Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Curmudgeon in my neighborhood: A Tribute.

The curmudgeon in my neighborhood died a few months ago. We all live in and around people like him, you know the type.

His lawn was a thick, green carpet which he watched over with diligence and whoa be to the neighbor, child or dog who left a footprint upon it. His shrubs, flowers and trees were fertilized, deadheaded and trimmed into perfect shapes. Any stray or wandering limbs, slightly wilted flowers or brownish leaves were nipped immediately. His roof was clean and clear of any leaves or moss at all times. His windows were washed professionally twice yearly. His garage was neat, organized and the floor free of any grease or oil stains and the only thing that moved in and out were his nicely washed cars.

He abhorred weeds, tall grass and loud music. He tolerated children as long as they stayed on the sidewalk, talked respectfully and kept their bikes on the street. If, however, they got too creative with sidewalk chalk, their mothers got called immediately. He would inform the mother how the street or sidewalk was public property and not a private canvas for their children. And as public property, writing or painting on it was considered vandalism by law according to city ordinance. He recommended removal with a hose as soon as possible, so that he could enjoy his picnic without having to look at graffiti (which was, by the way, an accurate American flag with the words, “Happy 4th of July”) from his backyard patio.

Neighbors who did not mow, water or fertilize their lawns found him walking by with information for them on lawn care. Trees that overlapped his fence got pruned. Neighbors whose blueberry bushes were bursting with berries and didn’t have time to pick them, didn’t have to worry, their crop got harvested for them. He loved fresh blueberry muffins. If you had a well-trained, well behaved dog on a leash, he would tell you so and sometimes, even pet your dog. Neighbors whose dogs bark too long or too loud heard about it.

Sometimes, he made the neighbors mad. He made my kids mad. He made me mad.

I miss him.

I know, I didn’t ever think I would, but I do. He might have been crabby and critical sometimes, but I always knew if I had an emergency, he’d be right there. When we were out of town, I knew he was keeping an eye on my house. And when my little boy and girl turned into teenagers, I knew if they managed to sneak something passed me, he’d catch it and let me know.

I knew he’d died, nobody had to tell me. I saw the signs. One day all the blinds were pulled up in the kitchen and living room, he never did that. He only pulled open one blind at a time, throughout the day, depending on the sun and the time of year. Then his lawn had tiny brown spots, his shrub had one branch untrimmed and a few tiny weeds popped out of his immaculate beds.

I’m sad. Because now, when I leave my house, I know he’s not watching. When I walk my dog passed his house, I don’t see him at his kitchen window doing the dishes. I realize now, that it was comforting to know that someone was on the lookout on my street. Someone cared enough to keep the peace and order.

As the years went by, he got more tolerant of bikes, trikes, hockey pucks and sidewalk chalk. He noticed when my dog died and told me, she was a good dog. She was well-trained and he was glad to see I was training my new puppy diligently. When we finally replaced our brown front lawn with new landscaping, he came over to compliment us.

Now there are big brown spots on his lawn. New people have moved in and the screen door is unlatched. He’d be very upset, I know. Yes, he was an old-fashioned, conservative curmudgeon, but he was my neighborhood curmudgeon. And I miss him.

Perhaps, every neighborhood needs a curmudgeon. Because without one, someone important really is missing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Kindergarten memories.

It all came back to me as I watched one of the little ones in my neighborhood go off to kindergarten. She was excited about her new classroom, teacher, and taking her first school bus ride all by herself. I watched her bounce off the bus in her bright pink dress and matching backpack. Her mom was beaming with pride at her ‘big’ girl. Looking at them brought back all those kindergarten memories.

I remember it was a huge room with a carpeted area for story time. Round tables with wooden chairs just my size. A hook for my coat with my name on it. One corner was filled with building blocks and another with a small stove, refrigerator and sink for playtime. There was a row of easels with fresh, white paper, brushes and colorful cups of paint. Across the room, were huge glass windows that looked out on the playground with a big grass field, swings, slides and merry-go-rounds. I walked into the room on my first day in my new corduroy jumper and white cotton blouse with the Peter Pan collar and my black velveteen saddle shoes. I didn’t cling or cry. The minute I walked in, I felt right at home. My favorite area was the easels. I just loved the smell of those poster paints, the feel of the paint sliding from brush to paper and the bright rainbow colors.

I remember when my daughter and son went to kindergarten, it was wonderful to see them dash into the colorful, fun-filled room excited to learn and explore. And it was a hard to let them go into the new world of school where I couldn’t be there to protect them. My daughter remembers that the room felt friendly, with little cubbies, a bathroom and a blackboard with the alphabet across the top and the song, ‘Number Rock’. It was the first time she was asked to sing in front of anyone other than family and she loved it. My son loved the blocks, lego table and new computer. I remember my son’s bright, apple green, high top shoes and my daughter’s pink and purple dress. They were both so excited and proud. So was I.

I’m still proud of them both, even though they’re out of school and college graduates, now. My daughter is married and my son has made the move away from home into his own apartment. They are intelligent, creative, loving and responsible people. I like to think I had a little to do with that, but I know that many people along the way have helped in many ways. I also know that kindergarten played a big part, for them, for me, maybe for all of us.

There we all learned to listen, share, cooperate and create. We all learned about letters and numbers and shapes. My daughter learned that she was a good singer and now teaches voice and piano. My son learned he was good at computers and uses those skills every day. I learned to love books. I learned to mix colors to create more colors. And as I remember the smell of those thick, gooey poster paints, time slides backwards to that cheerful, fun-filled classroom.

