Sep 29, 2009

Puppy Paranoia

It's official.  Belle is pregnant.  Let the rejoicing being!  Soon to be replaced by terror!

We've bypassed the troubles of the last attempt at the big PG by a bunch of antibiotics when the grand event occurred, lots of prayer-wheel spinning and holding of breath.  Now she's just like a pregnant woman in her third trimester:* she's bloated, irritable, and eats anything and everything that gets within a few feet of her long and very agile nose.

The test made it official today at the vet's office but we still don't really know how many little rug rats she's carrying around in there.  Every time any of us try to palpate her belly she sucks it in like a failed dieter at the doctor's office and the pups end up sliding into her chest cavity, well out of counting reach.  I'm not horrifically worried, honest.  I feel about this pregnancy the same way I felt when my daughter was in utero: all I want is that the little ones be healthy.  I don't care how many or what sex or what colours, I just want a healthy batch of little ones.  In my daughter's case, though, I KNEW it was just one pup in there.  In Belle's case it could easily be up to a dozen or more.  In her 'family' there are bitches who have whelped litters of FIFTEEN.

Oh please don't let it be fifteen.

I'm thinking about setting up a pool.  The litter is due somewhere around the last week of October, a few days before Hallo'een for certain.  We've already decided on a Hallo'een litter name, and have compiled long lists of names for individual pups.  There's even several VIPs in the Borzoi world who have dibs, which I have to say is awfully flattering.  The thing being, there's not fifteen of them waiting in line!  So me, what I'm thinking about doing is setting up a pool: guess how many pups there will be, and the birthday.  Get it right and you get a puppy.  Heck, get it CLOSE and you get a puppy.  *lol*

Okay, so not really.  I'd be crucified if I gave away a pup, but I'm wondering if maybe after the dozenth pup makes its way into the world, damp and squealing and smelling vaguely funny we might be thinking about giving away one or two at bargain basement prices.

Honest, I'm excited about it.  I watch Sheba and Remy run and play in the backyard, powerful and elegant and quite frankly goofy as hell sometime.  That's part of the fun, too.  Watching them soar around the back yard like rockets then just as suddenly stopping to try and snap a fly out of the air to eat.  Yes, eat.  I'm just wondering what it's going to be like when there's a whole giant pack of them.  Like fifteen.  Oh my headache just got worse.

It really is exciting, though.  Knowing that she's growing them in there.  Each one a potential Field Champion.  Each one a potential Best of Show winnner.  Each one potentially an 80 pound lapdog, like Remy and Sheba both.  Like I said, goofy.

Sheba even smiles.  It's something that dogs in her family do.  Smiling is an ancient throwback to baring your teeth at someone or something to make them back off.  We use it now as a social connection.  Well, Sheba has made the connection somehow--she smiles at people.  She'll curl her lips up in the most frightening manner, as though she were snarling but no sound comes out except for some soft snorting, her tail wags in big circles, her head goes sideways and she just radiates happiness.  She's gotten to where I can make her smile for me.  I simply make a big, gruesome smile at her, make some gentle snorting noises and she'll smile right back, as happy as she can be.  Then she'll try to jump up and put her front paws on my shoulders (not hard for her these days) and kiss me. 

It makes me wonder what this new batch is going to be like.  I cannot WAIT!  Just...please, not too many, okay?
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*  An interesting fact--a dog's pregnancy runs about three times as fast as a human's, so now that she's passed her first month she's reached the equivalent of her first trimester.  She's starting to get swollen ankles and crave strange things to eat, like soap.  Honest.  Well okay, not the ankles.

Sep 25, 2009

A Message From The Arkansas Dept. of Tourism

Moving to Arkansas?  Welcome, and make yourself at home!  There's something we'd like to give you!

When moving to Arkansas to become a new resident, we like to issue each of our new rural homeowners a few starter Arkansan gifts.  When you settle into your new home, you'll receive:

A mid-40's coupe, non-functional, to place in your front yard.  This object can also be put up for sale, to fulfill the main requirement of having at least one item in your front yard for sale.  Preferred sale items are fresh produce, vintage automobiles, tractors, or slag glass.

