Archive | December 2013

Driving Miss Crazy


Why I do declare I’d be delighted to drive you to the DMV, Miss Daisy.

I had to take my Gran to the DMV to renew her license. She had to pass an eye test and a written exam.  To be honest, she doesn’t drive all that much — thank goodness — because she’s afraid to drive.

On the Monday before Christmas, I drove her two blocks to the eye doctor, who gave her a new Rx. Even with the new specs, 20/40 is the best she can do. It’s still within DMV regs though.

She crammed like crazy for the written, but on Friday, the day of her appointment, everything that could go wrong did. Beginning with the DMV computers for the entire state crashing right before we arrived.

In the end, the computers came back up and she passed the eye test but failed the written.

They’ll have to give her temporary license, good for 60 days, when we go back next Friday (because the DMV camera was crashed, still). If she doesn’t the test within those 60 days, her license will be cancelled.

Since she doesn’t actually doesn’t drive now, and hasn’t for a couple of years, I assume the license is more of an “I’m an independent adult still” status symbol.

She’s already said she wouldn’t renew it again in 4 years, when she’s almost 90. So at some level, she knows it’s ridiculous to put energy into hanging on to something she doesn’t use or want anyway.

I’ve realised that too.  It’s why I re-prioritized a few things this week. There’s only so much time and money. I want to spend both on things I really care about and people who are meaningful to me.

3 (not so) wise men and 5 golden (red her-)rings


Lord Peter (Death Bredon) Wimsey.

Today is Christmas Eve. I was going to go skiing, but we’ve had no snow this year. A tragedy, as I was looking forward to finding a ski-lodge fling. But to be honest, fate, like the weather, has been fickle of late and I’m not sure things would have worked out.

The very nice doctor I met at the farmer’s market, eventually saw me my gran’s Depends in a bag in the trunk when I went to stow my purchases — and that was that.  When I picked out my tree, I met a great guy, who tripped on the long trail of twine used to tie trees to car roofs. He ended up being taken to the hospital with a broken nose. And finally, there was the corporate research librarian I met at a friend’s party. Perfect in every way, my friend said. Except she didn’t know his main interest in life was his graphic novel collection, followed by the fact he was a juggalo.

Needless to say, I’m spending today decorating my tree and listening to carols, to be followed by watching Holiday Inn, and later on this evening I’ll be curled up by the fire, sipping madeira, and finishing Dorothy Sayers 1931 book Five Red Herrings, which is about 3 of my favorite things: Galloway, Scotland, painters, and murder.

It’s fun to read a book about things one is highly familiar with and catch all the little details that others (especially modern day readers) will normally miss.  I suppose it is strange to say I’m familiar with 1930’s painting techniques, but there it is, I am. In fact, if you pop over to my site, you’ll see it’s true.

I just finished re-making a book called Painting A Portrait by de Lazslo the work of Britain’s most famous portrait painter in the 1930’s, Philip de Laszlo. There’s  a free downloadable PDF of both the original work and the new book. For the new version, I completely reset it and added copious color pictures and notes to help modern artists understand his then common technique.

I’m not far in to Sayers’ work as yet, but I’m already wondering, “where is the dead man’s tube of blanc d’argent or zinc white?” It’s not on the list of paints Wimsey finds at the site of the accident/murder, which leads me to believe it isn’t the site of the murder. No one can paint without white. It’s the one color one must have no matter what subject matter is being painted or what style one paints in.

Also, copal medium was found at the scene. It’s used in painting, but also in varnishing. Could it be that the still-wet artwork on the easel by the dead Campbell was simply varnished by the murder to appear wet, rather than painted at the scene to imply the alla prima painter was alive? We shall see.

My money is the on the wife of one of the other artists, so far. But I’ll know the truth by Christmas.

And for those of you following the blog, yes, Der did complete his house (a Christmas miracle!). It took many friends, favors, neighbors, work contacts, my parents, and a massive “Winter Solstice Party” that ran from Friday night to Sunday night with “unlimited beer and food.” But it happened.

His parents will be stunned. I know I was! I guess that good luck Parisian door knocker I had copied by a metal artisan friend really did the trick.*


*The rooster is a symbol of resurrection, and exactly what Der’s house stood in need of!

