Monday, December 22, 2014

The Deja Blues

                                            The Slippery Slope    © 2004

   I have been in a funk, a major snit.  The "Slippery Slope" above seems relevant to my health.  Eleven months ago, I had a total knee replacement on my right knee so I could kayak, bike and be the active retiree my husband wanted.  Five years ago, I had to have my my left one done.  (Twice, as it happens, because the knee became infected.  It was a very rough patch.  Not just the pain, but IV antibiotics that I had to administer through a pic line for six weeks.)  This time, the operation went swimmingly.  My physical therapist said I had the fastest full recovery he had ever seen.
   Then came the Fitbit bracelet,  measuring my every step.  I was so cocky that 10,000 steps seemed half-hearted.  I went for 15,000. 
   Wham! Last May my knee started hurting very badly.  I think if I could have taken NSAIDs or any anti-inflamatory it would have stopped.  But anti-inflammatories are verboten for the colitis-impaired.  And Tylenol is as effective as eye of newt.
  I spent many hours with ice packs and my physical therapist.   It got better.  I could walk up stairs normally.  But I couldn't speed walk.  This went on for many months.  My doctor thought we should check for infection.  He aspirated fluid from the knee.  Four days later I learned the gram stain came back positive but they lost the culture. Not good.
   Silly me, I panicked, thinking this meant a new knee replacement.    There were the dark moments spent on the internet.  If the knee was infected, it would mean two surgeries.  One to remove the infected titanium knee and insert a cement spacer loaded with antibiotics.  After six weeks of pic-line IV injections, if it was clear, I could have another knee replacement.  Basically, I would be sidelined for five months. Surely Medicare would balk at five surgeries on two knees.  And what was the guarantee that the new knee wouldn't get infected? (The doctor thinks I have some auto-immune issues.)  If it did, the next step would be, according to the internet, amputation.
   The doctor aspirated my knee again.  This time the gram stain was negative but the culture was positive for staph.
   The doctor was unhappy with the lab.  The next week he aspirated my knee in the operating room of a hospital.  Several days of anxiety later, I learned the 24 and the 48 hour cultures were negative.  Today I learned the 72 hour culture was also clear.  
  The best Christmas present ever.
  I still don't know why my knee hurts, but I no longer care.  Happy Holidays, and may all of your surgeries be involuntary.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

    A few weeks ago the New York Times  T Magazine ran an article "Old Books, New Thoughts."  Philip Roth, Jennifer Egan, Marilynne Robinson and others revisited their early work.
    A very long time ago, I was a novelist.  A published novelist.  (So, okay, only two of the five novels I wrote made it to print.  I was offered an electronic publishing deal on my fifth one.  I declined, certain no one would ever want to read an entire book on a computer.)
   My first novel Hell's Bells was about a woman with migraines.  It was supposed to be funny.  And yes, it was partly autobiographical.  The rest of it was wildly extrapolated.  It was dedicated "to my parents, who would like everyone to know this is a work of fiction."  I wasn't worried about their reaction, but I did wonder what my in-laws would make of it.
   In the Times article George Saunders spoke of revisiting "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline".  "Reading these again, I found myself missing certain ghost-phrases that I was almost sure were in there, but which I obviously must have cut at some point."  
   Hell's Bells published a lifetime ago, in 1983.  Thirty-one years later I reread it. My reaction differed from Sander's.  I was surprised at how well it read and what a lovely vocabulary I once possessed.
    Back in the 80's a friend said reading my novel was like having a conversation with me.  Onesided.  Oh well, everyone's a critic.  If you want to read it, you can get it on Amazon for a penny.  Plus shipping.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Frontal Aversion

