Taffy is literally beside himself with excitement about this week’s blog post:

Ha ha. For the record, those are two separate cats. You know that’s Taffy on our patio chair with his back to you, and that’s our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, giving you the hairy eyeball. And they are both simply livid with excitement about today’s blog post!!!

Thanks to Dear Reader Alex, who alerted me to the existence of this book, I have a great new [to me] resource for  my latest obsession:

This (below) is not the prettiest castle in the book, but it’s got that certain something that makes me want to build it. Namely,  it’s got that twisty, winding path that climbs up a rocky cliff:

Twisty, winding path. I want to do that.

First, I made some sketches to figure out how I could make those rocky shapes and castle bits:

Speaking of rocks. On my kitchen table, where I tend to dump my various tote bags, I have two rocks: a Himalayan Rock Salt lamp and a smaller rock that I keep around because it looks like a potato:

You’ll notice that Lickety has the whole kitchen table to himself but he chooses to wedge himself in a hard place between a rock and another rock in order to nap on top of my lumpy black tote bag:

Same nap, different day — and yes, Lickety is using my potato-rock as a pillow:

*Sigh* Other people have gifted and talented cats. Mine just have good looks.

But back to the rocky cliff and the twisty, winding path:

All I did was cut out a path on light-weight cardboard using a pattern (there, in white bond [typing] paper) and then I glued little “pillars” of graduated heights underneath it:

Then I glued the pillars onto a sturdy base, and let the heights of the pillars do the dirty work of raising the height of the pathway:

Dear Reader Birdie asked me, last week, Who taught you to make castles? Nobody did, Birdie — I just sat down and figured it out myself, which is about 75% of the fun of this whole process: figuring how to make it possible. It took me a long, hard think to work out how to make this path, and I got a great deal of satisfaction in making it in real life just to prove that my thinking was right. When it works out it’s a real thrill.

So now I have my underlying structure. Now is when I cut out the book pages to cover up the path:

And then I enclose the entire path and pillars in more book pages, to make what I call the Form for the Twisty Winding Path. It looks simple, but thinking about and making this structure took all day:

Here’s the other thing that I accomplished on my first day of Building Castle No. 8:

As I work on these castles, I keep losing my two most important tools — my circle-making thingy (called a template, in green) and my big bluey ruler with the right-angle edge — they get lost under the pile of mess that this castle-making hobby produces in mucho quantities. So I simply hammered a nail into the front edge of my work table, where I hang these two tools and will never lose them again.

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me, to have my tools so handy.

OK, having made the Form for the Twisty, Winding Path, I was pretty much gratified that I had conquered the hardest part of this particular castle. But I still had to go make the rest of the castle to justify the twisty, winding path. This next photo isn’t very explicative, but it serves to show you how I built the rest of the castle around that weird, centerpiece  Form I made for the twisty, winding path:

After three days, I was almost finished with this castle with the twisty, winding path and its bridge to another book (as theorized in last week’s blog post) but it was very ugly:

The bridge goes off at a gruesome angle due to my not thinking out the consequences of where I situated the castle on its book-base.

It does not make me happy to make an ugly castle. Although I made a darling little half-moon bridge (dedicated to Dear Reader Carol, who was very much looking forward to a cute bridge) with a cool-looking tower for the twisty, winding path, things fell apart when I assembled it all together. As an appendage, it was very awkward and ugly. I was very sad.

I actually had a bad night’s sleep over this. So  had no choice but to wake up the next morning and cut off the cute little half-moon bridge:

I couldn’t leave that twisty, winding path hanging out there as a dead-end. So here’s what I did to resolve my Ugly Castle Problem: I made another twisty, winding path that jigged to the right, where it terminated at a cute little tower glued into the corner of the book:

It doesn’t photograph well, but here’s maybe a better look at it:

No? Not better? Maybe this will show how I made a less ugly twisty, winding path for this castle:

Yeah, that’s probably the last time I carve into a book like that. It took forever. . . like, ten hours over two days . . .  and I really have to find a more joyous way to spend my ever-dwindling allotment of the time I have left in which I live and breathe and could be drinking martinis instead. Sitting in my dining room with two different kinds of scissors, hacking through 800 pages of Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy is not my idea of fun. I mean, I might get hit by a car tomorrow, and this is how I spent my last day on Earth??

Dear Reader Marilyn asked me, last week, whether I could find some kind of electric tool to use instead of using up my mortality by hand-cutting with scissors. I looked into that, Marilyn, by researching the work of book artists who carve deeply into their books. The most famous book-carver is a guy called Guy Laramee, you should google him, and he uses — wait for it — a sandblaster.

Other book-carvers use scalpels or exacto-knives. I think their carving looks too rough, for my purposes, and it looks equally as boring as using scissors. I think I’ll just limit my carving time by making less ambitious landscapes, or by learning how to scissor while loaded.

Castle Naming: Dear Reader Casey suggested Whimsy Towers for last week’s castle. I like it. Way back, a book reviewer wrote that the writing and illustrations in my first two books “are charming and whimsical, but can come very close to twee.” I was not insulted, and I did a whole blog post about it — in short, twee is a Britishism for appallingly cute. I work on the edge of twee. No brag, just fact.

And I am the first to tell you that these castles are all about twee, so Whimsy Towers is a perfect name. Because, by the way, people who like my work frequently call me whimsical, which is a surprise to me since in real life I am short-tempered, foul-mouthed, and opinionated. I eat whimsical for breakfast, as a sprinkle topping on the bloody beating hearts that I have ripped out of the chests of my enemies. But I make castles!

Thanks to Dear Reader Mae’s Comment last week, I now have a whole list of literary castles to inspire me to name my other castles with something that hints of mystery, portent, and whimsy. I hope to be free-associating soon, with a glass of ice cold inspiration if you know what I mean.

Or maybe I’ll just be celebrating a most excellent news cycle!

The Resistance has had a good week. Between Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, and that Anonymously agitating (but, in its own way, hilarious) New York Times op-ed about the moles working inside the White House, we have der Drumpf  lit up like something hideous that lights up a frothing, unhinged shade of orange when things are getting too close to the truth in Crazytown (I suck at similes).

Let’s have fun and watch as der Drumpf goes even more insane trying to tamp down this opening of the floodgates leak. Now that it’s a matter of national security, let’s watch as he threatens to bomb the New York times, sue Woodward for libel, declare a Code Red because YOU NEED ME ON THAT WALL, that’s where I had them, they laughed at me and made jokes, but I’ll prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, with geometric logic, that I KNOW WHO TOOK THE MISSING STRAWBERRIES.

