Sunsets and Pebbles

When I type “sunset” into my iPhoto picture catcher, it returns 156 matches. That’s only the ones that the iPhoto brain can identify as sunsets. There might be just as many that it misses. The technology hasn’t quite perfected this game.

That’s at least 156 times that I needed to record the moment of a beautiful sunset, and approximately 150 of those times I was at the beach.  I’m not going to attempt to analyze this need. I’m sure most peoples’ photo collections are similar.

I’m also not going to analyze the need to then reproduce the sunset artificially using paint and canvas. It just happens. It happens to me a lot. Usually they are not as good as the original photograph, let alone as good as the original moment, but I keep trying because that is my compulsion. (Ugh, I hope you feel for me, living with this burdensome compulsion. GOD I can be pompous.)

(I KNOW. I could have just erased that whole thing and rewritten it, but I want you to know what a ridiculous child I am. It’s part of my charm.)

(THERE I GO AGAIN.)

Here's that beach in the daytime in 2004 with my favorite model, Drew, for perspective.

Here's that beach in the daytime in 2004 with my favorite model, Drew, for perspective.

Let’s get this back on track. Here I am, making another attempt at depicting a sunset. This one is based on one I photographed on Cobble Beach on Yaquina Head (also called Black Pebble Beach), just south of the lighthouse. It’s an unusual beach for the area. It’s a little cove packed with smooth, palm-sized rocks that slide around under your feet, making walking tough going. The surf sounds extra tinkly, roaring up and sliding back out, causing the stones to roll around under the force of the water.

You can’t see the little stones in the painting, but I tried to depict the feeling that you get when you have to take yet another picture of a sunset, even though you have plenty.

Yaquina Sunset (With Extra Seabird). Oil on Canvas 20" x 16"

Yaquina Sunset (With Extra Seabird). Oil on Canvas 20" x 16"

Trail Rage

So we took this great trip to Moab, Utah a month or two back. Drew had been there several times on mountain bikes and vroom-vroom bikes and wanted to share the place with me. And what's not to love: canyons, color, ancient petroglyphs, modern recreation, and RV parking. 

I expected to love it, and did some research on the hiking opportunities in the area. Drew had the two-wheel trails pegged, but I wanted at least one day of two-footed adventure. 

I found the Fiery Furnace trail hike. It is a very lightly marked trail in Arches National Park, which can only be accessed by ranger-led group hike, or by self-guided permits which require some prior video training. The National Park requires all participants to be of good enough physical agility to clamber up and down rocks, jump gaps, and squeeze into tight spaces, and to be able to complete the 2.5 hour loop. 

This will be perfect. I can go on a somewhat challenging hike in unfamiliar terrain, and I don't have to drag Drew along as my buddy-system buddy. I'll have a ranger and a group. Drew can drop me off like a soccer mom, go ride his mountain bike, and come pick me up when my hike party is over.

At the ranger desk when I bought the ticket, the ranger showed me a laminated hand-out that showed all the squeezy, clambery types of agility I would need to possess, showed me a visual example of the amount of water I would need to bring, and made me promise that I was man enough to handle the trail's trials. I promised. Watching her explain the rigors ahead, Drew was all the more certain that, one year out of back surgery and 55 years through a life lead by avoiding the agonies of hiking, he would happily leave it to me. 

I bought a new little day pack to carry my required burden of water. Even though the weather report was for mild conditions, I did not know how strict my ranger guide was going to be and I did not want to get turned away for breaking water rules. I did not need (a) so much water, and (b) to worry about my preparedness.

Five hundred yards was all we needed to know that someone, actually three someones, did not listen to the ranger with the pictures of clambering hikers. Two were past their prime hiking age and one woman was probably younger than me but carried too much weight on a bum knee that she admitted earlier was either pre- or post-operative. (I don't remember which. I actually heard that remark at the bathroom before the walk began and I didn't think she was part of the group at the time. She somehow neglected to mention that to the ranger.) The ranger gave them all a chance to ditch the hike, which had already visibly taxed them. They did not take the hint.

Our personal Park Ranger. Let's call him Justin. He kept trying to teach us stuff. Ugh.

Our personal Park Ranger. Let's call him Justin. He kept trying to teach us stuff. Ugh.

We moved on with the three stragglers straggling further and further behind. We would hike for a while and wait. And wait. Finally our ranger (I don't remember his name. Let's call him Justin), for the safety of the stragglers, made them lead the hike with him so that he could help them over every clambery bit. That meant the rest of us (maybe 12 of us) were in a continual bottle neck, waiting to do in a second what it had taken five minutes for the trio of dumb to manage.

Ranger Justin doing the heavy lifting

Ranger Justin doing the heavy lifting

Ranger Justin did not know when he woke up that morning that he would spend the day lifting three people up and over the entire Fiery Furnace trail, and neither did we know that we would spend the day in a line behind them waiting. Alas.

I see a few crossed arms. I am not the only one not believing this is happening.

I see a few crossed arms. I am not the only one not believing this is happening.

I am SO SORRY about using the word "alas." I will do better. It's just that...I mean...gaahh.

Here's Ranger Justin, bent over as ever, as he tries his best to help, while the rest of us wait and not hike.

Here's Ranger Justin, bent over as ever, as he tries his best to help, while the rest of us wait and not hike.

Ooh, sorry again for that "gaahh." That's not even a word. As a journalist, I am supposed to be able to use words to express any thing or circumstance. 

Here's a hint as to the speed of our "hike." The ranger-led hike that started an hour later caught up with us and played through, as if we were an aged and bumbling golfing foursome.

As you can imagine, we "hikers" at the back were exchanging a lot of careful "what were they thinkings" and "didn't they get the warnings," but we had all paid a lot in time and money to travel to the park, find lodging, and buy tickets for this hike, and we were trying to salvage the day by trying to put a pleasant spin on it. I spent a lot of my free time at the back of the line taking photos, which was pleasingly distracting. I got some good ones.

