Thursday, May 31, 2007

EDM Challenge #6 Goodbye, Baby

When I was a girl I didn't care very much for dolls, but my mother and grandmother did. They bought dolls for me and my sister, and enjoyed them very much. Years later I discovered that Mom had saved our Barbies in a cedar chest in the basement, but that's another story.

In the 1950s and 1960s I was a farm kid and liked riding my bike and playing in the barn. There was one doll I liked though, Little Ricky. He was a big doll, almost infant size, with sleepy eyes, dimples, and a nicely modeled face. He came in a yellow sun suit with his name embroidered on the waistband. He came out in conjunction with the I Love Lucy television show, a show I watched all the time. I hauled him around with me, pushed him in a baby buggy, changed his diapers after I fed him water. Somehow he disappeared, and once I started collecting dolls as an adult I bought him at a show. I was excited to show Mom, but by that time she had forgotten him. She loved the pretty dolls, the Madame Alexanders, Shirley Temple. Even when I showed her a picture of me with Ricky she didn't respond. How could she not remember my favorite? Anyway, she is gone now, and we are selling our house. I am reconsidering what I might like to take with me, and Ricky didn't make the cut. I sold him to a lady in Florida on eBay, and today he is traveling. But because I loved him once, I decided to draw him. This is a quick graphite and colored pencil sketch in my little journal.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No Imelda Marcos

Remember the former Philipine First Lady, Imelda Marcos? The one with about 1,200 pairs of shoes? Well, I am not Imedla Marcos. The shoes in my sketch were my effort at high fashion, Barbie shoes, I called them. I saw high school girls flouncing all over school in them, women at resorts clamboring into boats with them, and I thought, "If they can, I can." I couldn't. I couldn't stand the way they clattered on sidewalks and slapped my heels. I couldn't stand the blisters across the top of my size 9AA foot, or the aching back. In fact, I could hardly stand at all. So I would put them on in the closet, pose in front of the mirror, and then put them backon the shelf. Finally I put them in the Goodwill bag. I am no Barbie - or Imelda.

I have some dressier shoes from my teaching days. It was always a challenge to find shoes that looked "professional" and still had some style and were comfortable enough to walk blocks and blocks, as I did every day in my rather large high school. So, I have some black mid height shoes, some dressier sandals, a couple of pairs of boots with heels in the low to mid height range. I have one pair of high heels I thought would dress up jeans, but I soon realized they were only practical for sitting sipping a cocktail, not walking anywhere. I did buy a trendy pair of linen colored wedges, but they mostly sit on the shelf looking cute. I can walk in them, so that's a plus.

These days my shoe choices are more practical. I wear my Birkies, three pairs in different colors for different pairs of jeans or shorts I might choose, a pair of brown Eastland brogans that keep my tootsies warm and dry when that is what is required. I have the newer cleaner pair of New Balance athletic shoes for my time at the athletic (arthritic?) club, and older pair for around the house, and a still older pair for the garden. I have my moosehide Minnetonka slippers, which will soon need a decent burial, and a equally well worn pair of Clarks clogs that also probably should be retired with honors. And that's it. One of the nice things about retirement for me is the way my needs are getting simpler and simpler. No more Barbie shoes for this Boomer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Everyday Matters Challenges #2, #5, #14

EDM #2 Draw a desk lamp, or other lamp.

EDM #5 Draw your bed.

EDM #14 Draw what you see in the morning when you get up.

Recently I joined on online group designed to encourage people in their creativity, especially visual journals. I had been keeping a personal journal with photographs of beautiful or significant people, places and things, but I wanted to make my writing even more personal with my own drawings. I also wanted some help with ideas, so this group, called Everyday Matters, seemed perfect.

I have included a link on the right side of my blog. I intend to post some of my sketches of everyday things in my life, and today I’m posting three of them. The desk lamp hardly ever gets used, since it throws lots of h eat. But sometimes I need the extra bit of illumination for my aging eyes. The other two sketches are of my wonderful big soft bed, my throne really. I am an insomniac, and I decided that if I can’t sleep, at least I can lounge in comfort. So I ditched the old double bed and bought this Queen-sized model. The last two are of my bedroom, as seen from the bed, and the bathroom cabinet. All are done with a Micron pen and Plume markers.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day, a day that has meant different things me me at different times in my life. When I was in grade school we had programs, sometimes in the gym and sometimes at the town hall. Once I recited In Flanders Fields and I had no real idea what it was about. I remember practicing patriotic songs like God Bless America and the Marine’s Hymn. We children marched up to the little country cemetery and put paper flags on graves, and then we all went home and had a picnic to celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer.

