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We set the clocks back one hour this weekend and, as Daylight Savings goes, so does my heart and all the joy that comes naturally with every Summer dawn. Time to prepare for Winter.

So here’s my check list:

One: Tabulate the annual Blessings of the Blue Jay Feathers:

An even dozen gorgeous Blue Jay feathers found during the Summer of ’18, with one Cardinal feather as a lagniappe.

Two: Get Steve’s shelter set up for his warmth and comfort from snow, hail, rain, and sleet from now until May.

No, that’s not Steve, and that’s not his shelter. This is Lickety, on Halloween, curled up in one of the cubbies I keep in the garage. He’s practicing for when it gets really cold out there. I put all new straw in all the cat shelters (I have four, in total; two cubbies in the garage, a rabbit hutch insulated with two down-filled sleeping bags and lots of straw in the backyard . . .

Last Winter

. . . and Steve’s space-age bachelor pad acrylic house with heating pad by the front stoop for the one cat who never, ever comes in the house no matter how brutal the weather gets, the one cat who keeps me awake at night if I think he’s not warm, and dry, and safe:

Three: Put in 32 storm windows. This is a very vexing task. I live in a handmade, 100-year old house on the North Shore of Long Island. Each window is slightly different, and none of them are standard. We never think to label the storm windows when we take them out in the Spring, so we always dread putting them back in in the Fall. And by “we”, I mean Top Cat.

Four: Dig out the special light I bought four years ago to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, the one I forgot to use the past two years because I bought a Himalayan Rock Salt lamp for the Winter of 2016 (when it was all the rage) that worked liked a dream but that I forgot to turn on for all of Winter 2017 (too distracted by the horror of American politics). I think I’ll need a double dose of light and vibes to deal with whatever crap der Drumpf is going to unload on us this coming year, when he fights off the Blue Wave (Vote Vote Vote).

Five: Commit to a mind-enhancing project. Something to challenge my way of thinking about the world and get me out of the house. I started taking American Sign Language classes a year and a half ago with a free class at the library, and then I took two semesters at a local college. I think I’ll stick with that.

Six:  Put a big quality-of-life-improvement project on the schedule. We still need to de-clutter our house, and Top Cat has never liked our round kitchen table and blonde wood Windsor chairs. Time to spruce up and simplify.

Seven: Togs. I want a new Winter sweater that keeps me warm and happy, or at least less miserable, at 15 togs. Basically, I want to feel as if I am wearing a duvet wherever I go. I don’t care what I look like. I just can’t stand being cold. I need extra-heavy-duty fleece.

Eight: Volunteer for a social project. This year, I am starting a new fund-raising event for the library and I hope to raise big buck but first, I have to change the by-laws so we can have an open bar in the reference section (for just one night! Not for all time!). You can throw all the kids’ events you want, but it’s the grown-ups who have spending money and they won’t come to your dinky library gala if there is no booze.

Nine: Dig into a new creative project. Something that will take all Winter. And months afterwards. Something that fires you up with a mission, something that makes you feel that what you are doing will make a difference and enhance other peoples’ lives. It’s time to write a new damn book.

Ten: Go say Hi to Orion, the one thing that makes us here in the Northern Hemisphere feel god about Fall. (I meant to type “feel good about Fall”…but I like the “feed god about Fall”, which  makes sense, when you look out at the universe on a crisp, clear Fall night.)

Last week, Top Cat woke me up at 4 o’clock in the morning, just after the meeting of the full moon, so we could put on our coats and go outside to see Orion in his rightful place among the brilliant stars of the Milky Way. It was cold, and ever so clear, and while we were staring at Rigel and Betelgeuse a shooting star arced across Orion’s belt. That must be a good omen for Winter of ’19. Vote Vote Vote.

We happened to have got such a good look at the heavens because we were here:

After spending three days in southern California we drove out to Searles Valley, in the middle of nowhere, 170miles east of Los Angeles. Top Cat wanted to see the Trona Pinnacles:

The Trona Pinnacle consist of more than 500 calcium carbonate spires (porous rock formed under water ), some as high as 140 feet (43 m), rising from the dry bed of Searle Lake, formed when this was an inland sea about 100,000 years ago.  The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and they now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.

We came to watch the sunset . . .

. . . and lo, on the other side of the valley, we also got to watch the moon rise:

We stayed in an AirBnB in the small town of Trona:

The next day we drove into Death Valley.

You all know Badwater Spring, the lowest point in the continental U.S., 279 feet below sea level (that’s 85 meters, in souless metric-talk).

But do you know Dante’s View:

Dante’s View is where you can climb 5,476 feet (1,669 meters) above sea level to look down at 279 feet below sea level. There is a whole lot to see in between, but rest assured that I will not bore you will holiday snaps except for this:

We turned off the main road for a side trip to go see an abandoned borax mine because I said I wanted to get a photo of the most boring thing in Death Valley. I mean, who on Earth wants to go see an abandoned borax mine? Its not like it’s prehistoric: it was abandoned only in 1888…what’s the big deal? If I wanted to see hundred-year-old bricks I could have stayed home.

