Monthly Archives: February 2011

I notice the HP Lovecraft motel for the first time, letter from Billings, 9/22/2006

Sep. 22nd, 2006 Letter from Billings

Yes, you can find it on the map.

 Thursday night.
It’s about 11:30 at night here in Montana in the oddest hotel in the world. The Cherry Tree Inn is across the parking lot from the hospital and it’s like Ronald McDonald house for desperate grownups. If you are familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s strange sci fi fantasy writings you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about on the weirdness scale.

 The motel is two stories tall and its very tidy and clean. Each floor has rooms located off one really long corridor. Smoke leaks out from under the doors like a magician’s special effects. The elevator is small, brown and has buttons for three floors. There are only two floors and I have not been brave enough to push “three” to see what happens next.

There are old things masquerading as antiques strewn in the long hallways, like a kitschy little heating stove without a chimney. The stove is painted white and an old sewing machine further down the hallway is draped with plastic ivy and its also painted white. I assume this is “decor”.  This decor is chained down with big silver chain and padlocks, and right over each antique is a Home Depot signs that say NO SMOKING. In Montana this seems to be just a suggestion. I’m guessing this because of the smoke plumes seeping under the doors and drifting down the hallways.

When I come back from the hospital I come in the side door and head up a set of curving stairs, the closest access to my room on the second floor. As I leave the motel office and head up the stairs, which feature a tasteful wrought iron banister, I pass one set of double doors on the right that look like doors to a 1950s era Hollywood apartment. Outside the doors a yellow lamp is lit. It dangles from a brass chain appears to be made from marbles .

It feels like I’ve stumbled into the late 1960s, perhaps the set of a Hitchcock movie…and the staff are all a bit odd too. They seem to have physical deformities that are subtle–glasses like bottle bottoms on one lady, tiny sausage fingers on another, and one or two just seem a skosh shy of being droolers.

I imagine you can tell Terry is getting better because I finally looked up and noticed this place and its denizens. In the halls I see bow legged old  Cowboys carrying small dogs, poodles and pinschers mostly,  doddering out of the building with their blue haired wives. Once in a while I’ll see an old cowboy downstairs smoking with the motel help, escaping from either the dog or the wife for a few minutes I suppose. 

I went to the hospital tonight after shift change and watched teevee, ER, while I gave Terry a manicure because his poor hand and a half–one is in a cast–are/is? chewed up and grubby. I noticed he was picking at his finger and when I held his hand I realized one nail had a big chip out of it. Ouch–so he had a lovely vanilla hand cream rub down and manicure and last time I saw him tonight he was purring and falling asleep.

We had a really good day today– I think I wore him into responding! I was listening to the physical therapist yesterday and cornered her for some tips–I went out last night and visited Toys Galore and bought 5 bright colored foam balls of different sizes and this morning I spent an hour or two asking him what color he wanted and trading him the balls and making him hand them to me.

 The therapist, another Roxanna, so help me, sat him up and he sat with his feet on the floor for the first time today–accompanied by much groaning caused by the ribs but I think it really helped. After that we got him up in the chair/bed thing and he stayed upright in it for about two hours–during which time I talked to him constantly.

He brushed his teeth–sort of –and it dawned on me tonight that of course he couldn’t do it. He’s not left handed and his right hand is in a cast. Hell, I couldn’t brush my teeth left handed even without a bonk on the head. Thank you Don Bowman for that duh moment. He still has a tube in his nose and various tubes and leads annoying him on a regular basis, one or two of them come out a day lately. He has a mullet and I told him I was going to take a picture and send it Joel for the Mullet Hunters page. He smiled at that one–

I went over to the Beartooth Harley store here in Billings today and got him a beanie to cover his stubble and stitches, he looks more like Terry with it on but it didn’t take him long to want it off to scratch his itchy head. He had a really nice spit bath courtesy of Wonder Nurse Libbey and was much happier about life after I trimmed his mustache. I cannot say enough about the nurses and staff here. I have never met anyone like them and feel so blessed to meet them all.

Today, I really believe Terry is coming back. He could pull out abstract concepts. Oddly he couldn’t tell me what a ball was called but I asked him what it was for and he said, “To throw.” I told him his boss had said he has to come back because John can’t keep up with all his work–and that got a real grin. He has recognized everyone’s name and I’m sure everything is still all still there–except the accident itself. The doc said with brain injury that things on the fly are easy to retrieve; it’s the ones that you have to stop and think about that slow things down. I can see that and little oddities pop up. He told the nurse when he saw my picture that my name was Roxanna and I was his fiancee–I showed him a photo of us together and asked him who it was and he said, “You and me.” Hey, works for me.

I can’t list all the changes; they are coming so fast now. His eyes are wide open and he is in there. He uses almost complete sentences and still sounds like a very large frog. He HATES the cervical collar and when he pulls me close enough to kiss him and I bash my face on it I can’t say I’m real fond of it either. They are giving him some percocet now, which is great because he can actually relax long enough to sleep. Tonight when I left he was getting antsy and I asked him if he hurt and he said yes. I asked it was on the top (ribs) or bottom (old back injury) and he said top and bottom–he got the percocet, the Ipod speakers on his pillow with my Ipod and some nice sleeping music, and hopefully he stayed asleep after I turned the lights down to come back here.

