Monday, January 31, 2011


The Bad

I need to get some things off my chest:

Why doesn't the snow melt?

I am so sick of being cold all the time.

My skin is flaking like a snake's because of the heat overload.

I need about ten of those lamps that imitate sunlight, and then I need to strap them to myself and chant a sunny mantra.

I can't handle winter clothes anymore. They itch. They constrict. The only good thing about them is the fact that they hide my pasty, plump flesh. And that isn't good, either, because then I stuff my face and get more plump, all of which will be revealed on the first warm day.

Everything takes so stinkin' long in winter: getting dressed, finding and donning proper footgear, getting the car prepped, driving somewhere in slush/snow/ice, walking from the car to the destination without slipping and becoming a winter-broken-bone statistic.

I hate socks. Detest them. Yet need them.

I feel like a caged animal in this house. And even when I'm out? I'm running to another cage, from my temporary cage (car).

Can't. Take. Much. More.

The Good

The sun is shining, and has been shining for several hours. And the bathroom is finally clean.

The Beautiful

My little boy will be home from kindergarten soon.

If you had told me 15 or 20 years ago that I'd be a mom, I would have laughed in your face. I spent the first half of my life or more telling everyone I'd never had kids. I meant it. I had no interest, no burning yearning to be a mom, no thoughts of holding a small bundle of my own.

If you'd told me that at this point, I'd consider motherhood* to be the best experience I've had yet, I would have snickered and pressed my lips together in utter doubt. How ridiculous.

But it's true. I am delighted by my son. He is such a neat little person. I still can't believe what a gift he is. He's witty, and silly, and loves to play. He likes to learn new things, too, and we can sit and talk about things now and he gets it. It's awesome. But best of all? So far, he's turning out to be a kind, thoughtful kid.

I know it might not always look like this. I know people whose kids turned into strangers in teen years, or who suddenly grew up into completely miserable human beings. There's the occasional sad story of good kids turned bad who end up in jail, or worse.

But I have today. I have this moment. I have this child whom I adore, who enriches me daily, who has shown me how vulnerable I really am and how it's possible to love someone so much it pains you.

* Motherhood only—not pregnancy (stunk), not labor (stunk more). Just motherhood.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can't 'scape the goat

Goat is finally finished! (My trusty canvas-displayer helped me take this photo.)

Prints of the goat painting are available in my Etsy shop.

Also, for you goat-loving Valentine revelers out there, my talented husband helped me turn the goat into two different Valentine's Day cards, which are also for sale at the shop. I hope you'll check them out!

And remember, there will come a day just a few months from now when snow will melt, sun will shine, and goats will once again befriend people holding cameras...just like this goat did.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Favorites, continued

Everywhere I look, I'm being asked to name favorites.

Our computer saves our favorite websites when we tell it to; those URLs get their own special billing across the top of the screen. The Etsy website wants me to select favorite shops and items to share with others. My cell phone encourages me to save my most-called numbers; those are favorites, I suppose. This blog, even, asks me about favorites on the profile page (favorite books, movies, music, etc.) and the blog design page encourages me to list my favorite blogs—other than this one, of course. I talked a few posts ago about my favorite color. I have an old pair of L. L. Bean gum boots, pull-ons without laces, that I've had for 20 years now...and they remain one of my favorite shoes. A wonderful, genuine fisherman's sweater from Cork, Ireland that I lucked into finding at a second-hand shop also ranks as a favorite item.

But the truth is, I've never been good at keeping things. Friends, apartments, careers, jobs. I bought those old L. L. Bean boots I love partly because the weather where I had moved was beyond intemperate, and partly because I'd always admired them on the feet of my first college crush, who wore them with a breezy air and kept his feet dry with timeless style. That fellow has long passed out of the "favorites" category; only his footwear remains, and the boots have stuck just because they're so darned practical and indestructible. How many other shoes have come and gone in my world that were once loved and now forgotten? Heck, how many boys came and went before one of them stuck? And my favorite color used to be teal. Teal? I wore teal clothes, teal eye makeup... it was hideous. No one told me that it was a terrible color for me. Today? I stay clear of it.

