Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Coming Home – part 2

July 10, 2011

(see the previous post for the beginning of this story)

There was a message on my answering machine when I got home. “The Greyhound bus depot located at la,la,la,  has a parcel for Kay Kerrer.  Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thirty or so paintings had been found by a thrift store on the Sunshine Coast. There was no longer doubt in my mind. They were mine and I didn’t want them to be sold in a Thrift store. I would buy them back, even though, if I were of a different mind, I could have tried to get them to give them back to me. I had never relinquished ownership.  They had never been paid for by the Anchor Rock gallery I had consigned them to. As far as I could see, they were akin to stolen goods. The Thrift people couldn’t prove provenance but I just wasn’t up to making a fuss. It wasn’t worth a legal scrap – they were just small drawings and paintings, and charitable organizations are doing good – they didn’t need a fight on their hands.

What if they did put them on sale, for five or ten dollars? I volunteer to price things here at a Thrift in my community. I know that’s all they could expect to get for them. Or they would have to wait a long time to find a customer, just like I do.

So I phoned to the woman who had contacted me about their value. She was an elderly woman, one without a computer, the e-mail had said. The call was long distance, and yes, it was the Sunshine Coast.  The thrift was in support of the local hospital.

I gently told my tale of how the paintings had disappeared from view; how I didn’t want my paintings to be sold for rock bottom prices in a Thrift, in honor of the clients I had who paid full price. I was willing to make a donation in exchange for return of the goods.

She told me how they had funded an ultra-sound machine  by their Thrift work and fund raising, to the shame of the government who had been promising to provide one for years and years but never had.

She told me how the paintings had arrived, all dusty and dirty. They were about to throw them out when one of the volunteers had seen the consistent signatures and thought to look it up on the Internet to see if my paintings were valuable.

“But”, she reassured me, “they are all in pretty good condition because they are all wrapped in plastic. A few of them are a bit moldy. They couldn’t have been stored in a really dry place. They are all in one box – about 36 of them.”

“There were 64 of them in all.” I replied. “There might be another box. Please keep your eye out for them.”  She said she would let everyone know.

My lady of the Thrift began to  tell me what the paintings looked like, describing them, saying, “It’s so lovely!” or “Its really beautiful!” I promised that once I had documented them all, I would send one back to her for her trouble. At her request, I sent back an e-mail explaining as I had to her, that the paintings were indeed mine.

Everything seemed fine.

Then  another representative of the Thrift e-mailed. She said that the woman who had talked to me had no authority and she didn’t know how she had gotten involved. She shouldn’t have contacted me. The only person who could decide was the manager of the  Thrift.  Would I please call her? So, I did.

The woman on the end of the line was icily polite. It began badly.  “Do you know that once a charitable organization has received a donation that the  goods belong irrevocably to it?” There was a sharpness to the question and the tone of voice did not brook an answer.  “We could sell these for quite a bit, you know.”

I laughed quietly. “I’m not that famous,” I replied. “They weren’t that expensive in the first place and they haven’t gone up in price at all since they were consigned to the gallery. I should have received them back; I’ve never been paid for them. The paintings didn’t belong to the gallery; they were on consignment.

“Exactly how much were you willing to donate?” she asked sharply.

In my mind, I cut my original figure in two, then stated it. I reminded myself that it was the charity receiving my donation, not this officious person. I had become annoyed by her tone of voice – by her implication that I was getting away with something; that I was getting a steal of a deal. And then she accepted.

“I’ll send the cheque today,” I said. I suspected that she would wait until it was received before she released the paintings; and I’m sure it was so.

And now, here they were in a thin, flat box, all thirty eight of them. The lovely sounding lady from the thrift, the second contact that I had, had made a neatly typed list of the works recording title, size and medium. The paintings were all cleaned up from their muddy first impression. In groups by size, the works were carefully and beautifully wrapped in crisp white tissue paper as if they were precious.

One of the hardest things for artists to do, if they are deeply involved in their work, is to let go of their paintings. The artist must treat them like adult children ready to make their own  way in the world. And yet, if an artist has given a bit of her soul to the work, then that bit of soul goes with it. The work needs to be respected, hopefully loved.

For me, I paint what is important to me at the moment of creation. Many of these are like visual diary entries. When they go out into the world, it’s like a page of a diary has been ripped out and flung to the winds. Will people think the visual thought is lovely, or significant? Will they take care it? Will they see to it’s future?

For that reasons, I am glad they have come home to “momma”. After ten years of neglect, they need some care and nurturing. They need to be listed in my good book of inventory; they need to be photographed to give respect to their place in my production history.