An 1800's era item of agricultural equipment, also non-functional.  This is to be used as side-yard decoration, main focal point of your yard, or to tie your dog to.

One dog, indeterminate breed.

A dilapidated farm building, usually a barn but we reserve the right to substitute. Some substitutions include smoke houses, pump houses, or sheds.  All will exhibit a slight lean, and be just barely unusable but also unrepairable.  Your choice to let it become overgrown or kept clean, "because I'm gonna fix it up one day soon."

If you are moving into one of our two major cities (population 500+) then the above will be negated in favor of a mid 90's truck in at least two paint schemes and a single-axle trailer which you will be required to keep full of agricultural products, ie hay, a lawn mower or a farm animal.

We're pleased you decided to move to Arkansas!  Us all here at the Tourism Bureau want to make you feel as comfortable as possible, and making you fit in will go a long ways to helping you feel like one of us good 'ole boys.  And remember, ya'll come back now, y'hear?

Sep 24, 2009

Wedding Bells and Twisty Roads

Okay, so here I sit in a hotel named for a Swiss mountain of some repute listening to what sounds like a near-constant stream of Harley Fergusson motorcycles passing in very low gear, getting ready to slip into a tuxedo and attend the wedding of a dear friend in a glass-and-wood chapel in the middle of the woods of Arkansas that was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Could I be any happier?

Well, I DID catch some nice photos of a pair of black-with-white-chevrons ex K&O RR engines on the way up.  And tomorrow's iteniary includes going into some really beautiful caves and then maybe a trip to see one of the world's few natural stone bridges AND a house-sized rock balanced on a tiny spire of rock, both of which, I'm told were featured on Ripley's Believe It Or Not.  OH, and stopped by a gorgeous little tobacconist's place in Eureka Springs for a couple of Punch puros to puff on while we wandered the streets of this almost-New-Orleans-and-almost-Pacific-Northwest little town.

Let's put it this way--it'd take some doing.

Oh, and I'm not at work.

This place is unreal.  The GPS lead us up the back way, no interstates at all hardly, nothing but winding two-lane roads through back country that got progressively more hilly, wooded and rural.  Gorgeous stuff.  And it's not done yet.

This place is just too freaking pretty to be Arkansas.  It looks like it was ripped right up out of the country between Eugene and Florence, OR and put here whole, with some more pine trees tossed in, and lots less hippies.  Winding roads?  It's a motorcyclist's wet dream.  NOTHING but twising, winding roads, many with massive mountain-sides on one edge and calamttous drops on the other. Oh, and often they've got DOT warning signs that say "Warning: Crooked And Steep Roads Next 10 Miles."  Yeah, I'm wishing I could have forked over the cash to have trailered Sally up here.  Maybe next time.

Did I mention the scenic railway tour that lets you eat dinnerr in Pullman cars?  (Again, perhaps next trip up.  Budgetary concerns.)  But oh my kids, it's lovely as a newly-minted penny up here.  Victorian painted lady houses everywhere, buildings dating into the beginnnig of 1900 and winding pedestrian-friendly streets.  Shops?  Check.  Art?  Check.  Everywhere.  This place is very artist friendly.  And not hot!  It's unreal.

So yes, I'm having a good time.  Hell, a grand time.  I feel utterly stress-free for the first time in way too many months.  Already planning on coming back to catch all the things we can't catch this time.  And then some.

Did I mention the candy shop with the antique taffy-pulling machine in the window, working on an electric-green wodge of taffy?  Oh yes, photos to follow.  Foolishly I didn't bring my USB cable to hook the camera to my lappy.  Or, for that matter, my wallet.  I remembered the tux, though, and my appetite for giant blocks of sinfully good fudge.  And a pound of saltwater taffy.  And even a piece of lovely jewelry for the missus.

It's been a great microcation.  More to follow.

Sep 17, 2009

That Time Of Year Again

I know Fall is here finally.

Not because school has let back in, not because the pine trees are turning some of their needles honey-brown and dropping them, and not because football is back on tv. I know it's Fall because the hummingbirds are back. Not for good mind you, not at all. They're all on the road, headed to Mexico for the winter. Not a bad idea if you ask me, but I can't travel as light as they can.