Well, it was a good thing that we took this little detour because, when we pulled the rental car back onto the main road, our timing was such that we made a fine rendezvous with a coyote! Luckily, I had my camera handy as we watched him saunter across the desert towards the chaparral:

I had forgotten to pack a hat and shorts for this trip, so this was my hiking outfit:

When I’m not stuffing the hems into my socks so I don’t trip over them as I climb on my hands and knees up rock faces in Natural Bridge Canyon, for example, those pants are really cute.

Fun fact: The most common language spoken in Death Valley is French. French tourists love Death Valley. The place was packed with les Francaises. As I was coming down from Zabriskie Point, I passed a young mother trudging upwards to the look-out platform, towing a whining 10-year-old daughter who had clearly had enough of the heat and the boring scenery, and she said: Arrête, tu es comme une grand-mère! (Stop that, you’re like an old lady!)

The next day we drove to Las Vegas, but we had some marijuana edibles in the car (it’s legal in Nevada) and I had the bright idea “Let’s try some of that chocolate bar!”, under the assumption that eating marijuana makes it less potent than if you smoke it. I was wrong.

Eating marijuana means that it just takes a little longer to feel the effects, like, a half hour after ingestion before I felt the first part of my brain-pan lifting off from its moorings. From there, I was on a slow but steady glide into outer space. It was only an hour’s drive to Vegas. When we arrived, my mind was no where in sight, and I had to hold onto the walls of the hotel lobby to keep myself upright.

I never want to eat marijuana again, no thank you.

Happily, I was fine the next day, and I walked on the Strip with Top Cat, and happily I did not run into this lady while I was somewhere over the rainbow or else I would have been sure I was hallucinating:

Dear Reader/Commentor Elaine Holmes was right: where does that lady think she is? Walmart?

So I’m back home, where I want to be, prepping for Winter, counting the days until I can get out and Vote.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones, and Vote as if our democracy depends on it, because it does.

XXOO

 

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I’m trying to find a way to sell more used books. While we are making more money than we made last year at the used book store that I co-manage to benefit our local library (Bryant Library in Roslyn, Long Island, New York), I want to “grow” the business because I’ve promised myself a case of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the first time we hit the outrageous monthly goal of $500.00. And I really like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I like to drink it knowing that it’s for a good cause.

So I’ve started to make structures out of the books that no one wants. The castle (above) is my first attempt to make something enticing.

There’s an empty room at our library, a “Maker Space” for “teens”, that I’d like to fill with” teens” making Book Art. And I want these up-to-now-hypothetical “teens” to use our used book store as their art supply source.

BTW, when I was in that age bracket, I did not like being called a “teen”. I did not have a “teen” life, as was shown me by TV and LIFE magazine, and I hated every “teen” who did.

This was soooooo not me.

I am currently almost finished with my second structure, another castle made out of the classic illustrated YA novel, Half Magic.

It might surprise you that making Book Art is not nearly the dirty work that running a used book store is. Lately we have been receiving really filth donations — literally filthy. We get books that seem to have been stored in oily  garages for decades, we get books that have have been absorbing years and years of cigarette smoke, we get books that come from damp basements, we get books that have been pried out of dusty bookcases from the 1960s (we can tell because they are all Book of the Month Club sections, none more recent than 1972), we get books that have been colonized by spiders. Cobwebs are the worst.

This week we got a very nice donation from an SUV that had been caught in a sand storm. I unpacked the cartons in the hall way of our historic house, and had to wipe down every book cover to remove a fine layer of grit:

After wiping them down with a damp paper towel, every book had to dry off. And although this was a rather good donation, it also contained a book about how to manage your bowl disease. Really? You think a used book store would want that??

My favorite book of the week, however, is this one:

It was printed in 1962 and, I suppose, acquired that same year by Mill Lane Junior High School in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. But as you can see, this book was never checked out, not once, in its lifetime:

For 56 years, this book has waited for someone to care. But alas, its Due Date was never stamped.

That’s an ugly cover, but the title is killer, if you ask me. Uses of Infinity: I can picture a great fantasy novel with that title, or a moving memoir of loss and recovery.

Hoping to find something the lived up to its first impressions, I peered into its pristine pages:

Without actually reading the book, which I don’t have the energy or the smarts to do, I have surmised that Infinity is something that you can graph, which means that Infinity is something that you can quantify, or present in an arcane visual language. Who knew?

Some of the sub-heading are as good as poetry:

Wait. This book was purchased for junior high school kids?? No wonder it was never checked out.

THIS BOOK MUST BE MINE.