“Aren’t you disappointed that they ended up in a Thrift Shop?,” says Mrs. Stepford, my next door neighbour.

“No. Au contraire!” I reply. It’s a miracle that they have found their way home. I’m awed by the coincidence of life events that made it possible. I’m thrilled that a volunteer recognized their value enough to trigger their search for me on the Internet. And, I’m glad to have them home again, before I send them once again on their way.”

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Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith

Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”

Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting.  I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14,  10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes.  Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep.  Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .

It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.

I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot,  so it was a timely solution.

Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.

I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to.  In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only  two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry.  The paintings were safe and dry.

Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there.  I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?

“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”

“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?

It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.

It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.

The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.

The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.

Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.

We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.

At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.

“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.

“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”

There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.

“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”

Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?

And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.

We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.

“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.

The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.

“Are you Kay?”

The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”

“I am ,” I said.

I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.

“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.

“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.

“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”

“I phoned you and you  had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”

“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”

“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”

“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until  I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”

“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”

The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.

“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.

She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.

“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”

We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had,  I carefully folded into my wallet.

On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my  house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be?  Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?

Fast forward to last night:

I’ve been busy myself, enough to  forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.

Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data  – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.

That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer.   Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.

To be continued.                                    .

November 10, 2009

Edward cherry Mercery Lane Canterbury small

Edward Cherry , late 19th c. Etching, Mercery Lane, Canterbury

This has been my first “tools down” day in two weeks. Sure, there were a few days when I was doing something different – going into Vancouver, seeing people for business, attending an opening – and a day when my sister Elizbet came through town on her way to  Tahiti. The main thrust of my activity, though, was preparing an at-home sale of art work. which meant completely changing the display of paintings in my house and cleaning. I spent a lot of time sorting out boxes stored in the basement full of old things from Mother’s house and my own collection of vases and trinkets.

My house gets so disorganized in the process that it looks like Hurricane Gustav has hit, concentrating on my location only. At the end of the two weeks, minutes before the first guest/customer walks through the door, though, it looks calm and classy. The process of getting there is erased and the illusion of neat-and-tidy is maintained for a full day.

But back to Lizbet. I must say that we had a lot of fun on our one day together. There were no garage sales to be had but we did two or three thrift stores; went for fish and chips for lunch;  then headed over to Langley to the “art candy” store where she bought a lot and I bought a little. We shared a sinful cinnamon bun at a coffee shop; went to the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley;  got lost trying to find the new Golden Ears Bridge to cross the Fraser River;  and came back home for a glass or two of wine and an easy dinner.

The next morning we had breakfast together and she left for Otto’s place. She’s gone with him to Tahiti for three weeks. Nice work if you can get it!

I came back to the house, took paintings downstairs to storage and brought a new selection upstairs. That sounds so simple but it wasn’t. The stairs are steep and I can only carry one or two at a time. I would find just the right painting for a spot, only to discover that it needed hanging hardware on the back, so I would stop and do a bit of framing; or I would find that it had been stored too long and needed a good cleaning of glass and frame.

I was doing this show with my friend Rose who also had paintings she wanted to sell. We had to coordinate paintings that didn’t really hang together. She had a beautiful framed framed batik of three zebras (which I covet, by the way) . It’s zingy and in your face, perky and fun. I had  etchings by Edward Cherry and Georges Capon, both print-makers of the classical persuasion from the early days of the 20th Century.

There were other contrasts – she had a painting of a panda sitting in a house, as hair of the dog realism as you can get; and a gorilla in another painting peering out aggressively through ferns. On this painting, too, you could see each hair of the beast. Contrast that with my own flamboyant paintings of lilies. It was quite a challenge.

On Monday, I should have issued invitations by e-mail but I didn’t get to it until Tuesday for some reason or another. By Tuesday, it was pushing the limits, expecting people to rearrange their lives for our sale. But on Saturday, we did get a few people – just enough in my case , that I don’t feel badly about the lack of sales. Rose, on the other hand only had one of her invitees turn up and then that lady bought my stuff. It’s a strain for friendships, I’d say, having been there, done that, but Rose took it in stride.

Yes, she was disappointed. but Rose has a lovely personality. She was upset but not angry at me for the little success I had. On the next day, I decided that I would try to pull my Christmas presents from the remainder. I had bought them, after all, but just not this year; and the quality of things was quite lovely for the most part.

When I say only one of Rose’s invitees turned up, I’m not counting the half hour when her entire local family turned up – all eight of them, including the baby and a very energetic two year old – and they milled around looking at things, providing moral support to my friend.