One of the photos I took was the basis for the following painting that I think is complete.

Can you feel a little extra anger or frustration in this piece? Good, and now you know where it came from.

I really enjoyed being down in those little slot canyons. I wish I could have been able to really clamber and jump, and I hope to get to go back to do so. Hopefully it won't be so long that I will be the slow one.

Bear Promised, Bear Delivered

Leave me alone for a minute and I'm back communing with Bears.  Here's one in acrylic on mixed media paperboard.

Her Favorite Tree. 12" x 16" Acrylic on paper.

Her Favorite Tree. 12" x 16" Acrylic on paper.

This one was inspired by a moment in the recent Planet Earth II series. Bears skritching on trees. Aaah. That's the spot.

Medium

My business cards say "Paint on Canvas. Words on Paper." If you ask me my medium, I will probably say oil paints because that is the majority of my output. However, like most artists, I have yet to rule out a medium. Somewhere tucked in my studio corner you can find:

  • oil paints
  • acrylics
  • watercolors
  • watercolor pencils
  • Sharpies
  • screen printing ink
  • acrylic ink
  • pastels
  • charcoal
  • graphite
  • collage paper
  • coffee filters

I haven't quite found a use for the coffee filters yet, but I bought the wrong size once and didn't have the ecological heart to throw them away, so stay tuned. If you see me turn out some particularly bumpy collage work, you might wonder if a shopping error played a part in its creation.

I resemble that remark. Watercolor on Arches 300 lb. paper

I resemble that remark. Watercolor on Arches 300 lb. paper

Here is a watercolor that I did a while ago. A friend of mine bought an oil painting of Pilot Butte, so I threw this one in as a bonus because I know her daughter, who has just graduated high school, is an enthusiastic and talented horsewoman. 

Today in my studio, I am working on a bear in acrylic. Remind me to show her to you in a week or so. Then maybe on to glitter paint. Never say never.

Ouch.

Almost But Not Quite. Mixed Media, Paper mounted on wood. 11 x 14.

Almost But Not Quite. Mixed Media, Paper mounted on wood. 11 x 14.

Ouch. That hurt. Another art jury rejection. It’s like cutting yourself in the kitchen. At first, you look down and see the skin opened and the blood start to seep, but there’s a delay before the pain starts to register. Then there’s more pain, then it reaches another level, then you have to sit down with a bloody towel wrapped around your finger and wait it out for a bit.

I’m at the sitting down part. I'm sitting in it and wondering what it means and what it can tell me. Luckily there's no blood.

Does it mean I’m a bad artist? I hope not. It helps that I know other, really great artists who have been rejected by this particular jury. It hurts because I'm pretty sure it means I’m a mediocre artist. No one aspires to mediocrity.  I’m hoping that it means I’m just not quite cooked yet. On the verge of 55 years of age (the last 20 of which include any art experience), I still have work to do. That I can swallow and use.

Not one hour after I read the email with that rejection, I got news of a sale of another one of my pieces – the fifth sale this month (if you count prints).

Art is subjective, you guys. The Chief tells me art is a glass cage of emotion because he likes to quote Anchorman. And who doesn’t? Time to bring out the Band-Aids and get back in the studio.

--

I finished the above painting this last week. The fact that I mounted it on a wooden cradle board means that I like it. Abstract painting is even more subjective than representational art. It tends to get "my kid can paint that" remarks, but I've learned that good abstract or expressionist painting can be just as difficult to get right. To me, this piece depicts an attempt at creating a peaceful, ordered balance within a messy world.

Peace be with you.

Wills and Fates

Our wills and fates do so contrary run

That our devices still are overthrown;

Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

-       William Shakespeare

So things never turn out as we imagine or wish.

When I was 18, I wanted to be a psychologist. When I was 20, I learned what a psychologist could and could not do and what they did and did not know. Then I had to figure out what else I could do with a psychology degree.

The first thing I found that I could do with a psychology degree was to work as a sales clerk at a Motherhood maternity shop.

The next thirty years brought more experiments in what I could and could not do. What I was good at (writing) was not lucrative. What I was competent at (analytical thinking and grammar) was valuable but not fulfilling (“fulfilling” = crap word that means fun). What I found fun (art) I was not yet particularly competent at. So I quit trying for a rewarding career and settled on a fun one.

So I don’t have a life’s work. Just a house hung with art in varying degrees of competency and a website I saddled with a ridiculous name.

What should I have done differently? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is the time ahead of me. And I want nothing more than to paint.

Here’s a picture of a forest fire.

Too Late. Oil on canvas, 20" x 16"

Too Late. Oil on canvas, 20" x 16"

Soft and Strong

I bought a shirt when I was in college that I miss to this day. It was mint green, the color of institutional walls. It didn’t fit. The shoulder seams went way past my shoulders and the sleeves petered out long after my arms did. It was of the kind of material that the disco era was made of – polyester and dreams, Baby. But it was soft and satiny and cool to the touch, and made me feel small and lithe and full of talent. I wore it to dances, class, and dance class. I don’t remember what happened to it. I suppose I wore it until it was no longer made of matter but memories, because I don’t think I had it in me to dispose of it.

Disco shirt and TWO SETS OF LEGGINGS. This is peak flashdance.

Disco shirt and TWO SETS OF LEGGINGS. This is peak flashdance.

It did teach me to feel clothes before buying them. I have many shirts that feel better than they look. I also have way too many velvet things. Velvet is not a day-to-day fabric. I’ve found that if you show up to a casual thing in velvet, people assume you have misjudged the import of the occasion when actually I have just misjudged people’s sense of humor.