Even the favorite books and music categories stump me. Should I name the favorites of yesterday? Or the current flavor-of-the-month? We don't really know which favorites will stay with us, do we? I thought about favorite bands and musicians, and immediately Led Zeppelin came to mind. I love Led. Yet. How many months have passed since I dug out a Led CD and gave it a whirl? Perhaps years have passed? Is that possible? It's the same with authors. My favorite is John Steinbeck. Of course it is.

When did I last read anything by John Steinbeck?

The truth is, I'm fickle. I change my mind a lot. Favorites pass in and out of favor like seasonal throw pillows in my world. I like different things, styles, movements, people every day. I'm really liking the band Vampire Weekend lately, but last year it was James Hunter, who could not be less like the first group. I used to love Anne Tyler as an author, and I still like her style, but I find my mind wandering as I read her words these days because lately, all of her lovable, hapless characters are so alike and slightly annoying to me. Even the favorite websites are constantly shifting in that little line across the top of our computer monitor; KDKA weather, then the weather channel. Hockey websites, then football websites. Right now, there's a link to PBS Kids in that favorites list, but for how much longer?

The word "favorite" feels as if it's been hijacked by the fast-moving, ever-accessible techie world that has sucked us into its insatiable jaws. The very term has become trendy, changeable, watery in its meaninglessness.

I think, to keep my sanity, I'll have to redefine the word favorite. In my world, "favorite" will have an unspoken connotation with "current" or "of the moment." Those are favorites to me: possibly passing fancies, the sorts of things that catch our attention and make us take notice, but are always moving in and out of our focus.

Influences might be a better word for me when it comes to my old-school favorites. Which bands, styles, genres were most influential in teaching me about music and how we relate to it? Which books shaped my appreciation for characterization? for the flow of a well-written phrase? Which artist do I still, to this day, want to emulate? Which towns, apartments, people and jobs have most affected how I comprehend and make decisions about those very things from here on out?

Influential. Now there's a word that captures it better for me.

Am I alone? Does the rest of the world have stationary favorites? Don't judge me because I'm indecisive and prone to redirecting my affection. I beg you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yeah, BayBeeeeee

Just in case you didn't already know—

The Steelers are heading south to fight it out for #7!

Hey, we still have some fingers left, right? There are still games to be won.

Nice job, fellas. Impressive work. A true team effort. And the season's not over yet!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The kid, and the kids, have got game

You'll hopefully be relieved to know that our boy had his stitches removed earlier this week, and his behemoth gash is healing nicely and now looks like any old pink, new-skinned scratch. You'd never know that his muscle tissue and grey matter were hanging out of that fissure just over a week ago. Isn't skin amazing? Especially young, healthy skin. Yeah, I'm sure we just got that cool, self-rebuilding skin cell setup by accident. Millions of years of lifeless goo somehow gave way to, oh I don't know, living flesh and bone? That makes itself, then heals itself? Yeah. Sure.

Anyway, he's on the mend. He's over it. (I'm almost over it. Can you pass me those aspirin?)

This will have to be quick, because I ended up with a temp assignment that began today, continues tomorrow, and will likely spill into most of next week—which means I don't have time to blog or paint or think of creative, healthy meals or get up off my fat can instead of sitting in front of a computer monitor for hours on end. It's money, yes...but I'd forgotten how much happier I am when I can move around freely. Sitting still makes Mel a dull girl.

The big decision at this point is this: do we dare to get up at the crack of dawn and venture into the Strip District on Saturday morning? I know I'll be glad if I make myself do it, because Penn Avenue the day before a Steelers playoff game is an experience that simply cannot be duplicated anywhere else. That said, however, it will involve early hours, biting cold, parking difficulties, crowds (which make me uneasy anymore), and the dragging along of a squirmy little kid with a huge scar on his face.

Of COURSE we'll be there. Silly. I was just teasing you. The real decision is whether to go this Saturday, or to just wait until the day preceding the Super Bowl. Because you know we're headed there, don't you. You can feel it in the air. You can smell it, like something burning.

I've got a feeling
Pittsburgh's going to the SU-PER BOWL!

Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

OMG (a.k.a. Tough kid, sissy mama)

When people ask me what's new, I usually say, "Nothing." And I'm usually thankful to say that. Boredom is often the opposite of chaos in my life, perhaps in other lives as well, and I'm happy to embrace boredom much of the time because I prefer it to the alternative.