Our friend Matthew was supposed to turn up and protect us from unscrupulous shoplifters and those would-be murderers who turn up to Real Estate open-houses and cart bodies off in the trunk of cars or leave them bleeding on the newly installed interlocking laminate flooring. Since we didn’t invite any but our acquaintances, we didn’t get any of those bad people, luckily, because Matthew had other commitments by the time the actual sale started and he didn’t stay to protect us.

We were on for dinner, all three of us, though. Fish and chips at Austen’s; five-thirty on the dot.

By the time five-thirty rolled around, Rose was  deadly tired an begged off which left me alone with Matthew. He drove. I was also pretty punch drunk after two weeks of work so I appreciated the lift and I closed my eyes whilst driving up to Austen’s in the manner of a catnap so that I didn’t fall asleep on my plate during dinner.

Don’t laugh! My ex, Frank, and I used to deal in antiques in France many years ago. We’d get up at four in the morning, drive two hours to some small town with an antique fair; set out all our stuff to sell; finish at noon, pack back up  and then deliver, if needs be; then go home for another two hours driving, usually stopping at a roadside cafe or a truck stop diner for a meal. More than once a poor, exhausted Frank drooped precariously while waiting for his meal; and by the time he had eaten it, when the carb slump kicked in, his head might just touch the table and stay there until it got really embarrassing and we (me and the other antiquarians) poked and jabbed him until he came back to life. Sometimes our days were fourteen hours long with out much of a break. It may sound grueling, but it was  the most interesting job I ever had.

But that’s an aside.

Matthew and I ordered our fish and chips. We were just about finished, lapping up the last coleslaw on our plates when Rose came in the door.

“It’s Saturday night,” she exclaimed. “What am I doing home along alone on Saturday night? Don’t they say that you should pay yourself the first ten percent? Well, that’s seven dollars and I’m treating myself to fish and chips with it.” And she did.

I think we were out of there by six thirty. Matthew dropped me at home. He waited until I safely got in the door and went on his way.  I went in and got jammies on and promptly fell asleep. The next day, after all, was an important one.

When I woke up about ten that night, still dressed in jammies, I packed out paintings and drawing to the car, arranging them so that the canvases would not get dents in them and the paper would not become dog-eared before it had a chance to get framed. It was dark out but the constant rain storm that we had been going through for the last three days had abated. It was dry; and I figured no-one would see me.

Sunday was the day I would be interviewed by a nearby artist-run gallery to see if I could join their collective. There are some fabulous artists in the group and I’d like to get to know them and work with them.

Wouldn’t you know, I woke with a headache Sunday morning, already severe enough that I knew I couldn’t just wait it out. There was no way that I was going to be sick for this interview, so I popped a migraine pill.  Within a half hour, the pain abated, but rapidly, I was feeling stomachly very out of sorts.

Oh no!” I thought. “H1N1! Here it comes. Rapid onset. Nausea; chills and fever.”

By three o’clock, the ill feelings had sorted themselves out. I was still moving rather slowly, but no longer was I feeling like I was teetering, balanced on one leg like a heron,  on the turbulent edge of water. I could go to my interview and manage it, if acing it was not in the books.

I drove over early so that I could find the place in daylight. With the new bridge over the Fraser, my driving paths are no longer the same. I’m still trying to find the best way to get to the Fort. In doing so, I arrived three-quarters of an hour early, so I went for a delicious crispy crusted apple strudel and a cup of coffee at Wendell’s Bookstore and Cafe and read a book to pass the time.

It was the funniest interview I’ve ever been to. When I opened the door to the gallery, there were fifteen people sitting in a circle and I could tell they were criticizing the work on the wall, the latest exhibition that had been up for three weeks already. When I entered, no one said, “Yes, you are in the right place” nor ” please come in and sit down while we finish this critique”. I didn’t know whether to come in or back out. After a hovering awkward pause,  someone said, “Just take a seat. We will be finished in a minute.” And I did.

Two artists helped me bring my few paintings and drawings into the gallery. I was appointed as the second speaker. I fee, now, that I explained myself fairly well – my background; my exhibitions; why I wanted to join the cooperative; and how I saw my commitment, volunteering, to this artists’ organization. I think I acquitted myself well but I was just as nervous as I was thirty years ago. Somehow, all my bravado about my work fled out the window, replacing my assurance with a heavy dose of self-doubt and timidity. Nervousness reigned (whether they could see it or not). I was being judged!

I won’t know until Wednesday or Thursday what the decision is.

But going back to the ill feelings I had on Sunday morning. I panicked about the H1N1 flu. I don’t fit into any category that would give me the right to go get innoculated yet. If I got it, I’d have to ride it out. Some people were dying of it. That got me to thinking that I needed to change my will.

