Thursday, July 30, 2009

Too Big

My dog Lily was given up by her previous family because they thought she was too big! Can you imagine giving away your daughter because she got too big? I am very lucky the owners understood that the humane society would find her a good home. The previous owners had bought her as a small puppy at a pet store and they had no idea she would become a tall lanky svelte blonde who swims like a polar bear and stands up and hugs every man she meets. She was bred in Kansas and ended up in a suburb of New York. We adopted her and brought her to Woonsocket where she is a queen in our little town.

Urban Sprawl

Every morning as we are preparing breakfast Lily comes in and lies down on the kitchen floor. I laugh watching my husband take a giant step over her to get to the fridge for milk for his tea and then a big step back over her to reach the toaster to butter his toast and then a big step back over her to return to the fridge. She is our big polar bear sprawled out on the turquoise linoleum floor, our very own traffic island in the middle of our tiny kitchen.

Dog Breath

I remember when I discovered that I loved dog breath. I was five years old. My family would be on a long car trip, and our Scottish deerhound named Laddie would be panting in the back of our big brown Ford station wagon, filling it with dog breath, and I found it comforting. I'd put my face next to his mouth and inhale. At home I even tried to pretend I was its puppy, curling up with him on the hallway rug and whimpering, hoping he would adopt me as one of his own. I've had a fondness for dogs and their breath ever since. I often lift Lily's lip and stick my nose next to her teeth and inhale. I sniff her salty dog fur after she's been swimming in the sea. It was my sniffing her ear that told me she had an ear infection. All animals greet each other by sniffing, even people when they hug and kiss.

This time of year, when the humidity is high, I am startled by how much everything has a scent. My studio smells like dusty paper. When I walk down the street I can smell the particular scents from each house; stale cigarette and old varnish smell, hot TV smell, cooking smells, cat pee smell, laundry smell. I remember as a kid noticing that NYC taxi cabs had a very particular sooty vinyl smell. I loved it. Let's face it I am a dog nose. I always need new things to sniff.

Chicken City

When we first moved to Woonsocket with our two big dogs they were always finding chicken bones when we walked down the street. We also noticed smashed glass on the sidewalks especially in front of stone walls. Woonsocket is full of stone walls holding up the hills. The smashed bottles and chicken bones were on nearly every street in the city! We imagined that every night people were driving around in their cars, eating chicken, drinking beer, and throwing the leftover bones and bottles out the window.

I know how satisfying it is to smash glass. Years ago, before we had curbside pickup of recyclables, I used to take my empty glass bottles to a recycling center. There was a monster dumpster divided into compartments for brown, green, and clear glass. I looked forward to climbing the ladder and heaving my glass gallon jugs into the dumpster. Smashing glass at the recycling center was a catharsis, especially if you shouted curses while tossing.

But as a dog owner, I don't understand the tossing of bones. Someone used to regularly throw ham bones into my yard. I remember letting my two big dogs into the yard on a Christmas morning. They fought madly over a fresh bone they had found. I raced out in my slippers, nightie, and bathrobe into two feet of snow and tried to break it up, specks of red blood spattering the white snow. I finally discovered who was throwing the bones. I know he meant well, thinking them a gift, but I begged him to stop.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Toast to Toast

In this house we bake bread and make toast all the time. Not many toasters can keep up with the job. Our cellar and garage are a graveyard of burned-out broken toasters. A year ago we got a package out of the blue; a restaurant-quality stainless-steel heavy-duty four-slot toaster!! After emailing everyone we knew trying to find out who sent it we finally called the kitchen store that shipped it and they tracked down the mystery sender with the message he intended to go with the gift.

A month ago we smelled burning plastic and heard electrical sizzling noises while making toast. We ignored it, not wanting to face what was coming. Then it stopped working completely. I was heartbroken. We'd burned through YET ANOTHER TOASTER!!! We went to the toaster company's web site and discovered they had recalled this particular model of toaster. It wasn't our fault after all! They had us mail the bottom plate sticker and the cut-off cord in a prepaid padded envelope that they had sent us. They promised us a new toaster would be shipped out in a few weeks. Meanwhile we broiled our toast every morning; timing it for three minutes a side.

Yesterday I heard someone open the screen door. Lily dog barked. It was the UPS man with the new toaster! We had toast with cold summer soup for supper, and we had a toast to toast!

