Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

I was in the library today browsing in the new books and came across Gail Sheehy's book on caregiving, so I leafed through it, you never know, there may be something worth learning in there.

She uses the labyrinth as her basic motif, which I definitely approve for starters, since the labyrinth is a seriously important and useful part of my own life, very centering and helpful and never leaves you without some help, no matter what state you're in at the outset, not a bad claim!

But then she leaves me fuming and wanting to throw the book savagely across the room, but since it's a library copy, and brand new, and there are people there who read in here, I thought I better not do that there, when she gets off in the unconscious assumption that everyone has her privileges in life.

Don't stop traveling, she counsels, take that trip to Paris! As if. Keep the second house, you may be glad to live there on and off. Don't play God, thinking you're the only person who can take care of your chronically needy partner. Bring in other people! Lady, it's not about playing God, it's about there not BEING anyone else to take care.

She happily suggests getting help from agencies, tells about their fees, etc., and suggests the gray market of people working on their own, uninsured, etc., with no apparent understanding that in some markets there are no such people. It doesn't matter what sacrifices you are prepared to make to pay them, if they don't exist you're outta luck.

And she never once that I could detect grasps that a lot of homebound people are paralyzed, need to be transferred using a lift, can not turn unaided, are incontinent, need everything handed to them, food prepared in such a way that they can eat with a fork easily, etc., and that to get home health aides able and willing to do that is simply, well, it's the stuff of fantasy.

Months of searching by two agencies, calling me daily with updates, and a raft of friends and contacts have been trying to help me for over a year find anyone, daily home help or even this gray market person, and to date we have found: none.

Her notion of caregiving is taking care of people who can walk. No matter how sick, they can WALK. This makes the huge difference between homecare and not having the ability to keep people home.

So, Gail, honey, I don't think I'm God, I just think I'm all that stands between HP and a nursing home where he would dwindle in short order, instead of having a life.

I don't mean to put down people helping spouses and partners with serious and debilitating illness, just to point out that that's not the whole world of caregiving by a long shot. Medicare will not cover chronic needs, only acute ones. No hospice for a chronically ill patient who may go for years.

And even where Medicare entitles the patient to certain help, again, if the people don't exist, you can't get it. We didn't even get all the visits we were entitled to on discharge from the rehab, since they could not supply people. The people we did get were wonderful, and they lasted a few visits before retreating exhausted to go to patients who needed a lot less help.

She suggests a whole day off per month. Hm. How is that to be achieved, I wonder? you can't ask friends and neighbors to do the personal intimate cleaning and dressing and medicating care and observation and skilled transfer needed in this house.

Our son can and will, when available, and enabled me to have my wonderful three days away in May, which I still look back on with great joy. But once a month? not possible. And a whole week away at least every six months? who can get help to come and take over such a complex situation, only for a week, how long would you have to spend training them, even if they exist? and to ask our son to give up that much of his own vacation time, given the stresses of his own job, no, too much.

Aside from any other considerations, she does not grasp that everyone is not at her level of income, no matter how she wails about how they lost a lot of job chances because of his illness. Yes, I get that. But all it did was put her still considerably higher in the income hierarchy than a lot of people!

She was on the radio recently, her host being a therapist himself a quadriplegic who knows exactly what it is to manage catastrophic disability, and I was so happy that people had called him ahead of time, not able to wait on the phone long enough to be on the radio, to make these points, illustrating with their own situations: mothers of three small children, husband totally disabled from illness, zero family help, no money, etc. Middleaged men with wives with early onset degenerative illness, putting their own jobs on the line because there's no other way to take care at home. And many more. Not angry, nor reproachful, just thinking she ought to know this before she goes writing any more about it.

Heartbreaking and true situations you don't hear about because they are too busy taking care of everything to go on the radio and to write books about it, I guess. To do her justice, she sounded very abashed and confounded at these calls, and was really humble about accepting them. I liked her a lot for that. And she didn't fall into the trap of saying that you are never sent more than you can deal with.

This is not true. Ask me, as a veteran of the world of special needs children , about the parents who took their own lives because they simply broke under the stress. Or the spouses who simply vanished one day leaving the family broke and alone, because they couldn't do it any more. Not bad people, just normal human ones. Or the people I observed in the rehab whose families had just never shown up again to claim them.

People like me have undergone a lot of difficulty in life, not because we're special, we're not. I'm only an ordinary person playing the hand I was dealt rather than jacking it in and running away. Putting a cheerful face on it because it's wrong to impose our worries on other people, unless we have specific things they can do to help with them.

And that leads some of us now and then the most awful comment of all: when outsiders claim that the patient is doing so well, it means there's not much wrong with them. Thereby dismissing the heroic care being given at home that makes the patient look so well and fit. Only those of us who do it can know what it takes to have a partner look well, nicely groomed, happy, shaved, well nourished, cheerful. Doctors know. Therapists know. Neighbors who have seen people like me at work on it day after day know.

Onlookers have no clue, but I honestly don't blame them for not knowing, even when I do fault them for saying clueless things! that includes the folks who insist, oh take care of YOU, without lifting a finger to help you do just that. As Ruth L., a dear lady and a personal hero of mine, coping with a difficult home situation while still pursuing her profession in her 80s, advised me: dear, when anyone says that to you, deck 'em!