So this evening, I was next door to see Mrs. Stepford. Mr. Stepford, a lawyer, was not home. Mrs. Stepford plied me with some red wine. We chatted quite a while about gossipy things and reran the interview a couple of times, picking out this word or that which had been pronounced on my art work and wondering what it meant in this context.

Mr. Stepford arrived about ten with his libation of choice and a bag of hickory-smoked sticks, some kind of very salty junk food.

While Mr. Stepford was getting his jacket off and preparing to join us, he saw Mrs. Stepford put her hands on the packet of hazel smoked chips.

“Get your paws off of there!”  he bellowed. “They’re MINE!”

Mrs. Stepford put them down and smiled sweetly at him. The eyes however told a different tale. There was mischief in them.

“Don’t you touch those, now” he admonished her, and he issued a few threatening scenarios if he came back into the room and found the package was opened.

Exit left, Mr. Stepford. He has something to get from the basement.

With impish glee, Mrs. Stepford grabs the package and opens it. She holds it open to me!

Now my rule is, “If you can’t see anything is missing then there are no calories. ” Equally”, I will add, “if you can’t see that any are gone, then most likely there aren’t any gone.”  I took five or six of these very thin potato chips and popped them in my mouth.  Mrs. Stepford took a handful. I innocently stopped elbow bending towards them just before Mr. Stepford came back into the room and eyed the opened bag.

“I warned you,” he said, menacingly, though I knew he would not do anything but be gruff. He’s got a soft heart.

“I opened them for Kay,” Mrs. Stepford prevaricated.  The scapegoat tales deepened. I remained, hands in lap. Mr. Stepford looked at the two of us, then conspiratorially at me. “Thanks for leaving them, Kay,” as if I had, truly, been innocent of this deed, and he leaned over and snatched the bag from Mrs. S.

“Kay says she just took a few for medicine,” continues Mrs. S.  “You know you are supposed to gargle with salt water to attenuate the H1N1 flu. With these very salty sticks, you don’t need to gargle. The salt flowing from them is sufficient to kill off all the viruses. It’s medicine. You just chew them up and savour them in your mouth for a while. Did you bring more than one package of medicine?,” she asks saucily.

“You’re not getting any more,” Mr. Stepford says as he protectively holds the bag of Mrs. Vicker’s hazel smoked sticks to his chest. As an aside, in a much softer vein, he says, “I love these. They’re a favorite snack. Want to try them?” and he proffered the bag to me.

Of course I had to try some, looking more innocent and pure as if I’d not gotten into them myself very recently.
I had the decency to wait until I’d chewed them up a bit before I let him know my opinion.

“My, they are salty!” I exclaimed. “I’ve never tried these hickory flavor ones before. Very good.” I felt it was political to go. It was getting late and with a glass or two of the red stuff (which I had to have more of, because I’d eaten something quite salty), I was getting rapidly very tired.

Tomorrow is another day. I’ll take Mrs. S. to do her grocery shopping and I have an evening reception to attend. Otherwise the day is mine and I’m heartily looking forward to it.

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.

Day hijacking

October 26, 2009

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I had promised myself a time for drawing in the morning, and in fact, picked up my tray of most recently used chalk pastels from last spring, six months back at least, to draw something. Anything, really. Just something to get going with. I’m have been going through such an artist’s block that it’s no longer funny. I need to do something to get myself in gear.

I chose a cream coloured piece of Ingres paper to start with and since I didn’t have any expectations of a fine drawing in the end, I chose some scraps of chalk pastel to work with. I had lots of splinters and crumbles and short pieces of various reds.

I pressed these into the paper making incoherent marks, not knowing really where this was going, just looking for some inspiration, just wanting to exercise my experimental side of drawing.

Soon I had some flow. I overlaid the bits of red marks with charcoal, still trying to work freely. I hadn’t had breakfast yet and was getting hungry. I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee, but I knew if I didn’t keep at it, I would abort and abandon the work.

Soon I was forming the charcoal layer into a heart shape. It’s one of my themes but I feared for this one because it was not being formed from some inner feeling; it was just starting as an exercise and perhaps would not achieve the substance that the other ones had done.

I didn’t like the white background and started to fill the outer edges with more dense reds.  Finally I got to a stopping point determined by my realization that if I continued on I would spoil what I had done which wasn’t too bad.  I’d have to look at it a while before I could either take another step towards another layer of chalk marks or decide that it was done and spray it with fixative. I left it up on the easel.