Another analogy (bet you wish I’d bloody stop with the analogies by now) Think of skipping a stone. When you first start you don’t get many skips and you aren’t very good. Terry’s mind is like the stone. The things he can bring to the surface are the skips of that thrown stone. As he practices he can get more skips and much further but all that work skipping stones wears him out. More and more and better and better every day though.

Tomorrow, a new room out of ICU (we hope) with a WINDOW. I have told him everyday what the weather is like and he does not want the curtain closed and motions to open it so he can see what’s going on at the nurses’ station.

Best of all, it looks like Wednesday we will be flying home to Olympia on a medical flight. He will go right to rehab at St Peter’s and I don’t have any details yet. One day, one minute, one hour at a time. I am so grateful he’s alive and getting better, it makes the hard part seem easy.

On Friday I’m finally getting my tattoo. A feather on my right leg just above my ankle with the words “Hope is a thing with feathers.”  I have worn a Navajo silver feather bracelet every day since Terry gave it to me for our anniversary a couple of years ago. We found it in Amador, California coming home from our first big motorcycle trip together. I called it my dumbo feather, the joke was as long as I have it I can fly and not fall down. Now I’ll have it on my leg and never lose my feather again. Corey is going with me, I am excited to mark this phase of the journey with something so fitting and permanent.

TBI 7: The Cherry Tree Motel

The Cherry Tree Motel sits placidly beside the hospital
and wears a necklace of chain-smoking chambermaids
clustered by the back door day or night. Apron-wearing pigeons
that coo, huddle and peck around a lacy cast iron table
decorated with a crescent shaped ashtray, a pink sixties remnant
that overflows with lipsticked cigarette butts.  Clutching coffee cups, they watch nervous motel guests who smoke there, backs to the painted wall, arms folded like cigar store Indians,  their worry rising in smoke signals.
The Cherry Tree Motel has a buzzing red and green neon sign.     I read  that this is George Washington’s motel and he is proud of his lending library, revolutionary war books the sleepless can borrow.    This is not the place to send your out-of-town wedding guests to celebrate beginnings and blendings next to the ambulance bay.

We reside in the ICU catch basin, family trout-in-waiting,
until we find out if we get to swim away or turn belly up, deadened
with grief and loss. Celebrations here are patched together things
made of the desperate need to believe it will be all right. We all peer into doctors’ faces, wishing we could read what they are not saying.

The Cherry Tree Motel has two floors of hallways lined with brown doors,   and the elevator has buttons for floors one, two and three.
Room 212 has a picture window looking down to cars parked
in slanted spaces and across to a brick wall and up to the blue Montana sky.

At night the alley morphs to runway, line-of-sight for life flight helicopters, their blades whopping  just above me, stirring up the dust below.   I hear them coming, purring like metal cats
until they are close enough to hear the blades’ syncopation,
engines dog whining, landing and shutting down to off load their damaged cargo.
I lay in my room in the Cherry Tree Motel on sleepless September nights, praying the copters in and waiting for my own miracle to come.

Acorn Oakley, the Squirrel Shootin’ Saga

The view from my kitchen window

I feel a confession coming on. Maybe it’s good for the soul and maybe it’s this rotten cold and the attendant medications bringing on my need to bare soul about the Shameful Squirrel Saga. 

 The background: I have bird feeders in my overwhelming kiwi hedge, three of them and a suet feeder. The winter birds love this because they can take cover in the hedge and avoid the high flying hawks and the low walking neighbor cats. I loathe the kiwi hedge and love it at the same time. It grows like Kudzu for the northwest and it would reach right over the front yard and cover the house if I let it. Think slavering rose hedge in Sleeping Beauty. In spring and summer I’m  out there with shears on a weekly basis whacking off enormous chunks of it attempting some control. And yes, it does give tiny little kiwis that are sour -sweet and squish mightily in late fall attracting fruit flies.

click on the photo to see the teeny yellow bird

That being said, it’s a beautiful set of curly vines in the most gorgeous shades of brown in the winter;  and in the summer it shades the entire front yard on its quest to eat the telephone pole and the nearby trees.

 It’s a bird highway in the winter and we have juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, two kinds of finches, towhees, six kinds of sparrows, wrens, one tiny little yellow guy,  a big fat lark that is a robin’s cousin, a raucous pack of blue jays, a solitary mountain jay and various and sundry other visitors that include evil squirrels and nasty starlings. They are such fun to watch out the picture window in the kitchen.  Who has a picture window in the kitchen? I do, along with two ‘wing’ windows that open on either side of the big picture. I trade my delight in the window for the fact that I lost an entire wall in the kitchen. It was there when we moved in so we just accept and enjoy it and cope with the lack of counter space.

Demon Squirrels, this one safe in San Francisco

Watching the squirrels completely destroy the feeders and chase away the birds just fried my hide. “I need a gun”, I said to my husband and he handed me his old his pellet gun. Visions of my childhood with wretched neighbor boys in short pants shooting songbirds danced in my head and I had to ask Terry about his gun toting history. He swears he never shot at a bird and that this just like a beebee gun, it only stings and scares them away.

this one is in my back yard taunting the cat

 He shot at a few denizens of the ‘hood to demonstrate which included squirrels and starlings and sure enough they ran away. He showed me how to load the pellet pistol and pump it up three times. I told him I am a really good shot and was he sure about this? Yes, it only stings, I was assured.

