Slice of Life

My friend Joan, Amore’s breeder, drops by my house tonight on her way back from the hospital where she receives bi-monthly shots in her eye. Three days ago she held a New Year’s Day party following a bout of vomiting she claimed was food-poisoning, non-contagious. I knew better, still I went. Three days later, all four of us guests are sick as well.

I greet her wrapped in a fleece-lined blanket, swaddled in layers of flannel and long-johns, Ugg boots on my feet, my unwashed hair slicked back in a ponytail. I break my self-imposed quarantine to let her in. My mother is recovering from knee surgery; I do not want her to get sick. Still, I knew Joan would stop, contagious or not, the shot in her eye and the hour’s drive still ahead good motivation to take a break, although she would have stopped anyway.

Her fine white hair struts out in many directions, cerulean eyes, red-tinged from the after-effects of the eye exam and shots. “How are you?” I ask.

“Well, how are you,” she asks, almost shyly, like she knows maybe it might not be convenient to stop. But there is no question I will let her in, even if it wasn’t.

“Better,” I say. “Not vomiting. Still can’t eat much as I check off the list of bland, neutral items I have tried—toast, broth, Jell-O. Google lists “BRAT” food—bananas, rice, applesauce and toast—nothing too acidic, no tomatoes, Mom warns.

 “Me, too,” Joan says.

 “Wait, you’re still sick?” I ask as I lead her to the kitchen where we sit at the kitchen table. She was supposed to be all better the day of our party.

“So much for food poisoning,” I point out. “Oh no,” she assures me in a characteristic gush. “I figured it out. I had food poisoning and it was over when you came. Then I got sick like the rest of you.

I bite my tongue and still my rolling eyes. I do not call her on this. She is not joking. “Can you eat anything?” I ask.

Her eyes twinkle like a guilty child and I catch a glimpse down the long aisle of years to what she must have looked like as a girl, “Well,” she sheepishly admits, “I had a craving for stewed tomatoes and lemons.”

My stomach lurches at the thought. Nothing acidic. The irony highlighted by the fact that Joan was once a nurse and should know better. My mother braves us both to sit at the table and chat. She brings a belated Christmas gift for Joan and one for our friend Jane. And, Joan chooses between the one in the Santa and the one in the snowman bag. My 11-year-old nephew Avery moseys in to make himself some dinner—sausage and peanut butter on toast.  It is a tranquil scene, subdued by illness and bemusement.

Joan examines her gift—cupcake mix in a mug—and my mother thanks her for the Monkey Bread mix that she had sent as her own gift. Avery’s fork clangs against his plate as he retrieves his sausage from the microwave. Suddenly, like Glinda wielding a wand, Joan whips out a small spray bottle.            

“Anyone mind peppermint?” she says and before we can answer, she lets out a blanket of spray that literally fills the room and surrounds us in a bubble of breath-stealing, throat-closing, eye-stinging peppermint. Avery, sensitive to smells, bursts into rapid-fire speech, “What the heck is that stench? What did you do? Are you crazy? What is that smell?”

My three pugs come running and sniff the air, Joan, too, lifts her head to the cloud as if breathing in sunshine.

 “Are you crazy lady? That burns,” Avery continues.

 Normally, I would scold him for his rudeness. I would be nervous of Joan’s reaction. Today, I just laugh. Mom laughs. We laugh until my vomit-weary stomach muscles spasm, we laugh as peppermint fills our lungs. We swallow absurdity whole. Joan is the Fairy Godmother of both Chaos and Merriment. It’s why I knew she would stop. It’s why I let her in.  

 Joan            

Joan           

Cast Your Vote

Election day advice from my grumble of pugs...

 Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

 Alfie prefers Trump.

Alfie prefers Trump.

 Amore is writing in Bernie.

Amore is writing in Bernie.

Voting is a serious business, but please remember, no matter who you are voting for this year, lighten up, have some fun, and be kind to those who may disagree with you. In the end, we are all part of the same pack!

More Colored Pencil-Rhianna and Amore

Rhianna Final Colored pencil may be my new addiction so I hope you guys don't get tired of viewing them while I perfect my technique. This picture is of my new pug puppy, Amore, and a young girl from our church, Rhianna. I've been taking Amore to church since I got her last December. She is quiet and well behaved and loves being passed from person to person during the service. As she has gotten a bit older this is not as easy because she is growing so big so quickly, but both Amore and Rhianna still seem to love their cuddle time. Below is the picture I did this from as well as further examples of my process.

