Stories from my molehill life.

Yes, this is still ab boring watercolor blog so for deep artistic reasons, we will be rescuing this watercolor illustration this week . . .

. . . but only after a bit of digression [cats].

I looked out of my upstairs bathroom window a few days ago and I saw this:

That’s Taffy and his arch enemy, Bibs, napping together in the crevice that forms where the roof of the garage meets the back wall of our shed. This crevice traps a lot of dead leaves that blow out of that little woods behind our house and I guess they make a nice cushion to sleep on. I haven’t seen Taffy up there for years — but his mother, Candy, used to take him up there with his two brothers when they were kittens, and spend the day in hiding (from the big mean people who wanted to love them too much, that is, ME).

As you can see, nothing interesting is going on in the little woods behind our house, but the end of our street is pretty happening:

Spring is over-rated. I think blooming trees look trashy, and the weather is always, always a disappointment. So it was sunny for a day. Big fucking whoop.

Rather than moon about the buds and green things shooting out of the earth, I am becoming obsessed with the last pile of snow on the north shore of Long Island, which looked like this when we got back from New Orleans last week:

On Tuesday it looked like this:

And today, Thursday morning, it looks like this (car shown for size reference):

In another sign of the times, our front yard cat, Steve, has moved out of his Winter headquarters under the holly tree on the side of our stoop and settled into his Spring pied-à-terre behind the other holly tree on the other side of the porch:

His new spot catches wonderful morning sun (which Steve adores) now that the earth has done its seasonal tilt on its axis. I leaned an old storm window against the house so that, if it rains, the storm window keeps Steve and his straw nest nice and dry:

You all know that I am a life-long Cat Lady, but lately I have been thinking, and thinking hard, about getting another DoG. So naturally, this book came my way (Thank you, Universe):

This is a delightful book of essays by Delia Ephron about a handful of topics including the four listed in the title. The short essays are entertaining, but the long ones are magnificent. If you want to write, you owe it to yourself to read this book because the way she captures her distinct voice is masterful.

The long essay titled Why I Can’t Write About My Mother shows what I mean when I say she captures her singular voice so expertly. Read this essay closely and you will understand that Delia Ephron has an exquisite understanding of the way her mind works, and she has the supreme skill to get her thought process — and no, she does not transcribe it — on the page. She writes good, solid, short sentences that still whack you over the head with style and emotion. And watch how her paragraphs seem to wander away from their starting points, and how they widen the scope of the subject, all while never really straying all that far from the true heart of the matter. Talk about control!

Delia Ephron wrote movies and a play with her sister, Nora, and she really loves her DoG, Honey, who is as cute as all get-out:

When I was googling the interwebs for an image of the Sister Mother Husband Dog book cover, I came across this:

Proof that I have the best damn readers in bookdom: you, Dear Readers, can write rings around this lady and yOU DO, every week. XXOO.

This is a terrible thing to tell an author — that you “passed around” one book among several people. That is like telling an office worker she is only going to be paid one hour out of every four that she works. Well, that’s an imperfect comparison, but you get my drift:  An author wants to hear that you bought her book to give to the several people you wanted to share it with. Jeeze. Christy Childers is the name of the woman who posts her crappy postcards on the inter webs. I am not a fan.

But that’s just me, hating my life as a writer this week. It’s been eight days since my agent emailed me to say that she got my manuscript and it looked beautiful, but she would read it more carefully that night and get back to me.

Eight days.

It feels like eight weeks. Each day that I don’t hear from her, I am convinced she hates my manuscript more than she did the day before and that she hates me more and more each day and that I should retire from writing and go get useful job in a donut shop. And then I spiral downwards and sock away a third vodka on the rocks.

Last week I read something about how much damage plastic straws do to the environment, so I started to re-use my straws. The one that is currently in the lowball glass on the kitchen windowsill that awaits tonight’s pour has been in use since Sunday. (You’re welcome, Earth.)

OK, let’s get to the real reason you all have gathered here this Friday. Let’s rescue a watercolor!

There is nothing wrong with this picture (of Claude Monet’s lily pond in his famous water garden in Giverny, France) except that it has four corners. You know how I am trying to bust out of the four-cornered illustration? So I was looking at this rectangular picture and I thought it needed this:

Of course you can’t understand what those scribbles mean because , well, look at that mess; but you can see that I want to add something to that upper left hand area and add two extra corners, which I begin comme ça:

Imagine my surprise. I got the tone of the blues, greens, and yellow correct on the first try. So I continue to blob in the background foliage:

I am a huuuuuuge fan of letting the watercolor bleed into interesting splotches, so this is how I got the “pond” area soaking wet (but not too wet) and dropped in some contrasting color, and then I waited for it all to dry:

YES!!! I love that big bleed! And it works well with the already existing bleed. Yay. The hardest part is done. The rest of this rescue should be nothing but fun fun fun.

If you look closely, however, you can see that part of this beautiful bleed abuts abruptly and noticeably against a darker bit of splotch, which I will have to rectify:

I have to paint in a matching splotch:

And because the water lily pads did not exactly match up, I painted and cut out teeny little pads that I glued in, to act like sutures to the two parts of this illustration:

Cropped and ready for its close-up — and yes, you can see the “scar” between the original painting and the addition:

This will magically disappear when the printer scans it and cleans it up, much like I have done (see below) using the app that comes with iPhoto:

But we are not there yet — remember my sketch?