At first, I wanted to bring it home so I could cut it up and make mysteriously inspiriting collages out of it, but more and more I have the feeling that this book is an artifact of the colossal curiosity of its author, Leo Zipkin, and all kindred souls who find beauty and meaning in higher mathematics. Now I don’t have the heart to destroy it.

One of our volunteer book sellers was working last Friday and she left a note that one of the library workers had come into the book store and taken 8 novels “on loan”. She said that she wanted to read the cover copy to a house-bound friend, get her selection, and return the books she didn’t want.

All our novels, hard cover and paperback, cost 50 cents. 50 CENTS.

I put my foot down and wrote down our store policy for all future cases of such entitlement and cheapskatedness. We do not  “loan” books. WE ARE NOT A LIBRARY.

People are amazing, are they not?

Then again, we’re talking about people, and there are still people who love Donald Trump, despite the clear Helsinki-adjacent evidence that he and the Republican party are determined to destroy our democracy through alignment with Russia.

I get stomach cramps just thinking about it. The times are desperate, Dear Readers, and it makes me crazy. So I bring you stories of paper castles and equations for infinity because we all need to think about something else, now and then, other than the pure venality of the right wing, or we will go insane.

I also have kitty cats:

And I forgot to tell you that when I was in Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to check in with Mr. Fluffy, the horribly mangy, filthy, smelly, scraggly, skinny, sickly cat who I rescued from the streets in ’17, who now looks like this:

He’s gorgeous and he doesn’t know it. He’s a very sweet kitty. You can pick him up and smooch him, he doesn’t mind.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. Our country still has the chance to redeem itself.

And if you want to read up on the latest in the resistance led by two smart and smart-ass women of spirit and gumption and righteousness, click here:

JackieSue, Yellow Dog Granny

Juanita Jean, The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon

XXOO, Y’all.

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Me, somewhere in Tel Aviv, in 1988.

In the late 1980s I was a part-time gemology student (diamond grading, colored stone ID, appraising, etc.) and a full-time salesperson in a jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The job, like every other job in retail, sucked, because people suck, especially people who have nothing better to do than shop for jewelry.

Every morning, we sales “associates” had to come in early to pull all the gems from the vault to set them up in showcases. One morning I was setting up a showcase full of diamond jewelry when a security guard strolled by.

“Ah,” he said; “Diamonds, one of the gems from the Bible.”

Right: this security guard was an evangelical Christian, who walked around with a smile on his face because he was certain that the Rapture was coming any day now and all us non-believers were going to have to watch him be seated on the right hand of the Lord while we were thrown into pits of hell fire. He was inclined to drop Biblical musings into his conversation so this observation of his did not surprise me much. He also wore crappy three-piece suits with cowboy boots in Manhattan. He was supremely annoying in almost every way. I usually ignored him, but not this time.

You see, I was a totally obsessive gemology student, and diamonds were (and still are) a favorite stone, and I was also making frequent trips to Israel, so I didn’t even look up from my work  when I said, “You mean יהלום, Yahalom, as described in breast plate of the high priest in Exodus? Actually it wasn’t a diamond in the breastplate, I think you must have read a bad translation, because there were no diamonds in the Holy Land, so the word most likely refers a clear quartz rather than an actual diamond. Some scholars also think it might have been a jasper.”

Breastplates, and high priests, have long gone out of style in Judaism; since about 2500 years ago.

Truthfully, I was just being a know-it-all. I wasn’t trying to shame the guy for his naïveté. So, having finished showing off, I faced the jewelry store cowboy, and I will never forget the look on his face. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen someone look stunned.

I think this was the first time he’d ever considered that the Bible was not originally written in English. And, thus, several other sneaking suspicions might have crept into his brain-pan: That the Bible that he conspicuously read in the break room every day could not be quoted randomly as the word-for-word  capital “T” Truth; that this book of his required a lot of critical thinking, as opposed to blind faith; and maybe he’s not as superior as he thought he was.

After a moment of silence, he nodded and backed away.

I think about this guy in the jewelry store every time I hear radical Christians hauling out the Bible for a good thumping in order support their opinion about Right and Wrong.

It’s been another wearying couple of weeks in America. Melanoma Drumpf has proved to be every bit the shit heel as every other Drumpf; the conservative-packed Supreme Court upholds gerrymandering to sideline minority and Democratic voters; Jeff Sessions is still AG, little kids might never be returned to their parents, and der Drumpf is still picking on Canada.

At a campaign ally in South Carolina on Monday, June 25, der Drumpf was speaking in support of the GOP nominee for governor, and as the Toronto Star reported:

“Trump’s speech was rambling even by his own rally standards: it involved extended criticism of three late-night television hosts, musings on his hair, an unprompted denial that his wife recently had a facelift, an accusation that the news media is “the enemy of the people,” numerous boasts and false claims, and another recounting of his triumphant performance in the 2016 campaign.

When Trump eventually got around to Canada, he began by saying “Canada” in a loud, exaggerated voice.

