Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve, My Piano

For me, the new year will arrive without fanfare or celebration. I had planned to go out with David and Thom, but as the day approached I felt more and more reluctant. Finally I excused myself by email and settled in to a guilty funk. I puttered around and accomplished nothing. I read passages from old journals and lamented the fact that I am no longer so introspective or articulate. I put the new purple bathroom rug I bought yesterday in place and was disappointed. The telephone battery I bought at the same time didn't fit the phone, I couldn't assemble the new flashlight.

On the bright side, I look forward to playing the piano as soon as I finish writing this. Just lately I have renewed interest in it. When I first sat down to it a few weeks ago, having abandoned it for several years, I was shocked at how little I remembered. I never was any good at it, despite trying most of my life. I set up a loose schedule of almost daily practice, followed it pretty much, and now have recovered the minimal skill I once had.

Despite striving for perfection in so many of my endeavors, I have accepted my failure to excel in this area. Even my recorder playing is less than stellar despite years of constant practice with Toni. I love music and can read it, but lack any acceptable technique, make mistake after mistake. Nevertheless, I put my heart and soul into my playing. I could be performing at Carnegie Hall. The sound coming out of the piano at the touch of my fingers on the keys thrills me. Enthusiasm makes up for my lack of expertise.

I have never played the piano in front of anybody else. I am so bad it would be humiliating. It is a private ecstasy with no need for outside affirmation, no need for approval or praise. I relish my time spent as a maker of music, putting it off as I might a delicious tidbit waiting in the refrigerator. I savor the anticipation, and it never disappoints me.

That is going to be my solitary way of bringing in another year. It's a fine way.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Last Painting of the Year (I think)

I've worked on this painting off and on for a few weeks. I think it's 16x20, painted over some other work I decided didn't merit saving for posterity. It is taken from another one of Toni's photos. She doesn't have any others, so I'll have to find some other subject matter for the next one. I'm still interested in painting crowds, and I may try repeating in oil the ones I did last winter in watercolor. Somehow it never seems quite so interesting to paint familiar, contemporary scenes. I think that's because our idea of great art was done by the old masters. We forget that what looks so old-fashioned and romantic to us was actually contemporary when it was painted. Even though Toni's pictures are fairly recent, the fact that they were taken in Chili somehow makes them more enchanting.

I have to get over that..........
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Saturday, December 27, 2008


Christmas Tree
Buche de Noel
Lytton with his present from Duncan

...................and the next night we watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

It was a wonderful time.
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Monday, December 22, 2008


We are buried in snow after nature brought us a real, old-fashioned blizzard last night. The electricity was out for a short while, but came on after I went to bed, lighting lamps, making phones beep, and sending the furnace into noisy activity. When I got up this morning, the snow was piled so high against the house I wasn't able to open either door. I had to take out the window in the door, and shovel from inside (luckily I hadn't left the shovel outside as I often do). Once I could get outside, I put the dogs on their leashes and stumbled around the driveway between this house and the one next door. Not much snow accumulates there, even in a storm like this, because the wind blows up from the water and clears it out like a tunnel. While a drift four feet high covered the front door, grass was showing only a short distance away. The plow had pushed the snow into a bank almost as tall as I am all along the front of the house, so there was no way to get out for a walk.

For the sake of good spirits I ignored the sight of my car, almost buried and just behind the mound that lined the street. I did have to check on the chickens, though, and was horrified to see that their door had blown open. All I could see was snow in the doorway and no sound of chickens. There was no way to get the gate open to their yard, so I had to cut a hole the chicken wire. Fortunately, the area between the back of the house and the shed is also sheltered in a peculiar way, so once I was in the going was easy. All the chickens were none the worse for wear, keeping to the far side of the coop where it was bare and relatively warm. I fed and watered them, gathered eggs, kicked the snow out, and closed the door as best I could. It was time to go make my morning coffee and contemplate the situation. Everything was out of wack.......the newspaper didn't even come.

A few hours later I gathered my recources and faced the fact that I was going to have to shovel the car out. I dressed in layers of clothes, hat, boots, and mittens, and sallied forth. The wall of snow was daunting to say the least, but I put myself to the task with the determination of one who prides herself on self-sufficiency. Secretly, even to myself, I hoped some chivalrous person with a plow would see me and insist on helping me out. It didn't happen.

After two hours of constant shovelling I decided to give myself a rest. I had made considerable headway, but the job was far from finished. I imagined going back in a half hour or so, but once I had stopped, my arms and back felt useless. I made a pie and sat down to read while it was baking, gathering strength to tackle the chicken coop door. Ice around the doorway prevented the door from closing all the way and I spent considerable time chipping at it. Several times I had to trudge my way back to the house for hammers, screwdrivers, buckets of water, etc. I replaced the hook that the wind had yanked out of the wood, stuff towels into the crack where the door wouldn't close. Finally I was satisfied enough to call it a day.

