Archive for the ‘painting’ Category

Reflections on a kitchen floor

October 31, 2009

The String Quartet K458 of Mozart ran sweeping melodies through Kay’s thoughts mingled with some odd memories.

Lizbet was arriving. The kitchen floor desperately needed cleaning. There were coffee spills, coin size, around the microwave and in the corner where she prepared food.  There was the spot where some drawing charcoal had spilled. She had cleaned up, more or less, but there was a circle of grey spanning the radius of her arm-length where she had wiped it. She’d gone on with her drawing and not gone back to finish the job.  She would not want Lizbet to see that.

Kay carefully lowered herself onto her achy knees and dipped the floor cloth in the lukewarm soapy water. She began her scrubbing, concentrating on the lines of faux-tile that caught the dirt. Who, she grumbled silently, would design a kitchen vinyl flooring with ridges to catch the dirt. It was diabolical. It must have been a man who had never cleaned a kitchen floor.

She wondered if her mother was looking down on her from Heaven. If so, she might have been chuckling that it was  Kay’s little hell on earth, to be scrubbing floors, albeit her own. She might have been doing a little bit of “I told you so-ing”.

Kay had always known that her mother had vicariously wished many things for Kay without really asking whether Kay had wanted them for herself. Some had worked out well – like the music lessons. No, Kay had not become the Concert pianist her mother had hoped. (Thank God, Kay prayed silently. The life of a Concert Pianist cannot be an easy one, travelling always to cities where one has no friends, where the hotel is as cold and unwelcoming as the last one in the last city); always being reviewed by critics, always having to be on show. But Kay loved her music and played the piano almost every day That had been a huge gift in her life.

Kay had been shocked when Heather had owned up that Mother’s dream life for Kay was Wife of a University President.  As Kay swabbed her cloth back and forth, rinsing from time to time,  wringing out the cloth and recommencing, Kay’s thoughts turned to how that possibility might be.

Instead of swiping this slightly grey floor, she might be sitting at an urn, pouring tea for Faculty Women, warm in a luxurious room with fine china and polished silver.  If there were no Tea in progress, perhaps she would be in tennis whites, swinging away at a ball in practice, or chatting up some academic wife, lobbing balls across the net. No, Kay thought. She had no regrets. She had led an interesting life.  Not an easy life, but interesting.

Mozart’s violins sang sweetly with a little waltz rhythm. Kay found herself swiping the floor in time with the tune. At least it was her own floor, she opined. She wasn’t earning her living scrubbing someone else’s floors on her knees.

The only way to get a floor really clean was to get up close and personal with it. Kay had no faith in the new mop technologies nor the old. The sponges fell apart far to fast and didn’t get into the corners well. When they needed rinsing, there were awkward motions and drips of accumulated grime that spilled on the floor. The new, well advertised Spiffies promised an easier task and a cleaner floor, but they were also a disposable technology which went against the grain of Kay’s environmental sympathies. One floor cleaning and throw away the offending dirt on a handy-dandy cloth, right into the garbage bin – if only one cloth per floor was the dosage. Kay had her doubts.

Floor cleaning is not mind-engaging work and her mind continued a conversation with her mother.

“I know you wanted the best for me,” she said in an acceding gesture of atonement, ” but had you no thought that I wanted something else for my?  After all, I told you clearly enough that I wanted to be an artist.”

That hadn’t been an acceptable occupation for a young upcoming woman. The family approved choices were clear. Get a degree. Marry a professional with ambition. Raise children to an even higher level of Academia. Shoot for the stars. Support his career until he became president. Run interference with any who might aspire to the same. Promote him in all his work. Hold teas. Do charitable work. Schmooze with faculty staff and wives. Play tennis and bridge.

It has been a terrible shock for Mother when Kay had gone Hippie. A shock to find her, run away from home,  living in an industrial district while finishing University. It was a shock when she had confessed to both smoking and inhaling. And when Kay had chosen her husband, well! That was the last straw.

Kay admitted that it hadn’t been a wise choice.  The marriage had not lasted long. But Kay did not like to dwell on those early days of independence.

What she could tot up on the good side of her experience was the teaching that eventually placed her in a prestigious Art school. She would never regret the years she had spent abroad studying in Europe nor the interesting things she had done thereafter.  She had come home fluently speaking another language.  When finally she had settled down, mid-life, to a continuous job, she had risen in the ranks and taken on responsibility, for which, finally, her mother had been proud.

Now here she was, retired and on creaky knees, swabbing the decks. By this time, Kay had reached the other door of the kitchen, all the floor looking uniformly the same colour.  Perhaps it’s only uniformly grey, she mused.

She backed out on all fours, found the nearby stairs to help her rise again, reflecting on this accomplishment too. It was only July when she had been unable to walk again, from back and knee injuries; so these knees, performing – maybe not to her will, exactly , but none the less performing – form and function, were something of a success as well.

It was a good life and it wasn’t over yet. Maybe, just someday maybe, Kay would get someone to come clean her floors and she could spend that afternoon going out to tea.

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Preprandial hornet

September 8, 2009

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Lizbet lured Kay to the lake with promises of fresh air, warm bathing water and a fine picnic table to set her paints upon.

Kay gathered her paint pots and paraphernalia, locked the cabin door behind her and toted her kit down to the beach. Lizbet was just coming out of the water, her wet dog dancing around her, teasing Lizbet with a stick that she would not let go.

At ankle deep, the dog shook with a mighty wiggle, radiating the lake water out four feet about her in a diamond spray as the droplets caught the sun.

“Oh,” says Liz, “I was just coming out. Are you coming in?”

“How cold is it?”

“Seventy-two degrees warm,” she replied. “They tested it this morning. It’s not bad if you go in slowly. You get your feet wet and let them freeze. When you don’t feel them anymore, you move in up to your knees and let them freeze. You keep doing that until you are in. Everything’s frozen so you feel warm” She hesitated a minute noticing that Kay was not at all convinced and added dubiously, “and there are warm pockets…”

Her words hung in the air. Kay had no intention of freezing herself for the pleasure of a two minute swim and the unlikely chance of finding a warm pocket.  She unpacked her palette, her paints and vials, her water tub and her brushes and paper until they spread over the entire table.

Looking across the lake, she saw little to paint.  Smoke still hung heavily above the water obscuring the low mountain, obscuring even where the shore and land met. The sky was grey with a pall of ocher-tinted smoke coming from the west. The Sorrento fire had grown from thirty five to seven hundred kilometers square overnight. It was unimaginably huge.

The cloud travelling east towards Seymour Arm was smoke, not moisture. Moisture in the form of rain had not been seen for a month and then, it had barely wet the surface.

There were children on the beach screeching in their high pitched voices, a band of six small boys, cousins, were building a fort from beach rock. One of their fathers was an engineer and the child was precociously instructing the boys to reinforce the bearing wall, to dig out drainage and to grout the stones with sand as the five boys piled the stones three wide and three deep.

Two toddlers were lumbering along precariously as only toddlers can, bottom heavy with diapers and top heavy with yellow life vests. Thin girls were parading in their bikinis, exhorting each other to run into the water, hitching the panties that would not stay firmly up over their skeletal hips.  When they raced back out of the water just as fast as they went in, they quickly wrapped large beach towels over their heads and about their slender frames, looking like miniature Biblical figures.

Kay watched in wonder at their insouciant sense of balance and their indifference to the rough stones that scattered the beach beneath their tender feet.

Lizbet took her leave.

“I’m going to get into dry clothes,” she said as she walked up the sandy hill to the road and from there to the cabin.

Kay shrugged. It had taken her half an hour to get down and to prepare to paint. If she didn’t find anything to paint, at least she could drink in the fresh air and watch the activity flowing around her.

It was almost an hour later when Lizbet’s voice came, proclaiming from the road, “Don’t ever say I don’t do things for you! I’ve brought you a glass of wine!”

Sure enough, she was balancing two glasses of red as she picked her way over the tufts of dried yellow grass that gave purchase on the sandy hill to the table.

Coming behind her was Heather’s husband, grinning, balancing his own glass filled with a milky brown liqueur, his libation of choice, Baileys.

Kay moved her spread of painting tools out of the way and the three of them clinked glasses and sipped away as they chatted.
Kay, absorbed in a child and its movements and continuing on with her daubings of a moored boat, payed little attention to the conversation and the wine.

She loaded her brush with blue and carefully drew it along side of the boat she was painting. A few strokes of the same blue over the first wash served to describe some reflection and water movement below the boat.  Then she picked up her wine glass and savored two long sips of wine.

