measuring up

one thing that's good about the last day of the year is that it forces you to reflect upon the preceding 364 days and how they were spent.  i must say, this year was the year of resolve.  i moved out of portland, to edison, started my new life, and started this blog.  this project has made me feel more productive, more expressive, more vulnerable, and more connected on a human level than ever before.  and because of this, i realized a lot about my own ambitions: the world can judge you and praise you, you can climb the ladder fast and hard, but when you look in the mirror that's not what's important.  it's how you push yourself to exceed your own expectations, it's the soul and intention in your day to day work, it's the depth of your relationships and the people you love that really matter.

this year i broke the ties and tied the loose ends and  that made me feel more like a loose cannon. i began to really feel progress in the personal realms of maturity, positivity, optimism, balance, health, calm, and organization.  i made new friends, and loved the living daylights out of the friends i already had.  i worked through immeasurable amounts of grief, and am happier now than i was at the beginning of the year.  it took a lot of work.  because of this, i have a feeling that starting tomorrow, i will have that overwhelming feeling of a fresh start, that clean slate, anything is possible feeling.  and not just because of the vacuuming i did today.   this is good, this is very good.  my resolution?  keep it up.  love the life you live, and live the life you love.  it's all you got.


hello again

after a wonderful five bustling days in the city, and a long six hour train ride home, i am so exhausted that i feel like a tall game of jenga about to topple.  i can't wait to tell you all about it,  tomorrow.  for now, it's time to hit the sheets, my own sheets, refreshing like an oasis in the desert.  its good to be home.


today, it snowed, just a little bit, while i wasn't paying attention.  i missed the whole thing.


a day full

i am tired.  i expect that i will be going to bed soon.  i've been out, and barely stuffed in all i could stuff in to one short winter day.  after dining with the elders and rekindling a good session of M.A.S.H. at the bar with the twenty and thirty-somethings, i resolve to snuggling with timmy, the black cat with kidney problems.   it should amount to good luck on some level.  g'nite all.


missing someone

i don't have a tv.  i don't watch tv.  so when i'm around a tv, my eyes are on it.  its hypnotic power is hard to avoid.  when i visit my dad, the tv is on.  programming ranges from hoarders to intervention, but usually deals with some severe addiction, or an obsessive compulsive personality disorder.  it's both painful to watch, and fascinating.  

tonights programming is celebrity rehab.  i've never been to rehab, i don't know what it's about,  i don't pretend to know how impossible it is to recover from a hard drug addiction, and repair the emotional wreckage caused by an addiction.  but tonight, as i watch people try to resolve painful issues from their past, as i watch them move from helpless to empowered, i know that someone i love dearly is taking the same steps.  as i watch the people on the television begin to wake up, to dissect their lives to try to understand what the hell happened to them, my heart breaks.  people everywhere are struggling. 

a prayer, for recovery.


pat's hat

there's something so very special about my dad's stocking hat.  maybe it's that he's had it since before he was twenty, and he still wears it. he's worn it hiking though the woods with his buddies as an unruly youngster, scruffy and untamed, drinking rainier with curly black hair sticking out from the edges of that hat in faded photographs. and then he's worn it teaching his little ones to ride bike in the cozy roundabouts of my childhood.  he's never outgrown it, that hat.  he's worn it walking every dog he's owned on rainy windy northwest days as a grown man, through every neighborhood he's ever lived in.  as long as i've known my dad, which is forever, he's had that hat.  both my brother and i have stolen it on several occasions, we covet that hat, but magically it's made it's way back to him.  it is quintessentially him, every little piece of my dad is that hat,  the party animal and the lover of the outdoors and the handyman and the father and the son he is.  it has become a trademark, a legacy, precious.  how wonderful that he's kept it around for so long.    



there is nothing cozier than my house on this dark black night.  on christmas, even the bars are shut down, their familiar neon glow in my windows just a memory.  it's quiet, so so quiet, making the old west storefronts of edison seem more and more like a ghost town from another era.  after cleaning up the joyful wreckage of giftwrap and ribbon, we tidy the house and make dinner in meditation for positive changes in the year to come.  the woodstove pumps heat and we eat lentil soup, across from each other and next to a sleeping cat, exhausted and relieved it's over, eager to start a new year on a new foot. 

happy holidays.  may you find the light that burns within.  let it warm your heart and illuminate your life.


the wind

 there's nothing like feeling the wind in your hair.  there's just nothing like it.  
today, james gave me the greatest gift.  before that, the day was melancholy at best.  our rickety old dog wouldn't eat again, and the brand new water filter i got for james broke right out of the box. it soured my mood; i wasn't feelin so keen about all this christmas stuff.  i was just missing the old days and christmas eve at and june and uncle earl's, i was just fussing about this and that.  and then, like the true knight in shining armor he is, james came in for a rescue, and gave me my present:  a pair of safety goggles and some riding gloves.  he takes me outside, and there they are, the bright red grammy and grampy scooters. we got them in a sweet trade a good while ago, but they didn't quite run.  with the help of our local handyman tom skinner, james got 'em all fixed up and ready to go.  to celebrate, we revved up the mighty 50cc's, and buzzed around town, to the river and to the school parking lot and to east edison loop.  it was my first time driving my own motorbike.  we got all the way up to 20mph.  and i couldn't wipe the shit eating grin off of my face.



for a little while, i painted in fabric.  i called those paintings "scrappliques". they were made from fabric scraps, meticulously collected in boxes and given to me by my favorite ladies over 80, norma and aunt june.  they were framed in quilters hoops, or appliqued to jackets.  making these pieces was a necessary departure from painting. after mass-producing over five hundred paintings for a hotel in portland,  i was burned completely out, never wanted to see a canvas or a paintbrush or paint tube again.  but the sewing machine, it was rhythmic, and meditative.  i could combine color and texture, and never even pick up a brush. i made a few of these pieces, six to be exact. two deer, two urban landscapes, a bird, and a forest.   and then i quit.  today, i revisited the technique and made my seventh, a chum salmon, a christmas present for james.