Monday, July 27, 2009


I have friends who go disaster-hopping from one melodramatic crisis to the next, keeping themselves so busy they do not allow themselves to think or reflect. I wait, hoping they will finally listen to their silences, but at every chance they just run faster, making sure to outrun the possibility.

Water Dog

I just took a walk with Lily in the blazing sun knowing we would both end up swimming in the cold reservoir. I tell people I'm half Labrador; I love people, food, and water. On most days I get vicarious pleasure watching my dog-daughter swim. Today due to the heat and humidity I knew I would have to join her even if it meant walking home soaking wet. Our first hydration stop was at Precious Blood Cemetery where there's a spigot available in the summer for people to water their gravesite gardenias. I pulled out my red cloth bowl from my maroon and black knapsack to give Lily water. Then we visited a spot on the reservoir a few blocks away where Lily sat in the water for a few minutes to cool off. We continued to walk down the road.

Three pre-schoolers were in the empty street with their mom, each weighed down with a plastic grocery bag armed with about six small colorful water balloons. They began chucking the water balloons at each other. Though the kids weren't able to reach each other, the balloons made a satisfying burst on the pavement. I think we should play this game with world leaders!

I walked to the end of the road and took the dirt path to the secret swim spot. Lily leaped right in! I quickly untied my sneakers and peeled off my white socks and jumped in wearing my clothes; my black T-shirt and green denim shorts. The water was nice and cold! I threw a stick for Lily. It was so waterlogged it sank, but she sunk her whole head to fetch it! I wonder if she'll be one of those dogs that fetches rocks in the ocean. I've always been amazed by dogs who can do that; they can't possibly follow a scent under water. Can they hear the rock hitting the ocean floor, or detect it like dolphins with sonar, or do they just grab any rock knowing their masters probably won't know the difference? Lily somehow found the stick and brought it back.

I swam out. Lily kept hunting for better sticks for me to throw out for her. She tried to tear at branches from bushes along the water's edge, but those sticks were still alive and wouldn't break off. She hauled some very large four-inch diameter sticks, small logs, out of the pond, but they were too huge to break and too rotted to float. Then she decided to fetch me out of the water! She swam toward me, her polar-bear claws accidentally scraping my legs. As her front legs pumped at me like a boxer, I held her off by putting my hand on her chest, just like in the cartoons.

Finally we both swam to shore and she raced out and found a few sticks up on the hill that were dry and sturdy, perfect for fetching. We played fetch for a while more, then I leashed Lily and we headed home. We didn't mind walking home soaking wet, it kept us cool in the blazing sun.


I am often the passenger in the car. That's fine with me, I am too much of a surrealist to be what I call a good driver but that's another story. I am continually shocked to see people driving while talking on the phone which shows how behind the times I am. The other day, though, while passing a rare driver that was on the highway simply driving, I found myself thinking, what's wrong with that guy, doesn't he have anyone to talk to? Jeez, doesn't he have any friends?

I don't feel that way at all, in fact I never use my telephone on terra firma unless I am forced into it and even then I try to wiggle out of it. I'd rather write an e-mail any day. The phone is always an interruption and gives me too much information. I can be shattered by voice inflection and intonation, or annoyed by a distracted listener. Catching someone at a bad moment can be devastating to me. I find that email gives me an opportunity to see and adjust how I sound before I send it, like brushing my hair before answering the door. I can usually catch a bad tone or incoherent sentence when I re-read it. When I receive an email that strikes me as snarky or cryptic the pain isn't as devastating as a nasty voice. I can cool off and come back to reread it, ignore it, or delete it. The delete button is my junkyard dog protecting my psyche. I can vaporize any offending and irritating emails! In this instant-message world I still require a lot of space to breathe.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I dread having my picture taken. Lately I've been hired to photograph candids and portraits of people for local magazines. I try to put people at ease when I photograph. I tell them, "I love your face," or "You're beautiful," and I mean it. Most people just don't want to see another bad picture of themselves. I don't blame them. My family was constantly photographing itself. I always cringed at the results, and it didn't help that sometimes the photos would become evidence used against me, as in "You look fat in that picture." Now when I see photos of myself, I try not to cringe and think I look terrible. I've been getting a lot of joy from putting people at ease when I photograph them.