Do you know about Tencel? I love Tencel. It’s a fabric made of wood fiber (!) that is supposed to be environmentally friendly. What I like about it is that it is soft and heavy at the same time. Like a blanket that you couldn’t give up when you stopped sucking your thumb. I used to have a pair of pants made of Tencel. Tencel is so drape-y that the pants ended up looking kind of creepily saggy, but that didn’t stop me from wearing them like ALL THE TIME. I would still be wearing them, still rocking that 00’s cargo pants look, if I hadn’t gained that last five pounds.

I have a workout shirt in highlighter yellow, not because I am worried about being seen in the dark or because the Oregon Ducks sometimes enjoy visually shocking their opponents, but because it is so soft. Unfortunately, soft things don’t last, and that shirt might have one more season in it at best.

Soft and strong is a myth, at least where toilet paper is concerned.

I guess I'm telling you this because I'm feeling sad about losing an extremely deep pile fluffy jacket that died in the washing machine this week. It was like wearing a teddy bear. It's in the bottom of the garbage can and I keep planning rescue attempts that I know are doomed to failure.

Touring Yellowstone in 2013 in Tencel pants and teddy bear jacket

Touring Yellowstone in 2013 in Tencel pants and teddy bear jacket

I don’t know if I have a point, so I will think of some and you can choose: (1) The disco era was helpful in shaping my fashion destiny. (2) If you see me wearing something odd looking, you can safely think to yourself, "I bet that's soft." (3) Always wash your hands after using the restroom.

What I Can Guarantee RE: Your Baby

Hello. I understand that I am entering my grandmotherly years, and to many I may already resemble a grandmother, whether because of my chubby cheeks, or my jolly demeanor. However, I feel it incumbent upon me to lay down some ground rules as to how grandmotherly I am able to act vis à vis your small human offspring.

1.     I WILL be polite to your baby.  I will refrain from deploying swear words in my speech and will not bring up the subjects of procreation activities or the theories regarding the existence of either Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny (FAKE), Sasquatch, or the Tooth Fairy.

2.     I MAY greet your baby. If it seems socially contracted, I may greet your baby with one of the following standard greetings:

a.     How do you do.

b.     Hello, Baby.

c.     Good afternoon, Baby (as appropriate)

d.     Fancy meeting you here.

3.     I MAY compliment your baby’s attire, knowing full well that it had little, perhaps nothing, to do with either its procurement or its donning.

4.     I MAY carry on a short conversation with your baby, if asked a PERTINENT question by said baby.

5.     I WILL NOT engage in undignified gibberish with your baby.

6.     I WILL NOT touch your baby unless circumstances require it, such as the existence of smudges, soil, or rodents on its face. Or to free myself of its grip.

7.     I WILL NOT pick up your baby unless it is blocking an emergency exit.

HOWEVER:

8.     I WILL rock your baby IF the baby appears fatigued, I am near a rocking chair, and I am fatigued as well. At such an occasion, I MAY smell your baby’s head. Do not be alarmed. I am merely checking for rodents.

Instant Nostalgia

They paved a dairy farm and put up a McMansionland.

My daily walks have taken me past this dairy farm, tucked onto a bluff overlooking the Columbia river and surrounding lowlands, since we moved here in 2005. It was a two-lane road with often no shoulder, but the traffic was light and courteous.

If this road didn't turn here, it would run off a bluff in about 100 yards and end up either on the major north-south interstate railroad line, or in a wildlife refuge set up for water birds beside the Columbia River.

If this road didn't turn here, it would run off a bluff in about 100 yards and end up either on the major north-south interstate railroad line, or in a wildlife refuge set up for water birds beside the Columbia River.

Once I made the turn in the road by the dairy farm, I could continue north, where there was a little orchard on the left and the border of McMansionland on the right. I would eventually turn back and head home through the McMansionland where there were some nice rolling hills (less conducive for farming, perfect for 4,000 square foot, split-level, architectural nightmares).

One morning I took this stunner of a photo. MAN I'll miss this old barn.

One morning I took this stunner of a photo. MAN I'll miss this old barn.

I enjoyed the peek through the dairy and orchard, to the river and lowlands below. Like a cat (or a short person), I like to peer down from heights onto smaller, less better things below me. It was a highlight of my walks. I could often see red-tail hawks trolling the pastures for field mice.

Then this happened. 

Same corner. No barn.

Same corner. No barn.

I say "this happened" like it was an act of God or something, but it was an act of change. The old farmer died, the kids were not interested in dairy farming, they found out how much the land was now worth, and an eager developer made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

There goes the neighborhood.

There goes the neighborhood.

I get it. I don't want to milk cows either. But it's still sad. And you know the houses aren't going to be as cute as those cows. And I won't be able to look through the fence and through all the houses. The river will be a secret for those few, super-rich ones who can pay, not only for a new McMansion, but one with a primo view.

Last chance to see. (Reference-getters please pipe up in the comments.)

Last chance to see. (Reference-getters please pipe up in the comments.)

Even though I don't enjoy painting buildings, I thought it was important for me to paint that barn, especially since I had captured that photo, and it begged to be recaptured in paint. So I've been poking at it all fall (and now winter). It's close to being done, in that there is little more that I can do that will improve it. I'm sure I'm not the only one in Felida (my neighborhood's feline name - another story) who feels as instantly nostalgic about this barn.

Not sure if I improved on the photo other than making it bigger.

Not sure if I improved on the photo other than making it bigger.

Here is my attempt at a barn. The Pleasant View Dairy barn. I may try it again with a little more style, but this one is what it is. And it will live on while the original is gone. Like a bad rock music lyric.

PHOTO DUMP! The first SWA Artist's Market at the Artist Loft

Hey everybody! Here's some of the work displayed for sale yesterday during First Friday. The Society of Washington Artists held a special Christmas-centered Art for Under $100 sale at the Artist Loft in the old Academy building in downtown Vancouver. It was OFF THE CHAIN.

I can see Cindy Lundy's beautiful floral paintings on the right. Center, a peak at Will Ray's watercolors, and left, a peak at Katey Sandy's acrylics.