It’s one of those things. You don’t really look at what you are doing. You are focusing on one thing and doing another. Beach-side multi-tasking. Out of  peripheral vision, a movement catches your attention. Your brain is slow to register; it does not compute the image; the pattern slowly emerges; an alert comes far to late for the registering message to be heeded. There was something black in the red liquid contained in her glass that she had just freely drunk from.

“EWWWWW!

She almost flung the glass from her. There was a great black insect in the bowl of it drunkenly swimming in the red wine. It was wearing white and black striped swimming trunks and she had narrowly missed ingesting the ugly beast!

Kay touched the glass gingerly by the stem, pushing it away from her. It was a very large hornet. She dumped the glass to make it go away, but the hornet was not interested in leaving. The hornet climbed swayingly to the rim of the glass and fell helplessly back into the residue of wine. He licked his angular legs and rubbed his mandible and antennae. Oh wine! How Divine!

Kay closed her eyes and said a powerful prayer of thanks. She had narrowly missed ingesting that ugly besotted, black striped beast.

The insect, like many a drunken fool, proceeded unaware of Kay’s repulsion. He continued to wobble and sway about the rim and down again into the cup, bewildered that his drinking partner had cut off his supply.

Kay packed away her kit and headed back to the cabin to make dinner.

When Lizbet and Heather’s husband came in for dinner, Lizbet was laughing.

“He misses you! He’s still down there drunkenly calling your name. Jason gave him a droplet of Baileys as we left, but it just wasn’t the same. I distinctly heard him cry, “Sauvignon, Sauvignon, my beauty, where are you!”

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Perylene Maroon

July 18, 2009

Lizbet has been visiting. She left yesterday and I was sorry to see her go. We have a common interest in art, although her work is very different from mine.  She’s a fine watercolourist.

On Wednesday, we drove down to the Big Box store to load her up with cases of canned goods and various other items she likes enough to buy in quantity. Canned peaches and canned pineapple are two favorites. She’s partial to the Dempster Cinnamon Raisin bread and the Squirrelly no-flour whole grain bread that she can buy there at an advantageous price.She picked up a kilo of fancy nuts and a few other things while she was at it.  In Nelson, she doesn’t have access to this kind of discount store and we are all counting our pennies now in retirement.

I convinced her that the seven cent difference in gasoline might be easy on her pocket book as well.  We drove up to the forward-most pump and she leaped out of the car.  I did  the same. After all, the gas tank was on my, the passenger, side. She dove back into the car to get something – her credit card or who-knows-what. All that matters is that while her head was buried in the car I was exclaiming over the candy red metallic painted Model-T Ford replica that was parked on the curb of the gas station.

She, meanwhile, was goggling over a MKX Lincoln on the other side of the gas pump.

“Perylene Maroon, wouldn’t you say? Pure Perylene!” she exclaims.

“Looks like Candy Red – what do you call it when it kind of sparkles right in the paint? Metallic? Yeah, Metallic Candy Red! Just look at that colour!” I return to her.

“No!” she says. “It’s maroon.”

We’re sisters. This is a common kind of misunderstanding we have. We don’t even listen to each other. We aren’t even talking about the same vehicle but we’re ready to defend our side of the fence with fierceness. It’s the opportunity for a great squabble that will end, we are sure, in some kind of stand off where no one is really offended. Or maybe just a few ruffled feathers and then we straighten it out and we’re a little sensitive for a moment or two. In this case, in hindsight, nobody even had to lose!

She pulls her head out of the car. “Look!”, she commands. “It’s Maroon.” She’s pointing at the the MX5.  Simultaneously, I’m saying, “Look! with the same directorial passion, arm outstretched to the Model T look-alike. “It couldn’t be a more pure Candy red  – an Alizaron Crimson. And Oh! That one there is pretty nice too. Metallic Burnt Sienna.’

I turn around to look at the equally metallic paint job on the MXK. She jerks her head in the direction of my outstretched arm, right down the arrow-like index finger to the car she had not noticed before.

“See, I told you,” we both say simultaneously.

“Oh!” we both say with a startled surprise, and start to laugh.

“I didn’t hear you,” we both say in unison.

“When you were talking to me, your head was in the car,” I say while she, talking at the same time says, “You got out of the car as I was speaking to you. Nobody ever listens to me.”

“Good grief!” she says. “You are about the only person I can have these kinds of conversations with.  People must think we are completely  starkers. We’re babbling along in conversation defining everything in the colour of Windsor and Newton pigments.”

Lizbet, as I’ve mentioned before, has a talent for meeting people. Next thing I know, she’s marching over to the owner of the Lincoln who is about to get back into her car.

“Excuse me,” calls Lizbet. “Excuse me, ” she calls a bit louder until the lady turns around in a bit of a surprise as if Lizbet were about to announce she had a flat tire. Lizbet’s voice reduces from her normal classroom volume to a conversational tone that I no longer can hear. She’s gesticulating, pointing to the red Model T, laughing, telling her story about our argument on the subject of car colours.

The lady turns towards me, some thirty feet away now, and calls as if she were calling her kids in from the back forty, “It’s Cinnamon. Metallic Cinnamon, they called it.”

I nod my head, smile, glance admiringly at her vehicle and get back into Lizbets car. Lizbet keeps on talking. The woman puts one foot on the dashboard and makes to climb into the car. Lizbet starts to make her way back to our vehicle.

“She just got the car,” Lizbet informs me. “She’ really happy with it. Great for camping. They’re leaving tomorrow for a week holiday.” She added in more detail – number of kids, the  woman’s name, her husband’s name, where they were going.  In less than five minutes, Lizbet had the woman talking to her as if she were her best friend. It always startles me. I wouldn’t even have dared to ask about the car’s color.

“How did we get into that conversation?” I ask Lizbet. We are both making a concerted effort to not get into inflamed conversation of misunderstanding.

“I told you the Lincoln was Maroon,” she answers. “You didn’t listen. I’d already said that and then you were telling me to look at it. Nobody ever listens to me.” She had a huge smile on her face like she’d won a prize.

I began to laugh. We both began to laugh.

“Perylene. I just love the sound of it. And Quinacridone. Where do they come up with these names?” she says. We both shake our heads, still chortling. Lizbet drives off and finds us a parking space.

Just a wee scrap of useless information I found on the Lincoln site,

  • Cars with metallic paint are worth more than cars with flat colours and usually demand a premium in dealer showrooms. Metallic cars are said to sell faster as used cars, and could be worth more than a flat-coloured counterpart.
  • Loud colours such as reds, yellows and oranges are generally more popular on sports cars and compacts, while larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, tend to me (sic) more neutral.

And there you have it.

Between you and me, though, I never admitted that I didn’t have a clue what pigment colour she was talking about. It’s not one that I use. So I looked it up on the Internet, as I often do to keep my facts right.

She was right on. It was a perfect colour for the Model T – like a fat ripe cherry or only slightly darker than a red candy apple, all aglow.

It you want to look it up, I found it on this site:

http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/waterr.html

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Valentines Day

February 18, 2009

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This is one of my recent daubings, not too serious, that I used as a demonstration to show a friend that she too could paint. I simply put on a ground of ochre then painted on the heart.  Then I used a stencil and a thin wash of the same red to make the pattern behind it. It’s the kind of task non-painters can tackle because they will get a simple image that looks good, and then they have learned to hold a brush, mix paints, applied an underpainting, experienced an opaque use of paint and a transparent one.

There’s a story behind this.

Both of us live alone. With no significant other, as  euphemistically each of us are,  Valentines Day comes with no one to celebrate it with.  The phone was ringing off the hook, you understand, but I’ve been screening my calls because Otto, my brother, is harassing me over family matters and I don’t want to talk to him.

While I was out getting my hair trimmed and set, Robert Redford left a message to say that he was stuck down at Sundance with his business concerns but wished me a fabulous Valentines Day. Despite his wrinkles, he could put his shoes under my bed any time.

I’m rather fickle, now that I’m single, so the calls kept flooding in. Paul Gross, Harrison Ford, William Petersen (CSI’s Gil Grissom), and on and on.  But despite their jet setting life-styles,  somehow none of these offers turned into a concrete commitment for a wine and dine.

Late Thursday, I had a chat with my good friend Doreen who similarly was in a quandry. Whom to choose from all the good offers?

