Posts Tagged ‘painting’

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.                                    .

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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.

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

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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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!

Visitors

August 18, 2008

It’s getting more difficult to write these days with all the visitors arriving.

Heather’s 40th Wedding Anniversary is coming up in September but all her kids and their progeny are here in August, so we are hosting a party. Thing is, we will have 8 people living in the house for a few days. It’s a small house with 2 bedrooms. I’m having to be creative.

For the younger folk, the floor is good. Collectively, we have an air mattress , double bed size which is very comfortable and a small day bed which I’ve installed in the tiny sun room at the back of the house. Whistler travels light usually, but comes with his own ground mattress – a camping thing in foam no thicker than an inch. Whistler’s a hardy outdoors type.

So if I don’t post much, you’ll know I’m out scrambling to figure out one more sleep solution or one more collective meal.


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!