i recently went to the laconner quilt museum and saw some work there that really blew my mind.  i may have been under the illusion that i was some kind of innovator when it came to my "scrappliques",  but man was i wrong.  quilting has been alive and well, for hundreds of years thank you.  people have been pushing the boundaries, and quilting has been elevated to high art, whether or not the art world at large would like to acknowledge it.  (which brings me to the quilts of gee's bend.  just a bunch of ladies, making blankets out of scraps for their families, bending the rules a bit to suit their purposes, and making some of the most beautiful. undulating and geometric, functional works of art i have ever seen.)  yes, i think i may be ready to tear into those fabric scrap boxes again.



 it was a cozy day, filled with load after load of laundry, walking to the river in the brisk winter sun, watching a kestrel float effortlessly above the dry grass, finding a long pheasant tail feather on the road, making homemade split pea soup, listening to gram and emmylou on the stereo, knitting incessantly in a trance, then painting.  i could do this again.

getting somewhere

reserved for m. mcconnell

if you have to do something every day, you realize a lot about that something.  you find ways to do it well, to do it fast, to survive it.  you learn to cope with its inherent flaws, and to enjoy it at the same time.  painting every day is that way.  working is that way.  parenting is that way.  cooking meals is that way.  i guess if you do anything every day, you're bound to get better at it over time, and bound to slip up now and again.  you'll look around for new ways to be inspired, and ways to mix it up, you'll keep your ears and mind open to advice, in an effort to keep things interesting.   it's a good habit to get into, doing something every day.  it creates routine and stability, and is a healthy challenge.  that's my assessment, at least.

since i started my one-a-day blog, i've noticed a lot of people starting their own one-a-day,  or one-every other-day, or even one-a-week.  the projects i've seen my friends undertake range from baking bread, to writing poems, to practicing violin.  it's becoming a bit of a creative movement.  i don't take credit for anything; i know it didn't start with me.  when i started following my first one-a-day blog years ago, there was already a huge network of daily painters.  it wasn't until years later that i was inspired to rise to the challenge.  and this year, that same artist completed his thousandth painting.  i'm only on #136, but its still exciting.  by doing something every day, you get somewhere.

what's your one-a-day? 


blame it on the moon

private commission

today was much better than yesterday, thank you for asking.  i blame the solstice full moon lunar eclipse for all the whacked-out moodiness lately.  yes, i believe in the power of astrology.  today, fortunately, i woke up feeling optimistic. (funny how that moment of waking can define your entire day.)  i took off in my trusty pickup for the usual errand-running to procure the necessary groceries for the week, a much needed departure from tiny town.  i admit: sometimes i start to feel trapped in this little village, especially after a few days of putting my "nice face" on to play shopkeep.  a little wide open space, a little eye candy out-and-about, and a full fridge later, a girl is bound to feel as good as new.    


coming clean

sometimes i think it's ironic that my face so naturally goes into a smile. because for someone who smiles so much, i sure struggle a lot.  do you feel that way too?  sometimes i think it's like a divine trick: it's almost like my physical body was designed by the great designer for the sole purpose of smiling.  in fact, i almost can't not smile.  that's just what my cheeks do.  and maybe that's for the divine purpose of putting others in a amicable mood, and maybe it's to spread goodness and joy, in an effort that it may indeed rub off all around me and i may catch the bug myself.  but today, i am pretty sure i smiled all day, yet i felt like a stinky-ass rotten egg inside.  you've felt that way too, you say?  some days are like that, many days actually, but i disguise it well.  how could this be?  well here's a heartfelt confession: some days, i am mad at the universe.  as mad as anyone has ever been.  mad at the universe for notifying me, one fateful december, your mom has terminal cancer.  mad for giving me six short months to pray with every last cell of my being for healing.  and furious as hell for taking my perfect mom, my perfect friendship, and my perfect life away from me.  that's really only the beginning.  yes, i'm mad at the universe, for fucking up big time, for destroying my sense of optimism.  why am i telling you this?  because today, i was faking it, and today, i felt the need to come clean. because i love you, all of you, and thought i should tell you: things are not always as they appear: the truth lies hidden somewhere beneath an automatic smile.  and why am i telling you this?  because i know i'm not alone: all of us have to fake it sometimes, just to get by.

forever young

private commission
there's something magical about being a little kid.  it's the magic that makes you, a four year old girl with a head full of blond curls that could put shirley temple to shame,  play dress up, wearing a silver box on your head after everyone has opened the presents. donning a piece of wrapping paper as a cape, you run around a room full of chatting adults, making robot noises trying to get their attention.   and it is the same thing that makes you, a ten year old boy, covet an electric wine cooler at a white elephant party, imagining all the things you could buy with the twenty dollars you will earn when you sell the thing on craigslist.  yes, in the same thing that's useless to everyone else, you see unmet potential.  being young, its the magic that will satiate you, as a towheaded one year old, when you're set down in an appliance box full of ribbon and tissue paper.  corralled in that box, away from distractions, you can play for hours.

oh, to be a kid again.



"families are about love overcoming emotional torture"
matt groening

one of the great things about family is that you experience so much of life together.  it makes it easier to get through the tough stuff, knowing you're not there alone, and it makes the joys more full when you can share them.  but families don't always work out, or work together symbiotically.  and sometimes they're downright dysfunctional.  as i've grown older, the definition of family has mutated.  when mom died, traditional notions dissolved rapidly around me. just as it did for my parents, years ago, when they didn't see eye to eye with members of their own families.  they set out on their own, in search of a paradigm shift.  and so did i:  i began to build my own version, a nucleus of friendship, comradery and love that could keep me safe in stormy weather.  i held fast to the ties that were healthy, the ones that made me feel secure and lifted me up, and set the rest adrift.  it was both scary and liberating, being at the helm of that ship.

i was reminded of the comfort of good family today, when mark came to visit.  you see, james grew up not knowing his biological father.  mark so generously stepped in and filled those fatherly shoes as "cowboy dad" for as long as he could.  a true outdoorsman and the spitting image of chuck norris, mark taught james the virtues of the out-of-doors, of harvesting food and respecting the land. he is a huge part of the man james has become.  but mark and james' mom couldn't make it work, so mark had to leave.  he started a new life with a new beautiful family.  still, james and mark kept in touch.  and today, after a long hiatus, they talked excitedly, smiling, laughing, barely skipping a beat, reminiscing telling stories about fishing and boat-riding cats and the old stomping grounds, back and forth, back and forth, like a good game of pong.  and in that moment of reconnection, they were as much father and son as any other father and son, anywhere.  if not more so.  