For years another part of Memorial Day, Mom called it Decoration Day, was to get all the metal planters back from Millard Cemetery, Tibbets Cemetery, Hazel Ridge Cemetery in Elkhorn, and the German Settlement Cemetery over near East Troy. Then the planters would be sanded, repainted, weighted down and refilled with fresh artificial flowers. That’s an oxymoron. Then off we’d go, to decorate the graves. I never knew the grandparents, great grandparents, great aunts and great uncles whose graves received her attention, and as she got older my mother decorated fewer markers. I went off to college and then got a teaching job, and I didn’t go out to the cemeteries with her, except a couple times after Dad died. I guess I left it to her because I was too busy. Finally she stopped decorating altogether, unable to get out, forbidden to drive because of poor health.

I’ve taken up decorating graves now. After my mother died a few years ago I made it my task to remember my relatives who have gone before me. And now I know almost all of them, parents, grandparents, even my youngest sister. I take flowers, and grass clippers, and a whisk broom, and I remember them all.

One grave in particular stands out this year, a year when we are thinking again as a nation about the sacrifices families make in times of war. My maternal grandfather, Howard Tess, served in World War I in France. I know from his obituary in1970 that he was a private in the 7th Military Police Company, and that he served in France. I have a picture of him looking impossibly young in his uniform, looking nothing like the grandpa I loved. I know from my mother that the only things he ever told her was that the journey to France by boat made him dreadfully seasick, and that he hated the rats in the trenches. I never heard him speak of his war experiences, ever. When I asked Grandma, shortly before her death a couple years ago, about his time in the war, she said she didn’t remember. What was war like for him? I’ll never know, and I wish I did. So now all I can do is remember the kind man, the master bell-spinner who also worked for the war effort in World War II, when his band equipment factory (Holtons) made munitions, the man who never spoke of his serving his country, but who surely did. At least he came home after his service.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Poetry Sunday

Last summer we visited the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, a trip most remarkable because of the torrential downpour that stranded us in a shelter with a handful of other people for over an hour while water overwhelmed the drains and rose like the Great Flood. I drew the flamingos later from a photo I took earlier that day.

Flamingo Watching
Kay Ryan

Wherever the flamingo goes,
she brings a city’s worth
of furbelows. She seems
unnatural by nature—
too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,
and flexible to the point
of oddity. Perched on
those legs, anything she does
seems like an act. Descending
on her egg or draping her head
along her back, she’s
too exact and sinuous
to convince an audience
she’s serious. The natural elect,
they think, would be less pink,
less able to relax their necks,
less flamboyant in general.
They privately expect that it’s some
poorly jointed bland grey animal
with mitts for hands
whom God protects.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kicking Off the Weekend: Brat Fest

Me, working to break a world record

Friday was the kick-off for the long Memorial Day weekend, and I-90 was jammed with traffic. Friday was also a day that gave me anothe reason to be glad I am retired. I don’t feel compelled to go anywhere this weekend, especially since I already took flowers to the cemeteries for my family. Campers and boaters and picnicers can rejoice, because when in the past we planned to camp, hike or bicycle over Memorial Day it rained buckets. We’re sticking close to home this time and the weather forecast is mostly good.

We did do one new thing on Friday; for the first time we attended the World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison. Wisconsin is famous for lots of things, the Packers, the dairy industry, cheese, beer, and brats, to name a few. I have toured Wisconsin breweries like Pabst and Leinenkugel’s, have gone to Monroe’s Cheese Days, but somehow had missed Madison’s Brat Fest. Where had I been since 1983? Probably finishing final exams and working on grades, but I digress. Brats (bratwurst), for those of you not in the know, are German pork sausages, and they are usually grilled, sometimes simmered, in beer with or without onions, then served on a hard roll or hot dog bun. They are a staple of tailgating parties, and picnics. I like mine with horseradish sauce and sauerkraut, but other popular toppings include mustard, ketchup, onions or pickle relish. My husband is a ketchup and kraut kind of guy.

