December 2015

I highly recommend Paris in December.

When I was there two weeks ago, the tourist crowds were almost non-exisitant so there was less camouflage for the natives to blend into. They were all over the place, doing adorable Parisian things, like walking their dog after school…

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…shopping for fabric at Tissus Reine (the best fabric store in all of Paris!)…

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…riding their scooters to appointments…

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Yes! Adult people are riding scooters in Paris! And the Rent-A-Bikes are still as popular as ever:

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And under the bare trees the sky was opened up for miles and miles (that’s the Canal St.-Martin below, looking south all the way to canopy of plane trees on the Boulevard Jules Ferry):

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This is the Quai du Louvre:

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All is calm, and all is bright.

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Especially the museums! I went to my favorite Paris Museum, the Musee Carnavalet, and it was almost empty.

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Yeah, that’s a selfie in a XVIIIeme drawing room in the museum, and I can see now why my husband doesn’t like my Ugg (they are actually Sketchers) boots. The really do give my feet a dorky proportion to the rest of my body (but oh, my…when you walk 12 miles a day on Paris pavements, there is NO BETTER encasement for the ten little piggies, I tell you).

I discovered other rooms — ROOMS! — of stuff I’ve never seen there before! The room where Proust composed A La Recherché du Temps Perdu:

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And the entire 1900 shop designed by Alfons Mucha (famous art nouveau illustrator) for the Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet:

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It was such a sleepy day in the Musee Carnavalet that even the guards were not en grade. This one was drawing in his little sketchbook:

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And this one was reading his iPod, craftily hidden in the drawer of his desk there (same trick I used to pull in high school, only with an actual paperback book, probably The Unauthorized Biography of The Beatles, in algebra class):

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And THIS I never saw before:

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So now I know how they get those posters to hang inside those Morris Columns — cool!

And I also never saw THIS before…no, it isn’t the itty bitty Christmas tree in the window of this bar that  I passed every day and night that was right next door to my AirBnB room near the Opera (on the right bank, metro stop Opera)…

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The thing that I never saw before is the thing I saw only when I backed up into the street to get this picture (below) and saw it there, in the lower right corner of the bar:

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It was THIS!

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It is a lighted running fountain of water for the neighborhood pooches (in English?!) and I thought it was adorable.

And then I went to Giverny, and if you want to read about my weekend visit please stay with me (but you might want to get another cup of tea, just to make the story more mosey-able).

The famous garden at Giverny is not open for visitors in December, but I have already seen Claude Monet’s garden several many times already … I went to Giverny because I like Giverny very much and I wanted to see what there was of “Winter Interest” in the village. Turns out that there is plenty going on in Giverny (pop. 509) and I can only tell you about the half of it (because I know that you do not have all day to read this blog). So let’s begin with my BandB, Les Rouges Gorges:

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My room was rustic but very comfortable:

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And the resident cats were cuuuuuuute:

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It was close to 4 in the afternoon when I took my walk out into the country lanes of Giverny:

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I was of course thrilled with the color and views here, but sooner or later one’s stroll down the Chemin du Roy (King’s Lane) leads you to the back end of Monet’s garden:

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From this vantage point it is possible to shoot some pictures of Monet’s garden at rest, which I did just for you, Dear Readers.This is the allee, which wis usually covered in blooms, that bi-sects the flower garden and leads to the front door of Monet’s home:

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And here is a peek at the water garden…

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And this is a view of the famous arched bridge over his lily pond (far right):

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The wisteria that cloaks this bridge in romantic petals of lavander during high season is, in December, just a tangle of hibernating vine:

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Giverny is such a small village that the folks who live here would have to go to Vernon ( 4 kilometers away) to get bread and croissants, so the BIG news this year is all about the new boulangerie that opened!