how we as humans need that loving familiarity, called family.


second wind

private commission

as i struggled to find a second wind and do this evening's painting, james fell asleep in his chair like an old man, head tilted back.  looking up now and again from my work, i'd find him staring at me.  he quietly picked up his lap slide and started twanging along with the music.  i drank my whiskey hot water lemon, and lazily brushed the colors where they seemed fitting, reveling in the sleepy delirium of my cozy living room studio.

the beta band: dry the rain


private commission

there is something about finding the perfect gift that is so exhilarating.  and yet, there is something so stressful about trying to rack your brain for what that perfect gift might be.  as "the holiday" approaches, i've been formulating a list to make my job easier.  but i know that in spite of all my efforts at planning, sometimes the perfect gift is allusive.  then one day, at random, it will find me, pick me out of the crowd when i least expect it, and say "hey, i'm the perfect gift for so-and-so".  33 percent of my gift giving is precalculated, 33 percent is like playing marco polo in an olympic sized pool, and 33 percent is me crazily crafting in the studio like a contestant from supermarket sweep. 

lately, i've been watching some of my my man-friends struggle a bit with what to give their special ladies.  it pains me to know that they're toiling over how to quantify their feelings into some material offering, possibly afraid of failure, or just overwhelmed by the idea in general.    and us ladies, when asked what we want, will often respond with, "oh, i don't need anything," or, "your love is enough,"  when really we mean: it better sparkle, buddy.  

this year, to circumnavigate the "what should i buy" syndrome, i challenge everyone to make a gift for the ones they love.  try it, you might like it.  because there is nothing more gratifying than spending good old-fashioned time and effort on something meaningfully hand-hewn, and then giving it away.



sometimes it's really hard to paint what other people want you to paint.  it's hard to picture what they want, or to see what they picture in their head. it's challenging to paint portraits of people or animals you don't know, it's especially hard to "capture" their "essence" from a bunch of poorly lit photos you didn't take yourself.  it's hard to create a scene out of thin air, and to make that scene look somewhat believable, adding imaginary elements together in a unified light.  and it's hard to match someone's decor, their color scheme.  today, i finished a painting that was all of the above.  my client asked for a portrait of her two sons with their dog, and asked that it should include elements of water, fish, trees, and piano.  she then sent me examples of art she liked, and a photo of the wall it should hang on.  i was a little dumbfounded, but i'm always up for a good challenge.  this one taught me how to oil paint again, on a large scale. i felt like i was starting from scratch. but i kept at it, i kept making mistakes to correct them, until i finished.  for i had taken a lengthy reprieve from oil painting, and had lost the touch, lost the confidence.  i sent her a photo of the image in progress, and by some odd miracle of god, she liked it.  phew.  because it could have just as easily gone either way.  and maybe i would have had to refund her money.

i had an unsuccessful commission before.  i was asked to paint the deceased dog of a client's parents on a golf green by the coastal cliffs overlooking the ocean.  the painting was to be three feet by five feet horizontal.  i worked on it, hard, with three blurry reference photos as my muse.  i gave it to my client, she strapped it to the top of her volvo, and drove it to their house for christmas.  it was their christmas gift.  and when they laid eyes upon it they weren't pleased.  the colors were all wrong.  it looked nothing like him.  and so, in the back of a distant dark closet, the painting sits.

i tried not to let it get me down.  truly, it was the only failed attempt.  because i've had many successes.  i painted a wedding portrait from the eighties, and then a large family portrait with ten people all standing in a row. i've painted people's children i've never met opening up their christmas gifts.  i've painted people's dogs and cats, or the church they were married in.  i painted a guy's five dogs playing poker, drinking whiskey and smoking ciggarettes. i painted a guy's childhood portrait with his first fishing catch, and a farmer's prized pickup...the important stuff.  all to pay my bills, and make 'em smile.


even the losers win

last night we snuggled up for movie night at tom and heather's and watched beautiful losers, an entirely engrossing documentary on a diy movement of artists and galleries from new york in the 90's.  it was an inspiring piece of history, with great footage and candid talks with some of the best subculture artists of the era.  the idea of a do-it-yourself reality, the subversion from an archetypal gallery system, creating new ways to make and view art, the double-edged sword of "making it" as an artist... it all really hit home for me and james.  because although we may sometimes feel like outcasts, rough around the edges compared to some of the bourgeois conventions in the art world,  we were reassured to see those who have walked the steps before us.  our role models.  driving home through the flooded fields, driving up to our art barn, glowing with lights and filled with handmades, we couldn't help but both feel our little bubble of energy growing, expanding.  like a seed of a new movement, finally taking root.


private commission

there's a flood warning for the valley this week.  it's been pissing rain for three days straight, cascading in elegant waterfalls from our gutterless red metal roof.  the sopping backyard is becoming more like waterfront property with every new inch.  thank god for galoshes.  the strategically placed buckets throughout our building have large amounts of overspray from the ferocity of the falling drops, i can hear them thump thump thumping throughout the day.  those buckets are filling more rapidly and may soon require emptying.  this morning, the rain blowing north made it all the way through the front window, and created a large pool on the floor.  oh well, the studio needed a good mop anyways.  two years ago, i think it was two years ago, when the valley flooded its "twenty year flood", that fateful flood that half-filled harley & susan's silverstreak and made the neighborhood look an awful lot like an ocean, we townies luckily stayed high and dry.  we're above sea level, by a smidge.  and all of us here are surrounded by an intricate system of dikes that keep the river and ocean mostly at bay.  but sometimes they fail.  the water is unstoppable.  last time that happened it was scary, and crazy, and other-worldly, driving roads with a swift six inch current streaming over the top, seeing the homes like little islands unto themselves, surrounded by fast-moving murky grey water.  the field mice and voles were all displaced from their homes, seeking dry refuge in high spots on the road, piling into huge squirmy mounds, climbing each other's bodies to avoid the water.  some were rescued by valiant locals in a boat with buckets, while others became the raptor's feast, the only evidence left being carnage piles circling the bottom of telephone poles.  and then there was the car in a ditch, i'm sure it wasn't the only one, swept off the road by the water and filled with mud.  and the sea of apples strewn along the road, burst from a flooded silo and carried away with the current...  living with the land and the elements is sometimes all too real.  it makes life interesting, and authentic, and thrilling, interacting with wild nature at her finest, the untamed beast she can be.  because sometimes it seems we grow all to comfortable within our human systems, we take things for granted, and forget who's really in charge....and then comes a flood warning.  and we check ourselves.  