Lucky for Gail she wasn't any nearer, I guess!

Meanwhile, now that I've had my say and worn out my soapbox so it's all splintery on top, I will post some of the nice things I do for both of us, and for you, blogista friends, to bring beauty and peace and wisdom into all our lives.

Houseplants, clustered in a family portrait on the patio, at camp for the summer.

Wildflowers out front, those seed carpet things I put together a while back and fought off legions of squirrels for.

Daylilies out back behind the fence blooming away, with minimal care, just coming back over and over like welcome guests.

And far from least, the dear blogistas who post with helpful supportive encouragement. And how you let me have my say, and then I respect this by not getting involved in the comment section of this blog, figuring I've already had my turn, and the comments section is your turn! thank you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Serena 'Tude checking in....

I'll take these monickers under review, meanwhile, here's my new dress, see, us dolls are not just pretty faces....

Dolls rule, artists drool....

Okay, so I figured it was about time to have Really Important People writing in here, and since Boud is lying down resting after what she laughingly calls the work of hanging a show, I guessed I had better take over.

This is me, ready for my closeup.

She claims to have knitted me to recover from the exhibit thing, but we all know I was here all along in some other molecular form, and she just arranged the molecules.

Anyway, here I am, and whaddya know, I have to knit my own dress now.

The lacy underwear is cute and all, but a girl needs a dress to be molecularly respectable around here...and if Boud doesn't get to it someone has to. Heave that bale, tote that barge, chop wood, carry water, knit dresses.

Oh yes, and if anyone can give me a name, that would be good, too. It's another thing a girl needs, a good name.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let's put on a show!

On the homefront, first things first, here's the summer weight lap robe for HP, knitted from various harvested cotton yarns and leftover sock acrylic self striping yarn, from the Log Cabin quilting type design I pinched from the Mason-Dixon knitters.

The nice part about knitting a lap robe (I tried that as one word, and it looked like either something to do with alien abduction, or a new electric toothbrush) is that you fit it on yourself as you go. Once it nicely covered my own lap with a bit on each side to tuck in, I declared it Done,it was well received, and is now in use.

Then on to the Larger World Out There, the art exhibit, to be exact, where a dozen of my paintings are now nicely exhibited, first solo show in the new Gallery at the new Library, all the heavy lifting done by Jinny B. the doughty director of the Library who has never in life met a challenge she couldn't find at least six ways to overcome, and Donna S., herself an established artist as well as a library professional,

here they are, left Donna, right Jinny, cheerful despite a couple of hours' hard labor.

both a terrific Hanging Committee for me! Hanging a show is not unlike wallpapering together, particularly when one of the participants has committed, I mean created, the works in question. So we done good.

Just a couple of details here from the show:

In the next couple of days Jinny will do her fab. job of pressing it i.e. doing the press releases to all and sundry, and usually is so generous in her prose that you wonder if she's really talking about you, but it's great all the same. And she'll create the catalog, a very easy one this time, since it's: Orchids One through Nine, and Trees One and Two! no individual names, just decided to go for simple this time around, since the subject matter is so evident you don't need much in the way of clues to go by.

One of my best mentors, Maggi Johnson, look her up if you want to see how flattered I was by her taking on my art and advising me and insisting I start to show, many years ago, used to say about my more obscure monotypes: well, dear, you know what you're saying, and I certainly know what you're saying, but the general public might just need a little help with this! so I took that to heart and started spending time creating names. up to then it had seemed superfluous, since I'd already said what I wanted to when I made the art, but I had to concede that subtitles might be a friendly gesture.

Hanging a solo show is a rush, as well as a fearful, terrifying thing to do. It's not my work on those walls, it's me, who I am inside. Scary stuff. But I learn such a lot from people's comments, kind and otherwise. And if I sell a piece, that's nice, too, but far from the reason I do it in the first place.

I'm not heavily into the commodification of art, or in letting the marketplace tell me what to make next in order to sell it. When someone needs a piece enough that they want to buy it, and give it houseroom, fine, I love it. I do put prices, though they're kind of irrelevant, mainly because I don't want to undermine other artists to whom the selling is more of an important issue. Group loyalty, I guess.

This was a particular personal thing for me, since it signaled my continuing to be able to make decent art despite all the demands on my life and time with the ever continuing and increasing needs of HP. So I'm still connected, though there were several months when I thought this would never happen again.

So that's us!

Now back to your regularly scheduled viewing of soccer and tennis...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice and the daylight is lo-hong...

Summer Solstice today, aka Midsummer's Day, aka, first day of Summer. I just found out how the apparent contradiction came about: earlier the year was divided into Summer and Winter! and summer was supposed to start in May (wishful thinking in England, I'd say, but I digress). So June 21, or thereabouts, was considered midsummer. Then later the year was divided differently, using the solstices as only two of the dividers, so summer now starts at the solstice.