Canada. You know, Canada: nice guy, nice guy,” he said, extending his arms in a kind of conciliatory gesture. “Prime minister. Justin. I said, ‘Justin, what’s your problem, Justin?’ So: Canada. O Canada. I love their national anthem. O Canada. I like ours better, however. So. No, Canada’s great, I love Canada.”

There could still be a happy ending to the tale of the miserable pile of Drumpfs and their idiot Drumpf-dom. After all, once I got my gemology degree I moved on to Christie’s auction house heading up the Faberge department, and then I started to freelance as a feature writer, and then books. See? Happy Ending.

So let’s bring this blog post to a happy ending by checking in with the cat herd here in Vivian World. I took this photo at 9:30 last Sunday morning, after Top Cat and I had finished reading our New York Times and had given over the new couches to Candy, Bibs, and Taffy:

Bibs was the very picture of Happy Dreaming:

And this was the gang four hours later:

Have a great weekend, everyone. May America’s tolerance for vile stupidity reach its tipping point very soon, and may hordes of decent citizens rid us of the plague called Drumpf.

 

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Darling Readers, before we get to our usual Friday examination of the fascinating details of our extraordinary life on Earth as we know it  (immediately following), I ask you to take a minute to read this. Because attention must be paid.

The world lost one of its greats this past week:

This is El Nino (in mid-yawn). El Nino was dropped off at a shelter in New Jersey about 15 years ago. He was already an adult male, and he had such a big personality, and demanded so much attention, that the staff there named him after a very troublesome weather system. He was funny, smart, happy, and supremely self-confident. He was greatly loved by all, but he didn’t “show well”, so  he remained unadopted week after week.

My sister Buffy was a volunteer at that shelter. She saved the lives of hundreds of homeless kitties and, long story short, she rescued the hard-to-place Nino, and sent him to me, and I cared for him for two or three (four?) years until our other sister Amy, who was living abroad but long last came “home” and met the inimitable El Nino, and she did her magic and miraculously matched this boy with his perfect, soul-to-soul, new-to-cats forever family because of a fabulous person she met in Ukraine (I know!). She insisted that this family adopt Nino; they met him; it was love at first sight.  They kept his name, El Nino, which I always thought was a hoot, as they are Indian-American.

Nobody ever loved a cat more than this family adored El Nino. They were devoted to him. My sisters and I, all cat ladies to the max, have never seen a family more spiritually and emotionally bonded with a cat than Nino’s people. They even published an annual calendar, 12 months of Nino.

Then Nino got old and his health became fragile, and in the past years, they did whatever it took to ensure his comfort — eventually they had to wake up every few hours in the middle of the night to give him his food and meds.

But last week, in the heart of his dear family and surrounded by their undying love, the mighty spirit that was El Nino was gently gathered to the ancestors. The news, from hundreds of miles away, has hit me and my sisters very hard. I am typing this through tears.  I know the loss of Nino devastates his family.

The message that we got from Nino’s people, which was full of their love and reverence,  ended: Please join us in praying for him, may his soul Rest In Peace.

Amen.

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Get your cats and your tea ready:

We are painting today!

No, not this: This is from 2010 when I was painting a page from my book Gardens of Awe and Folly with the help of Coco.

This:

This is a photo from the archives of the New York Times, which sent a photographer to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny in 1922.

In 2012 the New York Botanical garden photoshopped the “unidentified person” next to Monet out of the pic and colorized it for a show there, in which Monet’s garden at Giverny was re-created in one of the hot houses (I thought it was an odd show) :

FYI: Monet preferred fawn-colored tweeds for his suits.

I always paint from photo references, and usually I only use my own photos. . . but I’ve been known to borrow pix from other sources (Hi Jeanie! Hi Elizabeth!), and this photo of Monet at age 82 on his Japanese bridge is irresistible, don’t you think? P.S.: I used the black and white photo for my paintings. The colorized one is not helpful.

I gave it a go way back in 2012:

Way back in 2012 I was still getting used to painting “large” pictures (as a miniaturist, my preferred format is about one-eight this scale) so no wonder the pic stinks.

Last year, after painting many “murals” for my garden book (5 inches x 7 inches is about the maximum size I can go), I had another try:

This painting is ripe for a rescue.

The smartest thing I did, when I re-painted this pic in 2012, was to leave a bit of blue sky in the top right corner. It’s not there in the reference photograph from 1922. I made an edit. I like it better with a bit of sky.