That scribble was all about a weeping willow tree that I wanted to introduce to the left hand side of the illustration. But I’m not totally committed to that idea, so to test it I paint and cut out a tree trunk and place it appropriately:

You might recall that I did a whole thing about the weeping willows in the Square du Vert-Galant garden on the tip of the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the Seine River in Paris in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly:

So I do know my way around a willow tree. But for Monet’s garden, I looked at Monet’s own use of the tree as a foreground device:

Here’s how I try out an idea on a finished painting: I slip the painting inside a clear plastic sheet protector and I paint on the plastic surface. In this case, I painted in the willow tree wisps in white acrylic paint (because water color does not apply to a plastic surface) and let dry. Then I painted over the white acrylic with my watercolors:

So now I got an idea of how my willow tree idea will go over:

I’m undecided. I don’t want this picture to look too busy. But I kind of like having that tree in the view. Whether the willow tree stays or not, I am cropping the illustration like this:

I might be too much in love with those bleeds to hide them with willow leaves, which might not be the best thing for this picture. Maybe it does need that foreground tree. I will dither over this indefinitely. I would appreciate your opinions.

As I type this, der Drumpf has spent the morning on Fox TV, admitting that he lied about his knowledge of the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, although he claimed that Michael Cohen only represented him in a tiny fraction of his business dealings. Oh, you have to love an imbecile such as Drumpf:

The problem with Trump’s claim that Cohen only dealt with a small part of his legal work is that it dramatically complicates his lawyers’ efforts to shield documents seized in FBI raids under the guise of “attorney-client privilege.” And it proves that he lied about the pay-off when he stated, on Air Force One ON TAPE that he knew nothing about it.

He also admitted that he didn’t get Melania a gift for her birthday today, but he did get her a really nice card. Well…that’s what you get when you marry for money, honey.

Here is another quote from der Drumpf’s bloviation on Fox TV:

“I’m fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep-seated people, drain the swamp, that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me, and they’re not bringing up real charges against the other side.”

The way Dumpf drops in that slogan — drain the swamp — out of nowhere . . . that is hilarious, and classic Drumpfery. Equally enjoyable was seeing the terrified looks on the faces of the sycophants of his Fox & Friends as they realized that letting Drumpf prattle on and on was not a good idea after all.

Another unhinged quote, this time about Mr. Meuller’s investigation at the FBI:

 “If you take a look, they’re so conflicted, the people that are doing the investigation, you have 13 people that are Democrats, you have Hillary Clinton people, you have people that worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation. I don’t mean Democrats, I mean, like, the real deal.”

Like, I hope Fox & Friends invites him back real soon. It makes me happy when the world gets to hear Drumpf  doing Drumpf.

It makes me this happy:

Have a happy weekend, everyone. Re-use the plastic straws in your tipple; tune in to the Today Show on Monday morning, April 30, to feast your eyes on a pair of Brit vegans who going to show us all how to cook delicious vegetable-based food and save the world; and please go find your patch of dirt in the sun and have a good roll.

XXOO

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I had way too many people over to my house last night and one woman, who was the wife of one of Top Cat’s friends, waved her hand at me to show me her ring and bragged, “It’s a ruby.” (This is an internet photo of a cabochon ruby below.)

I should mention that this scenario was a dream I had last night but now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll continue: I looked at the stone and I knew it was not a ruby so I said, “No, it’s not a ruby, it’s red coral,” because I am part Vulcan and I cannot lie. (Internet photo of cabochon red coral below.)

The woman got all snotty at me and insisted that I didn’t know anything and that if there was a jeweler in the room he’d set me straight and tell me that this was a ruby, because it’s a family heirloom and Grandma said it was a ruby and everyone in the family knows it’s a ruby.

I woke up then, with a weary apathy that was a very familiar feeling of mine from the days when I worked as a jeweled objects expert at Christie’s auction house. I used to have conversations like this one in my dream all the time with people who wanted to bankroll their retirement by selling off a family heirloom that, I had to tell them, in reality would, maybe, finance a retirement party for four at Olive Garden. Lordy, I could tell you stories about the stories that get handed down from Grandmas.

P.S. Myths about family heirlooms happen even in the best families:

Do you see that large cabochon (polished, dome-shaped gem) in the middle of Queen Elizabeth’s crown? It’s been  called The Black Prince’s Ruby ever since it was handed down from the Black Prince, the Plantagenet forbear of the Queen who lived 1330 – 1376.  But it’s not a ruby. It’s a spinel,  a type of gem that was differentiated in the 18th century as another very nice red stone that is actually redder than most rubies, but not a ruby. They sell for 30 – 50% the price of ruby, but I don’t know of many people who are clamoring for it. The pertinent thing is, it’s not a ruby.

I have not dreamed about my old job for many years and I was momentarily perplexed at why one would crop up now. Then I remember that I watched Antiques Roadshow the night before and had seen an old boyfriend on the TV screen. He has appeared on Antiques Roadshow, off and on, as one of their expert appraisers since its beginning in 1997, the year after we broke up.

I used to wish that I had stayed at my Christie’s job a little longer because maybe I could have ended up on TV too, but you know how it is, you see an old boyfriend on the TV show you used to wish you could have been on and you think, Wow, it’s been 21 years since we broke up and he still has awesome hair and then that night you have a dream about things that are not rubies.