I can see Cindy Lundy's beautiful floral paintings on the right. Center, a peak at Will Ray's watercolors, and left, a peak at Katey Sandy's acrylics.

Will Ray's watercolors on the left, and some of Carol Lytle's work on the right.

Will Ray's watercolors on the left, and some of Carol Lytle's work on the right.

Some of Elaine Evans' lovely work.

Some of Elaine Evans' lovely work.

Walter Sanders. Nice, right?

Walter Sanders. Nice, right?

A little of my booth (left), Carolyn Gunderson's beautiful work in the center, and a peak at Katey Sandy's booth at the end.

A little of my booth (left), Carolyn Gunderson's beautiful work in the center, and a peak at Katey Sandy's booth at the end.

Hey, that's my booth!

Hey, that's my booth!

From left to right, artists Lila Martin, a friend I met yesterday (I'm sorry, friend, I forgot your name), Cindy Lunde, and Carol Lytle.

From left to right, artists Lila Martin, a friend I met yesterday (I'm sorry, friend, I forgot your name), Cindy Lunde, and Carol Lytle.

Carolyn Gunderson's booth. Beautiful work.

Carolyn Gunderson's booth. Beautiful work.

Some of Carol Lytle's work (left) and Renee Bryant's work (right).

Some of Carol Lytle's work (left) and Renee Bryant's work (right).

I see some of Lila Martin's work on the left and some of Carol Lytle's in the center. They were all under $100!

I see some of Lila Martin's work on the left and some of Carol Lytle's in the center. They were all under $100!

More of Carol Lytle's booth

More of Carol Lytle's booth

More from Lila Martin

More from Lila Martin

Gina Marie Kendall's booth and the right, with a little of Walter Sanders' work on the left

Gina Marie Kendall's booth and the right, with a little of Walter Sanders' work on the left

Here's something

If you like, you can visit my Zazzle store, where you can buy my art printed on all kinds of stuff (the list grows every day) for a paltry, paltry fee. Much cheaper than what I can make it from scratch for. Here is an example: my first t-shirt. A vintage-style shirt with my new band, Haystack Rocks! on it. (Well, it would be my new band if I played any instrument besides classical flute.)

So, Doin' Anything Fun This Weekend?

It’s Friday! It’s time to go to your favorite grocery store and report to your cashier about your plans for the weekend! Don’t tell me you go to one of those rogue grocery stores that isn’t on board with the new trend of instructing all their cashiers to poll each and every customer about their plans. Then you really need to switch stores! Because it’s fun!

Let's go grocery shopping! Cashiers need your weekend fun reports!

Let's go grocery shopping! Cashiers need your weekend fun reports!

Look, you could tell them the truth. They hear truth all day long and it is slowly sucking the soul right out of them. Look into their eyes. They do not want to hear about your errands, your in-law visit, your soccer games. They are up to here with soccer games. It’s time to brighten their day.

I will give you some pointers. You can use these, or make up your own.

  • Glad you asked! I’m building an ark in my backyard using old election yard signs! Come on by!
  • Glad you asked! I’m developing my inner sonar by learning how to drive blindfolded! Want to ride shotgun?
  • Glad you asked! I’m making my own stuffed animals using my body hair collection!
  • Glad you asked! I’m starting a new cult! Want to get in on the ground level? I have an opening for a tiara polisher.
  • Glad you asked! I’m teaching a seminar on turning your disused shed into your own abattoir! There will be breakout sessions on bone burning and soap making!
  • Glad you asked! We will be digging a moat around our house. Do you have any alligators?
  • Glad you asked! We will be going to our daughter’s soccer game. Did I say soccer? I meant duel to the death. She got into a little tiff with the neighbor girl. They’ve chosen broadswords at dawn. That’s the reason for these Band-Aids. She likes the kitty cat ones.
  • Glad you asked! We will be rampaging through the countryside Mad Max style. Murdering!
  • Glad you asked! We saw this enormous spider in our house so we will be burning it down. Better safe than icked out to the max. Come by! Bring marshmallows!
  • Glad you asked! We will be gathering all the neighborhood crows and driving them to the local republican headquarters.
  • Glad you asked! We are going to brunch and then attending a chainsaw massacre.
  • Glad you asked! We are putting on prom dresses and riding Segways through town singing Neil Diamond’s hits.
  • Glad you asked! I am going to ask my tattoo artist if he can do gifs.
  • Glad you asked! I am going to get a tattoo of Keanu Reeves’ English accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I hope that's enough to get you started. Report back to me with your plans.

Sitting the Show

I’m sitting the fall SWA show.  That means I’m part security guard, part cashier, part museum docent and mostly bored. When art guilds like the Society of Washington Artists puts on a public art show, especially one open to the public during all business hours, someone has to pay attention so that the art doesn’t walk away under its own power (or through the power of art thieves, the most criminal kind of thief). In addition, the art is for sale, so someone must be on guard in the event of art purchasers (the most admired and sought-after kind of art lover). But most of the time, we sit. Hence the name.

As I sit, I am keeping my hands busy by typing away. That way the people who are using this public building for something other than art-gazing (which is most of them – there are a lot of business tenants in this building) do not feel obligated to acknowledge my odd existence here at a table set up at the entrance to a public building, as if I were about to ask them if they are happy with their cell carrier.

I face the walkway with my laptop screen in front of me. This way, it’s easy to tell those who wish to engage me in conversation about the art from those who just want to escape the building without an awkward encounter.

Other jobs I have had in the past 24 hours are: database coordinator, art work recorder, art panel mover, printer, printer loaner, secretary, art judge wrangler, and winner’s certificate creator.

Art shows like those put on by the SWA do a valuable service to a whole range of artists, from seasoned professionals to those who may be beginning to find where they fit in the art community. There is nothing like seeing your art displayed alongside art of a completely different caliber or style to make you aware of your strengths and your many, many weaknesses. Many. Many.