Fifth Grade Flashback


Standing in line at the pet store, I was behind a rather quirky, odd-looking girl with a distinctive “Marge Simpson” voice. She seemed kind and friendly.

She was returning a bunch of things, so she could buy reptile lamps and a bearded dragon. She was talking incessantly, but with cheer, and seemed intent on her transaction.

I knew that I knew her voice, but I couldn’t place her face or her name or even where we had met. As her “return” dragged on, I went to another checkout without ever uttering the words “I think I know you.”

A few minutes later, as I was getting into my car, I remembered. She was the oldest daughter of my beloved fifth grade teacher.

When they would go on vacations, I would pet sit for them. She and her daughters had moved away, to So Cal, a year later. And that was the last I knew of them.

The daughter was exactly the same in every respect, except older. It made me wonder, am I still the same? And that thought made me shudder.

Definitely in 2014, I need to change.


Accusations Fly, but I prefer to walk


The heat in Pic’s offices was non existent. So I went home and brought back a heat dish and my fingerless mittens. I  assumed Pic was fighting with the building manager (BM). But I mentioned it to him, just in case.

The BM was called. He turned up at 5.30, hoping everyone was gone, but was met by some cold stragglers, including myself.  I won’t say things got ugly but . . . .

First he discoursed about the heat, stating that “no one in 201 had complained” and since they were adjoining and shared our HVAC unit, the implication was that we must be the problem.

To which the office manager replied, “Ok, we’ll just bring in space heaters but your electric bill will go through the roof.” (The rent is all inclusive.)

And at that point, the BM admitted he shuts off the building’s HVAC, remotely, between 6 pm and 7 am every night, in order to keep his costs down.

“However,”  he opined,  “the individual timer for your offices could be broken.” Since no one had rented the office in almost 2 years, he just assumed it still functioned.

He promised to have someone look at it the following day.

Then, and here’s where it gets weird, the BM accused Pic’s office workers of  . . . let’s call it unbecoming conduct.

The previous day, two of Pic’s male workers walked into the men’s room to find upon a toilet lid a BM (not a building manager). They had immediately reported this discovery to Pic’s office manager, but she had not reported it to the BM.

Nevertheless, apparently someone, perhaps the building’s cleaning crew, did.

The BM looked at us (all women) and said: “You’re the only new tenants.” In  his mind, since the problem was new, and Pic’s tenancy was new, it must therefore follow that some male at Pic’s office was at fault.

Pic had hired one young man the day “it” happened.  New Guy has worked for him before, twice, and has always been a model employee.

I suppose the BM could accuse the New Guy, since he’s the newest. However, New Guy is the only young, male, African-American in the entire building. So, I’m guessing he won’t.

I get that it’s a locked bathroom and “the offender” had to be someone with a key.

But, really, isn’t the likely explanation that a male worker from another office had an accident, didn’t have the wherewithal needed to clean it up, but was too embarrassed to call the BM about the situation?

Or if you want to reach for “hostile intent,” why not assume one of your white male tenants didn’t like the addition of an African-American male to the building. And I say this because this exact same thing happened previously, under almost the same circumstances.

A man of color was hired and that very same day . . . .

Of course, given Pic’s past history with the BM, I’m actually surprised it took this long for relations to deteriorate. It’s been 6 weeks since Pic moved into the building.

And with 5 months to go, I imagine things will be ridiculously bad by the end.

To be honest, Bad Me can’t wait to see just how bad it goes. And then write about it. That is, of course, if I don’t walk out before then.


Buddhist Gifts


I was over at my gran’s house the other day and she asked me to go check on her kindly neighbor “St Nickolas” down the street who had recently broken his ankle rock climbing.

St Nick is British but he speaks good German too, so he gets on well with my gran. He’s probably in his 60s, but he’s in better shape than me because he does a lot of mountaineering.

Once he lead a group, including myself, up a local mountain — which I confess is not all that high.  A few people die on the mountain every year because of stupidity. They try to climb the face and fall off or are washed away by a sudden rush of water during a storm. So it’s good to have an experienced guide.

I couldn’t even make it up the bottom third. I alone, embarrassingly, had to turn back and go home. But I didn’t feel too bad because I cooked dinner while waiting for everyone else to return. And as it happened, although the day had been clear and sunny,  once I left  the group it began to cloud up.  Those who reached the summit found it totally socked in and came home crushed.