While I was preparing my first coffee, Mrs. Stepford’s doorbell rang. You might remember that Mr. Stepford, annoyed by my door knocker, decided to give me an electronic door bell for Christmas last year. He even installed it for me. The only glitch in the system is that their frequency is the same as mine, so when their doorbell rings, so does mine.  It might not have been important, except that in the time it takes someone to walk from their place to mine, mine rang.

I can tell the difference because, when their’s rings, it rings once. Mine rings twice.

I was fearing the worst – religious persuaders, newspaper promotions, some cocky sales agent of fixed energy payment equalization (this has been a nation wide scam since utilities deregulation). All I could see was a tall dark man’s shape through the machine lace of the front door curtain. I wished that I had gotten into the habit of at least putting the latch on the screen door.

I could see that he was wearing a tee shirt and a none too clean one, too; that ruled out the other people I was loath to see, since they usually came in inexpensive ill fitting black suits and carried clip boards or brief cases.

My fears were laid to rest when I opened the door. It was Daniel, our lawn maintenance man, all grubby from his hard labour, his open face smiling broadly.

“I’m back from Prince Edward Island,” he said. “Do you want your lawn cut?”

I looked out at my mossy green front yard. There was hardly any grass to cut. If you remember, I discovered a ninety percent ratio of moss to grass as I was pulling out dandelions by hand this summer. The moss was thriving now in this cooler wet weather. It had rained overnight and everything was still damp.

“You know, Dan, I’d rather have you prune the apple tree out front. Could you do that today instead?”

Dan started visibly calculating behind his serious blue eyes.

“Yeah. I could do that.  I guess I could. Mrs. Stepford is not home so I don’t know if she want’s hers done. I was planning on lawns. But no, I could do the apple tree. ” As a non sequitur, he added, “I brought you and Mrs. Stepford a gift from Prince Edward Island. It’s been frozen all this time. You don’t need to worry about that. I brought home thirty pounds of buffalo meat all packed up by a regular butcher. I don’t know what you do with it, cook it slow, I think. ”

“How sweet of you to think of us,” I said and he blushed, a little shy at my effusive thanks.

As he turned to go down the stairs to his truck, I mentally groaned that I had given away my drawing day. I might not return to it again today and then, who knows when?

For good or for ill, help or hindrance, I always work with Daniel when he comes for a tree trimming project. These are projects I can’t manage by myself – I’m not knowledgeable  about chain saws and I’ve been warned I’m klutz enough that I shouldn’t insist on learning. “You wouldn’t want to be missing a few fingers or toes, would you?” Frank had said.

Thus it was that my drawing day was hijacked; but when I got outside to point out what I wanted done, I was not one bit sorry. It was likely the last mild day of autumn.

The sun was working hard to reverse the effects of rain and some northern cold fronts that had  spent time in our corner of the world. The grass was still filled with dew even though it was near noon. Light filtered throught the red and orange leaves of the Japanese maple; the magnolia leaves were bright yellow gamboge.

Gamboge, Wikipedia tells me, ” is most often extracted by tapping resin from various species of evergreen trees of the family Guttiferae.  The trees must be at least ten years old before they extract the resin by making spiral incisions in the bark and by breaking off  leaves and shoots and letting the milky yellow resinous gum drip out. The first recorded use of gamboge as a color name in English was in 1634. ” It’s also one of my favorite yellow pigments in watercolour with its robust yellow tending to orange.

The magnolia leaves lay like a skirt below the lightly clad tree as if it were only dressed now in a flimsy petticoat.  The colours all about were magnificent. I started to pick up beautiful leaves, not only from the maple and the magnolia, but from the Dogwood and the various nut trees deposited from neighboring homes. I soon had to stop that, or I would have carried a bushel of them into my house to paint – the painting of which I was foregoing for this beautiful day of garden work outside. On the south side of the property, I could see into Mrs. Stepford’s yard. Her sumac was one solid block of vermillion. Against the brilliant grass green, the colours just popped!

Daniel, by this time, was sawing off low branches and water-shoots on the apple tree.  That didn’t take long. It was quite surprising how much he could clear out of the tree while still standing on the ground; but there was still a lot to be brought down. Agile like a twenty-year-old, he propped his chainsaw between lower branches, grabbed two sturdy limbs and climbed up in amongst them. He grabbed his saw with one hand and continued to climb until he was in the top of this overgrown tree. He proceeded to saw away unwanted growth, then to pull these free of the branch tangles and throw them down to the lawn.