1934946_10208341578239868_6771658361017948843_nRhianna Sketches

New Beginnings

FullSizeRender As some of you know, today my first email newsletter went out, keeping you apprised of latest news, classes, art shows etc. If you haven't already subscribed, you will notice there is now a place to do so on the home page of the blog. I hope this is one of many new changes over the course of the next year to make the web site more user friendly.

This newsletter was made possible by an artist development grant through the Vermont Arts Council. This past February a friend told me about the Breaking into Business Program, also sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. My sister-in-law and I attended and the results, including the grant, have been fantastic. The program offered crucial information and advice on how to establish and further your art business as well as awesome networking opportunities. I am really excited about the newsletter, which I will publish monthly to start, that will give you further glimpses into what is going on with my writing, art, and teaching. And, of course, you'll get a fair share of pug news as well.

Which brings me to the latest update—a new litter of pug puppies at my friend Joan's home. Five blacks, all different in shape, size and personality. I'll be introducing them to you in the days ahead. They are three weeks old, have opened their eyes and are learning to stand. The biggest barely fits in two hands, while the little one can curl up in the palm of one.  They are magical and I have been visiting them daily.

Unfortunately, I have to take a break as I am  headed to Philadelphia to volunteer for an open air religious crusade in Nicetown. For those of you who come to the pages of this blog as writing students or art lovers, please don't be dismayed as I share these other details of my life. We are people of story, which is what art and writing and living and memory and memoir is all about. So just as I encourage you to share yours on the page, I am learning to share mine. I will be writing more soon and sharing lots of news, pics and some latest art projects, too. It has been a busy summer, which means there are many stories to tell.

Let Me Get You Up to Speed...

Let me get you up to speed… Let’s say for the sake of argument that all of this blog from Day 1 through the middle of last year was Season 1 of our ongoing saga—the pugs, my art, my writing, my friend Joan, her life, and mine. Then let’s say we went on hiatus—a long one. We’ve done a lot in that time, but how do you capture it all on the blog? You can’t go backwards and who wants to inundate everyone with a year’s worth of material, right? But, how do we jump right back in? I’m going to do my best to bring the story forward.

We’ve had our share of romance…

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No, not me unfortunately, but my pug Alfie. She turned five in January and it was a do or die moment—time to breed her or forgo the idea once and for all. Alfie is my show pug and the plan from the beginning was to breed her and pass on all her wonderful traits. Unfortunately, her heats were uncertain and it took awhile to figure her cycle out. I decided to take a big leap of faith and go for it this year, so toward the end of January, Alfie and I began daily pilgrimages to visit her “boyfriend” at Pugdom, my friend Joan’s house. Challenge no. 1, while Alfie and the Old Man hit it off, he just couldn’t seem to get the job done, so we had to bring in reinforcements—his son, Gryffindor. Gryff was nowhere near as refined in the courting department, but what he lacked in charm, he made up for in finesse and I was fairly certain after thee successful matings that Alfie was pregnant.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Alfie began vomiting and panting and not acting at all right. I ended up taking her to the Emergency Vet only to learn she had pyometrea, a dangerous uterine infection and had to be spayed. No puppies for us. It seemed unfair on a lot of levels, my idea was if I can’t have children of my own right now, at least I’m gonna have puppies, but that didn’t seem to materialize. Our new grand adventure was cut short, but Alfie is okay, in fact, she seems downright happy and the plan for the future is to find another show dog, since after her spaying, Alfie can no longer be shown.

We’ve had our share of religion…

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I spent two weeks in Hawaii last July on the Missions Trip I go on ever year. It was the start of a life-giving time, a creative time, when I returned home I began taking courses to become a certified minister, became a full-fledged member of my church and recently even taught one of our weekly bible studies. I didn’t discover God—I’ve known him all along—I simply got excited about connecting with Him in a while new way and so much has changed.

We’ve had our share of work…

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This fall the college where I worked for the past 12 years closed, so I’ve been finding new opportunities to teach at assisted living facilities, arts centers, writing centers etc. and expanding my repertoire. This summer I am supposed to teach at a teen art camp in Lebanon, N.H. I am presently teaching a course on the relationship between animals and memoir writing called “Pet Projects” at an assisted-living facility also in Lebanon. My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are also putting together a joint workshop called Journal Jam.

The art projects are going well. I’ve been in several shows, sold more work than ever, and introduced new techniques such as encaustic to my collages. I joined an artists’ collective in Burlington that not only carries my work in their gift shop, but networks with area businesses to showcase the work of their members. The xposure has been great. In November, I had a solo show of my digital collages called Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood at Radio Bean in Burlington.

