Color Me Tea Cup Crazy-Star Diamond.

Whoever is in charge of naming new paint colors: Bravo!
P1000476I stopped by Lowe’s (the building supply mega-store) the other day (to pick up more birdseed) and on my way out I passed by the Paint Dept.  I dropped my 35-poung bag of bird food and spent a very pleasant half hour picking through the new paint brochures.

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I know macarons have been all the rage in Paris lately, but are they all that well known in the U. S. of A.?

I do love the art direction of paint brochures — the photos capture an entire mood and sense of place and socio-economic aspiration. I get lost in entertaining digressive thoughts when I contemplate the story of each paint brochure photo, but my happiest time is going through the paint chips on display:

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Within this array of color there are hues with the names of Blanket, Off Broadway, Inhale (and an Exhale), Luxury Linen, Poetry in the Park, Modern History, Corner Pub, and Porcelain Pear. Sad to say, but the lovely-sounding Porcelain Pear is the color of thrown up lima beans. If you can correctly guess the hue of any of these other color names, I will be very impressed indeed.  Because frankly, I’m not sure that the color-namers are even in the same room as the colors they are naming. But still, for these evocative mini-poems to be found in Lowe’s Paint Dept., I say Bravo!

However, today, the only color we are exploring in-depth is gray. Hand-made gray.

I make my own grays because I think the hand-made grays have more personality than store-boughten ones.

I start by mixing  Umber and Cyan Blue. I’m using my cheap, powdery Grumbacher paints because I like the texture of them, and I love the way they interact with water. Until Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts told me to up-grade my tools two years ago, I only used Grumbacher. I know their properties very well, and still like them for certain applications — but I don’t use the greens and yellows much at all anymore. Windsor-Newton is better.

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Now it’s time to make a bottle cap of gray (because I work small), using bottle caps from  quart bottles of Gatorade . I start by making a puddle of brown paint:

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Then I add dribbles of blue and a drop of white. Note:
a little white gauche goes a loooong way, so use it sparingly:

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Mix together and Voila! I’ve got a bottle cap of one-of-a-kind gray:

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Now, you remember the problem from last week:

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I have to get rid of those wonky railing shadows and, while I’m at it, I might as well re-do the cat so that it looks more like “cat” and less like “orange blob”.

So I cut out the offending bits…

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…and started over. First, I re-drew the offending railing shadows, which ought to have looked like this in the first place:

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Quick digestion shot of my railing sketch illuminated on the light box to show you the trial-and-error of my ways:

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Whenever I draw  a stinky line, I cut it out and tape in a new bit of tracing paper and  draw it correctly — I hope you can see that my “sketch” is actually a collage of about seven scraps of stop-and-start-again tracing paper. I’m not smart enough to get it right in one swell foop, so I give myself a break and destroy the bad while keeping the good — all without guilt.

I used tracing paper for this sketch not because I was tracing it (I WISH) but because I will be painting this picture on the light box, so I need a light-weight paper to let the light shine through it so I can paint the pic without drawing pencil lines on the art work. I never paint on a lift box because I’m a girl who loves outlines, but as this is an illustration of shadows, and shadows, in nature, don’t have outlines, I have to paint “painterly”, for once.

Well, here’s the tricky part. I have to adjust my bottle cap of gray paint by adding more blue, or a different blue, or more water, or maybe a molecule of black, to get the matching hue that I need to pick up where I left off in this pic. It’s the matching that is a bitch.

I started out with this too-greenish gray:

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It needed more blue. After a few tries, I got it. It might not look like it in this photo (below), but this gray tone was a very good match:

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I forgot to tell you that, in order to make bottle cap of home-made gray, you have to keep loading your brush with slurries of brown and blue and white pigment, and then you have to squeeze out those loads, from the paint brush’s brushes, into the bottle cap. It’s rather messy:

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Anyhoo, I began to paint the replacement part of this illustration and I was very pleased with its matching-ness until I got this far…

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…and then I said to myself:”Oh shit. I forgot the cat.”

Well, I was losing the afternoon light anyway because it had started snowing again, so I packed up [put everything out of a nosey cat’s paw reach] and called it a day.

I began again the next  morning. I forgot to take a photo of it, but overnight the bottle cap of gray had totally dried out, so I had a bottle cap of dry pigment ready to be water-activated. This is absolutely the BEST way to paint from a bottle cap!  When you’re starting with a solid pigment it’s very easy to control the very small adjustments it takes to lighten or darken a color, IMHO.

But I had to put off playing with the bottle cap of gray because first, I had to draw a cat. I thought that a crouching cat might look good on this shady Key West porch, so I drew one and taped my new kitty over the tracing-paper sketch like so:

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The line that I drew down the back of the cat is so I will know where the spine is — I was hoping that I could paint a cat that was turning away from the viewer, as cats are wont to do.

But I didn’t like the position of the cat, so I had to peel it of the sketch, like this:

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YES, with a tweezer. And not just any tweezer — that’s my old diamond-grading tweezer, designed with a long needle nose for ease of picking up dropped diamonds from the floor.  THAT’s THE KIND OF PAINTER I AM. If anybody else works this way, I would love to chat. Main topic of conversation: Are we mad genius self-taught users of scotch tape, or what?!?!?