Ah, kindergarten memories, doesn’t it bring out the little kid in all of us?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What to do with too many tomatoes? Tomato Cobbler.

Thanks to the last 4 weeks of sunny, hot weather, I have an unexpected, bumper crop of tomatoes. I’m used to having just enough delicious, fresh tomatoes to sprinkle on my salads. This year, I have more than enough and am faced with a new creative challenge. How to enjoy the abundant harvest of plump, ripe juicy fruit?

Somewhere, I heard the words, ‘tomato cobbler’ and I thought what a wonderful idea. I didn’t have a recipe but that didn’t stop me. I’ve made many peach and blueberry cobblers, so I knew all I had to do was use the same idea and make this one savory instead of sweet.

Here’s what I did. Slice up the fresh tomatoes in ½” slices and layer in an 8x8 inch square baking dish. Cut up 6-7 small, fresh mozzarella balls and place over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the top with two cloves of minced garlic, sea salt, pepper, fresh basil and drizzle a little olive oil. Mix up flour, butter, salt, baking powder, add ½ cup of buttermilk and mix with a fork. Spoon the biscuit mixture evenly over the top of the tomatoes. Then grate Parmesan cheese over the topping. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Let cool before serving.

I served it as a side dish with grilled chicken breasts. But it would be equally good with fish, beef or pork. And I think, it would make a wonderful potluck dish, too. It was delicious!

Monday, September 12, 2011

29 years later: I still do.

Song for Susan by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Michael had two of his friends play it to me at our wedding. 29 years later, it still brings a smile to my face.

It’s my wedding anniversary today. Twenty nine years ago, this afternoon, I said, “I do.” Michael said, “I do”, too. I’d never been married before, so I was embarking on a new journey and I was scared. Michael had been through the whole wedding experience before, so I thought he’d be very relaxed and calm. But when he said his promises to me, I saw the deep love in his glistening eyes. And I knew then, that this man loved me and needed me as much as I loved and needed him. This was a big step and a new journey for both of us. I also knew deep, deep down that we were going to make it together.

And we have, indeed, made it through together. As good friends, teammates, parents, and lovers, still, we’ve been there for each other through 29 years of career and life changes. We’ve packed up and moved and built two homes. Raised two children from cribs to colleges to their own careers. Painted rooms, houses and canvases. Remodeled bathrooms and bedrooms. Paid off cars and loans. Learned to bargain, budget, save and, now, occasionally spend a little on ourselves.

After our daughter was born and I wanted to stay home with her, Michael supported my career choice even when friends didn't. When I started back to school taking art classes, painting and sculpting, Michael was there building counters, shelves and rolling carts for my clay, colors and brushes. When he started building RC model planes, I helped him set up a space to work, gave him art bins to hold his tools and bought him gift certificates to the hobby shop. When I wanted to show my art work and teach but doubted my abilities, he was right there telling me I could do it. And I did. When he wanted to take flying lessons after years of wanting to be a pilot, I told him he could do it. And he did. When job and life changes shook us both to the core, we hung on, held out and gave each other hope and encouragement.

A few weeks ago, when our daughter got married, we worked as a team on the details and we walked her down the aisle, together. After watching our daughter say, “I do”, we danced at a wedding once again, in each other’s arms.

Today, on our 29th wedding anniversary, I say, "Michael, I still do."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Art is my lifeline.

"Summer" (screening sculpture with Jasmine growing out of the top)

My life has taken many twists and turns giving me both exhilarating surprises and heart wrenching blows. But the one thing that’s been a constant through it all is my art.

Ever since I could hold a pencil or crayon, or (oops) even my mother’s lipstick, I’ve been driven to make marks, whether it’s commas or colors. It’s who I am. Even if I wasn’t always sure or encouraged, I was always making something. I’ve taken classes, learned from others or taught myself a wide variety of arts: hand embroidery, crochet, knitting, sewing, beading, jewelry making, fabric painting, watercolor, pastels, oil and acrylic painting, wheel and hand building in clay, life drawing, creating writing classes, journalism for print and broadcast, advertising copy, newsletters, poems, short stories, interviews and podcasts.
New clay cup (picture by Chris Curren)

Even though my art has changed over the years and continues to evolve, my passion, desire and vision have remained a constant.

When I was afraid and laying on a table waiting for an x-ray, I looked up and saw faces in the lines of the ceiling tiles. When I was happy and sitting in front of a beautiful ocean sunset, I saw cadmium red, vermillion and hansa yellow melting into a Prussian blue sea. When I wander around my neighborhood, I hear snippets of conversations that form into dialogues or short stories. When I do an interview, I am inspired by others brave, creative journeys.
Demonstrating at Art In The Pearl (picture by M. Turner)

Now, with my daughter newly married with a new life and my son soon out on his own, my house is very quiet. I am happy and proud and nostalgic and a little sad. After spending a big part of my life, on the lives of my children, I wonder what’s next in my life.
Raku class (picture by Chris Curren)

Then, I sigh, feeling a smile form through the tears. And I know. All I have to do is grab a hold of that clay, gather up those colors, pick up a few fallen leaves on my walk, listen to the whispers on the wind, and type on my laptop. My life question is answered: art. I reach out and find that although many elements of my life have changed, my lifeline has not.