Smelling the Roses


“When are they due?” I texted, knowing exactly what the answer would be.

“Today,” he texted back.

I had tons of baby pictures, but we hadn’t snapped many pic of Thing1 or Thing2 since Christmas and none that were remotely yearbook-worthy. So that’s how the Big Guy, Thing1 & 2 and I found ourselves packed into my Jetta, zipping toward the mall portrait studio after I got done with work.

The ball-drop was my fault. I had messaged a friend about senior portraits a few weeks earlier and then forgotten about it when round 3 of this year’s flu started up. Thing2’s classroom has been a petrie dish that would make a bacteriologist green with envy and gangrene, repeatedly recycling flu and strep that caught Thing1 in an especially vicious spin of the cycle.

Thing1, understandably, has had to work to remind himself of the good things that have happened to him this year — getting into most of the schools he applied to, a job he loves with people he likes, and miraculously managing to be in the hospital mainly on days he’s not scheduled.

Still, he’s been out of school a lot. Normal bodily functions require planning. A fitness buff, he struggles to remember the healthy version of himself, and it has definitely affected his mental health.

“I just wish he’d get a break,” the Big Guy says every so often.

The entire family has learned that breaks are rare, brief and never scheduled. So, even though it was our first family outing in months that didn’t include a hospital, none of us was ready to let our guard down Saturday night as we sped toward the mall for the last minute appointment I’d booked.

The Big Guy, however, quickly started doing what dads do best, using his special talent for turning innocuous road signs into the finest eighth grade humor, and Thing1 and Thing2 were, as always, an appreciative audience. They segued into fart jokes, and we all started bawling. I focused on trying to drive as I surrendered any pretense of trying to minimize the inappropriate humor.

The shenanigans ceased only briefly as we walked through the department store to the portrait studio, but as soon as Thing1 and then Thing2 got in front of the camera, the Big Guy went to work with his Family Guy impressions ensuring that the two of them smiled for every shot.

They smiled for their individual sessions and then together with Thing2 putting Thing1 in a headlock or grinning up at him as if to say, “I’m willing to be the bratty brother the whole way home if it would get a laugh.”

And in every shot, I can see them completely forgetting their troubles. The only thought they seem to be sharing, as every kid does at least once, is how embarrassing parents can be in public.

Trouble started back up for Thing1 the next morning as his body refused to respond to medication and fart jokes.

We had known the fun would be short, but at least for a few hours on Saturday night, we had been reminded of an important truth which was the only unspoken thing that night. You have to take the bad, but when breaks come your way with a bit of good, you positively need to enjoy them — even if someone has to tell a fart joke to get you started — because you don’t know when they’ll come around again.

Everybody’s a Critic

Paw Print at Dawn by Jim-Bob Barlow

I was trying to paint last night but Jim-Bob, our orange tabby making a life as a reformed barn cat, decided my time could be better spent. He hopped up on my lap and then crawled up to my neck for insistent snuggle.

“No, kitty,” I said after giving a few scratches and setting them down on the floor.

“I have needs,“ he seemed to purr at me or as he jumped up between the brush bucket and the fish tank, worming his way back onto my lap. He put a paw on the painting table, and I set him down again.

 Katie-the-wonder-dog barked at the door to let me know she was ready to come in, and I pushed the table away from me and padded out to the mudroom to let her in. Jim-Bob, curiously, did not follow, and I should’ve known something was up.

When Katie and I got back to my studio/office, Bob trotted out past us with a swish of his tail, leaving behind only a paw print of disapproval on the still wet painting.

Thing2 has just fallen asleep in the room across the hall so I kept my curses quiet, swearing that was the last that cat would ever see of the inside of my studio. He knew better, however, waiting less than five minutes to nudge open the door with a butt of his head. And as a sucker with a severe case of Stockholm syndrome, when he threaded himself between my legs, I put down my brush and decided to tackle his boundary issues another night.

Some nights in the studio are as much about processing as they are about product.  

That Mom just isn’t Right


At the beginning of the summer thing one and I traded spaces. He wanted privacy in the attic office/guest room (translation: at least one story between him and T2),  I wanted a workspace with a window downstairs,  and T2 wanted me close enough closer to him.  

So, for the second time this year, I relocated my desk and printer to a new home. The first time I moved them out of a tiny windowless room with a small skylight whose main selling feature was a two walls  of books.  now I know somethings not right in my head, because it took less than two months before I decided I’d rather be surrounded by the books and paintings then look out the window.

Now I know somethings not right in my head, because it took less than two months before I decided I’d rather be surrounded by the books and paintings then look out the window.

And as John Lennon might’ve said if he had been a nerdy hermit, you might say I’m a bit goofy, but I can’t believe I’m the only one. I hope someday you’ll join me (in your own little cave, of course) and the world will unwind with a few books or even just one.

Something for Nothing

I had paid my booth fee for the summer so it was free to setup my tent with my notecards at the summer market yesterday.

There were a few bigger events in the area so our corner of Vermont was quiet for this stage of the summer tourist season. It wasn’t the most profitable morning, but as I sat across the street from the Episcopal church in Arlington, I was sure I could see the leaves of the maple tree in front of the churchyard cemetery changing color.

It marked the first official day of autumn for me — an unexpected and pleasant little bit of something that cost absolutely nothing.

Here and Now

high water, 5×7

We’re vacationing this week in southwestern Michigan along the great lake. I had big dreams of spending the week painting the water and the weather which never fail to inspire. 
Thing2, however, was also inspired. The absence of glowing screens combined with an abundance of immediate and extended family helped Thing2 rediscover the joy of corralling parents and grandparents into card games and rounds of Monopoly highlighted by rules he makes up as he goes along.
When we finally got down to the beach, I was happy just to soak up the surroundings. I did a few quick studies and photos of things that may become paintings later. I’m starting to think, though, that the most important part of painting the landscape may be actually experiencing it — and the rest of life — while you’re in it. 

Thing2 seems to agree.