 The next day: Squirrel!  The fluffy-tailed rat was ripping apart the feeder even though squirrel food is provided not two feet away.  Gun loaded, window slid open, aim, fire, and I hit the squirrel. It dropped off the feeder like a rock and fell on the ground. Twitching.

Beer swilling rats...

 Nope, it did not get stung and run away. It lay on the ground and twitched and tried to get up. I felt like I had been sent to the outer circle of hell. I didn’t want to kill anything, I just wanted to sting it and scare it and here I had obviously inflicted mortal damage. I have to confess I was not brave enough to man up Nancy, and go out and finish the job like an Angelina Jolie hit woman of the squirrel world.  No, I had to call my husband and have him drive all the way home and put the squirrel out of my misery.  When the chips were down I turned into a girl, the kind that jumps on the table squealing when she sees a mouse, sigh…

Squirrel? Delivery Man? Package? Religious door-to-door nut? Ball? WHERE?

 I don’t shoot at squirrels anymore, nor do I let Terry shoot at squirrels or cats. Pellet guns are not beebee guns; they are really truly guns in a small way. Now I just put more food for the squirrels in their feeder and when they attack the birds’ feeders I yell, “Squirrel!” to Nelly the Rat Terrier who goes baying down the stairs like a Sasquatch is tearing up her  yard and she has to take care of business.  

I am so good I can find you and bite you with my eyes closed!

I do however take pleasure in shooting nasty starlings. Just call me Acorn Oakley.

September 19th 2006, Breathing Lessons

September 12, good times

I have developed a list now and every night I send an email message out into the universe to all the people who care about Terry. Hopefully, everyone is not sick of the updates. This feels like going to the movies and waiting for the happy ending, sometimes it takes a while. It feels like we’re in the part of the scary movie where everyone in the audience is either holding their breath or screaming at the dumb high school couple to stay in the car. I’m waiting to see what happens next too.

Today was a great day, after some discussion this morning the doctors decided to risk taking out the tube down Terry’s throat that was supporting his breathing. He was breathing on his own—they think—but his lungs were such a mess they wanted to give him all the help they could with extra oxygen, hence the tube down the throat.

The tube was obviously distressing him so it was better to risk pulling it out at this point. I came back in to the ICU after taking a break while they removed the tube to find a guy I finally recognized–and one who was much, much happier. He is still not all the way out of the woods but today he had his eyes open for long periods of time and he even managed to croak out hello when asked. I think he is all together in there and I am so happy about it.

Every time we went somewhere with a hill, Terry parked my bike for me because I don't do heavy and backwards real well. This shot is at St Helen's with a whole pack of friends.

The analogy would be that he is stuck in a tent taking a nap and he can’t find the zipper to get back out. We know he’s in there—and we can’t show him the zipper, he has to find it to get out and reconnect with us. He’s making great strides and we are all really happy about it. We still have a very long way to go but seeing him actually take a real nap and snore because he was finally comfortable just about made me cry.

He’s still very restless, you can tell his back is killing him and that he hurts all over in spite of the epidural. He is the color of an eggplant from the back of his knees to his neck and I cannot imagine how that must feel.  He kept trying to grab the line that was in his nose and yank on it so I spent an energetic day keeping that from happening. He managed to scratch his nose, his ear and his itchy beard in spite of the fact that he has on a collar. His neck has some little fractures on the flanges on the side–doctors say no big deal he doesn’t need the flanges that much but the collar helps them heal. I’m saying a prayer that tomorrow is even better. We are starting to think about being able to come home sometime next week.

I love this shot of vibrant healthy Terry. This was the day he started construction on my fabulous studio building.

Terry will most likely be transported to the rehab center at Providence St Peter Hospital, but I still don’t know enough yet to come up with any solid answers about the future. I’m taking it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

Rabbit Remembers Ironing

Tor doing a Clark Gable imitation in the kitchen at Hunger

Last night on the way to Seattle to deliver my handsome GQ subscribing son home to his apartment, the subject of ironing came up. The kid is a clothes horse and likes looking sharp. He is now lobbying for a new steam iron and ironing board for himself. “There is no sound I like more the hiss of a steam iron when you start ironing your clothes. I really want to get an iron because so much of my stuff is natural fabrics that only look really good if they’ve been pressed.” Wow…this is my child…the one who dressed in whatever was first in the pile on the floor in junior high school. I’m happy to report times have changed, in a lot of ways actually.

Terry was driving so we could have the Mom-Delivers-Ironing-Tips-and Things-Have-Changed conversation from the front seat to the back. Things like, if you press wool, either turn it inside out or use a pressing cloth, remember those? I started remembering my childhood and the saga of ironing clothes.  I actually remember as a really little kid, like around four years old, when we still had a wringer washer.

I remember this washer, ours was green and scary looking to a kid who couldn't see over the edge

I was fascinated by that and always told to STAY AWAY from it because it could squash fingers or other body parts. Which brings to mind the old saying that anyone under 50 would probably not get, “Haven’t had so much fun since Aunt Bessie’s t** got caught in the wringer.” If you had a braless and broad grandma like I did you could certainly understand the significance of this particular “folk saying,” although I still don’t get the humor of it…

Modern science brought us the Maytag. We had one of the first ones in Perris, along with a television set. Living large...