The Brat Fest folks take grilling brats to an extreme level. They have a customized semi with a huge grill that can cook 750 brats an hour, plus there are auxillary grills for peak times, bringing the capacity up to 9,000 brats per hour. As a friend from Sheboygan says,"That's a big brat fry." Besides Johnsonville Brats, the Brat Fest folks grill hot dogs, and there were Boca hot dogs for the vegetarians. The Weinermobile was there videotaping youngsters singing the hot dog song (see sketchbook rendering). A country band cheerfully played sad songs about folks with cheating hearts, and the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum was putting out their Fathers Day Mustard and selling “Poupon U” tee shirts. Early in the day not too many kiddies were trying out the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ferris Wheel, or Dragon Wagon, but I imagine as the weekend continues the midway will heat up as well.

The four day event is designed to raise funds for a long list of local charities, and organizers hope to set another world’s record for the total number of brats consumed. We like to talk about benchmarks these days. The record at this event was set in 2004, when hungry Wisconsinites ate, with relish I hope, 189,432 brats,1,960 pounds of onions, 161 gallons of mustard, 130 gallons of ketchup and 4,082 pounds of kraut in four days. The bar is set pretty high, but I did my best to help them reach their goal.

UPDATE: Alas, no new world's record. One rainy day prevented the event from breaking its own record.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Recent Reads - Farewell Summer

When I saw that Ray Bradbury had a new novel out, I could barely wait to get it from the library. Here it was at last, the sequel to One of my all time favorite novels, Dandelion Wine. And for me, it came at a time when I was thinking about Bradbury anyway. Ten years ago this June my college roommate and I flew off to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. She had business being there, since she is a journalist. I had no business being there since I am just a reader. I went to hear William Styron, Sol Stein, Fannie Flagg, Jonathan Winters, Charles Schulz, and Ray Bradbury - plus hundreds of would-be novelists, children’s authors, feature writers, and screenplay writers. I can’t believe it was 1997, a lifetime ago, it seems. Time flies.

Anyway, after I heard Bradbury, a heavy man with white hair, thick glasses, and a wicked grin, talk about his experiences growing up in the Midwest, his reading, his writing, and his recent projects, I got in the line of people who wanted him to sign their books. I brought along my high school paperback copy of Dandelion Wine, a book that is saturated with youth, love of life, and a real appreciation of new tennis shoes. I wanted a new hardcover edition, but couldn’t find one, so I made do with the yellowing paperback. In his speech Bradbury said that as a writer he wasn’t always sure that what he wrote meant anything to other people, that writing could be lonely. He said that if you love and author’s work you should tell him. So, when I got to the head of the long line, I shoved my copy of Dandelion Wine toward him, and said, “Ray, I just love you.” I think I mumbled something about using a cutting from the book in a high school oral interpretation contest, or something equally idiotic, and he just looked at me. Finally he said, “What are you doing later?”

I never spoke to Ray Bradbury again, although I sent him a birthday card that year when he was well into his seventies, and expanded on my reasons for loving his writing - his sense of exhuberance, his ability to see and express the light and darkness in the human soul, his Midwestern sensibility, his use of words that are nothing short of poetry. To my surprise he wrote back a hand-typed letter, with a signed photo of him posing as Ahab (he wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick back in the 1950’s). So now ten years later, I was thinking of the man who wrote Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man and Zen and the Art of Writing.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I know that it is sometimes dangerous to revisit book I loved as a younger person; life changes our tastes and interests, and our memories betray us. I suppose I thought that this book would pick up when the previous one left off. In a way it does, the time (the 1920’s) and the place (Greentown) and the main characters (Douglas, Tom, Grandfather) are the same. The poetic language is still there, but the tone here is darker, the characters more haunted by fears and doubts. The themes are classic, love and death.

Much has been made in other reviews of the way the book is structured in three parts: Almost Antietam, Shiloh and Beyond, and Appomatox. It is, of course, the Civil War, only in this case the war is between the old fogies and the young whippersnappers. What we Baby boomers might have called The Generation Gap. Douglas and his young side against Calvin Quartermain and the graying forces of the status quo. The young boys don’t want to grow up, and the old boys don’t want to die. There are skirmishes (the boys swipe the old coots’ chess pieces) and battles (the boys try to stop time by stopping the municipal clock), but in the end: I’d better not say.

