Mar 14

Itchy and crazy

When I was about six I had my tonsils out. This was a good thing because until then I had spent a lot of time sick.

In fact, one of my earliest memories is waking up and not feeling well and having my mom scold me for not wanting to do morning stuff. As I sat sulking at the breakfast table, she offered me a banana. I took one bite and promptly threw up all over the kitchen floor. I remember my mom as being both disgusted and relieved, “Oh, that’s why you are so cranky.”

The rest of that day was spent feeling miserable, throwing up, having my temperature taken, and eventually going to the doctor.

So at about six (closer to seven?) I had my tonsils out. Frankly, I didn’t understand, but I was told that I would get unlimited ice cream. Sounds great, right?


I didn’t like the hospital experience; strange people in masks told me to count things and then I woke up calling for my mom in a strange room. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without help. And when food finally arrived, I didn’t want to eat… not even the ice cream.

Once I got home I didn’t feel much better and ice cream still didn’t sound good.

Then it snowed. As I’ve previously stated, Oregon snow is pretty infrequent; that year we got a good, heavy cover. And I could only sit on the couch, sick, watching all my friends playing on the street in the lovely snow.

I remember sitting on that couch, so longing to play in the snow, feeling physically and spiritually miserable. My mom was about in tears too because she wanted to see me play too.  Eventually Mom and Dad bundled me up and took me outside for a few minutes. It was great… except it didn’t solve my problem of still feeling miserably bad. But I remember it making me feel better that my parents were trying.

All this is to say that when I get sick, I go immediately back to my six-year-old self, sitting on the couch feeling miserable and longing to go outside in the snow.

Fortunately, until I was in my thirties, I was pretty healthy. The occasional cold, a few shots, one really bad splinter in my… rump.  My doctor’s visits were minimal and usually centered around solving some immediate and easily-solved problem. In most cases I walked in, stated my problem, and walked out again in under 10 minutes.

Then in the late winter of 2006 (at 31) I developed a cough. A year later a pulmonologist diagnosed me with hypersensitivity pneumonitis (hives in my lungs) brought on by an allergy to my parrot. My blood oxygen was down to 60%, I couldn’t speak in full sentences, let alone walk and talk. The doctor wanted to put me in the hospital for two weeks; we settled on putting the bird (Joey) into boarding to see if I got any better. I did and eventually Joey got a new home. I’m still heartbroken about that.

During the period between December 2005 and March 2007, I had 7 colds and two cases of pneumonia. Toward “the end” I spent every day in some form of discomfort. I had scratch tests for allergies, an upper barium GI for stomach problems, and countless blood draws. There were points I really thought I would die, or at the least be diagnosed with cancer. In fact, some days I almost wished to be diagnosed with cancer just so the doctors would finally understand there was really something wrong with me.

This period remains the worst singular period in my life. While 2011 will always be my “Année terrible”, 2006 will remain as my “Année maladie”. I spent it in varying states of sulking, pouting, misery, and anger. While I had never exactly liked doctors, this period convinced me they were all evil. One doctor (one I eventually left and filed a complaint about) actually got up in the middle of a sentence to answer his cell phone and had a five minute conversation with the person at the other end (and it was a pretty personal phone call… if you catch my drift.) Never mind the suffering patient in his office. She was only an obvious hypochondriac who had been at his office once a week for the last month trying to solve the trifling problem of hacking up her lungs!

All this is to say that when any health problem troubles me, no matter how small, I have to wade through a morass of emotion and bad memories in order to get to the small amount of reasonableness, practicality, and sensibility that remain.

Any woman who had read an article about “talking to your doctor” in the last few years knows that you had to stand up for yourself when interacting with members of the medical community. Gone are the days of blithely putting yourself in a doctor’s care and allowing him to choose what’s best. Today it’s imperative to ask questions and be informed about medical care.

