Champagne-O-Meter

There were no robo-calls from the governor warning us to stay off the roads, the local TV news station did not break into my Judge Judy viewing time with dire forecasts of dangerous weather, and the cats did  not haul in extra firewood or stock up on macaroni and cheese in case our power was knocked out. So when I woke up on Saturday morning and discovered that had been blanketed with five inches of snow on the ground, I was totally unprepared. This had snuck up on me.

The huge holly bush in front of Steve’s cubby took the brunt of the storm. Steve stayed dry and cozy.

We called a Snow Day at the used book store because we didn’t feel like shoveling our cars out in 20-degree weather and I spent the day drinking tea and toasting a loaf of ciabatta. Not the whole loaf all at once. Every two hours I cut a ladylike slice and slathered various toppings onto it, from plain salty butter to spicy hummus, with peanut butter and melted cheese and butter-and-marmalade in between. I could eat nothing but toast for the rest of my life.

Saturday turned out to be a warm and sunny day so most of the snow had melted by Sunday afternoon, and that’s when came dire robo-warnings from the governor, the TV news casters losing their minds in panic forecasts, and the cats hauling in extra firewood and looking up Top Cat’s best recipe for macaroni and cheese. We were going to get it again, and this time it was going to be BIG, the BIG blizzard such as we, so far, have not suffered through here on the north shore of Long Island.

I went to the grocery store to stock up on essentials, and the Food Emporium was packed with lots of other people similarly preparing for disaster. This is when I thought to myself, “At times like this, I must remember to wear my wedding rings.” This thought came to me as I was standing on line at the checkout counter and the lady in front of me, no Spring Chicken herself, with a cart full of milk, bread, meat, green vegetables, fruit, etc., turned to look at me and said, “Ma’am, you can go before me.”

WTF?? She called me Ma’am! And she had to be, at least, within shouting range of 60!  WHO DOES THAT?? As if  I were some object of pity. . .

. . . And as far as I could reckon, the only difference between she and I was that she had a cart full of “family” food while  I was standing there holding 10 cans of cat food and a bag of Cheetos, and no wedding ring. As if I were a single cat lady who was going to die alone and whose body would not be found until the neighbors realized it had been weeks since anyone had seen me out in my front yard yelling at the kids to stay off my grass. I was slightly mortified, but I took her up on her offer. I hate waiting in line at the grocery store on a good day, and this was not a good day.

Ad, by the way, I actually was “single” for a few days last week when Top Cat went to San Fransisco. I only eat Cheetos when he’s not around and I am missing him like crazy. He bought me some cute socks while he was on the Left Coast.

So, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday March 3, the cats and I set the Champagne-O-Meter out in the back yard and settled in for a snowy Sunday night:

First, it rained:

At dusk the flakes began to fall:

By dawn, the world was transformed and I was seriously considering putting left-over Cheetos on my toast for breakfast:

Call me a Romantic, but seeing a bottle of Champagne that looks like this (below) makes me fall in love (with alcohol):

For those of you who are not dipsomaniacs, there is a less boozy way to gauge the snow fall, something I call the Hutch-O-Meter.

Here’s the old rabbit hutch in my backyard on Sunday afternoon:

Here’s the old rabbit hutch in my backyard on Monday morning:

That’s enough about the weather and how easy it is to get on my Shit List (see: DO NOT EVER CALL ME MA’AM).

Not to blow my own horn, but I have been very busy, and very effective, raising money this past year for my local library. Between the stellar earnings from the book store that I co-manage, and the money I have coaxed out of various corporate and private sponsors for this miniature golf event I cooked up, I have raised $17,800 for the library through my volunteer time and effort.

To publicize the mini golf event to be held on April 6, I  get the display case in the library lobby (the same one that showed off my book art/paper castles in December) for the month of March. I am going to hang a big banner that lists all our corporate sponsors, and I’m going to put in my new Book Art (I call it,  Miniature Miniature Golf) to drum up excitement for the event.

You have not seen the new Book Art in its finished form, so here is the installation (they go together in pairs). NO. 1:

All the bears: Corduroy, Paddington, Pooh, and Baloo.

NO. 2 . All the bunnies — Velveteen Rabbit, Thumper, Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and The White Rabbit — with the crew from The Wind in the Willows:

The next pair I call Here Be Dragons:

That’s the big green dragon from the Inheritance series of YA novels; that’s the kid and his dog from Dragons Love Tacos; there’s Arthur the Aardvark, and the two girls from the cover of Where The Sidewalk Ends (looking forlornly at their golf ball, which has fallen into the cave below).

And beasts and ogres:

I’m so happy that there is a new How To Tame Your Dragon movie out this year!

The final twosome begins with Bilbo Baggins sitting outside his hobbit hole:

And this is the grand finale to the Miniature Miniature Golf saga, a scene of anarchy with cats:

You can’t see The Giving Tree very clearly, so here’s what is going down on that side of the scene:

It’s a golf club. The Giving Tree is giving a golf club.

And there’s Alice, holding a flag with the time and date of the library’s mini golf event:

I hope that these little scenes would encourage people to linger at the display case, burn the play date into their minds, and entice them to come back to the library and pay $5.00 per person to play golf.

Miniature Miniature Golf will be on view at the Bryant Library from March 10 to April 7.