Anyhow, it's the longest day of daylight or near to it, and it reminds me all the time of those friends who grew up in the US, on rather a southerly latitude, really,and in summer it would get dark by about 8 p.m. latest. They'd go on a trip to England, and never having believed me when I said it was broad daylight till well into the evening, and in midsummer there were a couple of days when it didn't get dark at all, would come back with snapshots of, look, ME, out playing TENNIS, at 10 o clock at NIGHT!!! all excited.

But if you study your maps, you'll find that the north of England where I grew up is a pretty northerly latitude, something like Hudson's Bay. And then of course in winter I warn people going for a lovely Dickensian Christmas trip to England, that they'd better get their sightseeing in between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., because it's mostly dark outside those hours. Equally not believed until experienced. Despite my saying there were days when you went to school in the dark, basically, and came home in the dark.

Anyway, what I'm reading and doing and planning has nothing at all to do with any of that, I just felt obliged to say something to mark the day.

The reading and listening, is a mixed bag.

The Jane Austen period costume book by Sarah Jane Downing, perfect Austenian name, is excellent, more of an illustrated long essay than a book, very well researched and lovely reading, quoting from Jane herself as well as her characters and explaining a lot of the comments in the novels that referred to contemporary fashion and mores and had got by me until then. Highly recommended if you can find it.

And the CDs "Who Let the Dogs In" by Molly Ivins, the late lamented very funny political writer and unabashed Texas person, is a compilation of many of her columns. Consummate professional writer: you'd never know from her attention to her work what a tormented and sad person she was in private life, with terrible demons to battle, and how gallantly she battled. I just read her biography and it was almost too sad in places. But I thought I owed it to her to read it.

The Think Smart book, about improving the brain's performance by Richard Restak, is kind of okay. Having reached the age where I am tired of crossing the room only to wonder what I wanted when I started the trip, I thought I'd give it a look. He talks about flexibility of mind, and focusing and all that. Actually, an artist already does a lot of this stuff naturally, I find.

The part where it falls down is where he talks about creativity, when all he really means is inventiveness. Fifty ways to use a brick is not creative, just divergent thinking. And that isn't creativity. It only opens the beginning of the first door to it. The puzzles he presents have more solutions that he will admit to, with logical reasons for them (translation, I found different ways of solving them that he didn't seem to have noticed) and he's rigid on the point of these are the rules of these puzzles, just DO THEM. Hm. Not very flexible!

He also claims that if you have a quick answer to a puzzle, it's your left brain at work, and if your right brain is involved, that requires a whole lot more time. I think he's got this backwards. The whole point of the right brain is that it swoops on to the end of the path, or many paths at once, instantly, and then lets the left brain go back patiently filling in the gaps, and choosing which is the one it will follow.

And I don't think he realizes that unmade artwork is present in the brain neither in picture form nor in verbal form. It's more like a kind of heavenly vibration quivering there waiting to be released! but I guess you have to be there..

Nonetheless it's fun to read and play at the puzzles.

Speaking of waiting to be released, tomorrow I hang the show of paintings, which explains the luggage this entry started out with, and I show you Duncan guarding the precious cargo,

two of the bags full of painting, all wrapped in pillowslips, plus the visitors' book I made to go with. Note the painting on the side of one bag,

couldn't resist, since it's canvas...and you should see the other side..The rest of the paintings are downstairs, but I can only carry them in bits, they being heavy, wood and glass, you know.

This is the show destination:

It's going to be the first solo show in the all new and improved Library Gallery at the new Plainsboro Libe!

It amuses me hugely when I unload works at a group show where other people are doing the same, and see their expensive portfolios and crates and what have you being swung around, while I peacefully unpack my old pillowslips with artworks in them. They are perfect for the purpose, since I rarely make art too big for pillowslips. I don't actually paint to fit into the slips, I should explain.

I had a few corporate solo shows, and one time as I was bringing in 50 count them framed monotypes for a gallery show, the people helping me unload said, what? they're ALL in that Plymouth Horizon (tiny compact car with a hatchback, great for art purposes, for them as is not on this continong).

And as more and more works came out, like a clown car, one of the committee said, well, if you had a bigger vehicle, say a van, would you make bigger art then? so I explained that it was the other way around, really, that if I made bigger art, I'd have to get a bigger van, but I wasn't shrinking to fit, heh. Nice man, very good humored about it all.

And that was a wonderful show, great attention from the hanging committee, wonderful questions at the opening, and the company officially bought several pieces for their corporate collection. That was in the olden days when if you had a corporate show, they always liked to add to their collection.

Nowadays, I am not really free to have an opening, can't get away at the right time, but will invite people to go in, enjoy, sign the book, and with any luck, need to buy a painting to take home.

Usually that's what those red dots mean that you see in a show. The piece stays in place till the end of the exhibit (in this case July 31), then is delivered to the buyer or they pick it up, all arranged ahead of time. One time I got an urgent message from someone who totally wanted to buy a pastel as a special Christmas deal for his wife, all to be done in secrecy but he HAD to have it out of the show before the end, in order to give it to her. So I smuggled a substitute pastel into its place, removed the one he wanted, he collected it, all secretly, and it was great fun, but I often wondered if people thought they were seeing things, when a painting totally changed overnight...