At any rate, St Nick was doing well. We talked about this and that. I skimmed  his pool of leaves then  he made some chai as I tidied his kitchen. I told him about my various stresses: Piccolo, book deadlines, my gran’s screwed up medical bills, Der, moving, and . . . . . and then I saw his mala lying on a table.

It’s wood, but the rich red-gold color of  the wood, the silky texture, the inner gleam, the soft scent . . . . Oh my!

Being a total magpie, I went straight to it and began to sing its praises. St Nick smiled and admitted he had another rosewood mala just like it. He’d bought a twin in case his ever broke, but it was so well made it never had.

He said he’d give me the extra one and walked away, leaving me to fondle his mala shamelessly. Eventually he returned with a blue silk brocade sack. I opened it with glee, only to find a rough, dull strand of clunky beads.

“The mala is identical, I assure you,” he said, flopping down.  “They’re the finest quality natural heartwood.”

My expression was skeptical to  say the least.

“But you’ll  have to add a million mantra repetitions to develop a patina of the same luster,” he continued, putting a splash of brandy in his hot buttered chai.

I frowned slightly.

“At 108 a day, it should only take you 25 years or so.” He took a sip of his tea and tried not to laugh.

I took the beads anyway.

After all, if his mala had really started out the same as mine, decades ago, this truly was a gift from a saint.

Helpful Holiday Hints from a Former Wassail Queen

Wassail Queen

Excellence does not require perfection.

Henry James

Thank goodness, because last year I’m pretty sure I humiliated myself in the cider orchard.

Wassailing apple trees is not as easy as one might imagine. And of course, hard cider + guns + bon fires . . . . ahem.


Wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon and literally means ‘be of good health’. In some cider making areas, there saw the emergence of the child ‘Wassail Queen’. The Wassail Queen had an important part to play in the custom of ‘Apple Wassailing’.

After dark, on Old Twelfth Night (January 17th) she would be led out in torch procession to the cider orchard where it was her duty to knock on the trunk of the oldest apple tree, known as the ‘Apple Tree Man’, and order him to ‘awake!’

She would be lifted up to place toast or cake that had been soaked in cider, in the forks of the branches, while other revellers would pour cider around its roots and over its branches, all to the sound of beating pots and pans and the blowing of horns.

Shot guns would then be fired up through the branches and a traditional Wassailing song would be sung by everyone present. Afterwards there would be dancing and festivities. The tradition of Wassailing was done so as to ensure good luck and good health and the hope of a good apple crop in the coming year.

Word to the wise, never let the “Wassail Queen” hit the hard cider based wassail before the ceremony.

The Big Mistake

Sure, maybe someday it'll look like this.

Sure, maybe someday it’ll look like this.

Since I don’t do holidays anymore,  to my parents’ horror, I readily accepted Der’s timely invite which arrived FedEx and contained a RT ticket to Vancouver and a card that read “Fancy a dirty weekend?” Now I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking that too, which is why I packed accordingly.

One Weds I checked in my suitcase full of frilly things. I was filled with joy because Canadians had their Thanksgiving in October. It would be a totally turkey-free guilt-free weekend. Then, just as I was about to board the plane, he sent a text “I think I have made a big mistake. I must talk to you.”

Not really the text I was hoping for, especially as they were calling my row called. I could have replied, but I turned off my phone instead.  All through the flight I wondered, was the big mistake inviting me?  Maybe it was choosing Vancouver. Maybe it was the business. Maybe the location of new offices. His recently hired a personal assistant. The car he’d just leased. The house he’d purchased. His immigration status. . . . .

When I arrived, he seemed very happy to see me. He didn’t say anything about the text. Maybe it had been sent to me by  mistake?

The moustache wasn’t a mistake, it was for Movember. He’d leased a new sedan, or so I’d thought till I saw the lime green Ford pick up. Maybe he’d had an accident? No, the truck was temporary rental for work.

We went to his office building in a place called Gastown. I don’t know much about Vancouver, but he assured me it was a great place. So we went up to his office, which had been completed on time and under budget and looked great.