There are always moments of panic for those of us who put on art shows. (Listen to me: “those of us.” I’ve been doing this for [watch check] six months.) This time around, the hinge bits that allow the panels to stand upright disappeared when they we needed them and reappeared in front of us as soon as someone made a 12-mile round-trip to re-check the storage space. Nobody remembered to print out extra registration forms for the organizationally challenged who always come unprepared. (Luckily I found one extra with which I copied ten more.) We ended up with too many boxes of panels from storage and no dolly to help get them out of the hallway. (We managed to heave them out of the way with a minimum of hernias.) And we just looked at the prize ribbon box and found only half the ribbons we will need tomorrow. This one is a little more difficult to solve. Our prize ribbons are normally custom printed with the name of our organization, so whatever we end up doing will be half-assed. Ah well. Admittance is cheap. You get what you pay for.

What do I get out of it? Today isn’t the best day to ask me. I ate a granola bar for dinner last night and again for lunch today and I was up late last night creating show programs with the name of each artist, their works, and their purchase price. This morning I printed labels to hang next to each piece. Tonight I will add the names of the winners to the programs and print them. Then I will create fancy certificates with gold seals.

But next week I’ll have an answer for you. It will probably have to do with the benefits of friends with similar interests. Also, artists talk a lot about perspective as a quality of a painting that makes the 2-dimensional seem to have depth. There’s also the perspective gained from interacting with other artists working just as hard and gaining just as much from it (happiness: yes; wealth: no). But mostly what I get are the health benefits of pats on the back. That’s enough.

I Am SO Back to School Right Now

I'm taking an art class through the local community college taught by a respected colleague and friend. It is a class called "Mixed Media and Painting Abstractly." Mixing media is not a challenge, but I have never been good at painting abstractly. I always end up seeing things in my shapes and then teasing them out until the shapes are no longer abstract, but are actually meerkats. Or turtles.

In fact, if my first assignment is any indication, I might fail at this class, but I totally blame The Chief. I brought home a colorful underpainting, an abstract start to a painting achieved through artistic secrets and trickery. The Chief said it looked like a prehistoric scene with volcanoes. I am too suggestible for a comment like that and this happened:

If I fail this class due to an infestation of velociraptors, it is all The Chief's fault.

If I fail this class due to an infestation of velociraptors, it is all The Chief's fault.

I've started a new underpainting and have an idea of what my next move is. It's not quite as representational as a couple of frolicking velociraptors, but it's not exactly abstract.

Baby steps.

Stay tuned.

A Pumpkin Spiced Splurge

If you are what you eat, then I really am sugar and spice and everything, well, sweet, if not nice, as nice seems a little judge-y. Especially when we are talking about my poor eating habits.

Over the past two years, the Chief has had a more standard, 40-hour-a-week schedule, as opposed to our usual firefighter routine, which consists of 24-hour shifts at the fire station, flanked by more-or-less 48 hours of downtime, spent in part napping to catch up on sleep. This has meant that for the past two years, I have been planning and cooking evening meals seven days a week. This is not a hardship, but was a challenge to my waistline, as I was used to skipping evening meals to make up for the sorry-ass way I snacked during the day.

These didn't come with chocolate frosting. I made some and frosted them. That's the kind of maniac we are dealing with here.

These didn't come with chocolate frosting. I made some and frosted them. That's the kind of maniac we are dealing with here.

Now the Chief is back on 24-hour shifts and I’m back baby, allowed to be left to my own kitchen devises (so to speak) for at least one day out of three. As you can imagine, the rubber band, stretched over the last two years of healthy eating, has snapped back a little hard, and kitchen cams (if we had any) might have caught me eating meals consisting entirely of (1) chips and salsa, (2) a few tablespoons of smoked salmon, and/or (3) a few handfuls of popcorn. These less-than-square meals are what’s left of my appetite after an afternoon spent eating candy and/or cookies, and/or chocolate protein bars and/or, in the event of an emergency, chocolate chips.

Okay, now I’m judging me.

The pendulum will swing back and I will resume a somewhat healthier daily diet. I have already begun to sentence myself to remedial training. Last Saturday, while the Chief was at work, I decided to give my appetite a little Time Out and spent the day fasting, drinking tea, water and a little chicken bouillon. It didn’t feel good, but it was completely doable and I did not feel the need to overeat the next day. It made me remember that hunger is not something to fear. Hunger may be a better alternative than the pain of too-tight pants.

I may try to fit a 24-hour fast in my weekly or monthly schedule, when I have a day here and there with no plans that call for a lot of effort or proximity to good food.  Also, as long as I am writing or otherwise producing content, it is hard to use my hands for eating. And I do not own a feedbag. YET.

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

Junipers Reservoir at the ranch. You can visit the Junipers Reservoir RV Resort at Junipersrv.com.

Junipers Reservoir at the ranch. You can visit the Junipers Reservoir RV Resort at Junipersrv.com.

  • Check the tires on your trailer as well as your tow vehicle. If they look like maybe you should change them before next season, change them this season.

  • If your tow vehicle is heavily sound insulated, perhaps because it’s a diesel truck, maybe stick your head out of the window every once in a while to listen for the screeching sound of naked wheels dragging on pavement.

  • A diesel truck can be so insulated to sound that you can’t hear naked wheels being dragged along rough pavement.

  • No matter how good your trailer mirrors are, you can’t see the back set of trailer wheels.

  • Cranky cowboys can get extra cranky and shouty when you unknowingly throw sparks along the highway with your naked trailer wheel during fire season.

  • Blowing a tire at 65 miles an hour can do dreadful things to propane lines that run under a trailer, oddly close to the wheels.

  • If you’re lucky, the blown tire will just clamp the copper propane line shut and not blow a hole in it, causing even more disastrous things to happen, especially while you are throwing sparks off a naked wheel.

  • One blown tire can mean no working stove, furnace or refrigerator and one limping air conditioner.