I can't wait to have a piece of my pie.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I meant to post these pictures a week ago but got so caught up in Lytton's illness that I forgot about it. I haven't made bread in a long time, but Mike told me that he had done it and it inspired me. Besides, it used up a few eggs. The girls are so productive I am constantly looking for ways to use them. I forgot about this bread both times I let it rise, so I think it's colossal proportions are due partly to over-rising. Nevertheless they loaves are beautiful to behold. They taste good, too.
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The Shovelled Walk (and Flamingos)

I do believe this is a momentous occasion in my life.......I shovelled the walk for the first time. The new snow is light and fluffy even though there is a lot of it. It seemed like the perfect time to find out what it's like to actually clear the path to the street. My usual approach is to stomp the snow down until I can get where I want to go. There is a great sense of satisfaction in doing the job in a "proper" way, yet I imagine that once will be enough for me.

I also shovelled behind the car, but only after I had rammed the snowbank by driving back and forth over it several times. My work made it look neater, though I had a "why bother?" feeling of wasted energy. I had already got the car out, which is, after all, the purpose of removing the snow.

The picture of the flamingos records a sight that has entertained me for weeks. I keep planning to bring them inside, but they look so funny out there I've put it off. I will do it after this storm, though, before they get buried and ruined.

Well winter is here, and driving to the post office on the slippery road through heavy snow reminded me that its coming is not the disaster it always seems to be as we anticipate it. I welcomed it as part of the natural ebb and flow of things. I careened down Water St, sliding one way and then the other, like a kid with a new sled. The extremes of our climate here are such an adventure. We get a chance to live two completely different lives.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008


Lytton is getting better now, but I have been preoccupied with him for the past several days. He was in a lot of pain, crying out every time he moved. I called the emergency number for the vet in Perry and braved dark and ice to drive him there after hours. Once we were there, Lytton acted as if nothing were wrong and the doctor dismissed us. At my insistence, he gave me some pain pills and muscle relaxers. We (all the dogs and me) were awake most of that night because of his misery, which returned as soon as he left the clinic.

The next morning I called my sainted vet in Bangor, who diagnosed him over the phone as having a slipped disk. He approved the medication he was taking and asked me to call the next day. All I could do was hold Lytton in my lap, listen to him whine, and wipe the tears from my face. Always disaster-oriented where he is concerned, I envisioned paralysis at best, death at worst. As the day wore on he improved enough to stay quiet unless he moved. That night he slept better and so did the rest of us. Since then he has improved each day and is now almost back to normal.

As he regains his health, my thoughts shift from his impending death to relief that he is better. The relief is shallow and skewed, tainted by the the ever-present cloud that seems to taunt me with the whisper, "Not this time."
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Sunday, December 07, 2008


It has been 28 years since my father died. It was probably the most life-altering event of my life. Before his death, I was his daughter. That was my identity, despite the fact that I was married with two children. Everything I did was influenced by my perception of his reaction to it. Every thought was measured by what he would think, whether he would approve or disapprove. I twisted myself inside out trying to anticipate how to please him, to make him happy and proud of me.

When he was no longer there, I had to invent myself. It was a difficult searching, trying to find out if there was an independent being lurking somewhere that I had not noticed. I had trouble, trying on different persona's to see if they fit. As I remember it, most of them were unpleasantly hostile. My mother suffered the brunt of my instability, never knowing what to expect from an angry and indifferent daughter. I made many bad decisions that I remember with increasing regret as time separates me from them.

I think that eventually I invented a person I can accept as being "me."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finally Back

I haven't been able to blog for a while because I couldn't upload pictures from my camera. I hate to make an entry without a picture, so I waited until I received a new disk from Kodak. It's more irksome to use that program, but the new version of Picasa won't transfer anything from my camera.
Anyway, here is my newest painting. It is done from a photo Toni took many years ago when she lived in Chili. It isn't quite done, but in case I mess it up, I wanted to have a record of it as it is now.
Thanksgiving has come and gone. I took pictures of the wonderful table set for our dinner at David and Thom's, but I accidently deleted them while trying to get my camera to work. It was a beautiful sight and the meal was delicious. I contributed a pumkin cheesecake, which I promptly dropped on the kitchen floor when I arrived. We ate it anyway. (Luckily Thom and David's floor is literally clean enough to eat off.) I had a great day and was certainly thankful for everything I had, including my great friends. When I got home I had messages from both kids. I returned both calls and had nice holiday chats. My cousin Michelle also called and we spent some time on the phone, too. It made me feel close to my family, as well as my friends, like a traditional holiday should.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chicken Adventure