I digress. We got a new top loader when I was about six years old and while it was much better it wasn’t exactly a rocket ship. Clothes got clean mostly, wrung out sort of, piled in a wicker basket and hung on the line to dry with clothespins that were kept in a bag made for the purpose. When they dried back in the day clothes were stiff, like clothes cardboard. This was way before anybody had thought up fabric softener and soaps and bleaches were pretty harsh in their chemical make up. I remember my thrifty mom insisting we hang the clothes out until I was out of high school. Of course, she had slave labor, me, to wash, hang up, take in and fold the clothes. I used the time to dawdle and daydream and the smell of clean air dried clothes is still one of my favorite smells.

The joy of not heating an iron on the stove-and the advent of iron on patches.

Once the cardboard was snapped out of the clothes they had to be ironed, no polyester or blends at the time. Rayon and nylon were around in primitive forms but were strictly dry cleanable and undies had to be hand washed, There was lots of silk still around for lingerie but most of our clothes were wool in the winter and cotton in its many forms for the rest of the year. All that cotton had to be ironed. Some ladies carried it to insane heights, even ironing their hubby’s underwear, my mom drew the line at that and just made me me iron the damned sheets.

This is an example of a mangle, hot, scary and fast way to iron from sheets to shirts

Somewhere my parents found a mangle, which is a commercial iron. A big padded wheel that turns inside a hot metal sleeve. Nasty, evil, hot, but it did stuff fast. I figured out to mangle everything because I was stuck as the designated laundress and spending a sunny Saturday ironing was not my idea of fun. Mangling my dad’s shirts took about three minutes versus over five ironing it.  Before one could mangle, iron or otherwise flatten fabrics they had to be sprinkled. I remember big baskets of clean wrinkled laundry in the corner.

The chore was to get them out, take a Seven up bottle with a sprinkler top attached and sprinkle the clothes with water. When they were damp they got rolled up in a ball and put in a basket like so many clothes cabbages. The whole thing was covered with a damp sheet and then the ironing began. We didn’t have steam irons in the early 60’s and late 50’s. Heck, an iron that plugged in with a thermostat you could control was a big step forward.

this is what my grandmother ironed with, nasty job, heated on the stove and held with a hot pad.

I saw what my grandma had to use! Sad irons, you heated them on a stove top and ironed fast until they cooled off and did it again. I actually have one of hers on my hearth. I really, truly appreciate my steam iron after trying that out once.

We had a lady that came in once a week to help with the house. I have since come to the conclusion that my mom was not a domestic goddess, she knew what needed to be done but she didn’t want to do it. My brother and I were the household lackeys, and boy did we like having Modess come in  to do some of the mountains of ironing. Modess. Yes, just like the feminine product brand name, I’m just glad her name wasn’t Kotex, what the hell was her mother thinking? I digress…

At any rate, steam irons are wonders of nature and so are spray water bottles instead of the sprinkling kind. We take so much of this for granted, I can’t remember when I didn’t have spray bottles but now I’m curious about when they were invented and who first figured out that empty glass windex bottle would be perfect to fill with water. Bottles were always glass and cans were always tin, somehow we’ve moved away from that ecological soundness now, and my mission is to eradicate plastic from my life whenever I can, but that’s another story.

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Me with Rabbit and my brother with Teddy. I still have Rabbit, you didn't think I got that name from nowhere did you?

Writing about my family in a recent entry caused an absolute waterfall of memories including my rabbit memories. Here is a snapshot of my brother and me on the couch clutching our new stuffed animals with joyous smiles pasted on our little faces. My dad brought them home to us which is what made them so special. I remember the day I got Rabbit, I was probably about five and my brother was almost four.

We named our animals the very original names of Rabbit and Teddy, and we still have them both. Teddy’s celluloid nose wore off from so much loving and was replaced several times by a nose made of black electrical tape. He wound up being Little Teddy because when Wayne went in for eye surgery he got Big Teddy. A classic old school bear from the fifties, like a carnival bear only bigger and softer.

Isn’t it funny what we remember so clearly? The fact that Big Teddy had those flat eyes with the disks in the center that roll around and a yellow satin ribbon around his neck. Little Teddy had surgery at my inexpert hands somewhere around third grade, he developed a rupture right down the middle and I doctored him up for my brother with red embroidery thread, Franken bear.

Rabbit originally had a string of bells on elastic, like white underwear elastic, coming out of her head with a little white disk to hold while you shook her. I did surgery on that too, insisted it be cut off first thing. Her tag says she was made by Gund and her real name is Jingle Belle. Nope, she is Rabbit. She has a strange plastic rubber smiling doll face with painted blue eyes and vacant smile plastered on it, and once upon a time she had woolly yellow bangs. That bunny sat on my bed until I was 18 and I  pulverized her original foam rubber stuffing by crying so many salty tears into her hide.

The original Rabbit still going strong over 50 years later.

As a kid I spent a lot of my time in trouble for no good reason, the usual crazy mother who hit first and asked questions later, something rather common in the great generation. Great my ass, try living with one of them. One time, when I proved I had not done whatever the latest whipping had been for she just said, “I’m sure you did something I didn’t find out so you still deserved it.” No wonder I went through therapy as an adult…

Rabbit was my shock absorber and I was happy to unstuff her several years ago, shake out the dusty old foam and launder her empty hide which had turned sort of yellow brown from years of growing up with me and then being shunted to a trunk. Eureka, she’s back, round and firm and fully packed. Even her face got a good scrub. She now holds a place of honor in my work space, Running Rabbit Studio. The first of many rabbits that hopped into my life.

