was undaunted then, as now, and remember writing about my winter surroundings in my journal. I think I will look up my entries and make some further comparisons.

It is New Year's Eve. I imagine a lot of the festivities will be canceled, which is too bad for the organizers. For myself, I am just as happy to ignore the fact that another calendar year is over. So the earth has rotated around the sun again, and come back where it was 365 days ago. It doesn't stop and look back, it just keeps on twirling and circling. It's all any of us can do.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Day

Despite all the tumult of the last several weeks with moving and illness, Thom and David managed to make Christmas as lovely as always. I had a very small part in the preparation of the wondeful meal featuring crown roast of pork (I made the green feet). With it there was stuffing, asparagus with lemon butter, tomato pudding, creamed onions, then rum cake and home-made ice cream. They had put up a perfectly shaped real Christmas tree and decorated it with silver ornaments and white lights. It was beautiful and elegant.

During the afternoon I went over to open gifts with them, and was struck speechless by their generosity toward me. My gifts to them certainly paled, but I tried to avoid comparisons and the ensuing guilt I could have felt. It would have diminished their gifts to me for all of us. As it was, I allowed myself the luxury of pure gratitude and appreciation for what I was given, and for the friends who gave it.

On Christmas Eve, we had dinner at Sydney and Richard's, along with other friends of theirs. Our traditional Mexican meal was delicious as always and Sydney's party favors amused us all. They were the kind of toy cars that go on their own once you spin their wheels a couple of times, and they flew around the table constantly after the meal was over, interrupting conversations and lending a childlike atmoshere of fun and levity.

So, in spite of my fears that changes and recent events might adversely effect our holiday, nothing of the kind took place. If anything, the preceding weeks probably made the occasion seem all the more worthwhile. It was a kind of symbol of steadfastness in the face of change. It pointed up the importance of ritual and constancy without inflexibility. We have all experienced many kinds of Christmases throughout our considerable individual lifetimes. Each in its turn is appropriate and notable, in its own way, the best.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Chickens' Christmas

I made crackers as hors d'ouvres for Christmas dinner so I took some out to the chickens. A lot of the snow has melted and they really enjoyed themselves (and still are as I write) in the back yard with their treat. It makes me feel glad to see tham so fat and happy, even Demeter. Their brief exposure to the world of major pecking order seems to have them thanking their lucky stars for tyheir own small flock. Demeter used to have a raw spot on her neck from apparent abuse, and now she is all healed up. I suppose it's possible that poor Hannah was the one who was doing it. If so, Demeter is certainly happier for Hannah's untimely demise.

Anyway, Merry Christmas, chickens, and many happy returns.
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Back Door View

I started this painting at David's over a week ago. I didn't get very far with it, but felt that it had potential. On Wednesday I took it to Art Day and changed it a little. Looking at the actual view several evenings, I realized that the real subject was the light of the sun getting ready to set so early in the day. I could see the warmth coming through the trees against the coldness of the foreground snow.

It's interesting how sometimes it takes a lot of observation to extract the specialness from a view that you see every day. This is what I see every time I let the dogs out through the shed door. The side of my house is on the right. The steps to the left lead to a second floor apartment of the house next door. They are actually not quite so close, but I wanted the interest there. I liked the painting in the end.
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice

This is how the shortest day of the year looked from my house at about 4:30pm. The whole sky was pink, even facing north and east. Campobello, our constant horizon, appeared cold and deserted. The Eastport streets are very icy, and I fell down today as I walked the dogs, despite the grippers on my boots. In fact, just before I slipped, I was thinking how secure I felt. I bounced back up again before the dogs even noticed I was flat on the ground, unhurt and embarrassed.

Christmas looms, speeding toward us with unprecidented speed. It's a different Christmas coming, with David somewhat out of commission and Thom here handling most of the preparations. Thom's relatives loom in the background, people I have never met who are suddenly part of the scene. Thom has not been so much incorporated into our Christmas as we have been incorporated into his. It's different, but not unpleasant, and we are still going to the Lessons and the Carols on Sunday as David and I always have.

Change is inevitable, and I stand on the sidelines watching the world shift, watchful and curious.
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Sunday, December 16, 2007


Here is the portrait I painted for Thom to give his cousin. I love honoring the relationship between a person and an animal this way.
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Stockings, etc.