                                           "Bliss"   © 2014

   The above painting is as close as I will ever come to doing a portrait of my daughter Amanda.  My mother painted portraits and hated every moment of it.  I won't even try.  I know it is a failing, a weakness of spirit, that prevents me.  All the really good realist artists have mastered the figure and portrait.  I did take classes with the noted portrait master Danni Dawson, but painted still lifes while the rest of class worked from a model.  I listened to all of her comments and kidded myself that I was learning portraiture.  Then came the weekly portrait homework.  
   Something odd happens when I try to paint the human face.  And it's not Kandinsky-odd.  An eight inch head suddenly grows to be eleven inches with the chin drooping off the canvas.  Ears get gnarly.  Colors muddy and threaten to turn viral.  I think I have the mouth right and then one brush stroke later it is all lost.  It's like playing touch tag with the devil.
This is the only self-portrait still above ground.  I have kept this portrait only because my brother, Randy says it captures my personality perfectly. That's a damned nasty thing to say about such a gently thrusting chin.  In spite of this, I still love him.
Maybe I'll surprise him with a portrait for Christmas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

That which did not fall.....

This is the wood burning cookstove that had the good grace not to fall through the floor into the rot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Find Your Place, HA!

   I rarely wax-poetic, but when I do Fate is right there, ready to lob a hornet's nest at my head.  Two posts ago, I wrote of joy of finding one's place in the world.  (For me it was an old house my father bought in 1953 on an island off of Massachusetts.)
   While re-shingling one side of the house, we decided to have the area behind the outside shower done as well.  When the shingles came off (see above), we learned that the foundation had rotted through.  (Behind the adjacent stone chimney sits a large cast-iron, wood burning kitchen stove.  That it didn't crash into the hole created by the rot is the only bright spot in this story. )
   We were lucky that it happened off-season.  No litigious tenants fell through the floor.  Repairmen avoid Chappaquiddick unless the blues are running.  The bluefish have been elusive this Derby, so my brother got a mason to come on a Sunday morning.
   But by now, Fate was in a full windup pitch.  The mason poked and prodded all around the foundation.
   Our house is apparently upright on a wing and a prayer.  The remedy is to jack-up the house and replace the foundation.
   I didn't ask for an estimate.  The hornets are here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Side-Hill Saugus

    Once, when I was young and foolish, (and possibly drunk), my husband convinced me that there was a goat-like animal in the Andes known as the Side-hill Saugus.  It circled the Andean mountains, always moving in the same direction.  Over the generations, evolution stepped in. The Side-hill Saugus developed uneven legs, the right side legs longer than the left.  Evolution has done odder things.  
    Days later I was furious to find he had made up the whole thing.
    Flash forward forty years.  My right ankle has built up so much scar tissue from repeated sprainings  that I cannot navigate uneven terrain, like a beach.  I can walk in one direction, with my right foot waterside, but turnaround, with my right foot on higher ground than my left and it is unbearably painful.  
    That's karma for you.  My husband now has his own genuine Side-hill Saugus.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Find Your Place"

   The Trustees of the Reservation, a Massachusetts conservation group, has a wonderful motto: "Find Your Place."  So simple, so true.  A place where you feel at peace.  Isn't that what we all want?
   My brother doesn't buy lottery tickets because, as he put it, "I won the lottery the day I was born."  Me too.  My father bought the above house in 1953 for the princely sum of $8000.  It is the emotional center of our lives, even though most of the time it is vacant or filled with renters.
This is the view from the front porch, and this is my place.  I suspect it is other people's place as well. When  I was a teenager, I was bored silly by the quiet emptiness of the space. I couldn't wait to go to town, a ferry ride away.
   "Find Your Place" had a darker meaning today, my first day back.  My password list vanished from my desk while I was gone.  Poof.  Whom the Gods destroy, They first make mad with ever-changing passwords.  Who can keep up with this nonsense?  Why doesn't cyberspace have a 'find-your-space' option?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Boomers on the Beach

You know you are of a certain age when, surrounded by miles of white sand and clear water, you hug the shadows.  Between the six of us there are dozens of scraped basal cells, MOHS surgeries and In Situ cancers.  Oh for the days of baby oil and careless abandon.....