.She sits in a glass case next to another early rabbit that came into the world before I did. That bunny actually came from a carnival. My dad won it for my mom when they were dating. It was beautiful and white with a big pink bow around its neck. It had pink linings on it ears and they were wired to stand up straight. Round glass eyes and excelsior stuffing made her look like the Velveteen Rabbit. According to family legend from the time I could pull myself up I hauled that rabbit off my mom’s bed where it held a place of honor on a white chenille bedspread and dragged it around behind me.

This rabbit would have been a great collectible if I hadn't worn it out and dyed it blue back in the 1960's!

I found it in a trunk in the attic when I was about 12 where it had been put safely out of my baby clutches. This time, I snagged it and kept it. Over the years it got  worn around the edges. The ribbon vanished, the white turned gray, the wires poked out of the ears,  and it got a little lopsided as the excelsior shifted. In high school I discovered they were making aerosol fabric paint. The poor old rabbit is blue now, dark blue. The wires are long gone but I still love that 1940’s rabbit. She is leaning on Rabbit in the glass case in Running Rabbit Studio these days. 

The next rabbit in the bunny chain is the  Moon Rabbit. A bronze statue about six inches tall that I coveted when I worked for a Chinese art gallery in Houston. His head is tipped up and he lives in the moon, how quirky and delightful. Working in store was my first trip down the rabbit hole. Winston Chow, the boss, was from Shanghai and as tight as a tick. He had money coming out of his ears but parting with it? Not so much. He drove a big blue caddy that sounded like a threshing machine because he didn’t get the concept of maintenance for cars. He had a tiny little wife that he kept stashed in a tiny little apartment upstairs. The garbage was always full of teevee dinner boxes, I’m guessing the trophy wife couldn’t cook.

The Moon Rabbit. I actually wrote a children's story about this rabbit and I am in the process of illustrating it now.

When he was out of town she would come downstairs after my co-worker Jane and I figured out how to communicate with her. Seven years in the USA and no English. They went home to Singapore every year for two months on a buying trip and to visit his factories. He bought her clothes. 

She never went anywhere and never got to wear them but she had designer gowns that were breathtaking. She modeled the evening gowns for us and probably enjoyed the dropped jaws of her audience of two. She looked like a Chinese Barbie doll, tiny and perfect and I think so lonely.  He bought her evening gowns but Winston wouldn’t furnish toilet paper or light bulbs for the bathroom so we had to bring our own, very odd. He bought a refrigerator for the old kitchen we used downstairs so we wouldn’t go out to lunch.

I adored that place, it was fraught with beauty and mystery. It was also fraught with  gay couples who were furnishing their expensive homes in all white or all black with lots of heavy gold Chinese ashtrays, gorgeous tables and massive Chinese bedroom sets. The Han people were very tall, so real Chinese furniture is pretty massive. We had a few chairs where my feet didn’t touch the floor when I sat in them. Working for Winston Chow was when I first encountered and fell in love with gay men, who knew there was an group of men who loved to shop?

 I learned a lot about Chinese furniture and knick knacks, things like there are not many pieces of Chinese antiques furniture around  because the forests disappeared in China in large part centuries ago. Furniture was not wasted, it got taken apart and reused as new pieces. Funny how ecologically sound that was and now the Chinese are the biggest polluters on the planet.

When we left Houston and moved to Washington  state Mr Chow gave me that rabbit and several other lovely pieces. I was astonished as his generosity, still am.  That bunny opened the rabbit floodgates, after all if you have at least two rabbits it won’t be long before you have lots more…

I have a rabbit weathervane on top of Running Rabbit Studio keeping an eye on everything


Rabbit Jumps Rope

I am just getting to know my brother’s daughter, Heather, and this entry is for her. Sadly enough my family of origin’s inherent and ongoing craziness has kept me as far away from  all of them as I can get.  Yes, I love them and I visit them, but I measure the time spent carefully, gauging my ability to avoid a complete meltdown by timing my escapes right. Hed is estranged from her dad, my brother, so we didn’t have a chance to connect until this past year, after she was a wonderful grown up woman.  

Me with Rabbit and my brother with Teddy. I still have Rabbit, you didn't think I got that name from nowhere did you?

A little background: I didn’t know until I was over eighteen and away from my family that some people have peaceful lives. My parents lived at a high decibel level that was  a blend of anger, drama and frustration. When I was a kid there was also a lot of love and laughter thrown into the outrageous mix, but as they have aged the fun has leached out of their lives leaving behind a bleak desert made up mostly of complaints and failure.   

My brother is just 18 months younger than I am. He was a geeky kid who had two eye surgeries before he was six. He was cross-eyed and saw double. He wore thick glasses and somehow flunked first grade. I mean really, how do you flunk first grade? He has a September birthday and nowadays he would have just started a year later, but in his mind he is still scarred with that flunking grade.