So I re-positioned the cat to be more forward-leaning:

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But now I didn’t like the cat  at all, mostly because I did not like how the tip of the rocking chair’s arm did this:

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So I drew a new new cat, one that wouldn’t go anywhere near the rocking chair’s space:

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But then the new new cat did this:

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No problem, not for me (world champion of Making Pictures Work No Matter How Long It Takes). I just cut away a few of those cat-overlapping floor boards, re-mixed a correct shade of gray, and began to paint the first layer of shadow:

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I painted the cat (yes, I moved his tail to get it away from the rocking chair):
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Then I painted the correct railing shadows. Every time I needed a new brush full of paint, I had to re-mix the paint and turn off the light box to compare that the grays were still compatible — it’s hideously time-consuming. But finally I got this:

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Cut to DONE:

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Top Cat wishes my posts didn’t go this long, but I know that some of you, Dear Readers, don’t mind watching me save my professional watercoloring ass step by step.

Color me Got Away With It One More Time.

Mistakes Were Made in Key West

This is what our back patio looked like three snowstorms ago.:

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That orange streak is Taffy, heading into the cat door on the side of our house, off the mud room.

Since then the snow has gotten deeper and icier and depressinger and I didn’t feel like taking pictures of it.  It’s really ugly out there.  50% of the human residents in my house have no desire to venture out of doors EVER. The other 50% is Top Cat, who had to clear a mountain of icy snow from the driveway with an axe.

The only tracks you’ll see in my backyard are made by little birdie feet.

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We got a fresh dusting of snow last night, over the solid ice pack. I don’t know what kind of bird feeds at night.

We are dumping great quantities of bird seed out there to help the cardinals and chickadees etc make it through this horrible Winter.

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In spite of all this misery I knew that  I would make it to Groundhog Day with my sanity in tact because, come Groundhog Day, I was going to be in KEY WEST.

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Mardi Gras beads on the mailboxes. Something tells me that these people would be my dream neighbors.

Ah, Key West. What do I like the most about Key West?

It might be the organic cocktail glasses:

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Typical cocktail-coconut grove.

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My hair always has a good time in Florida. We have an understanding about being on vacation in heat and humidity: my hair lives it up, and I pretend that I don’t care that I look as if I come from the Land of No Combs.

Maybe it’s the local “color”:

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Hey, look! I said to Top Cat, Majorelle Bleu! (At the time I thought it was exactly the color of the house in the Jardin Majorelle that I went to see in Marrakech.)

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 I think I’ll take A picture! I said to Top Cat.

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 The cat had other ideas:

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Yeah, the cats of Key West are in a class all their own.

But mostly, I like Key West because of the Australian Pines on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor.

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You see, I had business to do in Key West; I had to get in touch with the wonderful people who won the right to preserve this delightful grove of shade trees, against some civic and governmental hysteria over invasive species.

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Long story short, I am in love with this grove of trees and I’m writing about it in my Damn Garden Book. The Save Our Pines people and I had a lovely conversation about the issue and I now feel well-informed enough about the whole controversy and history of this beach to do it justice in the DGB.

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And, having refreshed my memory about the delicate and wonderful presence of these pines, I had to go home and re-do an almost 2-year old illustration I had made when I first wrote about this place:

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Old pic, circa 2012-3

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New pic, circa yesterday. The lettering says: A landscape hospitable in the extreme is one definition of a garden. (Michael Pollan)im. See? See what practice /practice / practice does?? Practice makes tree bark look like bark.

P.S. This is another illustration of Australian Pines that I did about a year ago…but this grove is not in Florida:

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It’s not even in this century.

But this is all that I am contractually permitted to discuss about the DGB.

I also decided that I had to do something about this:

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This is another Key West illustration that I did a while back. The shadows from the railing are a problem. Those shadows look as if they came from a different picture. Or a different time of day. They certainly don’t belong here. Also, I painted this a little too honestly — from a photo of a porch of the guest house Top Cat and I rented the last time we were in Key West that included an orange cat that was ignoring me while I took the snapshot. I think it would be a better illustration if the cat weren’t cleaning itself because I’m not sure that, as is, that blob of orange makes sense. And yeah, the cat’s shadow is all wrong too.

I must make corrections. So far, the picture looks like this:

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I mixed those grey colors from scratch: a little brown, a little blue, a smidge of white. The challenge will be to get that recipe right again when I collage the right railing (and cat) back into this illustration.

And on this pic…

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…I have to do something about that nasty-looking tree in the right foreground.

This is why it’s been taking me years to get this Damn Garden Book done.

But not today! It’s Friday! Time to make a Mai Tai and take a mental vacation back to Key West!

P.S. This is my backyard:

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It’s going to take a lot of Mai Tais.

How To Paint Love

Once, in my life, I received a dozen red roses  on Valentine’s Day.

I was 20, and the delivery of roses to my house was one of the few times in my minority years that my life felt just right, just like it was supposed to be. You know; as seen on TV.

But for me, when it comes to the delivery of a dozen red roses, once in my lifetime is enough. I understand that red roses are the symbol of luuuuuuuv, and I do love roses as my second-favorite flower, but cut roses are a shame, and the red ones are so “Eh”.  And painting them is not much of a treat either.

It takes a bit of experimenting — with vermillion, fuchsia, and various brands of paint called  “red” — to get the correct hue:

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I am painting a specific kind of red rose here, and from the get-go I do not like the looks of it:

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The black shading is not my thing, and at this point:

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I think the rose looks capital-U Ugly.

It also looks Ugly (to me)  at this point:

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But I am painting this rose for the One I Love, and the One I Love loves this rose, so I must paint on.

Because the One I Love is kind:

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And the One I Love is sincere:

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This rose is for the One I Love.

