Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It was a very good year...

I found this fellow sleeping in the mulch pile:  He's a Marbled Salamander and apparently an Eastern U.S. resident -  I'd never seen one before, as the much more plentiful Chameleons and Five-lined Skinks are less shy. 
Marbled Salamander 3 1/2 - 5"

And very recently, on an extremely warm evening, this little guy was clinging to the glass on my storm door.  It's a Tree Frog - A "Barking" Tree Frog, I think.  These are the guys we refer to as Spring Peepers.  Just a bit early, that's all.  Sorry for the blur.  He was so tiny and it was dark, thus my camera wouldn't focus properly.
Love his little sucker toes.... 2 - 2 1/4" actual size

If I hadn't become an artist, I might have been an entomologist or a naturalist by profession.  If you've never read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, find a copy.  That book made me feel "normal" in my fascination with the small, strange (to human perception) and mysterious creatures who are all around us - and yet often unseen.

My critter household has been both diminished and expanded.  I lost both of my old horses Lilly and Bogo, and adopted a rescue gelding whom I call Chester, for obvious reasons if you are of a certain age, and remember Gunsmoke with Marshall Dillon and Chester.   Apparently he suffered an untreated broken shoulder - a devastating injury - and I'm surprised he survived.  He walks by  criss-crossing his front legs, but he is able to trot, canter, and to lie down and get up! 

I also lost both of my Pyrenees within a few months of one another - one to gone cancer, and the other to old age.  When Colbert Veterinary Rescue  had an adult female Great Dane for adoption, I couldn't resist.  Now Stella at just over 100 #s is adjusting to life on the farm.
Stella - don't you just love her ears!!

Chester - doing his favorite thing: EATING!!!  He's a big boy - but not only had his shoulder gone untreated, he had also been starved.  He'll be allowed to put on some weight, but due to his injury I'll need to keep him from gaining too much.
Nest time: Emily the beach kitten...

Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday and/or Christmas.  I'm heading home to Southern Illinois for a week.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fear, faith and conscience ………Lately I have been thinking about good and evil - which leads to my thinking of those who have influenced my thoughts on same…. These vignettes may seem disconnected and for that I apologize….  I did warn of disjointed ramblings and overly analytical diatribes...

When people speak of childhood and how they were brought up I say that I was raised on guilt. It’s true. And my family wasn’t even Catholic. My mother raised six of us by instilling within each of us the persuasive power of a conscience. She couldn’t bring herself to spank or hit us, so when necessary, we were shamed into obedience. This was not due to any “enlightened” child-rearing philosophy (my parents’ child-rearing manual consisted of the Ten Commandments) but rather to a promise made to herself while still a young girl.

My grandfather ruled his wife and 3 daughters with a Bible and a bullwhip. If my mother or one of my aunts was disrespectful in any way, he would get out that whip and crack it through the air all the while berating the guilty party with scripture and commandments. Though my mother insists neither she nor her sisters were ever actually struck with it, she was terrified by the threat of that whip and of course, Hell. She never wanted her children to fear her or my father as she had feared her own. But despite being “spared the rod” my siblings and I turned out quite unspoiled……

My mother’s family is descended from Swedish Pietist immigrants who settled north of Chicago, naming their new home Zion (A place under God’s rule). Perhaps my grandfather was a product of his fanatical ancestors; perhaps he just had issues. But he took it upon himself to be a soldier - more of an MP - in God’s army. My mother loved him, regardless, appearing to justify his outrageous actions as “being strict.” My mother is now 88, in very good health and sharp as ever. She recently visited one of her sisters who shared with her some letters between her parents during WW I. The letters reveal my grandfather as a tyrant to his wife as well as his daughters. My mother didn’t disclose anything specific, but said that her mother must have had a very difficult life, much more so than she had ever realized.