Wait. 1996 was 21 years ago?!?!?!? And no, this guy is not my ex-boyfriend.

Maybe you have been in the position of having to give, or receive,  information, such as the kind that I used to give all the time when I worked as an expert appraiser. To me, the information was neutral: it was fact, in that it was based on my degrees in Gemology and my expert knowledge of the market value of certain objects, which I earned through my daily interaction with that market and on my many years of experience with those kinds of objects, or ones that are quantifiably similar in ways that I have been expertly trained to translate into dollar value. It was my job to know these things.

This guy is not my ex-boyfriend either.

To the person receiving the information, however, the information appears to be merely opinion, especially since it does not agree with what they wanted to hear. 80% of the time, when my information was rejected, the excuse was that the owner of the object under scrutiny had a “feeling” that it was worth more. (To be fair, there are times when objects put up for auction smash their pre-auction estimates, but we’re talking about the very rare, or one-of-a-kind items that are not anything like your Grandma’s Ansonia clock or her Piaget wristwatch, or the 19th-century Italian shell cameo that was smuggled out of Europe 300 years ago when the ancestor was a maid to the Queen of France during the persecution of the Catholics — that last one is a true Grandma story which was so wrong on so many counts that I didn’t know where to begin.

God no.

In time I came to understand that what a lot of people called a “feeling” was in fact a “wish”, and that most people prefer to live in their “wish” world than in the world of true information. And since then I’ve been very careful to question all my “feelings” to make sure they aren’t “wishes”. There’s a difference. It’s good to know the difference.

And I also thought that the reason I had this dream that dredged up those old feelings of what I call weariness and apathy (if they are not one and the same — we have so few words for nuanced emotions) is because I feel the same way when I hear the debate about gun control. The NRA and their lackeys have a shitty red coral ring that they believe is ruby, and they won’t listen to an expert opinion because facts make them feel like you hate their Grandma and they will defend their Grandma to death so all of a sudden you are dealing with someone who is screaming at you for hating poor little old law-abiding ladies who never did a thing to hurt you and why would you want to take her ruby ring away from her when it’s all she has???? It makes me weary.

Here on Long Island we had Spring For a Day — sunny, warm, blue skies — and Steve went roll a roll on the grass of our front lawn and came back looking like this:

I didn’t do much painting this week; all I had to do was re-do a portrait of Claude Monet. I used two references, one from 1886 in a painting by Monet’s friend, John Singer Sargent:

And this one, a photograph from c. 1920:

At first, I thought I could get away with this (it’s just a doodle for the margin):

But, no. So I did this:

OK. Now I see it: I got the head position and the shift of his whole posture wrong. And what’s with that paint brush in his right hand? I will have to have another go at it, which is the norm for this book. I think I’ve painted every single illustration at least twice; some, more than eight times, until I get it right. Because I am part Vulcan and we are sticklers for the truth.

Here’s a Monet fact you won’t read any where else: In 1901 Monet took home the equivalent (in 2017 dollars) of $1.7 million from sales of his paintings. In 2016, one of his pictures of a grainstack made $81.4 million at auction in New York — at my old stomping grounds, Christie’s.

And that’s how you bring a blog post full circle, Dear Readers.

And now it’s time to go back to real life in America, back to another day in the demise of democracy in the Drumpf administration.

We made it through February, Dear Ones: we will get through March, and we will get through it together. See you here next week.

Have a great weekend, and please don’t have bad dreams about work or old boyfriends unless it’s a good story and then I definitely want to hear it.

XXOO

 

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Let’s not talk about the latest bullshit that der Drumpf has concocted to distract from the fact that he is a sniveling manboy in hock up to his eyeballs to Putin; let’s talk about how awesome it’s going to be to watch der Drumpf’s staff blow up each other until all that is left is a pus-filled carcass that is the true heart of the der Drumpf administration. (One word, synonymous with “lighting the stick of dynamite”: Scaramucci.)

Just another Drumpf staffer, making ‘Murica great.

Even thinking of der Drumpf probably makes you feel dirty. So let us cleanse our psyches by going to a land where ass-holery is not so highly revered, such as Australia. . .

If it’s CUTe you’re looking for, you can always count on a wallaby.

. . . or Canada . . .

Just think. But for the 48th parallel, he could have been OURS.

(Just to compare the awesome body language of a real high-quality manly man who is smart and worldly and has accomplished beaucoup on his own v. the weird posing of a snot-nosed mini-turd chip-off-the-block of a cess pool, regardez-vous, s’il vous plait🙂

. . . or my house. Here’s my sweet mama cat Candy with her oaf son, Lickety, on our cookbook shelf in the dining room when it was 95 degrees last week and snoozing in a sun beam was not an option:

That doesn’t look all that comfortable to me but I have to trust that even my cats know where the cool spots are even though, in the brain power department, my cats are rather like the night-lights you switch on in the brain power department when the store is closed and it’s midnight. Because they’re cats: Pure id, fulfilling the pleasure principle.

Speaking of our stemware collection, many months ago Top Cat, for no reason other than curiosity, decided to go gluten-free. Fine: He substituted his half-a-bagel at breakfast for a rice cake, he cut back on the Doritos, he cheated every Saturday with ciabatta, and he lost 5 pounds. Then, inevitably, since he was not snacking as heartily as he used to, he cut out his usual side dish to his Cool Ranch Doritos:

He quit drinking.

