June 2016

You-Know-What made a fine showing on the Long Island Sound this past Monday:

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THE FIRST SUNSET OF SUMMER!

Steve, for one, was feeling it:

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Something about the way Steve shows up regularly for breakfast and dinner on my front stone wall, and stakes out the front stoop in between meals to coerce me into handing out his favorite salmon-flavored kitty snacks, and gives me blinky-eyes like he’s practically domesticated, well, something about all that seems to hint that Wandering Steve might be ready to put an end to his free-agency, and come join the herd full time. Which would be my tuxedo kitty-dream come true.

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Steve is a Manx, a breed of cat that is naturally tail-less, which I must explain because some people do not know that cats come in two shapes, Normal and Bunny Butt.

And speaking of bunny butts in my front and back yards . . .

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. . . here are some recent sightings from the neighborhood:

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Just around the corner the other day, I envied these people (below) for having a magical, life-changing tidying up experience, which is what I saw in their mountain of joy-sparking de-clutter pitched onto their front lawn . . .

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Built in 2002, 3410 sq. feet (317 sq. meters), 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths.

. . . but it was only (only?) a major clear-out for when, two weeks later, they put their house up for sale. So here’s your opportunity to be my neighbor, for $1.388 million!

Inspired by such spiffitude, Top Cat and Bibs decided to do some home improvements in our way under-1.388 million dollar manse:

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One of the reasons that we are in the Less Than Million Dollar part of the neighborhood is because of this:

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Yes, that is the “solution” to the gas leak of three weeks ago, when Top Cat and I absconded to the Jersey Shore to get away from the fumes. I didn’t mention it then, but it was me who called the fire department about the gas leak in the first place, which brought fire trucks and fire marshals and utility crews back to the scene of the crime (a botched installation of new lines). The upshot was that the second crew of diggers work well into the night, only to leave a bigger hole, which they covered with very large sheets of plywood, and these four handsome daleks as sentries, and new, additional ventilation holes drilled into the street:

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We haven’t seen hide nor hair of National Grid since, and there are still, albeit faint, whiffs of gas wafting around the block. Sigh.

I’m just not in the mood to call out the troops and make trouble again, which is so not like me. Current events still have me spiritually drained. When it comes to doing my part to hold the bastards accountable (in general, that is, for gas leaks and etc.), I am weary. The dim-wits, the entitled, the cynical, the half-assed, and the self-absolved-righteous always prevail. I feel tired most of the time.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to get out there and Look For Blue Jay Feathers.

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That, above, was last year’s haul of Blue Jay feathers, all from my own back yard (and a few from the front one, too). It was the Summer of 2015 and, having deposited with my editor my finished manuscript for Gardens of Awe and Folly, I was ready to re-enter the world of light and color after living in a three-year-old black hole of book-writing. During my time of darkness, I had been AWOL  as a collector of Blue Jay feathers, amassing only three or four a year — in 2014, I did not even bother to search: I have ZERO feathers to show for it. A lost Summer.

So, 2015 rolls around and I am trying to re-awken myself to the world, and I feel like a beginner in Being. I’m out of touch with the Blue Jay nature of the world. Still, I say to the Universe: Please, I’d like to find 5 feathers this year.

It was a big demand. Extravagant. Unrealistic. Totally presumptuous. I don’t know where I got the gall — five feathers! It was magical thinking at its best!

In the end, I found 40. See above.

(You can read all about the 40th Feather here.)

This year, I have a whole lot more on my mind. I thought things were bad last year, but they are even worse this year. It’s so bad that I have doubts, big and small, about Blue Jays. But, still, so far this year, even though it feels as if I am only going through the motions, I set up my Blue Jay Feather Finding Quest.

First, the mechanics of the Quest.

You have to give Blue Jays a reason to hang out in your back yard:

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It’s as simple as that– a bowl of dry cat food set up on something that gives the Jays a look-out for cats. Even hyper-nervous Cardinals like this set-up:

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You can mix sunflower seeds and bird food in with the dry cat food, if you fret about the menu, but the cat food is what Blue Jays really love.