I’m publishing this blog post on Thursday afternoon and it’s been so frigid this week that all the snow has now frozen into a solid land iceberg. On Sunday the weather will be in the 50s and it will be rainy — San Fransisco weather — and I hope all the snow and ice will be washed away.

I have found some interesting things in the donation bags at the used book store this week, and I plan to do a whole blog post about them next week, but here’s one little tidbit to tide you over:

Before there was an Air Force, there was an Army Air Forces, and this is a diploma from the huge facility on Miami Beach, Florida at the beginning of the war. Clark Gable trained here. The Army was in desperate need of administrative officers and they took men as old as 45. During the way, 30,000 men were graduated from Miami Beach. The graduates performed ground duties that would free up the guys who flew the planes from any responsibilities that might keep them from flying bombing missions.

Lucky for us, one of our volunteers knows the guy who dropped off the donation that contained this diploma, so we have notified him to come get this  artifact.  I found the diploma between the pages of a big heavy coffee table book called The Age of Suleyman The Magnificent, 416 pages published by Harry Abrams.

I have been wondering about the filing system in use, in which a WWII Army Air Force diploma from 1942 is filed into a book about the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1987.

I dislike Ottoman art, so at first I put this book in the “Kill” file; but then I had a second thought and retrieved it. I put a $2 price on it and maybe it will find it’s perfect reader, some day, out there.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. It can’t stay mean and cold forever, so let’s just grit our teeth and get through the next three weeks.

XXOO

 

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If you haven’t read about our dear sweet half-cat Dennis (Top Cat and I shared him with our neighbors) you can catch up with the him in the post that follows today’s usual blather about terribly important things such as weather, other cats, champagne, books, and stuff you can make out of books. We love Dennis to infinity and beyond.

Let’s start today’s drivel with Taffy on Wednesday morning, when that little brain of his, which is attuned to all the vibrations of this wondrous cosmos, detected an exciting snow storm barreling towards us here on the north shore of Long Island and celebrated with a roll in his favorite patch of dirt:

That’s Taffy’s mortal enemy, Bibs, watching him, thinking, How is it possible that this idiot is the boss of me?

A few hours later, here’s Taffy surveying the same spot:

And then his little brain sparks joy and he dances upon the flakes. It’s SNOWING!!

Meanwhile, on the front stoop, here’s Steve emerging from his super-cozy heated cubby to let me know that he’d like something along the lines of a nice turkey pâté, please:

And now, Dear Readers, due to a severe lack of snow here on the north shore of Long Island in the months of December and January, here is your very first Winter of 2019 Champagne-O-Meter!!

12:30 PM:

1:30-ish PM:

A little after 2:30 PM:

3:31 PM:

4:40PM:

Just before 5:30 PM:

6:45 PM:

It was an underwhelming blizzard, but the next morning, the Champagne-O-Meter was perfection:

There is nothing better than a bottle of bubbly that has been cooling deep in Nature’s ice bucket for ten hours. I wish I drank champagne for breakfast but I’m not that much of a degenerate, yet, so the Champagne-O-Meter been moved to the fridge, counting the hours until 5 o’clock.

So let us move on, from cats and champagne, to cats and books and stuff that you can make out of books.

I know you know what’s happening here:

And I know you know that I’m going to be making this tree and this cat out of paper and the books that I slaughter in the name of art.

To begin, I chopped a derder that I got when I used up the last of my paper towels:

Yes!! Did you know that that cardboard tube inside a roll or TP or paper towels is called a derder?

Now you know.

Then I inserted a taller, slimmer roll of bond paper inside:

This tree is going to be tall and top-heavy, so I need the double-stegnth of the two rolls, one inside the other, to make the tapered trunk. But I had to figure out how to make the inside roll stay in place and I have to confess, this is the part of making stuff out of paper that I LOVE.

I LOVE McGuyvering solutions to really stupid problems. So I came up with this:

BTW, that’s my diamond-grading tweezers. You need the needle-like tips to grasp a loose diamond and, it turns out, it’s also really good for grasping tiny bits of paper.

You see how the O-Ring slips over the inside roll, down to meet the top of the derder?

Now I have to stabilize the two rolls:

This is how I make the tree trunk into a taper:

DONE:

(With the taper. We have a long, long ways to go until we done with the tree.)

While you wait for the taper to dry (it’s loaded with Elmer’s glue), you can make some various size rolls and flat sticks that you will use for tree branches:

When the taper is dry, you take your scalpel and hack a hole into the side of the tree trunk:

Insert one of your small paper rolls:

This is OK if you want your tree branch to shoot straight out of the tree trunk. But if you want to make a bendy tree branch, you have to cut a little nick into the side of the paper roll like this:

Now you can fold the roll to make a bendy tree branch. You have to slather it with Elmer’s glue and sit holding it while it dries. and this is boring, but you can pass the time rehearsing in your head the scathing comments or bitchslaps you would give to any of the bullshit Kardashians if you would meet them in a dark alley or on a talk show:

Or you can use the time to compose sonnets. It’s up to you:

I don’t have any use for this page that I ripped out of little book that I cut up, except for the green bits in this illustration:

I am cutting out leaves (what a diamond grader would call a “Marquise cut”: ):

The Marquise Cut is a low-class cut in that it is shallow (a bad thing for a diamond to be) and is for people who want a lot of bling for the buck. It’s a showy cut, and is reserved for getting the most out of an inferior stone. I see a Marquise Cut (you pronounce the “S”) and I think, Tacky. It’s the diamond equivalent of riding a motorized scooter around a Walmart parking lot drinking wine out of a Pringle’s can, except that I definitely want to be best friends with that lady.