I have to rescue this pic two ways: I have to make it not stink, and I have to make it fit a square format. Lately I’ve been playing around with breaking my pictures out of a rectangular format, and playing with Monet’s own style. . . and that’s what I decided to do with this picture. I decided to leave the top bit intact (but make it better with added color and shading), and to expand the bottom, watery bit, but do it to look like this:

Sorry: I forgot that I do watercolor tutorials on my blog so I’ve already re-painted the top section and glued in a new bottom bit, and here is where we pick up this rescue:

Let me tell you, it was not easy to figure out how to add width and length to the bottom part of this pic. I thought I was good at piecing things together, but this one was harder than it looked. After fiddling around for about an hour, I got it right. . . this is what it looks like from the back:

The first order of business is to camouflage the hard edges. The good news is that there are reeds on either side of Monet’s Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny:

Spoiler alert: I know YOU see it now, but I will not notice that the sides of this rescue are uneven until the very end and I will have a mini-crisis because of it.

If you examine Monet’s paint surface closely, you will see that he uses short, dabbly brushstrokes:

I actually find Monet’s brushstrokes to be a bit wimpy. He is not very daring with his use of paint. COLOR, oui; paint, non.

I can see that Monet paints his lily pads blue, and the water green: Weird, huh? I can also see where Monet puts his light dabs of paint towards the center of the scene and his dark dabs of paint towards the edges, so I am trying to copy his color placement as best I can but, really, I don’t know what I’m doing and am just guessing, starting with dark green and switching to medium green:

Dashing in dabs of blue:

Finishing with lightest green:

The only advantage that watercolor has over oil paint is that watercolorists can use the whiteness of the paper to add sparkle to the painted surface. I am not trying to cover every bit of paper when I dab because leaving “blank” areas will only improve the faux-impressionist look I am going for.

When painting the reflections of the reed (or the willows) in the “water”, I use broken lines:

I also make sure that I place the darkest “reflections” correctly before I paint in the rest of the bits:

Here is where it occurred to me that I must show you a very handy painting tip: I keep my pre-painted picture safe from spills and dropped brushes loaded with paint  (it happens all the time) by inserting it into one of those plastic sheet protectors that you can get at Staples:

This is pretty close to how I set up my work space:

You can see that I am using my teeny tiny Winsor Newton paint set along with a few of my cheap-o Grumbacher chalky paints for this picture (tea bag included for size ref). And that’s it! It doesn’t take much equipment to paint your heart out!

Back to the rescue: now that I have come to the foreground of this picture, I have a decision to make about the size of the brushstrokes I’ll be using in this area. As a miniaturist, I’m happy using itty bitty strokes with a 00-size brush for the back and middle-ground of this picture. But it seems to me that the length of the strokes should increase as the picture comes “closer” to the viewer. I am not happy doing long brushstrokes with a bigger brush, so I did some practice bits before I committed paint to paper (I would hate to screw this up at this stage of the rescue):

OK, I think I can live with the longer strokes. So now that I have a plan, I go back to the right edge of the picture (because I am left-handed, my pictures usually start on the right side and work towards the left) and fiddle with the last bits of the pond surface. I have differed from the Monet painting which I am using as my guide in that I made a large area of the pond surface blue, rather than paint it in as green, just because I like the blue. I have to admit that, having painted in this nice pool of blue water, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it in a way that makes sense visually. I am hoping for the best as I lay in the dark reeds’ reflection:

Another thing that I do, just because I like to, is that I “ripple” the surface of the water:

To do this, all you have to do is take a brush loaded with clear, clear water and swipe it back and forth across a painted surface, which picks up the pigment like an eraser (remember to wipe the brush off on a paper towel before you re-load it with clear, clean water for a second swipe).

Now I use my huge (ha ha, that’s a joke: it’s a size 1) brush to make those long strokes I practiced:

I think I painted that area too dark:

So I let it dry and then I use bright white acrylic paint to dab over the dark bits:

Looking at it now, I think I could have left that area alone — the dark bit doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was in the throes of hoping not to ruin the picture when I was so close to the finish, but what can I say? I panicked.

I dash in some blue paint and look at those ENORMOUS brush strokes!:

For this last bit, I go easy on the vertical reflections (I use very watery paint and I don’t do much detail):

The last thing I have to paint are those damn water lilies. You can see that Monet put a lot of white/pink flowers in his picture:

I don’t want to do as many because although Monet can get away with it, I think that all those flowers in my picture would look cheesy. All you do is dab on some solid blobs of bright white acrylic paint over the watercolor:

Highlight the acrylic with hot pink, leaving at least half the lily in white :

DONE:

When ruling out the picture for the crop, I realize that OMG OMG OMG I measured the scene incorrectly:

Whew. Thank DoG I had barely enough of a margin to go back and fix it!

And this is how this illustration will look on the page:

 

The next time you see this picture I hope it’s in a book about Monet’s garden.

This biography of Stevie Nicks (who needs no introduction) is not an authorized biography, so it has no contact with Stevie’s inner life — but it is excellent when it deals with her work life. The author, Stephen Davis, is a veteran rock journalist so he knows his way around a recording studio and the way in which songwriters cobble together their hits, and I was fascinated to read about the process Stevie went through whenever she had to come up with material for a Fleetwood Mac or a solo album.