So it’s been almost a month that he’s been dry and last Sunday he told me that I should quit drinking, too, because it’s not healthy that I drink every day.

First of all: Every Day??

I WISH. 

Oh, how I wish that the usual laws of physics did not apply to me so I could have two glasses of wine (OK, three.) (OK! OK! Four.) every day and not end up looking like this:

Or this:

Yes, Lickety is the Otis of our house.

Oh well. It’s useless to argue facts with a person once he has entered the Come to Jesus phase of his self-improvement regime.

So now, in addition to making it through the all the school nights of the week (that’s Monday thru Thursday) and counting the hours until Friday’s blessed arrival of the 5 o’clock angel, I will have to enjoy my beverage[s] in private, sitting in my room by myself watching reruns of Deep Space Nine. Which actually sounds like a pretty hot date: I have a thing for Gul Dukat. (Well, who doesn’t??)

I have to admit that my weekendly rendez-vous with my favorite Pinot Grigiots or white Bordeaux is one of the least boring, nay, most fun things I do, period. I’ve never particularly liked the things that other girls liked: the shopping, the make up, the long phone calls, the crafting get-togethers, “networking”, or beer. I tried a book club but the prospect of reading that much fiction kind of made me want to puke. I have zero interest in quilting. Seriously: Can you see me getting into flower arranging?? No, I am NOT joining a church, or a bluegrass band, or, honestly, anything that involves putting up with other people. The things that some people find fun, well, they bore me.

In April I signed up for Sign Language classes at our local library — that’s been . . . well. . . not exactly fun, but not exactly not fun either. It’s been engrossing. I’m not bored! And I found a delightful study buddy in that class: we meet every Sunday to teach ourselves the signs for our favorite Beatles songs, and then we have wine. That’s fun.

So this past Monday I met with the instructor of ASL at Hofstra University for an evaluation, as I am considering taking my interest in American Sign Language to a new level and I was hoping that I’d test out of the university’s Beginner classes. That evaluation was not fun, because it turns out that taking an ASL class at your library does not, in any way, equip you with the rudimentary conversation skills it takes to hold your own with a fluent, native [deaf] signer. She asked me what I did for work and where I lived and why I wanted to learn ASL, and all I wanted to do was show her that I knew the words to Yesterday.

This week I also taught myself how to make Greek spinach pie. It wasn’t FUN, but it wasn’t not FUN either. Maybe my standards for FUN are too high?

Thank you for your compliments, last week, about my foray into fashion design. I wear that top all the time, and I love it. So, yeah, that was fun. And thanks, Christine, for the nice comment on my hair. I’m letting it get longer for no reason other than my stylist is taking the Summer off. I like it so far, but I don’t want to go long again, I think.

Patricia: When I got home from the hospital emergency room, the raccoon 9see: last week’s post) was still sitting on top of the fence. His foot was not stuck; he was just sitting there. This was not a well raccoon. So I called Animal Control and a guy came and scooped him up in a net and he was euthanized, because fence-sitting for hours at a time is not normal raccoon behavior. His brain was tested and that’s how I got the all-clear re: rabies.

Ann: Would I do that again, put my hands on a raccoon? Nope. I’d call in the professionals at Animal Control asap. I’ll stick to feral cat rescue from now on.

Merci, Margot: Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored — I’m in. Thanks for the recommendation. *Sigh* I do need more fun. Or more wine.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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England, America, and Australia in the house! The “house” being New York City’s oldest and last soda fountain, the Lexington Candy Shop on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan . . . 

. . . and the representatives of the English-speaking world being (from left to right): our own Dear Commentor Elizabeth (from London) , Moi (from Missoula, Montana of these United States), and the holder of the title of our Longest Distance Dear Commentor, who you know and love as Kirra (from Adelaide). This is us on our culinary leg of our cultural tour of NYC last week, after stopping at a typical New York coffee shop for lunch . . .

. . . before fetching up at the Lexington fora  dessert of New York delicacies — egg creams and malted milks. Note to Kirra: I should have explained that a malted milk is like a liquid Tim Tams.

We had begun our ramble through the Isle of Manhattan at the Jewish Museum on 92nd Street to see the Florine Stettheimer exhibit. I love her work and this show is the largest ever gathering of her paintings and costume designs.

I love that her pictures are about something, most usually her life as a wealthy, sophisticated New Yorker with friends from all over the art and theater world.

Her use of color is exciting — she does not shy away from committing herself to richness (above) or froth (see: portrait of her sister).  I love that she uses framing devices such as drapes — which appear in the picture plane as if from no where — and gets away with it! And it takes supreme control over narrative to put in the large quantities of information that she succeeds in putting in her paintings:

See how there is a LOT going on, but you the viewer don’t feel overwhelmed, confused, or disgusted? [cough * Hieronymus Bosch * cough]

I also like how she doesn’t overlap any of her figures as if she were a primitive/outsider painter, which she is not.

If I painted, I would paint like Florine Stettheimer. Which is not to say that I won’t be knocking off some of her brilliant ideas in the future — I steal from the best.

In fact, there is one picture I’m already dying to paint. It’s about something that Kirra told me about her daily life in Adelaide (Australia). She happened to mention, as if it’s just one of those normal things you get used to when you’re  a music teacher in Adelaide (Australia), that the school where she teaches is situated on a nice plot of land that has a nice grove of eucalyptus trees on it. And, oh, yeah, those trees are full of koala bears, which you can see every time you look up.