We got the alternative Tuesday night.

It was a totally normal night. I was nagging the "boys" about bedtime, and finally managed to make my husband understand that the next morning our child would need to rise at the same old time, and that he needed adequate sleep in order to tackle the day with success, etc. My son ate a quick snack (pizza-flavored Goldfish crackers and water) and I herded him into my bedroom to get his clothes off and into the hamper so that PJs could be donned.

Apparently, after I left the room, the kid had an undeniable urge to run, naked but for socks, and see his father in the living room; when he didn't show up, I had to call out and remind him to stay on task and come in for pajamas and tooth-brushing. I was selecting the pajamas from a drawer when suddenly, I became aware that my child was running from the living room into his bedroom. I saw him approaching from the corner of my eye, not really registering the speed with which he came, and a second later there was a loud thump. I glanced up in time to see his feet literally flying out from under him, up in the air—and then saw him hit the floor, landing right on his back.

Now, there have been a few times when my son hit the wall—with his head, or his foot, or his back end when he was crawling around in a clownish manner. So, we'd seen similar situations before; panic did not immediately ensue. He lay there for a second, and my husband and I both scurried over from opposite directions to ascertain the damage. Marcus was still on the floor, and he seemed to have hit not only his face, but also the back of his head when he fell; our home is tiny, and the space in that little hallway outside bedrooms is quite unforgiving.

I was totally unprepared for what met me at close range: my son's forehead was gashed, straight up and down, and blood was spilling out in spurts. I thought I would be sick, and one look at his dad told me he was feeling the same. We sat him up a bit, I grabbed a washcloth and we held it on the forehead, and all the while Marcus was huddled there unclothed, red splashes landing on his bare legs, crying full tilt. Todd remembered to tilt his head back a little, to minimize bleeding, and when the washcloth did not stem the flood, we grabbed a dry hand towel to better soak up the mess.

A minute passed, I threw a blanket on my boy (can kids go into shock from a gash? no matter, it's winter and he's naked), and we worked up the nerve to take another look at the cut. This was the OMG moment, people: it was unspeakably horrific. It looked like a hockey injury. The giant slash running between my child's eyes could have come from a skate blade or a big, sharp stick; it could have been carved in with a knife. It was a perfectly straight line, because (we've since determined in hindsight and re-enactments) he hit it squarely, somehow, on the frame of his bedroom door.

Todd and I both stared at it, trying not to reveal in our faces just how awful it really was. In my head, I was screaming, "OH MY GOD that is so DEEP! I can't believe it! He needs stitches! Holy CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!" but on the outside, I was trying to remain calm and tell my son that everything would be okay. He kept saying, "It hurts," and I was thinking, no *!?# it hurts because I can practically see your SKULL in there!!! But I couldn't say that. So I murmured useless, soothing phrases, and Todd and I spoke with our eyes. Yes, we agreed, yes; we must go out on this snowy, slippery night, to the nearest hospital, right now.

We resigned ourselves to our fate, put some zip-up PJs on the wailing child, fashioned a headband made from destroyed T-shirt in order to secure the blood-soaking cloth, and got ourselves into the car, praying for safe travel, for quick treatment, for the best possible scenario. Thankfully, we made it out of our snow-covered driveway, and the roads were passable.

Let me take a moment to rave about Suburban General Hospital in Bellevue. The folks there were wonderful: quick, thorough, calming and friendly. We were the only ones in the ER, and they saw to us immediately, talking through what had happened, chatting with Marcus who had since stopped crying and was looking quite pitiful. One look at the depth of the cut and they knew it needed stitches; no skin glue for this one. To their credit, they were honest with my little guy, and told him (not all at once, but as needed) what they were going to do. There were three of them prepping him; a matronly type wrapped him in a sheet tightly, to immobilize his arms, but she talked with him as she worked, joked a little, made him as comfortable as possible. The assisting nurse, an affable fellow who was blind in one eye, was warm and friendly with all of us and put everyone at ease. The doctor who washed, gave numbing shots, and stitched was confident, very capable, and worked with speed.