My back yard is surrounded by tall trees, which is helpful because the Blue Jays flit in and out of them all day in order to swoop to the trash can buffet. But even if you don’t have trees, all you need is Blue Jays flapping their wings over your designated Questing Spot, because the more they flap, the more molt you will get = better chance of finding plumes. So that’s it for the nuts and bolts.

Next, there’s the mental game.

I like to watch the Blue Jays come and feed, but I also ask every bird that I see: Please leave me a feather. Preferably, a tail feather, please. I feel that this is an important part of gathering Blue Jay feathers: you have to let the Blue Jays know that you’re in the market for their cast-offs.

Now for the actual collecting:

On an ideal morning, I wake up half an hour before the rest of the house, which would make it around 5am. I’ve been up as early as 4:30 and it’s delightful to prowl in the last remains of night and watch the day break open, but you can’t quest for Blue Jay feathers in the dark, so any hour at the crack of dawn is best for feather-hunting.

Then I go to the kitchen and I make a cup of tea, black India tea, to which I add a tablespoon of honey and a drop of pure vanilla extract. You won’t taste the vanilla — but your cup will get a hovering mist of an almost angelic scent of meadows and roses.Vanilla puts me in a good mood.

Then I open the back door and step outside. It will be cool and dewy out there in the back yard, and I will take a moment to ask the Universe to Let me see the Blue Jay feathers that are scattered in the blade of grass before me. And then I remember to add, Please.

And then I start to walk, my eyes focused on the bit of Earth at my feet. I walk slowly, as if I am mowing: all the way across one way, and then all the way back the other way; repeat. My wanders. I think about other mornings, other Blue Jay feathers, and, more often than not, the latest song that is stuck in my head. I don’t try to think, or not think. I’m just paying attention, in a very relaxed way. I stop often to sip my tea, take a look around. This is the part of the day that reminds me to be happy to be alive.

I don’t visualize, I don’t expect. I just walk and wonder.

Even if you don’t find a feather every morning, it’s not a bad way to start the day.

But when you do find a feather — it is always the brightest shiniest fun moment! It’s as if the thing materialized out of thin air — as if it was dropped right there, in front of you, just for you!

The other thing about doing the morning ritual is that it puts it in your mind that you are now a Blue Jay Feather Magnet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve completed my dawn mosey, found nothing, and then, later that day, I’ll be walking to my car or down the sidewalk to a neighbor’s — and BAM. Right in front of me is a Blue Jay feather, there on the concrete or asphalt, in the heat of day, when BlueJay feathers weren’t even on my mind.

That’s fun, too.

So I began my 2016 Blue Jay Feather Quest one week ago. And how many feathers have I found so far?

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3. And none of them came from a dawn walking of the Earth.

And then again, all of them have come from a dawn walking of the Earth.

 

Go ahead, ask the Universe for something audacious. Unburden the heart, roam the mind, clear the eyes. It’s right there in front of you.

Have a great weekend, Wonder Ones.

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Oh, what an awful week. Current events horrify me, and I grew up during the Vietnam War with nightly body counts on the 6 o’clock news, and I was a mile up the road from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. So I’ve had a long acquaintance with every day human brutality, but the world has worn me down and this new brand of evil makes me weary and soul-sick.

I just wrote, and deleted, a few hundred words on Orlando, Magnanville, and Leeds. A couple hundred words on these atrocities is too feeble — a million words wouldn’t be enough. So I’m just going to quote the poet Christopher Soto:

Who smiles when the sky swallows its stars?

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photo credit: Favim.com

When I am wrecked and racked, I paint stones.

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My favorite part illustrating Le Road Trip was painting the wonderful stones of Brittany and Normandy.

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When I paint stones I feel calm, and quiet.

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Stone work requires a lot of concentration, but not a lot of attention. I think that’s the definition of meditation.