Mind you, Kirra has been a Dear Reader her for a few years now, and we’d been chatting in person in New York for about 2 hours before she happened to mention this thing about the koala bears. Now, if that had been me, I’d be all, “Hello there, My name is Kirra and I am surrounded by koala bears at work, that’s right, KOALA BEARS, so yeah, my life’s pretty awesome compared to yours.” I mean, being surrounded by koala bears would be something people would know about me within the first 5 seconds of our meeting. KOALA BEARS, people.

Yes, I definitely want to paint a forest of koala bear-bearing eucalyptus trees, with me in the middle, like Carie Stetheimer,  with a big fat smile on my face.

Apart from the breath taking news that there are people in the world who get to go to work in a koala forest, the rest of our Modern English Summit passed in companionable merriness as we walked down 5th Ave, past the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum with its staircase . . .

. . . which is famous for something but I can’t remember what. And we strolled past the Guggenheim . . .

. . . and then we took a bus down 5th Ave. to the Public Library:

Kirra and her husband Neil headed on to Boston, thence to Ann Arbor — I hope this is just the first of many return visits, depending on der Drumpf not being the harbinger of the End Times that he seems to be.

One pic, thousand words, eh? Because I am running out of words to deal with the human turd that is der Drumpf. But thanks to Commenters Fan in Vt and Vicki in Michigan, one word I won’t use is “girly“. I get it.

I also want to apologize to pigs. Calling der Drumpf a pig is an insult to pigs, animals that I like very much.

Melissa: Mike Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper, and she made pots of money from it. Mr. Nesmith writes quite movingly about his relationship with his mother, which had its ups and downs. He was her only child. Mr. Nesmith also made a lot of moola on his own.

Alex: You saw the Monkees IN CONCERT?! What a lucky girl. You must have had nice parents, ones who actually noticed what was important to you.

Book news: Well, my old publishers, Bloomsbury, don’t get my new book. Which is understandable, since it’s a one of a kind thing: I even asked my agent if we could put it  out in the world without a title. . . she said that was a stupid idea. NOT IN SO MANY WORDS, mind you; but I got the impression that it’s a thought right up there with rescuing a raccoon in my backyard.

So now I have to do something I haven’t had to do in ten years: I have to sell myself to a new house. This is the worst: it’s like going on a job interview and a date at the same time. Ew.

Well, with that in mind, you know that I’ll be enjoying extra big cocktails this weekend.

Nobody here has to sell themselves to me: You are the finest Dear Readers any blog can have. Thank you all.

Here’s to You!

**THIS JUST IN**

I just got a text from a fellow cat rescuer: She has three babies ready for forever homes! These boys were found with their feral mother and have been living with a foster mother (and mama cat) and raised to be cuddly, calm little critters that would make great lap cats.

They are currently here on the North Shore of Long Island . . .

. . . but these fellas are willing to relocate out of state!

If you need more info, just leave me a comment —

— and one, two, or three of these golden fluff balls could be yours.

 

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So it was a national holiday in the US of A last Monday: Memorial Day, the day when we Americans remember those who have died in our nation’s wars. It’s a solemn day.

So Ivanka Trump, who as you know has the same common touch and mind meld with “the people” as her piece of shit father, used this sad and mournful day to tweet:

Not to be outdone in our love for America, Top Cat and I purchased patriotic pastries:

This got me wondering, Do other people live this way? Like, in places where they don’t have a hair ball of puke for president?

Because thats a whole lot of red, white, and blue (see: above).

So, on this long Memorial [Three] Day holiday, Top Cat and I put in the annuals (ha! I know I got that right! ANNUALS!), which means the cats think they have a nifty new litter box (with floral accents) in the back yard:

Meanwhile, Bibs and Lickety were stalking something out back by the back property line:

Top Cat and I watched to make sure they didn’t bother the woodland creatures in the back yard. And we also kept an eye on the birds (the smart ones, that is) as they picked out the delicious peanuts from the bird chow we put out:

Ands then we watched the other birds (the dumb ones) look confused when there were no leftovers:

And then Top Cat and I got into a fight.

I should say,  Top Cat and I do not fight much.

We have the usual conflicts of any people who spend a great deal of time together: the little misunderstandings, minor differences of opinion, momentary mis-communications — all which are settled and explained and apologized for in a matter of minutes with calm tones of voice. No, really. We are reasonable people, and our domestic life would make for very boring reality TV.

Our last big fight was three years and five months ago. And it was HUGE. It was the biggest fight we’re ever had.

And now Top Cat wants to re-visit the same issues in that huge fight of yore by asking me for a favor which would require me to “be the bigger person” and let the things of the past be bygones.

Which is really funny, because he knows that I am never ” the bigger person”, not when there is too much to be gained by being the smaller person. For example, never having to stuff hard feelings and rage and bitterness into that place in your soul that eats you alive from the inside out: Small people never have to forgive (which everyone knows is very, very difficult, almost impossibly superhuman, right?) — they are the ones always being forgiven. I’m way into being teeny tiny like that.

Letting the things of the past be bygones only works if you have a terrible memory and, Dear Readers, not only do I have excellent recollection, but I also take notes. Hello? Remember me, the diarist? The one who writes memoir? Where do you think I get my material???

If you want to know exactly what was said by whom on which date, I’m your girl: I have it all in writing. It keeps things fresh so that what happened, say, three years and five months ago, are as if it were just yesterday.

