I’ve been meaning to give author R. L. Stein a piece of my mind for some time now, but world events and The Real Housewives of Orange County (please, Bravo, please fire Vicki) ate into my stockpile of ire. But it’s been almost a year since I was deeply offended by R. L. Stine and so, today I’m in the mood to discuss R. L. Stine’s interview with The New York Times Book Review of  August 23, 2015.


You’re hosting a literary dinner party, the Times posits; Which three writers are invited?

R. L. Stine (who I never heard of but turns out he writes very popular children’s horror books) answers: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Jane Austen. 

So far, so good. But then he goes on:

And I would ask them all my all-time least-favorite question: “Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s that last bit, the part about how annoying it is for R. L. Stine, famous author, to be asked: Where do you get your ideas? that chaps my butt. Which I will discuss while I show you how I painted my latest Triscuit (since my anti-R. L. Stine tirade has no visual component):

I just love the way a Summer lawn looks when it is shadowed by sunlight flickering through leafy tree branches. Is there a word for that? There should be a word for that, and that is what I tried to paint in my latest Triscuit, which I painted this far (see below) before I had to throw it out and start all over because of those two mushy lumps of greenish yellow in the upper left quadrant, which are very ugly:


So I start over:


Back to R. L. Stine: Well, excuuuuuse me, R. L. Stine, and other writer-snobs of your ilk who I have heard and read deploring the same query posed by the un-writerly otherwise known as reader-type persons, if you find it sooooooo annoying to be asked how/where/when or why you were inspired to write what you wrote. 


Albert Einstein, who by the way got a lot of far more important ideas than any freaking Goosebumps plot (by R. L. Stine), and he gladly answered the question re: How did yogurt that idea for general relativity? by describing the moment as “the happiest thought of my life“, when this idea popped into his head: To a man falling freely in a gravitational field, that gravity does not exist. And from there, a lot of important mathematics and an total upheaval of the Newtonian Universe ensued.


The only physicist since Einstein’s death to rival Einstein for brilliance, Richard Feynman, wrote about how he was sitting in a college cafeteria watching an underclassman throw a plate across the room (?), and realized that the center of that plate wobbled at a different rate than the edge of that plate and that there was no equation that explained the rate of spin, so he worked it out, just out of curiosity, and next thing you know he’s figured out quarks, and time travel, or some other such momentous usefulness that I can’t quite remember (but that’s a true story about the plate).


Virginia Woolfe wrote, in her diary of 1918, about a time when she was sitting in a field and saw “a red hare loping up the side & thinking suddenly “This is Earth Life”. I seemed to see how earthy it all was, & I myself [just] an evolved kind of hare; as if a moon-visitor saw me.” Next thing you know, Virginia Woolf is writing other-worldly stream-of-consciousness novels about the Earth life of characters such as Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando.


And R. L. Stine feels put out because someone wants to know where he got the idea for his character Slappy the Dummy???


 R. L. Stein, I have just the T-shirt for you:


Ideas are wondrous gifts from the Universe!  Ideas are what keeps us from being bored to death! Ideas can end up as anything from the double helix of DNA to croissants! And I LOVE croissants!!

So I think it is extremely shitty that R. L. Stine, or anyone who elaborates upon his or her unique ideas for a living (whether in words, numerals, chromosomes, or pastry dough) would find it tedious to explain the wherefore-art-thous of those ideas. Because maybe the people who ask that question, Where do you get your ideas?, are people who need to be inspired by the mysterious way that an idea, of, say, a red hare or a spinning plate lobbed by a college kid, becomes a novel or a Nobel Prize.

Or, maybe, that person is like me, and hasn’t come across a good idea in a long while and is looking for a hint as to where to look.


I got my idea for this Triscuit from walking past the local duck pond here in Roslyn village, on the Long Island of New York state (America) on a beautiful June afternoon.

I got the idea for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, from a 1939 Popular Science Encyclopedia article about electrons, titled When Wanderers Cease to Rove. As soon as I read those words — BOOM. I had a fabulous title and the raison d’être of my quasi-travel life story. Buying that dusty encyclopedia set for $10 at a Salvation Army Thrift Shop in central Pennsylvania 20 years ago and waiting 8 years to open volume 5 to that page with “Rove” printed on it remains one of my Top Ten Happiest Thoughts in my life.

My second book, Le Road Trip, wasn’t much of a hot idea — doesn’t everybody who goes to France want to make an illustrated travel memoir out of the trip? — but the idea for breaking the trip down into chapters that tracked the stages of a love affair came from a Wallace Stevens poem called Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  I made every chapter of that book a different way of looking at France, one as a straight, linear story; one as a Day in the Life; one as a Top Ten list; one as an A to Z inventory; etc.

I regret not thinking of a better title than Le Road Trip, though — turns out that a lot of English-speakers are troubled by the “Le“. True story.


I felt compelled to write Gardens of Awe and Folly when I was looking through the huge Garden section of my local library couldn’t find not one book about garden travel at all, and none about gardens that I wanted to read. Why did every garden book have to be a How To, and a lot of that about How To determine your dirt’s personality?

So, if I had to invent an entire new genre of garden writing to produce a garden book that I could stand to read, then so be it. And voila: Gardens of Awe and Folly.

I didn’t have a title for the book until the week before it had to go to press. All I knew was that I had to have the word Garden in it, but nothing during the three years that I worked on it had appeared in a vision, not even when I went back to the Popular Science Encyclopedia and browsed all 10 volumes.

So, with time running out, I sat myself down and just began to make a list of all the words that related to the gardens in the book. And then the phrase Garden of Earthly Delights chimed in my head, and I knew that it had the perfect syllable count for a great title, but I had to substitute words for Earthly Delights (too cliche) and so, from sheer doggedness, I finally got to Awe and Folly.



I have to admit that I haven’t had a good idea since I worked that title out. And I am desperate for a good idea. I need a project.

So . . . where do your ideas come from?

If you’ve ever had a nifty brainwave from the Universe, or you know of a good story about where an idea came from, or you ave an idea that you wish someone would execute for you, please Comment. (It’s a tiny bit awkward to do that on this template: you have to click onto the READ MORE button at the bottom of this post.) If your idea or idea story triggers some scathingly brilliant notion for my next book, I WILL DEDICATE THAT BOOK TO YOU. I’m talking full page, front-of-the-book acknowledgement. Illustrated.

I await your many wobbly ways of looking at Earth Life.


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Just because I know nothing, absolutely nothing about actual gardening, that doesn’t mean I don’t “garden”.

Why, just TODAY I “gardened” a baby Japanese maple tree growing about six feet from the big old Japanese maple in my front yard (bottle of Saint-Emilion for scale, because we have to be scientific):


And here’s me showing the Japanese maple tree that we “gardened” last year when it was a baby growing in Top Cat’s tomato patch in the back yard, which he re-planted and is now a sapling way back in the woods (yeah, that’s the same bottle of Saint-Emilio there, for scale, because it was still TODAY when I took this pic):


Yes, walking around the yard with a bottle of wine is what I call “gardening”. In fact, sitting around with a bottle of wine is also what I call “gardening”. In my world, you can also “garden” while sipping tea, flipping through a J. Peterman catalog, or otherwise re-arranging the mental furniture up there there in the brain pan.