To make the situation even better (sarcasm intended), we were uprooted from our cozy California childhoods and hauled off to Germany. We adjusted, we made friends, we loved it—all but the army brats we were stuck in the army school with, it was like being sent to hell every single day.  That experience shaped my character and made me the fearless woman I am today in a way. Back then I had at least two fights daily with other kids for the entire first year we were there. One was my fight and the other was my brother’s fight, I had to take care of both of us and keep us safe in that horrible school full of horrible ignorant military brats. My mother got to where she didn’t bat an eyelash when I walked in with bloody scrapes and black eyes. She would just ask if I won and nod her head, she got it and she didn’t make a big deal out it.

My brother in front our house, Number 3 Prieger Promenade.

She loathed the military families in general and a few in particular. We were air force brats and we were a better caliber of brat in her mind. We lived “on the economy”, translation: as far away from the base as possible. We spoke German,

My mom and our maid Ooshie, Ursula turned out to be an East German plant. That's another story entirely...shortly after this photo mom yanked that doorhandle off going down a narrow German street.

we dressed in German clothes and we were the only Americans dressed for the climate in the winter.  I was always snug in my long woolly stockings and reindeer hide boots. In the attic I still have my brother’s lederhosen and our wooden clogs. We assimilated, and even with crazy parents we were happy.

 Our friends were German,  we lived in a German house on a German street and we shopped at German stores. I remember being sent to the bakery on chilly autumn evenings with 50 pfennigs to get bread, hot crunchy bread.  There

dinner at the Faust Haus, that's my dad on the end and my little brothere grinning in the middle

was always just a little left over to get some penny candy but that didn’t stop us from eating the ends off the bread, they were irresistible and worth the spanking.  

Our family traveled across Europe in black and yellow 1957 Dodge station wagon that would barely fit down some of the streets.  

the infamous black and yellow station wagon in the background at our campground on the Neckar River

We camped weekends in Heidelberg with our friends, swam in the Neckar River and played all over the castle and in the old streets. The adults, German and English, played bridge and drank Steinhager and laughed a lot. It was wonderful part of my childhood and I remember all of it.

It broke my heart to come home again. I loved Europe and to some extent it is still the home of my heart.  My brother and I never quite fit in again. We spoke two languages; we had been to the great museums and seen and done amazing things. We were alien beings in our own country. We spent that first year home in Colorado with my mom forcing my dad to retire and return to California.  He caved in and did what she wanted as usual, and we came home to a small farm town where we really did not fit in, ever. Perris, California. 

My brother and I were miserable in a whole new way. He was now a double geek, high culture and thick glasses. He never had a chance. My mom slid into angry craziness probably fueled by frustration with my dad. She always wanted a race horse but she married a cart horse and that’s all he ever has been or will be. The best cart horse in the world, but it was never enough for her aspirations.

Lost boy, my brother somewhere in Germany, in better days

During those years the spankings became beatings accompanied by verbal abuse that broke my brother and put some serious cracks in me.  My dad was a shadow on the moon, my mother was always between us and I never had a chance to know him until it was almost too late. I was the lucky one. I escaped the craziness. My trajectory was up and out from the day I got out of high school.  Yes, I have lived my own form of craziness but it’s always been fueled by joy and hope and possibility.  

My brother never got away. My mother bound him to her with guilt and money. My grandmother treasured him and my dad and spent every penny she had on the two of them to spite my hated mother. They had to borrow money to bury her when she died because she had given it all to “her boys”.  My parents bought my brother a car, paid the insurance, bought him everything he ever wanted and extracted a high price in guilt and pain and anger.

 Their relationship was and is toxic, like two pit bulls fighting in a bag. They are compelled to bite and tear at each other. Neither has ever figured out how to accept responsibility for their actions, it’s always someone else’s fault.  My little blonde haired blue-eyed gawky brother turned to drugs in his twenties.  He put a successful landscaping business up his nose, destroyed two marriages and lost his children to ex-wives who were fed up. He still talked big and told stupid annoying jokes and slid downhill into petty theft, meth and crack.

My mother is the most profoundly selfish person I have ever known. She is the center of her universe and if she gives you anything there is a high price to pay in both money and expectation.  Mother kept him living in his house that she purchased according to her, in complete denial of what was happening to him.  She took everything he got in return.  I think somewhere along the line he gave up on ever getting out and focused on hating her, stuck in the web and too damaged to get out.

He is back living in her house, in a single room in the garage with his alcoholic girlfriend and their dogs and cats. He stopped doing drugs a few years back, but he couldn’t get a driver’s license or a job. Too many years of unpaid child support and failure have cost him everything.  I choose not to see him or speak to him, too many bad choices lie between us, but I am grateful to have his daughter in my life.

It’s like a do-over  because in Heather I can still see that bright boy, the one who was almost my twin, the funny curious kid I explored the world with.  Hed is an incredibly talented writer who is battling her own set of demons. She suffers from bipolar disorder and every day is a fight for her.  She has a husband in Australia who doesn’t want to live in America. Like me, she has food issues and  I wonder if that’s genetic too? I just love good food and good food loves me. It loves my whole body to the tune of about 80 pounds I need to lose.