A good round cut is a very fine cut, but an Emerald Cut is divine.

I glue these leaves on one at a time, using my diamond-grading tweezers to place them onto the branches:

It is a very delicate and thoughtful and time-consuming operation that might drive some people crazy, but I find it extremely calming and mentally absorbing. I LOVE doing this.

This is what the tree looks like from behind:

Then I had to leave town and go . . .

. . . to FLORIDA! I had to visit my favorite Florida kitties, Sammy. . .

. . . and Mabel, wo had never seen a Winter coat before so she had to test drive it for kitty compatibility:

I left sunny warm FLORIDA on a Delta flight that for some reason tracked us as if we were flying out of West Africa to JFK:

Sorry for the red herring. But if I ever go back to Africa, which I probably never will, it would not be back to my old stomping grounds of the west; it would be to South or East Africa to see gorillas and to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

My theory is that the same computer glitch that had us flying out of the Gulf of Guinea also booked the plane with only 18 passengers:

There were 106 empty seats on this plane! It was the single greatest plane ride I have ever taken! No fights for the overhead luggage racks, no shoving for arm rests, and everybody got double free bevvies and snacks, and de-planing was a joy. A joy, I tell you.

And then I came home and finished the tree. . .

. . . except for the cat:

I did, I did vandalize a hard copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to get this cat, and then I put him in the tree whence he grins, and I saw that I ad made the tree too damn big. Bummer. Buuuuuuuummer.

P.S., I don’t mind that the tree looks very lumpy and home-made — that’s my esthetic — but in future I do want to concentrate on making more tree-like trees.

Well wouldn’t you know it — the used book store comes to the rescue!!

We got a donation that included this catalogue of all the best art and object sales in Christie’s showrooms for the year 1987 (and this is a shot of my work space because making book art is very messy). . .

. . . and I’m sure that we don’t have buyers for this book so perchance I opened it to check out the end papers to see if I should salvage them and OH MY GOD:

The universe must love me. I must be, like, one of its darlings. Don’t you always feel that way, when you take the time to count your blessings (and then use them as proof that you are indeed one way above-average and anointed being, or is that just me?).

Thank you, Great Spirit, for this 1987 record-breaking sale of original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel:

This Cheshire Cat is the right size, and it’s printed on nice heavy-card stock:

Here’s my new cat in the tree:

And that brings us to the end of this week’s installment of VivianWorld.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. Count your blessings, Dear Readers, however small, because we are all beloved equally by a benevolent and beguiling universe.

XXOO

 

 

 

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Late last week, on my daggy kitchen patio, here on the north shore of Long Island, this is the picture I took of the last, final, good riddance daggy pile of snow of the Winter of 2017-18 (Taffy strolled by just in time to give a sense of scale):

Ha ha. This week (April 2) all the rumors of another Spring snow storm came true. This is just one reason why Spring is my least favorite season. The other reasons are because it’s just a tatty, disappointing time of year.

Taffy doesn’t care if it’s Spring or not. He enjoys hopping and dashing around in the stuff any time it’s new and fresh and fluffy:

But it does tire him out:

Meanwhile, I, the completely crazy cat lady, worried that our front porch feral cat, Steve, might not have enough protection against this vicious Spring storm, so I rigged up some extra coverage for him (can you see him tucked up in his fleece-covered heating pad scooched into the straw nest that insulates his plexiglass hut under the other plexiglass lean-to behind the holly bush under the front porch eave?):

But let’s get down to business. Let’s do the Cross My Fingers Last Champagne-O-Meter of the Winter of 2017 -18.

This is what we woke up to, on Monday April 2 morning, on the den patio at approx. 7:00 AM:

One half hour later:

8:00 AM:

By 9 o’clock AM the Champagne-O-Meter had a really cute topper of snow:

Which this guy knocked off:

It was forecast that the snow would stop at 10 AM, and at precisely 10 o’clock AM, the snow stopped (how do they do that?), giving us a maximum snowage of this:

And let me tell you, it was beautiful. Every tree and bush looked like a big white fluffy feather, the world was whisper quiet, and the coziness was off the charts. Then it warmed up and got a little rainy and by 5 o’clock PM it was down to this:

And Taffy was down to this:

So, yeah, we’re back to the daggy end of Winter again and, now that I am finished painting the Damn Monet Book, I  am stuck working on the most daggy part of being an author: writing the book proposal.

This is the part where I show my publisher why the world needs one more damn book about Claude Monet, who is something of a cottage industry in the art world. Any museum director worth her salt knows that, if your gallery is running a deficit, all you have to do is put together an exhibit with the word “Monet” in the title you’ve got a sure-fire way of raking in the dough.

From 2016 to 2017, the money-maker was Painting the Modern Garden, Monet to Matisse that even got a theatrically- released film made out of it. The accompanying book of the exhibit is 328 pages long, weighs over five pounds, and costs almost $80.