On Saturday, she phoned around nine. She didn’t feel like a Valentines fling and she hadn’t accepted any of them. In preference, she opted for a quiet evening, a bottle of wine, a sane conversation. She thought she would just stay home.  Except the day was beautifully sunny and she had a friend, Jacqueline,  who had just moved into my town and since Doreen was coming all the way out to see her friend’s new house,  could come out and see me at the same time? Perhaps we could both see Jacqueline and then Jacqui would have a contact in town.

It would have to be in the afternoon. Jacqueline was going to Bedford House with her devoted husband for SVD dinner at six. Anyway, we would want to meet Jacqueline without Steve because, well, you know, the conversation changed the minute you inserted a man into it. No more conversations about recent pedicures, past loves and high school beaux, gardening finds, kitchen recipes.

I suggested that Doreen stay for dinner. A good bottle of wine and some conversation was in order.  And so it was arranged like that.

On Friday, I had a funny day. I had a client coming to see my art work. The client was proposing a showing of my art work in the lobby of her business. The house had been cleaned up beautifully and I needed it clean for Friday week when I was having my next Art Salon. There’s no point in cleaning up twice.

Once my visitor left, I just couldn’t get started at anything else. The house looked unfamiliar because everything was tidy and put away. I didn’t know where to start.  I sat in front of the television watching the CBC news, the business report, Don Newman’s Politics, the weather, even a bit of sports. Now there’s another man who could offer his shoes….

I washed my few dishes. I picked up the pile at the front door, all of which is slated to be delivered or disposed of elsewhere than my house. I decided to deal with the infamous package of a small baby crib blanket that I had made for a friend in Mexico who had just produced her first, an exquisite little boy. I had wrapped it in a gold gift bag complete with a bit of bright coloured tissue paper thinking that, if they opened it at the border, they would not have to destroy a beautiful wrapping job. This fit very nicely into a plain small liquor store box, the kind that holds twelve bottles.

Previously in the week, I had taken this to the Laity Street post office and the clerk brought out her measuring tape.

“Before you start putting it through as a sale, could you please tell me how much it will cost to go surface?” I asked.

Through half glasses, she looked up at me sternly, “Surface is $59.50. If you want to send it airmail, it’s only $75.00.” Her gaze held me, waiting for an answer.

Gadzooks! That was incredible! What on earth had happened to our postal system!

“For Pete’s sake” I expostulated.  “It’s a third of the return air fare to go there. I’ll deliver it myself!”

I took the box away from her, asking “Does size matter?” She disdained a reply. She was already dealing with someone else.

So on this Friday, I found a clean shoe box. I took away the fancy gift bag, wrapped the blanket in a pristine white Kitchen Catcher plastic bag and stuffed it into the box. It just fit. The card that went with it almost made it too much – a final straw – but I taped the box shut with clear packing tape and it would hold.  I wrapped it in Kraft paper and then addressed it to Dianella and went off to the post office at 224th Street in the drugstore.

When I got there, there was a small line-up. The customer at the counter kept looking back at the three of us waiting, apologizing, “Sorry, this is taking so long.” He hesitated a few seconds and nervously turned back to us again, “Sorry. So sorry.”

It didn’t matter to me. I had time. But as I often  do, I started to make some wisecrack out loud, just in case I could entertain myself with a conversation. The woman ahead of me replied and we had quite a conversation. I told her that I hadn’t lived in this community long, and she confessed that she had only been here two weeks.

“Are you visiting or have you moved here?” I asked.

“Oh, we just moved here.”

“What made you choose Whonnock?” I asked. Our town is a bit obscure and out in the sticks.

“My husband has retired and but he’s still working two days a week with a Veterinarian here.” Her accent sounded English accent. Well, it wasn’t really a clear English accent. I eventually asked her where she came from and I remembered her saying Australia.

She asked me what I did and I told her I was retired, but that I was starting a gallery and studio in my house.

You know how hard it is sometimes when you move to a new community. You don’t know where things are and you don’t know the best place to buy your vegetables. You would like a referral to a doctor or a dentist but you don’t know whom to ask. She was really a friendly natural sort, so I offered her my business card and promised her a cup of tea or coffee, her choice, if she would like to come to visit. She said her name was Jacqui and I promptly forgot it.

She was delighted and said she would come, but she and her husband were going to Hawaii for a month. She’d get in touch with me in April when she got back. She loved art and she would be just thrilled to come see my work.

By that time, the line moved forward, she became engaged with the post mistress and when she was done, it was my turn. We waved each other good bye and that was that.

The post mistress measured my shoe box and informed me that surface mail would cost $14.00 and if I wanted to send it air, it would cost $27.00.  There was no tracking on the surface mail, but I could insure it for $100.00 and if it did not arrive in six weeks, I could claim the insurance.

“So!” I reflected out loud “Size does matter!”

“Yes,” she said, conversationally, and next time you might think of using a bubble wrap envelope that we sell, if it’s something that can’t break. It’s so light that it reduces the cost as well.”

I went away happy. I’m still planning that trip to Mexico, but I don’t have to do it right away now; and Dianella will have the blanket for her baby before he has outgrown it.

Doreen arrived on Saturday and we had a good bowl of hearty soup before we went off to her friends place at two. I recounted my adventure at the post office and told her I had really enjoyed the woman’s company. It would be great if she took me up on coming for tea.

“There’s a lot of construction going on here. Even with this recession going on, this community is going strong. Here and Vancouver, it was officially reported that there is no slowdown in housing starts. Everywhere else the reports of job losses are devastating. I just can’t imagine what those poor people will do without jobs, ” I commiserated.

We got in the car after lunch. I had the map and navigated. I couldn’t find the exact address and we went down Kanaka Creek Road to a dead end and never found our cross street. Doreen called her friend and we retraced our route, found Lougheed Highway again and then our cross street that would take us up into a new housing development of Whistler-style chalets – all duplexes, all the same. The landscaping had not yet been done. Each place had a double garage. Each was perched on a hillside. There were lovely views out the back of  the Kanaka Creek Park Reserve and on the other side,  interesting repeating views of rooftops and gables. All was spanking brand new.

We found the house number and parked the car on the steep driveway. Doreen knocked on the door. The door opened and the woman answering gave a huge hug to Doreen and they chattered a bit in greeting. I stared in confusion.  I’ve got a bit of short term memory loss these days and I knew the face but I couldn’t place it.

“I know you!” I said, a bit challenging, a bit challenged. “I’ve met you before! But where?”

“The Post office! I talked to you at the post office yesterday.”
“Of course, ” I answered, relieved. It wasn’t someone I had known for a long time. I wasn’t really insulting someone with my faulty memory.

“Too much!” declared both Doreen and Jacqueline. “That’s just too funny! I can’t believe it!.

“When you told me you met someone yesterday, you said they came from Australia. Jacqueline is from South Africa. I never thought to put the two together. Isn’t that a hoot!”

To cover my embarassment, I said, “You were supposed to come to my house for tea, not the other way round. Isn’t this amazing!”

So we went in and had a cup of tea and a wonderful chat. Jacqueline truly is a lovely woman – graceful, gracious, interesting, accomplished. I’m impressed. She will be, if she too wishes it, a great friend.

So then Jacqueline recounted how she had come home from the Post office and recounted her day to her husband.

“What is is with all these Kay’s?” she had  said. “Doreen told me she was bringing her friend who lives here out to meet me tomorrow; then I meet this one in the Post Office; and then, we just met one last week. Where are they all coming from, all of a sudden?”

We spent a good half hour dissecting this coincidence:
How had I not remembered that she came from South Africa not Australia?

I confessed that I had guessed Australia then when corrected, my brain did not register it. Anyway, it hadn’t been hugely important, that fact, so I was just telling the story and Australia was good enough for someone you might never see again. It wasn’t a critical piece of information.

Why hadn’t Doreen connected the information? Well, Kay had said the people were from Australia, and Doreen’s friends were from West Vancouver. Kay hadn’t known that Jacqueline had been living in West Vancouver before they moved here.

Why hadn’t Kay remembered Jacqueline’s face and name, yet she the story was important enough to recount it to Doreen? No answer on that one – Kay was simply a bit memory challenged now.

We had a good three hour visit – a tour of the house and gardens, a cup of tea, and one of those conversations that ranged from toenail varnishing to medical science discoveries (Doreen being in the field of endeavour) .

When Doreen and I got back home for dinner, we decided that if we were going to get a visit in, ourselves, that we would crack the bottle of wine and she would stay overnight so she could enjoy her glasses of wine and not have to drive afterwards.

After dinner, I promised to show her how to paint. She with the PhD claimed to be an art dummy. I pride myself on being able to get anyone started on the ruinous addiction of painting.  We had two small canvases to work with. No point in biting off more than you can chew in one evening.