firewood?  check.  food?  check.  candles?  check.  boat?  check.  
ready as we'll ever be.


the tree

today, the dumpster household set up our christmas tree.  we aren't particularly christian, or religious, but we adore family traditions.  they make us feel whole.  and this holiday in particular, with sparkling lights and presents to open, makes the never-ending wet of northwest winter much more bearable.  so the ritual of setting up the tree and celebrating christmas, well to us it's more about celebrating life, and family, and creativity, and each other.  our tree is a six foot charlie brown bare skeleton, sculpted by james. he dreams of having an entire christmas tree lot one day, full of these sculptures.  the tree is a one inch dowel with holes drilled in it, and in each hole is a branch, custom whittled at the end to fit snug, trimmed and shaped accordingly so the combination of dowel and branches makes itself into a convincing replica.  at the bottom, the dowel fits into an upside down wooden planter box, that holds the tree up.  over top of the box is grandma mickie's bright red felt tree skirt.  we've got ourselves a stuffed star topper made from an old sweater, some ornaments made out of bailing wire and bark chips and crushed cans and losing scratch tickets and hand-crocheted doilies.  yes, today we set up the tree, our way, the lucky dumpster way.  and yes, our colorful glowing skeleton tree, garnished with tacky lights and random bits of garbage,  it looks more and more like a tree shrine, every time i look at it.



i recently got an anonymous comment on my blog.  it just said "you're welcome".  after some digging, i found out it was my dad.  he was responding to something i wrote about my "cush suburban upbringing". a loving little poke of sarcasm my way.

but it's funny.  i think about him a lot.  because i know i wasn't just lucky.  i was fortunate.  i had a wonderful and magical childhood full of music and art and joy and laughter.  and it didn't just come out of nowhere:  it was designed by my folks.  sure, there were the rough spots.  that's life.  but i was sheltered just enough, i was given the room to breathe and grow and explore, given the chance to fuck up and try again, given the tools to learn by.  i was given the safety of my family and three meals a day and a comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood right next to my school, a house with a big manicured lawn to play in and two dogs who fetched and a cat that purred under my covers at night and the nicest neighbors.  i was given the gift of security, of safety, of all the love i could ask for.  within this framework, i discovered who i am today, and how to be happy in the future, in spite of adversity.  i am humbled by the generosity, dedication, patience and selflessness that parenthood requires.

thank you dad. from the bottom of my heart.

and to the mommies and daddies out there, making safe nests for your babies to grow in: i commend you.


the good fight

james is famous for growing avocado trees from seed.  for as long as i've known him, he's had several.  early on, he asked me to be mindful when i cut the fruit in half so as not to slice the seed.  he places the seeds, like slimy wooden eyeballs, in little cups half-filled with water, all around the kitchen sills and shelves.  some of them he snuggles into the soil of already existing spider plants, where they might take root.  some never root at all, they dry out leaving brown rings in the glass and make a run for the compost when james isn't looking.  but when they sprout, the seed cracks a giant fissure like a fault in the earth's crust.  out comes a delicate green sprout, a celebration of life, dividing into two tiny translucent leaves, then four.  the trees grow slow and lanky, their tender broad leaves stretching out sometimes to a foot long.  i love the way they glow a radiant green in the sun, their veins twisting like a road map and embossing tiny valleys and hills.  the trees never bear fruit, or a hardwood trunk, but his tallest ones i remember reaching over five feet in the sunny east-facing windows of the famous jersey street house.  that house was leveled this year, we sold those avocado trees along with the tenor banjo and everything else we might later regret at the yard sale before we moved out of that bellingham neighborhood where we met.  avocado trees, like the homes we have lived in, have come and gone.

the avocado trees are little creations.  they breathe life into every space we have inhabited together.  they are communicative:  the leaves droop sadly when they are in need of water, or yellow when they need nutrients, and they stretch out proudly when they are happy and well cared for.  and because of this, they are easy to care for.  as long as you're paying attention, that is.  i remember one summer, when james and i were going between edison and portland a lot, spun out like a spool of yarn, we forgot to call someone to water the avocados.  driving up to the house, we both had a sinking feeling.  it was a sad sad day, finding them all dead and brown. 

there is something about this little avocado tree obsession of james' that really sums him up for me.  he is constantly pushing at creating beauty and positivity in a world that is decaying.  some people might think it's silly, the avocado and the spider plant farm we have going.  but for james, it is healing.  they are symbols.  you see, when you know too much about what's wrong with the world, it is important to make things right, in your own way.  james is seeking out the discards, and saying "look at this!  it is still good for something!"  he is fighting the good fight, with all his might. that is what i love about james and his avocado trees.



today, james and tom, also known as "team dumpster", demolished and removed what was a nasty, old and dingy dur-a-stall plastic shower from our tiny  washroom.   they removed the peeling plywood walls, down to the studs.  all to make way for the cast iron clawfoot tub we've been hoarding, the one we moved all the way from our portland house, to make a new, better bathroom.  i am excited about the progress already; every little step towards carving out our unconventional home makes a huge difference to me.  and i'm so very thankful that james will play ball.  i blame my demanding nature on a totally cush suburban upbringing: with all the creature comforts a girl could ask for, it conditioned me for a life of luxury.  and so when i complain about my house being filthy or cold or chaotic, i feel as if i can't help it.  james, on the other hand, has inhabited yurts, vans, shanty's, even snow caves, and been pretty darn comfortable.  our job, now and forever, is to find balance and harmony, comfort amidst the chaos.