That’s Monet’s painting of chrysanthemums on the cover. It proves my thesis that the only flower that Monet could paint well was the water lily.

This year the cash cow will be Monet and Architecture, which the Royal Gallery in London hopes will fill the coffers and which follows up on the 2010 spectacle, Claude Monet, a Retrospective that was held at the Grand Palais in Paris that drew 913,000 visitors in four months, the first show in France in over 34 years to out-pace the King Tut blockbuster of 1976.

It’s these kind of stats —  plus showing how the comparable best selling books are actually crappier versions of your own book which will out-sell those crap books — that you have to include in a proposal about your proposed Monet book. You need to show that there is great public demand for stuff about the Prince of Impressionists (965,000 people went to see a Monet exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago in 1995 and added $393 million to the economy of the Chicago metropolitan area because 72% of visitors came from outside the city), and how your humble book (48 pages; much, much smaller than a breadbox; light as an impression of sun rise; and kind of cute) will fulfill an overlooked yet lucrative niche in Monet-branded consumer goods.

Photo credit: Joel Comm, fellow author.

This is the very worst part of writing a book. Except for all the other parts of writing a book. Basically, writing a book is torture, but having written a book is bliss. Except for all the things that you wish you change if only you could start all over.

But I digress. What I really want to talk about is whether or not this cat is dead:

This is how my 17-year old Coco sleeps on her heating pad on her Ikea chair. Every time I see her like this my heart stops because I think she’s dead. I wish she would sleep like a normal cat and stop giving me mini-panic attacks.

But I digress. What I really want to talk about is that big shiny gold cross that Laura Ingraham wears:

She’s very Christian, and did you know that for Christians this was Holy Week? And that Holy Week is the one week when Christians don’t make fun of kids who survived a mass shooting in their school? Because, you know, while decency might come naturally to other people, the people who wear big shiny crosses have to have a special Holy Week to not be a shit.

Laura Ingraham has been practicing her Christian values since college, when she was the editor of a conservative newspaper at Dartmouth in the mid-1980s that secretly recorded a meeting of closeted students who were seeking support from the school’s small Gay Student Association—and then released a transcript of the meeting.

Meanwhile, count me in as a member of the Church of the Advertisers Who Pulled Their Ads Off Of The Laura Ingraham Show:

TripAdvisor 

“TripAdvisor believes Americans can disagree while still being agreeable, and that the free exchange of ideas within a community, in a peaceful manner, is the cornerstone of our democracy. We do not, however, condone the inappropriate comments made by this broadcaster. In our view, these statements focused on a high school student, cross the line of decency.” (Yeah, that’s the cross that Laura wears.)

Wayfair

“The decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values. We do not plan to continue advertising on this particular program.”

Liberty Mutual Insurance

The insurer has pulled their support for Ingraham’s show because her comments were “inconsistent with our values as a company, especially when it comes to treating others with dignity and respect.”

Bayer

Miracle-Ear

Ruby Tuesday

Atlantis, Paradise Island

Jenny Craig

Nutrish

Hulu

Stitch Fix

Expedia

Nestlé

Johnson & Johnson

Office Depot

Somebody say Amen.

Have a great weekend Dear Readers. May all your snow be melted, and may all your cats be alive.

 

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Grab your tea cups and fluff up the kitties: oh, yes, we will paint today:

But first, you know what happens when the 24-hour news shows are frantic with dire warnings about a frightful Winter bomb hitting the northeast from Washington, D.C. to Boston, burying us in a thousand inches of snow and thunder and frozen hell fire: We Get Out The Champagne-O-Meter!

For most of Wednesday morning my bottle of champagne sat in the back yard minding its own business, rolling its eyes at the smattering of rain that caused every school and my gym Long Island to shut down for the day. But shortly after noon, big fat flakes of wet snow began to fall:

The snow stuck like glue:

It was the worst kind of snow, too — weighty, sloppy, slushy, and did I say heavy?

I left the house at 3:30 so I could drive to the railroad station to pick up Top Cat, who was coming home early as most of Manhattan was shutting down and citizens were urged to Stay Off The Roads. I drove 20 miles per hour through five inches of icy slush while big fat heavy snow flakes kept obscuring the windshield in spite of the wipers swishing at top speed.

On the way home from the Long Island Rail Road station, Top Cat insisted on driving out to our favorite deli so he could get a cucumber. I insisted on staying with him in the car so I could continue to remind him that it was crazy to drive in this weather just to get a cucumber (Top Cat loves his dinner salad). We made it to the deli in one piece, but the deli was closed, of course. So we turned around and came home and Top Cat put extra olives in his salad to make up for not having a cucumber.