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summertime and the Scraping is Easy

    Ah yes, it is that time of year again, when I pick up the scraper and  renew my Sisyphean task of woman versus the elements  This old beach house has withstood countless hurricanes and tenants.  I wish it had more fortitude against salty air.  This winter must have been particularly vicious as the the paint flakes practically leapt off the porch railing when they saw me coming.
   One of the amusing aspects of tenants is what they leave behind.  Yesterday I found an issue of "Garden & Gun" magazine, which claims
to be "the soul of the South".  Interesting in so very many ways.  (It put me in mind of a store I once saw that sold 'clams and computers'.) I don't know which tenant left the magazine, but it is fun to speculate.
   I have always believed this house has a soul.  I imagine all it has witnessed, and realize I don't know the half of it.  Inadvertently, I discovered a man online who told me he had danced in my kitchen many years ago.  (He was a friend of one of the tenants.)  I'm glad this house has brought joy to so many, but I can't help feeling it's been cheating on me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oh, Canada

    I've been away.  Unlike last year's endurance death trek through the London Museums, this was relatively relaxed, no alarm clocks going off at O-Dark Thirty.  We went to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. (The weather was the same as London in May, daily rain and cold.)  I was there for the photographs, source material for my paintings.  In nine days we logged 2400 kilometers.  My husband was the soul of patience.  We would be hurtling along a pockmarked road,when I would scream, "stop!" then, "back up", "no, a little bit forward."  Like I said, I was there for the photos.
     The Maritimes are flat out gorgeous, even in the rain.  The people are relaxed , the beaches rocky.  We went in search of old fishing villages.  (A word to Canadian Tourism,  don't say you've "restored a 200 year old fishing village" and then paint the shacks with neon colors.)  The guidebooks proved unreliable, promising heart shaped rocks and historic villages.  We took many leaps of faith looking for authentic maritime scenes.   Avoiding tourists, we opted to take the road less traveled up the southern shore to Cape Breton.  (There is a good reason it is less traveled.)  The guidebook touted  Guysborough was a must-see.  We headed off on what the map indicated was a real road.  It was in fact, a logging trail, 40 kilometers of dirt and ruts.  And Guysborough was a bust.
    Lodging was hit or miss.  The Broadwater Inn in Beddeck was run by a true raconteur.  He sent us to a place not mentioned in the guides that proved to be our favorite spot. My husband booked a room in Charlottetown based on Trip Advisor's four stars.  More a Victorian crypt than an inn, our room had old dolls on the massive furniture, Sunday-best hats hanging from the wall, and a hand holding a glove on the dresser.  Two diminutive pillows and sheets from before thread-count was born, left me to curse Trip Advisor.
    But as I said, the Maritimes are gorgeous, the pace is slow and the people warm.
    Oh, and as you will see in the upper left corner, as promised, there is a heart shaped rock.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Plum Sick of Plums

This is the seventh plum torte I've made in ten days.  They are stacked like planes over Laguardia in the basement freezer.  We ate the first one.  It didn't taste like deer repellant.  So, if I give you a 9" tin-foiled gift at Christmas, fear not.  Vanilla ice cream helps.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ungainly Gardening

     Some people should avoid plant life.
     Last year we battled the chipmunks for  our tomato garden.  Our defeat was ignominious .  Before that it was the mutant, manifest-destiny squash (I bought a large, odd-shaped gourd for Halloween porch decoration.  Christmas came and went and it was still on the porch.  By mid-winter, the gourd was in mid-collapse.  I kicked it off the porch.  My husband sighed and took the chunks to the garbage.)  Months later, vines with with heavy gourds spread from where I had kicked the decayed beast, across the azaleas and up the twelve foot holly tree.  Truly.  The vines went up to the roof.  The gourds boasted 14-inch diameters and loomed in the holly branches.  People came to view the spectacle.
     My son bought a house in DC.  I bought him a wild plum tree.  As it happened, his back yard was bricked, so we stuck it in our yard.  For years it did nothing but lean down the hill.  We staked it with string, but still it bent.  It bore a few plums one year but the deer ate them.  The brutal winter seems to have goosed its reproductive imperative.  Dozens and dozens of plums appeared.  The staking ruptured under their weight.  My husband rushed to prop the tree upright with iron braces.  Then he sprayed the plums with a foul odored deer repellent. Yum.  The problem is that he wants me to do something productive with this dubious bounty of very small plums.
            "Make jam!" he says.  (I don't even buy jam) He advises that I wash them well, better yet, peel them!  (Why risk deer-repellant jam?)  I parboiled the plums.
    Peeling them felt as if I was skinning them alive.  Red, viscous, staining fluid spread across my skin. Removing the pit from the flesh left me with a swamp-like slurry.  I threw it in the freezer so that months from now I can throw it out with good conscience.  Today I made a plum torte.  With the skins on.  No one wants to eat it.  And there's another bushel ripening on the kitchen table.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dilemma of the Two Hatted Artist