Listening to one of my favorite Christmas songs from "Alabama Christmas," I was flooded with memories of my own childhood. I still have the stockings that Mike and I hung every year until we were adults. They have been chewed by mice in some storage place, but the tattered remains came into my possession.....I don't remember how. I also don't remember who embroidered our names on them, but it seems to me that my mother made them and decorated them. If not, it was my grandmother. There is a picture somewhere of us as little children sitting on the floor in front of them hanging on a chair behind us by common pins. That Christmas is too early to be in my conscious memory, but it is a replacement for memory, as many snapshots are. Other Christmases are recorded the same way and exist only for the brief moment when the camera clicked. There's me at age 6 holding my new baby doll, Carol. There I am standing with my brother and two cousins in front of the Formica kitchen table, all of us dressed in safari outfits we received as gifts. There we are years later, before yet another tree, looking at a book
that is presumably a present. I wear glasses and my hair is in a pony tail. Mike looks to be about ten, and the little boys probably four or five. Not recorded are the Christmases of my teen years, though they do exist in my mind in a way the photographed ones do not.

I can't say that I remember those years fondly exactly, but they are clear in my mind as bits and pieces of many Christmases. Christmas Eve with Dr. Berg in attendance......Our pet monkey, Chico, dancing on the top of Dr. Berg's white head. Chico plucking at the man's eyes, sticking his fingers up his nose and into his mouth as the seventy-something year old expounded in his thick Russian accent on some philosophical point or other, unaware or uncaring. My mother was already in bed with a stomach ache, Mike was gone by then, and the three of us stayed up all night drinking wine and talking about large issues, thinking great thoughts.....My father and I making a recording of ourselves as Walter Cronkite and the virgin Mary at Christ's birth, talking about the event as it happened, live and on camera. He was at his hilarious best, my father, imitating people both famous and ordinary. I played straight man for the most part, though I admired my own performance as much as his.

In those days our Christmas presents were labeled with the name of world figures my father pretended had sent the gifts.......Nikita Kruchev, Adlai Stevenson, Leonard Bernstein, Elvis Presley, etc. We played the game, discussing how thoughtful these people had been and wondering how they knew just what the right gift would be.......My father infuriating me by writing "Like Cool Yule" in popsicle sticks over the archway to the dining room. The square turkey......the shrimp and cabbage cole mother squinting over the cigarette dangling from her lips as she cooked the Christmas dinner.......

After Carrie was born we became somewhat more conventional. Mike came from Florida, and we had wonderful family Christmases that smacked of carols and eggnog, big trees and Santa decorations. When my father died it mostly stopped, and after the Christmas fire it did stop completely. That last time was a memorable one ......a candle set fire to curtains upstairs in Amber's room, Mike noticing the smoke when he went into the hall and unexcitedly told us to call the fire department, joking as he threw pails of water at the flames that it was a good thing he had smoked all these years to accustom his lungs to smoke.... the fire department coming, Jesse out in front of the house in freezing weather in his underwear holding the five dogs....broken windows and a tarp covering the first floor....water finally crawling into stinking, smokey sleeping bags amidst the smoldering rubble only to be forced to get up when the kitchen caught fire again. My mother, bewildered by early Alzheimer's, refusing to get into the warm police car in order to look for the cat. What a good time we had in the following days, reliving the event over and over, laughing at the irony of it, joking about our filthy clothes, our smoke smelling hair. We laughed at ourselves, sitting down after the fireman left and finishing the dessert we were eating when the fire broke out, rescuing our plates from the sink where the firemen had thrown them in order to move the table. The moment when Jesse sauntered upstairs after Mike and I had settled ourselves and the dogs on the floor of the charred second floor to announce calmly, "Mama, the kitchen's on fire." Amber joking, "I didn't like my Christmas presents so I set the house on fire." All of this was an endless source of conversation and utter amusement.

I loved my family, myself included, for how wonderful we all were in the face of that disaster, how despite everything we were so good humored, organized, and resourceful. I still smile when I think about favorite memory.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Tree

Yesterday I dug my Christmas Tree out of the closet where I had so recently stored it and set it up. Along with it I placed the nativity figures I bought last year in the stable I got at the thrift shop. When I had finished putting it all together, I wondered why I had done it. No one will see it but me, and the passers-by on the street. I basically have no religion. Yet the rules and customs of Christianity are the basis of much of our culture in the United States. It's impossible to ignore or live outside of religion, and most of the American population is Christian. At least this is my impression. Our governmental bodies open sessions with a prayer, our money says we trust in God, we pledge allegiance to our country "under God." I have a difficult time understanding how this can be, how multitudes of people can believe as they seem to. I've read that over 80% of Americans say they believe in God.