I think this book will appeal much more to people closer to Quartermain’s age than to those more like adolescent Douglas. The language is too metaphoric, the action to relaxed to grab younger readers. The notion that one must grow up, that time cannot be stopped and that death must be accepted is one that isn’t going to appeal to a lot of teenagers. The scenes of embryos in jars, and of blooming (and waning) sexuality may be disturbing as well. But for those of us who are marching steadily in our tennis shoes toward retirement and beyond, the book gives us much to consider about life.

Thanks Ray, I still love you.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Jellicle Cat

Bucky is settling in nicely, and has become a wonderful lap cat, something that will be even more charming when fall and winter roll around. Sometimes I need to boot her off my lap because she is just too hot. She's learning not to beg when we sometimes eat our supper in front of the evening news, and she has gotten very accustomed to a small saucer of milk in the morning. My next project is to try and teach her a couple tricks, like "shake," and "sit." She's motivated to please, and she loves tiny bits of cheese (good Wisconsin cat she is), so I have high hopes.

The Song of the Jellicles
T.S. Eliot

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
 Jellicle Cats are rather small;
 Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
 And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
 Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
 Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
 They like to practice their airs and graces
 And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

 Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
 Jellicle Cats are not too big;
 Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
 They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
 Until the Jellicle Moon appears
 They make their toilette and take their repose:
 Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
 Jellicle dry between their toes.

 Jellicle Cats are white and black,
 Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
 Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,
 Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
 They're quiet enough in the morning hours,
 They're quiet enough in the afternoon,
 Reserving their terpsichorean powers
 To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

 Jellicle Cats are black and white,
 Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
 If it happends to be a stormy night
 They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
 If it happens the sun is shining bright
 You would say they had nothing to do at all:
 They are resting and saving themselves to be right
 For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book Group, Friends and Food

Kris, with her raspberry dessert

Like thousands of people, I belong to a neighborhood book group. In our case, the group is all women, and we all don’t live in the neighborhood. People move out of the original area, where everyone could walk to each other’s houses, but can’t give up the book ideas, the general chit chat, or the treats that the group provides.

This month we read The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. With one exception, the group found the writing to be engaging, and they were eager to talk about the author’s desire to understand himself better by understanding his mother. The group likes memoirs, despite public brouhaha over some memoirs being fabricated, and they plan to read another one for June, The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Wells. We’ve read several others before, since the group enjoys talking about family relationships. As I look over our list I see A Girl Named Zippy, Angela’s Ashes, Daughter of the Queen of Sheba, and Too Close to the Falls. I think we also read The Liar’s Club.

Here’s a excerpt I copied into my notebook:

“Mommy’s tears seemed to come from somewhere else, a place far away, a place inside her she never let any of us children visit, and even as a boy I felt there was pain behind them. I thought it was because she wanted to be black like everyone else in church, because maybe God liked black people better, and one day on the way home from church I asked her whether God was black or white.

A deep sigh. “Oh boy...God’s not black. He’s not white. He’s a spirit.”

“Does he like black or white people better?”

“He loves all people. He’s a spirit.”

“What’s a spirit?”

“A spirit’s a spirit.”

“What color is God’s spirit?”

“It doesn’t have a color,” she said. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.”

The photo is of Kris, who makes wonderful treats, treats worth driving out in the country to get, whether you've read the book or not.

She did not have a precise recipe for her lovely pastel frozen dessert, but here is what she told me. She also said you can use whatever flavor ice you want, but the green and pink in this recipe matches her dishes.

Kris’s Frozen Raspberry Dessert
serves about 10 readers

Make a graham cracker crust and bake it in a 9X13 inch pan, then cool.
Soften a carton of pistachio almond ice cream, then spread it on the prepared crust. Freeze.
Pour as much fudge topping over the ice cream as you like. Freeze.
Soften a carton of raspberry sorbet and spread over the fudge layer. Freeze.
Cut into squares and top with fresh raspberries.
Serve to ravenous readers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From My Sketchbook

I have a love/hate relationship with my sketchbooks. It goes way back to high school when sketchbooks were a requirement for almost every art class, and to me that meant a whole little spiral book full of completed drawings. It didn't matter that the teacher told me something different, that it was a place to try things, to store ideas. I still am like that sometimes, though I am better about just sitting wherever I happen to be and drawing people, trees, or whatever is at hand and letting the lines look exploratory and imprecise. But it is hard for me. I want the drawing to look reasonable. I don't want people to come look while I'm working, and someone almost always wants to look. I work rather slowly, so people always move before I finish. Whine, whine. It has helped me to think of my sketchbook as more of a visual journal. Being free to write words in connection with images has freed me from thinking each sketch must be perfect. So now my little books are also filled with random thoughts, poems, recipes, and notes from classes I sometimes take. Rather like this blog.