I realized it was the first time years that I had seen someone climb a tree. I searched back. My first boyfriend and I used to climb the cherry tree in his back yard to collect fruit for his mom. That was the last that I climbed a tree. Before that, we had climbed the dogwood in the back yard on 36th Avenue before I was ten and had earned a ferocious scolding from mother who was fearful of us falling. When Jason had cut back the Bing cherry in my yard,  he had used a ladder.  There had been none of this balancing between branches nor the acrobatic extensions to reach out and saw.

Daniel stayed aloft while, from the ground,  I tried to guide him to cut the right branches at the right length so that in the end, we would have a nicely shaped tree. In the end, he had taken a good six feet of height from the tree and cleared out the crossing branches.

The long part of this project is loading up the branches for the yard-waste dump.  I began dragging the smaller branches to his pick-up truck and soon had if filled with  them. He brought the bigger ones.

Undaunted by his full truck, he continued to pile on more and more, occasionally leaping up into the mess of tangled  limbs and crushing them down with his feet until he had almost all the branches in the back. Such was the entanglement that they all held together when he drove off.

He left me to watch over his tools – the saw, a leaf blower, a rake, two large orange fuel containers looking much like pumpkins in this autumn landscape, and a large green garbage bin with a plastic lid that he used to pick up smaller debris.

I couldn’t make progress on the tree while he was gone, I couldn’t leave the yard and his worldly wealth of gardening equipment, so I took the secateurs and headed for my hapless vegetable garden. There I cut the little crown cabbage heads off  the top of each stem which, by doing so, supposedly promotes the growth of the Brussel sprouts  that are  burgeoning out of the stem at the point where each leaf starts. I picked the one lone bean still growing on the vine. I pulled out the blackened tomato plants that had succumbed to the last overnight frost as had the butternut squash that had flowered but never fruited.

I heaped up some soil around the fennel which apparently likes this cool weather, although, novice that I am in the vegetable gardening business, I don’t know when enough is enough.  In other words, I busied myself with little garden tasks until he returned.

We finished packing the truck, raked the leaves and rotten apples that had fallen in the process, cut back main trunks from two of the flowering shrubs and he loaded my six large bags of yard waste into the truck. I added the woody stems of fireweed from the garden beside the front door since they won’t rot easily and while I was there, cut a few glorious hydrangea heads all purples and pale blues for cut flowers in the house.

It was four o’clock when I came in from our labours. He had headed down to the yard-waste dump again. He was back in an hour for his pay cheque to which I added a frozen container of apple sauce made from that very same tree that we had trimmed.

I was happy to have had some split pea soup with ham already made up. I wasn’t about to cook myself dinner after all that work. I felt invigorated but tired too. All that fresh air. All that lovely autumn colour and sensation. It was worth having the drawing hijacked… There would be another day.

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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Potent Stuff

March 20, 2009

“You artists gabble on about things I don’t have a clue about. For instance, just what does chiaroscura mean?” Dorothy asked, just a bit petulantly, then added, “If I turn up to one of your artists’ salon things, I won’t be able to talk to anybody.”

“That’s the beauty of our relationship,” Kay replied. ” Tell me what a lipid is and I’ll tell you what chiaroscura is?  That time when I was down visiting Earl and he showed me your doctoral thesis, I read the first page and realized I didn’t even know what language it was written in. I could understand the connecting words  and the articles – to, from, about, above, in and out, the, this, that and and – but all the rest might as well have been twenty-third century Hungarian as far as I could tell.”

Had I known she could write and talk in this completely esoteric language and be revered for it, I probably would have to kiss the hem of her skirt (if she ever wore one). That wasn’t a good omen for a friendship on an equal footing.  Our mutual friend Earl was drooling and exclaiming as he showed me his treasure “Do you have any idea how important this woman is?”

I didn’t. He set me straight enumerating her various accomplishments and her world-wide connections in her esoteric field of DNA research and their application to lipid research. I felt very fortunate to have met this good-hearted woman before I knew all that. There was no hope I’d be kissing any hem by  now. I’d met her at they gym, both of us eagerly pumping away at the various weight-resistant  machines trying without much hope to become svelte and healthy.

Since then, we’d established a great friendship over our love of food, theater, and art.  She was different (from me) in that she loved exercise and could cycle for two hundred kilometers on a weekend and could do beautiful woodwork. She installed her own hardwood floors, start to finish, and had built a beautiful pine blanket chest with utmost artisan skill. But then, I was different too, or so she said. I paint, draw and write amusing stories – something she found quite incomprehensible.

We were sitting in her kitchen having brunch, crisp bacon with a heavenly odor, eggs and toast. Nothing exotic, as brunches go, but it’s the company that makes dining exciting.

As I was waiting for Dorothy to get her coffee and join me at the table, I was flipping through one of her pharmaceutical science trade journals.