I'm also on the brink of another blogging adventure, in addition to Field and Fen. F and F will continue unabated, but the new one, still in the planning stage, will be more of a gallery place, with current artworks on exhibit, that kind of thing.

More when I know more! meanwhile, enjoy the longest day if you're in this hemisphere, and step it up there if you're in the opposite one, since I guess you have the shortest day today.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers' Day 2010

To all of us who are or who have had, fathers, happy day! lovely hot June day here, and HS sent a wonderful card, and called, and made his father very happy, as you see.

And Raj S. next door, father of a lovely teenager, celebrated by washing and vacuuming both the family cars!

And a paper wasp family's home from last year was knocked down from the soffit by a group of birds this morning, landed right on the front path just asking for a starring role in Field and Fen.

Paper wasps are common around here, generally gentle and nonthreatening to humans, making sometimes massive paper homes in the trees, and these honeycomb smaller structures under all our roofs. An art of nature, that economical five sided shape, allowing more compartments to be fitted into the same area, without the waste of space that circular ones would create.

Speaking of economy of effort, I hear that the Treasures Field and Fen journal will soon be hand carried from Wisconsin to Vancouver, to meet up with its next inscriber, and I'm hoping for pictures of the official handoff, if this comes off!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I love to Blog even though I hate the word..

Blogging is such a great way to celebrate language, even though the word blog is hideously unmusical, but never mind.

It gives me the chance to talk with intelligent readers about the beauty of language, the precision instrument we use to convey the most subtle and nuanced of meanings. This is the flip side of my loud diatribes against people who won't talk proper like as how they should. The reason I get so excited about lousy grammar and spelling is that it's taking a wonderful fine tool, like a surgical instrument, and using it to chop down a tree. No good can come of this.

I know blogging gives us the chance to see pictures, too, and I bow to the people who just love the pix, this means you Minimiss! and others interested in seeing the vegetation on the other side of the planet in the opposite season.

But speaking and writing is such a miracle that it deserves a bit of a paean on its own.

I was lucky, or possibly unlucky, enough to study a number of languages, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, German and Profane. The last is very useful in the course of creating fine knitted goods, friends for the use of. But the others are the most powerful searchlight trained on the words we use.

Did you know that in classical Greek, curly hair, like on Greek statues, is called hyacinth hair? don't have a Greek keyboard, so the nearest I can get is huiacanthos.
And then look at the hyacinth flower, and you will see how it resembles a curly head.

Or consider that Easter, the opening of the year, is from the word for opening?

Or how appalling comes from the same root as pallor, meaning so shocking it makes you go white just seeing it.

Or how proud means either overweening, trying to stand out, or, if you describe flesh, proud flesh is standing up from its context, possibly because it's injured.

Or how there's a connection between the forelle pear, all speckled like a trout, and the trout lily, spectacular wild flower, with fat leaves speckled like a trout, I refuse to call it dog violet or whatever that other rotten name is, and the German word for trout, forelle, which most of us know via Schubert even if we don't know German, from the Trout Quintet. And if you don't know that music but have watched Waiting for God, you do know it -- it's the intro music. Particularly witty choice in that case, since the main character, Diana, is a bit of an old trout.

Or getting away from derivation (I drove HS mad in his childhood by insisting on telling him the Greek derivation of many English words, to the point where he would say, yes, yes, I know Mom, it's from two Greek words) to the actual pronunciation, meaning the stresses on words.

This is huge to me, since it is a repository of meaning that is being lost unless you, dear blogistas, join with me to preserve it. Even on radio, the ultimate sound avenue, I hear it quietly vanishing.

What I'm talking about is the way you change the meaning of the word, the part of speech, that is, by changing the emphasis. Progress, emphasis on first syllable, is a noun, progress, emphasis on second syllable, is a verb. Frequent, same same. Process and process, the one that means taking part in a procession.

There are so many examples of how with a little leaning on the right part of the word, you render the meaning perfectly, like setting a stitch in just the right place to make it significant, or putting that tiny brush stroke that makes the whole work. Or that tiny white stroke in a Degas monotype that holds up the entire architecture of the piece.

It matters, dear friends.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Between spring and summer

No heavy thoughts today, just the pickings from a great walk, neighbors' flowers, end of spring start of summer.

Wave petunias

Bed of herbs covered in white butterflies, all of which turned sideways and landed on a leaf to be invisible as soon as I got my camera out.

Lambs' ears

Daylilies starting sure sign it's the middle of June

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beeper, Beeper, Wherefore art thou Beeper?

Please note the absence of a comma between the last two words of the title...this is a small hobbyhorse of mine, which I will climb onto and trot about a bit, if you will let me.

Okay, when Juliet said Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? she did not mean where are you, my dear, shading her eyes and looking around from the balcony, despite all the high school productions we've all seen. She was in fact asking why the heck he had to be Romeo, as opposed to some nice Joe Green (little musical in-joke there, thanks to those who got it, this means you, Stefi), and then their lives would have been so much easier. A lot less dramatic, in fact there wouldn't have been a deathless play. No feuding families. Well, deathless in one sense. Plenty of death in the other. In fact if the suitor had been Joe G., the Koolaid would never have put in an appearance....