At one point in the increasingly heated conversation Top Cat angrily announced: You never do anything you don’t want to do. Thing is, he said it like that was a bad thing.

Well, as far as I know, nobody gets extra days being 29, or a lifetime immunization from heartbreak, or a reincarnated pet by doing things they don’t want to do. So yes, of course, in my life and in my marriage, I have tried to do as few things that I don’t want to do as possible: I have stayed away from a few weddings and bar mitzvahs, family reunions and dinners out with bores. But there are times when I have indeed shown up, which would be unkind for me to list here, but anyway on this particular point you can’t make me feel guilty because sheesh: life is short and I’m getting old and Woody Robinson (the best cat in the world) is never coming back so you better believe that more and more, I will be spending less and less time doing things that I don’t want to do.

So as Top Cat and I still simmer over this fight, I can’t help but think how I, had I been in the position to ask of Top Cat a huge favor equal to the one he is asking of me, would have gone about it completely differently.

First, I would have taken me out for Mexican food. Because I do loves me a good enchilada.

I would also order me a huge margarita. Because, duh.

Next, I would have told me how much happiness I have brought to his life, how much I mean to him, and how very dearly he respects my feelings. I would be sure to use the word “precious” somewhere in there. “Angelic” wouldn’t be amiss, either.

I, naturally, would by now be filled with feelings not unlike giant fluffy pink clouds and warm rainbow-colored sunbeams.

THEN I would break the bad news about having this HUGE favor to ask, one that he knows is going to ask a lot of me, a very small person, one that he knows I am not likely to be the least inclined to give. I would ask the favor, and quickly tell me that he understands that I need time to think about it, and not expect me to jump at the chance to let bygones be bygones.

Then I would back off. Because I would be smart enough to know that there would be blow-back re: this favor of “letting bygones be bygones” because, duh, we’ve been married for 13 years and he knows that I am the least “letting bygones be bygones” kind of person in this relationship.

The next day is when I would bring up the topic again, asking for this huge favor again, only this time I would do it while we were at North Shore Animal Shelter picking out our new DoG.

And that, Dear Readers, is how you ask your wife (if your wive happens to be me) for a huge favor.

Right?

Have a great weekend, everybody. I hope that nobody asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, but if they do, I hope they ask the right way.

 

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IT Tech Lickety in search of internet gremlins.

My internet service keeps crapping out at t

Let’s start again: There must be a blockage in one of the series of tubes that make up the internet because I can’t se

Short and fast: The gremlins are at it again. I can’t get decent internet

but I have my crack team of IT techs on it so as soon as I

get more than intermi

ttant service I will regale you all with th

e latest

news etc. in VivianWo

rld. Meantime, go make a cup of tea and take a break f

rom, you know, the int

er

webs.

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I have to say that curiosity has the opposite effect on me.

Curiosity is what keeps me energized and ornery, in a way that is generally known as “being alive”. It’s the lack of curiosity that I find exhausting.

This is a picture of my desk that I took in June 2015, when I finished my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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And this is how it looks today . . .

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. . . still waiting for the Goddess of Curiosity to grant me one thing that piques my interest, or even half a thing on which I can elaborate. Or a third of a thing that I can pad with footnotes and one-sentence chapters (for page count).

As of this chilly, dreary, edge-of rainy October morning, nothing in the intervening 16 months has lit the proverbial light bulb, nudged the envelope, out-thought the box, or slapped me upside the head with a transcendental “Doh!“.

There is a hash tag trending in London these days (“hash tags” are how the kids mind meld these days) called #winterprep and I am all for it.

Winter Prep is on my mind today. I’ll be sharing my brilliant #winterprep ideas with you all soon (without the annoying hash tag and with proper capitalization, since we here are not illiterate millennials) but in the mean time, let’s let Taffy, Alpha Cat, take us out, looking forward, on a once-perfect Autumn day:

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Have a perfect weekend, Wonder Ones.

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Patricia, Jeanie, Kirra, Deb, and Magan all voted Yes to that chair last week. So I went back to take another look at it, but (as oft happens in the Home Goods World) it was gone. I am really not too upset about missing the chance to enthrone myself on a chaise a la Montgolfiere because if you look closely, the hot air balloon depicted in the splat was a tiny bit deflated compared to the original at the Musee Carnavalet:

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But Home Goods never disappoints. I came home with this:

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Wine bottle for scale.

It’s  “Wall Art”, a taxonomy that in itself I found thought provoking. When did we start modifying the word “art” with the surface from which it is to be regarded?

I jest. For Home Goods shoppers, “Wall Art” makes a ton of sense. This bit of Wall Art was captioned 86 rue de Rennes.

I was captivated by this hi-res reproduction of a photographed gussied up to look like a painting because I know the Rue de Rennes in Paris:

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The Rue de Rennes is in the heart of the Latin Quarter’s 6th arrondissement.

I had to know: Is there such a place as 86 rue de Rennes???? A quick check of Google Earth confirmed it:

 

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THAT’S THE DOOR!! I don’t know how “they” (whoever produced this piece of Wall Art, who I cannot locate on the inter webs with the info that I got from the Home Goods packaging), as I was saying I don’t know how “they” got away with plastering this image of a private home on a commercial product to be sold in the U.S., if not the world. The French are highly , not to say neurotically touchy about their privacy and I bet there are laws against this (which makes owning it seem even more exciting). I will have to ask my French friends about this.