  • A week in an RV park without a refrigerator and with a borrowed, leaky cooler is a small but annoying inconvenience.

  • Sometimes, when you call a tire store and they say they have the tires you ordered so you drive four hours one way, they don’t have the tires after all, and you have to drive all the way back and buy the crappy tires at the local place.

  • Sometimes what you think is an allergy flare-up is actually a cold that lasts all week.

  • No matter how big your ranch house is, it will feel small when it is filled with new in-laws.

  • When a house is full of relations and relations-to-be, clean towels and wine become more valuable than cigarettes in prison.

  • If you have a backyard wedding at a ranch house of hosts known for their love of dogs and forget to mention to guests not to bring their dogs, you will have a wedding with 20 dogs.

  • All those cute wedding decoration touches that you got from Pinterest? Nobody notices them.

  • Wedding planners are more important than I thought.

  • No one can plan for a summer wind storm.

  • Pinterest decorations all blow away in wind over 20 mph.

  • $1,000 worth of flowers will stay in boxes in the house in wind over 20 mph.

  • I’m glad I don't have to plan or execute a wedding.

  • Every bride is lovely, but some* are more lovely than others. *My daughter-in-law, nine years ago this month, and my niece, last Saturday.

The ranch house, painted last year, in simpler times.

The ranch house, painted last year, in simpler times.

Cash Poor (Now With Postscript)

My first pet was a long haired Chihuahua who had no powers of discernment at all, otherwise, she would not have insisted on imprinting on me, a college student who knew nothing about dogs and had a landlord who could not know anything about the existence of my dog if I wanted to stay. We made it work. (I’m sorry about lying to you, Old Landlord, and telling you (repeatedly) that it was a friend’s dog who was just stopping by to shoot the breeze.)

This is a real dog. Her name was Twinkletoes.

This is a real dog. Her name was Twinkletoes.

Like a lot of small dog owners, I didn’t consider it important to train my dog because they are so conveniently portable. One false move and they are up in the air, clinging for dear life to your hand, all thoughts of their previous disagreement lost in a bid to survive. Later I would learn that this is cruel and all sizes of dogs should be treated with the respect that they deserve, otherwise they go insane. There are a lot of insane small dogs out there with weird behavioral malfunctions, dangling from arms and purses, completely unable to live a dog’s life, or to even interact with another dog without popping a blood vessel.

Long after Twinkletoes the Chihuahua (Twinkie for short) had gone on to a better life and our vagabond lives had landed on some firm ground, I started to campaign for another dog. I really wanted another Chihuahua, but because of Twinkie’s lack of training, The Captain had come to hate Chihuahuas with a large man’s passion. So what’s kind of like a long haired Chihuahua but not Chihuahua sized?

Nothing, but the Central Oregon Humane Society had this sorry looking collie who needed a home. 

This is a dog. And three versions of old flooring that we removed from our first real house.

This is a dog. And three versions of old flooring that we removed from our first real house.

At sixty-plus pounds, collies are considered large dogs. I might not have understood the need to train a Chihuahua, but I was sharp enough to know that nobody should have a large dog unless they know how to train them and have used that knowledge upon that dog. Large dogs are the opposite of good citizens if they have not had any training. So I learned and I taught. And Shelby, the sorry looking collie, learned to walk on a leash like a gentleman, sit, stay in the yard, and hold his head up high, knowing he was now an Educated Dog. And after a while, his hair started to grow in and he put on some weight, and he no longer looked so sorry.

Good Dog. Pioneer Dog.

Good Dog. Pioneer Dog.

Shelby taught me a lot and I’ve been learning about dog training and using that training on whatever dog I could get my hands on ever since. Dogs are much better students than people. Mostly because trigonometry is not in their course load.

Sorry. That was all preamble. This is where the story starts.

A friend of mine (I’ll call him Dean) decided that for his first dog, he would do a good deed and adopt a retired greyhound. This seemed like a great match, because he was a bit of a greyhound himself, specializing in sprint-style bike races that lasted about the same length as a greyhound track. Both type of animal seemed to be both very fast and also have a tendency to dangerously overheat after a relatively short amount of high-intensity activity.  Also, he knew a little about (or at least knew the importance of) training large dogs from hanging around me.

After a little matchmaking through Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest, he came home with Cash. Cash had a longer racer name, but Cash would do for a pet’s name.

Straight from the track, Cash was one hundred pounds of pure lean fast-twitch muscle, topped with a tiny, streamlined head, outfitted with two huge brown eyes. I know I’m used to looking at a collie’s almond-shaped eyes, but even for greyhounds, Cash’s eyes were oversized. Bunny rabbit big. Big like those Margaret Keane big-eyed children paintings big.

Cash was like if an alien had landed on earth, but it looked like a dog, so everybody just assumed it was a dog. He had no – zero – experience at being a pet dog, so everything about it was new. People were great – he liked this world of people who cooed at him and petted him. What a great idea!  Although he had spent four years of his life penned up alongside dozens of them, he did not know how to interact with dogs. Most of the time he tried to ignore them in the hopes that they would wander away. He did not know what to do with toys, but he knew they were gifts from humans, so he loved them. He was puzzled at this “dog food” that was not the raw meat deemed inedible to serve to humans (or to sell to dog food makers) that he had been eating at the dog track, but he got the hang of it.

Earth to Cash

Earth to Cash

And the fact that he took all this new information in with wide eyes and a happy heart was mind boggling. If people were treated the way they treat dog track greyhounds they would have to be institutionalized for the rest of their lives, but these dogs bounce back like champs.

Dean took Cash everywhere he could. He was gentle and well-behaved (Cash, not Dean). He learned slowly but eagerly, and followed the rules as he understood them. Sitting was next to impossible with his greyhound structure and over-developed musculature – he never sat on his own accord – but he learned to lie down when asked, and he was an enthusiastic walker and car rider.

