Life with Dogs, and One Child- Part 4: dé·tente

Eventually  we all settled into detente.

Finding a photo from these years with both Pumpkin and Brennan in it is a challenge. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t images.

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 I painted several that illustrated the tensions between toddler and dog.
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And just as Pumpkin finally began to adjust to one child around the house, I became pregnant with another.
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 This new person was strong and liked to do his tumbling act whenever I needed a steady hand.
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By the summer of 1990, we were in the  last weeks and Pumpkin and I were feeling heavy and tired.

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Meanwhile, over in Bookland, I was illustrating Isabel Wilner’s A Garden Alphabet. Pumpkin is the gardener and her best buddy is a frog.

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That rude frog laughed right along with Brennan when I broke the rope hammock in my 9th month.
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Knowing what was coming, I made the hard decision to leave Pumpkin at “Camp Stoneledge,” aka my mom’s house, in Vermont. She was 13 now, and touchier around Brennan than ever.

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 But with Border Collies Ben (left) and Flora (right) as housemates she thrived and lived another 2 years.

Life with Dogs- Part 3: Introducing the Dog to the Baby

brennanbabyThough Pumpkin is holding THE BABY, I actually gave birth to him.

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Pumpkin was not happy.
She had never liked children and , while still loyal to me, she had nothing to say to the little stranger in our midst.

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The eyes say it all.
Nevertheless, I pretended that she liked Brennan and that they got along fine, or at least okay.
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Pumpkin was allowed to express my conflicted feelings about motherhood–with humor and no sniveling.

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But it was obvious that they were never going to be friends.
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Meanwhile, over in Bookland, they have started appearing together too. in Block City, by Robert Louis Stevenson, still pregnant Ashley climbs the stairs.  Brennan, now born, holds my cape. Pumpkin looks on.

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Maybe they’ll be friends here…

 

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Life With Dogs-Part 2: Adopting a Dog as my Alter Ego

I was Crazy about Pumpkin.

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She was my first Border Collie and I was thrilled with her intelligence and empathy. She became my constant companion. I was still an art student when I got her and she went to all my classes with me.
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She used to cuddle by tucking her head up under my chin.

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I loved to draw her.

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Soon I was anthropomorphizing her-I couldn’t help myself.

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It was uncanny how she loved to do all the same things I did.

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Pumpkin traveled the world for close to a year. She shared a picnic at Hanging Rock with a koala in Australia.

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She rode a camel on the Great Wall of China.

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And caught a flounder in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Later she even got pregnant,

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Meanwhile, over in Bookland, Pumpkin began appearing in my children’s books from the very beginning.
Here we are making snow angels in A Year of Birds. I am still a carefree child, making Sabin do all the work as my father.

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In my next post I will reveal how Pumpkin changed my life.
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My Life with Dogs-Part 1:Deep Background

I have always loved dogs.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.

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When my sister was born, our family got our first German Shepherd. His name was Lumpy.

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A few years later we found a puppy on the street in Sarasota, Florida while visiting my grandmother. This picture ran in the newspaper to try to find the owner. No one claimed her so we kept her and named her Hushpuppy.

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She was a good sport.

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There is nothing like a bed full of dogs.

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My grandmother eventually adopted Hushpuppy back and Lumpy died. We got another German Shepherd named Thumper.
And then, in 1977, I got MY first dog. She was the last pup in a litter born on a dairy farm in East Middlebury, VT. Her mother Patsy was an expert cow herder.
I named her Pumpkin.

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The 1st summer I had her I drove all the way to California with my boyfriend. Thumper and Pumpkin came along. We all got to swim in the Pacific.
The story of what happened to Pumpkin is too long for one post. Stay tuned for Part 2.
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Brennan, Block City, and Three Little Boys in a Greenhouse

27 years ago I was pregnant with my 1st child.

Back then a lovely woman named Jeannie in Mill Valley, CA hired me to paint a mural in her entry way. The space was a little dark, a little awkward and it really needed a mural.

She wanted to include her three, beautiful sons in the mural, so I took lots of photos of the boys.

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coleboys_5web The mural came out well.

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The boys are either in, or looking into, a painted greenhouse.

Jeannie was solicitous of very pregnant me. She fed me a wholesome lunch everyday. Whole wheat bread sandwiches, carrots and a whole lot of milk!

When I got home I’d go back to work on my other project: illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Block City.

“What are you able to build with your blocks?

Castles and palaces, temples and docks.

Rain may keep raining, and others may roam,

But I can be happy and building at home.”

I imagined Block City as a Wizard of Oz-type story where the “I” character is a little boy. He builds his city out of blocks.

Jeannie’s middle son became the perfect model for my little builder.

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then falls asleep and visits it in his dream.

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Characters from his life show up in different forms in his dream.

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Finally, when his mother returns from shopping, he wakes and the city is toppled.

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At the end, the city is destroyed with glee and remains only as a memory.

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This book is long out of print but still dear to my heart.

Not least because not long after I finished the mural, I gave birth to my own beautiful boy.

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Happy 27th Birthday, Brennan! I love you.

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My life as a Muralist

When I was in high school I began painting murals around my parent’s house.