Oh, this is going to be so good.

So let’s sit back and watch this unravel.

And to Dear Reader Margot, who hopes for a Blue Tsunami, I’m saying that this public meltdown will prove to be the cause of the mutiny that produces a Purple Tidal Wave in November.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones.

Here’s the most recent precious Blue Jay feather that I have found in the Summer of ’18.

OK. Maybe I am a little bit whimsical.

 

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Taffy is super excited — and I mean he can hardly contain himself  — about today’s blog post:

Bibs, as usual, can’t figure out what’s going on, but anywhere Taffy goes, Bibs stays close to keep an eye on him:

It’s Friday, so there must be a castle in the works! Excitement galore!!

You can see what made me want to do this one:

See that fat round tower in the center with the two smaller towers popping out of it? I have NO IDEA how to make that, but I have to try. Also, I’ve been wanting to put a castle on a cliff and this one, well, that looks like a cliff to me.

I call my castle-making Book Art, because I use pages from old books as my building material (the Art part of Book Art) and I use books as things that prop up the stuff I build (the Book part of Book Art) but in my opinion these castles would be real, grown-up Book Art if I incorporated more of the Book into the Art. As, like, the book is a structural element of the building or scene, as if the Book were an integral part of the castle.

You now know for a fact that I’m getting fancy-thinking and artistically ambitious when I haul out the subjunctive.

Practically speaking, this means cutting up the book. (Look away, Steve. This is going to get graphic and yes, actual books were harmed.)

So I took a good look at that castle on the cliff and knew that I had just the right book to cut to shreds:

It’s a good thing that books are bound with those blank pages called endpapers inside each coverso that my castle can perch on a clean, non-Nazi platform:

This was my first shot at cutting the guts out of book and I made a mess of it. But every castle-maker needs to practice a new skill, so I wasn’t too hard on myself, and it was only an old Book Club edition of The Goebbels Diaries, which we sold (to me) at the used book store for the bargain price of $1.00. I learned at lot about cutting the guts out of a book:

  1. Most importantly, you have to pick a book that has been aged so that the pages are really soft. You’ll be cutting 4,5,6 pages at a time, so make it easy for yourself.
  2. You can’t just hack away at random pages, as I did (see: photo, above). You have to pick up a set number of pages, over and over, and you have to cut as carefully as if you are cutting out a dress pattern.
  3. This takes time. Don’t hurry, because every hurried cut will show. Resign yourself to spending a half hour doing this incredibly boring thing, except for the end when all your scissoring will have been worth it.
  4. Don’t round the rectangle…don’t cut a circle out of the pages. Keep at least two corners, to retain that “book’ vibe because, otherwise, it looks like a cow pat.

Dear Reader Casey emailed me last week with a question about last week’s castle, about the open-book perch I made from an old copy of the plagiarized work of fiction called Roots:

“As I remember”, Casey wrote me, “Roots had some pretty violent content. How did you find a non-violent page in the middle of the book to leave open?”

Here’s the deal: When I use a middle-of-the-book as the platform for a castle, I can use any book for sale at the used book store regardless of its content because I never leave the original pages hanging out in the open. For last week’s castle, I cut four pages from a similarly-sized book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I glued them over the pages from Roots, so that the book appears to be an old tome of German fairy tales instead of a plagiarized American folk tale. The rest of the text that is exposed by the cuts to the corners is impossible to read, so no cover-up is necessary.

However, when I cut into The Goebbels Diaries, I did have to watch out for the odd “Reich” and “Jew”  that popped out, which I cut out (Goebbles uses “Jew” a lot), but then I ditched the whole thing as a practice exercise any way so good riddance, Goebbels.

One more digression: I was sorting a donation that came in last week and came across these two YA novels (Young Adult, ages approx. 12 – 17):

That font on the left side practically screams 1972, doesn’t it? The other one, which shows two girls in a crappy bedroom with a sewing kit, is from 1977. As a rule, we toss any book published before 2000 unless it is historical fiction or a Newbury Prize winner, but I took these books home with me because of their titles. I’m tempted to start a collection of kids’ books with “Die” or “Death” in the title. Because what is life without a bit of whimsy?

I also found this in another pile of donated books:

I don’t know what to do with this letter, but I can’t throw it away.

So, where were we? Oh, right: we left me with scissors in my hand and an undated but probably 1980s era Book Club edition of Vol. I of Shakespeare’s plays. This is how that turned out:

This is its good side:

This is its bad side, as those two towers popping out of the roof of the fat tower were beastly hard to do but I’m pretending that I intended all along for it to look a bit wonky:

I always have the most fun finding bits and pieces to decorate with:

Top Cat asked me what I call this castle,and it had not occurred to me to give the castles names, but of course now that he’s put the idea into my head I am writhing with a castle-naming desire to find the best names in the universe for each construction.

My first tactic would be to steal from Paul Klee (1879 – 1940), the Swiss German artist whose highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. He was the rare fine artist who was never lazy nor inconsiderate enough to call any of his art works “Untitled”.

P.S. If an artist can’t be bothered to give a title to a work of art, then I can’t be bothered to give a crap.

Paul Klee showed up for his viewers and for his art and gave his watercolors and drawings — all abstract compositions, by the way — the most wonderful titles. Here’s a sample:

A Young Lady’s Adventure

Dream City

Twittering Machine

Separation in the Evening

Once Emerging From the Gray of Night

Heroic Strokes of the Bow

Fish Magic

And my very special favorite, on view at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, is this:

This is called: Mural From the Temple of Longing <Thither>.

I have already stolen this title for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, on page 50-51:

So it would be bad form to steal this same title again.

If stealing from Paul Klee doesn’t lead to a brilliant castle name, my fall-back tactic is to administer a therapeutic dose of vodka and tonic and see what pops up in my head. It takes about a pint of booze to lighten up my persnickety Capricorn habits of mind and free-associate as well as a Swiss-German surrealist.

To tell the truth, my mind is very scattered these days. I have a sick kitty, and that wrecks my concentration. This kitty is the one who as lived in my house for ten years and has never let me touch her, so getting her to the vet is torture. I have pursued her all over the house by setting traps — TRAPS, in my own HOUSE —  in the basement, the living room, the hallway, the dining room…and she evades them all. She was caught (by me) in the same trap ten years ago and she’s smart enough to not fall for that again.