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It’s at 73 rue Claude Monet (easy address to remember) and the food and the ambience is excellent (note to self: must review this on Yelp, so that everyone who goes to Giverny in season will stop by here for lunch and make this place successful). I see that you’ve noticed the cat in this photo. That’s Fifi. I got to know her when I came back here for the special Saturday night Diner Spectacle:

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Wine, food, and song…

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… and if you’re lucky…CAT:

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The Madame La Soprano is a music teacher from the village, married to an elected official in Giverny:

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Monsieur Le Baritone sings for the Rouen Opera:

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Sunday was full of more wonderful social gatherings in private people’s homes (the Givernois are such friendly people!) but the next public spectacle I attended was an afternoon party of the kids of Giverny, held in the Impressionism Museum (which is also closed for the season, but open for local functions). I loved the kid who brought his panda bear with him when he went on stage to help the magician with her trick:

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Then my friends took me to the Town Hall to vote!!!!

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It’s normal for the French to vote on a Sunday, and it’s normal to hold these regional elections every five years (for the National Assembly). But it was very unusual this year to hold elections with the National Front (think: Trump, only more so) as a strong third party.

When you go to vote in such a small village as Giverny, you get your voting card stamped by the officials, and then you go around kissing hello to all the poll watchers that you know as neighbors. Then you pick up your ballots, go into a curtained stall, choose the ballot for the party you want to vote for, fold it up, and put it into a little blue envelope. Then you put your little blue envelope into a clear box:

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When the clock struck 6, it was time to count the votes.

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There wee two people opening each envelope and handing the ballot to the mayor (that’s him, with the beard). He reads out the name, and the head tally-man reads out the count after each vote, which has to agree with the count being recorded by two back-up tally-ladies.

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I was fascinated by this process, and my friends were tolerant and let me watch this go on for half an hour. I stood off to one side, snapping photos, and no one gave me so much as half a stink-eye, which is amazing when you consider that it’s illegal in France to take the photo of anyone without their permission, even on the street.

The day before, I’d been in Vernon’s Christmas village, and I snapped a photo of this:

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And I got a polite, and joking, but definitely serious, scolding for it.

Anyway, by the time we left the vote-count at Village Hall to get ready for a diner party, the center-right candidate was leading, and the left candidate was making a close showing, but the big surprise was that the National Front was polling a very very strong third, despite my friends (split evenly, two for the right-center/two for the left) assuring me that the National Front could never win a seat in Normandy.

The final results, with  75.25% of eligible voters taking part in the election, were:

Center-right: 42%

Left: 30%

National Front: 27%

Blank votes: 1%

How exciting!

Anyhow, Top Cat is going to mention to me again that my blog posts are too long, so I’d better stop here, for now…because don’t we all have some champagne that needs to be taste-tasted before the arrival of 2016??? And shouldn’t we be getting to it right now???

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I love to watch the tiny bubbles rise in candlelight.

Happy Saturnalia, everyone.

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Well, Dear Readers, here we are once again, leaving the darkness behind as we head into the light of Winter — and here is my 2015 ChrisHanuKwanSolstice wish for you:

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2015, solstice card

I wish for you a light-filled life of whim-fulfillment and ice-cold champagne, random kindness and loving serenity in 2016.

And, because I know how many new readers find this little blog every week, this gallery is for you:

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2007, Solstice card

Wanderers in the Wonders, 2007

*****

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2008,  Solstice card

Comforts of the Season, 2008

*****

xmas-3

Long Night Moon, 2009

*****

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2010, solstice card

Praising the Light, 2010

*****

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2011, solstice card

All is Calm, 2011

*****

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2012, solstice card

Into the Light, 2012

*****

ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card 2014, solstice card

Heavenly Sled, 2014

*****

 

 

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I very rarely get the idea to flit off to France for a quick five-day visit. In fact, for me, not being of the Taylor Swift branch of the family and all, it’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime kind of whim. But that very thought crossed my mind recently, and that’s how I found myself in Paris last Friday, going “Huh?”

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Paris in its holiday bling can be perplexing.