But the One I Love is also playful:

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And  joyous…

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…and I am painting these one-of-a-kind (made up) butterflies…

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… for the air, earth, and fire of my love’s merry brightness of being:

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The One I Love is like the waters of the oceans — patient, deep, and thoughtful:

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An Everest of honor

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…and wise in the ways of never and always, is the One I Love:

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I paint this eagle feather…

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…because the One I Love is true-hearted and brave:

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In all the world — of plants, and birds, and rocks, and things — blue is the color most rare

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…and the color most romantic:

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The One I Love is all that, too.

And then there’s this:

The love of the One I Love.

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The love of the One I Love is as every-day a thing as atoms, and gravity…

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… and photons, and electrons;

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the love of the One I Love is as commonplace as day, or night…

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…or even quarks, and tea:

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In other words,

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it might as well be magic.

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This is dedicated to The One I Love.

 Please feel free to lift any part of this image that suits your Valentine too.

And if you don’t have anyone you want to call the One I Love this Valentine’s Day, I am right there with you, pouring the Pinot Grigio and reaching for a box of Kleenex.

It’s Official. I’m a Crank.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but NPR and I are getting a divorce. And it’s all because of  vocal fry. For those of you Dear Readers who are not familiar with this monstrously annoying affectation in the speech pattern of American youth, this short viddie will explain (guess who just figured out how to embed You Tube!):

For years vocal fry has been seeping into the news and entertainment shows that are broadcast by National Public Radio (AKA: NPR).  I loathe it, of course, and in hindsight I can see that NPR and I were already on a camel/straw footing, but the straw that broke this camel’s back was when Ira Glass, American public radio personality and NPR-ish producer of This American Life, set out to defend vocal fry from grouches like me in the most deliberately insulting way.  On his program o/a January 23, 2015, he put it this way:

Listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word like and about upspeak, which is when you put a question mark at the end of a sentence and talk like this? But we don’t get many emails like that anymore. People who don’t like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.

And then he said that if vocal fry drives people like me crazy, it’s because:

1. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like listening to young women on the radio anyway (see: above) because I’m too stuck in the past times (that is, indoctrinated by the patriarchy).

2. I’m too OLD to get with it and know that that’s just the way that young folk “naturally” speak these-a-days.

His advice to haters of vocal fry?  Get over it.

Well, ha ha, Ira Glass, guess wha —wait just a sec, tho. This actually does make me laugh:

(Are embedded viddies annoying or not? Opinions, please.)

So anyway, Ira Glass, ha ha. The same people who can’t stand vocal fry are the same people who have enough disposable income (because they are OLD) to give to NPR  so, as I cancel my monthly-sustainer membership (because I’m OLD), see how you like it when you have to rely on vocal-fried hipster not-OLD people to pitch in to pay for your radio program, OKaaaaaaaaaaay?

Because we are through.

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Wiping out vocal fry, one membership dollar at a time. Ah…that feels good. Because I’m OLD.

(I’m not really listening to NPR all that much anyway these days, what with me turing the radio OFF as soon as one of their new hires goes into vocal fry mode.)

But it’s not just vocal fry that gets me riled up. Last week a dental hygienist also really pissed me off.

Well, thank DoG that I live in the era of Yelp, an interwebs site that publishes crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses. Yelp is my dream come true.

I would show their trademark, but people these days are very litigious about using copyrighted stuff and I don’t have time to get Yelp‘s written permission to use their logo in my blog post, but the logo is very colorful.

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As colorful as the picture I took of a rainbow over Nashville — V. Swift copyright.

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As colorful as the picture I took of a strange, mauve beam of light on my patio one December morning, my copyright.

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As colorful as the picture I took of a field of cosmos somewhere along the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, yep: V. Swift copyright.

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As colorful as the picture I took of me painting a nifty oak leaf — my damn copyright.

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As colorful as the picture that Top Cat took of his Texas Hold ‘Em stack in Las Vegas, copyright gifted to v. Swift because I’m Mrs. Top Cat.

P.S. If anyone wants to use any of my rightfully copyrighted pix, be my guest. I’m not like  some grubby, third-rate, low-rent, entrapment sue-happy copyright-holders lurking out there in the inter webs.

Note: One of the things I did on my year off from blogging was get sued for copyright infringement. I’ll have to tell you that story some time.

Anyway, thank DoG there is Yelp

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A very colorful picture I took of my neighbor’s secret garden. As far as I know, I own the copyright.

…because Yelp gives disgruntled customers a place to diss. So last week, after my tiff with the dental hygienist, I hastened over to Yelp to get myself registered and then I put in writing my disgruntlement with a certain dental practice.

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SCreen shot of Yelp. I hope I’m not infringemenig on anyone’s copyright.

You can read it here.

So now that I have a platform, disgruntlers everywhere should watch their step when conducting business with one Vivian Swift. It’s the fact that I don’t crave the approval of strangers that makes me so dangerous.

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(Courtesy of www.Keep Calm O Matic.co.uk , a great website that lets you create your very own Keep Calm poster. The funny thing is, I did not make this one (above) — it was already in the ether. I wish I could be best friends with whoever thought up this poster.)

As much as I can’t stand vocal fry, I am also annoyed that the way people  (even OLD ones) these-a-days try to sound smart is by using the word “prior” when they mean “previous” (THERE’S A DIFFERENCE!!!!).

Destination weddings; and the smell, texture, and taste of cucumbers — can’t stand either of them.

I’m so over Rock Operas, Rock Operas based on the Book of Revelations, and the Book of Revelations.