Last year, just as life seemed to be settling down, I developed pneumonia in my right lung. That re-started a four-month-long version of “the horror.” Even once I finally kicked the pneumonia I still haven’t been able to get my breathing completely back to where it was. I have had to add a daily inhaler to my medicine cabinet, and this week I tried a new pill for additional help.

It seems I am allergic to the pill as one week after starting to take it I broke out into full body hives. This, in addition to the patch of poison oak I wandered into two weeks ago, had made me a very itchy mess.

And so I’m right back on my mental sofa, looking outside and pouting.

This is not an especially productive state when it comes to health matters. Doctors in the overworked Kaiser system do not respond to pouting. They sometimes don’t even respond to direct requests. But I’m stumped as to what my next step should be.

The reason I started my new medication was that the inhaled asthma medicine wasn’t enough. I was still struggling constantly to feel as though I had enough air. I had begun avoiding walks with the dog and, frankly, I can’t afford that (let alone what Finn thinks).

One of the many frustrating things about getting to this kind of impasse with doctors is that inevitably I feel like they think I’m crazy. An excerpt from a recent conversation: “Hives is a pretty unusual side effect of this medication.” So what? I’m making it up? When I go to the website for Singulair, rash is the first listed side effect. What are they implying?

I suspect the answer is they are not implying anything. They are either just making conversation, an oblique apology, or trying to convince me not to sue them. I don’t want to sue anybody… I just want to breathe.

I’ll spend my weekend concentrating on surviving my hives and then re-examine my options next week. When, hopefully, I’m a little saner. And even more hopefully, less itchy.

Mar 12

Moonglow and Spring Caps

I went to painting class tonight and Anji announced that she had started a painting for the June Rose Festival Show at Oregon Society of Artists.

"Tara-inspried" background for Anji's latest painting. Subdued?

“Tara-inspried” background for Anji’s latest painting. Subdued?

Her introduction was “this one is Tara-inspired”. When she showed us, I immediately recognized one of my favorite colors: Moonglow by Daniel Smith. But she went on to say “its subdued.”


Moving on…

I don’t have any new art to post, so I’m going to put up pictures from Sunday’s hike at Canemah. They are pretty.

Canemah is a hair breath away from spring bloom. I saw the season’s first wood violet.

The season's first yellow wood violet.

The season’s first yellow wood violet.

Some Facebook friends have already put up their first trillium photos, but I haven’t seen one yet.

And this plant (it’s some sort of flowering bush that is just green for the rest of the year; I think maybe a crabapple) is proudly strutting its stuff around the wet landscape.

Mystery bush.

Mystery bush. I’ll call it a spring cap.

But honestly, it’s pretty quiet around here. I was sick for several days last week, which limited my mobility. And pesky ole work consumed the rest of my time.

I’ll try hard to come up with a better story or new art… or something… soon.

Mar 08

Describing Colors

Every spring there comes one or two evenings when the sun comes out enough to get the crocus to bloom. About a week a ago, we had one such evening and I didn’t get out to take any photos. Then a storm hit and all the purple crocus were battered.

Crocus bed.

Crocus bed.

But today was another gorgeous day and in addition to a walk to the park, I had time for a short photo session.

While winter is probably my favorite time of year, spring is a close second; if it wasn’t for allergies, it would totally be in first. This evening when I was taking pictures I could smell my daphne just beginning to bloom. It’s the smell of spring.

Striped crocus that survived the storm.

Striped crocus that survived the storm.

Because the white crocus survived the storm, I was able to get some great shots of them.

As I was shooting, it occurred to me (not for the first time) that one of these might make a great watercolor. It would be a chance to play with soft pastels and fool the viewer about what white is. Grey? Purple? Yellow? Green?

This time of year, color seems to arrive hesitantly. Except for daffodils which arrive with an almost violent yellow.

Daffodil yellow.

Daffodil yellow.

But are they really yellow? This one couldn’t seem to decide.

Emerging daffodil.