I remember my grandmother as a tiny figure, hovering in the background. She stood less than 5 feet tall, quiet - with a nervous laugh and ready smile. I look a great deal like her and knew I had lost forever the chance to know her when she died of Parkinson’s – not even reaching her 60th birthday.  Meanwhile my ornery grandfather lived on to be 97, becoming more and more religiously fanatical. In later years he actually shunned my Aunt Cecilia for her “sinful ways” after visiting her home and finding dust on the cover of the coffee table edition of the Bible. According to him not reading the Bible daily was a terrible sin in itself – and those who sinned thusly were not to be consorted with…

My own parents were profoundly religious, maintaining a strong “quasi-Christian” ideology throughout the early years of my childhood. I say quasi-Christian, because I have never really known just what constituted the foundation of their beliefs. When I was three, my father accepted a position as pastor (?) Brother Young – of a church in California that, to my knowledge, was some obscure offshoot of the\church of Christian Science. This church did not believe in medical science. Everything was to be brought before God in prayer. His pastoring came to an abrupt end about two years later when my three year old brother Ronnie slipped into a coma. He had been ill with what seemed like a bad cold, and then suddenly he wouldn’t wake up. The church members gathered, my mother sobbed and I remember voices raised in prayer and anger. And then chaos. My little brother was taken away, the church members left and my mother was crying all the time.

My parents decided to go against church doctrine and take my little brother to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. He might die or be brain damaged even with hospitalization, but had he remained at home, he would surely have died. The church summarily dismissed my father and for the next few weeks while my brother slowly recovered, there was no money coming in. I can remember my mother tearfully pleading with the serviceman not to shut off our electricity to no avail. And then we were packing and moving – back to Illinois to stay with my Aunt Marie, the eldest of my father’s nine siblings, who had loaned the money to go.

There is a photograph of me with my two brothers taken on the journey through the Rocky Mountains. We are standing with our backs to a mountain pass, the old car precariously weighed down by the huge trailer we towed. We somehow made it through the mountains and through the desert – both literally and figuratively. Life improved for us; and my parents took my brothers survival as a sign of having obeyed God’s will. Their religious views were dramatically affected, though their faith was not diminished. My father never again accepted a position as pastor, though he sometimes preached as a guest in subsequent years. His was the “fire and brimstone” style – delivered with an escalating intensity calculated to first frighten and then uplift the congregation. He often sang solos – "In The Garden", "The Old Rugged Cross" and my favorite: "Jerusalem (Lift Up Your Gates and Sing)". These comfort me, even now in my disbelief.

I question everything. I don’t follow the religion of my parents, nor am I blessed with their unshakable faith. I say blessed, because I firmly believe that those who have unshakable faith in a hereafter are happier. And it is easier to follow rules and guidelines than to question and analyze everything searching for meaning… The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule serve well, and I don’t advocate replacing them as guidelines for living. I absolutely believe in good and evil… the why of that is another blog. I am profoundly grateful to my parents for trying to do and be the best they could, and for instilling in me by whatever means, a conscientious mind.

More patterns of my life: silly cat photos
More pattern on pattern - soft gray tabby Madeline on faded florals

Tabby and white Molly on my living room rug... 

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Like many artists I am drawn to patterns in nature. I particularly love the regular and seemingly random spots, stripes and myriad combinations of the furred and feathered.  Appaloosa horses, tabby cats, black and white spotted Jacob Sheep, giraffe splotches, leopard spots and tiger stripes - all give me a frisson of pleasure.

While browsing a local thrift shop recently, I came upon a wonderful leopard faux fur vest.  The perfect gift for the kitties!  Sure enough, as soon as it was splayed on the couch, kitties claimed it one by one - with a few hissy quarrels over possession.  Generally though, possession rules even in the cat world and nearly every feline has had a turn mushing and posing on the best $2.00 cat accessory ever.
Pattern upon pattern - Garfy on The Vest
Snoochie if full mush mode. More pattern upon pattern.
I once had a harlequin Great Dane and I once had a brindle Great Dane, so when I thought of getting another dog to keep Freda company, I wanted another Dane.  Came up a bit short though, when I spotted Carrie up for adoption.  She's a year old brindle American Bull Terrier (not a pit type) weighing about 45 lbs. nearly the same size as Freda.  I figured it was meant to be as she purportedly got along with cats (very important), other dogs and liked everyone - even toddlers.  (Geez - I don't even like toddlers...)  And she would eat less than another giant dog which was better for my budget.