Here's where I must confess that after they began to wash the cut, and I got a better look at just how horrible it was, I had to sit down and I missed most of the really gory stuff because I was fighting the simultaneous urges to throw up and fall down. I didn't see the stitching; I simply could not look. I saw the doctor's hands lifting, going down with the needle, pulling it up again, but I certainly wasn't counting; I couldn't watch for that long. (He got 5 stitches, according to his dad.)

But as much as a wimp as I turned out to be, my son was beyond stoic. The only crying he did was at home. When the doctor told him there would be stitching, and shots to numb the injury, his mouth turned down on the outsides—the telltale pre-cry face. Yet somehow, it never became full-blown. He set the mouth back to a normal line, he nodded or answered when asked a question, he allowed the nurse to hold his small, frightened face perfectly still while a man with a sharp object laced a nylon thread through his lacerated forehead. He never made a sound. Nothing.

The ER folks were impressed. I was speechless. What a tough guy. He was lying there, we were encouraging him and telling him it was almost done, and I was too sick to feel proud of him at that moment—but I knew, even as I fought the urge to hurl, that his behavior was pretty amazing.

Marcus bounced back just fine. When the procedure was finished, he stood with boots back on; since his face was still numb, he was in very good spirits. His dad and I? Both of us were sitting, ashen-faced, glad it was done but shocked it had transpired at all—and wondering which of us would be able to drive home. (Todd was; he thankfully did all the driving that night.) The amazing thing was the timetable from start to finish: On a treacherous winter night, my boy had run into a wall at approximately 8:45, and we pulled back into our driveway, stitched and bandaged, a couple of minutes after 10pm.

God is good. He put all the pieces in place, so that while my poor child had to go through that experience, it was as painless as possible. He didn't even miss kindergarten the next day (I'd been planning on keeping him home) because the weather turned very sour again, and the school district cancelled classes.

It's alarming to realize you are not nearly as tough as you would like to believe. Happily, my weakness was more than balanced by my offspring's strength. It would have understood if he'd cried, if he'd been a bit uncooperative, but it was as if he knew that his behavior would make or break the whole incident.

Thanks for listening, especially to my bragging about my boy; I try not to do that, especially here, but I feel it's more than merited on this occasion. And by the way: absolutely NO RUNNING in the house.

To quote Pulp Fiction, "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go have a heart attack."

P.S. Stay tuned for a future post about the bill. Haven't got that yet... but I'm anticipating ugliness, as our plan has a ridiculously high deductible.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creative fears

I'm hoping to finish this goat painting soon, and offer prints of it in my Etsy shop. I'm pleased overall with the way it's coming along, although the minute I look at it I see things that require fixing, features misplaced, collar too high, etc. Oh, well—in time. I'll let you know when it's done.

The last painting I completed was a Christmas cactus (it's already in the shop), and the final product turned out better than I'd expected. That sounds like it would be a good thing, but actually it can be rather intimidating.

Whenever I finish something that I like, I'm afraid to start the next thing. I want to rest on my own self-appointed laurels. I don't want to risk a potential failure with the next subject. I've read some art blogs, mostly done by more professional artists who spend time creating every day, and they all seem to be of the "paint through it" mentality. I know they're right, but I still find it challenging to make myself get down to business after a success. I suppose that's why there are so many "daily painter" and general artist support groups, so all those artsy people can talk amongst themselves and get each other motivated.

(I guess an online community will have to do, because it's snowy and slushy outside, and I am rather enjoying this period of my life in which I am permitted to rediscover the loner within.)

One cool thing about this sweet goat is that I got to meet him? her? when we visited the miniature goat farm near my sister's; it's always nice to meet your subject. Another cool thing is that an artist of any medium can take liberties and remove unsightly objects from his interpretation—say, for example, wire fences. That just doesn't belong in the painting.

Earlier this week, I made myself get a frightfully white canvas from the basement, and I arranged the easel in my "studio" (our bedroom, the only room in the house that features unhindered morning light). And I began.

I guess everyone has his own method. I sketch the whole thing out a bit per my favorite college art prof's style, and then I start to fill in the major features. Nothing permanent, just scruffy colors and general placement of picture components. It's a mess at first, like a little child's crazy brush strokes, and then it begins to take form. A nose here, an eye there, no horns yet...