So, as a last resort, Candy has holed up in my bathroom upstairs:

You can see her dermatitis, where she has pulled out most of her fur because of some kind of skin irritation. I gave her a nice fluffy bed to sleep in and a new litter box to poop in, so of course she sleeps in the litter box and poops in the bed.

My vet did offer a Hail Mary in the form of an over-the-counter anti-histamine that can be used to treat skin rashes, and Candy gets half a pill every day, which she devours because I dissolve it in her favorite snack of diced clams in clam juice.

We’ve been at this for a week and I haven’t seen any more tufts of fur wafting in her wake, so maybe the anti-histamine is working.

I don’t know how long this stand off will last but I would like to have my bathroom back because for now, it is off-limits to me because I can’t go near Candy without her totally freaking out.

My brain is out of gear for another reason: I deny, I reject, I veto, and I refuse to accept that August is over and tomorrow it will be September. Nope. Not gonna happen, not on my watch. Every last shred of my intelligence is dedicated to pretending that for once, things will stay just as they are, here in the last fine days of endless Summer.

Please, Universe, please let that happen.

Or, Universe, and don’t act like You don’t hear me, please let October be worth it with a huge-ass report from special counsel Robert Meuller that details, irrefutably, that der Drumpf is the lying, treasonous, fake-billionaire con-artist turd-pile Anti-Christ (for all those shit-eating MAGA evangelicals) that we know he is. I can face Winter knowing that it will be awash in a Blue Wave. Please, Universe, please let that happen.

Amen.

Until then, Taffy and Bibs will be warming up our seats on the sunset-watching apparatus in the backyard.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. May all your Summer wishes come true, and all your cats not sleep in their litter boxes.

P.S. Here’s the books that I will defile for the next castle:

They are Volumes 1 and 2, published in 1971, worth $4.99 on amazon.com. Our used book store price is $1.00 each. But the thing I want to exploit is this:

I’m thinking: Bridge.

See you back here next week.

 

 

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This is a castle:

This is a cat:

That is actually my cat, Taffy, lounging in the driveway, using a rock as a pillow. It doesn’t look comfortable at all, but that’s Taffy.

I was thinking about the qualities of Patience last week because I got a call from a friend of a friend, who had discovered four feral kittens, all black as night, on the loose in her neighborhood and needed help in trapping them. She knew that I’m a cat-catcher from way back, so the next evening I loaded up my traps in my car and drove six miles to meet her and several other concerned cat people  who wanted to get these kittens into safe homes. If you remember, trapping feral cats is how I got Taffy in the first place, him and every other cat who has called Top Cat Manor home. (Currently, there are eight cats ruling this roost, and I’ve trapped every one of them.)

So I set four traps and I ask everyone to back away, to give the kittens room to roam. As it turns out, they aren’t four kittens — they are three kittens and a very young mama cat.

For the first four minutes, the kittens sniff at the food that we use as bait for the traps, they pad cautiously around the contraptions, trying to figure out how to get the food. . .

. . . and nobody can stop talking and fidgeting, worrying about how the traps might not work, how the kittens might be too scared or too dumb to figure them out, how horrible it will be if we don’t catch them, etc etc etc, suggesting that we move the traps closer together, further apart, on the other side of the property, use different food, etc etc etc. Some people tried to entice the kittens with their own food,  to hand-feed them to grab them bare-handed. Someone ran home to fetch Portuguese tuna fish, which is supposed to be the very thing no cat can resist.

Everyone who had never trapped cats before (and no one there had ever trapped cats before) could not keep still, or quiet.

And that’s when I noticed that, contrary to what I’ve always thought about myself as a person always in a hurry, I do have great patience. You need great patience to catch cats. You need to watch, and wait, and be calm and careful, which I am, for however long it takes to catch a cat.

You need the same kind of patience to build a castle, as I am going to show you today.

You can see the obvious appeal of this little castle illustration that I found in a children’s book from 1924:

Those towers were a fun challenge to make:

And pointy roofs!

I must have spent an hour trying to get those side towers, because their roofs would not work until I figured out that they had to be faceted, and not smooth as in the illustration:

Beware the people who draw castles, for they are not limited by real life and real physics, so they tend to illustrate impossible constructions.

When the castle was complete, I put it on a small platform in the middle of its book-base:

Then I tried to come up with a way that the pages of the book could shape the hill on which the castle perches:

But I could not come up with anything that worked. So I pulled the castle away from its base, and I decided to cut into the book itself:

I didn’t feel bad about destroying this book. I chose the book because it came into our used book store in deplorable condition — the binding was shot (I had to glue it back in place) and the dust jacket was gone, and it was stained and shabby…which made it worthless as a collectible, but valuable to me as a perch for a castle.

It’s not a book that I would have liked much anyway, even if it had been in perfect condition. The book is a first edition, 1976 copy of Roots, which is a book I don’t like because I don’t like plagiarists and I don’t like liars. In 1978 Alex Haley lost in court in a suit brought by Harold Courlander, an author from Bethesda, Md., who contended there were substantial similarities between Roots and his own earlier novel, The African. The settlement was kept secret, but rumored to be several hundred thousand dollars.

Alex Haley also claimed that the story of Roots came from his maternal grandmother’s recollections of an ancestor’s journey from Gambia in West Africa to slavery in America, but when it was proved by the Times of London that hHaley had fictionalized much of the tale, Haley issued a mealy-mouthed statement that his book was truthful as “a symbolic history of a people.”

So I felt just fine cutting up this book:

Back:

Side:

Last week at the used book store, we got an old copy of The Goebbels Diaries. It’s a collection of the writings of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. I’m going to feel A-OK cutting up the words of a Nazi.

As for the cat catching, we caught the mama cat and two of her babies within 15 minutes. I took them home with me, and they were picked up the next morning by volunteers from a near-by rescue.

It took three more days to catch the last kitten, who was the runt of the litter.  We assumed it was a “she” because tiny as she was, she was able to survive on her own for those days so she was obviously was the smartest of them all. Oh! I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it was to watch her, day after day, come around looking for food and family, this teeny little thing alone in the world.

By the time we caught her she had become famous in the neighborhood, so she was immediately adopted by the daughter-in-law of one of the home owners in the area. She was taken to a vet, who confirmed she was a she, and she now lives with two other cats who treat her like their own babies and a very accepting Labrador Retriever.

She also as a new name. She’s called Velvet.

As if that weren’t enough to celebrate, the world was also gifted with the simultaneous conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Michael Cohen.

It’s been a great week for America and four black cats.