This amazing friend five foot two blond  not only can tell you the latest in DNA research, she has installed her own hardwood floors in her apartment, built her own furniture, painted her entire apartment herself, sewn her own drapes, but she tells me she can’t paint – artistically, that is.

I gave her a dab of yellow ochre and a small house painting bristle brush and bade her to cover the entire surface of her canvas with the ochre.  Then we had a glass of wine and while we let it dry. With acrylics, this is fast. By the time we’d finished glass number one, I gave her a dab of cadmium red and asked her to paint a heart on the canvas. I had a similar canvas prepared with yellow ochre and I demonstrated the heart. She followed.

While that dried, I repeated to her my lessons on composition (which you can find way back somewhere in these posts). I had a paper lace doily at hand so I demonstrated how one could  cut up the background space with other shapes to make the composition more interesting.

She had her own ideas about how she would add to her two basic elements but wanted to think about how that would look. We repaired to the living room and  sat back down with glass of wine number two for a bit of conversation while, multi-tasking, she decided what else she could do to complete her painting.

The results of hers were just great for a first painting! Brushphobia has diminished considerably. She claims that it was fun! so perhaps she will do it again.And no, for the moment you don’t get to see it. I ‘ll have to ask her permission to post it, so check back if later if you are interested.

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Painting is one of those things – if you like it, it keeps drawing you in bit by bit until you are addicted (in a very positive way) to its wiles.  It takes you away from the trials of daily life. It allows one to engage in a mental activity much akin to meditation where the single stroke of a brush can be the most important task at hand; or the exact mix of a grey is a crucial and pleasant artistic decision.

And there, my friends, is the story behind this little decorative painting, sitting in Doreen’s back-pack at the front door, waiting the time of departure; and I have her first effort sitting on my easel.

The Dreaded Valentines has come and gone

Maple Keys

November 14, 2008

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I haven’t been posting much lately as I prepare to take some work out into the community and show my wares.

I’m having a party for some local artists before the Christmas rush, and it’s coming up just the day after the market. I’m doing a mix of house cleaning, food prep, business prep and ….not much blogging.

Just to keep my faithful readers coming back, I’m going to offer you a few photos to enjoy. They are a promise that I’ll be back… soon.

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These leaves that fall and die on concrete, leave a ghost of their passing.
I love the fragility of it, and the endurance.

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and last but not least

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When the rain stopped, these drops clung to every branch tip. I find that just glorious!

My Narnia cupboard

August 8, 2008

Have I told you about my Narnia cupboard?

It sits under the slope of the roof behind a pale yellow plaster wall. The last owner of the house was fond of stenciling patterns on things and this yellow wall has a grape leaf border in a soft green running the length of the hallway. With the sloping roof and the spindled banister, it’s all appropriately designed to agree with this octogenarian house.

The door to the cupboard has an old brass handle that has become black with age. Though the door is smooth on the outside, on the inside, you can see that the door was made with interlocking floor boards. there are crossbars four inches from top and bottom and a bar connecting the two that transverses from left to right, making a “Z’ shape to brace the boards. It’s a solid door, the kind you would see on old farmhouses, which I think this house might have been.

It looks quite odd to see a handle on the wall that seems to go nowhere and that’s why I think of it as my Narnia cupboard.

It’s a shame really that our country is so new that people didn’t think to record the history of these pioneer homes, but I suppose they were so busy carving out a living that they didn’t have time to occupy themselves with such things. Now curators eagerly search out scraps of information from official records and saved letters, but the people who lived here first are gone; their memories are gone with them.

When I moved into the house a year ago, there were priorities. All the things that were to go into this storage space were parked in front of it, not put away at all. Being under the slope of the roof, the cupboard is not easy to access. Every time I thought about putting the things in there, I remembered that I would not be willing to do that until I felt it was clean; but that was not going to be easy.

First of all, the cupboard had been painted sometime in the ‘Twenties or ‘Thirties and even then, it may have been done with surplus paint. It was a deep avocado colour that had gotten grungier with age. I wasn’t going to be able to see that it was clean unless it was white. If it was going to be white, I’d have to crawl in there and paint it white.

In winter, the project was a non-starter. It was dark in that hallway and daylight lasted only from eight in the morning to five a night. I had no intention of putting myself in a gloomy space on a gloomy day. Besides, one has to open windows wide when painting, even with acrylic paints.

Now, in July with the temperatures up in the early thirties and the sun showing from five in the morning to eight at night, the sun comes in that side of the house relatively well. I’ve got visitors coming – not just family who are very understanding, but I’ve visitors from Japan. This will be the first time my niece-in-law will see this house and she’s a home economics grad with a bent for neatness. I’ve got twelve days until they arrive.

With the illogical time clock of a retiree, I looked at that pile of stuff this morning and said to myself, “This is the day”. I got out my cleaning equipment, donned my painting attire complete with trophy paint from previous jobs, and went to work.

It wasn’t nearly as dirty in there as I had suspected it might be and that was a bonus. It was an awful colour, but it was clean and dry. I rinsed everything down with trisodium phosphate and then got out my pail of paint.

I can’t imagine how cast in paint my hair must be at this point. Despite my good intentions to work from the farthest corner to the front, the steeply sloping ceiling was a challenge. Every time I made a gesture to stretch my poor curving back, my hair would pick up a fine layer of white paint.

Everything was going well until half an hour ago. Going from dark avocado green to white needs two coats. There is no way around it. I had done most of the cupboard once and was leaving that which was closest to the door for the final paint so that I wouldn’t encrust myself with white.

When I went back in, I must have stepped in a puddle of paint on the plastic tarp I had put down. Then I went back to the bathroom to get some water and found I had implanted white prints on my blue carpet. Sure enough, on inspection, I had three large wet paint blobs on the bottom of my foot. I went hop-hobbling back down the hallway on a single clean foot and balancing with the tip of my big toe of the other to get a cloth to wipe off the decorator foot (feet are not recommended for stenciling) and back to the spots on the carpet to erase them. That was worth stopping for coffee; I’d earned it.

Now the lower part of the cupboard needed to be done. I took a plastic wrapped coverlet that I’d recently brought back from the cleaners as a cushion. It was sure to give my arthritic knees some relief while I tackled the lower shelves; and it did.

I was successfully painting away again, when the whole pile of stuff that had been balanced all winter without mishap decided it was vertically challenged. Gravity rules. It all slid in a disheveled pile onto my legs that were sticking out of the cupboard, onto the floor behind me. The icing on the cake? The top item was a sewing basket and it unlatched as it tumbled – right into the bucket of water I was using to clean the spots off the floor!

Ack!

Now the cupboard will have to wait for me. I’m having coffee. The pins and needles are drying in the bathroom on sheets of Kleenex. Velcro strips, seam binding, elastic are drying on the towel rack. The felt needle book decorated with a cat’s face is seeping green dye into the counter top. Buttons are spread out tor dry. And I’m here writing out my frustrations.

Could you please tell me again why the cupboard has to be white on the inside?

Blueberries, painting and a bike ride

August 6, 2008

It was the British Columbia Provincial holiday and August 1st long weekend and my friend Dorothy came out from the city to stay for the weekend. She’s preparing for a two hundred kilometer bike ride early in September so she brought her off road bike. I don’t do that kind of valiant exercising, so she was on her own for four hours doing the lovely dike roads and trails that go along the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. I agreed to meet her up at Pitt Lake but I’ll never do that again on a long weekend.

The lake is a popular place to go for canoers, kayakers and speed boaters. The place was crawling with half clothed, well-tanned people. I guess one of the reasons it was so popular this particular day was that we’d just gone through a week of summer rain that felt more like late September and everyone was very glad to have that burst of hot, hot weather and brilliant sunshine again.

I took my paint box, a selection of watercolour tubes, a desk easel to prop my painting on and a folding director’s chair. When I got up to the Lake parking lot, it was packed. Cars were circling to get a space in case someone left mid-afternoon. I circled three times before I parked in a five minute zone for kayak drop off and then stayed ten minutes. Dorothy still didn’t show.

I was a bit worried about someone getting on my case, or worse, giving me a ticket, so I puttered with things in the trunk of my car, bringing the bag of painting supplies to the front seat, shifting the remainder of things around, getting out my camera, et cetera, et cetera. I took some pictures of a young lad at lake shore standing in the water, picking up stones and throwing them in. He was about five and he had a rather admirable persistence in his task and a dismal record at distance throwing. Most landed just inches from his feet.