Love locks on the Pont des Arts, dreadlocks on white people, and co-workers who tell you they are too smart to be working here — they should all be outlawed. Or punched in the face.

I can’t stand people like me, who do not know how to “nest” their replies to Comments on their WordPress blog; but I figured it out yesterday and all my replies to your lovely Boogie Girl comments are properly nested and now I don’t hate myself any more.

But don’t get me started on the way the morning news will break your heart six times before breakfast,  or the fact that Giselle Bundchen makes 47 million dollars a year for parading in her undies while a  park ranger in Virunga  makes 47 dollars a year for saving the mountain gorilla from extinction. (Hey! I just figured out where all my NPR money will go now!)

I also despise Auto Correct.

Retail shop assistants who tell me If you have any questions, just ask me drive me nuts. Do they think I’d be confused about where to go if I had a question about the item on the middle shelf? Do they think I’d wander across the street to ask the deli guy? Do they think I’d end up standing in the middle of the shop having a nervous breakdown because I had questions, O, so many questions, and had no idea where to go to find answers??? I mean, really: Who the hell else am I going to ask?  Dear Abby?

Also on my Shit List is the way people to whom I’ve just told that I have eight cats will then tell me every last reason why they hate cats; ditto being a Bruce Springsteen fan, watching Judge Judy every day, and joining the Peace Corps to go to West Africa. ( I’ve been holding onto that last one for quite a while. The guy I told it to came right back with: I’ve never traveled outside the United States but if I did, I wouldn’t go to Africa. I still hate that guy with all my heart.)

There now.

I think I’ve proved my point.

I am not the nicest person in the world.

But I’m OK with that.

The Blizzard of 2015 Champagne-O-Meter

(This is ONE of TWO posts today — immediately following is a post all about My First Ever DoG — I don’t want you to miss it.)P1000070The Blizzard of the Century, they said it was — a doomsday storm heading our way with the mighty wrath of  a really vengeful supernatural being that was really, really pissed off by Long Island vocal fry.

But I could be projecting, just a teeny bit.

In the ten years I have lived on Long Island we’ve had, oh, ten Blizzards of the Century. I didn’t get all het up about this one, but the Gummint did, and how. Roads, trains, public transport — all shut down. The New York State Thruway’s closed, man.

On Sunday night we had overnight snowfall, which looked like this, Champagne-O-meter-wise:

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Monday afternoon was the worst, with lots of fast-falling snow and white-out winds. In one powerful gust I heard the walls of the den creak in unison, which did not please me. Top Cat came home from work in Manhattan early and we hunkered down with cats, cocktails, and made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese and we watched The Interview. Two thumbs UP UP UP. Who knew Eminem could be so hilarious?

Most of the snow fell and fell overnight, and on Tuesday morning the C-O-M looked like this:

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Tuesday was a SNOW DAY.

And then it was Wednesday and everyone back to their lives, but on a Sunday schedule.

So, basically, it’s been Sunday since Wednesday and Sunday is not my favorite day of the week.

So last night I popped the C-O-M and poured like it was Saturday.

Now I wish every Thursday could be Saturday.

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

It was a Sign.  No doubt about it.

Sunday morning, 8:10AM, October 27, 2013.  It was THE Sign.

I turn on the Channel 2 (WCBS in NYC) for the weather forecast but I get the anchorwoman talking about “senior citizen” dogs from the Manhattan ASPCA who need homes. I see two little doggies squirming in the bright TV lights. They do not look happy to be there.

Then the TV shows the mug shot of one of the dogs, a cocker spaniel called Boogie Girl …

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“She was called Boogie Girl by her old owner, but you can change it,” the ASPCA told me. First of all, I would NOT change a name that a dog’s had for 17 years. Second, I thought “Boogie Girl” was a FANTASTIC name.

…I know immediately. This is a Sign, from the Universe, that Boogie Girl is meant for me.

To back up a bit: I have been a proud Crazy Cat Lady all my adult life. But ever since I married Top Cat and went to live in the suburbs of Long Island in a house with a beautiful back yard, I’ve had a hankering to broaden the scope and endeepen the depths of my human existence by getting a DoG.  But deciding what kind of DoG person I was — that was impossible. The DoG world has too many variables: small lap-size cuddler? Big goofy labrador or retriever? Mid-size pit bull? Super-smart poodle or shepherd? Really dumb bull dog? I had no idea.

But as soon as I see Boogie Girl on the TV I know that I am, without a doubt, a Boogie Girl kind of DoG person.

The following Wednesday, I am at the Manhattan ASPCA, meeting Boogie Girl in person:

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That’s the Adoption Counselor, above, walking Boogie Girl through the Cat Room to prove that she has nothing against cats. Done deal. I make an application, give references (including a vet reference), pay the $250 adoption fee, and on November 6, 2013, I am back at the ASPCA to bring Boogie Girl home!

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Front passenger seat, Toyota Camry hybrid, about 11 o’clock in the morning, Nov. 6, 2013.

I took this picture (above) after I pulled the car out of traffic on First Avenue, to settle Boogie down so she wouldn’t get us killed by crawling all over the driver’s side  — she was supposed to have stayed in the back seat, curled up on a blankie I’d brought for her, but I hadn’t been warned that she had probably never ridden in a car before and did not understand the protocols.

I took this picture to commemorate the very moment that I dedicated my life to her: There she is, looking at me, and in her eyes I see that she is dreading/pondering  what new shit has happened to  her now.