I am bringing this up because later this week, on Wednesday April 27 I am going to appear LIVE on the internet with the marvelous  Bren on GardenChat (chat is French for cat, so you see — I knew that, at least) and you all can tune in and type me questions in real time and we will “garden” together. Youse and me. Is technology awesome or what?!

LIVE on the internet means that I will be on camera, in my house, so I will have to make my “gardening” space camera ready . . .

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. . .  so I’m going to have to clean up even though it’s not even close to Thanksgiving, when I usually do my housekeeping.




Lights, Camera: OK now! Let’s do some “gardening”!

And when I say “gardening”, I mean: Let’s paint!


Monet’s garden in Giverny, by me

Yes, we’re heading back to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, this time we’re leaving the flower garden part (above) and we’re heading to the famous lily pond (below):


Let’s start with my photo of Monet’s famous Japanese bridge . . .


. . . and I’m going to point out what attracted my attention, in this photo — something in the background there, on the right hand side . . .


I saw these boats, and the reflections of the bamboo on the water, and the back-lit stuff, and I thought:


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So I take out my “gardening” tools. . .


. . . and I get down to the dirty work:





This is the only time I use a flat brush (below), when I dip it into clear water and swipe over a painted surface to pick up pigment, and leave these streaks of white lines that imitate the ripple of water. Cool, huh?






Now I’m going to use white acrylic paint to paint over those dark bamboo plants in the background. . .


. . . so I can put a light, bright, lime green paint on top of the white acrylic bits:




And this, my Wonder Ones, is how we “garden”:



 AND In honor of my LIVE internet debut later this week — Wednesday, April 27 — I am giving away this Monet’s Boats Triscuit! This contest is open to everyone, whether or not you have Commented recently, even if this is your first visit here to VivianWorld!

Just leave a Comment to this blog post, and pick a number between 1 and 100. Top Cat will do his usual random picking of number and I will announce the winner next Friday, when we meet here again and discuss our GardenChat, and whether or not I still do that weird thing that I do with my mouth when I speak, which always looks 1000% worse on video than it does in real life. I also tend to make faces, which I will really try very hard not to do in front of the camera.

Before I go, I must give you the latest picture of Taffy “gardening”:


. . . and tell you the latest in  GoAaF news:

Sweet Dear Reader Anne alerted me last Wednesday that the generous and kind Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Twitter and Facebook:

GARDENS OF AWE AND FOLLY, by Vivian Swift. I love the work of watercolorist/explorer Vivian Swift (her first book WHEN WANDERERS CEASE TO ROAM is on my personal Top 10 Books of All Time list), so I was delighted to see this new volume of hers, which is a study of public gardens all over the world. As a wanna-be botanical historian, this one is right up my alley. It’s beautiful, thoughtful, whimsical, and smart (and would make a perfect mother’s day gift, by the way).

I got all teary-eyed, and then the GoAaF shot up to No. 1 in Garden Design on Amazon:

datauri-fileThank you, Maryanne S., for the screen grab. That #1 Best Seller in Garden Design means, I think, that 100,000 copies of the GoAaF flew off the shelves thanks to the wondrous Liz Gilbert. On days like this, I feel kindly towards the whole book making process and I get all  sentimental and I think to myself, Hey, it might be worth it to stick around and write another whole ‘nother book. Maybe.

P.S. to Nancy S.: Sorry, but I bumped your tea cups to next week’s blog, but trust me: I made it really special for you and all us tea cup fans out there.


P.S. to Lynn from NOLA: I loved your question, and I will dedicate an upcoming blog post to you in answer, about that missing Chapter 10 from Gardens of Awe and Folly. Here’s a h int:


Have a great weekend, and go forth in awe and folly, my Wonder Ones.

P.S. Re: Monet Boat Triscuit Give Away — As of Wednesday noon, these numbers are taken (so please mind-meld with the universe to choose your own special digit):



























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Around the time I decided to be an illustrator . . .


Yep, that’s me working on page 96 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, with help from Coco.

. . . I also decided that painting would be a better way of picture-making than sewing, so I packed up my embroidery needles and threads and stashed them away.  I stashed them so well that, when I recently got the urge to see if I could still pull off some blanket and stem stitching, I had to wander around the house for half an hour asking myself, “Now, where did I stash my embroidery kit?” before I found my answer: top shelf, upstairs linen closet:

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Yes, that’s the same adorable vintage lady’s case that I illustrated with the rest of my collection of old timey luggage on page 123 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam:


You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I am meticulous about sorting and color-coding and my embroidery threads:

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Seeing these embroidery flosses reminded me of the one advantage that thread . . .

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. . . has over paint:


No mixing necessary. You want to make something green in embroidery, you just pick a thread. You want to make something green in an illustration, you have to futz with all its variables. Like this:


That (above) is me watercoloring the flower bed in the background of this (below):

Giverny, Monet garden, Monet gardeners

I was stalking the gardeners in Giverny because I like wheelbarrows.

So let’s take a quick digression to Claude Monet’s garden (the most famous garden in the world) in Giverny so I can prove my point. Which is something about comparing paint to non-paint, which might not be the most important point to be making right now when I have so much work ahead of me, digging my way out of the dungeon of being a low-mid-list author with a book not on the NYTimes bestseller list and all but hey, it’s either me typing away at this pointless point I’m making, or me crawling back to bed with a large pizza and a vat of Pinot Grigio and spending the day watching HGTV.

So here goes:

I mix all my shades of green almost from scratch, using just water, Hooker’s green, two different shades of yellow, and sometimes a little black. When I paint grass and flowers, I like to let watercolor “do” what watercolor “does”, which is, technically, “pool” and “splotch”.


I read my first Ann Rule book last week. Ann Rule, as everyone from the Seattle/Great Pacific Great Northwest knows, is the million-selling author of true crime books. What I found out about Ann Rule from reading the Acknowledgments of my first Ann Rule book is that Ann Rule used to belong to a very exclusive writers’ group, made up of best selling Seattle authors.


The name of Ann Rule’s best selling writers’ group was The Bitch and Moan Club. I’ll let that sink in for a minute while I mention here that the more I painted this pic, the more I realized that it’s tricky to paint hunky gardeners from the back, for the simple reason that you have to deal with their butts:


I’m trying to make this guy’s butt NOT be the center of attention in this little illustration, so I’ve ove-laid some white gauche onto the two back pockets on this guy’s trousers in an effort to decrease their noticeability. And then I dabbed in some white acrylic paint in the form of tulips in the fore- and back- ground:


Getting back to Ann Rule, and reading about her Bitch and Moan Club: For the life of me, I could not imagine what best-selling authors have to complain about. But here’s my guess:

That every time they cash their royalty checks the bank runs out of hundred dollar bills.

How easy it is to confuse Dallas with Houston while on yet another all-expenses paid 20-city book tour, and don’t even get them started on how horrible it is that room service at the Four Seasons has dropped crab cakes from their Night menu.

How much they miss Jon Stewart, who was such a huuuuuge fan of theirs that he made those pesky TV interviews almost fun.