Hummingbirds

I've had my feeder hung up for months now. I'd see one, two perhaps in a day if I was lucky. A solitary little grey and green flash would stop, drink, then be gone. Every weekend I'd go out on the front porch, take down the feeder, dump out the old liquid, clean it good, refill it and hang it back up. One cup sugar, four cups of water, and just a tiny splash of red food colouring to make it appealing, then back on the nail it'd go. To be mostly ignored.

Until this week that is. Something in the air told them it was time, and suddenly my front porch is an absolute dervish of activity. Tiny bodies flashing through the air like lightning, and constant squeaks and peeps and chittering calls eek their tinny way through my window. I look up one day and there's nothing. The next day there's four at a time. The next day there's so many flashing, dancing bodies I can't even begin to count them. I count them now by how often I have to fill the feeder. Two cups of sugar water are gone in less than 8 hours now, and I'm at peak capacity. I know this because they're piling up two at a time on the feeder flowers--one standing on the perch, another flying, both with their long beaks deep in the sugary goodness.



Hummingbirds

And the fighting? I never knew something so tiny, so inexpressibly impossible could be so violent! Males crashing together, issuing outraged squeaks and chirps at each other, tangled together so intensely that they both fall to the soft grass, then separate to fly up and do it again, hammer and tongs, only pausing long enough to get a drink to refresh, then back at it again, while the females struggle with each other to fill their bellies before heading back out, many hundreds of miles left to go.


Hummingbirds


I'm told that if you hang a feeder out once you have to do it forever if you want to keep your birds. They remember, you see. If a feeder is there one year they'll come looking for it every year, every time they're in the area. If it's gone one year you won't see them again. That saddens me, and yet it makes me glad, too, to think that the little tiny dancers in the air that I feed this year will be in the crowd next year, having remembered this place.

I also love that they're so very unconcerned with my presence there. They're hungry, and they know that I'm so huge and slow that there's no way I could possibly HOPE to touch one, much less harm one. I stand with my camera pointed at the feeder, not three feet separating me from the tiny swirling motes of green and black and grey and they are utterly oblivious. When I take down the feeder to fill it the air is filled with angry chittering, and more than once I've had a bird begin drinking its fill as I'm still trying to hang the feeder back on its nail.



Jostling For Position

The doves that feast at my seed tray every day? They scatter like sheep before a wolf at the slightest provocation. If they see me move through the big windows that front my desk they're gone instantly. A quickly-shifted pile of papers will put them to flight. The hummingbirds? Not even the explosive flash of my camera bothers them anymore, and me moving around only sets them to stirring in a faster frenzy than before, like silt stirred up from a river bottom as a fish passes, quickly settling again.

Tiny, and so improbable. So beautiful, and so irrepressibly self-assured. How can I not love them?


The whole Flickr set can be found here--too many to post. *s*

Sep 13, 2009

Amusing

(If you're reading this on Facebook you can get the whole blog at irrelephant.blogspot.com)

So I gone and done it. I painted last week. I painted again today. I'm reminded of the old joke in Mel Brooks' History Of The World movie.

Scene: Rome, an unemployment office line. A CENTURIAN stands in front of the benefits window. BEA ARTHUR dressed in a toga as the UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICIAL questions him:

Bea: Have you killed anyone this week?
Centurian: No.
Bea: Have you TRIED to kill anyone this week?
Centurian: Yes.

Etc.

So no thanks, no unemployment for me, I've painted every Sunday for the last four weeks in a row. It's a freaking record!

Today was a little strange, though. Usually I have no end of ideas in my head, and a blank canvas has never scared me. Today I decided that I'd put aside the handful of canvases I've already cartooned on, precursors to painting. I wanted to start a study, a test run sort of thing on an idea I've got, an idea that is going to take a big canvas. Specifically one I just finished gessoing early this afternoon.