somewhere else


sometimes, as a self-employed woman living in an unfinished barn in a small town, it's hard to wake up and face the day.  since every day is of my own design, sometimes it is difficult to see what to do, and in what order.  it's hard to make a list, or to prioritize, because there are always just so many pressing things knocking down the door. i need an army. and it is also hard to know what to want out of life, or what direction to go.  my problem, today and many other days, is that i want something i don't have, can't have, is unattainable in any immediate sense, and is unrealistic. because of this, i can't see the good honest beauty inherent in my own current situation.  which is an automatic setup for disappointment, and disaster.  today, more than anything, i wanted a clean two story craftsman cottage with push button heat.  i wanted to wake up, look out the window at the morning on an open field filled with birds, and slide across the slick polished wood floors in my socks.  i wanted to take a bath, a long hot bath in my cast iron claw-foot bathtub, for the gnarly cold i've been fighting going on two weeks.  nope.  not me, not today.

it is hard to be me, sure.  i don't have a bathtub.  but i am lucky.  and i have to keep remembering that.  because for every time i wish i were somewhere else, odds are someone is wishing they were in my shoes too.


heaven and hell

collection of p. senter

today, walking through michael's craft store, i was appalled. first, by the christmas music.   it was absolutely horrible, tasteless and offensive.  with phrases like, "he was crucified and died for our sins," it was blatantly christian, and graphically religious, yet so specifically non-inclusive of other religions.  what bothered me most was that i couldn't escape it.  i really wished i had a red ryder to shoot out the speakers.  it followed me down every aisle, and certainly didn't put me in the christmas spirit.   nor did the million and a half things colored red and green and encrusted with glitter.  the christmas decor.  the fake snow, the fake snowflakes, the fake green stuff, the fake poinsettias...fake fake fake.   the smell of cinnamon potpourri penetrated every pore.  i don't know about you, but i prefer real evergreen wreaths with that authentic fresh evergreen smell, thank you.  

with every season, there is another to follow, with a different consumer holiday and a complete change-over of the store merchandise. so my question as a bleeding heart environmentalist is:  what's to happen with last year's decorations?  do they go to a landfill, or in storage for years to come?



today, i started my first worm bin, and i am beyond excited.  you see, james and i have been struggling with the stinkiest and grossest compost in all of washington state.  our previous bin was too big, and got too full, and we both would get too busy with other stuff and neglect to empty the damn thing outside.  until it's too late.  and then opening the lid is an "at your own risk" situation.  the smell almost knocks you over. and the flies have found their way in and decided to start a family in there.  maggots.  gross.  it is a completely disgusting part of a lovely natural process that we haven't quite ironed out.  so when i saw a little plastic freezer jelly box full of red wigglers for twenty bucks at the bow holiday market, i jumped.  today, i took my blue recycled plastic tub and drilled a million holes in it.  i lined the bottom with thin shreds of newsprint, then sent james outside to cover the paper with soil, compost and straw.  i wetted everything down, and then let the little guys free.  they were all in a lump, a red slimy wiggly lump, all stuck together, so i separated the clusters into individuals and scattered them around the bin.  then i put some fresh decompostables on top.  and now....the waiting begins.


the drawing board

i like drawing.  it's an inexact science.  i always draw out my paintings first.  then i color them in.  ken danby said that "without good drawing, the foundation of a painting will collapse."  not entirely true, but partially.  a drawing is like a foundation.  using your eyes to examine the contours of an object, and trying to replicate that object on paper, there is always a certain margin of error.  but that is what makes painting painting, and not photography.  you can see evidence of the artist's hand in the work.  and the work, like the artist, is never mathematically perfect.  that's what makes it unique.

when i first started painting, i was a tentative draftsman.  i didn't trust my hand to do the good work of setting the stage for my paintings. and so for a while, i used an old projector that my mom gave me.  i legitimized it because she always said: "one of the best ways to learn is to trace.  it helps you develop a familiarity with drawing and what things are supposed to look like in relationship to each other."  so i figured, it's kind of like printmaking, essentially.  it's my gateway tool.  but truthfully, i was embarrassed about it, it felt like a cop-out, like i was cheating on a test and i didn't want anyone to know.  and then one fateful day, i dropped the lens of my precious projector and it shattered into a million pieces.  devastating.  i called to get a replacement, and found that the special curved glass would be a few benjamins in damage.  ouch.  so i figured it was a sign, and i set out to try the grid technique of drawing that i learned in college.  it worked well for a while, drafting the portland buildings i was painting at the time, and soon i was wielding a ruler and making measurements. my drawings developed into tediously accurate architectural renderings, but they were stiff, and so calculated that they seemed dead.

nowadays, i let it all hang out.  my pencil has a mind of its own.  because somewhere, within the realms of repetition, i think i learned how to draw, and i simultaneously let the rigidity go.  so with a new measure of approximata, my work seems strangely more human, or soulful, or vibrant...at least to me.  so the work paid off. and that is something i am proud of.  initially, i may have put the cart before the horse, but it seems like now we've got it all straightened out.

learning to draw, before you paint, is like learning to walk before you run.  
-don getz

art walk

reserved for b. sears

i went to bellingham for the artwalk, to hang my watercolors in karie jane's studio to get some "bellingham exposure".  but it was a quiet night, not many people coming through, so after hanging everything proper we all gathered together and sat cross-legged on the carpet of the tiny studio floor listening to 90's rock.  kj and melissa and miles playing cards, me and little jasper working on some watercolors, eric and david and his brother chillin and chattin, all of us relaxed, getting up now and again to take our mini art tours of the four studios that were open, to help little jasper track down bad guys with his homemade cardboard sword or to look at the robot in the toaster museum again and again.  all in all, it was perfect, i much preferred the down-home living room feel to any sort of opening or reception that i could take in, and so i was thankful.  because to me, art isn't pretentious, it's not just a luxury, a commodity, a spectacle, or merely for entertainment. it's a way of life.


just wondering

collection of j. parry

have you ever watched a swallow build its nest?  