Stevie hoarded all her song ideas for years and decades, in notebooks and on cassette tapes, all her bits and pieces — a title, a riff, half a verse, a whole song that never quite gelled — and this is where she started whenever she had to come up with new material. She rifled through her old journals and cassettes and looked for bits of gold dust. I loved reading this because that’s what I do! I never throw anything out!

A few weeks ago I showed you how I re-cycled bits of failed paintings (which I had kept in my Reject File for about three years) into a rescue:

I only wish that I had a producer on hand to direct me on how to spiff-up my pix: Stevie, on the other hand, had access to the best and she was very shrewd when she picked her collaborators and her producers. Producers can be crucial: one will hear something in a song fragment or idea that had been languishing for years, and he can turn into something powerful, something that Stevie would never have thought of on her own.

Edge of Seventeen, for example, is a song that was just a little pop ditty until producer Jimmy Iovine put a stinging Waddy Wachtel guitar riff on it.

Speaking of seventeen:

We must salute the awesomeness of the teenage students of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School. You can visit the school’s website for tips on how you can support the political action of these amazing kids, or you can to to their  GoFundMe page,  or you can open up a can of whoop-ass and vote to defeat every sniveling, corrupt, crazy, and gutless psycho NRA-loving son of a bitch politician in 2018.

Stay sane this weekend, everyone. I know it’s hard: the NRA idiots are out already, claiming that the latest school shooting is another Sandy Hook hoax. But stay strong. We need you to not let these morons drive you crazy so we can get out and Vote Them Out.

XXOO

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What can I say? It’s the middle of Winter and my ass is dragging. If you are reading this it’s because I haven’t posted this week’s scintillating content yet BUT IT’S COMING.

All I need is another cup of tea and some more toast and I’ll be good to go with the typing and the telling and the  enlightening.

And when I get go-going, I will explain this:

No, this is not another work of art by a human being with stellar arts world credentials. This is the work of an arts collective known as “my cats.” The story will make you go-go Awwwwwwww.

In the meantime, get up and do a happy dance! It’s Friday! (We love you always, George Michael.)

 

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 Wednesday night, the night before the Winter cyclone hit the northeastern United States, I set out your first  Champagne-O-Meter of 2018  to record all the nastiness that this blizzard could dump on Yours Truly.

Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

The REAL snow started falling around dawn (7:19 am), so that by 8 o’clock visibility was lousy:

9:30 am:

(Then I was painting and forgot about the storm for a blessed two hours.)

11:30 am:

The snow was pretty much over by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t rise any higher than this (above) and I was busy shoveling and being miserable so I didn’t take follow up pix (sorry).

Here is the cause of all my misery today:

If you remember (from last week), I had installed Steve, our three-year old outdoor cat, into a spiffy straw nest under the holly tree by our front stoop. WELL. There have been big developments in the Steve Situation this week.  Thanks to the ingeniousness of my husband, the dear sweet Top Cat, Steve now has a specially-made, extra-strength outdoor kitty HEATING PAD in his nest:

Now, this is not my preferred Steve Situation. I would prefer it if Steve would come inside, but I’ve been trying to coax him all year and he has NO interest in becoming a house cat.

My second choice would be for him to install himself in his cubby in our garage, like he did last year; I’ve put all new straw into his cubby so that he could hunker down in a toasty cocoon, if he chose.

Here’s Taffy, who is clearly the smartest cat in the herd, using Steve’s cubby on Tuesday night:

Oh, I wish Steve would crawl into this space and let me have a good’s night’s sleep, knowing that he was warm on these bitter cold nights. But so far this year, he has not gone near the garage.

So, last weekend, making the best of a bad Steve Situation, I got busy making him a new cubby. I used the top of an enclosed kitty litter tray, cardboard, and one of those space-age mylar/aluminum thermal insulation blankets that I bought at REI:

I cut cardboard inserts that fit the kitty litter tray lid, and I wrapped them in the thermal blankets:

I put this awesome contraption on top of the heating pad and, to lure Steve back into this new, improved Steve Situation, I tossed in some of his favorite treats:

It was a bitter cold 10 degrees out there, and when I put my hand inside to refill the treats, the inside of this new, improved Steve Situation felt sooooo warm!! And Steve was happy to step inside this new, improved Steve Situation to eat the treats, and then he was happy to make a quick exit.

Over and over, I threw in Steve’s favorite treats, and over and over Steve refused to spend any quality time curled up inside. We played this game over the course of seven hours but I could not get Steve to not freak out about being enclosed in this new, improved Steve Situation, so finally I had to remove the new cubby. For my own peace of mind, however, I put up  pieces of  plexiglass that I hoped would protect him from the on coming Winter cyclone, and Steve was content with that:

On Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

This was before the wind became really fierce and before the snow started to fall like crazy and Steve’s Situation became complete covered in snow. I gave Steve his breakfast, and I shoveled the front stoop, but Steve abandoned the nest shortly after 9 o’clock. I shoveled a path through a foot of snow from the front stoop to the garage, and I kept it clear all day with repeated shovelings and I’ve been calling him all day, but I haven’t seen Steve.