And I look back at her, ashamed that I don’t even know how to take a dog for a car ride, and I promise her, “Baby DoG, (when I don’t call her Boogie Girl I call her my Baby DoG), I may not know what I’m doing, yet, but I want you to know that I will protect you, and love you, and we’ll figure it out together in your forever home.”

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How CUTE is she in her Winter coat????

Boogie Girl had already been through a lot. She was one of 4 dogs rescued from a deplorable living situation in a hotel, from an old lady who had long gone senile, and finally been evicted, so the state had come in and removed her to an assisted living facility and called the ASPCA to come get the animals.  Boogie Girl had been at the ASPCA shelter for 6 months and was the third (of the 4 dogs) to be adopted.

When I met her, Boogie Girl was 17 years old. She was hard of hearing, and also a bit hard of seeing (inoperable cataracts — her heart couldn’t withstand anesthesia). In other words, she was perfect.

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Top Cat filling in on dog-walking duty. It was snowing and I just could not go back out there to go on a sniffing expedition to the neighbor’s garbage cans for the third time that day.

Boogie was 18 pounds when I got her — she was thin. Later, I figured out that if it took 6 months to get her well enough for adoption, the poor thing must have been in very bad condition when she arrived at the shelter. I figured it out because, at home with me, she was so frantic and greedy every time she ate (I think that’s called “food insecurity”) that I had to save her from herself or else she’d puke from over-eating. So that’s how I begin to  parcel out her feedings to three times a day, and make her scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, and gravy; and give her spoon fulls of cat food to delicio-tize  her kibble, and let’s not even start with the wet food catering (all veterinarian-approved). By the end of the Winter she had put on about five pounds and couldn’t fit into her cute little coat any more.

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She only used her meshy harness for a week. It irritated patches of her skin that were bald. She only wore a collar when I put her on the leash — my Boogie Girl was going to have as free-range a retirement as possible.

The ASPCA did not tell me that Boogie Girl  wet her bed most nights. See that spiffy $100 bed (above) I got for her? It lasted a week. It was so big that I had to go to the laundromat in town to use the triple loader to wash it every time she, uh, piddled in her sleep, and as I was not capable of spending hours of my life going to the town laundromat three-four times a week, I knew I needed to come up with a home-based bed-washing/keep Boogie in clean beds system. Voila:

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Don’t judge me for putting her in a cardboard box — I’ll explain in a minute.

The cats got Boogie’s $100 old bed. She now has four different little beds (on rotation; she goes through two a day) that fit nicely in my home  washing machine. A friend advised me to get an indoor pen for her boudoir, so we pulled up the rug on our slate-floored den, put down two shower curtains, and circled them with a light-weight pen. The pen was never locked, and it was very flexible. It was more of a suggestion of boundaries than a hard core kennel.

We laid down newspaper on top of the shower curtains, and every night we carpeted her pen with nice clean Wee Wee pads  (see above).

And after her long night’s sleep, THIS is what I have to clean up (see below)  every morning:

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Now, about the cardboard box: Everything I know about taking care of Boogie Girl, I learned through trial and error, and one thing I learned about Boogie is that she is a sloppy sleeper:

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So, if I want to save her from sleeping head-first in her own night soil, I have to contain her in her bed somehow.  And that’s why we started ordering really big stuff from Amazon just to get the box:

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See that butt? She doesn’t have a tail, so every time she’s happy her whole back end wiggles, like at 100 mph. And we wiggle together, to a song I call ” Happy Boogie Butt! Happy Boogie Butt!”

It works. It isn’t pretty, but it works.

Boogie Girl and I spend most of our days together in the den, but Boogie Girl’s den is a big room. It’s 350 square feet. It has 7 regular windows and one big picture window. It has two sofas, a stuffed chair, various end- and coffee-tables, and my desk. This is a picture of her, hogging up the whole left side of my office space, while I’m trying to type the Damn Garden Book:

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Here’s another picture of my working conditions:P1210043

And another:

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She also comes with me upstairs when I work on stuff in my painting workroom. This is a picture of her in my work room, snoozing in a bed that was not meant for dogs:

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Here’s another picture of her in amanuensis  mode, in my workroom:

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One thing that the ASPCA didn’t tell me, kind of an important thing, was that Boogie Girl had never been house broken. I figured it out myself after our first five days together, but I wasn’t going to traumatize her with training at this point in her life.  This is her happy retirement. So I try to manage her tendency to answer the call of nature inside the house by walking her four or five times a day —  Dear Readers, I must confess: having to trot her to the same neighbors’ trash cans four or five times a day so she can sniff every last bit of discarded rotten food gets tiring. Crazy tiring. And gross. But who am I to deprive Boogie of such pleasure?

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Spring sunshine — and Boogie Girl at her shaggiest, right before her Day of Beauty at the groomer’s.

Once upon a time, Boogie Girl found a chicken bone in the middle of a street around the corner. I took it away from her, of course, because it was disgusting, and for WEEKS afterwards, we had to make a detour to go to that same exact spot, and sniff around for a chicken bone that might have magically re-appeared. WEEKS. And yes, to make up for my guilty conscience about that chicken bone, I  put baked chicken on her dinner rotation.

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The Boogie after her Day of Beauty at the Groomer’s. I can’t believe how small she looks, because her place in my life is HUGE. BTW, Boogie is not a cuddly dog, so this is as much huggy-time as I could ever get from her, altho she does let me kiss her on the nose every time I want to.

Boogie Girl is, in short, needy, picky, and a  handful. She’s also a bit smelly, but she is dignified, brave, and gentle.