we were so fortunate to have a nesting pair right of swallows above our lucky dumpster door for two years running. watching them, i was fascinated by the amount of work it took to make that little mud nest, reminiscent of the coil pots i made in elementary school.  it all started with just a couple of non-imposing wet globs.  but it grew and grew.   the nest transformed from a dark wet brown to a slate grey as the mud dried and shrank to the perfect size.  and in that little circle of mud, a litter of three was born, not once, but thrice.  many people will knock the nests down for fear of bird skat, but i swear, that nest above our sign was good luck.  it was actually the best advertising we at the lucky dumpster ever had.  because it stopped people dead in their tracks: they took photos by the hundreds.  they posed underneath it.  you'd think they were city slickers, and had never seen a swallow's nest before.  but around here, the swallows are everywhere, swooping through the sky eating mosquitoes, and building strategic nests in the sheltered eaves, the cafe overhangs, on the river boathouses, in the empty barns and sheds and outbuildings.  just another reason i feel so fortunate to call this place home.

i wonder how some folks can live so far outside of nature.  in the churning machinations of the city, nature hides.  and civilization has a way of keeping nature at bay: controlled, pruned, comfortably tamed and at a safe distance.  so it is easy to miss the flock of bushtits smaller than a silver dollar, the glowing sheet of spider's webs across the grass' surface, the haloes or sun-dogs on a hazy day, or the red-breasted robins drunk off of  holly berries. for all the times i have experienced unadulterated, honest to goodness joy because of the miracle of nature, i wonder:  do people even know what they're missing?


darker darks, lighter lights

welcome to december, and the one-hundred-and-sixteenth day of my blog.  today i would like to thank my mom, for being the hard-ass she was, for always pushing me to be better, for being that voice in the back of my head that kicks me in the ass and says "keep going".  she's the reason i started this whole thing in the first place, and what's wonderful is that it has a way of keeping our relationship alive in spite of her absence.  so for all the times it's hard to do, and i don't want to continue, her voice tells me it's worth it. 

because life is hard.  sometimes you can't see what it is all for.  you need encouragement.  life is hard in its own ways, for everyone.  struggles are individual, yet we all struggle together.  in unison.  but life is also good.  it is so good.  it is more good than you or me can even comprehend.  and without the difficulties, the beauty is harder to see.  it is the contrast that makes the beauty so clear. darker darks, lighter lights.  the advice about contrast my mom used to give me when scrutinizing my artwork became so much more about life after she died, so much so that i got the tattoo in cursive on my wrists.

you know, it's kind of like this fledgling starling.  many consider starlings pestilent.  they frown at the fact the james and i allow starlings to nest in a hole in our building.  because they're everywhere.  and they eat all the berries.  but you can't deny their beauty.  they flock together by the thousands and dance in dense churning clouds above the fields, then line up solid by the thousands on the power lines.  they are a magical phenomenon.   and every year, when the nesting starling has a litter, i can hear everything through the wall.  i hear them being born, i can hear them excitedly calling for food, i can hear their wings rustling as they grow feathers, i hear them grow up in the wall while i'm working all the while.  this is a source of joy for me.  i remember sitting with gunther on the curb outside, the summer before he disappeared: him with camera, watching the parents fly to and fro with grub, meeting the young with heads expectantly poking from the hole.  "i'm no good at nature photography", he said.  which i knew was untrue. he was a photographer of human nature.  so we sat there for a long time, trying to get the perfect shot, the shutter clicking incessantly as the starlings performed their parental duties. it was beautiful.  and i wouldn't trade that moment for a million berries.


how to paint grass


i remember vividly the day i learned to paint grass.  

i had recently moved to portland with james.  i didn't have a job and was holed up in my cluttered little studio daily, the living room of our tiny yellow rental house, trying to make art that would sell.  i was painting birds, people with birds, and landscapes, all from the pages of my old national geographics. when i wasn't doing that, i was sanding or finishing cabinets that james was working on.  i remember being pretty hand-to-mouth, pretty stoned most of the time to deal with the money stress.  i remember it being really hard, but also exhilarating, to be in a city with a million interesting places we hadn't been yet, a city that didn't know our names.  i thought i moved there to make it big as an artist. now i realize that i just wanted to be near my family.

my mom and dad lived in camas at the time, a tiny mill town twenty minutes east on the river.  my mom always worked as an artist and illustrator, was well connected in the local art community, and always had lots of random and interesting jobs.  a friend of a friend somehow recommended my mom for a job with a local duck hunter that wanted his boat painted in realistic marsh grass camouflage.  he wanted the best camouflage, so the ducks wouldn't see him but his fellow hunters certainly would.  my mom called to enlist my help, and i said sure, of course i'll do anything for a little cash. 

we drove over to his home in the woods and were greeted by two roaming horses, a sheep dog, and the largest mule i'd ever seen.  we were led into a shed filled with taxidermy, hunting paraphernalia, and the aluminum skiff, his pride and joy.  on that day, with four different colors of enamel, my mom showed me how to paint grass.  

we started with the middle greens, swiping the long fronds from the bottom up.  she told me i was too stiff, painting too slow.   "imagine how the grass moves.  imagine the wind in the grass," she said, swooping the brush swiftly upward.  "picture how random nature is.  each blade isn't perfect...there will be bent blades and curled blades.  each blade is different.  see, watch how i do it."  i tried to imitate.  we must have looked like amateur ballerinas, swooping our brushes in a lyrical interpretive dance, laughing hysterically at the awful country blaring from a tiny boom-box.  we moved to a darker color, filling in the shadows between the blades, creating depth and dimension, carving out the grass, adding in cattails.  last, we took the bright yellow, and highlighted each blade, our brush landing where our imaginary sun would land.  in a mere three hours, we were done, and boy that boat was glowing with its new paint job.  i'd venture to say that we were glowing too, as we posed together for that photo, mother and daughter team, victorious.   mission accomplished.

what do you see?

i'm pretty sure edison has ghosts.  talking to frog tonight really sealed the deal.  "it's an indian burial ground, you know."  he said.  i nod in affirmation.  