Last summer I wanted to work on pen and ink drawings, something I don't do very often. I worked from my own photos. Here are my legs and feet in sandals.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Brave Self Portrait

This is me, more or less. I painted a watercolor of myself a year ago for an online challenge (see the Watercolor Passion link). I took my little digital camera out by the lilacs, held it up, and took my own picture. I was peering over my dorky plastic reading glasses, because I thought that was how all my former students thought of me, and frankly I have them on more of the time than not. Then I went up to my little studio, sketched me, and did my utmost to make it look like me. It does, but more in attitude than actual fact. I entered the painting in a Wisconsin Regional Artists show last summer, and the judge called it "brave," which I took to mean unflattering. Then he went on to also say it was "unsuccessful." Ouch! OK, he did speak English as a second language and perhaps didn't have a kinder word than "unsuccessful" in his vocabulary, but I can't let that ruin a painting I worked hard on and spent a bundle to frame. There is an exhibet of self-portraits coming up in Monroe this summer; I think I'll enter it there. I also use it as my avatar on Shelfari, so it has become my online self.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Poetry Sunday

by Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t

sooner or later drown
in the indigoes of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But also I say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness
and that happiness

when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Beloit Art Walk

Last night my husband and I drove south to attend the Beloit Artwalk. It was a lovely evening to wander from store to bank to restaurant, grazing on wee tea sandwiches, cocktail meatballs, cheese and crackers, sweets and even wine. Oh yes, and to look at art. This year's artwalk has 30 locations sponsoring local painters, sculpters, jewelers, photographers and potters. I had a watercolor and a colored pencil piece at the Beloit Fine Arts Incubator, a little gallery that featured works by 30 regional artists. I'm not sure how much art is usually sold at events like this, but people do lots of meeting, greeting, and eating. Certainly the local businesses are shown off to good advantage, and generally a good time is had by everyone. Some business feature live music, and there is a free trolley for the footsore.

A little bit about the Incubator. It's at 520 East Grand Avenue, in Beloit, Wisconsin. The building was built in 1912, and originally housed the Bell Telephone Company. Today the Fine Arts Incubator is a nonprofit organization, and the renovated building has exhibet space, a classroom, and a gift shop. According to a brochure I picked up it also house free groups for artists, drummers, poets and creative writers.

Update - by the time I left today three paintings in the BFAI were sold, and the mood was happy. Some people did more than just gaze and graze. They got out their wallets. The exhibet continues until next Saturday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

They're Back

If you look closely, you'll see that I caught one of our hummingbirds on film, peeking from the far side of the feeder. Growing up on the farm, I never saw these little beauties, but where I live now I have planted honeysuckle vines, and put out sugar water feeders for the past ten years or so. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species that visit here in southern Wisconsin. It took a while to convince the hummers to stop here. The first season I kept making sugar water and never saw a bird. But now we always have at least one nesting pair, and last night I think I saw three dive bombing each other for sipping rights at the feeder. When I'm working outside I generally hear their distinctive whirring hum before I actually see the bird, and I've learned to recogize the chirp they make. My favorite time of day is late afternoon until about supper when the feeder gets sunlight, because then I can see the ruby of the male's throat. Having the hummers return is just another pleasure of spring.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Supper

He did it again. While I was busy outside putting down cedar bark mulch in the flower beds, and later working on a painting, my husband was making an outstanding supper. It was grilled steak, marinated tomatoes with fresh basil and goat cheese (pictured above) and grilled eggplant. I have to tell you, I love that grilled eggplant. Unfortunately it tastes wonderful but is not photogenic. Just another example of how dangerous it is to judge things on looks alone.

Grilled Eggplant Antipasto

one eggplant, peeled and sliced
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
2 Tblsp. dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tblsp. dried basil
6 Tblsp. olive oil

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant slices with salt and let stand on a rack for one hour, then pat dry with paper towels. Grill the slices until tender, brushing with olive oil as needed. My husband adds mesquite to the coals to give the eggplant a smokey flavor. Combine the olive oil with the herbs garlic, season with salt and pepper, and marinate the eggplant overnight. Serve chilled.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Putting It Out There

 watercolor of downtown Janesville sign (sold)

colored pencil of statue at Rotary Gardens

One of the things I wanted to do once I retired was to paint more, and, I hoped, improve. I am painting more, though now that the weather is glorious, I have been spending more time outside than in my little studio (converted guest bedroom). I made it a goal to show my work, and to work toward having enough framed pieces to have a show. I still don't have enough for my own exhibit, but I have two pieces in the Beloit Art Walk that is coming up Friday and Saturday.