Emerging daffodil.

But the green of folliage seems to know what it is and concentrates on its curves.



Mar 07

Sock Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes in strange places. For a couple of years I had been thinking that I should put up a website for my art. After all, I’m the webmaster for:

But I could never really decided what I wanted my website to be. I didn’t feel like I had enough “inventory” to really make a good show and I didn’t add new things often enough to make it interesting for any customers.

Then I came across Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. As a knitter, it isn’t long before you hear about her. Her books are common discussion around knitting circles. But I wasn’t a blog reader, and didn’t give her blog too much thought.

Then one day it was slow at work and I took a gander. And it wasn’t long before I sat down to read her whole blog.

Stephanie write humor that is Incidentally about knitting; but really it’s about life: child rearing, the creative process, marriage, community, family, home improvement, writing, travel, and many other things.Over the course of her blog (10+ years) as well as her eight books she’s chronicled the important changes in her life… and also her knitting.

Reading her blog gave me inspiration to put up my website this year and attempt to start blogging. I’m still not sure if I have much to say, but I am finding the process enjoyable.

Tuesday Stephanie was in Portland to start the book tour of her new book: The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I gave Up On

The crowd at the reading.

The crowd at the reading.

I had seen pictures of her events, so I got to Powell’s in good time. But by seven, the crowd looked like this –>

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee examines my first socks...

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee examines my first socks…

The talk was great. Stephanie rocked it, giving a short and funny introduction and then reading two her stories from her book.

Because I had arrived in good time, I got my turn to have Stephanie sign my book and I fulfilled a small dream. Stephanie like socks (famously); she also loves bad first socks. My first socks are epically bad. I wanted her to see, because everyone else tells me they are okay.

... and determines they ARE terrible!

… and determines they ARE terrible!

She agreed they were terrible, and even put a photo of me and my bad first socks on her blog.

But her next question really made my day. “Were your next ones better?”

It will keep me going, reminding me that progress of any sort is worth documenting.

Mar 04

The power of red

Well, I survived the Rose City Yarn Crawl this last weekend in good form and relatively inexpensively. There was the purple “Birds of a Feather” purchase. Then seven skeins of a red linen yarn I hope to turn into a tank top. Then two skeins of discounted mohair I got for a steal. Great job and restraint!

Example skein of the red linen yarn resting on the Rose City Yarn Crawl bag.

Example skein of the red linen yarn resting on the Rose City Yarn Crawl bag.

This evening I attended painting class and finished two paintings (such a great feeling)! I’ll post about the second one next, but one of the paintings was a little different for me.

Each year I make noises about entering the Oregon Society of Artists Rose Festival Show. And then I don’t do it.

When Angie suggested a project where we used layers of masking to create a painting, I thought about doing a rose and getting a jump on the deadline.

I don’t do a lot of flowers. I like flowers, I just typically get distracted by something else. But I decided to go for it… and for once do it how Angie suggested.

IMG_5699Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t make it my own. I fooled around quiet a big with the layout of my original photo to get something more dynamic and interesting. And I decided to not use red because that would be too obvious for a rose painting.

Step 1: Masking has been applied, and the first layer of magenta has been applied.

Step 1: Masking has been applied, and the first layer of magenta has been applied.

I kept my colors pretty traditional for the first level. For the second level, I masked over the light pink and left just the ends where I applied a dark purple.

Next I removed the masking and applied the inner shadows in a neutral wash.

It was at this point I had to make a decision. The painting was good, but not great. It was pleasant but not the eye candy I had envisioned.

So… I added red.

"Double Delight" - Final version without signature.

“Double Delight” – Final version without signature.

I will look at this for a few days and if nothing else occurs, I’ll sign and frame it. Done in good time for the June show!

Feb 28

Party all the time

This has been an exciting week for me. I have been out late twice! It’s party all the time around here.

The reason for all this excitement is the Rose City Yarn Crawl. I’ve participated in this for two previous years, and it has been a blast every time.