In my house there is not a wall that is currently available to host this view of 86 rue de Rennes, so its fate it as yet TBA.

And speaking of finding a familiar face in the strangest of places. . .

. . . there I was, last week, sitting at my computer, watching Super Mensch, The Legend of Shep Gordon  on Netflix (because I recently heard him interviewed on NPR):

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Shep Gordon is a music industry legend, beginning when he rocked up to a Los Angeles motel in 1965 and got punched in the eye by Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix told Shep that since he’s Jewish, he should be a manager — a suggestion that put Gordon on his fabulously successful career path. As a manager his clients have included Alice Cooper, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Ann Murray, and Emeril Bagasse to name a few. Along the way, Gordon became friends with just about every celebrity you can name. Mike Myers was so bowled over by this man’s life and stories that he put this project together to make his directorial debut.  Supermensch, a love letter of a documentary, that proves Myers’ opinion that Shep Gordon  “is one of the most loved, if not the most loved person in show business I’ve ever met”.

So I’m watching this documentary, wondering how one person could have so many lucky breaks in life and be lucky enough to make utmost use of those lucky breaks (in my experience, luck is nothing unless it’s matched with gumption and a willingness to forgo the self-sabotage), when a black and white photograph flashes on the screen:

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Shep Gordon is the guy in the terrible jacket, on the set of an Alice Cooper music video in New York City in 1974.

And, standing next to him in the glasses wearing a the Keystone Cops uniform and fake mustache, that’s me:

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Boy, was I surprised. I did not know that there was photographic evidence, no matter how fuzzy-focused, of one of the worst hair cuts I’ve ever had. It was supposed to be a very cool, with-it,  rock and roll shag. . .

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

. . . but what I got was a bowl-cut country and western “do”:

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And the short bangs killed me. Good lord, I hated that hair cut. And now, just because I was in an Alice Cooper music video because my aunt was married to the directo, the whole world gets to see my terrible ’70s face for all of the 1 seconds that the image flickers onto the eyeballs of a totally indifferent viewing audience.

I know that we all have our own reasons to be glad our 20s are over. You now know mine.

Have a great and lucky weekend, Wonder Ones.

 

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Sure looks like the Champs-Élysées to me:

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Guess again!

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Right: That’s the Empire State Building as seen from 29th Street in New York City, which I viewed on my walk to the Dutch Reformed church on 29th and Fifth on the evening of Sept. 29. I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert!

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Life is so unfair. Liz Gilbert gets to do an author event on a stage such as this (see above) while I, on my first author event EVER, got the children’s department at a Barnes and Nobel store in Yonkers where I had to stand under a poster of Captain Underpants. Obviously, someone there had judged my book by its cover . . .

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. . . and decided it was a children’s book.

Well, that’s what you get for not selling 20 million copies. But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert in person!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s very cool historic church event was ticketed and, OF COURSE, sold out :

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Yes, you found him: that guy in the rainbow serape did get up to ask a question and he was crazy: mostly he wanted to tell Liz that she had called on him before at another event a year ago!!! and then complain how hard it is to make people love you.

Liz handled this guy with gentle humor and decisive kindness (got him to shut up without embarrassing him), which is how she spoke about her own struggle to stay engaged and productive while coping with all the demands of living an aware, open, adventuresome, and truthful life.

If you ever have the chance to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak about putting Big Magic to work in helping you deal with adversity, frustration, sadness, fear, perfectionism, and all those other things that prevent you from breaking free, you must go. Hey! Bainbridge Island! Liz is coming your way in March!

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This evening at the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church of Manhattan was made possible by the newly released paperback version of Big Magic (the book):

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If you go to Liz’s Facebook page you can find a delightful and insightful video of her talking more about Big Magic . . . and, if you are very eagle-eyed, you will spot something quite  fabulous on her bookshelf:

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See it now?

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Yep. That’s my very own, un-related to Captain Underpants book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

In the past, Liz has said and written very nice things about my books — she even blurbed my second one, Le Road Trip. And when my recent book came out in March, she graciously included it on her Spring Reading list:

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OK, now I think I’ve accomplished everything I set out to achieve when I became a writer.

SPEAKING OF EAGLE EYES:

I was in my “Happy Place” (Home Goods) last week when I spotted this:

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I love, adore, cherish, and covet this chair!

I loved it back in 2013, when I saw it in Paris, on display at the Musee Carnavalet:

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And I loved it back in 2006, when I first saw it in my New Orleans hotel — the St. Louis (in the French Quarter) :

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I loved it so much that I made an illustration of it in 2009 for a book about Adventures in Tea Time that I never did:

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So, if you happen to come across this chair in your “Happy Place” (your local Home Goods), now you will know that it is a Chaise a la Montgolfiere,  so called after the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, who ushered in the modern era of flight in 1783 when they demonstrated their invention, the hot-air balloon, at Versailles in the presence of King Louis XVI and his court. This successful exhibition before royalty made the Montgolfier brothers national heroes, and started a mania for all things baloony. The term montgolfière was applied to decorative arts, hair fashions, and dresses:

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But getting back to the chair at Home Goods: This is not a cheap chair. It cost $249.99 at Home Goods, which is not in my budget even though it is the only one I’ve seen that comes with arm rests!!!