On my fifth tour of the parking lot, perspiring away in the humid heat whilst stewing, so as to speak, cooking on slowly but inexorably in my black, heat absorbent car, I decided that I’d missed Dorothy somehow. I hadn’t seen her on the road in and the hour I had spent moving from one illegal spot to another in the gravel car park was not productive, not to mention the waste of carbon fuel. She goes on these lone bike rides often. She’d just probably lost her way. It was only slightly possible that she’d gotten there before I did and given up waiting for me.

A park attendant came up to my open car window and reminded me that I couldn’t park at the stop sign. I had been waiting, wasting a few more anxious minutes, figuring I’d move when a car came up behind me and needed me to move on.

“You can’t park here, y’know,” she said gently.
“I know. I’m just leaving,” I replied faking a bit of chagrin. However, her softly spoken reminder was my signal. I wasn’t staying any more.

“Oh, you’re leaving then?” she said, still gently.

:I’m on my way,” and I put my car in gear and drove out the parking lot and down Meaken Road. About two kilometers out, there was finally a parking space. I shook my head at the persistence some people have to get their boats in the water, then go park their car far away, then walk back a kilometer to their launched boat and then go rowing or speeding around as an afternoon diversion.

Two kilometers down the road, I found a shady tree with room for about three cars to park. I got out to explore. It would have been a safe and flat enough place to sit out and paint but there was no view. I crawled through the metal tubing gate and walked a few feet up an unused road but found nothing of paintable interest. The grasses were beautiful and tall, a whole field of them. It was a crop, but I couldn’t identify it.

So I drove down another bit of the road and found a drainage ditch, a dike perhaps, filled with water reflecting land and sky. I followed that for another short way. Eventually there was a space for about six cars to park and I stopped in the shade of a tall cottonwood tree. The colours of the ditch water were simply beautiful. My photos, when I saw them later, simply did not do them justice. I did a painting there of the ditch water. It’s one of three times I’ve stopped to paint in the last year, so I can’t say it’s wonderful, but I’ll share it with you anyway:

and

As I was painting, Dorothy rode up a little worse for wear, struggling with the heat. Thirty degrees Celsius is not really an advisable heat to go cycling in, in my opinion, but she is a hardy sort and rides in all weather. She’d missed the turn off that led to access Pitt Lake but she’d found another way to get there and all was well. Not counting where she had ridden through brambles, nor where a branch had whacked her on the way, she said it was quite easy. She had a large black grease spot on one leg which belied her bravado. She had fallen. Like all good athletes, she had just gotten back up again and continued on.

She’d only done twenty six of her eighty kilometer goal, so she only rested a half hour while I continued to paint and then she was off again. I stayed and painted these two sketches before I went down by the Little Red Barn fruit standing hoping to find some fresh yellow beans and some juicy blueberries for dinner.

and

We met up backat the house three hours later, both within minutes of each other. I was unloading the director’s chair and the paint pots from the trunk when she called urgently to me. She stood only ten feet away on the asphalt of the round-about.

“Look at them!” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was gloating or amazed or disgusted. Besides, I couldn’t see anything, at first. And then I saw this creepy but amazing convention of little flies amassed on the ground, swarming apparently aimlessly. There were so many of them they were bumping into each other. I could just just hear the conversation down there.

“Excuse me, just, get out of my way!”

“You bumped me.” (peremptorily) “Can’t you look where you are going?”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to. We’re supposed to be going south, y’know.”
“South? Our directions were north. Did you see the queen? Some babe, don’t you think?”

“Nah. Royalty is royalty is royalty. They all look the same. Big, important, lazy, making the rest of us work for them.

And all the time these fly-like creatures are swarming, bumping into each other, squirming their way around each other like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was as if the tarmac itself was coming to a boil.

Dorothy is scientific. She’s done lots of lab experiments and observational studies. I’m a gardener at this point. At the same time as I was watching. fascinated by this horde of winged creatures which we decided were adolescent ants. I didn’t want them in my lawn and I didn’t want them in my garden, really. I started to stomp them out and got quite a few of them, they were so closely packed. They had no sense of impending danger and so the foot fell and slid across their bodies them into oblivion.

“Are you disgusted with me for squishing them?” I asked Dorothy.

“No. I’ve done enough lab experiments to know what they are all about. It must be the heat and the fact that they have graduated from their larval stage. But to see them all at once, it really is quite tremendous.
“No. I think it’s quite alright. There are certainly enough who escaped your heavy footed-ness. They won’t be missed.”

We went in after that. I cooked steak and steamed a corn cob each. I sliced a few tomatoes and a bit of cucumber and that was it. On a hot day, it’s no fun being in the kitchen. Simple is best.

Mrs. Stepford next door is alone for a week while her husband is away traveling, so she came and shared the repast with us. We had a hilarious conversation over dinner and a Tom Hanks, Julia Robert’s movie – Charlie Wilson’s war that kept us engaged for the evening.

Now, I have to go backwards to go a bit forwards.

Before Dorothy came, I was doing my usual cleaning for a guest routine. I changed the linens on the beds. I started noticing spots on the bathroom mirrors, so I wiped down the mirrors. I had to find something for lunch and for dinner. It’s blueberry harvest time so buying some of these was a must. I drove down into the farmlands that lay beside the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. It’s bucolic and redolent of new mown hay. Because of the heat, the grasses are looking golden and ripe. A second haying is in process although I don’t see any of the giant marshmallow-looking covered bales of hay I that saw earlier in spring.

I’ve got two favourite farm places I like to go. There must be at least eight, maybe ten, of these along that one stretch of road. Purewal’s blueberries are always good and ripe, cleaned of all leaves, stems and miscellaneous debris. They’ve got a giant blower that keeps the leaves and twigs afloat while the berries spill onto a conveyor belt The daughter and the grandfather sit on either side of the belt picking off the green, the tiny and the squished ones.

At two dollars a pound, you can’t lose. I bought seven pounds for me and I picked up blueberries for Dorothy as well. The farmer didn’t have enough for my large order so he excused himself and went out to the fields in his little tractor to get me another ten pounds worth, leaving me with his daughter, a child of about ten, and his father who tried to have a conversation with me, with great difficulty. I wondered if he had suffered a stroke, so difficult it was for him to form words.

When the farmer came back, I asked him what he did with the culls. They looked perfectly good for jam with a bit of cleaning up. There were little stems and twigs in amongst them. There were absolutely green ones that would have to go, but there were lots of plump soft ones and some little to mid sized ones that were perfectly good.

“Oh, those? Those go to the jam factories. I can’t sell them. They’re no good. Not firm enough. Not big enough. Green ones.”
“I’d gladly pay you for some, for making my own jam.” I offered.

“Nope. Nope. The berries are no good. If you want some, I’ll just give you some.”

I took about five pounds to try. Later in the evening as we sat watching Tom Hanks acting as a cowboy (and maverick) senator from Texas and Julia Roberts in a ghastly wig acting as the sixth richest woman from somewhere (The United State? Texas? The world?), I cleaned up the box of berries.

I’m an impatient woman. I couldn’t stand not knowing how they would work out. So I put them in a large Pyrex bowl and covered it over with a dinner plate so that if it splurted, I wouldn’t have a mess to clean up. I set the microwave for five minutes and presto, I had jam! It was incredible. A quarter of a cup of sugar stirred into the piping hot mixture and, voila, the berries were an nice sweet sauce.

At the Little Red Barn across the street, I bought some fresh peaches, apricots and green plums for dessert.

Monday morning came early. Dorothy had to get back into town to get ready for her next work day. She took her car and I took mine. We went back to Purewal’s berries and I loaded up on a ten pound box of berries of the cull variety. She bought some fresh fruits at the Red Barn for herself and went on her way. I went back home to sort out my box of free berries. With such a short cooking time, it took me just a few hours to freeze the good berries for winter and to make blueberry jam and ice cream sauce with the remainder.

It was a happy weekend and I only wish I could send you all a little taste of my blueberry surprise! That’s one of the failings of the Internet, so far. But you never know. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have thought it possible for a computer to take dictation, but they do, with voice recognition. But Cyberspace still has a bit of difficulty with sending jam. So, like the little red hen, I’ll just have to eat this up all by myself!

Tom Sawyer – reflections on painting a fence

July 23, 2008

There was no one in the paint department at Liquidation World when I sauntered through, idly wondering if I could match up my fence colour so that if I missed a spot in covering over the weathered wood, it wouldn’t be too obvious. I found a clerk associate at the till who very amiably agreed to page the paint clerk for me.