In the way of women’s circular conversations, I ventured “Chiaroscura simply means light and dark. It’s the art of dramatizing an image with light. To enhance the light, you underscore it with shadow. That’s all. Light. Dark. It’s a concept that had it’s defining moments in the Italian Renaissance. I guess that’s why it has kept its Italian name. ”

“Cool!” she said. “That’s not difficult.”

“Not like lipids. It means fat, doesn’t it?” I continued.

“There – you already know, don’t you? I don’t need to explain it. But there are lots of different kinds – monosaturates, polyunsaturates, polysaturates, et cetera, et cetera, …”

“Yes, but what are you doing with them? Why are they important? We’re all dieting here.  We keep on trying to get rid of them off our portly frames. We’re not trying to conserve them, for Pete’s sake.”

Dorothy laughed, and leaned a bit forward, pen at hand and a paper, ready to draw me the reticulo-endothelial system.

“Lipids are synthetic molecules. We take lipid molecules out of cell membranes and then manufacture synthetic packages with them which can carry drugs to wherever you want them to go,  like to cancer cells, to kill them.”

“We can insert stem cells wherever they are needed in the body and they will grow to be whatever is needed. If you need to regenerate the liver, you stick stem cells in the liver. If you need to regenerate blood cells, you insert them into the bone. It’s rather neat, actually.”

“There are two kinds totipotent and pluripotent.  Pluri- means that it can do several things. Like the word “plural” meaning more than one.  Toti- is like the word “total”.  It’s almost the same and I can’t remember exactly what the difference is now. Potent, of course, means powerful.”

“Iif you use the stem cells in a liver, it grows liver, and if you use it in a kidney, it grows kidney, if you use it in bone, it grows bone – but you are starting out with exactly the same stem cell. When it is inserted, it can understand where it is and it will grow what is needed.”

“Wow!” I said. “Talk about cool! But they sound like twins. Or a couple.

“Here, let me introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Potent – Toti and Pluri.

Or, those impish twins “Toti and Pluri! It’s time for dinner – wash your hands and get right in here!”

More laughter.

“Trust you!’  she said, still chortling,” to make some fool connection and turn them into something entirely unrelated.”

“It would make a good story,” I rejoined. “Or can you imagine a painting of Toti and Pluri? I’d have to think about what that would look like, a bit.”

We continued our banter, then she went off to work and I went home. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a week or so.

Dorothy phone up last night wailing about her awful Strata Council and how they were a bunch of idiots. She was seeking my esoteric property management advice (‘Really, Dorothy, it’s not DNA science…”)  and I was happy to give it, for what it was worth.

“Have you written anything about our conversation last week? ” she asked as we were signing off. She’s one of my faithful readers and she just loves sending them off to her mom who gets a chuckle about our lopsided friendship, so she eggs me on to do my literary anecdotes.

“Which conversation?” I say, regretting my legendary sieve-brain.

“The one about the lipids and stem cells,” she says, a bit of chiding in her voice. Perhaps there was a hint of slight that I hadn’t remembered all about the explanations.

“Oh, yeah! No. I’m thinking about it. You mean about Omnipotent and Plenipotent? ” I say.

“What’s that?” she sputters and then dissolves into a bright, continuous laughter, and I think she’s laughing still, even if the sound has been turned off.

What can you do? I had to be reminded that the new twins I should write about are Toti and Pluri.

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

Sugar cookies

December 21, 2008

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It was nearly midnight when Kay pulled out the mixing bowl and carefully cut a quarter pound off a block of butter.

Efficiency“, she thought, as she measured the sugar to cover the butter, then placed it in the microwave for fifteen seconds. The butter melted to perfection, not yet clear, still an opaque buttery yellow but soft enough to save a quarter hour of creaming it with the sugar.  She added the milk, the egg, the teaspoon of vanilla and blended it all into a frothier state.

Next she measured the flour and the baking powder and mixed those in. In no time, she was rolling the dough and placing the cut shapes on to parchment paper on her baking pans.

Now there’s an invention,” she gloated to herself.  Parchment paper saved all the elbow grease of cleaning the pans.There was no one around to listen.

It had been two years since she had done any serious baking, but with a large number of people coming on Boxing Day, she would have to have things for them to nibble on. Store bought stuff was so….  so un-homey, so commercial, so not Christmassy.

Kay settled into a artisanal rhythm  of rolling dough, cutting shapes, arranging them, baking them, pulling them from the oven, cooling them, placing them on a plate to harden, then starting over. It was much like Paschabel’s  Canon. While the baking was going on in the oven, she was already starting on the rolling of dough and cutting of shapes for the next batch. When she pulled them from the oven and that cycle was ending, the next tray was ready for the oven and she started again.