It mystifies me that people I admire, people I consider intelligent, actually believe there is a being who influences individual lives. Because of this, I have to question my own lack of belief. I base my beliefs so firmly on logic, as if logic were not a religion if logic were something independent of human thinking. I believe so firmly in the ignorance of humans to understand what goes on around and within them, yet even that is based on ignorance. All our thoughts and ideas are products of our human brains, and therefore not to be trusted. So how can I so firmly NOT believe? It is as rash and unsupportable as absolute belief.

So, I put myself hopefully through the motions of Christmas, including the story of the birth of a savior. Why not? It is a beautiful idea, and has inspired the greatest art of all time. That depth of the feeling is something I should envy. And I do.
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Monday, December 03, 2007

First Snow and Rockport Memories

Yesterday when Jesse and Sabrina left, it was a typical late Fall day. The weather report was for snow, which is why they left a day earlier than expected. This morning I woke up to the beginning of the storm, which is still going on at five o'clock. It's a fairly poor excuse for a winter storm, considering the dire predictions and cancellations, but it does the job of announcing winter.

The visit with the kids (I still call them that) was very nice. We had no time to do anything but visit and eat. Since we had all had turkey at Thanksgiving, we decided to have roast beef for Thanksmas dinner. It tasted good in spite of my recent vegetarian leanings. Since they have just moved into their own appartment, I gave them two paintings to hang on their new walls. They gave me a very beautiful bowl that is hand made with an unusual process, resulting in thin layers of fired clay that make the design.. The artists use horses as one of their subjects, which is ideal for me of course. I am thrilled with it.
Since it was too stormy for me to want to go out, I spent a quiet day. I painted for the first time in my new studio, but it was after the sun went down and I can see that something needs to be done about the light in there. The ceiling light is too diffuse and weak, but my spot light is so strong it reflects off the paint and makes it impossible to judge the color. Since I rarely paint after dark, it really wouldn't be much of a problem, but for the rare occasions I want it, I'll have to fix it.
Speaking of painting, I was looking at a book of prints the other day and the subject of the work was mostly landscapes of places I have painted myself. There were many of Eastport in the 30's and 40's, and many more of Rockport, Massachusetts where I spent such happy times at Betty Lou's workshops. Seeing the prints excited me and I suddenly wanted to talk to Betty Lou. I decided to give her a call, which I often want to do and don't follow through. When she answered the phone, she told me that she had just talked to Thelma and was planning to call me. It turned out that the printmaker I was reading about was an old friend of hers............As we talked, my call-waiting signalled to me that Thelma was calling. I called her when I had finished with Betty Lou.
The whole experience was so uplifting to me. The incredible coincidences that brought us three together that morning thrilled me. It seemed like a gift, as if the fates had decided to remind us of our connection to each other. When I think about my past, I always remember my trips to Rockport as the happiest times in my life. I was so inspired by Betty Lou, in such awe of her talent and her incredible ability to alter my life for the short time I was there and afterwards. She was bigger than life, inspiring in me something like worshipful admiration. She made me feel like an artist, and that being an artist was the most important thing anybody could be. I felt like part of a huge, wonderful family..... and part of the group of artists who followed Betty Lou, people so special to me that I will always be grateful for their presence in my life. Rockport was a magical place where art mattered more than anything else, and I was part of it. By my side was Thelma, smoothing the way for me to enter that world. How generous she was to include me, what an incredible influence she has been. Her own dedication to painting was an inspiration for mine. Her affection for me was a treasure that sustained me through so many difficult times and enhanced so many wonderful times. My affection for her is boundless.
The three of us bonded together into a unit, unlikely friends flung all over New England and then reconverging time and again to share our lives for those few days that often sustained me for the rest of the year. It's been a few years since we've been able to see one another. The phone calls invigorated me. It brought those memories to the forefront of my mind, and reminded me of what I had, and what I still have with them despite the distance. It reminded me of how fortunate I have been to have had such a very special relationship.
Nostalgia is sometimes unpleasant, but thinking of all of this is a pleasure for me rather than feeling sad that those times are gone. No shred of regret for things done or not done, said or not said, mars my gratitude for what our connection means to me.