At 4 o’clock, I removed the entire nest. That is, I cleared out all the old straw (there was a LOT of it)  and I took the wet fleece cover off the heating pad. I laid down a LOT of all new, clean, dry straw (I buy it by the bale each Fall) and I covered up the heating pad with straw, too. So the nest is nice and warm again. But no Steve.

I am heartbroken, but all I can do is wait, and hope that Steve comes back home.

But let’s take our minds off the Steve Situation and let’s paint something. There is a view of Claude Monet’s famous Japanese bridge in his water garden in Giverny, France that I really, really hate:

I really hate having to paint this bridge. I don’t like doing structures, and I don’t much like having to paint wisteria — it’ such a persnickety flower. And, as you can see, I’ve already given it a few tries, with little success. But, since I’m doing a book about Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge must be painted.

So, in this forth attempt, I changed format a bit to put the bridge off-center and to include some background context for added interest. I like to start with the hardest part of a painting as a way of cutting my losses if it doesn’t turn out well, so that’s why I had the background almost completely finished before I started to do the wisteria:

I wanted to have “fun” with the flowers here, and get some groovy purple-blue bleeds going on:

I also had fun doing that deep background bit that you at the very end of the Japanese bridge. But at this stage, the wisteria didn’t look right to me — the shape of the blossoms wasn’t right:

Time for a famous Vivian Swift rescue.

First, I painted a small bunch of wisteria and cut it out:

Then I check to see if it fits the scene:

Then I glued it in place:

Next, on my third attempt, I came up with a larger piece that had interesting bleeds:

Now for the annoying bits. The vines:

The “superstructure” — the supports of the canopy over the bridge:

The annoying fiddly bits of railing:

I wish I could leave it just like this:

But no, I can’t leave it like this. I will have to paint the walkway of the bridge. Even worse, I’ll have to paint it as it would look on a sunny day, which means I’ll have to paint the shadows of the railings.

I don’t mind shadows. See page 28 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The problem I have with these shadows on Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is the photographs that I am using for reference for this picture.

First, there’s this photo that I took when I was in Giverny in December of 2015:

I’m also using a photo of the bridge that I took in early May of 2013:

As you see, in both instances the sun was not making an appearance. I have no idea what this view look like on a sunny day!

But part of my job as an illustrator is to use my imagination, nest-ce pas?

Tune in next Friday to see how — if — I pull this off.

Until then, I will keep this post open for updates on the Steve Situation and, if he makes me the happiest cat lady on Long Island by making a re-appearance, I will IMMEDIATELY let you all know.

Please, Steve. I’ve left the porch light on. Please come home.

7:37 pm, Friday night: STEVE IS HOME!!!

It’s been about 30 hours since I last saw Steve, and temperatures have been frigid. I have been calling for him day and night, and today I even waded into knee-deep snow to hunt for Steve’s body underneath the shrubs that border our property. I feared the worst.

Tonight, Top Cat and I had just finished dinner and I was going to start washing up but the thought passed through my mind that if Steve is Out There, he probably hasn’t eaten in a day; I should put out a fresh food. So I filled a bowl with kibble, opened the front door…

….AND THERE WAS STEVE, HOLLERING AT ME FOR BEING LATE WITH THE GRUB!!! As if nothing had happened. Mind you, I had called for him earlier, at 5 o’clock (normal diner time), and at 6…BUT HERE IS !!!

He’s still eating his first bowl of food, with a side of fresh water. I OF COURSE will stay close and see if he needs more. His heating pad has been on since dusk, at 5 o’clock, so if he stays the night he can curl up in his nest and all will be forgiven.

OMG OMG OMG. I cannot tell you how relieved I am — I have been morose and scared and depressed since he lest on Thursday morning. Thank you, Universe, for bringing STEVE HOME!!!

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My big sore nose still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to make me whiney and cranky. And then I was pulling out of my gym one morning last week and saw this:

According to a woman who was one car and two minutes ahead of me, the Lexus SUV didn’t stop to let the truck make the curve; the Lexus SUV driver saw the big truck turning towards her, but she just blew on her horn and rammed right into the undercarriage of the 18-wheeler. This is not unusual for Long Island Lexus people. Long Island Lexus people think they own the streets. However, I never thought that one would be stupid enough to play chicken with an 18-wheeler…but I guess I was wrong.

So that was one consolation for my nose woes: at least there was one other person who was having a worse day than I, and oh how sweet that it was a Lexus person!!

And then it rained for two days; and then we had a house guest for two days; and then we were really tired from having a house guest for two days, and then OMG it has been beastly cold here on the north shore of Long Island this past week. So, No, we have not trekked out to our favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island yet this new year to glorify our drinking habits with a fancy Solstice theme, so, No, I don’t have any pictures of the sun set to show you.