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(This is the Winter view of (above) — from When Wanderers Cease to Roam):

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The stones are my favorite part of any picture, no matter how small:

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And, sometimes, I find a view that is just an excuse for me to paint a lot of stones:

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Oh, how I needed to paint stones this past week, and I searched all my photos to find some stones that “spoke” to me. I didn’t find any. So I turned to the inter webs and I found this photo, by the renowned garden designer Caroline Garland:

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This happens to be a very stony picture, of a garden that I know rather well: The Chelsea Physic Garden in London. So these were the stones I set out to meditate upon. First thing, I gathered my mindfulness gear:

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I am mixing chalky Grumbacher paints with Winsor Newton watercolors. I use Davy’s Gray here and there, but it is not as good as the gray I make myself, by mixing Peach with Blue, Brown, Black, and Sienna:

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Sometimes I mix the colors right on my brush, sometimes I swab them directly onto the paper, and sometimes I smear them together like this:

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I am painting a Squint,by the way. I always start with the trickiest bit first:

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I’m using black to paint negative space, which is a risky move — I’m using a size 00 brush here:

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For each face of an individual stone, I mix ochre, gray, and a tiny bit of brown to get that “stoney” effect:

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I let each face, or cell, dry before I paint the bit next to it (this prevents unwanted bleeding):

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I re-wetted this little cell here and dabbed n the tiniest among of black, and let it bleed a very very teeny bit:

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Yeah, my preferred method is to work in colors while the cell is wet, and to see what kinds of bleeds I can get:

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Each of these cells in this pillar was painted individually — yes, they look wonky and horrible now, but just wait:

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Calm, slow, careful, and with an empty mind, I painted in these dark, dark shadow lines. It was tight-wire painting, and terribly satisfying:

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I put a green-blue wash over the background stones:

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You might have noticed that I painted the stone pillar incorrectly — take a look at it here (above and below): Do you see how I forgot to make the top two stones (on the right side of the pillar) 3-dimensional?

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So I fixed it, by “picking up” the pigment (that’s why Grumbacher is so good: it lets you “erase”) and painting in the optical illusion of 3-dimensions:

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You might also notice those dabs of color in the margins. That’s how I test watercolor shades before I apply it to the pic — no damn color charts for me!

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I put in some white acrylic dots in the fore- and background, over which I dabbed watercolor, so the “flowers” would pop:

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Comparing the photo to my painting, you can see that I’ve edited the original to suit my limitations as a painter:

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Well, also, since the Squint is very small (it’s 5.75 inches x 1.33 inches. . . 14.6 cm x 3.38 cm, I think), the background must be simplified. I also wanted to make this a cheery scene, and so I made it very green — and I used the greenery in the background to define the stone wall and pillar back there, so I wouldn’t have to outline them. I don’t mind outlines, but I wasn’t in the mood for them this day.

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I call this Squint, Stonewall.

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June 14 vigil at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn for the 49 victims of Pulse in Orlando. Love is love is love is love is love is love is love. cc: Magnanville, Leeds

The other thing I do when I feel so bad is hang with these guys:

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I took this photo through the living room window — that’s Steve, of course, dozing on our stone wall in the front of the house.

Now, about Steve: the other day, a woman rang our doorbell. Which is always weird, because who does that? The woman introduced herself and said she stopped by because she saw our cat food bowls set out on our front porch stone wall and she’s a TNR  (Trap/Neuter/Realease) rescuer…OH! I said: I wondered who Steve’s angel was!

Susan doesn’t live near us; she’d been called in by a neighbor on a road behind us about several feral cats and had trapped 5 males — including our own dear Steve (and kept him under observation in her home for a week in a huge dog pen). She’s on the hunt for a female, and seeing our cat food bowls, she rightly took us for Cat People, and wanted to give us her card in case we spot Mama Cat. She and I had a discussion about trapping methods and I learned that HavAHeart is so last century. There’s a whole lot of new trapping technology that has passed me by! I don’t know why I’m exclaiming this! So you know who I’m going to call when It’s time to TNR our dear Dennis:

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And saving the best ’til last,

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I am pleased to announce the Winner of the Super Duper Quartet Triscuit Give Away is:

Maryanne from SC!

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Thank you, all you magnificent  5-star reviewers own Amazon. I confess, I read your reviews to give me courage for when I will sit in a dark room for another three years and try to make something useful and wanted in this world.