In most of my animal paintings, there comes a moment when I know the painting is starting to arrive. It's a moment of recognition, and I had it right before I stopped working on this one. I was putting together this little goat's face, and I mixed a color on the palette and then glanced up—and the goat was looking at me! At that point, I knew he/she was going to be fine. I had a similar moment with the little pig painting I posted a few months ago. I caught the pig smiling at me while I rinsed a brush; after that, I didn't have to make myself work on him, because I wanted to.

I'm hoping this goat keeps urging me on; that makes the process so much easier. Either way, though, I hope you won't be afraid to start the next project in your life; that clean, new canvas is much too white.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Favorites: a prologue

I've been mulling a future post in my mind; it's got me thinking about all sorts of favorite things.

I've always been a color junkie. I can clearly recall, as a college freshman, flipping through the J. Crew catalog and imagining with glee my ideal job: penning the color names of the clothing items within. Persimmon, periwinkle, mango... ahhhhh. To a newly independent small-town girl, those adjectives cried out to me; they spoke of experience, worldliness, and wisdom.

(I still think it would be a fun job. I'm long past fitting into many of those swank, slim clothing separates, and I still find most of them out of my price range. Perhaps the catalog employees get a discount on the plus-sized leftovers at season's end?)

Anyway. Color. Some colors are so closely linked to an item that said item becomes the color itself, and vice versa. Think of peony: it will forever, for me, represent that rich, deep, fragrant pink of the June bloom. And hydrangea—could there be a more perfect lavender-blue shade than the amazing tint of those wondrous bushes, grown in perfectly acidic soil?

There are so many color words that are what they are. Ivory, ebony, jade, turquoise, sky, sand, moss, and coffee. Wonderful, many-layered words that evoke not just a sight but also a scent, perhaps even a sensation.

My favorite? That would be dandelion, without a doubt. The flower, the crayon, it matters not. That amazing, heaven-breathed yellow, color of midday sunshine, of amber daydreams... It is simply the best.

But I love another color, too—and this one is a more recent love. It is known by many names: oxblood, aubergine, eggplant, burgundy, raisin, bordeaux. It's represented nicely by the curvy vegetables shown above—and just as well by a pair of well-loved penny loafers. It's a distant cousin to brown, but more valuable, more rare, uncommon. It's also related to purple, but the relation is subtle, not obvious, and all the ghastly showmanship of purple has no place in the world of such a breathtaking shade. It can function as showpiece, or as accessory. It can ground a room of lighter shades, or it can own a room of dark drama. It can stand in as a neutral, can warm a corner, can hold up well under wear and tear.

And oh—by the way—it looks absolutely fabulous with dandelion. Did I mention that?

What is your favorite color, the one that makes you smile, that inspires redecoration or new outfits?

Saturday, January 1, 2011


That's what I'm feeling these days. Relief.

It's sad to think that relief is my primary emotion as the Christmas season comes to a close, but there it is. The overabundance of the holidays always depresses me. It's supposed to be about our savior being "with us" and yet, for all my measures to keep the event simple and reasonable, it still ends up being a festival of wrapping, foreign-manufactured plastic, silly spending (mostly other people's), and brattiness in even well-grounded children.

So, I'm thankful that my son has many nice, new things to entertain him and sad that once again we've missed the boat.

The part that really gets me down is that our Christmas is so mild compared to many other households in America. My son knows, at least, why he's being showered with gifts; he knows in Whose honor it's happening, even if the point is sometimes buried in packaging. How many homes are gifting in complete disregard? And—worse—into huge amounts of debt?

I'm looking forward to 2011. I've been reminded in 2010, over and over, that I'm not in control and that the earth is not my final destination. I will try to cherish each day, and find good and blessings even when things don't go the way I'd hoped. And I will try to remember, too, that this is not my home.

Here's to fresh starts. If the new year doesn't come soon enough, there's still new mercy every morning.


On a side note, during the craziness of Christmas, I opened an Etsy shop to sell paintings and prints of them. (Some of you knew this already. Sorry to repeat myself!)

I hope you'll visit me there, and share the link with others.