When I was in college learning how to paint one of the first things we learned in the very first class was how to make our own canvases. The little studio classroom had a waist-high miter box and saw and lots of scrap plywood for corners. The thing being, we had to buy and bring our own raw stock--2x2s and quarter round. We were taught (well, THEY were taught, I already knew basic carpentry) how to miter corners and tack quarter round onto frames, how to measure and square and use triangles of plywood to strengthen corners. Then came the huge rolls of raw canvas, six feet tall and pale tan. We'd roll it out on the floor, lay the newly-constructed and still sweet-smelling wood frame onto it and cut it to rough shape, then get out the heavy duty stapler and staple and stretch, staple and stretch. I learned how to make neatly tucked corners, folded just right, then the buckets of gesso would come out and the four-inch house paintbrushes and we'd start in the middle applying snow white to the tan, working our way to the edges and over until the whole thing was pristine and ready to go.

I always loved the miracle that is gesso. How fabric that I strained my finger muscles on to tighten could suddenly, as the gesso dried, become tight as a snare drum's skin. And the sweet, pale smell of it, it always signaled to me that it was time to create. I built canvases of every size, often building stretchers to fit the odd-sized bit of canvas I had left over from building another stretcher for a class assignment. I'd build canvases a foot tall and five feet long just to see if I could do it, and built canvases so big they took internal cross-bracing to keep from collapsing. I've built canvases so bit it's an effort to carry them. I built a six foot by four foot monster for a class assignment, and got chided for it because I'd spent so much time prepping and building the canvas that I didn't have time to cover the whole thing properly, ending up rushing the assignment. (And still I never beat Bryan, my friend who was a year ahead of me who used to buy and gesso military surplus canvas pup-tents and use three, stretched and nailed together as his floor-to-ceiling canvases.)

Even though the ease of store-bought and pre-prepared canvases quickly took over it never stayed rooted. Today I stripped a pair of experiments off an old stretcher I still had, dug out my roll of raw canvas and with a big bottle of clearance gesso I set to. Rolled out the canvas on the living room floor and went to work. Stretched, stapled, stretched again, then around once with the hammer just to make sure everything was secure. Then the gesso, poured onto an old house brush that I've had since my college days for just such a job. Starting in the center, working my way out to the edges, watching the miracle happen again as the sweet-smelling gesso tightened the canvas up like an old prude's mouth.

Then, that one got set aside. I'm not quite ready to work on that painting, but I did start on a study for it. Started, and it went terribly awry, strangely. I painted on it for perhaps half an hour, hated where it was going, hated what I was doing, and set it aside. Picked up another, one with a cartoon already on it that I didn't care for a great deal (another chess piece study, actually) and took off in a new direction. I'd thought about populating the bottom of my big canvas with some strange little things, and I'd just watched Hellboy II again, and kept remembering the Troll Market, and the two figures who passed through in the background carrying what looked like huge Chinese paper lanterns made like koi fish, only very stylized.

So, I took that idea and worked on it. Practice for myself in making round things look round, practice in using colours outside of my usual palette (not entirely but I don't often go the red-orange-yellow route) and looking at something that I might or might not include in the big canvas, I guess. A dry run so to speak, especially since this particular pair of things isn't part of my usual vocabulary of images.

It was nice to be working, though, smoothly and quickly, which is how I like to paint. Not going entirely into abstract action-painting, and certainly not using the trowel, tho I do love a good trowel-painting, applying pigment so thick it's like spreading cake icing. No, instead just a fast, free application of paint, working at fooling the eye into believing a pair of flat objects are actually round.

The magic worked again, in its own strange way. Hours passed, I completed it, liked it. Set it aside to dry, cleaned up my work area and returned my office back to my office and not my studio. The smell of turps and oil pigment still lingers strong, but it's all put away again until next Sunday afternoon.

I think I need to get my sketchbook out, though. I feel a long-legged harpsichord coming on. Perhaps one with orangey-red almost-fish-lanterns under it. Or perhaps not.




(That white sheen you see isn't actually pigment, it's the wet oil reflecting the flash. Not much way to get around that unless I wait three weeks for it to dry and THEN take the photo, which pretty much ruins the idea of posting photos as I finish these things.)