Saturday, December 31, 2005

To Christmas or Not to Christmas????

I spent a lovely, long Christmas holiday in Oroville, CA, at the home of my daughter-in-law, Megan’s family. It felt wonderful to be immersed in a fun-loving group of people, surrounded by laughter, generosity, and good cheer. This is a family that clearly relishes being together. I can’t recall seeing my son Phil and his wife Megan so relaxed and glowing. Usually, in Santa Cruz, they are stressed and juggling so many projects, jobs, and activities. In Oroville, they stayed in their pj’s much of the day and settled in. They cooked some delicious meals for us (chicken molĂ© for one dinner, great lasagna for another) and we all watched the rain pour down, played games together, and talked.

As usual, I feel pretty conflicted about the holidays. Because Daniella, being Jewish, does not celebrate Christmas, she has taken to removing herself from the scene. In recent years our family has tried out having a “no gifts” policy. I hate the crass commercialism of the holidays. I often feel like I do a bad job of choosing gifts for people, and I feel terrible about that. I also know that part of my conflicted feelings have to do with my tendency to be a mega-caretaker. I feel responsible for making everyone’s holiday just right –for decorating, shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertaining, etc. etc. This is a toxic leftover from how I grew up, and the era where I learned that these were my jobs as a mother. I know that I need to break out of this behavior to be able to enjoy the holiday again, but I don’t know how. I’ve been floundering around, not making it better. It was good to see how someone else does it.

I gained a few insights this year, as I observed another family celebrate. First, I truly enjoy giving gifts, when they come from the heart. So to eliminate gifts from our holiday is probably a wrong choice for me. It makes me feel like Scrooge, mean and guilty and embarrassed.

I can envision ways to avoid shopping malls, big box stores, and all the kinds of shopping I hate, and still come up with wonderful gifts for people. There are artists to support, items I can make, gift certificates, books, and many other ideas. Second, I saw how the whole family participated in making Christmas work. I think our family could do a much better job of that. Third, leaving out all religious trappings, I think that this holiday can be a meaningful time to celebrate the opportunity to bring loved ones together, connect at the heart level, have fun and relax. It doesn’t have to be a solo marathon track event (how I think I’ve framed it up ‘til now)!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's Out. He's Cured!

"It's Out. He's Cured!" These were the words the surgeon used last night after my brother Dick's surgery was over. The kidney was removed. The surgery was a bit more complicated than they had hoped. He lost quite a bit of blood and had to have some transfusions. The tumor had begun to attach itself to the liver, but fortunately was still encapsulated, so they were able to scrape it off. There was no spread to the lymph nodes. In short, my brother has a great chance of being cancer free from now on. Because renal carcinoma is unresponsive to chemotherapy, he will not have to have any chemo. Within a few short weeks, he should be good as new, functioning on his one good kidney. This is the best news anybody could have given us! I am SO relived and thankful. Let's hear it for modern medicine! Sometimes they get it just right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Light A Candle

As I'm writing this, my youngest brother, Dick, is prepping for major surgery. He will have a cancerous kidney removed today. The tumor is large and ugly. We are holding our breaths waiting to hear what we hope will be good news - that it all came out, that he will survive. If you are reading this, please hold him in your thoughts and prayers. He is a good man.

My brother is youngest by 5 minutes. As a twin, he was born last, a complete surprise to my mother who was only expecting one child. She named him after her father, my grandfather Richard Whitfield, who had died just before the twins were born. Dick and Hunt were not identical in any way. Hunt was dark-haired and quiet, and looked more like my father's side of the family, particularly our Uncle Hunt. Dick was blond and gregarious, the family joker. His sunny disposition has been with him, from the beginning.

All of my three brothers are great craftsmen, but Dick used his artistry on so many diverse projects. He has made beautiful woven baskets, caned chairs, made a guitar from scratch with an inlaid dragonfly design, built furniture, boats, portions of his own home, done remarkable paintings and drawings, tied flies for fly fishing, cooked magnificent gourmet meals, and so much more. He taught his three sons many of these skills, and gave them all a love of music. When they are together, all of them sing and play guitars and banjos.