Paint-wise, I put in all the shades of rose, lavender, and violet that those tulips needed:


And then I decided to ruin the pic by painting in the box-shaped lime trees overhead:


I was actually looking up Ann Rule’s contact info, to write her a letter asking just what does go on in that Bitch and Moan Club, when I discovered that she had died last July(I use “die” instead of “passed away” or the even more dreadful “passed” because I’m a grown up, and because Ann Rule, the maven of true crime, would not have wanted me to punk out). Merde.



So here’s what it’s like to not-paint an illustration:

First, I spent a few hours drawing some bad sewing ideas until I hit upon an idea that wasn’t half bad, and then I traced it onto my muslin, took a seat  (not the comfy seat — that one belongs to Coco), and started sewing:



That (above) is what I can do in an hour and a half. This (below) is when I decided that there was too much of the same dark green thread . . .


. . . so I ripped it out and rooted through my palette to choose some other shade of vert:

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The ripping out and the re-stitching only took an hour. You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I keep time sheets on all my projects: in total, I spent 8 hours sewing this piece. And then it came time to wash out the pencil marks . . .



. . . and to rinse out the soap and dry it out a bit . . .


. . . and to fetch my handy re-useable canvas board. . .


. . . to staple and stretch the piece out to dry:


I have learned the hard way that it makes life easier when you make stuff that fits into standard-size frames. So the last step was to make sure that the piece would still fit in a standard 8 x 10-inch frame:


And that it would also fit into a standard 18 x 24-centimeter frame:

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And this is how it looks when all is sewed and done:


Point made.

And you can tell that I’m a Capricorn by the way I can complain about anything. Just yesterday I was complaining about daffodils. Too yellow, and for me, yellow flowers lack sophistication.

Hey, I just thought of something real that best selling authors can bitch and moan about:

How it’s you million-selling authors who prop up the entire publishing industry but it’s that no-show Thomas Pynchon and his crap “literature” that gets the MacArthur award.

See, Seattle best selling authors? I get you! (please please pleeeeeeeeese let me come to your meetings).

Now, before I bid you all a bon weekend and un-cork the Pinot, I have something very important to share with you:






That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

At 6:00 pm in New Orleans, my favorite American city, on April 13, I will be at Octavia Books talking about going forth in awe and folly. I’ll probably also mention something about cats; how to get published even though you are not famous and you write odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books; and The Secret of Life.  The Lady of the Roses, Karen Kersting herself, will be there!

CcK-Q_1WAAAlLYzOctavia Books is a great independent bookstore known for its happy events, so I know we’ll have a good time! I am soooo looking forward to hamming it up in my favorite American city!

In conjunction with this event, the wonderful Susan Larson, New Orleans’ first lady of the literary scene, interviewed me for her radio program, The Reading Life. Don’t worry, I kept my blabbering answers short, and I only got lost on one question Susan put to me (about finding solitude in a Winter garden) but I was assured that, as our talk was being taped, that the producer would go back and edit out all my stupidity (head bowed in prayer). Stay tuned.

Book events are always such fun for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be traveling to Seattle in the near future, so I’ll let you know the details as they become available. And no, it’s not because I’m stalking anyone — I went to Seattle and Portland for my first book and I really, really need to get together with all you Wonder Ones of the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

P.S. It’s Wine O’Clock chez moi and I’ve got the nightly news from NPR on the radio and oh dear DoG, I did not know until now that it was April Fool’s Day, until I heard the usual, painfully lame April Fool’s Day joke news item. Please, NPR, I beg of you: don’t try to make funny. You’re too nice, and humor is all about having a slight mean streak.

Thank you.


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I’ll get to the usual Friday business of painting and ruining everything and fixing up broken watercolors in a minute (feel free to skip to the second half of this post if you just can’t wait to see what is coming off my paint brushes this week.)

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. . . But first (shameless appeal for the filthy lucre alert) let me remind you all that I have this new book out that has this killer title. . .


Gardens of Awe and Folly. It’s almost disappointing that it’s about gardens and not, say, about hand-raising baby pandas whilst clearing  my house of everything that does not spark joy so I can go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 50 shades of gray but there you go: I’m a Capricorn. We are very logical and literal people, even though we are the most weird chimera in the horoscope, even though it’s only a goat and a fish and not, say, a unicorn and a hummingbird. Nope, it’s just a goat and a fish, but there you go: so Capricorn. But I digress.

My publisher, Bloomsbury, has had me sign about 5,000 copies (I’m guessing) that they planned to send out to the tastemakers of the universe for the obvious reasons. So there I was, for a whole afternoon following a very ritzy lunch date with my editor  forever, signing and signing and signing. And I felt bad that I couldn’t come up with something really snazzy, some motto or bon mot other than “Happy Reading!”

But last week I had to sign a dozen copies for my pals (see: pages 25 – 45) at Save Our Pines in Key West [illustrations of the Australian Pines in Key West below]…



. . . for their fund raising picnic on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in celebration of  Save Our Pines Day  this weekend on Sunday, March 20 and it came to me!


Go Forth in Awe & Folly!

I want that on a T-shirt, bumper stickers, shot glasses, and baby panda baby booties. By the time you read this, I just might have my etsy store up and running (while my trademark application makes its rounds through the USPTO).

I sincerely believe that going forth unto the world in a mindfulness of awe and folly is the secret to happiness or, at minimum, an hour or two off every now and then from the grim and wearying work of being human. Here’s how it works:





Sometimes it’s a thin line between the two.

Take, for example, my deep interest in this particular pile of snow that Top Cat and I happened upon some weeks ago in the Whole Foods parking lot near my house:


On March 1 my husband and I made a bet whether or not that pile would be goners by March 17. Here it is early this week:


Two days later, this is what was left:


Note in the background: That’s the mobile vet clinic from the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, Long Island. Yay companion animal rescue people!

Now usually, photographing old snow would be quite the folly but, as there was a trip to France riding on the outcome of this evaporation, these filthy and disgusting mounds of frozen grit make for awesome subject matter, the thin line here being the intangibility of saving face.

But I had even more reason to celebrate when a mere 25 minutes later I pulled into a mom-and-pop-shop-killing Big Box Store parking lot:


WHOA. I did NOT expect to see this — snow piled SUV-high in the Lowe’s parking lot where I go to buy 40 points of bird seed every two weeks! If it weren’t so awesome to see this secret remnant of the Blizzard of ’16 SEVEN WEEKS after the fact, it would be kind of depressing. See? AWE saves the day!


Now, of course, I have a new obsession in that I have to drive there every other day to check up on the melt and I don’t even have any bragging rights in the game. This is Yon Pile three days later:


And here it is four days later:


This was it yesterday:


See? Finding awe in a disgusting pile of inedible snow is what makes me me, a person who finds fulfillment spending hours of my life which I will never get back (and I’m not getting any younger) blogging about crap in a Lowe’s parking lot.

I can even find awe in ghostly rat-tailed creatures of the night:


He has the cutest little pink feets and the cutest gray Shrek-ears and the cutest pan-on-the-patio manners. In other words, he’s adorable.


I am proud — nay, awed — to have North America’s only marsupial pawing through the bird seed on my back patio. (Fear not, the little fella stayed around long enough for me to run out there and bring him a bowl of Friskie’s finest cat food; an opossum does not have to live by sunflower seeds alone, not if I’m around.)