This latter arrived with a beaten look on her face. The happier sales associate scurried away back to the till, advising her colleague, “This one’s first (pointing to me) and then him.” There was a line up starting to form.

I asked paint-woman,””Do you have any Tile Red left? I couldn’t find any.”

“Sold out.” she stated flatly. I wondered what kind of bad day she had had before coming to work. She had permanent worry printed on her face.

“I’ll take the Garnet, then. Just one can.”

“It’s purple,” she stated, as if to say only a fool could choose purple for a fence.

“Purple?” I reacted, a bit baffled. The paint colour had looked rather brown with a reddish tinge. Maybe Magenta. Maybe Italian red oxide. I always think I know my colours fairly well.

People call the same colour by different names. Maybe it was just a case of that, I thought.

“The paint samples are over there, ” she said, again with a disagreeable flatness that hinted at her customer’s lack of perspicacity, that is, my complete lack of perception. It was a caution that I’d better give my head a shake, had better reconsider my choice, or at the very least, make sure that I knew what I was doing.

I took the time to see if I could understand her choice of the word “purple” to describe the colour of the mini picket-fence post that hung above the paint shaker on the back wall. There were about four warm brown to red colours – Chestnut, Garnet, Tile Red and Rust. I could see that the Garnet was a cooler red, or conversely a warmer brown, but I made up my mind that it wasn’t going to be lilac or royal purple and it would be slightly happier than the existing brown on my fence. The minor mis-paints would not be too obvious.

All that decision-making could not have taken more than four seconds. It obviously takes longer to write it than it does to think it.

“I’ll take one can of Garnet, then,” I said, turning back to her. “Can you mix it up for me?”

Well, I knew what I meant.

“We don’t mix colours. It’s already mixed,” she answered. “Oh God, I must be dealing with an idiot,” she must have been thinking. The sourness had not lessened in her physiognomy.

“Well, shake it on your machine, then,” I said, not to be put off by her rebuking stance.

She didn’t even answer that one. She took the can from my hands and shook it. In less than a minute, she handed it back to me. I made my way out of the paint department and then to the till thanking my good fortune in having a happier disposition.

The woman at the till, a smile on her face, chirruped, ” You got the paint you wanted?”

“Think so,” I said back with a grin. It’s wonderful how a smile can generate another smile and happier feelings prevail. Her curly blond hair seemed to bolster her cheeriness. This woman, too, had lines on her face. At sixty and working all day in a visually depressing store, she might have had difficulty in keep one’s spirits up, but her face lines were laugh lines, and the weathering was soft and a bit marshmallowy.

(A prayer aside. “Dear Lord, I’m an aspiring writer. Please don’t ever let me see someone else’s description of what I look like. Or are you reserving this for me in Purgatory for when I die and have to account for my life? It really is part of a writer’s job, describing people…. I’m doing the best I can….”)

So, let’s skip a bit here. My stories are always a bit long:

So now I’m out in the back yard having found a screw driver to open up the paint can with, a wide brush, three plastic tray liners stacked together for strength because I can’t find the metal paint tray, and a brand new roller thing on a old battered roller holder. I’ve got paint thinner and a couple of rags.

With the screwdriver, I gently lever the lid, turning the can around inch by inch, until I get lift off on one side. Then with a bit greater pressure, I manage to pop the thing off with out spurtling paint all over.

I’ve got fencing completely around the back yard. There’s the almost new fence with lattice work on top adjoining Lara and Glen’s yard at the back in chocolate brown. There’s the decrepit fence that separates the length of the property between my yard and the pioneer neighbour, Jack’s, yard. This fence is finished, really, It’s an expensive project that I’m leaving until later, especially since a developer has just purchased this magnificent one acre property and is going to put, depending on the rumours afloat, three monster houses with rental suites or five duplexes (read 10 families) or twenty three town houses. This single-family neighbourhood is aghast at the prospect. All of a sudden, three monster houses sounds better than the last of these choices. The developer, rumour has it, needs two years to get his Plan 23 in place to apply for the development permit. In between time, he is not going to do a darned thing with the fence. It can rot in place.

Last year, a section of it came down in one of the violent wind storms. It was rotted at the base. The fence posts were just mush. There was no point in repairing it. There is simply a six foot gaping hole in that stretch of fence – all one hundred and thirty eight feet of it – and there is no point in tackling that until some decisions are made. It doesn’t distress me. I rather like a rural look; a falling-rotting-barn kind of look. It’s poetic. It has a weathered patina that can’t be bought. There’s a trace of original colour (it might have been Tile Red or Garnet, methinks) lots of bare grey, sundried wood, and a variety of lichens, mosses and entwined vines and volunteer trees growing through its cracks. It has character. Sort of like a tottering drunk with a friendly grin, but none the less tottering and unkempt.

The only stretch of fence that was small enough to tackle, reversibly if Garnet Purple didn’t appeal after all, was the one that encloses the back from the front, going from mid-side of the house to the ancient fence. It is about thirty feet long with a gate in the middle.

I poured a quart of paint into the pan. It looked a dark brick red colour to me. Garnet was a bit of a highfalutin name for it, but it would do. It would freshen up things. Missed spots would not be noticed much. It was flat deep brown underneath. What I did notice though, was that fence stain was a different consistency than other paints. It was rather more liquid.

I started to roll the stain over the fence boards. It covered quickly and well. In all, clean up included, it didn’t take me more than two hours, for which I was grateful. It gave me two hours to think, not only about the job at hand, which I took as a meditative opportunity to let my mind run free, but also a s a task with intrinsic value. As I poured, rolled, and brushed, I wondered about Tom Sawyer. I had no one around to con into doing my work. It was just me. I should have rather been wondering where Huck Finn was.

But it wouldn’t have been the same. As soon as there was a chattering voice to answer mine, the peace and tranquility of it would have changed. I was happy in my painterly solitude. There were no artistic decisions to be made – no composition, no questions of value, no considerations of texture or pattern, no leit motifs of meaning, no thoughts of positive and negative shapes, no checking of spatial relationships forming and altering as developments occurred.

I was simply dipping my brush in the thin Garnet liquid, applying the brush to the corners and the cracks, and to the places the roller could not attain. The biggest visual decision I had to make was “is there a dribble” followed by “have I obliterated it”.

At the end of my two hours, I had spent an agreeable time; I was covered in deep brown speckles (the colour looked darker on my skin) on arms, feet, hands, glasses and my painting clothes. I had only lightly spattered the gravelly stones between my feet. I stood back to get some perspective on my latest painting and the fence was looking super, clean and kempt.

Then I took my paraphernalia to the back steps under the porch and started to clean my roller and brushes. I had used up the whole tin of paint. I poured some methyl hydrate into the pan and rinsed out the roller then the brush. I rolled the roller on two local weekly papers until the most of the remaining paint was out of it and then enclosed the almost clean roller in a plastic bag. I’d learned this last trick from Charlie the Painter. If I continued on painting next day, I didn’t have to do a proper job of now. I would wait until I had truly finished painting with that colour.

I rinsed the brush in a cleaner pot of thinner and then loaded it up with dish detergent to loosen up the remaining paint binder in it. It took three times of this water and detergent stage to get it looking like new, not counting the metal ferrule which I never try to get really clean. I left the brush outside to dry and transferred the dirty thinner into a glass jar. I was done.

I took one last look at my handiwork. It was nine o’clock and the July light was fading fast. I was happy with my work.

“Maybe. Just maybe,” I thought, “this colour is maroon. It sure dried fast. It’s got a certain je ne sais quoi to it?

“Maroon? …Or maybe purple?”

One thing leads to another – compulsion!

April 25, 2008

It started quite innocently, Kay thought.

“Why don’t I just have Mrs. Stepford in to see my house all cleaned up for the Art Studio Tour on the night before?” she said to herself. “The paintings will all be hung; the house will be unencumbered of the moving boxes (nine months later); the house will finally look as I wanted it to.”

There were altruistic reasons for this invitation. Mrs. Stepford was undergoing her lens replacement operation on Friday, the day before the studio tour. She would want to see it, but she wouldn’t want to see it while a mob of people came through nor would she be tolerant of mouthy aliens coming to mock the creations of advanced practitioners of the visual arts. Philistines!

There was another reason. There was little likelihood that Mr. Stepford would come unless he got a private showing and Kay needed him to see that she could bring her house into order. He had a healthy dose of skepticism on this as he ticked the months off on his fingers every time they had talked about making progress on the putting away of moving boxes.