Dick is an avid reader and book collector, and loves nothing better than the hunt for a rare and tantalizing volume. He has been known to contact authors who interest him and develop wonderful friendships and correspondences with them. He is interested in the arts, the theater, music, film, museums. His sense of humor is phenomenal. He does NOT love to travel, and I finally got him to California after many years of begging. He helped with my son's wedding, and was a total mensch and workhorse, putting up tents, stringing lights, arranging flowers, running errands, and being a great host.

He and my wonderful sister-in-law, Marnie, moved to Sarasota, Florida, a few years ago. Marnie is equally talented and has been married to Dick for 32 years. It is apparent that they still love each other deeply and have had a remarkably happy marriage.

So, light a candle for this much beloved brother of mine. He's a keeper!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Upside down rainy day

Rainy day after rainy day this week.
Winter solstice, dark evenings.
It doesn't feel like Christmas
Or Chanukah.
Everything seems upside-down.

Water everywhere, little lakes beside the sidewalks,
giant shower sprays as cars drive by.
Nothing for it but to plunge out into the wetness.
We'll dry off later in front of the fireplace.

Meanwhile, have you noticed recently how difficult it is to find a good looking pair of rubber boots???

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lola Love

Coming home to your wet kisses,
Yelps of delight, wiggling
Jumping, wagging, adoring body.
You are the passion in my day,
My little pal.
When we walk you keep an eye
On my every move, an ear
Always tuned in my direction.
Your focus on me is pure as crystal.
Sniffing, tasting, swinging your
Cute butt along the sidewalk.
Doggie of my heart
You give such joy
And ask so little in return.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Soul Banquet

Our neighborhood is definitely on the up-and-up. One of our local mega-stars, Sista Monica, has moved in just a block away, and last night she hosted a wonderful holiday party for her many friends. I was honored to be included with such a great group of people. For the last couple of weeks I've been admiring how she has decorated her place, with an eye-dazzling array of beautiful lights, both inside and out. I knew that she was in a celebrating mood, just looking over there! Sure enough, she planned a blow-out event that was so much fun, so full of heart and celebration. For starters, there was the menu - soul food, soul food, and more soul food. There was an endless supply of fried chicken, coming off the stove in batches every few minutes. There were collard greens in huge quantities, corn bread, coleslaw, biscuits, and a huge German chocolate cake from the Buttery. And more and more delicious things contributed by the guests. Yum! Monica's small house was full to capacity and then some. There was fabulous music playing throughout the evening, soul and blues and more. People were dancing everywhere, in the kitchen, the hallways, the bathroom, on the porch. Best of all, there was Monica herself, singing along with her astonishingly gorgeous voice. Because of her battle with a life-threatening cancer during the last few years, and her amazing recovery and healing, the celebration was all the more joyful. For those of you who have heard her perform, you know that Sista Monica's voice has a power that raises goosebumps and makes people stop in their tracks and listen up. For those of you who don't know her music, come on, get with it! She just released a new CD (Can't Keep a Good Woman Down) and gave each of us a copy of it last night. Go get your own, you won't be disappointed! Thank you Monica for a fabulous evening! I'm so glad you're my neighbor and, now, my friend! You are an amazing inspiration for us all.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Home Alone Too

Daniella and Zuma hit the road on Thursday to head up to Whidbey Island for the holidays. Here's a picture of them on the island a couple of winters ago - and so far, they report back that it is bitterly cold in the Pacific NW, but no snow. So I've been home alone with Lola, a very relaxing companion. I've been busy with a wide variety of little household chores - winterizing water pipes, cleaning out the fridge, reorganizing my art supplies. I took time this morning to go to the Farmer's Market, always a sensual delight. Here it Santa Cruz, it is in full winter mode, with huge pomegranates, holly and mistletoe, wreaths made of Australian protea flowers (stunning), free samples of hot mulled cider from our friends Annaliese and Mike (Malabar Trading Company), and a huge array of root vegetables, squashes, beets, celery root, parsnips, etc. There were many homemade jams and relishes, gourmet chocolate, cheeses, and fresh oysters on the half shell. Oh, and, don't panic, it's all organic! Yum!