Yes, I am in awe of my opossum even though I know that the opossum is America’s consolation prize for losing out in the Great Marsupial Cuteness Contest to the Land Down Under, where one can, any day, come across a koala  in a characteristic Yoda pose:

koala resting hanging loose while wedged in tree

Or Patrick, the world’s oldest wombat, on the 30th birthday of his nose:


Or Missy the Roo, showing off her toes:


(To Kirra and all my Aussie Wonder Ones from Perth to Pemulwuy, belated Happy Canberra Day!)

And then there’s this. . .


. . . which I found growing in the rubble left behind when the county jackhammered our sidewalk to bits last week. Even when this verge had grass it never had crocuses.


 OK, that’s all the awe for now because it’s about time we did the weekly “art” thing that I do, where I show you what I’ve been working on and you all go “What?! No Taffy this week?!”



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Yeah, I had to fix that weird short spout.

Pic No. 2:



Pic. No. 3:



And then there’s the one that I totally forgot to photograph until I assembled them all together to form the tych-thing that comes after triptych:


This, my Wonder Ones, is my first four-part Triscuit! I am in the process of painting another four-part Triscuit because some people might not like watering cans as much as I do, and I want to make sure that, for the first ever Quartet Triscuit Give-Away that I’ll have a few four-part Triscuits for you to choose from. This contest will happen in the month of May (for scheduling reasons beyond my control) and to qualify all you have to do is leave a 5-star review on for Gardens of Awe and Folly, the book which from now on I will refer to as the GoAaF, thanks to Deb Mattin and her Comment of last week — Merci mille fois, Deb, for keeping it classy. I also love “GoAaF” because it sounds a lot like shorthand for my new motto in life: Go Forth in Awe and Folly. Nice. Real, real nice.

To Maryanne, the very first 5-star reviewer, you get a double entry in the Quartet Triscuit Give-Away for being the OG of my dreams.

Thank you, all my Commenter Wonder Ones, for your wonderful Comments last week about the GoAaF; you Commenters inspire me to keep on showing up here week after week (and I’m not getting any younger) to show you pictures of crappy snow melting in the Lowe’s parking lot instead of doing something useful, like learning to brew beer at home, or fighting crime.

Before you go, I do have a give-away this week, and it’s a bit weird but here goes (front):




 These are printer’s proofs of actual 100% real backstage passes for Justin  Bieber’s 2016 Purpose world tour. These 2 passes will not get you backstage — you’d need a $2,000 VIP ticket attached to it to get past Security — but, remembering my own rock star crushes on George Harrison (from when I was age 10 onward) and Paul Weller (all of my 40s, sad to say), I am offering these because I imagine that there’s some Belieber out there — your daughter, grandchild, niece, you — who might get a little thrill out of adding these bits to their/your Bieber archive. Or not, you never know.

Well, I thought I’d put them out there. Just leave a Comment, before that section is closed on Tuesday, with a number between 500 and 600 (I have to keep the numbers interesting for Top Cat) and I’ll let you know next week who won. You can get both, or just one, let me know, in case I need 2 winners instead of 1.

Coming up next week: A very special post! March 25 is a very auspicious day somewhere in the world (guess where) for which I will have a very special guest, and during which I will answer Leslie’s perceptive question from Comments two weeks ago re: new project, but here’s a hint:


P.S. About all those 5,000 author-autographed copies of the GoAaF that I mentioned at the top of this post: my publisher Bloomsbury wants me to let you know that they have 4,990 copies still sitting around, in case someone out there knows Oprah, or Ellen, or Rosie, or Taylor, etc. They would be happy to send an author-autographed copy to any Incredibly Famous Person you know for the obvious reasons. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Go Forth in Awe and Folly!

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Ta-Da: This past Tuesday, March 1, was the official Pub Date of my garden book:


I got an email from my publisher that already this book has been tagged as an Amazon Best Seller — it’s #1 in Gardening and Horticultural Essays. And that’s all because of YOU, Dear Readers; all because of your advance orders (and a glowing Kirkus Review). Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. How can I thank you? Check out the bottom of this post (surprise ending!)…but for now I’d like to go behind the scenes, if you don’t mind.

I think the cover of the DGB is a beaut because it’s the view from a friend’s London balcony — an enchanting view that I photographed in three seasons (you can read all about it in the chapter about the Chelsea Physic Garden).

London is a city that I, like any English-speaking Anglo-child of the suburbs, have had lodged in my brain since the first time I heard of Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Pickwick and the orphan Pip, etc etc etc. When I was 20 years old I finally got to see London with my very own eyes and it lived up to every fairy tale…London is a trip.

However, London was not the first foreign city I set foot in. When I was 19 years old I lit out for the place that was truly my heart and mind crush: Paris. So that’s why I made Paris the first chapter/garden in Gardens of Awe and Folly. Specifically, I headed into the lovely little garden called The Square du Vert-Galant:

awesome map of Square du Vert-Galant

The one thing that makes my garden book different is that I insist on mapping every garden I write about. I’m the kind of person that needs to see a map in garden situations. Also, when I’m reading a book I just can not stand to read descriptions of landscape, except for the ones I’ve been reading lately about climbing Mt. Everest. But in all other circumstances, I skip the paragraphs about the color and light and mood and topographical features of the land. Bores me to tears.

So I give my Dear Readers a map so that in less than five seconds you get it. Like this bit of Parisian real estate (map, above) in the middle of the River Seine — here’s a picture of that same garden spot from my most recent visit, in December of last year:


The other thing that I’m fussy about, garden-wise, is making note of the garden entrance:


To me, the entrance is a crucial component of the entire garden experience — especially for this garden of the Vert-Glanat, as the threshold is so dramatic (even in lovely Winter, as seen below):


The Vase Gate

I like to visit gardens in Winter because I like to see the “bones” of a garden on display, and hoo boy are they ever “on display” in Winter. And I was thrilled to see this, my No. 1 Paris garden, revealed thusly when I was there last December.

But OMG, May I digress here? Because we here on Long Island just got our first taste of Spring this past weekend with a 60 degree day! In February! So Top Cat and I took our usual 5-mile walk through the neighborhood and my oh my, how we gloated over the fact that Winter is vanquished in our neck of the woods. Ha! Take that, yon filthy piles of left-over snow:


And just think, a mere five weeks ago we were ravaged by Winter Storm Jonas — Ha! Now all that’s left is hardly enough make a ski jump for squirrels!


Hard to believe that this is all that is left of a 20-inch, knee-deep, white-out blizzard :


There’s not even a snowball’s worth of sow left here!

If I lived here (below) I would have shoveled that little pile out of my driveway weeks ago just to be rid of it once and for all for cripe’s sake:


By chance we crossed paths with this little guy …


…who, according to his collar goes by the name of Rusty. He flopped down onto the road there and started rolling from side to side in what looked like a fit of Spring Fever. Our squeals of delight regarding this cuteness attracted the attention of Rusty’s pal, who also came by to say “Hi”:


It was when we ambled to the local Whole Foods that Top Cat and I came across this:


Top Cat and I have a bet about whether or not this mound will be gone by St. Patrick’s Day. If I win, I get to go back to Paris in June.

Oh, right. I think we better get back to Paris tout de suite, nest-ce pas?