One entry is a watercolor of the sign of a local Chinese restaurant, the Cozy Inn. I've been told it is the oldest family run Chinese restaurant in Wisconsin. I know that when my parents got engaged they ate there and bought their rings across the street. I like the old fashioned neon sign, so that is one piece with a local connection. The other piece is done with colored pencil on sanded paper, and is of a statue at our local botanical garden, Rotary Gardens. It is a figure of a woman holding a small pine tree, so I call it Garden Dryad. Another local connection.

My art will be featured with other nonprofessional artists at the Beloit Art Incubator, which is a small gallery. They're for sale, and part of the price goes to the Incubator. We'll see how it goes. No matter what, it will be fun walking from place to place, grazing and sipping, and maybe buying some art.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Poetry Sunday

My sister-in-law's laundry

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every bless├Ęd day,
And cries,
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mothers Day

Mothers Day is tomorrow, and the newspaper is full of ads for gift ideas ("Get a manicure, and your mom gets one free!"), and for expensive brunch buffets. When I was little Grandma would take us girls out the week before Mothers Day and we'd select something that she would pay for, a milk glass candy dish, a pretty blouse, a young flowering crabapple tree. Sometimes we'd make cards at school and present them to Mom. There would be a Sunday dinner, and a carnation corsage.

Mothers Day these days leaves me feeling a little strange, not unhappy exactly, but perhaps excluded. I never became a mother, and my mom is gone. So are all my grandmothers, and most of the older women who behaved in motherly ways toward me when I was growing up. There was my English pen pal, whom I called my English mum, and who died days before my own mother. There was my sweet mother-in-law, who died a couple years after we were married, and my high school girlfriend's mother, and older teachers who looked after me when I was new. All gone now, and I miss them all very much.

These pictures are of my mother, Carol Ann Pierce. She was the younger of two daughters, a girl who grew up during the Depression. She married her high school sweetheart, and stayed married until Dad's death in 1983. She had four children, of whom I am the oldest. She might have been an artist if she hadn't dropped out of art school to marry, but she nurtured creativity in each of us, and she used her own skills to sew, knit, and decorate at holidays for us her entire life. She adored her grandbabies, and she spoiled them as best she could after poor health robbed her of her ability to get about physically and to drive. She kept her friends close until her death in 2004, and I knew when they showed up at her wake to mourn and tell stories that their lives would be poorer when she was gone, as mine still is. So this is my Mothers Day gift this year. Happy Mothers Day, Mom. You're still remembered and loved.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spring Garden Tour

I live in an established neighborhood, one with historic houses and lots of mature trees. Squirrel paradise, I call it. I enjoy the shade on hot summer days, but it makes gardening a challenge. In fact it is too shady in most places to raise vegetables or annual flowers that require full sun. No zinnias here. But spring, especially before the leaves really reach their full size, is wonderful in my garden. The little snow drops and scyllias are first, carpeting the lawn with tiny white and blue blossoms. Then the daffodils and tulips arrive. Now the shade loving hostas and ferns are up, and hidden amongst them other spring flowers. The lily of the valley perfumes the morning air when I water them. I have learned to put tomato cages around the bleeding heart plants; the wires support the delicate branches with the pink heart pendulums. I do the same with the peonies, though they are still in bud. I have woodland plants too, ones that survive competing with tree roots and dry shade. The jacks are in their pulpits, and the trilliums are earth stars of white, soon maturing into a pale pink. I noticed with surprise that the poppies and alliums are beginning to bloom on the sunny south side of the house. The neon colors are eye popping for a few days, unless a rain storm comes to beat their tissue paper petals to the ground. No rain today though.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Meet Bucky. The vet says she's about two. All I know is she is seven and a half pounds of pounce and purr. She spent the morning sweeping dust bunnies under the bed, unhappy about a first trip to the vet, but this afternoon all is forgiven and she's looking for affection. It has been so long since we've had an active and vigorous cat that I had almost forgotten how much fun they can be.