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone. May all your quests have happy endings.

 

 

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Move over, Lickety. I have to blog today.

Doesn’t this castle look delicious?

So, yeah, this is the castle that I made this week. But this is the castle that I wanted to make exploding, or otherwise rising fully-formed from the pages of a book like that goddess chap, Venus, rising from the sea. So my first order of business was to do this:

I made a box. For those of you Dear Readers who are sticklers for accuracy, it’s 8 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 2 inches deep.

Then I turn the box over . . .

. . . and cover it with, you know, pages of text (for camouflage):

You probably can’t tell that I made the cover with fancy corners (it’s a trapezoid). . .

. . . because this box has to squeeze tightly into sharp corners, which I will show you in the next photo. So now I know how to make a trapezoid box, another skill that is worth absolutely nothing in the real, non-castle world.

Here’s how the base fits into its exploding book:

And now, with as few words as possible, here’s how I built my exploded castle:

Side view:

And the arial view from 5 feet, 6 inches:

Those of you Dear Readers who are keeping count know that this is my 5th castle. I have immediate plans to make at least two more — one with Alexandra’s moat, and another one that reeks of Winter Holidays because I will have these castles on display this coming December at my local library. That’s the William Cullen Bryant Library in Roslyn, on the north shore of Long Island, if you want to stop by.

It’s a good thing that I finished this castle the day before I caught my cold because since then all I’ve wanted to do is lie in bed and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. I haven’t tuned into this show since Izzy’s boyfriend, Denny, died in Season 2 (in 2006). I didn’t stop watching it for any particular reason; I just got busy with life, I guess.

So it’s amazing to me how good the show is, and I’m only on Season 12. I really like the way Meredith, the main character, has evolved. She’s pretty dark, and now she’s (spoiler alert) a widow and the story is still surprisingly interesting.

One of my favorite moments came in Season 11, when Meredith’s husband, Derek, invites some co-workers to the house for a dinner party. Meredith, who is a loner, is annoyed and asks him “Why did you do that?

Derek says, “Because that’s what people do.”

And Meredith, exasperated, demands: “What people?”

That is such a realistic conversation, at least here in Top Cat Mansion, where my husband always wants to invite people over for a BBQ or some other get-together and I would rather not have to clean the house for company.

And, just as my cold was doing is wretched best to make me feel like an old gray mare, Aretha Franklin dies and Madonna turns 60. I haven’t kept up with Madonna since her Ray of Light album 20 years ago, and I know that I should applaud her for hanging in there, trying to stay relevant and sexy at her age, but. Not that I want to internalize the ageism of our society especially as it demeans females, but I wish she would just go away now.

And Aretha, sublime Aretha. . . you can google her song Gotta Find Me an Angel on you tube,and get out your hankies.  It’s my favorite Aretha song, even though there are a few questionable lines (“Keep looking’, and just keep cooking”). Oh, hell. Aretha could sing the list of ingredients on a box of Post Toasties and she’ll break your heart. Nobody comes close to her today. Nobody.

Speaking of things that people under the age of 30 will never understand, we got a dictionary donated at the used book store last week.

Nobody buys dictionaries these days so we at the book store usually toss them, but since I got on this Book Art jag I’m on, I am dying to do something with this 1973 Random House College Dictionary. Can’t you see horses, or a dragon, or a warrior princess climbing up those tabs?

The most important thing, though, when you’re doing dictionary art, is to choose a page that has interesting words on it, and it has to be from the first half of the alphabet. Any suggestions?

I am fading fast, Dear Readers. It’s going to be another hot and heavy day here on the North Shore of Long Island (85 degrees, 82% humidity) and I plan to do as little as possible, except feed my cold plenty of pizza  and watch bad things happen to good people on Grey’s Anatomy, Season 13.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Take a cue from Lickety (above), and find a cool spot with a sunbeam and dream sweet dreams.

XXOO

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This is where we left things last week, when I was half-way to bringing this castle (above) into the real world:

This is where things get weird. Namely, what to do about the back-end of the structure:

You can tell that the person who drew this original illustration of a castle was only thinking in 2-D, that is, thinking only about jamming in a collection of towers without considering whether or not the castle was actually feasible.

The way I figured it, the only way to get all these towers together in a structure was to build them around a very peculiarly-shaped platform:

Trial and error, cutting and gluing and trimming, was the only way to come up with a template for this peculiarly-shaped platform. (Thank you, Dear Reader Sharon, for telling me about templates!) And this is how I turned that flat pattern into a 3-D platform:

I know. I’m a genius. I have all kinds of skills that are not worth a dime in the real world.

While this area is still exposed — that is, before I close it up by inserting the final two towers — I have to make sure it is safe for all the imaginary people who inhabit this castle. It needs a fence of some sort to go around it:

If you remember the design of this castle. . .  (here’s a reminder):
. . . the tall round tower in the back needs a topper, a cone-shaped topper. These are rather easy to make, if you get the size right. The trick is to draw a big enough circle. Here’s the pattern:

Cut along the blue lines.

For this topper, I used a jar as my tracing guide:

Wrap the circle into a cone, like this:

Voila: Topper, installed:

Oh crap. I just remembered that I didn’t take a photo of how I installed that second round tower next to the first round tower. All I did was glue it on top of the platform, which was about the easiest thing about this entire castle.

Wait. I changed my mind about this topper. I decided that this tower needed a snazzier topper, so I found an illustration that had a big blue sky and I made a new topper.  I also cut out a doorway from another illustration and glued it onto the topper so two little ladies could exit to enjoy the view:

I made a half-tower for the side bit (because it’s there in my original tower illustration inspiration) and that’s where I put the King and his valet:

The finished castle looks like this:

The fun part was finding the doo-dads to make windows and embellishments.

Which, except for its being well-made, is not a success. The original castle is tall and skinny and smooshed together. It had a quirkiness that appealed to me.  My castle is not smooshed together. The proportions are off. My goal for the next castle is to make it look more like the inspiration.

In the future, I am going to have to — heart be still — take measurements.

I decided that, since the castle was not a success, I had to make the display a lot more interesting. So now it looks like this:

Any old random book that has a loose binding will open nice and flat. . . or as flat as a book can get. You still have to make adjustments. This is the castle’s front door BEFORE:

And this is the castle’s front door AFTER:

I had wanted to make the castle look as if it were erupting from the innards of this book but that takes  — dare I say it?? — advance planning. I will devise that for my next project, the one were I also measure out the proportions ahead of time.