Thursday morning, the Champagne-O-Meter was slick with a thin layer of ice, just how I like it:

In between slogging out into the slushy snow every hour or so to take a photo of the Champagne-O-Meter, I kept myself busy on this slushy, snowy day doing my thing, which these days is all about Watercolor Rescue. Today’s Fixer Upper is this view of Claude Monet’s Japanese bridge over the lily pond in his famous garden in Giverny, France:

You might remember that a few weeks back I did a little study of Monet’s water lily painting technique by copying a panel from his huge murals that hang in the Orangerie of the Tuileries in Paris:

I happened to notice that the study could almost fit into my little Fixer Upper:

Hmmmmm. . . the reeds and the pinky colors of the reflections in the water could work in this view if only they could be re-painted, right? And thus, a RESCUE was born:

That (above) is the new bottom half of the picture — here it is in place:

Sorry about the way this stuff photographs. It looks wonky, but I assure you, it is a true square. After applying  masking fluid over the bits that I want to reserve, I paint along the cut edge of the new bottom half of the picture:

I wash in the pink and blue bleeds, trying to avoid getting them too mushy (I don’t want them to blend into purple):

Here’s them reeds:

I remove the masking fluid:

I paint in the reflection of the willow leaves, which I wish I had thought out more carefully before I put down the masking fluid. Maybe, just maybe, I could have skipped masking fluid here, and painted in the fronds over the wash — but, it’s too late now:

Step back and assess how we’re doing:

The reference that I am using for these lily pads is Monet’s own painting, which uses yellows and dark green and lots of light magenta to give those lily pads some oomph:

So that’s what I do. I add some oomph:

Oomphage achieved, or not:

and here is where I had to stop painting because of a kitty emergency. Coco, who is 17 years old, has suddenly stopped eating NINE DAYS AGO and of course I took her to the vet after day three, and there’s nothing obviously wrong with her…so I’ve been trying all various sorts of baby food, gruel, formula, syringe feeding, cheese…nothing has tempted her.

This afternoon, after trying so special adult cat Anorexic Diet, I decided that we had to take drastic measures. Even though she’s an old cat with a heart murmur, I told the vet that we had to sedate her and fix her teeth — because in my vast experience with cats, it’s always the teeth. I told the vet that if we lose her, we lose her; I’m already LOSING her and I can’t watch her starve herself to death.

So I’ve taken Coco to the vet and she is not at all happy. She will be sedated and the vet will be able to get a good look at her teeth.

I’m sure you all know what it’s like to have a very sick kitty in the house. The psychic misery is almost unbearable.

UPDATE: Coco has had three teeth removed and had her other teefers cleaned and repaired — she had cavities and some root damage. She was coming out of sedation when the vet called, so it looks like her heart didn’t give out after all! She’s got a heating pad and her favorite blue fleece with her, and she’ll stay at the vet’s over night so she can be given pain meds and the vet can watch her blood pressure.

So Coco isn’t dead, and I will be painting again tomorrow, and I plan on doing something “fun” with this picture. I am bored with just making look-alike illustrations…I want to do something playful and unexpected.

Playful and Unexpected.

And you can be sure that I’ll show it all to you next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. And if you have a bottle of champagne in your backyard, try adding a dash of vanilla vodka to your flute. Let’s call it “Sun set in Giverny.”

 

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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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November 2, 2017, and it still looks like Summer in my back yard:

We have a teeny tiny baby Japanese Maple out there by the old fence which Top Cat grew from a three-inch seedling. It’s supposed to turn a brilliant shade of scarlet in the Fall but I was wondering, since the season has been such s dud this year, if we would get any color from it in 2017…so here is a selection of the photos I took every morning, around 8am, to track the foliage of Autumn on Long Island.  That’s the Japanese Dogwood in the foreground — the maple is that bitty bright green bush in the back.

And then came December 9, 2017:

Righteous fluff!

This past Saturday gave us our first snowfall on Long Island and you know what that means!!

It’s time for the Cat-O-Meter!

Beginning shortly after the first flakes began to fall at approx. 10:55am,  I took approx. hourly photos of this feisty bunch of felines until it got dark, at approx. 4 o’clock pm. From left to right this is Candy, Taffy, Lickety, and Cindy:

As you can see, my cats move at approx. the same rate as glaciers.  Which means, movement that can only be detected by time-lapse photography.

Our next door neighbor’s cat, Dennis, was also with us during the storm, and he too obliged me with hourly photo updates on how he was coping with the weather (in our dining room window seat):

Dennis gave up his snow watch around the four-hour mark, and moved onto the dining room table, where I was folding laundry and he thought I needed the help of a kitty:

I kept busy on this cold and snowy day by working hard, painting so many new ways of not getting Monet’s garden quite right, and then I  painted two pictures that almost — almostGot It, which I will happily share next week by which time I HOPE TO HELL I will have painted something spiffy.

But until then, Dear Readers, no Long Island snow storm would be complete without the official Vivian Swift Champagne-O-Meter although in this case we are using a fine Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that is my current favorite tipple:

And then it was getting dark and the snow was topping out at approx. three inches and the wine looked to be just about perfectly Winter-Chilled. . .

. . . so that was the end of the first Champagne-O-Meter of the 2017 Snow Season and we put that bottle of Kim Crawford to good use. By pouring it into glasses.

No doubt, Dear Readers, you are as gob-smacked and high-falouti as I am about the way last Tuesday turned out at the Alabama special election for Senator. THANK YOU to all the good people of the Yellowhammer State for choosing decency and yes, it’s a sad day when you have to congratulate people on not voting for a racist pedophile Christian taliban, but we live in strange times and we are taking about Alabama, the Heart of Dixie.

Thank you, African-American voters who turned out for Doug Jones; Thank you, educated urban Democrats who turned out for Doug Jones; Thank you to the 22,819 Republicans who chose the write-in option for their vote (at least you didn’t vote for the pervert in the cowboy hat); Thank you to the unnumbered Republicans who switched their vote from red to blue.