So about Beeper, the current parakeet of the household. Wherefore is he Beeper? He's Beeper because he says it all the time, and responds to any beeping sound that goes off, microwave, clothes dryer, phone charger, he's fine with them all. And in spring he polishes up his repertoire as the outdoor birds tune up, and we get an entire concert of robins, Carolina wrens, chickadees, and beeps inserted here and there at will, he being pretty good at improvising.

Which reminds me that the other day I saw a book in the new books section of the libe on How to Improvise!!! which struck me as funny, like a solar powered flashlight or something.

Back to Beeper. He is the last of a long line, or flock, of parakeets I have rescued and bred over the last couple of decades. His parents were Opal, a jewel like bird like an opal, hence his name, and Harriet, widow of Peter Wimsey, named for Harriet Vane,and well named as it turned out, since she was a highly intelligent bird. William and Mary were my first birds, William a gentle little guy who didn't have a long life, Mary a feisty character who would bite me as soon as look at me. And those little beaks pack a terrific punch.

Mary eventually, old and tired,died in my hands, but her last act, after fixing her beady little eye on me, was to give my thumb a savage bite! she died as she lived, and I really honored her for it, while putting bandaids on my thumb before I took her out to lay her to rest under leaves out near the marsh. I always leave my birds out that way, just the way it would be if they were wild bred, under a few leaves.

People who talk lightly of bird brains ought to be lucky if they have them. Parakeets are highly intelligent birds in a tiny package. They can solve problems, create games for themselves, organize each other, accept what they can't change. More humans could stand to be like them!

This is one reason I've rescued a lot of them since they were in situations where they were handled with outright abuse by people, usually men, who can't stand the constant chirps, or with ignorance, usually well meaning people who have no clue that what they're doing is wrong, Opal and his two sibs for instance, being out at a fleamarket in the winter, unprotected.

The reason I could let them fly free in the condo without fearing a population explosion was that most of them, though sold as young birds to unsuspecting people in pet stores, were in fact failed breeders who for one reason or another could not reproduce. Harriet and Opal I knew were excellent birds, and I could keep a limit on the numbers having only a single breeding pair.

They love a wide variety of foods, practically everything you like they like! and one of the favorite things all of my parakeets have gone for is a big leaf of romaine lettuce, dripping wet and hung where they can bathe in it, throw it at each other, play with it and finally eat it. An all purpose food.

And they like a wedge of apple clipped where it won't fall down when they eat it. Not pears though, they don't like the graininess. And never should they be given perches of cherry or other soft fruits, since they chew on perches and the fruiting woods have various toxic materials in them. Broccoli, raw, is nice, since they pick individually at the tiny little sections, great entertainment.

They need toys, and Mardi Gras beads have been a big item around here. Also fluffy stuff they can pull at and chuck about. And strings of plastic circles they yank on making a terrible racket.

I used to have all my birds, varying to a max of nine to the current one, flying free, and Harriet sinply took over the flock. She literally showed them how to fly around the room without crashing into mirrors and windows, the usual doom of indoor birds, and sorted out quarrels, and established the pecking order, literally. She kept them all safe and away from open doors, and could be relied on to round them up to sleep in cages at night. And she was good about not letting the cockatiel be bullied by the energetic little parakeets.

She and Opal had three families, which she hatched on top of the fridge, two of which families went to very nice homes, and one I kept and installed in HP's house in the time we were not together, but I had visiting rights.

I have always had rescued cats along with birds, and never had any problem with them. In fact they all seemed to realize this was their last stop, and they'd better get along. Annabelle, cat of my heart the way Kerry was the dog of my heart, and EH the cockatiel of of my heart, actually acted as a kind of hall monitor of the birds.

When a bird gets in trouble, stuck or lost, it falls totally silent, a survival mechanism, but not very useful in the house. So if someone went missing, Annabelle would get me and trot over to where she'd last seen the missing person. Often this was near the sofa, and if I upended it, I'd find the shaking little bird stuck in the springs and waiting for help.

One of my other cats, the Boud which is now my screen name in her honor, was great friends with the cockatiel, letting her nibble on her nose, purring all the while. Interspecies friendship. While refusing to play with her own feline sister, Victoria!

Beeper is now the ripe old age of about 10, we think, we all tried yesterday to figure it out. Much older than he looks, but he's had a nice life. For several years he had a nice emotional bond with his aunt Eleanor, she way too old to egg, but they had a nice sex life all the same. She was his cougar! May-December.

Birds are an endless source of anecdote, I'd better stop now before you doze off, and entertainment for people lucky enough to have them without sneezing all the time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Music in my earbuds

While all this intense excitement is going on, on the knitting front, there is music going on in my earbuds. Hopelessly dorky, see the pic. Abba, I ask you! but I love them. When I'm out walking, the wall of sound propels me at very aerobic speeds.

And the Mamas and the Papas, if you know anything about early music, you will have enormous respect for the musicianship of their compositions and interpretation. Pure early medieval riffs all over the place. The phrase California Dreamin' is itself an early riff, no wonder it went over well. They're also funny.