So back to my No. 1 fave Paris garden: The next thing that I want to show you about the Square de Vert-Galant is this view, which you can gander by walking to the far end of this garden and turning around and looking back towards the Pont Neuf —  this is the view in Summer:


And in Winter:


Picasso painted this same exact view:


Yeah, I agree with you: Picasso’s picture stinks.  (You can see his tableau in the Musee Carnavalet, a darling museum about a ten minute walk away which covers the history of Paris.)  And that white pointy thing in the bushes on the right hand side…what the hell is that?? Could that be the kiosk of the garden guardians?


Oh, how I love this little, one-third-of-a-third-room building:


The architect was probably Gabriel David, the same Second Empire artist responsible for many of the distinct and lovely street furnishings of Paris, such as its newspaper and magazine kiosks:


I even see a similarity to the famous Morris Columns all over the city:

Morris Column

Have you ever wondered how they load up a Morris Column??? Now you know!

I know!! I was on a bus (last December) when I saw this, a sight I have never seen in all of my 40 years of visiting and living in Paris and I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front of the bus to get a good photo of it, and thank DoG the bus was stopped at a red light so I could get a photo, and I am sooooo chuffed that I am able to show this to you!!

Back to the guardian’s kiosk in the Square du Vert-Galant: of course I had go peeping. I had to know what this wondrous space looked like on the inside:


BTW, it still looked the same last December:


I could do so much with this space. I desperately want to own this little place, or at least get a 99-year lease on it. I want to spiff it up and spend my days lounging in front of a little fire, with my notebooks and my radio and my books, whilst quaffing a culturally appropriate beverage:


I can definitely see it. I belong here. (Inside joke: That’s Monet’s water lilies on the carpet.)

And so, in keeping with this wintery theme of Fantasy Garden Spots Where I (and You) Belong, today I am painting for you Dear Readers a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit of that same theme:



But first. . .another digression. If you read last week’s Comments you’ll see that last week’s Triscuit winner, Deborah Hatt, dedicated her win to her two dearly departed Cats of the Heart. Well, what else could I do but put those sweet kitties into her Monet’s Giverny  Garden Triscuit? My darling Readers, please say Hi to Percy and Buster:


Long may they stroll the perfumed paths in that beautiful flower garden in the sky.

OK, now we can back to painting this week’s  Pub Date Celebration Triscuit.

As always, I work wet-in-wet to make some interesting grassy textures:


Oh, yeah — this Triscuit’s going to have a tea cup and a cat . . .


. . . and a wicker chair with a golden cushion:


White is the only acceptable color for wicker furniture, don’t you agree?


When I saw that the detail of the wicker was too washed out by the pale background, I decided to go back and paint in some dark stuff in between the wicker-weave. I am probably one of the few people on Earth who find this kind of fuss-budget work to be very relaxing:


Now for lots and lots of fleurs:


And done:


This is the kind of place where you, and I, and cats belong on any old Spring Fever day, right?

I am giving away this special Pub Date Celebration Triscuit to my Dear Readers in honor of, well, my new book and all, and how it’s the perfect gift for everybody you know, maybe even two or three times each. I’ve heard that it only takes one bulk sale of 8,000 copies to get on the New York times Bestseller list so if anyone out there has 8,000 friends please buy this book for them all and make them (and me) happy. Thank you.

All you have to do to claim this Pub Date Celebration Triscuit for your own is leave a Comment below, with your guess of a number between 123 and 8,071…no, wait. That’s too complicated.

Guess a number between 100 and 175. When the Comments close after 5 days (I have to shut it down to reduce the number of days that I get 1,000 spam comments per hour) I will have Top Cat pick a number at random and hope that one of you Dears had mental telepathy. Or is it pre-cognition?

Every one who Commented last week or the week before is eligible!

And now, because Thea wrote a Comment last week that “Taffy beats any sports mascot”, here’s your weekly dose of our favorite beige cat:


This is me and Taffy and that’s our feral pal Bibs, at my ankle, in front of the tomato patch in August of last year. I don’t know why I didn’t use this as my author photo for the DGB.

Speaking of which, next week we’ll have to talk about all those 5-star reviews that you, my Dear Readers, will be posting to Amazon for Gardens of Awe and Folly, n’est-ce pas? ( 5-star reviews = another V. Swift book in the future for you. . .  publishers take sales and reviews very seriously). For all you Dear Readers who take the time to vote in favor of me keeping my job, I’ll have a special thank you for you. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend, everyone, curling up with a good book. You know which one I mean.

P.S. in response to Comments last week that I did not get to answer in the roll: Leslie you’re right! I am contemplating a new embroidery project, and when it’s stitched I’ll be sure to show it here.

Patricia: I wonder if there is some kind of Myers Briggs test that would match up personalities to most likely crafts, altho I’m pretty sure that if left to science I would never have been pegged as an embroiderer. I’m too easily bored, except by things I’m obsessed with, which seem pretty random. I think it’s hit or miss, like love. Or maybe it’s fate, like love. I can’t decide.


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On the left (below) is the delicious cracker made by Nabisco*, a salty whole grain hors d’ouvre-holder and snack food beloved by Americans. On the right is a Triscuit made by me, an author-illustrator beloved by 6 out of 7 of my cats*.


*Nabisco/Mondelez (pronounced mon-dell-eeeze) has given me permission to use their trademark Triscuit to describe my teeny-tiny paintings up until the time they send me a cease and desist letter. Thank you, Product Manager at Mondelez Global LLC in East Hanover, New Jersey.

*Steve is the new cat #7, a feral tuxedo Manx that I’ve been feeding for five months but haven’t been able to trap yet because he still doesn’t understand that he belongs to me, dammit.


Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

Last weekend it got so cold here on the north shore of Long Island that I had to rescue my Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard (I wish I could put a photo in parenthesis):


For 2 days the temperatures hovered around Zero degrees ( 0 F, -18 C) and I did not want my champagne to totally freeze. So on Sunday morning I put the bottle back out on the patio and left it there for 7 hours (I wonder if inanimate objects are subject to “wind chill”?). And then it was — finally — 5 o’clock and I brought that baby inside and popped the cork and voila! I got a Champagne Slushie!!


Dear Readers, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what deep-frozen champagne looks like, a glass full of icy bubbles! It was fabulous.


Note: A bottle of champagne left out in sub-zero temperatures for 7 hours will freeze from the bottom up. The first glass you pour looks a lot like regular champagne, except for being much colder, but when you set the bottle down after your first pour something happens strange happens and the normal laws of champagne physics break down. The champagne begins to flow upwards out of the bottle, against gravity, in a continuous froth of bubbly foam until you quickly pour a second glass, at which time balance is restored to the Champer-Verse and the stuff behaves normally, except for its being mostly icy slush. At which time you give Thanks that you have a wonderful reason to not totally hate Winter.

Getting back to the Triscuit thing, to long time Dear Readers of this blog that means one thing:  Time for a Triscuit Give Away! For new Dear Readers of this blog, please let me announce that it’s Triscuit Give Away Time!! Which we will get to at the end of this post (feel free to skip ahead to the end if you are like my husband and think blog posts should not go on and on, like mine tend to)  because for now, I want to discuss How I Cheat When It Comes To Drawing Really Hard Things in Perspective.