The famous department store Galleries Lafayette went with a “Christmas From Another Planet” theme this year…yeah, I don’t get it either…and they went all out to put up a huge Cosmic Christmas Tree in the center of their main floor, under their famous stained-glass rotunda:

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I think those are supposed to be either atoms, or planets, or carbuncles of silicone-based life forms, bubbling on the surface of the cone/Christmas tree-shaped object:

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You might already know how this store was constructed around that enormous open space in the center — which means that you can gander at the Cosmic Christmas Tree from every  floor:

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Dyed mink from Fendi:

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Yeah…I don’t get that either.

Down the road from the Galleries, the other famous department store of Paris — Printemps — was celebrating its 150th year in business:

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The interior of Printemps only allows for a three-story exhibit, which includes a mock-up of the store’s facade…

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…and a traditional Xmas tree — bedecked with this large, bug-eyed metallic creature with a flower-like pustule growing out of its head:

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It is in typical French earthiness that this creature’s head-canker includes globules in the exact color of pus. That mutant Pillsbury Dough Boy is the mascot of Printemps 150. Do you sense that the running theme of this post is “I don’t get that either“?

The outside of Printemps is laden with the flowers that have, presumably, been exploded out of the craniums  of millions of metallic mutants:

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Under this canopy of blossoms are the store’s famous Xmas windows, each one sponsored by a fashion brand. This is the Burberry window (note the sneakers on the kid on the right — and the antenna on his hat!):

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In France, sneakers are called baskets. When you think about it, calling them baskets is not a whole lot dopier than calling these kinds of shoes sneakers.

This window is Sonya Riekyl:

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Those little dolls moved like go-go dancers. Very Christmasy, you think?

Guess where the other grand explosion of Xmas cheer is? Here’s a hint:

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Right: The Champs Ulysses!

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These Christmas Villages run almost the whole length of the Champs — and if you look real closely at the background (below) behind these ice skaters (there were several rinks set up on the sidewalk of the Champs Ulysses — how cool is that??)  you’ll see the REAL Eiffel Tower, lit up like gold:

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In general, though, Christmas decorations in Paris are rather low key. I was sure that the ultra-luxury shops around the Place Vendome would be all a-glow for the make-or-break shopping season, but I was wrong:

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Yes it’s tasteful, but I like to be WOWed. Here’s some other random decor I found along my ambles in the City of Light:

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That last picture was taken in the Canal Saint-Martin area, at a cafe called La Bonne Biere:

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At the Bonne Biere on November 13, ISIS killed five people.

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The cafe has recently re-opened in defiance: Je Suis en Terrasse I am on the Terrace — is how Parisians mock the terrorists with their joie de vivre (which includes cafe culture…sitting out in the open, on terraces). I made it a point to have lunch at the Bonne Biere because, although I do not like sitting out on the sidewalk (it’s the smoking section, now that you can’t light up indoors any more), to give my personal Fuck You to ISIS.

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La Bonne Biere serves decent, 2-star pub food. I just wish the pasta hadn’t come garnished with dandelion greens. Even when you push them aside, they leave trace bitterness on the plate. It’s a Princess and the Pea situation. I have the same problem with cucumbers. Just can’t stand them.

Yes, there is still a make-shift shrine to the innocents of November 13 in front of the Bonne Biere…

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…but the main shrine to all 129 innocents is at the Place de la Republique:

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Meme pas PeurStill Not Afraid — is playground French, something that kids say to a call the bluff of a bully; it’s like blowing a raspberry in ISIS’ face. It’s also very silent and sad here, the way I remember it was on certain street corners in New York City after 9/11. All those innocents…yeah; I just don’t get it either.

Ah, Paris. Beautiful and beguiling even on an ordinary day on the cusp of Winter…

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Just goes to show you that Paris does’nt need the glitz of Xmas in order to shine…

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…she already, and always, glows, just being herself.

OMG, look at the time, it’s getting late and I haven’t even told you about the real reason I went to France. Well, Dear Readers, that will have to wait until we meet here again, next Friday!