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I’m currently in another juried show at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center called “Healing with Arts.” The idea behind the show is to hang works of art in the cancer treatment center with the belief that art contributes to and reinforces the healing process for patients with caner. It is an important show for me to be apart of as more and more close friends face the disease.

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Also, this fall, a friend made financially possible for me to attend a wonderful and productive writers workshop, Dartbrook Writers Retreat, in the Adirondacks. I worked on pulling some of my blog posts together and creating new writing for a memoir of some of my experiences with my friend Joan. I’m starting to see the themes that underlie the work and why getting to be a part of her life and that of her pugs has been so important to me. The plan is to work more on that over the next year and get that book actually written.

Writer Abigail Thomas and Me at Dartbrook Writers Retreat

So here we are…now that you’re caught up let’s call this Season 2. Stay tune for our next adventure.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

Belle Last week I had one of those days filled with metaphor and meaning, stolen joys and confirmed fears. It is not a day you can sum up in a quick blog post. It is a day that needs to be digested, pondered, explored. It started with a lost dog, TarBaby, my friend Joan’s grand diva of a Pug. Tar Baby began her life at Pugdom, Joan’s home, by getting lost wandering in the woods for 11 days and returning to our amazement as a scrawny, scratched up pup. That was many years ago and TarBaby has transformed from that wee little scamp to an old lady with secrets to share. Weeks ago she suffered a severe injury in a dogfight and Joan has been nursing her back to health. She decided TarBaby needed some time in the sun and while we snacked on Jane’s brown rice breakfast pudding and watched our brood of pugs explore, TarBaby snuck off perhaps desiring one last adventure in her old age. We searched and we searched and could not find her. Hours passed and still no TarBaby. I finally had to leave with the hope that TarBaby’s homing nature would resurface and she would return to the driveway as she had in her youth. No sooner had I hit the road than I received the call that she indeed had found her way home!

Another mile down the road and there was another old dog wandering in the street. Cars stopped on both sides as we tried to corral a wobbling German pointer. She looked dazed and limp and when we finally got ahold of her she climbed happily in one of the cars while I set off to guide them to the local vets. Problem? I had no idea where the local vet lived. I tried to call Joan and finally got through. Googled the vet’s number and entered her address in my GPS, called the veterinarian on the dog’s tags. It was Saturday, no one was in. Joan met me at the vets, who also was not home and we loaded the sweet old lady of a dog in her car with the promise to tell the lady who had been escorting her that we would later text the dog’s fate. We rode up to the ski area where the annual beer festival was taking place to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. Just then, a call from my Mom. She wasn’t feeling well. She was at the pharmacist’s office and thought she might be having a reaction to her new blood pressure medicine. She was ready to drive home, but I couldn’t let her. I called my nephew’s mom, Chesne and asked her to pick her up, then called my Mom back to learn that she was having trouble breathing. I told her to have Chesne bring her to the ER, mere minutes away, and called my brother to have him meet her. Then the phone rang. It was the emergency vet on the other line. Had I found the owner yet? Another ring. The local vet. She was at a memorial service. Could I leave my friend’s number with her answering service in case the owner called? My friend Jane came to the car to share that no one has reported a missing dog. I call my father to tell him about my Mother, call my brother to make sure he is en  route to the hospital. Hit the road and call my Mom again to see if she is okay. She is at the ER, her breathing still a challenge.

My Mom is my rock and my best friend and suddenly I was in charge of making sure she was okay. Those who know me know that I pretty much juggle my family’s responsibilities on a daily basis. Twelve years older than my youngest sibling, I’ve pretty much helped raise them and taken care of their kids, arranging family plans, making sure everyone knows what is going on. I’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s for the family, assuming the role of oldest child. Single and childless, to me my mom remains the earth around which my moon evolves. She alone seems to know that while my shoulders are broad they are capable of bending under the weight, that sometimes it is all too much. I dread the day when she is no longer here. No one wants to lose a parent, but my Mom is more than that. I looked at the medicine cabinet in our bathroom today. Three separate compartments, combined into one large mirror. My parents’ recent choice when renovating the bathroom. There is a place for Dad, and Mom, and me. My compartment sandwiched in between the two of theirs. It has been that way since the beginning, me born one year into their marriage. The three of us. They tried to choose a set up that would give us each a space. It is not the setup I would have chosen. The three cabinets break up the mirror and I cannot see myself. And, yet there I am, my space between theirs. I love my parents. I am thankful that they share their home with me. It’s just hard sometimes seeing myself as separate. If Mom were to go, would I just disappear?