Nonetheless, she could do many of the tasks by rote, and she reflected back to the last time she had spent with her mother baking for Christmas time. Besides the shortbread, they had made plum puddings. Mother’s hands, gnarled with her ninety years of kitchen duty were ugly in some ways – spotted, blue veins popping out above the bones, the white tendons shifting as she manipulated the dough, but in other ways they were so beautiful. There was an elegance to her hands, the way she held things carefully, preciously, as she worked, absorbed in one of the few helpful tasks she could still participate in.

Her mother had been anxious to pass along the tradition of making Christmas pudding. The recipe was only words. It couldn’t demonstrate the necessary techniques, the curious necessity of drying the bread until it was completely hard  and then soaking the bread again in water. It didn’t make sense, but according to her, it was  essential to the process.

The timer rang irritatingly. She ignored it since her hands were sticky with dough and she needed just a few more seconds to complete her task. The timer continued to chime insistently and though it could only have been another ten seconds, by the time Kay opened the oven, the edges of the cookies were browning too rapidly. Two of them were burnt on the bottom. An adjustment would have to be made. Kay would have to answer the annoying signal. It had to be obeyed!

Now Kay had a plateful of two inch rounds. With fondness, she remembered her first Christmas in Europe. She had been living just outside of Paris, studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. At Christmas break, an English student from the International Business School invited her to join three other students driving back to London for a two week school break.  Kay leapt at the chance.

For three days in London, she shared a two-bedroom flat with six other people, some who worked on shift; others who were at school; and with the holidays, there was a daybed in the living room for Kay to sleep on.

On the fourth day, she took the train for Holyhead and then the boat to Dublin to stay with some acquaintances at SeaPoint in Monkstown.

She had met this Irish couple at a side-walk cafe in France; the woman was an artist, as was Kay; they’d given her an invitation to visit at any time.  When Kay called from London, Ellen had sounded enthusiastic. “Yes, please come!”

But Kay was not confident; she was arriving just before Christmas. Studying herself in the mirror, she realized how tenuous her invitaion was. Christmas was for families. She’d have to get a move on to  somewhere else before Christmas arrived. It was one thing to be invited to stay; but to intrude on Christmas day itself without an invitation was some nervy kind of gall!

It was bitterly cold. The air was damp and the cold penetrated. On an early walk out to see the village of Monkstown, Kay had seen a hardy localresident go down to the sea and swim.

“Brrrrr,” Kay shivered. That was just too bizarre, wanting that kind of hardiness; deliberately forcing oneself to suffer so.

Late in the afternoon, preparations were underway for the big day. Kay offered to lend a hand and was assigned decoration of the cookies with some white, green and red icing.

There are moments in life that seem to be suspended in time. Time out of time, Kay liked to explain it.  There were no other demands. The only thing in the world that she had to do that afternoon was this baking. If it took an hour or if it took three, there was no difference.

And so it was that Kay took up her paint brush and began to paint the cookies with pictures.  She carefully covered the cookies with a hard and smooth white icing. When it dried, she took a portion of leftover icing and dyed it in green, another portion in red, another portion in blue, another in yellow, according to the food dyes at her disposal.

With a new paintbrush, she drew a green fir tree on the first cookie. It was simple. A child’s drawing, really. On the next, she drew two fir trees. One after another she decorated the rounds with Christmas images – of snowmen, of baubles in their many variations, of wreathes, of snow covered houses with smoke coming from the chimney, of holly and mistletoe, of Santa Claus.

One of the children came and helped, making her own designs. Another came to inspect them and to pile them up carefully in tins readied for the baking crop.

While other memories of that stay faded away, always, crystal clear, was that time-out-of-time that Kay had spent baking decorated cookies. And twenty years after, Ellen, her Irish hostess, also only remembered the cookies

Kay lifted her last batch of naked cookies out of the oven. Where, she wondered, could she find a recipe for icing? A simple thing like icing, and the formula had escaped her!

It was after one in the morning when Kay finally turned off the oven and stopped for a cup of vanilla hot milk. She selected a burnt offering and tasted it. Aside from the edges done in brown, it was perfect. The vanilla disappeared as a distinct taste, which was as it should be. Then Kay looked at the bare, cookie-cutter trees.

Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow is another day. And she wrapped things up and went to bed. Tomorrow, she would see if she could make some coloured icings for her cookie treasures.

She turned off the oven; checked that the coffee pot was off; left the baking dishes in the sink for the morrow and went to bed.

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