To quote Frank Bruni of the New York Times, Alabamians showed The Powers That Be . . .

. . .  that there are limits to what voters will tolerate, in terms of the lies they’ll believe, the vices they’ll ignore and the distance they’ll stray from civilized norms.

If Alabama isn’t beyond redemption, then the country isn’t, either. To use a word that Moore would appreciate: hallelujah.

As I type this, Roy Moore has not yet conceded. He and his supporters are probably feeling as if God has played a mean trick on them, or maybe they think it’s the Jews what done him in.  But Alabama needs healing, so let me be one of the first to bring us all together, unite us as Americans, highlight the one thing that we call all agree on. And here it is:

 I know we can all agree that Steve is pretty damn cute, curled up in his little straw nest under the big bush on the side of the front stoop, snug and dry on a snowy day on Long Island.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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Last Friday’s little storm caught me by surprise, meaning that it blew into Long Island on the very day that the last of the stuff from the monster Winter Storm Jonas had melted, leaving me optimistically out of champagne, so all I have to show you today is a Pinot Grigio-O-Meter:

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The snow started at 9:30 and was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon which, on a snowy Winter day, was indeed a very Happy Hour. This weekend is predicted to be super cold with flurries, but rest assured that the Pinot Grigio has gone on to booze heaven and there is a new  Champagne-O-Meter awaiting its destiny:

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I’m so very happy to hear that last week’s Watercolor tutorial was very helpful to a number of Dear Readers. If you remember, we painted bark:

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Dear Reader Sandy Lane left a Comment that she did a happy dance after she painted her first tree (with or without Pinto Grigio, she did not say). And our own Felicia sent me a message — OMG It Works! followed your steps  and on my first try painted the best tree I’ve ever painted.  It actually looks like a tree! I’m beyond excited and so grateful for your tips. And she sent me proof:

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Very cool — I love the shadows and the background evergreens! Thank you, Felicia!

So, my Dear Readers, what shall we paint today? How about a nice flower garden? Like, the one in Giverny that I am currently obsessed with? The one that Monet tended for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926? You know, the one with the memorable allee:

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Yeah, that one. I’m using my own reference photograph to draw from:

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As usual, I am going to work in miniature, because painting small-scale is where I feel most at ease. First I get my sky in, and then I use my fattest brush to blob in some different shades of green:

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I am working wet-in-wet here — meaning that I dab in wet watercolor on top of already wet watercolors — because I like it when the colors bleed in interesting ways, like this:

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Oooooooo…I like this bleed so much that I am going to leave it alone, and do my best to make sure that it stays there as a part of the picture. I use my smallest brush to fill out the foliage on top, to make an interesting silhouette. As you can see, even though I work in miniature, I do my background in little bits and pieces; I work too slowly to be able to  paint a background (even a teeny background such as this) in one swell foop:

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This picture is going to take about three and a half hours to paint.

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One of the reasons it’ll take so long is because I take great care when I have to paint a dark background behind a light-colored object, in this case a small tree in the foreground. I have to say that painting in these fussy details is very, very relaxing for me.

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I do not have a relaxing personality. I’m a bit too cranky and antsy to be what most people might call “nice”.  I’m not built for meditation or contemplation or anything like introspection (I am not very deep), but I can get very Zen-y when I have to be gentle and calm to make itty bitty brush strokes around titter-bittier stuff in my teeny tiny illustrations. I just love the slow breathing and the patience it takes. My mind wanders, and I find myself having very gratifying hypothetical conversations with people I truly dislike, tete-a-tetes with pin heads in which I get the better of them with my outstanding wit and wisdom. Oh well. Even in my most serene moments, I like to argue with the world.

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By the way, I have to photoshop my fingers in these pictures in order to make them look all smooth and pink. It’s February and my hands are dead dry and chapped and most of my cuticles and finger tips are split and u-g-l-y. I just thought I’d let you know that I’m as guilty as Vogue magazine when it comes to faking an impossible standard of beauty. Sorry.

I’m very proud that I am painting this scene true to life, even though it means that I have to paint a red-leafed tree. I can’t stand red-leaf trees (I don’t know their names but I’m sure a lot of you Dear Readers can tell me). Trees should be green, period. Maroon trees depress me.

You can see how I am doing my best to show off that interesting green blob-bleed on the left side of the picture:

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And now for the FUN part! I get to paint the flowers!! Again I am working wet-in-wet, bleeding in blue and purple to make an interesting cloud-like pool of color, which I swipe through to make those vertical lines (for a change of texture):

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Time to finish that foreground tree:

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The detail that I’m adding in here are the extremely violet tulips that grow at the very top of this allee:

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I make the same wet-in-wet clouds of color for the other side of the allee:

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Monet painted his garden furnishings (including his Japanese bridge) a very vivid and unusual shade of green. I match his color by mixing a Winsor Newton (watercolor) blue-green with an acrylic emerald green — the acrylic paint has the “oomph” (the artificiality and opacity) that I need to make Monet’s arbors and trellises stand out amidst the jumble of his very “busy” garden:

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Like this:

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You can see what I chose to edit out of the scene that I ended up painting by comparing it to the reference photo again:

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Now,  if you compare that photo to this one I took from a very slightly different angle. . .