Besides getting settled in with the new cat, I made a trip to the local FFA plant sale at my old high school. It still is a treat to drive over there in shorts a tee shirt and sneakers, after years of dressing up and wearing "professional" shoes. I got myself a bright flat of pink and white impatiens for my flower borders, and then spent the rest of the morning pulling weeds and planting. This is pure joy for me, to be outside on a beautiful day, smelling lily of the valley and lilac, planting flowers. When I was teaching May was a stressful time, getting ready for exams, worrying if certain seniors would be able to earn the credit they needed. The weather would grow warm and instead of being able to enjoy it, I had to find ways to engage young people whose hearts were outside in the warmth and sunshine. Some years all my spring flowers, the trilliums, bloodroot, jack in the pulpits, poppies, would be finished before I even got to see them. This year I get to revel in the beauty of spring.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Happy Day

I love this photo. It was taken at Kern's Mardi Gras World about seven years ago, and this sunny face has always made me smile.

The other thing making me smile is that we adopted a cat from our local shelter yesterday. She's a "tuxedo" cat, black with white on her feet, legs, and face, or maybe a "holstein" cat. She does all the things my poor old sick kitty stopped doing toward the end. She leaps easily to our laps, purrs loudly, runs like a little cheetah. Unfortunately, she is also a little Houdini, and this morning either thugs broke in and kidnapped her or she has done a masterful disappearing act. The food and water is ready. We have new toys and a scratching post. All we need now is to find the cat.


I was fairly certain that thugs had not broken into the house and stolen the cat, but I couldn't really settle down to doing my day until we found Bucky. Sure enough, she's in the rafters in the basement. I just we'll just have to wait until she feels safe enough to come down on her own.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


This is a monotype I completed in a class I took from my friend Mary Ann (See the link "School of Eclectic Art"). One reason I like taking art classes is that I can absorb the energy and enthusiasm of not only the instructor, but also of other students who are stuggling, as I am, to produce something worthwhile. I tend to work in colored pencil and watercolor, which are in my comfort zone. I had never tried any printmaking before, but I was attracted to the process because of how painterly and how unpredictable the results are. This particular image was based on a photo I took several years ago at a friend's farm in Door County. A number of us had gathered for a camping weekend, and I saw a beautiful black cat sunning itself near the barn. The photo is OK, but I like how the print turned out even more.

Which brings me to my topic; we are auditioning cats for the role of "adored pet" in our house. I already wrote that my eighteen-year-old calico Sophie had to be euthanized just before Easter. We have been waiting to get a new cat until we took our trip to New Orleans and painted the basement floor. The floor will be done tomorrow, and then Monday the job of head cat will be awarded to a Humane Society kitty. We both went to the main shelter earlier this week. We peered into cages filled with cats who sqeezed their eyes, sang cat us songs, and reached out their paws toward the soft touches on the other side of the bars. We auditioned two, a little calico similar to our Sophie (only young and healthy) and a jumbo sized tom who cuddled and purred like a pro. Today I visited the satellite shelter at Mounds, and was charmed by a small female with black and white tuxedo markings. How to choose? Who can we bear to leave behind? Whoever comes home will need to purr, play and pounce on both our hearts. The question is, who will it be?

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Big Easy

Last weekend my husband and I returned to visit one of our favorite American cities, New Orleans. I first visited when I was about twelve, with my grandparents. The oldest grandchild and the only one who didn’t get carsick, I was lucky to be taken on summer driving vacations with them all over the country. I particularly remember that my grandfather wanted to visit Al Hirt’s nightclub. Grandpa was a bellspinner; he spun the brass bells on band instruments, and he had worked on Hirt’s custom trumpet. We went to Preservation Hall and saw Sweet Emma Barrett at the piano. We ate at Antoine’s, and I have a souvenir menu from the long ago trip to prove it.

After we married, my husband and I traveled to New Orleans different times, after school let out for summer vacatioin, at spring break, at Thanksgiving. My point is that we had explored the city before Hurricane Katrina hit. We ate and drank, shopped, rode streetcars, went on tours of nightclubs, cemeteries, zoos and swamps. We had seen the terrific and the tacky; but we hadn’t seen the terrible.

This time we had three reasons to visit the Big Easy. We wanted to warm up our chilly Wisconsin bones after a cold a dreary winter and eat to fresh seafood. I wanted to visit a friend I only knew from online book discussions. And we wanted to see for ourselves the progress, or lack of progress, that the area is making in rebuilding itself after the 2005 hurricane.