Consider, for example, a view such as this:


This is the allee of Monet’s garden in Giverny, the main feature of his sumptuous flower garden (which is way better than his more famous water garden, by the way). I took this photo in May 2013 at about 7 o’clock at night, long after the garden had closed for the day. You can read how I was able to sneak this photo, and a lot of others, when the garden was officially closed,which I consider a red hot travel tip, by clicking here. We’ll wait while you read up on this.

Hey! You’re back! So let’s get to it: Drawing all those arched arbors down this rather long garden path/allee is way, way above my pay grade as a draftsperson. I could never do it without cheating. So what I do is, I cheat. First, I have print out a black and white copy of this photo (from my computer, on plain white paper — no fancy photo-quality sheets necessary):


The black and white picture make it easy for me to see the contrast I need in order to trace those arbors onto tracing paper:


I could never see those trellis lines if this photo was still in color. So, in black felt tip pen I trace over the arbors and the horizon, because a horizon is a useful thing to know in any picture, as it keeps the painter from painting things that look like they are floating in the air:


The next step is to trace those guide lines onto watercolor paper (use either a light box or tape the sheets onto a window, if it’s a sunny day):


I slather in the background, using very broad strokes and watery paint. I will try to keep these features very faint in this picture in order to emphasize the foreground — the lovely floral allee:


I have to get those two huge yew trees at the top of the all just right — they are the key to the scale and truthfulness of everything else I will paint:


So I finish these yew trees and then I take a good look at the picture and I see right away that the top trellis/arbor that I drew would not work in this picture. So I erased them and, as the pencil lines were so faint, they are hardly noticeable under the paint of the yew trees (paint tends to “fix” graphite, BTW). And then I was all set to get to the good stuff: the flowers! I LOVE painting these flowers!! And sorry, I got so engrossed painting these wonderful fleurs that I forgot to take pictures of the progress, so here’s a pic of the piece when it’s about 80% done:


I use white acrylic paint to paint over the arbors because I need them to POP, and putting down a base of white acrylic paint before I paint them green will do that:


See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You might notice that in the end I futzed the horizon line on the left side of this picture. I did that because I thought it was too strong a horizontal and I thought it was distracting. For the record, that (left) part of Monet’s garden is very complicated — lots of topiary and trained shrubs and big brambly stuff that I don’t want to get into — but I hope I’ve indicated enough of a there there…but I might look at this picture next month and decide it needs more definition. However, for now, it’s done.

Monet panted in series: haystacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral…you know what I mean. Good lord, he painted his water lilies 270 times. So just because this is the second picture I’ve painted of his allee (counting last week’s picture) does not mean that I am done with this view, no siree. I went to Giverny last December specifically to get a sneak peek at Monet’s garden in Winter, which is how I got this photo:


I love gardens in Winter. Love love love love them. I love them so much that I put a Winter Garden in my garden book (in the Edinburgh chapter). I also adore decrepitude — that’s why I had to write about a decrepit garden in London for Gardens of Awe and Folly. To me, a flower garden in December (in the northern hemisphere) is all about decrepitude, and all about Winter. So poetic! So truthful! So soulful! So to me, this view of Monet’s garden is deliciousness times two. I could not wait to paint it! So, without further ado, let me trace those arbors and get down to painting!!!!



P.S. above: Last week I mentioned that I photoshop my fingers for these action pix…this week I just left the band aids on. My hands get very dry in the Winter but that’s OK: I can paint wounded. I’m so very, very brave that way.






 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You can see that in this picture I left the foreground arbor/trellis intact (the same trellis that I eliminated from the Spring version). It works here, I think. (Fun fact: in total, the allee has only 6 trellises. Trellises? Is that a word?)

I can not tell you how satisfying this was to paint! It was heaven. That’s why, like stout Cortez at that place where he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer…wait. I think that was Alexander the Great, who wanted to keep going; Cortes was the chap full of wild surmise. I could go either way with this literary reference because any hoo, I was not ready to quit this wonderful allee, and as I was sober (it was at least an hour away from Sunday Cocktail Time), I decided to paint a Triscuit as a token of my appreciation for all my Dear Readers:






Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

Now, I know that some of my Dear Readers do not come from Nabisco countries so they might not know about Triscuits, so maybe this will help set the scale (because I assume that everyone knows about tea bags):

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

The Triscuit is 4.5 centimeters square, about the size of a Gum Nut Baby. It’s really small, but you know that small is my “thing”.


This is a view of Monet’s allee facing away from the house, towards the big garden gate at the bottom of his flower garden. That’s the gate the the master himself used when he strolled from his studio to his water garden (on the other side of the wall there). It’s a historic gate. And now that I look at it…the gate is wrong. Back to the painting. . .



OK, now it’s DONE.


To win this Giverny Triscuit, all you have to do is leave a Comment in the Coments at the end of this post, and guess a number between 1 and 50. When the Comments close after five days — sorry, it’s a spam-avoidance necessity — I will have Top Cat choose a number and announce the Winner in next week’s post!

The fine print: In order to be eligible  for this contest you must have left a Comment here in the past two weeks.

So Good Luck, my Dear Readers, and keep Commenting…Pub Date of Gardens of Awe and Folly is March 1 and I might be in the mood to celebrate with another Triscuit Give Away (or another bottle of frozen champagne, depending on the weather).



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This is October on Long Island:P1040221

Same place, same time of day, this is now:


This was me, a mere 10 days ago, taking a photo that I forgot to load onto last week’s blog post:


Ahhhhhh…. Good book, warm Fall sunshine, nice knot garden on view, and a big fat G&T in the thermos.

It’s been raining for four days (see now pic, above). I haven’t seen the sun for four days. The only bright spot has been re-reading Big Magic:


Throw away any book, video, or blog by any other  “creativity” counsellor, particularly if that “creativity” counsellor is famous only for being married to Martin Scorcese for 5 minutes. This is the only How To advise you will need.

Elizabeth Gilbert cows what she’s talking about when she talks about creativity — she’s the author of Eat Pray Love (and she blurbed my book, Le Road Trip, so you know she has impeccable taste), not to mention Pilgrims (her first book, from 1997, awarded the Pushcart Prize and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award), Stern Men (selected by the New York Times as one of their favorite books of 2000), The Last American Man (a nominee for the National Book Award), Coyote Ugly (made into a Hollywood movie), and the historical novel The Signature of All Things.

Liz Gilbert lives a creative life and she gets things done. That’s why you can take her advise all the way to the bank (the Bank of Artful Living, that is).

Now, fear (as in the subtitle, covered in her chapter on Courage) is not my thing per se, but I found her chapters on Enchantment, Persistence, and Trust to be re-re-re-readble. When I went to hear Liz speak at Word Books in Jersey City on Oct. 29th:


…and was chatting with a few ladies in the audience as we tried to keep our nerves calm for when Liz appeared on stage, I know that there are people who also love her chapters on Permission and Divinity too.

By the way, the line of ladies waiting to get into the event (reservations necessary) went down the block:


I hope Big Magic puts all self-proclaimed (but resume-challenged) “creative” counselors out of business.

Speaking of enlightenment, I realized that it’s been a while since I painted something enlightening in this space; I haven’t painted “light” like this:


Since I painted this:

P1040740in a blog post I called Painting August.

So let’s call this:


Painting October. And let’s make it a Triscuit!