It's about to rain, much needed after the summery weather we had throughout November and early December. My inclination is to curl up and read by the fire. I've got a couple of New Yorkers calling to me, and am nearly through The Historian, a fascinating tale that rambles all over eastern Europe. I wish I was rambling there myself, but I'm also very glad to be here. It's a balancing act to give myself "down time" when there are always so many things that I "should" work on. Just checking in from that little tightrope called "life"!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Blog is Backwards

Writing a blog has been a learning process for me. There probably is a way to do it differently, and most definitely I could have been smarter before just plunging in - but hey, at least I plunged in! Here's the thing: what you post first ends up on the bottom of the blog, and all the subsequent posts pile on top. This is logical and terrific for anyone posting on a daily basis. But for me, as a beginner, it reads a lot better to begin at the bottom of my blog and work your way up to the top. Who knew? I sure didn't understand that I couldn't go back in and rearrange it. And I started it as a longish letter, then broke it apart into posts. So for those of you who have a sense of going down the rabbit hole as you read my posts, yes you probably are doing that!

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Day in the Life...

I loved the relaxed quality of my days, post-work. I still get up pretty early (cannot break the habit), read the paper, do the crossword puzzle, walk the dogs, go to the gym or pool, then off to class. I give myself time to read, to draw, to see movies, to loaf around. I do some volunteer work. I see some friends. I watch the birds, talk to the plants, take long walks. My health has been terrific. I still struggle with feeling guilty for not doing something
but I’m getting better at allowing whatever I am doing to be valued, at least by me – and it is slowly working.

Poem: "idle thought" by Don Marquis from Archyology: the long lost tales of archy and mehitabel. © University Press of New England.

idle thought

paris september
fifth nineteen
twenty three
what i like
about this place
is that it is
such a nice
place to loaf in
and loafing
is the best thing
in life
nature shows
us that
a caterpillar
just eats and
loafs and sleeps
and after a while
without any effort
it turns into
a butterfly
with nothing to do
but flit around
and be beautiful
but consider
the industrious
tumble bug
the tumble bug
toils and plants
and sweats
and worries
pushing its burden
up hill forever
like sisyphus
and pretty soon
some one
comes along
and thinks how
vulgar and ugly
the thing is
and steps on it
and squashes it
and beauty
are their own
mehitabel the cat
is still missing

The Other Artist in our Home

Yes, I'm working on the alien notion that I may call myself an artist too! But the "REAL" artist, Daniella, is on a roll these days! She a constant source of inspiration and amazement. This woman cannot stop being an artist for even one minute. It oozes out of her pores. She sees the artistry in every big and little thing, and she expresses herself vividly, with her painting, her writing, her infectious laughter. She has a new and delicious BLOG, Encausticopolis, which has become a kind of sketchbook for her. Her art work is enjoying amazing success. She paints almost exclusively in encaustics (with pigmented beeswax) and is represented in a gallery in Carmel, one in Salem, Oregon, and just this week got an invitation to Palo Alto to talk about putting work in a gallery there. Her art is even selling from her website ( and people are asking for studio visits. So her life has gotten busy and very exciting. I am immensely proud of her and lucky to have her great energy in my every-day life! Even her socks and shoes are fabulous!

Moving Right Along

After being away all summer, we came back to Santa Cruz in September, and I immediately began taking a beginning drawing class. It has been great and I have certainly been learning a lot. Here are a couple of my drawings.
Charcoal sketch done in the classroom (above)
Another charcoal still life....
The perennial art-student problem - the fork in a glass of water....
An assignment where we had to work in the "cubist" style!

I just finished my "final project" and have been inspired to work from old family photographs, doing drawings of "the ancestors". This first one is my grandfather, in his car in 1906, with a lot of dead game birds, bounty from a hunting trip he and his friends made. (The size of this drawing is about 30" x 20".) My grandfather owned the West Indies Sugar Company and had sugar plantations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. He travelled back and forth between those islands and the family homes in Connecticut and in New York City. In his Dominican Republic home, he hired a governess from Spain to take care of the children when they were with him. My grandmother stayed behind. My grandmother was a lovely woman named Helen Akin. She was a Quaker, and I remember her as a hearty and dignified older woman with a very striking deep voice. She and my grandfather had four children, one of whom was my father.