The girls had quite a surprise when I opened their door this morning (the same surprise I had when I looked out the window). Usually they pile out into the yard immediately, but they certainly put on the brakes when they saw the snow. I wasn't able to coax then out, even with saltines. They haven't been using the ramp, so I had left it on the ground. Thinking they might venture out if they could do it gradually, I put it in place and crumbled some crackers on it. Cautiously, Lily and Lupine made their way down the ramp and stepped into the snow. Evidently it was the sight of it that unhinged them, not the feel. Once they were on the ground they didn't seem to care about it.

Eventually, encouraged by their comrades, the others crept forward and joined them on the ground. It was still snowing a little, and I think they went back inside as soon as the treats were gone. I was proud of them for being so brave and adventuresome.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pennamaquam Painting

I used a photo that Toni took to paint this. I started it at art group last week and finished it today at home. As I said when I looked at it after the first session, it's a pretty painting, but so what? I hoped I would be inspired after looking at Emile Gruppe's work in the latest issue of American Art Review. I was inspired, but I couldn't translate his wonderful brushwork into mine. No matter what, it still looks like I painted it.

What I may do is go over it with oil paint. This is acrylic, and I really don't like the way it looks when I use it for landscape. It's too crisp and clean. Or perhaps I just don't like my landscape painting, except the watercolors I used to do in Rockport. I'll never do those again..........they came out of a time and an experience that will never come again.

The weather has turned very cold and windy. A big piece of foam insulation had blown into the yard from somewhere when I went out this morning. My upside-down flag is flapping on it's head, and the dog gate looks like it could blow down any minute. I parked the car up against it to hold it in place. The chickens hovered near the side of the old garage all day, and went inside early. The dogs still wanted to go out for their walks, which I couldn't refuse, but were glad to turn around and come home after a very short time. The top blew of my propane tank, and off the bird feeders.

Thanksgiving is next week. Winter is here.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Babies Become Women

I've been pondering the problem of making nests for the chickens. I had no idea when they would begin to lay eggs, but I knew I needed to prepare. I couldn't think of what to do, since their house is so small. Trying to give them an illusion of privacy in there seemed an unsolvable problem.

It seems that the chickens' biological clock was ticking faster than I thought. These eight eggs were all together under the shorter ladder I had placed near the door as a second roost. They haven't used it, since they prefer to huddle together on the top two rungs of the other, bigger ladder. I don't know how long the eggs have been accumulating. They were not obvious there in the corner, the same color as the wood shavings around them. In any case, the big event happened without fanfare or even acknowledgment.

Now I know where to put their nests, though, and it happens that I just recently thought of what to make them with. I have an unused medicine chest with a central shelf. If I take the door off and lay it on its back, it makes two chicken-sized compartments. I'll fill them with bedding and stick them under the ladder. Two nests is enough for three chickens, so I've read. I'm sorry I didn't have a nicer place for them earlier, but they seemed to manage anyway.

My girls have grown up.
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Saturday, November 08, 2008

I Cook

Amazingly I actually cooked a meal this afternoon. It was such an occasion I had to document it. This is pork tenderloin stuffed with onions, apples and raisins, simmered in a wine sauce, and apple-cranberry pie. I haven't eaten any of it yet, but am looking forward to it with great anticipation.

This is quite a departure from my usual frozen "Healthy Choice" turkey, or cereal and a Whoopie Pie, or crackers with two bowls of ice cream, or Genoa salami and cheese straight from the deli bag. I was inspired by the apples that Sydney gave me from her trees, although I ended up using apples from the store for the pie. I saved the others for the chickens, who are crazy about them. I don't know when I stopped cooking regularly, but most of the time opening a package is all I can bring myself to do.

It's amazing when I remember how I cooked for Phil and the kids, day after day after day. I loved doing it, too, and was an enthusiastic, adventuresome cook. I would have wretched at the idea of a frozen dinner, or worse, a store bought dessert. I still love to eat, but I am not so fussy now. I never sit at the table for a meal, and five candy bars can serve as supper.

Well, times change.
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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


............the first black president. History in the making!
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

I went to vote at the High School this afternoon. It's hard to imagine, but that all-but-dead patriotism surged into my consciousness and I was moved. The voting booths, the wooden ballot boxes, the ballots themselves, all sent shivers through me. Looking at the names on the paper in front of me was overwhelming.......that it all came down to this. Months and months of speeches and ads and travels around the country until the campaign almost becomes a way of life, and then "we" get to decide. It really is an amazing process when you think of it. Suddenly it is real. Suddenly it is personal. It's me standing there with my no.2 pencil, it's me who helps to elect the "President of the United States."