I did manage to drop the trees and the flower pot into the text by using a scalpel (available in packs of 20 from amazon.com and which I happen to have already because who doesn’t have scalpels laying around the house?) to cut into several layers of pages:

I have one more tid-bit of info about castle-making, if you can stand it, but first, let’s go get a cup of tea so we can take a break from Castles and Such.

And by  “Castles and Such”, you know I mean “The sense of failure that lurks behind every creative project which is why I will probably have to have another go at making this castle the right way “, and by “tea”, you know I mean “wine”.

I was in the library two days ago and I found this object at the water cooler:
Oops. I am holding it upside-down. THIS is how it should be seen:

Castle tower topper, anyone?

So of course I had to find out what made this perfect castle tower topper tick, so I un-wrapped it:

Now I have a template for all future castle tower toppers. Yay me.

I like the heat of Summer as much as the next person, but this weekend is going to be rainy and finally cool here on the north shore of Long Island. . . again, Yay me! You know where I’ll be: knee deep in paper and glue re-making the tall, skinny, smooshy castle. Or drinking wine. One or the other. I’ll let you know when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

XXOO

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As soon as I found this illustration of a castle (that’s my trusty tea bag along side it, for scale) I knew immediately that I wanted to build it as a tutorial. It’s from a book that has been languishing in our used book store for months and months, ever since I started to co-manage the shop in February:

As you can see, the illustrations for this book border on being creepy which is why, I think , nobody has bought it even though it’s only a dollar. I took it home last Friday, but I just couldn’t cut it up. So, instead, I’m using a book that is vey cut-up-able, one of ten that I bought accidentally on eBay:

The best thing I can say about these old Horizon magazines-in-book-form is that they are cheap, their pages are sturdy, and they are usually so boring that you don’t mind cutting them to bits.

I am also going to use pages from a previous book that I have vandalized:

And I’m using pages from that old German almanac that I used for my Rapunzel tower (see last week’s blog):

That old german almanac has lots of interesting doo-dads that I am dying to use as decorations on future castles:

Getting back to this week’s inspiration, I made a few thumbnail sketches to figure out how to interpret this flat illustration into a 3-D castle:

I am going to make all the elements — the various towers — as stand-alone structures, and link them up as I go along. But first, I have to re-inforce the more fragile pages from the old books. I like the way they have aged, but I need to glue them onto regular old typing (bond) paper in order to use them for construction:

Just a note on how I measure stuff: I don’t think in inches, or fractions of inches. For instance, as shown below, when I have to measure a legnth, I put my see-through 6-inch ruler down, and tick off the increments as “Start at 4 and go to one before the 8”. I build, mostly, by eye, and use the ruler to draw straight edges and to keep measurement uniform…I do not think in eights-of-inches.

I don’t usually have to draw out my plans, but for this tutorial I drew the plan for the first tower that I am going to build so I can show you how I think:

I put very light pencil lines on the re-inforced page and I use an exact knife to cut it out:

And I end up with this:

Which I can tell, right away, is the wrong proportion for the castle I want to build. You read that right: from the get-go, I have to rescue this thing. So I add height to it this way:

Yeah. This is more like the tall, skinny rectangular tower that I want:

For the crenellated top of this tower I have to make a tray, so this is how I will mark it out:

The pink lines indicate where I have to make a little cut so that when I fold it, it will have tabs:

I will glue the tabs:

Crap. I dont have a photo of the tray  — but here it is, in a crap photo, poised on top of my “tower”:

To this tray, I will add the crenellations (using the margins of the sturdy Horizon magazine pages), measured and marked through trial-and-error because, at this point in my castle-making carer, I don’t know how to anticipate the correct intervals between the “downs” and “ups” of crenellation:

I slather the glue onto the upright edges of my little tray and wrap the crenellated strip of paper all around it:

There’s the finished tray, and next to it are small flaps of paper that I have glued for a nefarious purpose:

I glue these into the interior of my rectangular tower in order to give the tray, which will sit atop it, some support:

I hope you can see that I have put the tower upside down on top of the tray:

I am using my long, needle-nosed tweezers to tap down the glue flaps so that they touch the tray:

I am sure that the previous few photographs were not in the least helpful, but in the end, this is how the tower comes together as a nice, stable, heavily-glued structure:

All it needs (according to the illustration) is a roof. I hope you can see the pencil lines that I made here (in the raking light):

Those lines help me make two triangles, comme ca:

Glue these triangles in place:

I took over 100 photos while I was building this castle. I could not possible bore you with every detail of the craft (ha! I said craft!) so I had to edit, but the kind of thing that I edited out is the part where the paper pieces need a little weight to get them to glue together properly. My staple-remover thingy comes in handy as a weight to set on these delicate objects while the glue dries:

Voila: Here is my first completed element of this castle, the rectangular tower:

By my count, I will need three rectangular towers and three round towers for this castle, so let’s now do a round tower!

Round towers are much more fun and harrowing to make. In preparation, I like to roll my re-inforced paper a bit, to get it in the mood to become a tube:

I would be nothing without good old Elmer’s glue:

I order to make certain that your tower is rolled properly you have to make the ends meet exactly, or else the tower will not stand up straight:

As this is the fourth castle that I have built, I have learned that using my circle-drawing tool to size the road towers is extremely helpful (for reasons that will become apparent very shortly). So, while the glue is still wet and fungible, I “size” my tower by pushing it through one of the apertures:

I can hardly believe I am saying this, but the good thing about knowing the size of your round tower (by making fit in the circle-drawing tool — what is this thing called, any way?? — is that you also know the diameter of your tower!

This is extremely exciting because, for the first and only time in my 62 years of life, I need to know the diameter as indicated on this circle-drawing tool of a circle!! Because now I can figure out the circumference of my round tower!!

I need to know the circumference of this tower because that is how I will make the crenellations!! As before, I draw a strip of “ups” and “downs”, but I cut notches into the bottom part of it, as shown here:

Putting crenellations on a round tower tray (which I cut out to be larger than the tower itself) is like, I hope there are sewers reading this, setting a sleeve into a shirt or dress:

Ta-Da!

The bottom of the round tower tray looks like this:

How cool is that?

Ok. Truth to tell, now that I’m a few (three? four? five? ) hours into this project, is when I start to question if this is the best way a person my age should be spending the precious minutes of her life. Making paper castles? Shouldn’t I be composing sonnets, or learning sign language, or day drinking, or something? Instead of cutting out itty bitty bits of castellations? Is this really how I want to spend my ever-dwindling days on Earth?