In approximately 1917 or 1918 my grandfather began a love affair with Emilia, his children's Spanish governess. Eventually he divorced my grandmother and married her, a huge and devastating family scandal that made my father cry even when he talked about it as an old man. We knew Emilia as "Beth" when we were growing up. By then, my grandfather had died and we had two grandmothers. We children always loved being around Beth. She was a pistol with a lashing sense of humor, a dazzling intellectual capacity, and a withering manner of cutting people down to size. But she was always kind to us children. Typically she smoked a cigarette held in a long holder, and had a glass of whiskey and ice clinking in the other hand. For breakfast she took black coffee and burnt toast. My brothers and I speculated that she must be black inside, since her diet and her disposition both tended in that direction. She had the dark eyebrows, flashing black eyes, and wavy black hair.

One of my favorite stories, told by Beth, was about her grandmother. She, too, had amazingly thick and bushy eyebrows. She never appeared in public without first smearing them with vaseline to smooth them down. One evening an unexpected visitor dropped by her home - the village priest. This was in the days before there were electric lights. Beth's grandmother hurried into the bedroom to the washstand to apply the vaseline to her eyebrows. She was in the dark and did not notice that what she had really done was to liberally spread toothpaste onto her eyebrows instead. Apparently she created a sensational scene when she emerged to greet the guest!

Art Is Everywhere

In summer 2005, Daniella & I repaired to Whidbey Island (Washington) for 3 months. We rented our Santa Cruz home to a couple of actors from Shakespeare Santa Cruz, which worked out beautifully. We never met them, but they left our place in perfect condition. As many of you know, our summer was broken up by the many art shows in which Daniella participated – in Portland, Bellevue, Sausalito, and other places. We also went to the East Coast for my beloved niece, Amy’s wedding to her sweet Carson.

We had a sensational trip, with side-trips to Martha’s Vineyard (lots of my cousins), Cape Cod (friends), and the Hudson Valley (an art class for Daniella at R & F Paints, where she gets her encaustic supplies). Of course the time at Whidbey was delicious – such a restful and beautiful place to be. The dogs especially love the long walks on the nearly-empty beaches.

We made many new friends this year, artists from the Pacific NW, and so much of the summer was shared with them. We even had an "art camp" for several days where we and two other women artists taught each other new techniques and skills. Here we are, up before breakfast, beginning to paint!

Lin made an amazing triptych, in oils, looking out our windows at the lake.

Shane became a new "best pal". We were addicted together to Six Feet Under, and all cried together when it ended. It was always sad to say goodbye to Shane. Here she is, with Daniella, at the Port Townsend ferry.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Why Secret Garden?

When I was little, about 5 or 6, I was a voracious reader. The first real book I remember reading, and was encouraged to read, was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It had an enormous impact on me - the little orphan girl in the lonely countryside home. As in my own real life, there were secrets, sadness, unsympathetic adults, and a healing, hidden garden. Those images burned into my imagination and have stayed with me all these years, with a talismanic quality. Better yet, I learned the power of books. Reading has been one of my greatest lifelong sources of pleasure. I still prefer it to almost any other form of entertainment. Reading begets writing. Writing builds on memories and reaches for connection with others. I hope to connect with whomever reads this "blog" at the level of the heart and the mind. Here we go!


Lest you think I have disappeared into a black hole - O- or become an unrepentant couch potato, I am happy to report in to the contrary. Being retired is just about the best fun I’ve ever had, long term. How did I get so lucky, and why is everyone around me just a little green (with envy), hmmmm??

I’ve been taking art classes at Cabrillo College since January, and that opened up a whole new world of possibility. They have an excellent art department, and first-rate instructors. My first classes last spring were a beginning Color & Design class, as well as a Book Arts class. We learned to make and bind a variety of books, make decorative papers, and come up with artistic content to put into our books. Here are some little books I made, covered with paper I painted.
Making books is a great place to start as an artist, because you can use them for drawings, paintings, poetry, photographs, collage, journaling, or just about any other art form you make subsequently.

Also, in the early part of 2005, I got into an Improv class that combined writing with acting, and I actually performed two 10-15 minute solo pieces on stage. It was scary and exhilarating all at once – better than therapy, that's for sure. Where else can you get to perform the roles of yourself, your mother, your father, and Elvis - all in one action packed show??!!??