Kay reflected that it wouldn’t take much to do, having them on on Friday night, the night before the show. Just a pot of coffee; maybe a little dessert. Mr. S has a sweet tooth. All it would take was a little raspberry sorbet.

Not much later, Kay thought about Lily. Lily was opening her studio as well. She wouldn’t have a chance to see any of the other artists because she would be stuck minding her own store. Mr. and Mrs. Stepford were great friends of Lily. If Kay were very clear that it was only for an hour, she could handle four people coming.

Kay phoned Lily and asked her to bring Mark, her husband, along with her. After all, Kay thought, Mark and Mr. S knew each other very well and it wouldn’t leave an orphan male wandering about amongst a henhouse full of art-women. Lily was pleased to accept, though she hesitated. She was meeting with Renée who was sharing her studio and showing and selling hand made fabrics.

“Well, I’d love to meet Renée!” said Kay. “Bring her along!”

That was Saturday.

On Sunday, over the fence, Kay was talking to her neighbours, Lara and Glen. After a conversation that went this way and that, Lara said, “Do you by any chance have a copy of the map for the studio tour?”

“I’ve got one in the house.” Kay replied. “I’ll bring it over a little later.” Kay continued on with her garden work. There were two young men coming to clean out the gutters on Monday who had offered to take away all the garden waste to the dump if only it were bagged up and ready for them. Kay was diligently raking up all the winter windfall of cedar and fir branches, cones and other debris.

Later in the afternoon, Kay walked around the corner and past Mrs. Stepford’s house to Lara’s. Lara and Glen are warm, wonderful neighbours, ready to lend a hand anytime; ready to stand on guard against intruders of the homus erectus variety while Kay was travelling; They were watchful and caring.

Lara and Glen knew everyone in the neighbourhood and the conversation flowed with tales and gossip. Hot in the conversation pot was the disposition of the property that lay at the end of both of their gardens. A full acre lot in a residential part of the city was almost unheard of. The owners had died and the estate had sold the land to developers. The huge cedars and firs had been measured up by a tree surveyor just two days before. Rumour had it that the plans were for five duplexes, at best (in the contractor’s view) or three new homes with suites if zoning for five could not be obtained. The whole neighbourhood was waiting for the development application so that its collective voice could be heard.

Kay was feeling so comfortable and happy with this conversation that a luminous idea came to mind. As she was leaving, she said, “Why don’t you come over for a quick preview on Friday night. I’m having the Stepfords in. About seven. Bring the kids. It’ll just be coffee and tea.”

“What were two more?” Kay said to herself. “Well, three with Kate, but Kate was only ten, so just count that as two more,” she said, minimizing the work that it might entail. But when she stopped to think about it as she was climbing the stairs back to her own home, she was already up to seven; eight counting herself, and then Kate.

On Monday the gutters were cleaned. Mrs. S was having hers done. Kay had been putting this off, hoping for a more auspicious time, grossly undefined; but since Mrs. S. had her young handyman in to do it, Kay obliged. The cost of the power washer rental could be halved between them, he had promised. That sounded auspicious, and here they were, streaming water down the gutters; cleaning moss off the outer edges of the eaves, and incidentally, leaving streaks of water through the winter film of dirt on the windows.

Gordon the handyman said, upon leaving, “If you want any other work done, we’re available. Painting, lawn mowing, tree removal, vinyls siding wash down, getting the algae off the steps, window washing, yard work, anything really. Just call.”

“Nothing just now, ” Kay thanked him. She had been counting the hundred dollar bills flying out the window. Four for the raccoon and the squirrels in the roof. Two for lawn maintenance start up, moss de-thatching and lawn aerating. Two for the gutters. She gulped as she added it all up together.

Late on Monday afternoon, the sun was streaming in the western windows splashing a beautiful glow on the kitchen counter, highlighting the mass of items still to be packed away somewhere – pottery platters, the blue and white plate collection; several ornaments from her mother’s estate; ten long play records that Kay suspected were perhaps valuable, from the time of the Beatles; crystal salt and pepper shakers. All of these were mixed in with tools that she was using for finishing off the hanging hardware for some of the paintings she was going to show – hammer, various picture hooks; picture wire; multi-head screwdriver; tape measure; ruler; linen tape and on and on. It was quite an unholy jumble that had to be sorted out before Friday.

Sunshine, she thought, could make anything beautiful. Even this explosion of material goods that were strewn along the counter, covering every inch of it. In a moment of pause, she looked up at the source of the light and her spirits slumped. There was one thing that the sun could not make beautiful. Windows with a winter season of scum upon them. How could she show her home and her work if the windows were not clean. Especially now that they were streaked in runnels from the power washing exercise.

She grabbed a cloth and opened the window. As far as she could lean out, she cleaned. She got a chair and stood upon it. It gave her six more inches of cleaned window. But the rest? There was no way she could reach it. There was no way she was going to get up on a ladder outside to clean the windows and there was no other way to do it.

With profound regret for her flying hundreds, she telephoned Gordon the handyman and asked for a quote. Even before she heard it, she knew she would say yes.

“Listen, Gordon, while your guy was power-washing the eaves, he managed to strip the paint off the front steps and railings. I’ve got visitors coming in. What can you do about it?”

He promised a sweet deal on the window washing and, if Kay found the matching paint, he’d fix that up at no cost.

Kay found the paint that night and calculated her odds. In a rainy place like the Wet Coast, two fine April days in a row were unlikely to see a third. What if the guys didn’t have enough time. What if it rained and then the paint wouldn’t stick. Near midnight, Kay went out to the front steps and treated the knot holes and the cracks with filler. In the morning, she got out the paint bucket herself and gave it a coat of the nearest thing she could find – grey primer. It wasn’t quite the same colour as the other railing and it was mat, but it looked cleaned and cared for. It would do. The alkyd coat could come later when the weather was warm.

It was Wednesday afternoon when she called Mrs. S in for coffee. “Look what I’ve done!” Kay gloated a little prematurely. I’ve gotten all the boxes downstairs or put away. The metal box that had treasures in it is now serving as a closed shoe box in the study; the open wooden shoe box is now holding some small paintings for people to look through; the kitchen nook table is now free to be a kitchen nook table; I can get at my linen drawers. I’ve made huge progress!”

Mrs. S. was suitably impressed. She toured the main floor and commented on the placement of paintings and drawings, giving freely of her expertise in hanging art work.

“I can’t stay,” she said quite firmly, “Kathy is coming for her painting lesson in fifteen minutes. I gotta go. But congratulations, girl, it’s looking good! I’ll call you later when I’m finished and we can have a cup of tea to linger over.”

Ring-a-ling! Ring-a-ling! The phone was demanding attention. It was Mrs. S.

“Can Kathy come to your salon on Friday night?” she asked. I was telling her all about it.”
“It’s not a salon. I was just inviting you in for coffee,” Kay replied with a bit of panic.

“Well, Kathy wants to come with Kurt. They want to see your work and they want to see what you’ve done to the house.”

“Is she standing right there?” Kay said suspiciously.

“Yes,” drawled Mrs. S. Kay could hear her chortling on her end of the phone.

“Of course she can come. I had been thinking they might like to come. I just hadn’t got around to it yet.”

“You can come!” Kay heard her say gleefully and she imagined Mrs. S triumphantly announcing it to her painting student.

“Let me talk to her,” Kay insisted.

“Of course you can come, Kathy. And Kurt. Bring the kids if you need to. You don’t need to get a baby sitter. Lara and Glen are coming too, and Kate. See you Friday at seven”

That evening, as Kay was sorting out another box of treasures to be relegated to the basement she began to feel the import of this snowballing cup of coffee. If all those people were coming, surely Maggie would want to come. If the head count was up to twelve or more, what would two more do? After all, she couldn’t invite Maggie with out inviting her husband. Maggie was another of the hosting artists. She wouldn’t get a chance to come out during the tour either. And so Kay called Maggie.

With all those folks bound to arrive on Friday, what kind of a hostess would she seem to be if there wasn’t just a little something to nibble on. Kay needed crackers and cheese at a minimum. Maybe some taco chips and a dip. Something easy. And what if not everybody drank coffee or tea? What about the kids? They’d want cola or soda pop. And so Kay planned a trip to the big box superstore.

On Thursday morning, early to beat the bridge traffic but not so early as to be caught in rush hour, Kay drove to the store and came home bearing crackers, Balderson’s white cheddar and two rounds of Camembert, roasted deluxe nuts, flowers, pickled artichokes, guacamole dip, a case of Coke in tins, cranberry juice for virgin cocktails, celery and peppers for the vegetable tray.