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. . . you can see that I have left out that tall poplar tree smack in the middle of the view:

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I really don’t like the way that poplar tree juts up in the center of this view. But, *sigh*, I know that I will end up putting it in, however, for now I can’t bear it. Also, you can see that I go easy when it comes to painting in at the necessary darks in the background — call it lack of confidence, or fear of making the whole thing look too muddy. But I also know that I’ll have to go back and dab in some chiaroscuro as soon as I get the nerve to do that poplar tree.

These are all the exact same issues I will be dealing with when I paint this other view of the allee:

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In my world, this is a mural. But that’s for next week.

The other news in VivianWorld is that I got my hands on a pre-publication copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly. Bloomsbury mailed me my official Author Copy.

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I took it out of its wrapper and put it on the little table in the hallway where I dump all of our junk mail. I made a cup of tea, and I went to eBay for some reckoning-avoidance shopping (why are all the cool vintage Monkees T-shirts only to be found in the UK??). Then I went to my cardio/kick boxing class at my gym, and I stopped by Loew’s to buy 40 pounds of bird food, and when I came home and did a load of laundry and watched  Judge Judy. Etc.

OK, it wasn’t until the next day that I opened the book for inspection. As always, Bloomsbury has done a superb job making this book a lovely object to hold in our hand. The illustrations are colorful, the binding is archival, the quality of the paper is fine-arty. And then I found one mistake in text layout that is all my fault (I indented a line that should have been left flush) and I slammed it shut.

All in all, I find that the DGB is indeed a lovely book full of wisdom and humor that I desperately wish I could re-write and re-draw all over again, just so I could make sure it is 100% indisputably, with-a-doubt, painfully and putatively pluperfect. I am in agony. The book is done, I can’t futz with it and more, it’s out there and I can’t reel it back in for just one or a few thousand more tweaks.

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And then a professional garden writer and horticulturist named Nina Koziol called me up and interviewed me about the DGB for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and website and she didn’t once tell me that I got it all wrong, and we had a delightful chat about the wacky world of gardeners. . . so whew. Maybe I pulled it off.

17 days until pub date. March 1, y’all. I think I’ll send the day in bed.

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How To Make a Champagne-O-Meter for Winter Storm Jonas

Step One: Set a bottle of your favorite bubbly on the back lawn. Wait for snow. Or go to bed, since the forecast calls for snow to start falling at 2AM and sorry, only a slow dance with a Beatle is worth staying up that late for.

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Step Two: Wake up next morning and check for accumulation:

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Step Three: Gather together your Winter Storm Survival Kit (a 1,000-piece picture puzzle, Trader Joe’s fish sticks, homemade black bean soup, plenty of indoor champagne) and then do what Taffy does:

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Step Four: Sleep late the next morning and then head out to the back yard:

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Step Five: No, 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is NOT too early to open this baby up.

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And yes, the best place to see a really beautiful Winter sunset is by standing out on your roof…

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But chilling champagne and hanging out on my roof wasn’t the only thing I did last weekend. I also spent some time painting some really truly hideous pictures.

It all began with this photo:

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This is the entrance to the famous garden in Giverny once owned by Claude Monet, photographed by me on May 15, 2013. Those are some miniature apple trees trained to grown horizontally along a wire fence, and in the background is a multitude of cherry trees in blossom and those really tall trees in the far back are in Monet’s water garden. That weeping willow to the far left is the one that Monet painted so often when he did his water lily pictures.

So two weeks ago I decided to try and paint this view:

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Done:

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Yeeeeech. First of all, I drew the apple trees incorrectly. Also, the tree line in the background is very unattractive. I regret my decision to paint in those arbors with the pink flowers in the middle-ground. And the whole picture is too dark, mostly because I used black to give the apple tree foliage some depth, some kind of definition to make them stand out as forms:

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This is very discouraging. I don’t feel good about myself when I spend four hours painting something that turns out to be dreck. But what else can I do but take a break, wait to be snowed in, and start again:

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Done:

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Yeeeech. I thought that changing the perspective by raising the horizon would help the composition, and I didn’t paint in a sky — which I now realize was a dumb thing to do. Those arbors that were so noticeable in Yeeech Picture No. 1 are now merely hinted at by stroking in some faint lines in the pink haze — also a dumb move. And the  apple trees still aren’t doing it for me.

So, I start over again:

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I’ve already decided that I’m going to do something completely different with the apple trees: I’m NOT going to paint them leaf by leaf — that is just the wrong way to handle these things. So I started by blobbing in some apple-tree forms and when they looked OK, I committed to the picture and painted in the sky.

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I’m only going to add teeny tiny leafs here and there, and only int he foreground…yeah, that’s the ticket…

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And DONE:

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Yeeeeeeech. I mean, just yeeeeeech. I lowered the horizon, which was a good move, and I painted in a better looking background tree line, and I didn’t go crazy over-doing the apple tree foliage but still…YEEEEECH.

Although I am working from a reference photo that I took two years ago, I’ve been to this garden numerous times and I was just there last month, too, so I know very well the feeling of this particular spot. And I don’t get that feeling from this picture.