Seeing those words, the choices, and knowing that whichever one I checked would be effected seemed almost too much responsibility. Nevertheless, I marked my X beside Barack Obama's name and came out smiling foolishly with pride. We have come to take for granted that we choose our leaders this way, yet a peaceful transfer of power is something not that usual in the world. In most governments the candidates who want the job do not try to woo those they wish to govern.

Well, all of this has caught me by surprise. I thought my cynicism went to the core of my being. But I've found a reason for today to be glad that I'm American. Stripping the whole system of its ideals and examining the reality of democracy can send one into a tailspin of despair, but I choose to let myself ignore all that for a day and love my country.

Is this sappy, or what???
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Sunday, November 02, 2008


So here we are on Halloween. Thom made this spooky dummy to entertain the kids who came trick-or-treating, though it entertained us even more. I don't like this holiday and never have, but it I have to admit that it was fun being there with David and Thom. We had a wonderful dinner and a great time.
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Friday, October 31, 2008

Duncan and Duff

For the last week I have been obsessed with these portraits of Duff(left) and Duncan(right). They are only 5X7, but I had a very hard time getting the likeness of the dogs, especially Duff. I did portraits of two other Scotties owned by the same people years ago. Those dogs died and now here are the new boys. It has been quite a challenge to get individuality into each dog, but I think I finally managed to catch them. In any case, they're finished. After all I've been through, I am afraid even one more brushwork could be disastrous.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chickens and More Flowers

I haven't taken pictures of the chickens for awhile, so when they refused to go in for the night, I used the time to get them on camera. This is the only one I got with all six. They are so friendly that it's hard to get far enough away from them. I threw a handful of Rice Crispies on the ground, then snapped the picture. They are big and beautiful and healthy.......and happy.
The cosmos is still going strong. It looks disheveled because of the wind, but it is covering the whole garden now. It's a beautiful sight. I picked the last of the gladiolas and put them with the others on the table in the kitchen. What tremendous rewards I have received from planting flowers. There can't be much that delivers such pleasure.
The country is in a terrible economic crisis right now. Since I have nothing to lose, it has hit me only (at this point anyway) in hypothetical terms. My brother Mike, however, has lost all of the money he spent years accumulating. He planned on moving here and enjoying retirement. We've talked about it for years, and I have even looked at real estate for him. He has worked hard all his life, and it just breaks my heart to see his dreams evaporate............
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Painting Group

Wednesday we had our usual painting group. I have written about it so many times, I decided to take a picture. Here are Lisa and Sydney having refreshments (wine, cheese, and crackers) after our afternoon labor. I love looking at this because it brings back the feeling I always have there. Sydney's studio, on the third floor of her huge house, is comfortable and welcoming. The lighting is less than ideal for painting, but we aren't really bothered by it. Our camaraderie makes up for any practical difficulties there may be. We paint and talk, occasionally falling into easy silence as we work. Topics of conversation run the gamut......local gossip, politics, personal problems, religion, books, TV shows, art, philosophy....nothing is off limits. Despite the fact that we usually get together only this one day a week, it seems we are the best of friends. Seeing them in this picture makes me realize that I love them.

The top picture is the one I started that day and finished at home. I have liked painting these vegetables and envisioned a series. After this one, the third, I'm not so sure. I'm more intrigued by the idea than the process. Probably I will do one more and then see how I feel about it. I've already picked another arrangement, so I may as well keep going. I am so short on supplies that along with doing without some of my paint colors, I have started painting on a pad of canvas paper that I've had for at least ten years. It's flimsy, so master of invention that I am, I got some vinyl tiles left over from the bathroom floor out of the cellar. They are square, and are sticky on the back--perfect for mounting canvas paper. I am quite proud of my resourcefulness. It amuses me that so many artists no better or more famous than I worry so much about preserving their work. They worry about color-fast paint, archival surfaces and framing materials, and exposure to light. Putting my work on peel-and-stick floor tiles is a defiant piece of performance art, if only in my own mind.

I had a wonderful print-making teacher named Zislaw Sikora during a summer session when I was at school. He once said, as we students labored endlessly over our preparatory sketches, "Come on, hurry up. If you were Rembrandt, you'd know it by now."
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Monday, October 13, 2008

More Vegetables

Here's the second painting of the pile of vegetables I photographed so many times. Once again, I'm amazed at how detailed my paintings look when shrunk down like this. I like it in the flesh, too, though.
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