Then there's Bach, whom I hate on the keyboard, sorry, but the unaccompanied cello suites are heaven to listen to, just slow your heartbeat enough to be calm and cool, and YoYo Ma is doing all the work. And the guitar, especially flamenco, especially modern new compositions in the flamenco metaphor, created and played by Armik, lovely to hear, make you want to compose music, always a good sign, highly recommended.

And Sting, who has such a range of period and style that you have to find something you like here! and it's based on the labyrinth, one of my best spiritual exercises.

When I was a student in France, I was dragged along to Chartres like all the students, in March, right before Easter, where we all froze while being lectured on the exterior wonders of the Cathedral, etc., and inside, the whole place was jammed with folding chairs ready for Easter. Which is why I failed to note that there is a labyrinth in the floor of the cathedral, dangit, never knew and I was right there.

We were taken on a bus, and I can hugely recommend this as the best way to approach it, or at least go by car, because as you cross the Plain of Chartres, the tip of the cathedral starts to show on the horizon, bigger and bigger until you get there, like a fanfare of music. Brilliant design.

Speaking of design, maybe not so brilliant, here are updates on the hanging planters,

which are producing tiny little tomatoes and peppers now, while the wave petunias are waving away, and one of the stacked planters

which is jammed with little plants all competing to grow fastest. And one repaired stack,

replanted with seeds after a combined attack of squirrels and chipmunks put paid to the several previous attempts. Hope springs eternal around here. Theirs and mine!

Oh, and people interested in an update about HP: he's doing well, very stable, and since one of my continuing concerns is how to entertain him, given that he can only read and watch tv, I'm delighted that the FIFA soccer has started this morning, on a channel we can get, yay.

Between the French Open (tennis) and Wimbledon coming up and the soccer tournament, my job of recreation director is pretty much filled for now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Curse you, Mason Dixon Knitting! and all cats...

So just yesterday HP was commenting on how good the cats are around my knitting, never playing with the yarn or needles, other than to chase around my stitch markers and sit on my lap under the knitting, which is fine.

And I was under way with the Cardi Cozy from Mason Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines. And at the same time with a lap-robe thingy I'm making for HP, based on the Log Cabin knitting from Mason Dixon Knitting.

The first one, known hereinafter as the CC from MDKOTL, is difficult, big needles, fine yarn, to make an almost transparent cardi thing, beautiful, but requiring some new skills for which I had got special help from Ravelry friends. It's knitted from the top, all kinds of interesting. translation: hellishly difficult to see, raglan stitching, involving creating three stitches from one remembering to keep putting the stitch back on the left needle, aiie, plus cable here and there all in a lovely very fine wool harvested from a name brand designer sweater from the thrift store. Half a dozen stitch markers on every line, notes taken at each line end, consulting pattern and notes of pattern and errata to notes, hoping it's them and not me, but it's me. Great challenge and fun. Here's the hard knitting:

The other, the log cabin dealie is a kind of respite from the cardi cover, fatter yarn, easy to see, interesting new skills, but no harm no foul if it gets dragged by a kitty.

Here's the easy knitting, known hereinafter as the LC from MDK:

Sooooo, no prize for you to guess which one Marigold the Burmese suddenly took it into her head to play with this morning, while I was attending to HP and not noticing what else was afoot, pun intended.

She trailed the fine lovely yarn all over the floor and round the furniture, and when I wound it back to base, I found that the knitting had been dragged off the needles and I had no idea how much of it had vanished in the process.

It was several hours before I could stand to look, after all the number of times I've knitted and reknitted the cardi cover to get to where it is. I did find that it was repairable, not irreparable, and did that. So now I can stand to mention it..

In fact both of these are terrific projects to do, and one of my neighbors stopped in this morning and wants me now to teach her and her daughter, and possibly her daughter's friend, how to knit this summer. For a fee. Yay.

I didn't mention to her the cursing and general rending of the welkin that had taken place only a little while early in re Cardi Cozy and Cat.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Great Tin Quilt Caper, a.k.a. home petcare business

A few people now and then ask about the petcare business I mention in here now and then, and I thought it might be interesting to give you a biz eye view of it from nearly ten years removed in time.

The picture at the top is of the Great Tin Quilt, which was the centerpiece of a solo show I executed in hammered, embossed and pierced tin, with wire and black gesso. That was a black gesso period! quite a few people got into it, after seeing the show, since it is exciting stuff. Since this was in the days before digi cameras, my pix are 1. not very good to put it mildly, it being damn near impossible to get good pix without glare of polished tin pieces on a matte black background and 2. all done on film camera, no online presence in those days. So this pic is the one of the whole show that worked well enough to at least show you.

It was also a community artwork, which I will explain as we get to that point, hang in.

So it came to pass many years ago, that both HP and I needed some new job/business/enterprise each, he being forced by health issues into early retirement from the world of atom science, and I being an artist, an artist is a person with a day job, needing a new enterprise that would give me flexible time so I could use daylight to make art rather than being stuck with trying to pursue my art career by artificial life after I got home from fulltime work, though I must admit that was flexible. I was a consultant to small businesspeople, getting them from the intermediate stage of their business to a bigger, more secure footing. But that was day work.