Vintage 1020s or 1950s reproductions of this chair are even more dear: they go for around 645 Euros ($710.11 American) each.

But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because as soon as I sell 20 million copies of my books, you all know what I’m forking over an insane amount of money for:

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And so, my Dear Readers, Remember: this blog comes to you free every Friday, so please support my continued presence in this totally gratuitous endeavor by giving everyone  on your Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa list a copy of a V. Swift book. Tell them Liz Gilbert’s bookshelf told you to.

I’m just 19,999, 950 copies away from getting my dream dining room!

 

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It’s a busy Monday morning at the Starbucks in the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As I wait in line to order my cup of tea I ponder things.

How many wombats can you fit in a wheelbarrow? Is Freud’s theory of personality still relevant? Should I get a DoG?

Observing the young lady strolling past the food court, I wonder about girls who wear teeny short cut off jeans and big tall leather boots: Is that a thing?

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I looked it up, and I guess it is.

For narrative purposes, I’ll say I had this thought, too: That squirrel I watched in my back yard, eating cream cheese off a fork — was that the cutest thing or what?

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Point is, I had plenty of time to think there at the Starbucks. But I snapped to attention when I saw that I had shuffled to the head of the line and I was on deck to place my order. When one of the two baristas on duty called out, “Can I help the next guest?” (they don’t just yell NEXT at Starbucks), I walked right up to the counter and spoke up, loud and clear: Small English breakfast tea, please fill it only 2/3rd full, and one croissant you don’t have to heat it up thank you.”

Then the other barista called for the next guest, and the next guest/woman behind me seemed to be very surprised to find herself on line at Starbucks. Oh! “the next guest” exclaimed, Oh! Um, hmmm…um…what I want…um…hmmmmmm…. And she frantically scanned the menu board above.

Wow, I thought to myself: You’ve been standing on line for 7 minutes and you don’t know what you want??? Are you always an asshole or is this a special occasion? Because, as we all know, it should come as no surprise that when you stand on line at Starbucks, sooner or later you’re going to have to order.

But then I decide to give humanity the benefit of the doubt:

She’s having a real hard time spitting it out, I think. WOW! Her order must be very complicated — one of those secret off-the-menu S’mores frappacino/non-dairy foam from Jupiter/ wave a degree from Cornell over it things that I’ve heard about. 

I eagerly awaited her choice. And then, after lengthy hesitation, she, the next guest/ Starbucks customer, finally summoned the language she needed to ask for:

An iced coffee.

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These days, I’ve been wondering how I can fill all the hours that used to be taken up by book-writing, now that these days, there isn’t a book that needs me to write it. I have very few options.

I can not do customer service because, present company excluded, I hate “customers” (see: Starbucks story above). I can’t do reality TV because I don’t want to frighten the cats by having a film crew stomping around my house. I can’t be Susan Branch because I’m waaaaay too damn cranky.

And it seems that there is no money in collecting Blue Jay feathers, which is really all I want to do these days.

By the way, on a day when I was not looking for Blue Jay feathers I had 3 feathers delivered to me, such as like this:

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Ca-ching!

Sadly, the only thing I’m half good at is watching paint dry:

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I’m painting a large (or should I say, Venti) view of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In my world, that’s 8 inches x 10 inches. But I got as far as this foreground bush (above) when I messed it up. It’s too dark — that’s a problem I often have: I load on the color too much, and I like it when the watercolor has a lot of water in it. I tried to rescue it by painting a layer of white goauche over it:

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But that looked really stupid. So I started over, this time from the background:

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And then I forgot to take in progress photos until the end:

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It’s all about the crop. This:

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Or this:

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That’s it, my Dear Readers, that’s all I got this week. Well, that’s almost it:

Thank you for the love you gave my girl, Dame Helen Mirren, last week. I liked how I was close enough to get the spill-over! THANK YOU!

And, to follow up on having my article on my Top Ten Garden Books published by The Guardian last week, I got some push-back by a Commentor there who did not like my criticism of John Muir’s writing and wrote:

How appalling to open by denigrating John Muir who did more for the world than you surely will ever do. He helped found the first national park system which spread worldwide and caused more good in the world than any other conservation measure. You say you thrill like one of the bloggers to Marvell’s work; hard to believe. Muir is a beautiful writer who saw interconnection in all things. That vision remains desperately undernourished and misunderstood today.

Write your own books, fine, but think about the cost of rubbishing a fine thinker.

I wrote back a message that told her, in effect, that she should go soak her head, and she responded:

Nice person! True colours at last.

Try reading, thinking, understanding rather than resort to crudity. That is the last resort of the weak minded. Also, I don’t think you should be paid for writing this kind of language. It is appalling.

Ha! I wrote back: If you think I’m forfeiting the million dollars that The Guardian paid me to write this article…I’m laughing all the way to the bank!

I really can’t stand people.

So that’s what I was doing in Atlantic City this past Monday:I was looking to invest my windfall (journalism is so lucrative!) in property and I’d always fancied owning a casino. But since the Borgata. . .

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. . . isn’t for sale, I had to search for other investment opportunities. I settled on buying the sunset:

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So, appalled Guardian Commentor, if it’s twilight where you are and the sun is setting, don’t look at it. It’s mine.

Here’s the latest portrait of Dennis Whiskabottoms, with his newly-tipped ear:

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See you all here next week, my Wonder Ones, with more stories from Down Time on the Isle of Long.

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