I  dropped my bags, and he had to take some calls, so I met Morgan before we went to lunch. The new PA definitely wasn’t a big mistake. We went to lunch and afterwards he  took me over to a spa. I had a lovely relaxing afternoon, while he worked. Then I went back to his office and we went home to his place.

It’s what they call a Heritage House, which means it’s old. In this case 1912-ish, so a Craftsmen-type house. Housing in Vancouver is expensive, which he knew going in, but I never asked the final price he’d paid. He always said he’d paid rock bottom for it. But Morgan confided he’d purchased in Vancouver’s “most exclusive neighborhood.” So I assumed, something in the lower 7 figures.

He’d told me he was very pleased with the house. But when we reached the door, he set down the bags and looked at me. Silence. “It’s not quite finished. I had some unexepected expenses after I began renovations.” “Oh? Such as?” “Once they opened up the kitchen,  . . . .”

Long story, shortened, what started out as a simple kitchen remodel turned into replacing plumbing, electrical, hvac, windows, a support beam, insulation, and weeping tiles, with mold and abestos removal, and chimney repair.

Then he opened the door and walked in  and turned on the hall lamps. “Nice wood floors.” I said, And they were. “Mmm, they are. But they need refinishing.” There was not much else to comment upon as the house was backed to the studs, except where there was spray insulation. “Very toasty.” “It is now.”

The kitchen was a fridge, a gerry-rigged farm sink, and a table with 2 chairs. “Great fridge.” “Yes, it was on mark down.” There was no other furniture downstairs. Upstairs, there was a futon bed, a floor lamp, and a very nice amoir his parents had sent as a house warming present.

I won’t tell you about the “master bath,” in this supposedly 6 bed, 5 bath house. Suffice it to say, I could see all the bathrooms from the hall, through all the bedroom. I didn’t see anything functional. He looked at me sheepishly and confessed to having been showering at his gym and using a toilet in the basement that hadn’t been gutted, yet.

“So, what’s the big mistake?” I asked, sitting down on the futon. But I had a good idea I knew it was was. He’d bought a house that needed a once in a century renovation.

“There’s note enough to finish the house,” he admitted. “And my family is coming for Christmas. They’ve already bought tickets.”

“What buget have you left?” I asked. And he told me. He was right.

My dad used to flip houses in his youth, before flipping was a word. We all used to help. I can tile, install plumbing, hang drywall. I’m no expert, but I know that to reno large historic house with a great deal of “must be preserved” character takes months.

There’s a lot you can do on a shoe string, but I was out of my depth and told him so. We ordered take away and spent the evening going through his pre-disaster reno plans, redoing his budget (numerous times, leaving out unnecessary parts of the house), and finally discussing the inevitability of a mortgage (he’d bought the house outright, so that was an option). We ended by go to the gym.

We rose early in the morning and spent Thanksgiving  at hardware stores,  lumber yards, and building supply shops. In the afternoon, I taught him how to hang drywall. Dirty weekend indeed. But still not my worst  Thanksgiving ever and we were together, doing something interesting, so it was fun.

About 3 pm, Morgan called. He had to go into work, so I just kept at hanging. About 5 pm, there’s a knock on the door. It’s my parents. Der had called my father, from the gym, the previous evening. He’d asked him to come up to “see the damage.” Da was pretty impressed. He’d not seen a home so ruined since his last trip to Wales. I believe mum used the word “desperate” repeatedly.

When Der returned, we went out to dinner. We went over the budget and the plans again. My father agreed it would be “spectacular” when complete and it’d probably take less than 10% of the purchase price. My mother shook her head and went out to peruse the terrace view. On Black Friday Der applied for a home improvement loan and we went over the border to buy more (cheaper) building supplies.

In the end, by Sunday, with some help from a few of his friends, we had a lot of the drywall up (though now where near finished), and one could see an end in sight. The kitchen, several baths, and all the items finishing a house required were on order. If things stay on track, per my mother’s excel sheet, the house could be finished Christmas Eve.

Realistically, a Christmas finish would be a miracle, even with my folks promise to help. Knowing my da though, that promise means Der’s uncle will be getting a call. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Der’s family suddenly decided on landing in Vancouver only to travel to Banff for skiing without ever seeing the big mistake. At least until Easter.