Maryanne, we all hope you enjoy your Tea Time Triscuits with a lapful of cats, a heartful of love, and a fluteful of champagne!

Have a good weekend, Wonder Ones; let’s try to hold the planet together for one peace full day.

**Next Friday, if we can get through the week unscathed, I will present the previously schedules post, dedicated to Nancy S., on How To Find Blue Jay Feathers. Spoiler: it involves cat food.

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Occasionally, I dream in French. Or, I should say, I dream that everyone in my dream is speaking French because, you know, there’s no actual transcript to check later. But many years ago, I had a dream in which these exact words, in indisputable French, appeared to me: souffle d’argent.

Souffle d’argent. Soof-le  dar-zjen, sort of like this:

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Photo Credit: Condolux.net

NOT THIS:

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Photo Credit: taste.com.au

(Souffle is not the puffy food called soof-lay.)

I woke up and wrote these words down, and puzzled over them for days. Literally, souffle d’argent means breath of silver.

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Back in Dreamland, I had been in flight when these words appeared to me (in writing, by the way), and I was soaring on a breath of air (souffle d’air), and it was silvery, like a rain that wasn’t made of water, and it was soft and comforting, and it held me up and made me feel safe. And by the way, this dream came at a time in my life when I was very depressed, not clinically depressed, mind you; just having a very discouraging time in my life. But, oh! The waking effect of this dream was that I felt lifted up, not entirely out of my despair, but up enough so I could peer over its edge and see light. And that lightness of being lasted for days, because I could re-summon the feeling of safety and comfort just by thinking of the words: souffle d’argent.

I should also say that I did not hold myself or my subconscious responsible for this message. It came from the Universe. 

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Which, apparently, speaks French. 

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Which might not be a surprise to French people, to whom I guess the Universe always speaks French.  What I would love to eavesdrop on is the Universe speaking my cat’s language. 

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But I digress.

I almost wrote about this souffle d’argent dream ten years ago when I was working on the June chapter of When Wanderers Cease to Roam, but I chickened out because if you don’t know me well and you read about the souffle d’argent, I come off like a snot-nosed twerp: Oh, she dreams in French, does she???

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But I’m telling you all about it now because it’s been a long time since I wrote WWCTR and we know each other rather well at this point, and you have found ways to overlook my snot-nosed twerpiness, and you can see for yourself, on page 88 of WWCTR, my hint of what I think is the meaning of this silver breath of wind:

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(I have a thing for blue jay feathers. Which I now capitalize: Blue Jay feathers.)

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So here it is: the silver breath of air is the ever-so slight breeze made by the flapping of your guardian angel’s wings, which to me is not a person but the awareness of the Universe’s benevolence, because there are times when you forget that kindness exists in almost every random moment, and it feels slightly cool and somewhat silvery, and very fine.

I got a little souffle d’argent, an easement of mind, the other day and don’t judge me when I tell you that it came to me while I was reading an essay written by the author Kim Barnes in which she mentioned that when her memoir came out in 2011 she got a glowing review from the New York Times, which would normally make me hate her, but then she fessed up that her book ” sold fewer than 11,000 copies in almost five years.” Those sales figures are worse than mine! (Although I’m sure that selling the rights to her story so that she could be played by Tina Fey in the movies more than makes up for being out-sold by V. Swift. )

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By the way, I want Tine Fey to play me in the movies, too. Are you listening, Universe?

Like that — *poof* — a thorn in my side vanished, the one labeled Not Good Enough For The New York Times. Phhhhht: after reading about Kim Barker’s sales figures, I realize that getting in The New York Times isn’t the bonanza validation, guaranteed six-zeros sales figures that I thought it was! For me, this is a huge deal, because writers in general are just slightly more jealous and insecure than your average 14-year old girl, and there are oh, so many ways that I do not feel Good Enough. But this particular stab wound has healed, and it only took seconds, because that’s the way the Universe works. Things can change in an instant.

I also got a spiritual boost a the other day, at the grocery store, when I discovered that there is such a thing as lime-flavored diet tonic water.