But I can offer you a photo of the Breakfast Club at my house:

That’s my neighbor’s cat, Dennis, second from the left (above). The rest are all mine. I’m rich with cats.

It’s been so cold this week (20 degrees F) that I was fretting about my outdoor cat, Steve. So today I added two wind break/walls to Steve’s little nest under the holly tree by my front stoop, and I piled up lots of additional new straw so that when he steps into his nest, he sinks up to the tippy-top of his ear-tips into a nasty-hamock of cosy, insulated, all-natural fibers:

He seems happy here, and he’s got a cubby in the garage in case he ever wanted to curl up inside an insulated kitty house. But it still doesn’t seem right for a kitty to spend his days and dark, freezing nights outside, but Steve resists all my attempts to lure him indoors so I fret. Yes, I do. I fret.

I also fret about my “job”, which is to paint Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France. This (below) is the scene I want to paint, a part of Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, called The Ladies’ Circle:

These photos are from my 2013 visit to the garden (not my 2015 visit), in May when the cherry trees were in bloom:

No wonder Monet never painted this part of the garden, and no wonder that I have never seen this part of the garden photographed for any of those grand coffee table books about the garden:

This part of Monet’s garden is impossible to portray as picturesque. It’s partly because of the lay of the land — a lawn bordered by flower beds on the sloping terrain — and partly because that huge Paulownia tree (which has a very ungraceful trunk):

I have tried, and tried, and tried agains and again, and failed each time, to paint this place as a Spring scene, so my new strategy has been to try to paint it in Summer, when the tree’s ungainliness will be partly hidden by foliage. I also changed my point of view.

The most crucial part of this painting is the background, which must indicate abundance and frothy greenery without getting specific. On my FOURTH try, I got this:

Ideally, the background blobs should sound something like a cool pop song from the olden days. Kind of glamorous, like Petula Clarke singing “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling”. Or, from the ’80s: Everything But The Girl doing “Miss You”. Know what I mean?

My favorite way to create a background that doesn’t overwhelm the picture with information, yet still creates a bit of interest, is to let the watercolor bleed into thought-provoking shapes:

I just realized that my preferred background music (see above) is a sad song about rain. I might be kind of depressed.

That damn Paulownia tree is just too quirky for my tastes, but I have to report it as faithfully as I can since this is for a picture book about Monet’s garden. I just can’t re-invent the bits I don’t like:

I’m hoping that the right crop will bring this pic to life:

OK, painting the flowers was fun:

And then I painted in a little, but necessary, tree and ruined the pic. Still, it was one of the least crappy pictures I’ve painted of this impossible view:

Lower right, that’s how the wrong little tree ruined the pic.

So far, all my attempts at panting this maddening Ladies’ Circle look like this:

But I’m a Capricorn. I’m scrappy. I’m determined. I’m conceited, distrusting, and unimaginative (according to any Air, Water, or Fire sign). Capricorns are not cuddly people.

This pissant Ladies’ Circle will not defeat me.

I’m good for ONE MORE TRY.

Done. Maybe. But maybe not.

On second thought, definitely not. Which comes as a surprise to me, since I only loaded up all these pix because I thought I’d got it, finally. So this is an unexpected twist to today’s blog. I hate when that happens.

I had a short discussion the other day, with Top Cat, about New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.  TC doesn’t want to make any, and that’s fine; we usually don’t bother. But we were very stick-in-the-muddish this year and we want to travel more in 2018 so we sat in silence, each of us trying to think of a place we really wanted to go to. Then we had a few more glasses of wine and I got a brilliant idea about what I should do with my life, and I jotted it down, and the next day I checked my scribbles and the message I had for myself for what to do in 2018 was this:

Hang out with owls.

Yeah. I’m going to see if I can make that happen.

Happy New Year to all you Dear Readers, whether it’s a Summer eve or a Winter one — I hope it’s the first day of a spectacular year, feathers and all.

P.S. I think I’m going to take one more stab at the Ladies’ Circle. Any suggestions?

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There used to be a blog post here, that had a picture of Taffy being passive aggressive with Bibs:

And how I successfully froze a small quantity of Vouvray while speculating on the pros and cons of drinking wine fro breakfast:

And how Top Cat and I are heading out into the wilds of Long Island to search for a paintable Fall leaf:

But then it disappeared and I apologize to the Commentors who were kind enough to leave a thought or two, and to all you Dear Readers who are wondering why there is not new news from VivianWorld this week . . .

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was 101 years, 4 months, and 26 days old when she died in 2002, a fact that was relevant to the blog post that the internet ate here.

. . . but I do not have the energy or the memory to re-create the Blog Post That Went Away.

 

Let’s meet back here on Friday and bring your watercolors and your patience. We’re going to watch paint dry!

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