The first two goals were accomplished easily. We had a comfortable hotel in the French Quarter, within walking distance of all the usual tourist destinations. The Quarter looked pretty much normal with the exception of missing live oaks, more empty storefronts than I remembered and and fewer people on the streets. I wondered if that was because we were two of the only people who were not attending Jazz Fest, or if folks just were nervous to return. So we wandered, peered at art and antiques, stuffed ourselves with gumbo and grilled shrimp. The Jax Brewery building that I remembered being filled with restaurants and shops was only part occupied, and whole sections were boarded up and silent, but shopping meccas don’t always succeed, and I was reassured. We saw a banner on a balcony hat read “Make levees, not war.” A shirt that read “FEMA, Fix Everything My A**”. A bumpersticker that read “New Orleans, a great city to swim home to.”

I also met the woman who I had known only through email conversations, and that meeting went well. We had a delicious brunch at the Renaissance Hotel in the Warehouse district. Still, we hadn’t ventured out far enough to see any real damage from the storm. My friend told us to remember, when we would finally take our Gray Line bus tour, that despite the devastation that remains now 20 months after Katrina, that progress is being made, and that many people have been and still are working to rebuild the neighborhoods, roads, utilities, and services that the storm destroyed. We had seen Jesse Jackson on television over the weekend leading a march in the city, protesting the slow pace and lack of progress in terms of a federal response to the damage. We had also heard about how the government had dropped the ball with regard to aid offered to the area by other countries. But I wasn’t really ready for what I would see.

We felt a little ghoulish wanting to take a tour of the misery Hurricane Katrina caused, but I felt that unless I saw for myself I wouldn’t really understand what happened. The Gray Line bus filled quickly with other people, and we learned that both Mike the bus driver and Joe the tour guide live in areas affected by the storm. Both were friendly, apparently ready to answer any questions and to tell personal stories. I started taking notes:
- the storm affected every neighborhood, black, white, rich, poor
- eighty percent of the city’s 450,000 were uprooted
- the French Quarter had heavy wind damage
- Antoine’s lost their roof and 22,000 bottles of wine
- there were 22 breaks in the levee system
- 300,000 homes damaged or destroyed
- sixty-five percent of the homes still have no electricity, and water pressure is unreliable
- 400,000 vehicles destroyed
- none of the area’s hospitals are fully functioning, the VA hospital will be pulled down,
at least 1,000 trees were lost
- of the 1,400 acres of city parks, 90% were under water

Then I stopped taking notes and just stared. I stared at high rise buildings that I could still see through because the glass of the upper stories was missing. I stared at middle class and ritzy houses with Xs on the doors indicating when the building was searched, by whom, and the the number of bodies that were found there. I stared at houses with holes in their roof, where the owners sat as the waters rose. There were houses that hadn’t been hit by trees, they had floated into trees, and now they sit off their foundations, filling with mold. There were some FEMA trailers linked by electrical lines, some heavy construction, some spray painted messages (Cindy and Ted OK; Don’t bulldoze; Help; U loot, U die). Some houses were being rebuilt on raised pilings. There were empty shopping centers and gas stations, a ghostly skeleton of a roller coaster at Six Flags. Little memorials. Teams of college students working to build Habitat for Humanity houses in the 9th Ward. It looked to me, even though I was told over and over that things are getting slowly better, like the end of the world, like a movie set of the apocalypse. It was overwhelming.

I believe that eventually individuals, charitable organizations, and the government will rebuild much of what has been lost here, that it is the nature of this country to come back from natural and manmade disasters. But I also am thinking of and praying for the people whose families, homes, jobs and schools were altered forever on that August day in 2005.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

May Flowers

I've been trying to decide what to write about our long weekend. We left Saturday and returned Tuesday from a trip to New Orleans. I will write more after I process all the thoughts and emotions that trip produced. The theme everywhere, on shirts, posters, bumper stickers, and people's talk is rebuilding, renewal. That's the message of spring, I suppose.

For now, I'll just say how beautiful spring in Wisconsin is. When we left the dandelions were leaping out of the ground and the leaves were just emerging. Today the leaves are coming out enough to produce some shade, and the lilacs are starting to open. The flowering trees around town are magnificent, gaudy with color and sweet scented. They remind me every year that no matter how cold and dreary winter can be, there is always spring to look forward to.