After a fraught eight-day disappearance, my sweet Manx tuxedo stray, Steve, finally made his re-appearance . . . 

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. . . and as you can see from the little clip on his left ear, he’d been TNR’d: Trapped, Neutered, and Released by some unknown but loving cat lady. Ooo, I did feel the flutter of a guardian angel’s wing when he showed up, safe and sound.

It was a sunny and breezy day early last week when a strange movement, out of the corner of my eye, caught my attention. I looked out the window in my upstairs work room in time to watch the top half of an enormous locust tree, across the street, snap off and topple 30 feet. It seemed to make just the slightest whooshing sound, and seemed to be in slow motion! Well, because this is just what I do, I grabbed my camera and ran out into the road. . . what I didn’t expect was this:

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I never heard the tree smash onto this SUV, and at first I didn’t hear the deep breaths of the woman standing at the foot of my driveway; but then I turned and saw her and all she could say was: “I thought the car was exploding. I thought the car was exploding.” I looked into the car and I don’t know how the driver managed to escape in one piece. That inside space was smashed down like a stomped-on paper cup.

The driver was shaken up but unharmed. I waited with her until the ambulance arrived, and that’s when the woman went to pieces and began to shriek “I could have been killed! Oh my god, I could have been  killed!” I helped her husband, who had arrived some minutes later, unload the cargo from the SUV (the woman is a decorator and had lots of paint and fabric books) so it could be towed away, and then I walked back across my front yard.

And, looking down, I found this:

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The first Blue Jay feather of 2016. And yeah, it’s a flight feather.

So a lot of stuff has been happening right in front of my house lately. But the very best stuff has been happening in this little corner of the Universe, where you, my beloved Dear Readers, have lifted me up with your words of awe and fine folly — kissing tigers in disguise? That’s genius!

Thank you, my Wonder ones: Monique, Casey, Susan A., Elizabeth, Maryanne in SC, Jeanie, Mo, Vicki A, Megan, Kirra, Gretchen, Janet!, Brenda, Ann, Judy, Deborah Hatt, Laura, Deb, and Bunny: I am in awe of you all.

This is not the blog post I set out to write today. I set out to write about the Super Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away that I forgot about, in my black hole of listlessness.

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So let’s put that on the agenda for next week, June 17, when we gather here again to see what snot-nosed twerpiness I’ve been up to.

In the meantime, I hope you all have sweet dreams and feel the feather-light presence of your own cosmologically-appropriate angels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This was the north corner of my front yard at approx. 8:05 am, before I was told that “taking pictures ain’t cool.”

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Jeeze. I’m not going to sue you guys! So I went up to my work room and took this follow-up pic:

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So yes, they are digging AGAIN into the cables and such that make this blog possible. Actually, this time it was gas lines, and they hit a geyser, and “gas leak” became the word of the day. I’m sorry that I didn’t get pix of the fire engines (two) and the police are (three) that blocked off our street after we were told to just “keep the windows closed”, but I had other things than this blog post on my mind (sorry).  But after gathering the cats into the house, and setting out multiple cat boxes and huge bowls of kitty chow and shutting all the windows, we thought, What the hell. . . let’s go to Atlantic City!

So we checked into the Borgata:

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And we got a room on the 37th floor, with a view of the coming storm:

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And then, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it hit:

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And then, came the rainbow:

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(If you look real hard on the right side of that pic (above), you’ll see it.)

So here I am, in a hotel room in Atlantic City, with a heart full of gratitude to YOU, the most wonderful Dear Readers that ever was. . .

. . . and this will have to be a Saturday (Sunday for you, you darling antipodeans, Friday for you dears on the three-hour delay on the Pacific Coast).

Oh, we have so much to talk about, such as: Why isn’t Deborah Hatt writing this blog instead of me?, and: How much do I love thee, all you amazing Commentors, without whom I would be but a sad, sad girl in search of a nonexistent tiger to kiss.

XXOO, and a bientôt.

 

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In 2001 I made a list:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Get it published.
  3. Get married.
  4. Kiss a tiger.

I made this list because my life was in book-less and date-less rut and I’d heard that writing such a list would help me create a future where all my dreams would come true. Long story short, it worked.