I got to dog-sit him a couple times, and he fit right in with Scotty the collie. He learned my strict walking rules and mostly followed them. He followed Scotty’s lead around the house and learned the routine quickly. Neither dog was much into games like fetch or tug-of-war, so they were content to just hang out together.

Cash and Scotty.  Two Good Dogs hanging out. Like dogs do.

Cash and Scotty.  Two Good Dogs hanging out. Like dogs do.

Dean has been having the Summer From Hell. Among other life disturbances, he and his wife had to scramble to find a new house when their landlord decided to move back to town. During the move, Dean's work truck broke down. He scrambled to find the money to fix the truck, but as soon as he got it home from the garage, it started to make another death-rattle noise. This one was beyond his capability to fix, so he had to scramble to find the financing to buy a new work truck. Boy, he sure hoped that was the last misfortune this summer.

Soon after, as he was enjoying a beer at the local establishment, there was a commotion outside. It was his motorcycle, parked at the curb. The motorcycle on which he had just restored the engine. Except that it looked a little brighter because it was on fire. Between the fire department and a nearby shopkeeper with a fire extinguisher, the fire got put out, but not before the electrical parts burnt into a charred, melted mass of black tar. There was apparently a problem with the wiring. Now there’s a much bigger problem with the wiring.  He walked the bike to an indulgent friend’s house and joked about putting it on Craigslist. “Ran when parked, may need a tuneup.”

Ran when parked, may need a tuneup

Ran when parked, may need a tuneup

It would have just been a bad summer if Cash had not then had a grand mal seizure while walking in the park on a Sunday. Full, lying on the ground, running at full speed, going nowhere while all other systems malfunctioned at once, seizure. The vet told him that it could be one of many things, from nothing to brain tumors. Only time and expensive tests would tell. First thing to do is wait and see. If he did not have another seizure within twelve hours, the chance that it is something dire goes down quite a bit. 

He got through that twelve hours, but he did not make it through the week. By Wednesday, the seizures started again, and they continued through the night. By Thursday morning, even the vet’s anti-seizure medication could not fully stop them. There was no way to overcome the damage to his brain from the constant seizures. They said goodbye while he was still seizing.

Was it the four years of rotting food and heavy workload that he suffered as a racer that made his brain and body shut down? Or the overbreeding for speed? Or just dumb bad luck? No telling. We do know that he got to love the last two years of his life. Probably got enough smooches in those brief years to last a lifetime. Everybody knew him and loved him.

Good dog Cash.

Good dog Cash.

Dean was devastated, as you can imagine, but in the thick of that ugly day, he did send me this text: “Wanna buy a gently used greyhound? Ran when parked, may need a tuneup.”

POSTSCRIPT: Dean and Jenny's lives are still in a bit of an uproar with new jobs on the horizon and unpacking still to do, but that didn't stop them from looking for another needy greyhound to pour their love into. 

It turned out that there was, indeed, a greyhound who needed them. One who was running out of options fast. Within 24 hours of notifying Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest of their situation, Raider was on their couch.

Raider thinks Dean and Jenny are pretty nice. But he is really in love with their couch. That's okay. He's only two and already has signs of neglect - ground-down teeth from chewing on wire kennels, patchy hair, and ribs and backbone showing from being raced at a Tijuana track. Dean and Jenny (and their couch) will take care of that. 

Dog track racing is slowly declining in the US (the Arizona track where Cash was raced just recently closed), but it persists in five states and around the world. Luckily there are big-hearted people out there helping the industry's castoff dogs find empty couches. If you have a couch that could use a pile of bony love, you could do the same. Here's a link to Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest

The World Is Not Fair But It Should Be

Remember when we were all “2015! Ugh! Good Riddance! Bring on the new year!”?

NOW what do we say? We’re halfway through 2016 and we are making a bigger cock-up of it than the last try. I hate to boil all our jumbled fury and helplessness down to bullet points, but we have all been trained by our own internet habits to comprehend things best this way, so here goes:

  • The world is not fair, but humans are hardwired to believe it should be. This is good because it makes us struggle every day to fix the world.
  • This is also really bad, because it can leave us feeling helpless, or used, or disrespected, or attacked. Then we may lash out. When we lash out, it is often directed at loved ones or innocent bystanders.
  • Some people’s brains don’t work right. Just like some people’s hearts, or eyes, or Isles of Langerhans don’t work right. Unfortunately, we are crap at fixing people’s brains.
  • The NRA has morphed from a sportsman's gun safety organization to a black-hearted oligopoly of profit spawned by rich white men who make gobs of money selling guns and ammunition to scared people by fostering fear and hate. 
  • ISIS is a malevolent pile of evil spawned by twisted men who think if they brutalize and massacre as many humans of the wrong religion (including the wrong brand of Islam) as possible, their twisted version of god will reward them in their twisted version of heaven, which seems to be a ninth level of hell for those poor virgins they expect to continue to abuse there.
  • Tribalism of any type (extreme nationalism, bigotry, homophobia, elitism, counter-elitism, etc.) is a human trait that served us well when we carried spears and wore bikinis made of deer skin, but causes us pain in any arena other than sports. If you start thinking "they" are a bunch of unworthy yahoos, you are thinking with your caveman brain and remember "they" are the same as you.
  • Cops are like you and me, only in the course of their job, they meet dozens of people every day who HATE THEIR GUTS. Because cops are constantly sent to witness and isolate the worst in humans on a daily, minute-by-minute basis, their whole outlook can become skewed and darkened. Beside the actual physical risk of the job, they also face this spiritual risk. If not deliberately tempered by other, more benevolent forces such as family, friends or religion, they can begin to imagine the whole of human life as evil, sneaky, and out to do them harm.
  • This is not an excuse for bad behavior, but it is a warning – to cops and to citizens. Authorities need to make sure their cops are healthy in mind and body. Cops need to find a positive outlet so that they regularly see the good in their fellow humans, especially those who may not look like them. Citizens need to remember that cops may be seeing you through a worst-case-scenario lens where their highest priority is getting through the interaction without getting hurt. Or worse.
  • The antagonism between (mostly white) cops and men of color has a long, true history that is buried deep in the DNA of both groups, and cannot be unwritten by wishing it so. But it can be reduced through acknowledging it, being aware of it, training, hiring more minorities, and then doing more training.
  • I hope I didn’t say anything dumb. Maybe white people with Priuses and MacBooks shouldn’t be the ones to be blabbing about all this race-related violence, but to not act or speak would be worse, so I did what I normally do when I don’t know what else to do. I wrote.