 

 

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—-Yes, I forgot to turn on the Comments for this post, but I have corrected that so please read on and confess your latest buyer’s remorse!–

Now, back our regularly scheduled post:

I bought new shoes last week.

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The thing is that I got up one day last week, put on decent clothes that I wear when I go out of the house instead of the duds I usually wear (which make me look homeless), I put on make up, I found my car keys, I got in my car, I drove to a store, I tried on various kinds of shoes, and the whole time I was stone cold sober. And, after all that effort, I bought these shoes, completely forgetting that wearing high heels is freaking torture. I can’t stand high heels.

I don’t know what I was thinking, buying these high heels, which is so unlike the stuff I’ve bought online after a few glasses of wine, in which case I know EXACTLY what I was thinking.

Two weeks ago, under just those boozy conditions I mentioned, I bought this from eBay:

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It’s a vintage 1960s music jewelry box that plays I Could Have Danced All Night

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…and inside it has a fuzzy round thing with a bit of orange plastic on its face and a felt flower-like thing on its head (allegedly this is a bird) that spins around while the music plays. I remember thinking, I HAVE TO HAVE THIS!!! Because I had a jewelry box (with a ballerina twirling inside) made in Japan just like this, that played I Could Have Danced All Night when I was a small girl. Every once in a while quaffing the elixir of the gods I roam into eBay looking for my old jewelry box so when I found this I thought, Well, it’s half right…and half right is better than not having a jewelry box that plays I Could Have Danced All Night, right?

Same few glasses of wine, different day, I was on eBay buying this CD from a seller in Norway:

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It cost about three times as much as your usual CD, but I had to have it because I had heard these guys sing that old Leonard Cohen (Hallelujah) song on You Tube and I had really liked it, even tho I am not a Leonard Cohen fan. In fact, I loathe with a passion that stupid song, Suzanne: she’s touched your perfect body with her mind???? What a perv. But I like it when four Norwegian guys get together and sing Hallelujah. I’m unpredictable that way.

So, although I have never listened to this expensive Norwegian CD, I liked having it so much that I also bought this:

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Which I have never listened to either but, one day, when I get the urge, I just might, and that’s what makes owning it worth it.

I’m also a fan of eBay in the UK, which is where I got this:

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I saw this for sale and I thought, I HAVE TO HAVE IT because I could sew this onto the back of my leather jacket so everyone will know what my favorite punk band of the 1970s is, as soon as I buy a leather jacket. See? There’s a whole complete thought process.

This is another eBay UK must have of mine:

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Hand embroidered, and already framed, I saw this and thought: I HAVE TO HAVE IT because it brought back memories of being in London that Summer of 1977 of the Silver Jubilee, seeing punk kids with my own eyes and being terrified by them, and being rained on for days on end, wearing bell bottoms and learning to order tea “black” or else you always get milk in it, using pay phones that “pipped”… those memories are priceless. This purchase was worth every cent it cost to ship it across the pond.

One evening not so long ago, me and my bottle of wine fetched this up out of the eBay zeitgeist:

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I HAD TO HAVE THIS because this is what the future looked like to me, as a 9-year old in 1965: I was going to be a teenager with my own Princess phone in Acapulco Blue and I was going to spend too much time on it talking to my friends about boys, and I’d drive a Mustang convertible and go to dances and be popular. None of that happened — not one iota of that came true — but I still love the design of the Princess phone and this one is cat-sized!!! And now that you’ve seen it I know that every one of you Dear Readers is mad with envy, which is what owning stuff is all about.

And then there was the time that I HAD TO HAVE this:

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A desert plate because, you know, thistles.

I don’t think you need to have downed half a bottle of Pinot Grigio to get why I HAD TO HAVE this:

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An 8-inch tall glass bottle of vintage Avon perfume in the shape of the Eiffel Tower???? No explanation necessary, just buy it and congratulate yourself.