Hell, yeah!

Dear Readers, I know that it feels as if we are making this castle in real time, but let me assure you that castle-making is a much, much  s-l-o-w-e-r process than shown and we have oh, so much more to do on this project.

Now I know, Dear Readers, that you are not me; you do not have the type of idiocy that makes you spend a thousand minutes making a paper castle FOR NO GOOD REASON other than it fun and rather soothing, in these times of peril, to make your own 3-D puzzles while listening to NPR.

So let’s take a break and consider the heartening news this week that makes me think, and hope, that the end of right-wing putrescence in America is nigh. Paul Manafort is going down — it looks to me that the gummint has an open-and-shut case of tax fraud and money-laundering against him. Everyone says that this is Robert Mueller’s  opening shot at Trump; if not to show cause for swift impeachment, then to expose the fake, filthy, and flimsy pretexts of Trump’s businesses. I would rather see Trump forever and truly bankrupt for now and all history than see him hounded out of office (reason: President Pence).

SDNY: Southern District of New York.

And how about Rudy Giuliani running around laying the ground for the inevitable by spreading the word that “collusion is not a crime”?

And then there’s the NRA cozying up to a known Russian spy, and the Kock Brothers funding a multi-million dollar campaign against Trump, and the two civil trials against Alex Jones (the conspiracy theorist who claims that the school shooting at Sandy Hook, CT was a government fake and that Hillary was running a child sex ring out of a pizza joint in DC, etc)…

Friends, the arc of history towards truth and justice is drawing ever tighter, into a noose, against the throat of evil. I hope you have your victory party champagne chilling.

Back to castle building.

Now that we know how to make our two main elements (rectangular tower and round tower) of this, and every other, castle, I should say that the next bit gets a little wired. But first, let’s complete our facade by constructing this:

See? I smarted-up and cut out my box tower to include flaps that I can glue down to support whatever roof or castellations I might need:

I use these itty bitty bits as braces to secure the castellations on either side:

Putting the braces in place with tweezers:

Facade almost complete:

For the roof here, I found this illustration of Queen Elizabeth and am using the pattern of her skirt for roof tiles:

DONE (so far):

This photo shows that I’ve already jumped ahead and put in that tall rectangular tower that backs up the facade (see reference illustration below).

The complete front of this castle won’t be complete until I figure out how to make a short tower that has a wrap-around porch that connects the front of the castle to the back. I’ll show you the original illustration again so you can see it:

It was difficult to envision this, since I’ve ever made one before, so I did indeed draw up a plan:

And this is how you do it:

To make this nifty feature look nice and clean, and to give it a bit more stability, I made a little strip that I glued all along the inside castellation:

And here is where things get weird. This round tower in the very back must fit into some kind of platform structure that will kit into the nooks and crannies of back end of the facade…

And here is where I will leave you for this week because this has been a very looooong post and I know some of you Dear Readers who are making this castle along with me are dying to sweep up all the bits that have scattered themselves all over the floor…

…and it’s FRIDAY and we deserve a big stinking glass of ice cold Chablis for having lived through another week of the Trump Atrocity, or maybe just for making it through another week.

We will finish this castle next Friday, Dear Readers, when we are one week closer to the end of our national nightmare.

Have a great weekend, everyone. May all your thousands of minutes be spent in joyful contemplation of towers and turrets and castle of your dreams.

XXOO

 

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So I’m looking through an old YA novel, searching for inspiration for my second Book Art project, and I came across this:

The illustration, I mean. Not the tea bag. The tea bag is the same one I’ve been using for about ten years to show with my various Triscuits and paintings and things, to indicate scale. I hope it’s not too scuzzy, after ten years. At least it’s never been used…The New York Times just did a story about an artist, Laure Provost, whose prized possession is a 15-year old tea bag once used by her grandfather:

So. Tea bags. Where was I?

Oh, right. Book Art.

The used book store that I volunteer/co-manage for our local library has four (one hardback, three paper) copies of this book:

I do not remember this book, Half Magic, from my childhood, although it was a best seller when it was first published in 1954 and appears to still be in print. The book is nicely illustrated and the pages were kind of soft but substantial and there was that one castle pictured in it (see above), so I knew I could make something out of it:

In answer to Dear Reader Megan’s question last week: For my first castle (see: last week’s post)  I did not use any other material except the old, brittle pages from my source, a book from 1920 (don’t worry, you can buy your own copy on eBay for $9.99…I wouldn’t cut up a precious book!) . That paper was very tricky, being so dry and  flimsy, but I learn from my mistakes so  for this castle I did build up the main castle parts with some sturdy backings, a very inexpensive Canson “Biggie Jr.”  90-lb paper for kids crafts. For the crenelations and the flag pole I glued several pages together so they would be stiff enough to not flap in the wind.

Crenelations:

I give Dear Reader Megan this word in swaps with the most excellent word she left in her Comment last week — punnet. I never heard or saw that word before and now it’s one of my favorites. Thank you, Megan!

My first two castles were made like stage props — hollow, and want to be viewed only from the front. Here’s the back of my Half Magic castle:

But after making two stage prop castles, I think I’m ready to build something totally 3-D. And here’s the book that became my inspiration for my third castle, a book that has been ignored in our used book store for at least three months:

It’s in German and appears to be some kind of Year Book and yes, it’s from 1905.

It had great end papers . . .

I already ripped out the loose end paper, but it had the same cool blue design on it.

. . . and it also had fine (but strange) illustrations:

So, I thought about Germans, and Nazis, and lederhosen, but I wanted to think nice thoughts about Germans so I thought about the Brothers Grimm, and then I thought, Aha! 

Rapunzel.

Working on this free-standing tower gave me lots of time to think about Rapunzel, so that’s why  my Rapunzel isn’t letting down her hair because my Rapunzel enjoys her life in her tower just fine, thank you very much, with her books and her paints and her tea cups and her cats:

This little side-tower was fun to do:

It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to cut those eaves so the two roofs could fit together, but it was awfully relaxing to do so. The harder it gets to put these castles together, the more I like it; it requires the same concentration as watercolor or embroidery, but is much more playful. It’s castles!

I’ll be back at the book store today, going through some children’s books, looking for more inspiration, and maybe I’ll show you the step-by-step next time, if you Dear Readers think that would be of interest. I know you want to know how to make those neat pointy roofs.