The excitement for this year has been building for weeks, starting with my participating in the Mystery Knit Along with ultimately resulted in this “Rosaria” shawl.

2014 Mystery Knit Along Shawl "Rosaria"

2014 Mystery Knit Along Shawl “Rosaria”

Wednesday evening I went to the first annual “Yarn Ball” which kicked off the yarn crawl. There people wore their shawls. Of the 400+ people who signed up, over 40 were at the event showing off their shawls… in all their sameness and variation.

The "Rosaria" shawls at the 2014 Yarn Ball. Photo by Michele Bernstein of PDXKnitterati

The “Rosaria” shawls at the 2014 Yarn Ball. Photo by Michele Bernstein of PDXKnitterati

Then today I went to lunch with a friend and we hit the downtown Portland yarn shops: Knit Purl, Pearl Fiber Arts, and Dublin Bay.

Many shops are having special “trunk” sales as part of this event, and at Pearl Fiber Arts I fell in love with a somewhat unusual item.

Purple "Birds of a Feather" by Alexandra's Crafts

Purple “Birds of a Feather” by Alexandra’s Crafts

It is 700-900 yards of a variety of types of yarn united by a color. There is chunk art yarn down to sock yarn, varigated and solid, thick and thin. I immediately fell for the color and asked the sales person what this would make. Her answer: “It’s for a knitter who’s out of the box.”

I laughed and that sealed the deal.

Love the shine...

Love the shine…

I’m not a knitter who’s unable to follow directions… I’m out of the box!

This is something that I will probably ponder for a while until I figure out what to do. I love the randomness of it united by the color.

I’m going to need some time to figure out it’s ultimate destiny.

Let the pondering begin.


Feb 24

King of the world

Today I recovered from workshop hangover by taking Finn for a hike at Canemah and running some errands. The hike was by far more fun.

I'm king of the world!

I’m king of the world!

Everyone at Canemah was announcing that they were open for breeding. I heard four Anna’s hummingbirds (only saw two) and was nearly deafened by the frog chorus.

I took a short video with my camera to show you how loud the frogs were, but I can’t upload it. You’ll just have to imagine!

Feb 23

Two steps forward, one step back

It has been an exciting week for me with ups and downs that kept me on the edge of my seat. I had signed up to take a workshop from Beth Verheyden called “Let’s Get E-Motion-Al” and had been wait-listed. I found out Tuesday I got in and was very excited.

Then Thursday, just before I was to leave for my workshop, I found out that two of my paintings sold from the TRAG gallery. Talk about being excited!

With a happy heart I headed south to Brownsville to take the workshop (about a 1.5 hour drive). I drove back and forth each day and there were some great sunsets!

Friday's sunset

Friday’s sunset

On the downside, Friday I found out I didn’t get into the WSO show. I can’t say that I was entirely surprised; it’s a competitive show and both paintings had technical flaws that prevented them from getting in. But I was still disappointed.


Beth’s class was well worth my wait. Thursday evening I drove down to Brownsville and we had a later evening lecture on color theory. My first watercolor teacher, Melissa Gannon, is a vibrant and fearless colorist. She introduced me to the works of Stephen Quiller; his book “Color Choices” is the favorite art book in my collection.

For this class, Beth’s take on color was a little more intellectual. She spent a great deal of time outlining specific colors linking to specific emotions. While Quiller’s focus has been color intensity, Beth urged us to think about the mood we were trying to invoke.



Foggy Saturday morning view.

Foggy Saturday morning view.

Saturday dawned with a quick drive (through sheep country!) to the subject of the day’s drawing: the Crawfordsville Bridge.

Crawfordsville Bridge

Crawfordsville Bridge

From there, we headed back to the Brownsville Art Center to start our paintings.