I don’t think it’s unusual for a child of any age to question her identity in light of a parent’s mortality and fortunately my Mom is fine. She indeed had a reaction to her meds and is now home trying out a new one. She will be okay. It is the future I do not like to ponder.

At midnight on Saturday, a car pulled up Joan’s driveway and took the German Pointer’s leash in hand. The dog’s name is Belle, 12 years old. She wandered off lost when they opened her crate. She was not far from home when we found her.  There is probably a metaphor here: flying the coop, feeling lost, dependence, independence, mortality, the mother-and-child bond. Just because things are obvious doesn’t mean they are easy to see. Sometimes we lose ourselves in love.

Postcard

IMG_6618 A couple of months ago I received an email from one of the workers at the St. Augustine Humane Society in Florida. It seemed she owned a pug named Lucky and had stumbled across one of my greeting cards featuring Waffles while cruising the Internet. The Humane Society was looking for an image for the postcards they send out to their grooming clients and they wanted to know if they could use my image of Waffles stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. I have been looking for ways to help humane societies and rescues and found this a wonderful way to do so. I granted them rights to produce a card. Last week I finally got to see the result when the postcard arrived in the mailbox. I hope to get it framed and hang it in my office.

Something New

Over the last year my photographs have been chosen for two Healing with Arts shows at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H. At the last show a fellow artist told me about a four-week class on encaustic painting or painting with pigments mixed with hot wax. We had discussed this before because we were both interested in introducing new elements to our art. The digital collages I make end up being 2-D prints of my work, but I am always interested in introducing 3-D elements and texture to see what they add to a picture when it is once again scanned and compressed into a 2-D image. I thought wax might be an interesting option. Me in front of one of my photographs at the last Healing with Art show.

The class has been a lot of fun in spite of the fact that I've had to relax during the learning process, something that is not easy for me to do, and be willing to make mistakes. The first night we took a square wooden board and covered it with wax and experimented with various techniques to add texture, carve into the surface and to add stencils. Our teacher taught us two different stenciling techniques to add decorative designs to our pieces and I, of course, chose to add pugs. As an aside, the instructor noted that she was very impressed that I could create stencils of pugs on the spot from memory (oh, how little does she know!)

Step 1: My first encaustic experiment.

For week two, the instructor suggested that we bring in some of our own images that we wished to use in our encaustic works. I brought in several of my photo collages.

My Photo Collage: Recipe for a Fairytale.

 

She taught us two dipping techniques for covering the image with wax and then had us experiment by using some other materials she had in her studio such as Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper and Saral Transfer Paper. We also used National Geographic to transfer images to our work.

Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper.

Saral Transfer Paper

I used the Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper to add gold scarabs to my waxed-dipped collage and the Saral Transfer Paper in white to combine two images from National Geographic, placing them at the bottom of the piece.

Waxed Dipped Collage with Transfers.

While working on the image in class I already began to formulate some ideas for what I wanted to do with it when I got home and could experiment in Photoshop. I knew I wanted to keep elements of the original collage such as the colors and feel, but that the new elements were more of a distraction than a complement. I loved, however, how the bottom portion of the image looked. I decided that I would cut it out either literally or in Photoshop and then put it on a new background. Once I got it in Photoshop, however, I began playing around with blurring the background and adding new elements to the image. I had originally planned on waiting to sew on the wax, which has an unique feel and appearance, before manipulating the image in Photoshop, but I couldn't wait and ended up really liking the result. I used both the image of my waxed-dipped collage and my encaustic painting on wood, merging them in Photoshop to create a more textured background. I then began experimenting by adding photographs I have in my "materials" folder in Photoshop. I am far from finished as I want to still print the piece out and experiment with thread and paint and drawing and may even change the piece further or create a whole new one as I progress in my next two classes, but wanted to share with everyone what I have done so far. The instructor is supposed to teach us how we can set up our own encaustic studios or workspaces, which I hope I can do (You need a space that is well-ventilated) because I like the texture it adds to the collages, but also think I could produce some interesting traditional pieces as I learned the techniques better. I'll continue to post pictures as the collage progresses.The friend who introduced me to the encaustic class often prints  her work out on aluminum and I am considering doing so with this piece when it is complete.

Working Draft Digital Collage: Prayer

For now I'm calling it "Prayer."

Easter Bonnets

bonnetsThe girls didn't open their plastic Easter eggs filled with puppy snacks this year-- these two have never been that good at it anyway-- but they did get an outing and some new Easter bonnets.

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