Last week Dear Reader Birdie asked whether we at the used book store sold out books on line. Let me give a long answer:

This week we got a big box, full of donated books — all the books we sell at the used book store are donated to us — that contained a lot of Book of the Month and Reader’s Digest books from the 1960s and ’70s. The donor dropped the box off, and we didn’t get a name or any contact information. . . most people are glad to get rid of books that they feel too guilt to throw away, so they tend to dash off once they have unloaded the responsibility on us.

Most of the books in this donation were not suitable for us to sell, as they were too worn out or were about the last 100 days of WWII. There were a few woodworking books in there, too; it seemed to me that the books came from the library of a guy who had served in Europe in the war and come home to a lifelong hobby of making bird houses and decoy ducks.

Then, in the very bottom of the box, I found gold. I found this:

This is a pristine first edition (1971) of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, published by Harper & Row. The cover is immaculate and it seems to me that the book has never been read, not surprising when you consider the company it’s been keeping for the last 47 years.

It has a minor condition issue in that the binding is very slightly bowed:

This is the first valuable book that we’ve had donated to us, so this is the first time that I’ve considered putting one of our books on line.

But I’m giving all you Dear Readers first crack. If you or anyone you know would like to own this amazing first edition (fifth printing), let me know. All sales benefit the William Cullen Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY.

The other most exciting thing that’s happened in the neighborhood recently is the sighting of a pair of male and female coyotes living in the woods behind the high school. It is assumed that they are a breeding pair, and that they have a den. Coyote babies! How cute!

But that means that there are some hungry coyotes prowling our sleepy little h hamlet here on the north shore of Long Island, and all residents are advised to keep small dogs and cats indoors (cats are coyotes’ favorite food). Scary!

All my cats are on ultra-high alert:

P.S. Sorry, but the Sylvia Plath book is already sold. There are still Sylvia Plath fans out there!

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. May all your castles have a room, just for you, with a view.

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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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Sometimes you get something in your snail mail that isn’t junky:

Last week my American publisher sent me the brand new Korean edition of my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly!

I did something in that book that I didn’t do in the two previous books, which was design it so that text was dropped onto and incorporated into full-page illustrations, so I was curious to see how the Korean edition would handle that:

Yes, the English text that appears over the top corner of this watercolor illustration of Karen Kersting’s rose garden in New Orleans was miraculously changed into Korean. Well done, 내 친구들.

Seeing this new version of my book reminds me how much work it takes to put a book together. And it reminds me how I better get cracking on that invention that I dream about, the Book That Writes Itself.  That would make like so much easier for yours truly.

I am half way there …  in that I have an app that promises to take care of the part of book-making that I call illustration. Yes! There’s an app that lets a book illustrate itself!

It’s called Waterlogue and here’s how it works:

Take a photograph of a scene that you want to paint itself (saving you, of course, the bother of getting all that watercolor equipment in line, the paints; the paper; the brushes; the jar of water that needs constant changing; the sense of dread and doom that you are going to have to paint this thing over and over again until you get it right; etc.

You run this photograph through the app and voila:

For comparison, here’s how this scene looks in Gardens of Awe and Folly:

I painted my scene (above) from a reference photograph that I took on a foggy Fall morning. I can’t find the exact reference photo in my files, but here’s what the place looked like last October:

That huge gnarly Copper Beech was cut down, having become too fall-aparty to be safe anymore. *Sigh* The guys with the choppers will come for us all, eventually.

Here’s a nice view in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France (taken on my last visit, in May 2015):

Here is the illustration that I painted over the course of three of four painful afternoons:

I don’t like this pic. It is not included in my Monet book. If I had guts, I’d re-paint it but yeesh…that’s a lot of work. I’d really prefer it if the photo would paint itself.

And presto — here’s the Waterlogue app doing its thing:

Oh, crud. Looks like I’ll be hammering this picture out with my own two hammy fists.

Speaking of using my split writer/illustrator personality in the real world, I will be a hard-working Writer this September and October, leading four workshops at the Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY. The workshops are free, and open to all interested parties on the second and fourth Thursday evening in each month, from 7 – 9.

In my workshops I will learn you on identifying your voice; on understanding what your story is (is it a short story?…is it an episodic memoir?…is a confessional?…is it an 80,000 word novel?); on how to best communicate that story to your readers — in fact, on acknowledging that you are in fact writing for readers who you must visualize and take into account with every word you write. I will make you self-conscious as an observer of life so that you understand that life is what gives you copy.

I will urge you go to your local Walmart, your local grocery store, your nearest bus stop; I will make you report back to the workshop at least three overheard conversations that you gathered on your new role as a writer, a snoop, an observer of the human condition.

I will introduce you to the realities of the writing life: Are you ready for what it takes to prepare your writing for publication? (Because in my experience, something’s got to give for you to achieve your writing goals. For instance, I had to give up watching Dr. Phil every afternoon in order to meet my daily goal…sad, but true.)

Me, being all author-ish and talky, in front of people sitting in chairs in a room with a lot of books.

And if I can’t build me a Robot-Vivian between now and September,  this will indeed be me, in the flesh, talking about how to write for publication.

I know you are, like me, in awe of the successful rescue operation in Thailand that got all those kids and their soccer coach out of that dastardly cave. The rescue was nothing short of miraculous. The rescuers are heroes, straight up. It was a marvelous story.

But can I tell you a story of my own, please?

One day, when my brother was three years old, my parents had to rush him to the hospital. Why?

Because, prior to the fun rush to the hospital, my parents had thought that my brother was sitting happily in the driveway, amusing himself by playing with his Matchbox cars. But no, my brother had grown bored with his Matchbox cars  so what he was actually doing while sitting in the driveway was playing with all the little pebbles that had accumulated on the edge of the blacktop. Specifically, he was taking those little pebbles and, one by one, he was stuffing them up his nose. That is, until he had reached maximum stuffage, nose-wise, and began to cry because, I can only assume, having a nose packed full of little pebbles is somewhat uncomfortable.

The pebbles could only be extracted by a professional with a very long, slender, needle-nosed tool in the emergency room of Abington Hospital in Ambler, PA. Hence, the frantic car ride to our local hospital.

Now, you might wonder, Why would your brother pack his nose full of little pebbles from the driveway?

Good question. And, as best as I can figure, he did it because boys are stupid and they do stupid things, like pack their noses full of little pebbles, for no good damn reason.

The same way they go hiking in caves that are preposterously narrow, horrifyingly twisting, pitch-black dark, atmospherically foul, and fill with water when it rains (and it rains a lot in Thailand this time of year).