I kept them small until I painted a 3/4 scale horse on my sister’s bedroom wall. I found I liked working large and could draw and paint freehand.

doolittle_2webOne summer during college I convinced my boyfriend to hire me to paint a mural of the Garden of Eden as a Vermont pastoral landscape on his brand new barn door. I promised to drive the tractor and help with the haying when I wasn’t painting.
It was huge!
 I needed to use his bucket loader, normally used to scrape manure off the barn floor, as a lift to get to the top 1/2 of the door.
But that mural only took a few weeks, so I began painting the other barn doors too. He was raising  Charolais cattle, so one door showed a crowd of cows appearing to leave the barn. I was trying to create a simple trompe l’oeil effect by adding a bright window to the back “wall” of the mural. To add complexity I sat our two dogs outside the barn door, and later photographed them, posing  as themselves.
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Ray, the hired man, fed a pen full of imaginary pigs,

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and I leaned provocatively out of another doorway
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Eventually I painted every door, on every barn and outbuilding.
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And was finally able to paint a fully life-size horse.

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All these photos  were taken by Tim Clemens and appeared in an article and  Calendar produced by Vermont Life in 1978. The barns on Doolittle Road are still there but the original murals are long gone. Back then I didn’t know much about using oil paints  and I didn’t prep the older doors properly. The murals deteriorated over time. Since then I have painted many more murals with better success. I’ll talk about some of them in future posts.

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The Joy of Beaches in Winter

Christmas at the beach-a California tradition.

Big storms sweep in from the west and huge tides bring in piles of tangled kelp and other beach debris.

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The impossibly tangled piles buzz with Kelp Flies.

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The Kelp’s gas bladders keep the long stem or stipes, floating upright in the water.
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Northern California beaches are not known for shells but there are dense mussel beds and those shells are easy to find.  This sketch includes a scrap of Abalone shell, fish spine bones and crab claws.
I love collecting this sort of beach debris for my Beach Portraits.

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And then there are the Harbor Seals, who haul themselves up to nap on the sunny rocks.

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And sometimes there are the husbands, who nap anywhere they like.

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Composing a Beach Portrait

My dog ran right past this half buried shell, but I saw an eye staring back at me.

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It is rather large, so the head will have to be in a comparable scale.

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A  20′ piece of stranded kelp, complete with some “hair” and even a goatee, becomes the head and chest.

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Despite the confusing goatee, this is a female figure.  She gets some extra hair in a kelp strand bonnet and kelp pod breasts belong in this expansive chest.

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Now I begin to add some facial features and ear ornaments.

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Remember the 1st shell? It looked a little dead so I’m adding this stranded jelly.
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It fits perfectly.

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The future’s so bright she has to wear shades!

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Her nose and mouth needed attention. A gleaming mussel shell became an important nose, and a delicate crab’s claw, tiny shell and folded seaweed pinked up her mouth.

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Normally I incorporate a lot of beach trash in my portraits, and cart it away when I’m done, but this beach was squeaky clean. I found just two tiny shards of plastic to create the bridge and top bar of her sunglasses.

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I searched the beach for a few more embellishments to add.

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 I add a single feather to her hairdo and I think she is now complete.

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Next time you find yourself on a beach, try one!

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Homemade Christmas Stockings

When I was born my grandma made me a Christmas stocking.

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It was probably made from a kit-the elements may have been the same on ALL the stockings made for children that year, but mine has a little, pink angel, a lavishly decorated tree, a white house with a red roof, and a train, trailing tiny seed-bead smoke.

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I think emptying my stocking was my favorite part of Christmas morning. My sister and I always got candy and fruit. In this photo I can see walnuts, cumquats, tangerines, and maybe mini marshmallows.
Peri had her own  Grandma-made stocking but it had a few crucial differences and we spent HOURS comparing and contrasting the stockings. I still think mine is better.
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Later I began to ask for sour things: cocktail onions, lemons, pickles and homemade vinaigrette.
Hey, maybe there is something in there now…

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Uh-oh, those look too empty.

Let’s hope they fill up on Christmas Eve!

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The Christmas Trees of Yore

Everything seems BIG when we are small.

But my childhood Christmas trees really were VERY tall. For scale, I am almost three years old in this photo and I am lost in the bottom branches.
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Unlike other families, we didn’t put up our tree until Christmas eve.
Many years we drove up Breadloaf Mountain and cut our own trees on Middlebury College forest land.
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We waded through the snow, Mommy carrying the loppers and Daddy carrying the same saw as this dad in my 4th picture book: A Year of Beasts.  Back then it seemed we always had snow at Christmastime.
bigsnow'62Then it became the 70s. The trees were still tall and sparse, my dad still put up the train set, I was always sulking and somebody was always sick in bed on Christmas eve!christmas72
 Wild trees are not full and bushy. They are often very sparse and uneven. Dad figured out a way to ‘hang’ the tree from one of the beams in the 2nd floor gallery. The trunk dangled in a bucket of water.

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One year we tried a driftwood tree. I collected and sorted found wood into a tree shape and my elf drilled a hole in the “balance” center of each piece. We found a long piece of fresh kelp and used it as the “rope”. Once all the pieces were strung, we tied a knot at the bottom and hung the tree. It can hang flat like this or in the round. It was fine with lights, but hard to hang with ornaments.

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I still keep with this tradition. No tree until Christmas Eve.

Brightly shining, for a brief period, in the darkest days of the year.

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