Sooooo, I created two side by side home petcare businesses, one for each of us. I set it all up, HP not being of a business frame of mind, and I umbrella'ed, if that's a word, the bonding and liability insurance to cover both businesses. We were not business partners, but this concept is a bit hard to grasp for people who haven't been there, in fact we weren't life partners, either, but were parallel businesses. Not unlike a bunch of doctors sharing the insurance of their building, but with separate patient groups and no access to each others' files. Anyway, that.

And I got us out first clients, designed all the rules and regs and how we would operate (consulting with an enterprise years earlier in a similar area, long since defunct, though, helped quite a bit avoid pitfalls here). And we were in business.

I created the little flyers, and drew the animals on them, very cute, and we needed very little advertising to get under way. In no time at all we had as much work as we could handle, and the word of mouth via vets who knew us, was great.

Of course that meant we were both working flat out seven days a week, since animals need care every day, no Monday to Friday in this business, but it was also the greatest fun. You simply never knew what was coming next, from parrots that might or might not let you in, to cats who tried to stow away in your coat in the hope of going home with you, to dear white rats who were so intelligent and sweet, to all kinds of dogs, of varying degrees of training.

Actually the most interesting part was the human element. Some wonderfully hilarious people with nutso bonding to their animals, thinking nothing of calling daily from New Zealand to check that Max the Bernese Mountain Dog was eating his dinner nicely, or people who had actual menus for their pets, only half joking, to people who unloaded all their emotional life on us.

Many of the clients were single women in demanding jobs requiring a lot of travel, so they were constant bookings. For them it was lovely to come home and there their pets were, all clean and happy to see them, no need to book a kennel or to wait the extra day to collect Fluffy.

Since I was an active exhibiting artist all through this period, though I did not let people know that right away, since a lot of folks have an odd idea about artists, that the are flaky, might not be reliable, etc. Actually real artists, as opposed to wannabes, are totally invested in coming through with whatever they have committed to.

But anyway, at that time I was interested in black gesso, wire, which I knitted and crocheted with as part of mixed media pieces, and tin. As a lifelong recycler, and now a person handling many many cans of petfood, rather than recycling them into the bin, I began to save, clean and wash them and found they were stunningly beautiful inside.

I hammered them open and flat, and embossed, pierced, cut and turned and bent them, and used them in many artworks. Nearly drove my studio colleagues barking. But the best was the community piece, for which I spent three months creating the center of the Great Tin Quilt.

For the opening, I invited all the people whose pets had contributed food cans to the operation, naming the pets in the catalogue of the show. And, since this involved maybe 50 or so animals, we had a doorbusting opening! people only, this not being an animal type gallery space, at which I set out tools and tin pieces ready hammered and pierced, and nails and glue and invited people to add their own work to the margins of the Great Tin Quilt. Which they did happily.

You simply never know where petcare will lead you, if you let it.

Aside from visiting multiple times daily, we also did housesitting, where we moved in with the pets, and the plants. I also had several nonanimal clients, who knew I was experienced with plant care, too, and left their conservatory in my hands over the winter, or their patio gardens in my hands over the summer, cuttings a bonus.

The housesitting we both did, moving in with the animals, and running operations from their house, was largely for dogs who need much more attention than most pets, and can't go all night being lonely.

I noticed with some high strung but charming clients that the first couple of days the were away, their animals slept almost round the clock. I guessed that the pandemonium of packing and planning and finding tickets and passports and finally getting away, had exhausted the animals totally. They were glad of a rest.

We learned a lot of tricks, such as making the client demo the housekey before we took it. Amazing how often they were trying to give us the wrong key. Or give us the key to a door that hadn't been opened in years and the combined strength of the family couldn't get it open! Or to insist on a housekey even if we had the garage door opener, since if there's a power outage you can't get the opener to work.

And always insist that they get a confirmation from me before leaving, to make sure I had actually got the booking. Amazing how many things go wrong when people are not very organized. And in the winter making sure there was a way for me to get IN, after a blizzard. Clients would realize that they had to continue with their snow clearing company in their absence.

And those dear clients who would say, well, Pumpkin is very very shy, you will not see him at all, so here's a picture so you'll know if you catch a glimpse, oh, will you look at that, he's grooming your hair! here, let me get him off you, come OFF, Pumpkin, oh, you don't mind, oh, okay then.

And the wonderful giant black Great Dane, big even for a Dane, of uncertain temperament in her old age, mother of many showdogs, who had to meet me outside her house, since she might take offense if I just walked in, even with the owners there...so they brought her out onto the patio, whereupon she lunged right at me, put up her paws on my shoulder and starting kissing my face and licking and generally making a dancing fool of herself. I did a lot of housesitting with her after that.

Then there are the black and white cats, tuxedos, the clowns of the feline world. One of whom learned to switch on the can opener, and did so when I was there, thinking I was too slow at getting the lunch out. I unplugged it always after that. And her brother whose ambition it was to freeze in the refrigerator, and would leap in every time the door was opened. I learned to check the fridge for cats before I left.

And the two glamor girl cats, seen on calendars and catfood labels, who alas hated each other and had to be kept strictly apart in the house. I wonder if there are human parallels to this scenario...

Those were the years of physical strenuousness, since we reckoned we probably walked up to 30 miles a week with dogs, quite apart from all the stairs we covered and all the steps involved in the other petcare rounds.