I’m laying down a yellow base to use as the light that is going to peek thru the foliage:


And some bleeds of light brown and burnt sienna for the dead leaves on the foot path:


Now, the foreground tree:


Whenever I paint foliage, no matter what color it is, I dab at the paper with the tip of y brush, whether it’s a size 00 or a 10. But I take care to make sure that my dabs vary in size — it’s very important to make the blobs in different shapes to avoid the dreaded Seurat effect:


So let’s carry on:






Time to add shadows:


Tree time:


I can see that I need to make the shadows as dark as the tree bark here…


…so I’ll do a fix and add more darker shadows:



Now I pant in all those itty bitty background trunks:


For the finishing foliage I’m loading up my little brush with green to add to the blob of black/brown that I used for the shadows:


The trick to this silhouetted foliage is to paint it in an interesting form that frames the rest of the picture:


Like this, but not quite:


I think it needs just a little bit of booster material:



And here’s my finished tid bit:


I liked this view of October so much that I decided to try it out in a quadruple-Triscuit sized mural!


And we’ll see how that turns out next week!



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Date night, July, Manhattan:

Last Friday evening Top Cat swept me off to the Big City.


Fun Time Wedding Shower Takes to the Streets: The Bachelorette-of-Honor posing with New York’s Finest.

It was a beautiful time of day to be in the East Village.


I remember when I had a boyfriend who in the East Village it was a dump…now it’s almost as chic as the Upper West Side:


There’s even a touch of New Orleans in the neighborhood!:


But this I remember from the ’80s — traffic light art installations:


The guy on the left, with the bulging pants pockets: NOW I get why they call them CARGO PANTS!!

I love Manhattan. People live out loud in Manhattan — right on the streets:


I love the flow of humanity, at all hours:


Skateboarders in the flow of traffic:


And this warmed my heart — a young girl reading a book, a real BOOK, while on the go:


Top Cat took me to a sidewalk cafe for a glass (two) of wine, and then we hoofed down to 6th Street for a wonderful Indian dinner.

Scene in an Indian Restaurant, July 26, 2013

Couple in their late 30s, an empty bottle of wine between them. He is going on and on about the injustice of the US government’s persecution of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden. She, who seems to have drunk the greater part of that bottle of wine, has had enough when she lifts her empty wine glass and waves it in front of her, merrily announcing: “And you say J’accuse!

At 8:30 on a heartbreakingly beautiful Sumer evening we made our way to Webster Hall:


I don’t know if you can read the marquee, but that’s PAUL WELLER! My sweet Top Cat tok me to see my Punk Rock crush!! (I haven’t been to a rock concert (excluding Paul Weller in New York three times, Los Angeles once, London twice) in, oh…ten years. And it’s still as exciting as the first time — Stephen Stills and Manassas at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1971.)


Oh, lordy, I loves me Paul Weller. It was standing room only in Webster Hall, so I insinuated myself to the front lines:


You remember Paul Weller, right? He’s huge in the UK but known as a “cult” figure here in America so he does very few gigs in the States — six sows in NY, boston, and D.C. this time ’round.


I screamed, and po-go’ed, and hollered the words when he did That’s Entertainment and completely lost it when he did a hard-rock version of my favorite song of all time , My Ever-Changing Moods. I could hardly move or speak when it was over. Good times.

I respect Paul Weller for still rocking the same Mod look that he had when he fronted the Jam in 1979, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE him for rocking the grey hair.


I’ve never been a Stones fan because Mick Jagger makes my skin crawl, all the more so when I see his 70-year old brunette locks. Grey hair is so hard core!


Top Cat loves my grey hair and I love that Top Cat surprises me with tickets to go see Paul Weller’s silver locks. My husband gets me, and my rock and roll crushes. In return, he has my permission to go for it if Nicole Kidman ever requests a late-night back rub from the one and only T.C.

The other exciting news this week is that I got my Majorelle Bleu paint:


I had to get a shot of it in daylight on the glass-topped patio table with my new lanterns.

(Tea bag for scale.)  This is the quantity you can order (250 mlk) for $48. It comes from Switzerland, and for all I know the good people at the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech order it from the same factory whenever they have to re-paint the landmarks this distinctive, saturated, intense color:


Just to remind you why it’s called “Majorelle Bleu” — photo taken on my visit to the garden in Marrakech May 2013.

Just for comparison, here are color swatches from my bluest Grumbacher paints (in the little pan-thingy) and my Windsor Newton Artists’s watercolors (in the tube):


I used the tube watercolors straight, no diluting with water.

And then I went outside and photographed the colors in the full sunlight at 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon for you:


Majorelle Triscuit winner, Bev, has been waiting for this moment. I wanted to dab on the true Majorelle Bleu before I sent her the Tirscuit she won:


I just put this Triscuit in the mail today so Bev, thank you for your patience and I love going to the post office to mail Triscuits to AUSTRALIA!!!


And now, as promised, off we go to my Writing Room.

Truth to tell, it’s not so much a “room” as a corner of a really big den. Yes, that’s a wheel chair. When I had knee surgery last Fall I got a wheelchair and it’s the most comfortable writing chair I’ve ever owned…so I’m still using it.


The floor of our den is black slate, so the wheelchair’s wheels don’t mark it up like the old desk chairs all did. I hardly even think of it as a wheel chair these days; it’s just my writing chair with the handy foot rests.

I have a trash can propping open the door and to my right is a small table with the manuscript on it, where I can lay out pages and measure each for text (see: last week’s post re: what the manuscript of a professional illustrated travel memoirist looks like.).

This is my desk top:


A long time ago I read that it’s best to write facing a blank wall (Annie Dillard says so), so yes, that’s a blank wall in front of me. And that’s a Spode tea cup that is a permanent fixture…


….because it’s where I unload the Smarties, this writer’s preferred Brain Food (duh)Smartie’s are imported from Canada, so they’re gourmet. (Thank you, GG, for the Turkish tile photo to inspire me with another shade of blue!)

And meet the  facilitators of my writing life. First there’s Cindy:


And then there’s Penelope:


However, the most dangerous cat in the whole herd is a certain indoor/outdoor cat, who was born feral but has discovered that with a cute face like his a cat can get unlimited door service at our house, giving him free access to all the comforts of home-living while maintaining his independence and his fierce, wild, savage ways. I’m just telling you, so you know what I’m dealing with, that Lickety is one scary, ferocious, desperado.


Don’t be fooled by the beached-whale pose. Lickety is gangsta.

So you can see how frightening it is when Lickety decides to supervise the writing process, up close and personal:


And the way he just makes himself at home…


…sometimes even getting his reprobate brother Taffy in on it…


…oh, the horror.



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My June travels included a trip to Brooklyn, to the Museum of Art in that fair borough. Imagine my surprise when a tour bus pulled up to the entrance…Brooklyn? A tourist attraction? I’m so 1980s in my thinking, when I kew Brooklyn as an outer borough, home to the dreaded bridge and tunnel crowd. Now it’s so hip that tour buses schlepp through its streets.


I had to take a picture of the Brooklynite who stuck a pose in front of the tourists and stood there giving them a right royal Windsor Wave the whole ten minutes the tour bus was idling in front of one of the world’s greatest museums that hardly anybody goes to. I must say, as a royal watcher from way back, that her form was spot-on: extra points for degree of difficulty (it was hot out there).