And Now. My Recommendations For You.

All the actions below make a difference in large and small ways. Please do one or more.

  • Pray. In whatever flavor you like. Just do it quietly.
  • Meditate. The history of Meditation is Hindu and Buddhist, but if you’re not Hindu or Buddhist, then it’s not. It’s just a way to rest and reset the mind, and has been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, depression and anger. Google it. There are lots of how-tos.
  • Practice Yoga. Again, this has a Hindu flavor, but it’s really a form of full-body meditation. You can do it in your living room with a video or visit a studio. I find home yoga to be more restful, but you do you.
  • Get Involved. Call your local authorities and ask them how they are facing this challenge. With luck, you will come away with a better idea about how your local government and policing structure is making a difference. If that is not happening, you can voice your wish that they would prioritize training and hiring to address the issue.
  • Practice Random Acts of Kindness. This will feel better for you than for your lucky recipient. Don’t forget to be kind on the road.
  • Pay For Your Privilege With Actual Money. Choose a cause. Start here: http://www.charitynavigator.org/
  • Practice Empathy. Remember, like the meme says, you don’t know your fellow human’s struggle, so please, when someone does something thoughtless, think to yourself “THIS IS MY NONJUDGMENTAL FACE,” and remember that they are living in their own brain and it might be frightening (or completely empty) in there.

Please pass it on. More praying. More meditation. More kindness. That’s the least and most we can do.

Let's Build Something This Summer

Although I’m a fan of alternative music (which I would define as hipster music or maybe rock music for aging punks), I’m not a big fan of the alternative band The Hold Steady. Big fans of The Hold Steady wear band t-shirts and have Hold Steady tattoos and go to Hold Steady concerts. I just have one album. It's not even the latest one.

This album has two songs that I especially like. One is called “Sequestered in Memphis” and it’s a song about the consequences of a night gone horribly wrong, but the reason I like it is because it is a word salad that feels particularly crunchy in my mouth. If I found it on a list of karaoke songs, I might choose it. It’s easy to sing because the lead singer of The Hold Steady is known more for his verbal range than his vocal range. (I’ve never sung karaoke, but I’d like to think that I might if pressed.)

The other is a song called “Constructive Summer.” It’s a song about a mill town with mill folk, who are feeling a little disillusioned and forgotten, but still have a little rowdy hope. So maybe they should get out their hammers and ladders and build something. The words of the bridge are, “Let this be my annual reminder/That we could all be something bigger.”

My summer so far could be called “Sequestered in Summer.” The Captain had a bulging disc his back that was causing damage to his spinal and sciatic nerves, so on June 1, a neurosurgeon went in there and excavated some of that disc. We are in the stage of our lives when we have a neurosurgeon. After the surgery, the neurosurgeon ordered him to sit still for most of the summer. The Captain is a bike and motorcycle riding fire fighter who doesn’t take lying down lying down. But in the interest of having a working back for the rest of his life, he has behaved himself – loudly. I have tried to work around him without making him feel like a piece of furniture, but sometimes I’ve had to fight the instinct to dust his head.

You would think that such a lull in our daily lives would have given me the chance to really spend some quality time in my studio, but life and family has a way of filling the moments of your day unless you carve out time and hang a big DO NOT DISTURB sign on your nose.

Now, the end of June/beginning of July, we have been somewhat de-sequestered. The Captain (who is no longer a captain, but The Battalion Chief doesn’t have the same ring to it) and I have decamped to a camping spot on the southern Oregon coast. 

It can be windy on the southern Oregon coast, so one may need something other than long walks on the beach to keep one occupied.

It can be windy on the southern Oregon coast, so one may need something other than long walks on the beach to keep one occupied.

His physical therapist has given him some exercises and ordered (okayed) him to ride his bike (on a stationary trainer) for a while each day, which he does outside the travel trailer at our camp site, so his mood is improving.

Rehabbing while listening to osprey brag about their fishing achievements.

Rehabbing while listening to osprey brag about their fishing achievements.

Personally, I’m taking some photos that may turn into paintings this fall and I’m thinking about climbing Humbug Mountain. It’s easier than actually climbing it, and I recommend it. I’m doing it while wearing hiking boots, so I’m pretty sure, if we are working on a system whereby the one who scores a majority of votes wins, that I have thereby climbed the mountain.

I fell and scraped my knee in an attempt to get a better photo than this. This one will have to do.

I fell and scraped my knee in an attempt to get a better photo than this. This one will have to do.

I ought to build something this summer. I’m going to start with a fancy DO NOT DISTURB sign.

Then, I’m going to work on my first real portrait. I specialize in landscapes. The reason I specialize in landscapes is because that’s what I feel comfortable doing. I have occasionally painted humans in profile and backlit, but never “full frontal.” Since it is my first, the garbage can will probably see it before you do, but 10,000 hours starts with one. Then I will paint some meerkats I once saw huddled for warmth at a zoo in Colorado Springs. Then for a return to form, some landscapes from photos I took a while back in Central Oregon.

The Captain has been researching ways to use solar and gas generators to provide power while camping off the grid, so he’s got a constructive project.

Let this be my annual reminder that we could all be something bigger, which I am currently achieving by eating brownies in a lawn chair.