I used to have an early morning round, out of the house at dawn, this was not my fave, not a morning person, but I saw a lot of lovely dawns, then another round at midday, largely the midday dogwalking time, then early evening to feed dinners, and some late night for special needs animals who needed medications.

This lasted for twelve years, with about two days off a year, rain or shine or snow or hail, or anything. It was the terrorist attack of 9.11 that demolished my business. I had deleted dogs from it earlier, out of fear for my shoulders and hands, since I needed them for my art, and dogs are very hard on your upper body, but I still had a huge and thriving business.

But the attack closed down airlines, and all corporate travel came to a screeching halt, which knocked a lot of my clients out of my business. There were a lot of them in the financial world, which took a terrible hit, and alas, there were some who did not survive that day.

By the time the travel business started again, it was years later, and the world was different. But my biz was great fun, and you probably wonder why I don't have pix of my clients to show you here. That's because when I returned keys, everyone asked for their pictures, too, just to close the circle. That was nice, and many people were so sad about how I had to close what was left, but there you are. Collateral damage.

But after I panicked, having no income now, too young for SS, I regrouped and got into other adventures, about which more another time!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

And in the Red Corner...

So yesterday I noticed that the ficus absolutely must be root pruned or it would fade away entirely. Root pruning is one of those things you put off for years, largely because it's heavy work, and you need space, access to the outdoors, the right temperature if it's a houseplant which ficus definitely is in this climate, tools, where the heck did they go, and stamina.

The reason to root prune rather than just repot in a bigger container is that there's a limit to the size of container you can manage in a house, at least in this house. Root pruning allows the plant to continue in its current digs (gardening pun...)and no more awkward to manage.

So the Fight of the Century, the Palaver on the Patio is On.

In the Red Corner, ladies and gennumen, we have Ficus Benjamina, the smallest leaved of the ficus trees, age approximately 27, grown from a teeny sprig by its current custodian, who remembers bringing her home from the hosp- the garden center 25 years ago. She's now over six feet tall and needs her third root pruning. She's whining and fussing I'm hunnnnnngry, I can't get anything out of the soil, my rooooooots are filling up everywhere, I need spaaaaace...

And in the Blue Corner, we have Boud Benjamina (in French this means the youngest of the FOO, so this works perfectly in here), approximately five foot three, age 71, and heavily armed with japanese saw, clippers, scooping tool thing, bag of potting soil, determination.

Round One

Removing from pot. Many tugs and pulls and accidental knocking over of other container plants on the limited space on the patio, the tree needing to be lying down for this surgery, no joy. Digging around the edges to loosen roots clinging to the sides, little joy. Popping off of base of container, ah, umptygazillion fat little roots, this is a healthy tree, clustered tightly around the base outside the pot. Saw them off. More tugging and digging and cursing.

Round Two

Tree comes out like cork from bottle sending Boud staggering back into the patio table, dirty but undaunted. Solid mass of roots emerges, not a bit of soil left in there no wonder she was whining.

Round Three

Sawing down all sides of the root mass to reduce it, and across the base to get all the mass of roots off there, uncovering the inner saucer which had vanished into the undergrowth. Thankful for japanese saw, folding type, perfect for this job, and wondering what else to do with it today while it's out....firmly return to job at hand.

Round Three B

New pad of potting soil in big container, balance ficus in there with new space around sides, fill this in with new soil, tamp it down, cursing when the branches grab my hair and glasses.

Round Four

Water in the new soil, add more as it vanishes down into the maw of the pot.

Round Five

Wrestle tree in pot back into place off the deck and out among pachysandra on patio -- she's at camp for the summer, will return to the living room in September -- and pause, sweating and panting and triumphant.

Round Five B

Wipe tools, find ones that vanished in the fray, sweep patio, put tools away before tempted to do more work with them, wipe face, make tea.

Round Six

Explain to HP who has a hard time grasping what's what these days, what the heck I was doing and did he really see that, and is the tree okay now.

Yes, she's okay now.

So am I. Just.

Round Seven

Declare the contest a draw. Admire the wall o' plants out on the patio, at camp for the summer like ficus, noticing how many of them were rescued from the dumpster or the rockery out front or freecycled. Take their portraits. Two portraits,

one at an exciting angle, and one more sober as befits a rescued Boston fern.

Back indoors, admire the little dish garden, such advantages to being a miniature.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June, and the cherry harvest is in

Welcome June! though how you got here so fast is a puzzle again. And here's the entire harvest of my cherry bushes from the front walk. I got in ahead of the robins who have not only staked out the bushes, but have built a nest across the path in a handy shrub. These are on the sour side, but still good.

Freecycling today is about aloe vera. Two nice containers of them, grown from babes, ready to go to eager people this afternoon, one whose husband drowned the last one and is instructed never again to water them, and one whose daughter has been on her case for an aloe and the mom was not sure where to find one.

I keep them in the kitchen, as a quick burn remedy, since I burn the back of my hand regularly in the course of forgetfully checking what's in the oven. So I still have one big pot of this stuff for my own use.

And greet her, of course, with aloe there!