Because Boogie Girl had so many care-taking requirements, Top Cat and I had to stop traveling to week-end get-away destinations. And every place else.

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That’s Dudley, checking out the intruder to his back yard territory. Yes, that’s an empty pizza-box in the flower bed to the right. It’s DUDLEY’S pizza box.

I cart Boogie Girl off to the vet as frequently as I take her to the groomer  — at least every six weeks. New dog mom, old dog, nutty amount of love … I panic about her health a lot, and I am happy to hand over a couple of two to seven hundred dollars just to be re-assured that she’s not going anywhere, no matter how heavenly, any time soon.

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Dudley LOVES to nap on his pizza box in the flower bed. Who am I to care if it makes our place look trashy? Dudley likes it, end of story.

Even with me watching over her, Boogie Girl has managed to crap in every room of the house. TWICE. Every room. Rooms that have carpet, rooms that have oriental rugs, rooms that have hardwood, and rooms that have tile floors.

I have stepped in it, in bare feet, only once. And once in stocking feet.

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How does Boogie get along with the cats, you ask? She gets along like this — she sniffs, determines that they are not food, and ignores them. This seems to only annoy Taffy (seen here, trying very hard to get her attention).

I’m telling you all this so you will know that Boogie Girl thoroughly up-ended my cat-lady life and household. I’m telling you all this so you’ll know that from the first day we were together, my life had to be all about Boogie Girl, and I’m absolutely fine with it, and I’m telling you all this because from Day One my heart was Boogie’s  and will always be hers. I’m telling you this because I only had her for nine months, two weeks, and a day, and I miss every time consuming, exhausting, totally boring dog walking, garbage can sniffing, laundry doing, cleaning up-aftering, sloppy sleeping, wolf eating, dinner-making, bed-making, panic-making, never-off-my-mind second.

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Notice that she is not hugging me back.

Boogie Girl was not a cuddly dog, but she and I had a deal. When her time came, she would be at home, with me,  Top Cat, and a kind, soft-spoken vet. I would make her a feast of her favorite people-food treat (baked broccoli casserole with bread crumbs and garlic), she would scarf it down, and she would let me carry her to the den. She would finally let me hold her in my lap, and wrap my arms around her, and tell her what a beautiful wonderful lovable DoG she was, and keep smooching her silly head, while the vet put her worn out little soul gently to sleep.

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And that’s exactly what happened.  Boogie Girl died of congestive heart failure on the night of August 26, 2014.

I could’nt sleep that night: The vet had taken Boogie to Westchester, to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, to be cremated, and the house was suffocating me with her absence. I was haunting myself for not having done every thing perfectly for her. Mostly, I couldn’t sleep that night because I never wanted to  wake up in the morning and not have a Boogie Butt wiggling with happiness to see me.

But I was too exhausted to resist a few hours’ sleep, and then it was the next day. First thing,  I made a frantic call to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester to say I had to see my Boogie Girl one last time, could they give me a one last viewing, please please please? They said Of course. I went limp with relief.

Then I gathered up Boogie’s cans of wet food and big bag of dry, and her purple harness that she used for 7 days, and I took them to the local county animal shelter. Seeing a stranger hold Boogie’s old harness made me cry. So I went home and drank tea and passed a very numb day.

(I held onto her beds until October, literally held onto them. I held and inhaled and said my Boogie’s name, until it got cold and I thought of the little dogs who might not have cozy beds of their own and I made another trip back to the county animal shelter.)

And the next day, there I was driving up and down Central Park Avenue, hyperventilating and still to able to breathe, in heart-attack mode, seeing black spots in front of my eyes, because I was lost in goddam Westchester.

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Imagine that you are a 40-ish guy, sitting at your desk at Scarsdale Ford, on a perfectly average, normal Thursday morning. Suddenly, a wild-eyed lady storms into your showroom, clutches her head, and says, “I’m  lost and I’m going to faint.” She’s talking kind of loud and can’t catch her breath. She drops herself down in the seat front of your desk and, hands trembling, she hands you a sweaty, crumpled piece of paper with the address of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery on it, and she before she bursts into tears she  says, “I have to see my dog one last time and I can’t find her.”

She keeps saying, “I have to see her, I have to see her. And I’m lost!!”

You take a moment to figure out that what’s happening isn’t a prank. Then you dial the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. You tell them that there’s a woman having a nervous breakdown in your office because she’s worried that they are going to go ahead with the scheduled cremation because she hasn’t arrived on time and you think she’s a no-show but the truth is that she’s going crazy from  being lost [in goddam Westchester] for the last 40 minutes. You write down directions, you hang up the phone, you turn to the weeping lady, and very calmly and slowly, you say:

“You’re only half a mile away. The entrance is hidden on a side street. Go here, turn left here, turn the corner there.  You’ll be at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in ten minutes. Don’t worry. They’ve still got your dog and they won’t start without you.” The woman still looks bat-shit crazy, but her crying is quieter now and she lifts herself up from the chair in front of your desk. She says, “Thank you so much. I was so afraid I’d never get to see her again, and I have to see her one last time.”

Then you say, “Can I give you a hug? I’ve been through it too and I know what you’re feeling.” So you give the lady a hug, and she starts crying again, and she sobs, “I miss her so much!”

The lady turns, and leaves the building. Two days later you get a card in the mail, addressed to “Kind Person Who Helped Me Find the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery”. The crazy lady tells you her name, tells you that Boogie Girl was the name of her dog, apologizes for barging in on your work day, assures you that she is not usually that much of a nut job, and thanks you profoundly and humbly for your humanity.