frog grew up here.  his name is actually thomas, and i'm not sure where his nickname came from.  he's usually donning some frog paraphernalia of some sort.  he's tall and lanky with long black hair and a goatee, with a hoodee and a baseball cap and skate shoes he blends right in.  but he's different.  he's a bit of a local celebrity, and an edison authority.  frog lives down the street in a house with his grandma, protecting her from aggressive vacuum salesmen and other opportunist-type people who would like to take advantage of an elderly woman.  what all i know about frog:  he has a heart of gold.  he stashes tall cans of rainier in between slough food and Marilyn's house.  he fell out of a tree when he was young and was paralyzed.  he learned how to walk again, but one of his hands doesn't work the way he wants it to.  he likes to buy me and james drinks, preferably shots.  he is extremely sentimental, and emotional, and will sometimes cry when a meaningful song comes on the juke.  tonight, it was someday never comes by credence.  at fourteen, he used to sneak into the town's then-slaughterhouse office and call 900-numbers with his buddies.  he saw many a cow get axed, and even tried to rescue one.  he dragged the calf all the way home, clipped its ear tag and shaved the burned-in numbers from it's fur to hide it's identity.  not knowing what to do from there, feeling helpless, he let the cow go free.  he doesn't know what happened to it.

i love frog, he makes life better here in this tiny town.  he makes life in edison more colorful, more meaningful.  he helps me realize that a town is not just made of it's buildings.  it's not just the architecture or the environment.   it's the people.  that's what makes this town special.   



i'm not sure exactly what happened.  but i went from being a non-knitter to a knit-a-holic almost overnight.  i knit my first hat in three short days, now i'm well on my way to finishing my second.  it's a new kind of escapism, perfect for those dull winter afternoons in the store or evenings in bed with a fire.  it puts me in a bit of a trance and scratches my obsessive compulsive side.  it is also one of the reasons i had a hard time doing my painting yesterday.  and today.  i was knitting instead.

i joined a local ladies knitting circle some time ago, not as an excuse to knit, or because i knit at all:  i didn't. i wanted to get to know some ladies, and maybe drink a little whiskey and shoot the shit.  but in that circle, i saw knitting and crocheting elevated.  i was jealous of everyone's pattern-following prowess, and their collaboration over questions of complex construction.  impatient with my own project that lasted over a year and went nowhere, i quickly finished the edges and went to ravelry in search of a pattern.  and i realized:  the potential is endless.

which brings me to knitta.  i've seen those brightly colored knitted cozies around telephone poles in bellingham and portland.  maybe they were made by the notorious yarn-bombers called knitta, maybe knot.  but all i know is:  edison needs one.  seeing photos of the knitted r.v.cozy, the bus cozy, the bicycle cozies, and other jaw-dropping projects, i now want a cozy for everything.  i adore this new modern hybridization, a perfect combination of craft and graffiti, domesticity and guerrilla art.



leave it to me to ruin a perfectly good thing.  you see, making yourself do a painting a day has a way of taking some of the fun out of it.  yeah, there are still days when it's just right: the music is right, the light is right, the motivation is right, the supplies are right...and it really shows up in the work.  those days, i create works of art.  then there are the other days.  because not all days are created equal.  and so some days, like today for example, i wait until after i've worked on other crap all day and gone to a party and eaten too much dessert and then i realize i ran out of paper and it's about all i can do to not have a tantrum all over myself.  you've heard this one before.  so here it is:  a half-assed sunset painting reminiscent of a hawaiian shirt on a dirty corner scrap of paper from a photo i took of the la brea tarpits in los angeles.  a sunset, with the silhouetted trees and reflection on the water, is about one of the simplest things you can paint.  in fact, it's kind of like a big  Rorschach ink blot, or the finger paint and folded paper experiments i used to do when i was little.  which brings to mind an artist i remember loving, who started every drawing from smashed paint in a sketchbook. yes, that is something i should try.  one thing leads to another, a little velvet underground comes on the radio, and i decide to take my own Rorschach test, just for kicks.   it told me that my sickness quotient was 77% and that therapy would be useful."1)You work very slowly. In fact, if you went any slower you'd be in reverse. 2) Everyone likes you. This is because your life is such a mess that everyone else is relieved they aren't you. 3)  Your personal motto is "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." Wrong. What doesn't kill you usually makes you hurt all over and go "Owie!" ".  okay, so i wasted ten minutes on some crappy excuse for Rorschach when i could have been working on art.  whoops.  i promise tomorrow's attempt will be better.


collection of the biddle family
today we celebrated the birthday of james reisen.  james, you're the butter on my toast, the apple in my orchard, the wood in my stove, the tea in my mug.  every year just keeps getting better and better.  how could i be so lucky?  thank you for being you:  everything, and more.



my family was traditional. we had our traditions, and for years and years we followed those traditions faithfully like the children of hamelin followed the pied piper.  for thanksgiving we would gather, aunt june crafting a ridiculously lavish meal. every course imaginable was arranged across the delicate crocheted lace tablecloth, the table set proper with a centerpiece and candles and matching china and silver and crystal glasses beneath the chandelier.  we would hold hands together, in a circle, heads down respectfully while uncle earl said grace. a devout man, a spiritual man, his grace was always a beautiful and simple expression of appreciation.  thank you, heavenly father, for bringing us together, for the nourishing food that you have provided, bless it to our body's use, amen.  we would eat forever, then fall down sleepy on the burgundy leather couch and watch television.  it was thanksgiving, and it was the same, year after year.

ever since mom died, holidays have been hard.  i suppose that goes without saying.  but holidays seem to emphasize her absence. when she left, we were all at a loss.  for a while, we tried to do the same old thing.  it was horribly lonely, staring across the table at each other, faces forlorn. we were trying with all our might to be thankful,  but only ashes remained.

this year is different.  i am thankful.  because this year, all the traditions we held fast to have been broken, shattered like a bottle on the mast of a ship.  because with every end, there is a beginning.  and for this, i am thankful.  this year, james and i spent our first thanksgiving together.  we sat at our oak table, the table handed down to me, in the chairs my mother refurbished with her own two hands, the table and chairs of many a family meal.  we ate salmon that was caught by james in our local river, and squash that was grown by the hands of a friend, all cooked in a cast iron pan on the woodstove that heats our home.  we finished with pomegranate seeds, the symbolic fruit of greek mythology from which the seasons were born.   it couldn't have been more perfect.