By the way, on the same day that I bought those ridiculous high heel shoes I also made the brilliant purchase of these:

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They are Sketcher fuzzy-lined suede boots and they are the most warm, happy, comfortable shoes I’ve ever clapped onto Pearl and Vinny (the names of my left and right foots). I LOVE THESE BOOTS.

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My husband thinks they are hideously ugly. Well, the good thing is that he won’t have to look at them this coming week because I am out of sight for the next five days, off on a fact-finding trip far, far away, traipsing in my pillow-like Sketcher boots around a certain world capital and a certain quaint village in search of content for my next book.

Which I will tell you all about next week, avec plaisir.

 

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The fact that December is a Fall month has never been self-evident here on the north shore of Long Island, except for this year of Our Global Warming 2015.

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I have yet to wear my winter coat this season…and that’s never happened this far into the season.

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Please enjoy this pictures of Climate Change (and what the gardeners call “Winter Interest”), let me respond to some recent Comments to this Blog/Not Instagram.

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Linda June and Jeanie: I’m sorry for the confusion: My Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) comes out on March 1, 2016. The various pre-reviews I’ve been bragging about in my posts come from industry publications that let book stores and libraries know what’s in the pipeline so they can plan their book-buying budgets. When the DGB comes out in the Spring there will be another round of reviews for the retail (individual) buyer. Sigh. The judging never ends.

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Mary: I went to Rio in my mid-30s for business (fancy auction hose business). I had never had Rio de Janeiro on my Must See List because face it, Brazil is a guy’s kind of place…but my visit there changed the way I looked at life on Earth. Read all about it in the DGB — I don’t mean to plug the Damn Garden Book but it’s a long story and, well, Iv’e already typed it once before.

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Megan: Is there a berry sushi (SUSHI??? That’s Auto Correct for “bush”) your garden? Were the berries fermenting? Birds are big boozers, you know. I think you might have had a drunk chickadee on your hands.

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Deborah: Great Instagram idea: Things I Pry Out Of My Puppy’s Mouth. No narrative necessary. And I’m with you about getting all three of my books reviewed in the New York Times. It’s the reason I check my e-mail every five minutes…I keep hoping that there’s a message from my agent telling me that I’ve landed the cover of the Sunday Times Book Review. OR, that Taylor Swift just tweeted a pic of the DGB cover to her 50 million followers. OR, that the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed carrying a copy of When Wanderers Cease to Roam. It’s sad how much mental energy I spend on the wishful thinking part of being an author.

Patricia: I saw a Stellar jay once in my life and it was FANTASTIC. I hope that when I come to Seattle on book tour that I get out to the woods to see another one. I’m greedy that way.

The next few photos are shots I took while driving. It’s been a rainy week and I like how the tree bark gets dark against the bright yellow foliage so I’ve been keeping my camera in my car to click while I pass the best views of these kinds of woods:

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Felicia: It’s all about the Grok, which is also a word I did not use because I think it’s a bit obscure but if you’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land and discounted all the dirty old man sexist stuff, you’ll know how good a word it is.

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I am crazy about tree forms this year and when I see a good tree on the side of the road, I either pull over so I can snap a picture of it (above), or I hope for a stop sign and come to a full stop (!!!), like I did here:

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Trees in the morning mist near the Dunkin Donuts on Northern Boulevard:

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Kirra and Carol, I’m looking at these trees with my Blue Jay eyes and I know I’ll use this in some future illustration, where these trees will be in their own forest far, far away from parking lots and T-Mobile stores.

Now this is where Top Cat says my blog posts always go on for too long. I can’t wrap this up until I send out these pix of (some) my cats, in a series I call Cats Contemplating Fall:

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And Diane in Denver, I didn’t gorget you! Last weekend T.C. and I and T.C.’s son from California walked in Caumsett State Historic Park in Huntington …

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…and I did! I did! I waved at the beautiful Long Island Sound for you!

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P.S. Is anybody reading this on an iPhone? And is the reading experience totally kattywampus (because I compose this on a big ancient 2011 iMac)? Just wondering, for when I ditch this old hardware and take up Instagram.

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