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And that’s how I finally arrived at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.

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I sat with Boogie for a quarter hour. She was laying in a little bed with white satin sheets and her head was on a white satin pillow. I clipped some locks of hair from her silly little head.

I saw her all the way to the door of the crematorium, and then I turned away. I walked around the cemetery for an hour. The cemetery is a beautiful place.

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then I collected her ashes, and drove home without incident.

Every time I sit at this desk, Boogie Girl is right in front of me, in a flowered tin box.

People ask me if there’s a big difference between cats and DoGs, and I say, “And how.”

People ask me if it was kind of stupid to adopt a senior citizen dog to be my first DoG ever, and I say, “I was probably in a little over my head.” And I also say, “I hope I made her happy.”

People have asked me if it was worth the effort and expense and heartbreak  to care for an old DoG that you only know for such a short time, and I say, “I don’t know any other way of having a DoG.”

People ask me if I’ll ever get another DoG, and  I say, “I’m on the lookout.”

All I need is a Sign.

I Could Straighten Everything Out If People Would Only Let Me Be the Boss of Everybody.

Someone has to say it, so it might as well be me: Jeeze. I go away for a year and LOOK at the mess  the world gets itself into. So I’m very happy to be baaaaaaack: Voice of Reason, thy name is Vivian.

Thank you all, Dear Readers, for all your notes last week, welcoming me back to the inter webs.

As per your requests, I will be catching you all up on What I Did on My Year Off, starting today.

One of the things that kept me very, very aggravated busy in 2014 was writing and illustrating the Damn Garden Book. Although I am contractually forbidden from publishing any more than 10% of the content of what is, at this point, the paid-for intellectual property of BloomsburyUSA (YES — they put that in my contract!) I know I’m not flouting my legal obligations to show you these few pages of The Damn Garden Book.

This is Exhibit # 1:

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This book, like my first two, is another  Traveler’s Journal, this one on the Meaning of Life and Gardens.  In it, I travel to thought-provoking gardens far and near; FAR — Rio de Janeiro, Marrakech, Edinburgh, London, Key West, and New Orleans. NEAR —  a Japanese folly garden and a dead poet’s orchard here on my own home turf in Great Gatsby territory on the Isle of Long.

But I start the garden tour in the city were  I have done some of the best gardening in my life. I mean , of course, Paris, The Gardening Capital of the World.

Exhibit #2  is a self portrait, which I call  This is how I do my best “gardening” in Paris:

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Obviously, I’m “gardening” metaphorically. And it’s a rainy day.

 

Both Exhibit #1 and Exhibit #2 are rescues. If you look carefully at Exhibit #1 , you’ll see that the edges of the trees’ foliage casts a shadow. (You can scroll up now. I’ll be still be here when you get back.)

Here’s the story: My big idea for the Damn Garden Book was to immerse my Dear Readers  in the various garden experiences. In order to do that, I had to — cripes — paint full-page pictures, which I am not very good at. In fact, I stink.

I’m a miniaturist for DoG’s sake, but hey, why try to live an artful life if you’re just going to keep on doing what you’ve always been doing? So I tried something new, and painted a lot of full page-size pix, and was extremely impressed by my derring-do. I was much less impressed by the results.

About half of the pix turned out OK.  But the other half looked as if I’d  painted them blindfolded. Or drunk.  I wish!

Most times, I re-paint the pic until I get it right. But sometimes I don’t. Like with Exhibit #1.

Painting those background apartment buildings was sooooo tedious that there was no way I was going to re-paint all those dastardly Juliet balconies. So I just painted new trees on a separate sheet of paper, cut them out, and glued them right on top of the offending verdure. I know! It’s amazing what you can get away with!

Exhibit #2 is also a clever run-around. I compensated for my lack of painting-a-window-that-looks-like-a-window skill by cutting out the window panes of the cafe and pasting  in a separate illustration of a Paris street scene. ***That white goop on the right edge is hiding a mistake I made in painting my shadow.  Computer-machine magic will get rid of the noticeable surface texture when it goes in for production.

In Exhibit #3 we arrive at the gorgeous Paris garden that I think was worth writing 14 pages about:

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Do you recognize it? Here’s a hint: the garden actually is in the shape of a triangle.

Yes, it’s the Square du Vert-Galant on the tip of the Ile de la  Cite!:

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*-*-*-*-

Changing subjects, please consider Exhibit #4, a photo I took on my last visit to the City of Light, in 2013:

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Nice garden!

Here is something that I haven’t  told my editor yet but I’m telling you: I want to  include 6-8 watercolor prints that can be removed from the Damn Garden Book… in other words,  pages that are suitable for framing.  Like, as my gift to my Dear Readers.

One of the subjects I can envision as a suitable for framing is Exhibit #4.

I think the idea of rip-out-able pages is a good one, and I think that if I can pull off painting this charming scene (with enhanced greenery, artistic license, etc.) it could be a collector’s piece. Yes, I said it: Collector’s Piece.

Thoughts? (I enabled Comments!!)

Meanwhile, let’s move on to the Author Photo: As you’ve seen in my previous book jackets, I like to have fun with my Author Photo. No itty bitty postage-stamp size mug shot for me! I want to send a message with my Author Photo, mostly something about how I’m kind of cute.