OK. I’ve now invested about 16 hours into finding all the worst ways to paint this scene. I’m pretty depressed. I have to figure out how to paint this picture in order to figure out how to paint any other part of Monet’s garden (which I plan to do a lot of). I think it’s time for some soul-searching, for facing some artistic self-truths, and stuff, but first I have to go find some champagne. Because champagne is happiness.

So I got a glass of champagne and I re-thought about all the things that went wrong during the three times I’ve tried to paint this pic. And I realized that it all came down to the size of the paper:

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Each time that I’ve painted this view I have started out with a rather large sheet of paper, about 9 x 12  inches. This is all wrong. One thing that I know about myself as a painter is that I love to work small. Small small small small. And, as it turns out, this picture would be very happy on a much smaller sheet of paper anyway (as shown cropped, below):

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So I cut me some new sheets of 90 lb. Canson watercolor paper — 15 centimeter square sheets:

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And I started all over AGAIN:

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And I painted for another four hours and then I was DONE:

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And except for that wonky sign (which is removable), I don’t think I’ll be re-painting this anytime soon.

The better part of art, like life, is just about hanging in there.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

And speaking of hanging in there, here’s a picture of five of my cats doing just that, in their own very spectacular ways:

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I had managed to wade out onto the back patio while I was digging out my Champagne-O-Meter, and had put out some trays of bird seed, which caused the felines to gather in the den:

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 Kitty TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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(This is ONE of TWO posts today — immediately following is a post all about My First Ever DoG — I don’t want you to miss it.)P1000070The Blizzard of the Century, they said it was — a doomsday storm heading our way with the mighty wrath of  a really vengeful supernatural being that was really, really pissed off by Long Island vocal fry.

But I could be projecting, just a teeny bit.

In the ten years I have lived on Long Island we’ve had, oh, ten Blizzards of the Century. I didn’t get all het up about this one, but the Gummint did, and how. Roads, trains, public transport — all shut down. The New York State Thruway’s closed, man.

On Sunday night we had overnight snowfall, which looked like this, Champagne-O-meter-wise:

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Monday afternoon was the worst, with lots of fast-falling snow and white-out winds. In one powerful gust I heard the walls of the den creak in unison, which did not please me. Top Cat came home from work in Manhattan early and we hunkered down with cats, cocktails, and made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese and we watched The Interview. Two thumbs UP UP UP. Who knew Eminem could be so hilarious?

Most of the snow fell and fell overnight, and on Tuesday morning the C-O-M looked like this:

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Tuesday was a SNOW DAY.

And then it was Wednesday and everyone back to their lives, but on a Sunday schedule.

So, basically, it’s been Sunday since Wednesday and Sunday is not my favorite day of the week.

So last night I popped the C-O-M and poured like it was Saturday.

Now I wish every Thursday could be Saturday.

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Here it is,  your 2015 Champagne-O-Meter!

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Yeah, I know; you expected a bang and all you got was this whimper. And the total re-design of my blog isn’t ready, either. Sorry, but we have to put up with sans-serif font for just a little while longer.

Luckily, after a week of 20 degree weather here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, you know our bubbly will be nice and popsicle-y for when we pop it open for our annual Ugly Cake Contest later today.

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In the meantime, I want to welcome myself back to the interwebworld! I’ve missed you!  And I want to thank all youse who have stopped by to pay a visit! I could use some cheering up!

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I’ve had a terrible, terrible streak of everything-should-revolve-around-me-level of bad luck this year so yesterday, when the Customer Service guy at Staples (His name tag said “Awesome”. Really, it did. ) replied to my customer serve issue with a smile, and says, as if to gladden my day,

“C’est la vie”

something in me snapped.

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Being mistaken for the kind of emotionally well-balanced and friendly person who finds it endearing when some self-appointed Buddha decides that the Customer Service Desk at Staples is the perfect place to be the beacon that shines a little light on my path to enlightenment, well, that does NOT bring out the best in me.

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And After All, I’m Only Sleeping.

One of the things I did, on my year off from blogging, was get a solid “C” in my Anger Management course so, no, the…uh… conversation did not end up the way it usually does, with the guy from Staples threatening to call the cops. But I made sure that the next time he tells a customer “C’est le vie”,  he better be prepared for an ear beating in very loud, at least 70% correctly conjugated, don’t-fuck-with-me French.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to make something special for this Re-Boot Post, things got so bad that I ate cake batter for lunch.

But then, later that evening, when I saw the carrier of the Last Straw heading my way, I made the conscious decision that at that point, all I could do was laugh. That’s how I ended up, doubled over in my driveway at 7:30 PM in the sub-freezing cold, laughing and laughing and laughing about how I had just spent a half hour in the dark and freezing cold FOR NO REASON AT ALL (long story, the LIRR was running late, that kind of thing), laughing and laughing. Seriously. I could not keep a straight face at that point.

Then I went into the house, poured me a glass of wine, and laughed and laughed and laughed some more. That was dinner.

Upshot is: Give me until cocktail hour tea time to do today what I tried, oh, how I tried, to do for you yesterday.

And then we will get the party started!

P.S. HA ha ha ha hahahahahahaha.  The Comments on this post are CLOSED (I closed them when the blog went floringe in 2013) and I can’t OPEN them!!!  Don’t ask me why/how, but whacking the side of my computer doesn’t help.  I would love to hear from you — I’m at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

 

 

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