So Heather, here’s the thought I had today. Beginnings are like jumping rope, the kind where your friends are holding the rope and turning it. You are standing there counting and deciding where to jump in. It’s always going to be in the middle as long as the rope is turning.  There is no clear beginning when you jump rope or begin a diet or anything new because that rope is always turning and the best you can do is run in and believe you can keep jumping, hell, KNOW you can keep jumping.  You have to have faith in you and the jump rope. Sometimes you’ll step on the rope and it will stop, but you’ll go around, count and jump in again. People who love you are holding the rope and they won’t let go so keep jumping! I love you.

Inside the Rabbit’s Studio, About the Process

I see those beautiful glossy magazines with nothing but page after page of gorgeous studio interiors. They make me do two things: drool and wonder. I always envy organized beauty, work spaces that look so cozy, so sexy, so beautiful and so inviting. That would be the drool part. The wonder part has me asking myself how the hell these folks accomplish the sturm und drang of art making if they can’t make a mess in the process. Hmmmm….

In the middle of work, the glossy photo studio is long gone, controlled chaos is underway.

I spent Valentine’s Day organizing my studio (more, again, still) and losing a day down the rabbit hole. It’s all the hubs fault, he gave me a new Dymo Letratag Labelmaker. Its fabulous! I already mark everything well because if I don’t I’ll spend hours hunting for one washer or a doodad I know I have somewhere. My masking tape tags were a)ugly b) tend to unstick after awhile, so this is mo bettah, it look so nice, I’m ready to label the world!

And the OTHER worktable fills up fast too.

I have also been converting myself to old tins and glass for storage, attempting to move away from plastic and cardboard; it’s my homage to those beautiful magazines. This is as close I’m going to get to a drool-worthy esthetic with a busy working studio. My work tables are thick plywood and the floor is painted in the middle and has cheap carpet at both ends. Carpet makes my feet and my studio staff happier. The staff would be the three dogs and one cat who meander in and out, which also explains the toys and the beds all over the place. Knowing my furry buds will be roaming the floor makes me very careful with chemicals and small bits of crap which could harm the animal that ingested it. I can always tell when I’ve dropped a bead, Mushka is a bead collecting magnet, he finds them and rolls them around in his teeth, clicking noises alert me to make him spit out the slimy thing before he can swallow it.

The work tables are full of nicks, scratches, gouges, glue blobs and solder, which I scrape off to level the surface on a regular basis. That’s not even counting the paint, and other liquids that stain things. I like having these tables because I don’t have to be careful, I can just lose myself in the work and spread out around the room.

Mother Nature's Lost Childhood, head drying. Very creepy...

 I took some shots yesterday after I got started on a new piece in the Lost Childhood series. Keep in my mind my studio looked like a photograph when I started, after my labeling frenzy. Within three hours it was destroyed, but I know where every single thing is as I work including tools, tidbits, dogs, and cat.

Little wooden legs from a stick I've been saving for years from a wand making exercise. I saved these odd little Chinese cricket leaves because they were too cute to toss.

Beginning the assembly after about six hours of paint and selection of parts.

This drawer has real flower growing seeds--A-Z, allysum and zinnia.

Each drawer has a quote to match the contents. I love this one. "Where flowers bloom so does hope." Ladybird Johnson

For years and years I have picked up sticks, seeds, pods, bark, rocks and shells everywhere I go. I keep my natural world in big glass jars to inspire me.

This mornings work is to put a coat of satin varnish on the little cabinet that took hours to paint and collage. I did it about three times until I was happy with it. Who said art is easy? It’s not, many times it’s just doing and redoing and never giving up. My favorite quote: “Process gets you times of  no ideas far better than ideas get you through times of no process.” The Far Out Furry Freak Brothers said that back when and its still true now.

Advice to budding artists: always work in series. If you get stuck, you can start again and you learn from each piece how to make the next one. Even if you hate it after while, finish what you said you would do, all the pieces. Be patient with yourself. You don’t learn this stuff and acquire the tools overnight.  You have to do it again and again and again, as Thoreau put it so nicely. “Know your own bone, gnaw  it, bury it, unearth it, gnaw it still.” Can you tell I’ve been talking to a frustrated young artist? Someone who never can paint what he sees in his head and he sees that as a problem. Guess what? I have never, ever, ever had a painting come out exactly like what I saw in my head. For me that’s the thrill. I’m on the road and I have a map, but I never know exactly what I will find around the corner. I learn from my work when I’m willing to listen to it.

And right now…it’s calling me to come and play and finish Mother’s Nature’s lost childhood before I teach my class this afternoon.

Hungry for the Arts Benefit Coming on the 17th of February

Click on the hungry invite link for details about the where, cost and time and more:

 hungry invite

I am so pleased to have been one of the 20 artists selected for this benefit. The notice to me was short but I did get it and I got all the paperwork turned around in time. I’m pretty impressed with myself because this is a high-powered sponsor list including city councilmen? women? Who knows what’s politically correct…. and several Washington State senators and other movers and shakers.

The shindig costs 20 bucks BUT attendees get wine tastes from snazzy wineries, sexy appetizers, and the opportunity to rub elbows with artistes like me from 5-9:00 p.m.  Hey, that’s cheaper than a movie if you buy popcorn and this actually is intended to benefit GRUB, a local group that grows food to fee those in need.

I can’t believe this is so right down my alley: garden art and wearable art? I mean really, that’s my thing so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure I’ll be nervous and out of my comfort zone and I won’t know anybody but still, I can show my work and get some good exposure. Matter is loaning me my art necklaces for the night,  there is no way I would have time to crank out stuff to show and sell with about a week’s notice. I do love all these little bunny shots of some of the smaller things though. For my next trick I’ll come up with a cool way to display the pieces….