I was thinking that this photo, taken last September in my favorite cosmo patch along the Garden State Parkway, in New Jersey, near Atlantic City, might do:

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My plan was to photoshop this pic heavily. Add many more cosmos to this field,  swap out my frizzy hair for the hair in this pic (below) (of me on a Good Hair Day):

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But last week, I cut my hair:

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I do not know why I had to show both hands in this selfie.

So back to the drawing table.

By the way, were you wondering, in that Good Hair Day photo,  What’s with the cocker spaniel?

Well, that’s my cocker spaniel, my very own, the one and only Boogie Girl:

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Because another one of the things that I did in my year off that kept me on my toes and put a whammy on my love of sitting around and never leaving the house was I got a DoG. The DoG of my heart, the best damn DoG anyone ever had. She was really something.

Next week: all about the wonderfulness of the Boogie Girl and the havoc her ilk causes in a previously cat-only household.

And when I say “havoc”, I mean it in the most awesome sense of the word.

 

 

Life is Like a Blue Birthday Cake

Since I only bake one cake a year I insist on making it the time-honored olde-fashioned way, same way my ancestors did back in the Olde Country, when we lived in harmony with nature down on the  Olde Estate, down the road from the 7-11 just off Pennsylvania Turnpike exit 8. Here’s how I do it:P1000028

Life is like a bowl of cake batter, and blue food coloring is Science:

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Behold :

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I leave you to come to your own conclusions:

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Pour batter into cake pans, put pans in oven.

Remove pans from oven when batter has finished reincarnating as solid food:

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Yes, Dear Readers, I use a colander as my cake pan cooler because one day I will have reached the Nirvana of Ultimate De-Clutter when I own only 100 pieces of stuff and everything I has to do double-duty.  In the case of the colander, it triples as holy headgear, for Lo, I am a member of the world’s fastest growing carbohydrate based religion, Pastafarianism.

Cooking Tip Most Likely to Make You Go Doh!: The fastest way to bring a stick of frozen butter to “room temperature” is to grate it:

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Life is a like a bowl of butter cream icing, and blue food coloring is all our wishes that eating butter cream icing would be one third of the food pyramid:

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Now, that’s what I call Magical Thinking:

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Pre-cake plate:

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Bottom layer of icing:

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This is the first year that I completely gave up trying to make a decent cake, given that all the blue cakes in my past have turned out hideously. So of course, this happens:

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I know there’s a Life Lesson in there somewhere.  But don’t ask me for it — do I look like Oprah?

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And the champagne wasn’t the least bit like a Slurpee:

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Please Don’t Spoil My Day, I’m Miles Away

Here it is,  your 2015 Champagne-O-Meter!

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Yeah, I know; you expected a bang and all you got was this whimper. And the total re-design of my blog isn’t ready, either. Sorry, but we have to put up with sans-serif font for just a little while longer.

Luckily, after a week of 20 degree weather here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, you know our bubbly will be nice and popsicle-y for when we pop it open for our annual Ugly Cake Contest later today.

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In the meantime, I want to welcome myself back to the interwebworld! I’ve missed you!  And I want to thank all youse who have stopped by to pay a visit! I could use some cheering up!

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I’ve had a terrible, terrible streak of everything-should-revolve-around-me-level of bad luck this year so yesterday, when the Customer Service guy at Staples (His name tag said “Awesome”. Really, it did. ) replied to my customer serve issue with a smile, and says, as if to gladden my day,

“C’est la vie”

something in me snapped.

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Being mistaken for the kind of emotionally well-balanced and friendly person who finds it endearing when some self-appointed Buddha decides that the Customer Service Desk at Staples is the perfect place to be the beacon that shines a little light on my path to enlightenment, well, that does NOT bring out the best in me.

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And After All, I’m Only Sleeping.

One of the things I did, on my year off from blogging, was get a solid “C” in my Anger Management course so, no, the…uh… conversation did not end up the way it usually does, with the guy from Staples threatening to call the cops. But I made sure that the next time he tells a customer “C’est le vie”,  he better be prepared for an ear beating in very loud, at least 70% correctly conjugated, don’t-fuck-with-me French.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to make something special for this Re-Boot Post, things got so bad that I ate cake batter for lunch.

But then, later that evening, when I saw the carrier of the Last Straw heading my way, I made the conscious decision that at that point, all I could do was laugh. That’s how I ended up, doubled over in my driveway at 7:30 PM in the sub-freezing cold, laughing and laughing and laughing about how I had just spent a half hour in the dark and freezing cold FOR NO REASON AT ALL (long story, the LIRR was running late, that kind of thing), laughing and laughing. Seriously. I could not keep a straight face at that point.

Then I went into the house, poured me a glass of wine, and laughed and laughed and laughed some more. That was dinner.

Upshot is: Give me until cocktail hour tea time to do today what I tried, oh, how I tried, to do for you yesterday.

And then we will get the party started!

P.S. HA ha ha ha hahahahahahaha.  The Comments on this post are CLOSED (I closed them when the blog went floringe in 2013) and I can’t OPEN them!!!  Don’t ask me why/how, but whacking the side of my computer doesn’t help.  I would love to hear from you — I’m at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

 

 

Paws Up!

 

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I wish you happy holidays, Dear Readers,

and a joyful new year!

Meet me back here on

January 16, 2015

when this blog re-boots  for further mountain-making from the molehills of life and art here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

The thing I’m most looking forward to about my new blog is getting serifs. Oh, how I have missed my serifs on this lousy Atahualpa theme. In 2015 it will be Times New Roman all the way. You have no idea how happy this will make me. Happier than playing Twister with Ryan Gosling, that’s how happy my new serifs will make me.