There's a boy next door who I call the boy who looks like a drawing of a boy. He is extremely petite and has enormous blue eyes. He's always squatting down to watch bugs and sometimes collect them; the neighborhood entomologist. His mom came by to chat one day when he and the little girl next door were collecting bugs in our yard. The boy's mom told me her son was born five months premature, after only four months! Holy smokes. I've never heard of such a short incubation for a human. It's amazing that he's alive. Maybe that's why he's so delicate. These kids are adorable, enjoying every bug and following them intently. I've seen them do this for hours. I wish I had that kind of concentration!


Last night we went to the grocery store for orange juice, margarine, and bananas. We couldn't face the full shopping list, just the breakfast necessities. On the way out we saw a plastic kiddie wading pool marked down to 7 dollars! I was ecstatic! I have been wanting to find a plastic wading pool for Lily to dunk in after our big walks.

Used Gloves

On my walks I often see used rubber gloves on the side of the road. Not the yellow dish-washing kind, the latex examining kind. They give me the willies. At least they are not just hospital beige anymore now they come in bright blue, green, and purple. I imagine surgeons getting off work and jumping into their black Mercedes convertibles and flinging their gloves off with glee as they speed away.


In the summer I imagine everyone is at the beach or on vacation, at any rate probably enjoying summery things. I am home inside with the shades pulled, a fan blowing at my toes while reading, washing clothes, baking bread, scribbling in my notebook, and looking forward to sundown. I am a curmudgeon about the summer sun. It's too bright. I panic. It's a spotlight overhead bearing down on me. I feel like a roast beef under a cafeteria heat lamp.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Edible Etiquette

She said would you like store-bought rugelah or my home made apple strudel? I said strudel to be polite although I wasn't particularly hungry. I know how much I love to share the bread that I bake. She cut a small piece and put it on a large white dinner plate. She mentioned that she used up some old filo dough pastry she had lying around in the fridge. Although she was fashionably thin she did not inhabit her body. She was a spindly woman; thin in a frightening way. I could not look at her arms, they were freckled broomsticks. She moved like a disembodied head hovering over a vacant brown dress slung from a wire hanger floating across the kitchen. I took a bite and it tasted like wet cardboard with cooked apples. I wanted to dispose of it but she was sitting there watching me take bites. I got the feeling that eating, for her, was a necessary evil so making a dessert out of stale pastry actually made perfect sense and maybe feeding someone else was a way to eat vicariously without ingesting any calories.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.

Your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.

-Rainer Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet


I have been thinking about how important it is to me to know my neighbors not to the point of interfering in their lives but at least be able to greet them and wave. It makes our little corner of the planet feel like a reasonable place to live.


This morning we woke up from rain dripping on us while we were asleep in bed. At first we thought it was Lily drooling on us! But the wind has pushed the rain into places it normally doesn't visit.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Running Mate

Last night we went to Cass Park and saw a black Great Dane inside the fenced-in baseball field. I asked the owners if Lily could meet their dog. They agreed and the dogs had a few tense minutes while they established hierarchy but then they played, romping and running in big circles. Lily's fastest running was the speed of the Great Dane's graceful trotting. I told the owners Lily loves the Great Danes that she has met in dog parks because they are the dogs that will run with her and she loves to run! The owners were happy because they said most dog owners are afraid to let their dogs play with Zeus because he is so huge. Lily looked small when standing next to him! Great Danes always remind me of Queen Anne style furniture with their elongated curved cabriole legs. When Zeus ran he looked like an animated dining room table. He would run, then stop and lay down and stretch out, rolling on his back on the grass. He was sensuous, elongated, dainty, and flirty. We all laughed. Lily watched. They ran some more, tiring each other out. They sat down panting with their big pink tongues hanging out. On our way home Lily lay down in the brook for a big cool-down as the mosquitoes nibbled us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blue Toothbrush

I just walked Lily to the pond so she could swim. We were rained in yesterday so I was dying to get a walk. On my way home I spotted a blue toothbrush on the sidewalk in front of All Saints Church. I stopped and thought this is so funny to me but I'm not sure why. Churches and toothbrushes are in very separate categories in my mind, so maybe it's simply the juxtaposition that strikes me as hilarious. I often see metal forks on the side of the road for some reason, but this was the first time I've spotted a toothbrush on the street. Finding it in front of the church has me imagining the holiness of dental hygiene, or that prayer is more effective with clean teeth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Snakes and Devils

God help me while I am painting when my head is a pile of devils dancing with snakes. When it happens, I just turn on the radio news shows. They're a better source of food than my devils which are just picking at emotional scabs and lighting garbage cans on fire, making me think I must be doing something wrong. Or that I am all wrong! I cherish the times when my thoughts breeze through like cross ventilation. I happily paint as insights pop in and then fade, resolving themselves. No devils, no snakes. But without the torment I'll sometimes dance away and not paint at all.