I crossed off Items #1, #2, and #3 in pretty short order  (6 years) And then I had a third book published that did not top the New York Times best seller list, and then I sat next to a guy on an airplane who would not stop talking about his 9-year old grandson (he reads blueprints!) who made me depressed (the children of children of total strangers are of less than zero interest to me), and then I got a filthy nasty cold, which made me even more depressed (I’m a bit of a whiner), and then life looked once again to be as deeply dug into a deep rut as ever before, and then I threw myself a pity party and I blogged about it.

I should have known that all you Dear and Wonderful Readers would give me exactly the pep talk I needed to, in the words of that great humanitarian, Cher, Snap out of it. Oh, I’m still pretty sure that I don’t have another book in me, and I know that that basically makes me 60 years old and unemployed, which is definitely not where I want to be at this time in my life, but hey! I’m all grown up and I’ve got Ray Charles singing my new theme song and not cutting my bangs anymore!

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This is me in 4th grade. I am 8 years old. This top had a matching skirt. Even at this age, I was aware that childhood sucked.

Good news: My first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, currently “out of stock” (meaning, practically, “out of print”, the worst thing that can happen to an author) WILL go into a second printing! Copies should be available by Fall (Northern Hemisphere Fall, that is) so everyone can rush out and keep extra copies on hand for holiday gift-giving. My spare copies come in very handy as tea trays:

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Cindy uses her copy as night table:

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And yes, I took the time to stage two photographs because I have absolutely nothing better to do, since I’m unemployed and all.

Gooder news (for me, anyway, and this post is all about cheering me up up so it counts): Gardens of Awe and Folly is being published in the UK on July 15, which I only found out because the London office of Bloomsbury (my publisher) contacted me about it. They had been contacted by The Guardian newspaper, because apparently the Guardian cares about V. Swift and her gardens, and they want V. Swift (me) to write about the GoAaF and my 10 favorite garden books. So from hence forth my biography will read: Her writing has appeared in such name-dropping-worthy journals as The Guardian. 

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Well, some people would be impressed.

And the Goodest news: I’ve got a new ginger kitty showing up for breakfast. . . 

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Between me and Joanne, my neighbor, we named him Dennis Whiskabottoms.

. . . and I’m not even tired of my old ginger kitty yet!

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I have settled on being satisfied with smooching these doofus felines since they are as close as I’ll get to crossing off that last Item on my famous list of 2001, #4, Kiss a tiger, and I’m OK with that. About a year ago I started to seriously look into completing my list and soon discovered that there seems to be no ethical way to Kiss a tiger, any where in the world. I am ashamed to have ever let such a thought enter my mind: Whatever tigers might be available for kissing are typically drugged or mistreated into submission and I do not want to be a part of that, no way, no how. Here’s the news flash: tigers are not meant to be kissed. Or petted, or put on leashes, or kept in your back yard. They are meant to be left alone, in their native habitats, to be their solitary, apart-from-humans, and magnificent selves. So no tiger-kissing for me.

So what this means to me, the main character in my life, is that as of now, I am list-less, well and truly listless. I need a new list. 

That list of 2001 came to me in about 20 seconds. . . I suspect that my new list will take a bit longer. 

But, as you have read (above), it’s not all bad. Some of it is good, and gooder. Little by little, I’m finding reasons to wake up every day and say to myself, Oh, what a beautiful morning!

I hope your morning, this and every other one, is beautiful too.

 

 

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For example, Helen Mirren:

This is her in 1970:

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And this is her now:

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This was me last week:

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And this is me now:

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In the olden days we didn’t have blogs, and now we have a pain-in-the-ass internet that craps all over any blog you’re trying to get done, dammit.

Our street was dug up yesterday and now the internet keeps blipping on and off, so that’s why I’m at the library sending you this All Is Well teaser until our information superhiway is restored.

Good, great, and greatest things have happened since we last got together and I want to tell you all about it but, well, I need to crawl inside the series of tubes we call the world wide web, so. . . 

. . . stay tuned. 

I’ll be back.

 

 

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