                      "New Kiss in Town"  © 2007

I work in a non-profit art store one day a week.  I also work in my Torpedo Factory studio three days a week.  The pay isn't great in either place.

 In my studio, I hope to encourage random people to become patrons of the arts.  Wearing my other hat in the Art League store, I serve students and artists .  "Miracle on 42nd street" left a deep impression.  If we don't carry an item, or I think another store has a better selection, I tell the buyer.  For fourteen years, I have supplied the customers with dark Hershey kisses.  My co-worker Diane once opined, "I know why you give out chocolate.  It's so they won't think you're mean."  I was stunned.  "Why would they think I'm mean?"

Apparently, though I have a generous heart, it is hidden within the body of a curmudgeon.   So be it. I think I'm nice to most everyone.  It isn't always easy.  Working in retail has certainly made me a much nicer customer elsewhere.

This week's two-hatter dilemma was a phone call in the store.  A man said he and his wife had been looking for a big piece of art (Yes! I thought as an  artist).  But now they decided that they would just paint it themselves.  (Boo, hiss.)  And, he wanted advice on how to do it.  He already had the supplies, there was no money to be made for the store.
But I helped him anyway.  No chocolate was involved

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

To Sleep, Perchance to Shop Online

           "Maley's Martha and Whale Bones" © 2013

  I cannot remember when I last had a good night's sleep.  Really, it's been decades. 
  Like my mother before me, I have "crazy legs".  She diagnosed them long before 'restless leg syndrome' became a cause celebre.  That's not my only hurdle, but the only one I care to mention.
   I do what the tv show doctors recommend.  I exercise, limit my caffeine,  go to bed at the same time (10pm) and get up at 7 every morning.  (Sounds good unless you count my wandering the house between 11pm and 2am.)  I take sleeping pills, melatonin and half a benadryl to little effect.
   During those benighted hours, I have three choices.  I can watch bad tv and eat even worse food-- things I would never eat during daylight hours.  Or, I could browse the internet and shop.  (My husband used to refer to weekly packages from online art stores as my "midnight oils.")
  Or I could thrash in bed and fret.  Oddly, this is probably the healthiest of the three.  My kids are grown and healthy.  When I brood, it generally ends with thoughts about the family house on the Vineyard.  Why it isn't rented, why the bats abound, why the contractor wants 17k to paint the windows, on and on it goes.
I love this house.  It's been in the family for 61years.  The way costs are escalating, it probably won't be in the family for our children's children.
So I worry.  During the day I paint pictures of different rooms in the house.  So our kids' kids will know once there was a house on the hill, filled with bats and very well-painted windows.

Friday, June 13, 2014

This is Rosie, maker of mincemeat

This is Rosie.  Isn't she adorable?  This is the dog that turned Christmas 2013 into a Quentin Tarrantino film, leveling 4 larger dogs, enriching local vets.  Rosie is my daughter's pit bull rescue.  We have her for 9 days.  My husband has declared Rosie the weirdest dog he's ever known.  I would agree.  She is remarkably good about somethings, she doesn't chew shoes or furniture.  She sings and talks more than any child I have known.  Most dogs will 'mouth' you while playing.  Rosie's teeth are curved needles.  She will release politely if you say 'no.'  Speed is of the essence.  She is skittish about going outside.  But then again, she doesn't go inside.  She loves tug of war.  My daughter left a remarkable tug toy for her.  It is a tee shirt that has been strategically ripped.  It is long enough, and has the tensile strength, to be used to evacuate the second floor of a burning building.  I'm not sure how it remains of a piece.  I have attempted to introduce the concept of heeling, using the techniques that brought my son's rescue dogs to heel.  Rosie veers between being dragged and  dragging the human.  When she finds a spot of mud she explodes in puppy fits of circling and rolling.  Lucky us, three days of rain....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Policy Change