Painting is not about grasping for ideal situations but about walking in the dark, feeling one's way. I used to think this is what brought on the devils and snakes, or what might make the devils and snakes go away, but no. They come and go; either way, I paint.

Cow Eyes

Last night I saw two newborn calves curled up in the sawdust in the maternity barn at Wright's Dairy. They blinked their huge eyelashes at me. I'm not cut out for country living, but if I were I'd have a cow. Instead, I go to the farm each week for a gallon of milk and a peek at the cows.

Bright Night

Last night my head was a jumble. I needed to walk. So at sunset I walked with Lily to Cass Park and threw the softball for her. She is sometimes too distracted to fetch, but this time she chased after it. I threw it about five times and then she was tired. On the way home she lay down in the stream to cool off. By the time we headed home it was dark but our neighborhood was lit up from the baseball park lights in Bouley Field and there were people outside at cafe tables at a nearby coffee shop enjoying the night.

Cool Reward

Saturday night as a reward for working through the heat, I promised myself a swim. Bill and I walked to Harris Pond and I jumped in and swam with Lily. This time she didn't need any coaxing. She is now fully comfortable swimming, fetching sticks in deep water. She is a glorious swimmer. Those gigantic webbed paws and long legs move her through the water with a graceful efficiency.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lily Swim

Tonight we walked to the reservoir with Lily and I threw a stick for her and she swam out to get it! This was her first time fetching in deep water. She even sunk her snout in the water a few times. I could tell she loved it! I was tempted to jump in too! When we got back home I dried out her ears.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Night Air

The full moon is gorgeous! We just had a little walk around the lit up baseball field. Lots of folks were outside enjoying the air.

I tweaked my knee yesterday while walking Lily down our street. It was a sharp pain and I doubled over clutching my leg. Two ladies pulled up to the red light and leaned out of their maroon minivan and asked me if I had fallen. I said no, I just tweaked my knee. One woman who was walking towards me with her little dog said she lived close by and offered to give me a lift home! I thanked her but I declined because Lily still needed more of a walk and after a bit of limping through Precious Blood Cemetery my knee started to feel better. My sports friends always say "Motion is lotion!" I'm not sure exactly how the injury happened but I hope it heals fast because walking Lily keeps me sane!

Body Sensitivity

I tell my moody friends that coffee often makes me angry and allergy medicine sometimes makes me feel like I've had a blood transfusion. My sensitivity is not just to my emotions but to all of the chemicals produced by or added to my body; caffeine, alcohol, allergy medicine, anxiety/fear/stress chemicals, excitement and joy chemicals, monthly hormones, allergic reactions to pollen and molds, histamines, tide + moon phases, sunlight, change of daylight hours, nutrients, etc. Not to mention weather, holidays, and daily life's events and dramas!

The important thing for me to remember about being sensitive is it works both ways! I can alter my chemistry in a positive direction just by taking a three mile walk! I need to respect these subtle and not so subtle chemical changes, to observe them, learn how to make use of them, and try not be a victim of them. Good nutrition, physical activity, and using my creative energies are the best way for me to use this sensitivity to positive effect. Walking my dog and making art are all part of a chemical grounding of my body. I do not wish to spin up or down or out!

Friday, July 03, 2009


This morning I was repairing a bunch of the seams of one of my favorite pairs of jeans. I got them used at a yard sale on our street about twelve years ago and I still love them. The threads along most of the major seams have deteriorated but the fabric is still intact so I've been trying to keep these pants alive! The denim is quite thick and my sewing machine was not happy. I busted a needle and bent another, all causing multiple jam ups. After all of these starts and stops I realized I mustn't run my sewing machine through the thick fabric anymore. Luckily by this time I had accomplished most of my repairs! So I took Lily out and as we walked along the sidewalk I imagined the sidewalk as my fabric and the curb as the thick seam I was trying to sew.