And then I went inside to keep a date with John Singer Sargent watercolors.


Too good to be true. THAT, my dear readers, is what genius looks like. But I digress…

I probably shouldn’t show you these pictures, because they are unbearably cute…but Top Cat was doing yard work last month and he left his shovel out by the shed. For some reason, Oscar (the Mayor of the backyard cats, having been keeping things in order on this block for 16 years, becoming part of our herd when his original people next door moved away three years ago) well, Oscar took a liking to this shovel:


These photos were taken over a three-week period:




And this is the last picture I took of Oscar and his friend, Mr. Shovel, on July 9th:P1180869

Sixteen years is a good run, and when Oscar’s liver began to go wrong I am happy to say that he did not suffer through a long illness and we were able to make him comfortable in his last days, and for the first time in the ten years I’ve known him he let me hug him. Oscar passed away last Saturday, July 13, in the vet’s office with me scratching his head and saying his name and telling him that he was one of the best kitties ever. We buried his ashes under that bush, in the photo above, where he liked to snooze and keep an eye on garden tools.

Farewell, dear one.. .

But I leave you today with a tribute to our dear Oscar, with some of the herd he so ably watched over when he was Top Cat Emeritus in our backyard. Here are the Triscuts of the Day.


Have a great weekend.

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This is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog today because it was NINE YEARS ago today that Top Cat and I said I DO.


It was midnight in Las Vegas and Blue Suede Jumpsuit Elvis married us husband and wife. If I had known then what I know now, I would have asked Top Cat to marry me on our second date.

Little did I know, nine years ago, that on my ninth wedding anniversary I’d be blogging about my trip to Tameslouht, Morocco…life is strange.

Tameslouht, according to people who have luxury villas to rent, is a village of extraordinary serenity  just 20km from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.


Professional PR photo.

With views of the majestic Atlas mountains, Tameslouht is a place to refresh the soul and contemplate life’s magnificence whilst gazing upon a killer sunset.


Another professional PR photo.

Blah blah blah…


Yet another professional PR photo.

…and more blah blah blah plus Rin Tin Tin:


This is the weirdest professional PR photo of them all.

Tameslouht just might be all that and a box of Cracker Jack, but the day I went there (May 16, 2013) there was nary a ray of golden sunshine in sight:


It was cool and rainy and the village looked to be deserted:


This is my perfect May 16 place to be because May 16 is the day on which I, every year since 1975, throw myself a Pity Party.  Everybody should have one day a year  that they devote to a bout of constructive self-loathing and mine is May 16. May 16, 1975 is the day that I left America for my first solo hitch hiking journey in France; I was gone for four months and I was the happiest I’d ever been in all my previous 19 years of life. And every May 16 since then, if I am not on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey on that day, then I throw myself a Pity Party and wonder why the hell aren’t I on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey for chrissake.

This year on May 16 I was in Tameslouht. Tameslouht, dear readers, is not a beautiful village. But it beats the crap out of being on Long Island (on May 16) so I was only half-pitiful this year.


Let’s go look at some doors in Tameslouht seeing as how there is not a whole lot else to do in Tameslouht…


…whose name I wish I knew the meaning of because that would be the perfect thing to put here right now.


By the way, “Tameslouht” is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.


Having seen a fair amount of Tameslouht, I would say that Tameslouht looks very much like itself:


And I say that because this (see below)  is the part of Tameslouht…


…that reminds some people of Persia…


…namely the good people at Disney who made the 2010 movie Prince of Persia:


The movie was based on a video game of the same name.


That’s Tameslouht in the background!

No wonder it flopped. I mean, come on: a video game?? It only made $90 million world wide and these days, that’s a flop. If a book makes one-ten-thousdandths of $90 million it is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. Not for the first time do I realize I am in the wrong line of  business.

Everything I know about Tameslouht I owe to the delightful Sara Quinn…

P1180170 2

…Peace Corps volunteer extraordinaire who guided me thru the rues of her adopted hometown. In addition to her duties as a teacher of English, Sara and her fiancé, Tameslouht-native Mustafa Ezzarghani put together a marvelous meeting between leaders and members of the Moslem, Christian, and Jewish communities in Morocco:


You can read the article that Mustafa wrote about the conference for the Morocco World News website here and you can read all about life as a Peace Corps Volunteer/Morroco in Sara’s blog here. Sara and Mustafa went to the Majorelle Garden too!! Read all about their visit here.


I love reading Sara’s blog because it reminds me of my own Peace Corps Volunteer days, except for the bits where she actually goes out and accomplishes things, and is beloved by her community, and makes important contributions to the cultural and economic advancement of her adopted country…other than that yeah, my Peace Corps experience was exactly like Sara’s.

Because this is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog I have to show you this photo from Sara’s blog of April 5, 2013:


Because this is Mustafa proposing to Sara in a cafe overlooking the Jemaa El Fan in Marrakech:


Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  I hope Sara and Mustafa will be as happy as Top Cat and I, nine times nine years.

This is Sara and Mustafa when I met them in Tameslouht:

P1180052 2

With TEA!

I am in the salon of Madame the President of the Tameslouht women’s crafts cooperative, called Creation Tameslouht.


 Creation Tameslouht has a  Facebook page:


Madame the President…


…kindly arranged to give me a private showing in her own home:


The beautiful hand-embroidered duvet covers…


…are immaculately sewn with traditional motifs:

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The machine embroidery is very fanciful:



And I loved the pockets on this traditional robe:


Which as you can see from these street photos (from Marrakech) are totally authentically Moroccan:



And the hats!!!  The ones with the large sequins are heavy, but the one with the crazy cute tassels was feather light:


This cute clutch is only 70 dirham ($9.00), all made my hand:


And this spiffy beach bag is only 80 dirham and is sooooooo cooooool:


This is the gorgeous drape/curtain  tie-back that I bought for 100 dirham:


And then there are the scarves:


I’ve never seen scarves like this, all woven by hand, that shimmer:


Or, you can design your own scarf and have it embroidered:


I bought a scarf with colors that reminded me of blue jays and peacocks and when I went back to Paris I wore it with my Seattle fleece and I was ever so a la mode :


There’s nothing like going back to Paris after a 48-hour adventure in Morocco…


…I doubt I would have even noticed, if not for having just been there,  this billboard the Paris metro, shouting Become a LANDOWNER in MOROCCO!! Apartments from 24,000 euros, villas from 100,000 Euros. I guess that Morocco is to Parisians as Santa Fe, NM is to us Long Islanders.

After Morocco, all there was left to do in Paris except to make the long good-bye …


…to a style of living that you can only find in Paris…


I knew I was going to miss it terribly….


…but every lighted window of Paris…


…just made me feel too far away from home…


Happy Bastille Day, everyone! I hope nobody’s having a Pity Party on July 14 — go get a bottle of champagne and toast your favorite memories of Paris! And if you don’t have a memory of Paris, feel free to borrow any of mine.

And of course we cannot call our visit to Morocco complete without announcing the winner of the Majorelle Triscuit:


 Top Cat has chosen his random winner and it is:


Congratulations, Bev, and please email me your snail mail digits at vivianswift at yahoo, before our next get-together next Friday.



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