                        The Bend, Again copyright 2013

I know everyone likes a bargain.  And how is a buyer to know whether you are flexible in your prices?  I try not to be insulted.  (A friend of mine had a piece listed for $1600.  A surgeon asked if she would take $800.  Imagine if the tables were turned, would he operate at half price? ) I tend not discount unless two or more pieces are involved.  Last week, a woman from mainland China came in to my studio.  I was at  home.  My studio partner called to say that the woman was very interested.  She wanted a discount and would be back in a half hour.  Times are lean in my studio.  I agreed to a 15% discount.  Two hours later the woman returned and insisted on talking to me.  She wanted a 25% discount and the piece removed from the stretchers.  I said no thank you and left it at that.  She did buy the piece.  My partner had to remove it from the stretchers, no easy task.
It put me in mind of my children.  When they were young and had to go to bed in 30 minutes, they would whine.  I responded, okay, you have to go to bed in fifteen minutes.  They caught on quickly.  From now on, if I offer a discount and the client asks for more, I am returning to the full asking price.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bike Nazis

   I found this once-white bicycle in the shed at the Vineyard.  I have no idea who put it there.  The shed holds a wealth of discarded boogie boards, broken chairs, an old dishwasher and possibly Tularemia  (which is why no one wants to organize it).  The bike's lines and rich rust tempt me to do a painting.
   I once biked everywhere on Chappaquiddick.  It was such a simple pleasure.  This was a time before Kennedy drove off Dyke bridge and turned our rural island into a must-see bike destination.  The roads are narrow on the island. My father didn't drive his oversized station wagon as much as wield it, hovering over the center line (his driving was legendary).   I used to be embarrassed when he leaned out the window and yelled at the clots of bikers, "Single File!"   In retrospect,  I find it admirable.
  I work in Alexandria, Virginia which is a bike friendly city.  I am not bike friendly.  I long to veer into these arrogant cyclists as they blow through every stop sign.
   Yesterday as I drove down Union Street, navigating past the parked beer trucks, parked cars and traffic from the opposite direction, a biker decided that she needn't stay in the designated bike lane.  She pulled to my left, to middle of the road.  I had bikers to the right me, bikers to the left and oncoming traffic before me.  I leaned out the window and said, "get out of middle of the road."  Poppa would have been proud.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Too Many Artists

   Pick a body, any body.  Odds are they are an artist or are related to one. Can there be too many painters?  Sheep Jones (a very successful artist) noted all the friends and relatives in their late fifties who have started painting.  I was in my early 50s when I jump-shifted from writing to painting.  So, yes, I am part of the problem.  But so is the ex-president whose only notable talent was for clearing brush.  Now, he is now wielding one.  (Badly.)  I work in an art supply store.  Many timid middle-aged women talk to me about their trepidations.  I  tell them how I had no idea I could paint and am now a juried artist in the Torpedo Factory.
   The market is flooded. I should stop encouraging them.  But then I think of those people who buy a house in paradise, claim it for their own, and rush to close the borders.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Vineyard Colors

The top photo is from a wonderful website, www.Vineyardcolors.com.  Two photographers, Yann and Moira, travel across Martha's Vineyard everyday at dawn, purportedly delivering newspapers.  The images they take are often breathtaking.  They are also generous with their bounty, allowing others to share the images, or in my case paint from them.  I have seen views I've never seen, despite my 63 summers on the island.
Check them out, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Knowing it All