It was as she was heaving the Coke case up the front stairs a step at a time that she became aware of the algae that encrusted the steps. She looked at her brightly shining railing, spotless clean with new paint and then looked at the green film that covered the other wood surfaces. If she hadn’t cleaned up the railing, the stairs would not have looked so bad! What was it that they said about first impressions? Good Grief! She was going to have to clean the stairs.

Kay settled her groceries on the almost clear counter and in that five minutes of bringing in, had completely covered it again. Niggling at her, the stairs were calling out her name. “Kay! Kay! Come clean us Kay! What will people think, Kay? It’s as bad as having dandruff!’

So dutifully, before it got forgot, Kay filled an old ice cream pail full of hot water and laced with cleaning agent. Careful not to spill, she carried it over the entryway carpet and out to the front steps. A scrub brush in hand, she tore away at the steps lifting up all the green algae and rinsing it away.

“I swear, I am going to remember this colour next summer when I go to paint the trim. I’m going to paint the stairs green and then no one will know if they have algae or not,” she chafed.

She looked at the shoddy stairs, now much, much cleaner, and thought that if only she had time and good weather, perhaps she could touch up the stairs with paint on the morrow….

Now, I can’t tell you the end of this story, because Kay is still in the kitchen, putting away food, arranging flowers, packing up those things on the studio table, sweeping, putting photos into mats and then into glassine envelopes to keep grubby paws from marking them. Kay is thinking up all the things she still has to do. And who knows? Kay will invent more things to do before she is finished.

That’s our Kay.

Now, how many people were coming?

White Rock

April 14, 2008

“This is so built up! I don’t remember this!” Kay complained feeling somewhat disoriented by the massive growth that had developed in the little forested community that she had visited so often in her youth and then not so often afterwards. She was looking for a gallery that Mrs. Stepford had recommended to her. It was Ron’s gallery and Deveraux’s; that is, they both showed there regularly and with good success.

Driving down 152nd, there were new developments both sides of the road. There were massive housing complexes and Senior’s residential complexes and those thirty to fifty store shopping centers. All of this progress had wiped out the fields and the forests and it went on for a couple of miles.

Her tender thoughts of a cottage town with small one-storey houses, many of them beach cottages, were being ripped off memory page. Only a few of these small cottages remained, dwarfed by the pink stucco palaces and monster homes of the ‘Nineties and of the Twenty-first century.

As 152nd approached Boundary Bay, there was a three block shopping district of one-storey stores more reminiscent of Kay’s vacation days. The street curved into another street. It had one more block of three storey commercial buildings with shops on the ground floor and then Kay and Marcel were once again driving through a district of single family residential homes. It was a confusing mix of styles representing a century of habitation – beach cottages, pioneer homes, ranchers, monsters, all higgledy-piggledy as if their order had been arranged by a throw of dice.

The street sloped steeply down to the frontage road that paralleled the train tracks and the beach. At street level, Kay’s heart leapt. The stores were all touristy, most of them were eating establishments. There were at least six fish and chips establishments, several coffee purveyors, a few ice-cream specialists and a dabbling of Real Estate agencies. There were gift shops filled with tasteless tourist gizmos and hand made jewelry stands. It was just the kind of summer resort town beach trade she had remembered from twenty years ago. It felt right. It was human scale and promised good times, a day off, a lunch out, sunshine and soft breezes.

There were only two blocks of this and then the road climbed back up into waterfront homes – no longer the beach cabins of the ‘Thirties but still home-like with well-wooded lots, mature landscaping, bespeaking the aisance, the comfort of their owners.

Kay and Marcel crossed the train tracks and descended the seawall. It was a sanitized affair with a path paved in red interlocking bricks and protected from the sand and surf by a tubular iron rail fence painted in turquoise. Kay reflected that the colour had probably been chosen to disappear from view on a sunny day of summer where the sea just might have approximated the colour. This choice was somewhat hopeful, given that eight winterish months of the year, grey cloud prevailed and grey interspersed the summer months as well.

There was a breakwater layer of large sharply broken rocks that edged the descent from seawall to the beach and a smattering of people. A few with their canine companions had crossed into the nature zone. These hardy souls were strolling in amongst the low tide sand-flats rippled with that curious pattern of sand ridges. The tide was a kilometer or more out to sea. A lone sailboat with three sails hovered midway to the horizon. The view was idyllic.

Kay and Marcel chose a place where the rocks were less cumbersome to cross . Marcel leapt from one rock to another and was down in a trice. Kay picked her way cautiously, carefully testing each foothold for balance; with a delay, she too reached the sandy shore. They walked quietly. The deceptive April day had turned cold at the water’s edge. Kay shivered but did not complain. Being out, doing “nothing” was a treat to be savored.

With her ubiquitous camera, she selected a group of people and their tidal reflection for a shot; and then a seagull doubled in importance by its mirror image. It seemed as if time had been suspended. As they looked back on the shoreline, they could see that the storefronts had been preserved to look like they had long ago, but back of these were massive four-storied apartment complexes built into the steep hill that had replaced the beach cottages of yore. They all had balconies overlooking the sea and some were glassed in to protect their inhabitants from the discomfort of the sea winds.

But the cold reasserted itself. After fifteen minutes, Kay and Marcel turned back, renavigated the rocky pile back up onto the seawall.

Over a coffee at an ice cream shop, Kay and Marcel sat silently, each deep within their own thoughts. Kay was lingering in Autrefois, the Land of Time-gone-by. After a long time, she spoke.

“Father had some work in White Rock one summer. He was off surveying all day long. Mother had us three kids with her. I don’t think Lizbet was born yet. Maybe it was the year she was born because I can remember the motel we stayed in quite well. ”
“It was high on the hill, a very steep hill. Father went down it in first gear it was so steep, and we hated climbing back up it when we went home after a day at the beach. Mother would pack us a lunch and we would spend hours looking for sand dollars and digging moats for the castles we shaped out of our small bucket-filled shapes that were overturned.”

“There were crabs under rocks. There were tiny little pink shells that we collected and blue mussel ones. We took sticks and drew pictures in the sand. When the tide came in, the pictures were blurred at first and then erased altogether. The water came in warm and comfortable over the long hot sand. It was perfect for dipping, for wading, for splashing each other as we shrieked, laughed and cried as children do whilst playing at the beach.”

Kay went silent. Marcel nodded. It was a memory. There was nothing to be said.

The bottom of the coffee cup was showing when she spoke again.

“Aunt Rose lived nearby on a small side street in the forest, the second one-acre lot away from Zero Avenue. It was an adventure to go there in the summer, to stay there without our parents, to go down to Peace Portal Park and count the cars clearing the American Customs and heading for the Canadian ones. That was Otto’s idea of fun. He had us categorize them by make and he knew how to distinguish them, even then, before he worked for a car dealership. Rose’s farm house is gone now.”

“I liked the swings and the simple roundabout that you pushed until it was circling; then you hopped on and kept up the momentum with one foot still pushing on the ground until it was circling by itself without help from anyone. When it slowed, one of us would get back off and push.”
“I remember straining to go higher and higher on the swing, flying through the air until I got dizzy with it all and pleaded to stop, to come back down.”
“And there were teeter totters. Otto was heavier than anyone and he would keep me screeching in the air as his fat bottom controlled the totter and I felt teeter.”

“Rose had a glassed in sun porch with a bed in it for summer time and for guests. I was too little, ever, to be allowed to sleep there alone, but Otto did. Rose taught me to paint. She let me pick a photograph of someone else’s painting, a sailboat with reddish sails on a cerulean sea and sky and I copied it using her oils. She did large sun-filled landscapes of wooded paths that were quite good and quite popular in the ‘Forties. I wish I had one of them now. Who knows what happened to them all.”

Their cups were empty. Marcel had listened with half an ear. His mind was traveling away in other directions and they weren’t his memories. He really didn’t care but he took pains to not let it show.

They went home then, traveling back up the steep hill, stopping by the galleries Kay wanted to see, and back up through the ever-expanding commercial districts of the wealthy middle class with their corporate giants of designer clothing, mega-grocery outlets, world-franchised coffee houses and Realty offices. White Rock had become big business.

It was no use complaining. It was the way of the world to constantly develop; to tear down the small and build up and out and dig parking underground. But Kay mused about how it had been. She had enjoyed the memories and she had had a grand day. She wouldn’t likely be back again.