Mantis, the Not So Roaming Gnome

This peculiar story was caused indirectly by a wonderful random voyage of exploration the hubs and I  took to Utah last summer. Being a featured conference speaker was the perfect reason to get in the car and escape for a couple of weeks, driving is so much more fun than flying any time you can pull it off. 

Barbie, my ghost writing buddy

Terry and I loaded up the Mushka, the Portable Shi Tzu, and our suitcases and some camping gear and headed down the spine of Washington state, I-5. We stayed on I-5 all the way to the bottom of Oregon where we stopped to hoist a few beers and hang with Flamingo Pam for a day in Medford, Oregon. Medford was also the place I realized I had forgotten my muse, my lucky charm, my fellow traveler, Barbie Barista.

I met  my three inch tall plastic hipster friend when I was headed to France a few years ago. She’s pocket perfect and a pithy commentator to boot.We went everywhere together and wrote about it. (Here is the link to the delightful Barbie blog for the curious, its sort of just sitting out there in space lately, sigh. I can’t remember the password to update it, so it has sadly become a blog monument to travel fabulousity )

I couldn’t find where I had stashed Barbie before the trip so the local all purpose we-sell-everything store in Medford was my last hope for an inert yet sparkling traveling companion. A visit to their toy section provided nothing on par with my missing Barbie. Wolverine, Superman and Tinky Wink were just not ringing the bell for me. I was ready to put a dress on a wooden spoon and call it a supermodel when I tried the garden shop, and after a short search I found a box of short gnomes languishing on the bottom shelf of the  garden tschotske row. Yes, I know the roaming gnome has been snatched up, but I was desperate, so I chose a seated gnome who appeared to be praying. My German style Saint Christopher gnome of the road, pray for me, I can use the help. We hit the road for points east-car, dog, hubs, me and the  praying gnome.

"I'm praying your driving improves." That would be Mt Shasta behind the prayerful dude

Gnome at the Hat Creek overview

We did fine through northern California, stopping to view Shasta, Mt Rainier’s cousin, take in the wild fire devastation from the Hat Creek Fire of the previous year and then we found  this gigantic gaudily painted statue in the middle of freaking nowhere. I mean really, who expects to see a giant lumberjack/tire sales guy/whatever giant figures are used for in the middle of a wide spot in the road. The owners had even built a little shelter with information and a guest book to sign! The complete experience. The gnome had his picture taken with the cowboy and we headed onwards, jumping off to ghost towns and adventures down Highway 50 outside Carson City, Nevada.

Highway 50 has the moniker “loneliest  road in the USA”, but I think that might have been a few years back. Its pretty empty but the locals drive through there at 300 mph in their pickups, shortcut to where?? We actually saw lots of cars and people on our trek. We also saw some very cool things along the way including the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near Fallon, Nevada. I could have stayed there for days and just listened to all the birds in the lakes and marshes, we could see very few of them but you could hear them making an enormous racket. Oh for a kayak, but I must remember we were driving a Mini Cooper that was pretty darned loaded as it was.

Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge

Past Fallon, things got strange. The Black Rock Desert is where Burning Man is held each year and except for those few days annually the place is EMPTY. Alkali and salt flats for miles and miles.

Singing Sand Dune, Sand Mountain is an off road park these days

Sand Mountain, a singing dune, was wayyyy off in the distance being run over by off road vehicles, seriously. But close to the road, nada. Except for the rocks where there should not be rocks. This is a link to a howlingly funny article on the drive through this desert.

I started seeing messages spelled out on the desert along the highway’s shoulders with black rocks. Brick sized rocks, not boulders. To participate in this sport/event/what ever it is, people  have to gather rocks and cart them to the desert in boxes and baskets, park on the side of the road and then lug the rocks out onto the flats to spell out arcane messages, like all the of  the “I love (fill in the blank)” and even a “will you marry me?” Lots of names and peculiar sentences, all hard to read without stopping so we stopped to do some light reading. I got Mantis the gnome out, by now he had a name, to pose for a picture. It was chilly and windy so I jumped quickly back in the car and we drove off.

Chon? interesting....

Uh oh. Resounding clunk is heard. What the hell was that?  Praying Mantis! I went back and found him laying  in the road with a few chips out of his hat, intact, except for the missing leg. We never found the leg. I wonder what the people carrying boxes of rocks to spell out  messages thought when they came across his  little brown booted leg in the road in the middle of nowhere? Can you imagine being so hard up for fun on a Saturday night  that you drive 50 miles to write a message with rocks on a salt flat in the middle of nowhere? It boggles the mind….

Losing a leg was the end of the gnome’s photo star days. Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of a one-legged gnome who had a real reason to pray for a miracle, like please don’t let this woman put me on another roof and forget me. He came home with us and retired to live in the birdcage by the front gate. He seemed to like it, smiling and blessing everyone who came up the steps, but that missing leg haunted me until my friend El Goldilocks, said to me, “You’re an artist you moron, fix the poor guy’s leg and put him back to work!”

Mantis had surgery last week and came through with flying colors thanks to a barbecue skewer and a button. He now has a nice pegleg leg and I must say, we both look happier.