listen closely


the last few weeks were spent in preparation for tonight's daffodils show.  i bought a new drum stool.  we made a list of the forty or so songs that we know.  we practiced until exhaustion or impatience made us take a smoke or drink or potty or sleep break.  we watched a band we admired, looking for clues to the puzzle.  we even made an impromptu demo, and gave it to him at the show.  a shot in the dark, or a toe in the door, perhaps.  we listened to recordings of our practices, trying to pick out the good parts and eliminate the bad like a new recipe.  we practiced, and practiced some more.  all in preparation, for tonight, and for all the shows to come.

today, listening to KEXP's live recordings of my favorite bands in the entire world, my eyes and ears were opened.  i realized:  there is a thin divide between us and them, that divide being fame.  it is something every band works toward, but few achieve on a large scale.  but typically, it's not the reason we all make music.  music is a force all its own, a force that binds us together in the expressions of joy and sadness and love and every other human emotion.  it is therapy, it is adrenalin, it is satisfying, to the listeners and the performers all at once.  because of the profound effect it can have on the listener, musicians are often put on some sort of artistic pedestal.  but listening closely to some of those live studio recordings, those raw, unedited moments, and listening to the artists talk, really brings it back home to how similar we all are.  and why we all need music.  it is a celebration of life.


eat it

sometimes things don't go as planned.  like when there's some kind of bug with blogger.   frustrating.  i spent the last couple hours on a painting, and then for no apparent reason the damned computer won't let me upload the image.  i might spend hours, wasting away at the keyboard, trying to figure out what is wrong, mad at the computer, sitting here saying "fuck you computer!" when really, truly, it is entirely out of my hands.  i should just walk away, peacefully.  and then the phone rings.  it will be a weird anomalous ring, and when i pick it up, it will be noone.  just a dial tone, a long, droning dial tone, reminding me i'm alone in a white room with large windows, fighting with a robot.  so maybe,  i suppose it's just one of those eerie, off kind of days.  and then, a breakthrough, i pull it all together in a moment of clarity, as if the troubling issue was just a backdoor way to victory.

life is like that.  weird happenstance can ruin a day, or make it, or ruin it and then make it.  and the chances are even steven.  like some days, unexpectedly, you or someone you know will be intolerant of the things that are normally allowed a hefty serving of patience. your adrenaline will peak.   you will get in a yelling match, you will be fired from a job, or you might fire someone, you might flip someone off or insult their character or tell them a thing or two about how your really feel.  you will feel an adrenaline running through your body, a numbness in your legs and a blankness in your mind afterward.  the conflict will consume you through and through, and you will replay it in your head, trying your darnedest to remember what you said or what they said that made you say what you said.  you might feel guilty, or defiant, or righteous, or embarrassed.  you might apologize, or hope it all washes away like garbage from a beach:  out of sight our of mind.  but it happened, it was real, and like many conflicts in our time, it was just a moment of raw, unabashed human emotion, necessary and unnecessary all at once.  "conflict is the beginning of consciousness," said m. esther harding.  yes, it is so true, how a conflict teaches us more about ourselves, our motives, morals, our fundamental wants and needs, more than anything else in life.  conflict may be necessary, but may every conflict lead to introspective learning.  for the sake of the future.



it's good to be home when the snow starts.  i woke up this morning and it had just begun.  within a few minutes it had powder coated the concrete in that familiar bend in the road outside my house.  i drank tea and watched it fall out the steamy windows.  i turned up the music and danced on the wood floor in my socks and felt a bit like a ballerina in a snowglobe.  it's funny how something so cold could make you feel so warm inside.  in my longjohns and stocking cap and rubber boots and wool sweater i worked with james to get the three woodstove fires that heat our home roaring to consistent and comfortable.  i looked outside some more and saw a bird flit on the windowsill,  hard pressed to find food in the arctic tundra.   i filled each of the three feeders out back.  later, when i saw four friendly rats climbing around chewing gleefully on the black oil seeds, i couldn't help but enjoy their acrobatic cuteness.  i was glad for their feast on my behalf, imagining how many creatures have to face this brutal cold, and what they have to do to adapt.  

i didn't mind feeding those little rats, evidenced by tunnels all around the garden, because that would keep them from under the barn, or in the cupboards.  they need food and shelter, just like everybody else, and they have as much of a right to live here on this planet as i do.  i remembered the time i found a nest, under a goose decoy, decorated with little scraps of cloth and straw and plastic.  it was adorable, and obviously cozy, and i felt kind of awful to displace the guy.  there was something familiar about that rat's nest; maybe it's because my house is busy and cluttered in a chaos that i find comfortable and cozy too.

we all need shelter and warmth in inclement weather.  when i was visiting the city, i was reminded of this again.  i was walking along on a torrentially rainy day, noticing how every tall building had a rain shadow.  sometimes the pigeons would gather there.  and the alcoves and entrances to many of the buildings were filled with sleeping bags, blankets, tarps and cardboard.  we all need to make our nests and hunker down, somewhere.  we all deserve a warm place to sleep.  seeing those folks making a home from nothing, barely scraping by using garbage as a resource and just trying to get through another day, i was reminded:  i am so fortunate.


the king's men

on exhibit @ the paperdoll, bellingham, wa

sometimes i get an artistic wild hair.  i want to try something new.  i'm antsy and i get bored with myself and my same old style of "painting the things i see".  you may know this about me from my blog and the random anomalous paintings in there.  they are awkward like the jokers in the deck, the black sheep in the flock.  how they usually come about: i see the art of my friends, like daniel long for instance, and think: i like that better.  i want to make art like that.  i told daniel about this conundrum in particular last night, about how i was drawn to his work because it is raw and emotional and immediate and has so many layers of interpretation.  i said i wanted to paint like him. i even tried. and he said the exact same thing.  he wanted to paint like me.  its stupidly funny how we were like suburban neighbors, looking over the fence admiring each other's greener green grass when our own grass was just green enough. and it served as a revelation, of sorts, about human nature.  we always want what we don't have.  usually, after dabbling in this or that style in search of excitement, getting nowhere fast, appropriating ideas from here and there like a bad medley from a cover band, i run back to my good old standby.  doesn't everybody?  because it works.  it's tried and true.  it's actually even faster for me than experimentation, because i know exactly where i'm going. it's like driving a familiar car: reliable, trustworthy. these are the comforts we can't take for granted. and the qualities that make us individual.