         "Come Blow Your Horn", pastel, copyright 2003

  It is universally acknowledged, by those who know him, that my husband pulls answers out of the air.    He sounds so convincing, as if he knows for a fact. These answers are rarely correct.  We've come to discount them wholesale.
   He is retiring at the end of April and will have to relinquish his government issued blackberry.  Most of the fun applications on the phone are blocked, supposedly for security, but more likely to avoid time wasted.
   My husband just bought his first smart phone.  A Samsung something.  It took him quite a while to figure it out.  I couldn't help as I have been all-Apple since 1984 (and never once used SIRI).  Once he discovered the voice response system, our worlds collided.
   After decades of  thumbing through dictionaries and thesauri for answers, I felt typing into Google was too easy.    Samsung has eliminated the need to type anything.    In a stentorian voice, my husband asks the phone difficult questions, and voila, the program takes him to a page of answers.  I never know now whether he is talking to me, himself or the damned phone.
   The other day I was reading about the limestone caves that hold the sprawling mess of government pension workers and their miles of file cabinets.  The article said the limestone had been excavated for the production of steel.  Idly, I said,  what's limestone got to do with steel?  Suddenly, this voice, deeper and louder than necessary in a coliseum, stated, "limestone", pause, "steel production" and up came the answer.  It was a bizarre answer, one that I did not want to believe.  Damn.

Monday, March 17, 2014


              "the shape of things"  2014 copyright

            "the shape of things" 2013 copyright

   So, I gave it six months, as I promised Sheep Jones I would.  Six months is a long time for me to be minimalist.  It didn't sell (but these days that is hardly a fair indicator.)  When I came back from knee surgery, the urge to add 'stuff'  prevailed.  I added texture to the boat inner sides, added oars, and three dashes of red.
    As Popeye put it, I yam what I yam.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Handicap Hierachy

   Five dollars and a total knee replacement have allowed me to have a red, temporary handicap parking pass.  Handicap parking spaces are usually filled when I arrive. Occasionally, illegally.  I wish I had the nerve to slap a 'mentally handicapped' sticker on their windshield. Lacking the courage to do so,  I leave it up to karma, what goes around comes around.
   This weekend I found an empty handicap spot in front of Trader Joe's.  When I got out, I looked at the car in the next handicap spot.  There was a woman in the driver seat.  I didn't see a pass hanging from the mirror.  As I passed the front of the car I expected to see a handicap license plate.  There wasn't one.  I kept walking. The woman in the car rolled down the window and actually yelled at me.  I stopped and turned.  She shook her fist and said, "I have it right here" waving a blue handicap pass.  I said, "Fine.  No problem."  But the woman was truly indignant and continued railing at me.  Backing away, I said, "Really, it's okay."  This served to further infuriate her.
  Her last salvo:  "Besides, you are just a temporary cripple!"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mistaken Identity

   Two weeks ago, in the cavernous hall of surgical registration at Inova Fairfax hospital, I sat with several dozen people waiting to be called.  It was six am.  No one seemed happy to be there.  When "Richsmargle" was announced, I waited to see if there was such a person.  As no one else seemed game, I went up to the desk.  A pleasant man with dreadlocks and a French accent asked if  I was "Richsmargle".  I said I was Cynthia Richmond.  He nodded, checked the photo ID on the computer and handed me the all-important wristband with the bar code which would be swiped by everyone from food services to blood drawing technicians. Routinely, he asked me to check the birth date and spelling of my name.  I looked.  "My" name was spelled Khalid Houmani.

Five years years ago, in the same hospital I was asked my name and birth date every single time a hospital employee entered my room.  It was quite tiresome.  The Monday to Friday staff was ever-vigilant.  Weekend staff was more lax,  which I appreciated.  Until the day I was walking the halls for exercise and one of my assigned nurses said, "Hello, Mrs. Miller."

   Technology in a hospital is a good thing, as long as you check the fine print..

Monday, January 6, 2014

Menemsha Blues (and Oranges)

             "Menemsha Blues (and Oranges)"
                    © 2013

Last summer, Susan Makara and I saw this  fishing boat, the "Unicorn" in Menemsha Harbor.  She claims she got the better photo, and she probably did.  But I love the one I chose to paint.  Yesterday, the "Unicorn"  nearly sunk, while docked because of a cracked valve.   Volunteers bailed gallons of icy water and secured the valve.