(In the above scenario, the soccer coach is my brother, and the kids on his team are the willing little pebbles that the soccer coach stuffed up the nose of the cave.)

That’s all I’m saying.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Here’s some photos Dennis staying cool on the north shore of Long Island last week,  to get you off to a good start:

Dear Readers, may all your noses remain pebble-free, may all your explorations be to clean, well-lighted places.

XXOO

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It’s hot here on the north shore of Long Island. Hot hot hot hot.

All the smart kitties are conserving energy any way they can.

This is Steve, of course, cooling it on the front stoop.

Here are more of my kitties showing their genius at not getting their dander up when it’s 95 degrees and 78% humidity outside:

They are snoozing in the pretend shade of the coilus bush.

And this is our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, keeping it chill as seen from my kitchen window:

Denis is smart enough to snooze in the real shade of a real tree.

And this is what Top Cat and I are doing during this atrocious heat wave:

We are not as smart as the cats. Nope: We are expending a lot of energy getting all het up. What has got our blood boiling is, about once a year, my husband and I have a really big scorching fight, and this year’s blow-out coincides with actual, real-world sizzling temperatures.

Would it surprise you to know that I am not the kind of person who “lets things slide”? I am not the person you want around when you want to take out your frustrations with, say– as a totally random example — your bumpkin relatives who made you drive to New Jersey and back, on a week night, in rush hour traffic. Nope, the girl who is going to let that slide is not me. When it comes to debating the merits of you complaining about my keeping you waiting 5-minutes on a Sunday afternoon against you speaking nary a word against those who forced you to take a mid-week trek to Outer Bug Fuck, NJ, I will fiercely demand, “What’s up with that shit?”

In fact, I’m so fierce, I play tag with airplanes:

This picture is not Photoshopped. This is actually how close you can get to planes as they come in for a landing at National Airport in Washington, DC. This is easily the most fun thing I’ve ever done in DC,  our nation’s capital, and I have a lot to compare it to: I’ve been to Union Market and had the world’s most outstanding grilled cheese sandwich (caramelized opinions, gruyere, extra-toasty sourdough bread), and I’ve played the How Many Toys Can We Throw Over The Baby Fence with an extra-cute one-year old. So:

To play Tag the Airliner game, all you have to do is [have someone who has the app] check to see if the air traffic to National Airport is being routed from the north (the planes follow the curve of the Potomac River); if yes, then find a way to get to Gravelly Point (spoiler: It’s not easy), and then stand there. Every 90 seconds a plane will roar down on you, so close you can smell the diesel. It’s awesome.

OK, I admit that for the first few — or 20 — planes, I might have lost my nerve a bit:

Because planes are big, and loud, and shouldn’t be in the air in the first place.

This trip to DC, our nation’s capital, was so I could visit my sister and her family, which includes the afore-mentioned Extra Cute One-Year Old. My sister is 18 years younger than I, so it’s natural that when we are together with the Extra Cute One-Year Old that strangers would assume that I was the grandmother. We were sitting in a cafe at the excellent new Southwest Waterfront (DC’s hottest new development). . .

. . .  and a young/middle aged stopped by to admire the Extra Cute One-Year Old in his super-cool hi-teck  backpack/carrier. “That’s some special contraption,” he says.

 

Then he says to me, “Remember when we did it?”  [No, do I look like a grandmother??? but because I’m a wonderful human being I’ll play along and not take offense.]

I chuckled and said, “Right, all we had was a canvas sling.” Ha ha. That “we” cracks me up. As. If.

The next day I headed to the National Archives on my own to have a look around, and was going through the security check point when a young/middle aged officer said to me, “You can put your bag right here, young lady.”

Whoa. Do I look old enough that oldish guys are calling me that”young lady” thing that old and young-ish guys do to old ladies because they think it is charming for us old bats to be patronized that way?? And I was wearing skinny jeans!!

I’m seriously thinking of getting my hair dyed some flattering shade of honey blonde, like they do in France. Also, I should learn how to accessorize.

Next, we all met at the United States Botanic Garden not far from theArchives, and me, my sister, and the Extra Cute One-Year Old wandered into a greenhouse that featured small fake dinosaurs. “Hey!” I said to my sister, “If this is all about multi-million-year-old plants from the time of the dinosaurs (I know how to take a clue), maybe we could find a Wollemi Pine here!” Then I glanced at the ugly green thing that was growing in the exhibit right in front of me.

“It kind of looks like this,” I said.

Then I bent to read the label that was sticking up out of the ground in the display right in front of me.

For those of you reading along, I first got excited about the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

No, those aren’t illustrations of Wollemi Pines (above), but they are illustrations of another Australian pine that I love, called the Australian Pine. The Wollemi Pine under discussion is a 40-million year old plant that was presumed extinct until 1994 when a small clutch of 100 trees were discovered in a remote forest in New South Wales. The discovery sent shock waves of euphoria through the botanical community (such as it is) and propagations of the tree, which are most highly prized, have been sent around the world. (In Florida, the other Australian pine, the Australian Pine, is considered a pest, and outlawed from private and public gardens, except in Key West. Long story, full of injustice. It’s in the book. I do mention the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter, too, because Florida is a very good and legal place to grow Wollemi Pines. Go figure.)

I’ve only seen one other Wollemi Pine, a scraggly specimen in a corner of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.

So I was really excited to see this Wollemi Pine here in DC, our nation’s capital!

Then we moseyed through the rest of the greenhouses, and I saw several more Wollemi Pines. By your fifth or sixth Wollemi Pine, you’ve pretty much seen enough of the Wollemi Pine. It’s not a particularly attractive plant.

Fun Fact: The Latin name for the Wollemi Pine is Wollemia noblis because it was discovered in the Wollemi National Park, and because the last name of the guy who discovered it was Nobel (David Nobel). How lucky is that!?

Other Fun Fact: Neither the Wollemi Pine nor the Australian Pine are”pines”.

One last FunFact: Traveling to DC, our nation’s capital, from New York City is tons of fun except when the train engineers can’t find an engine for train and it takes three hours to find one. I left DC, our nation’s capital, on such a train and by the time I was allowed to board I was in a tizzy. Luckily, I got a place in the Cafe Car, and I got myself a nice cold snack:

 And I wasn’t sharing.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Yes, it’s hot, and there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and we are very near the collapse of our democracy, but to cheer you up I’m going to show you the front page of the New York Daily News from July 4:

Keep Calm and Fight On.

 

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