I met the owner, brought Carrie home and she and Freda hit it off immediately.  By the third evening she was deathly ill.  What started as a bit of coughing the second night became obvious difficulty breathing and a temp of 106.2!  I'd just gotten home from work and saw her trembling and with her eyes all squinted up like she was in pain.  I rushed her to the Vet Saturday night where she was given fluids and meds I.V.  Several tests were done - none conclusive at that point.  I was able to pick her up on Sunday with a tentative diagnosis of pneumonia and oral antibiotics but she went downhill again and had to go back in on Monday for more intravenous treatments - and they kept her for 24 hours before sending her home with I.V.'s and three antibiotics!  (I was once a vet tech so I know how to give I.V. meds and shots.)

I was puzzled when the Vet asked me to find out whether anyone in the previous owner's household had had flu or especially strep throat recently.  He said no - but sounded unsure about recent illnesses.  The Vet said dogs can pick up strep type infections from humans and visa-verse, which was new to me.  I'll never know for sure where it came from - but get this:  I'm sick now.  Within 24 hours of Carrie's onset, I had terrible bronchitis, sore throat, headache, fever, chills and loss of appetite, rather like my new doggie.  Unlike Carrie, at the first sign I hit the Emergen-C, got out my inhaler and prepared for the worst.  I'm coughing so hard I had to buy protection.... (no I'm not explaining this...)

Sympathy illness?  Perhaps.  I could have pick it up anywhere, but a pattern is a pattern - and this looks like a pattern to me.  That frisson I spoke of?  In this case, it must have been the first onset of the chilblains.

We are both doing better - though that vet bill is likely to kill me.  Better photos when we both stop coughing.
Here's Carrie - See her shaved legs and her bandage?  Poor baby.  Apologies for the cacophony of patterns here.  She's a real sweet tiger of a dog.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On being moved...

I spend a great deal of time alone - and I suppose this has led to more than average (whatever average might be) forays into self examination.  These lead to finding and then poking about in ones (mine own) faults and foibles.  One of my odder tendencies is to avoid seeking out many of the things that move me and that I love.  This would appear to be a contradiction - and it is.  So why?  Here's the deal - or parts of it, I think.

I fear loss of control.

I fear my own reactions.

I'm afraid of feeling too much, being overwhelmed - and then frozen into a rather catatonic state of mind.

In the case of viewing others artwork, I sometimes fear being influenced (another sort of loss of control) or by becoming impotent/immobilized by the enormity of creating work that is relevant and relative.

I'm not saying I cannot overcome these tendencies.  Otherwise I'd probably hole up and cut myself off from all media and communication and just make stuff in a vacuum - or never make anything more.  And every time something or someone really moves me, I'm happier and grateful for the experience.

 What moves me? Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Thursday, January 03, 2013


No - not the movie - though it is one of my favorite Hitchcock films.  Like the character Jimmy Stewart played, I suffer from vertigo in high places.  My 1989 visit to a World Trade Center tower and the Empire State Building had me literally clinging to the inside walls.  As long as I looked out and away and did not look down, I was okay, but any glance downward had the world spinning for me. I still enjoyed it - and never experienced the paralyzing panic Stewart portrayed.

Fast forward.  This past year I began experiencing vertigo occasionally while going about everyday tasks.  It always passed quickly and I never came close to falling so I assumed it might be an inner ear infection.  Once before I'd had this, though that episode lasted a week or so with constant symptoms.  I finally had to get some righteous antibiotics to quell the little bugs.

Then one morning I opened my eyes and the room began to spin while I was still lying down.  Now that was new!  Stroke?  Dropsy?  Brain tumor?  Another infection?  I decided to do a bit of online investigation.  I learned that vertigo and dizziness are not the same thing - and there are many causes for both.  When I read symptoms and causes of something called BPPV.  I realized I could be the poster child for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo.

Never heard of it? Me either.  It seems that if one has had a serious head injury (me), a history of sinus trouble (me), broken ear drums/ear infections (me - as a teen lifeguard), sleep on your stomach (me) - suffer from migraines (I used to), and are over 50 (yeah, me) - you might get BPPV.  It has to do with little calcium "stones" in the inner ear whose movements are essential to balance.  Mine get stuck.

Luckily for me, it's not all that serious - and there are quick and easy treatments/exercises that one can do oneself. I can't seem to stop sleeping on my stomach, so I'll likely be prone to these episodes. 

I keep hearing Arnold say: "It's not a tumor" in that accent of his...

No rabbit hole blog is complete without silly cat photos!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!

It's - it's Super Winkle!

The Flying Siamese!
Winkle "flying" through cyberspace on her vintage monitor....