Beth had a great hand-out card that we filled out for each painting indicating some of the key decisions we were to make about color, line, and direction dominance. A criticism I would make is that while Beth had some great examples of “pushing” line and direction, she was light on the instruction of this part. When she demoed, we again got some good ideas, but this is such a difficult topic I got confused about it.

I am a pretty prolific painter; I also tend to overwork my paintings if working on only one. Because of this started two paintings on Saturday and another two on Sunday. For each, I tried to create a different mood. I think I did well with the mood part, but the execution left a lot to be desired. [Click on the image to see the full painting.]


Taking a workshop is hard work. I suspect most artists are used to “being the best” in childhood art classes; but as an adult in a serious learning environment, I rarely have that experience anymore. I don’t know about anyone else, but the workshops I take, EVERYONE’s painting is always better than mine.

Additionally, I really pushed myself in this workshop, knowing  that I wouldn’t get the best results (and thinking I was prepared for it.) Red is a hard color for me, and I generally like peaceful and happy paintings more than angry and sad ones. Also, four paintings might have been too ambitious.

Also, I hate painting bridges/houses/man-made structures. I already knew that, but it’s a good reminder. Still, my resolution for this year is to do more listening in my classes, so I did four (okay, 3.5) paintings of bridges.

Possibly the most challenging aspect, for me, of a workshop is the other humans. As the internet meme goes, “There are no stupid questions, but there are a LOT of inquisitive idiots.” (I’m sure I’m occasionally one of them). Also, there is an undeniably social element to these things that is more than a little confusing for me. We’re there to paint, so why are we talking about your latest surgery/grandchild/trip? I have to constantly tell myself to allow the world to be unorganized.

For me, workshops are a crucible where I feel every artistic and personal flaw. But maybe that’s the point? I need to look at where I need to improve before I can get better. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…

Feb 21

What’s that color?

A couple of weeks ago I stayed home sick (I had a little fever and was achy.) I slept a lot and took the dog for a walk, but mostly I knit and watched recorded items on my DVR.

One of those items was the movie “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. While I don’t recommend it, it does have some great scenes about art, particularly one scene where the artist Vermeer asks the serving girl who sits for the title painting, “What color are clouds?”

"Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

The movie was interesting enough that I went and looked up Vermeer on Wikipedia and learned a lot.

I do not paint oils; oils are the opposite of watercolor in that the process is dark to light. But I was fascinated to learn that glazing is a technique used in both mediums to create color intensity.

In the 18th century, George Stubbs brought the idea of equestrian portraits to the fore. Prior to Stubbs, portraits had been only of humans, perhaps seated on a favorite mount, but not just the horse.

"Whistlejacket" by George Stubbs (1762)

“Whistlejacket” by George Stubbs (1762)

When I saw this portrait in the National Gallery in London, it was a great experience. It was a piece I had never really cared for, but when I saw it in person I realized what Stubbs was really trying to do; he was trying to preserve an animal as brilliant as a flame and just as etherial forever. A background would have just ruined it.

One of my favorite books of all time is “The Color of Horses” by Ben K. Green (illustrated by Darol Dickinson.) In it, I learned all horses are the same color (the only actual pigment in hair is an amber color); the only difference is the arrangement of the pigment.

This weekend I am taking a workshop entitled “Let’s Get E-Motion-Al”. For the first day, we talked about color theory. It made me realize that while I like to paint pink donkeys and purple horses, then put a “realistic” glaze over it, there is a lot I could do to bring some more emotion to my painting.

It’s not enough to ask “What color is it” or to underpaint to provide some personality… color is one of the biggest clues to what the artist is wanting you to feel.

Something to consider for tomorrow.

Feb 19


Late 2011 through 2012 will forever be known as my “Année terrible”. I was in a car accident; I was laid off; my dad had heart surgery; my aunt died; I had pneumonia twice.
September 2011 car accident: rear-ended at 45 mph.

September 2011 car accident: rear-ended at 45 mph.

About the only thing I had going for me in this year of horrors was my house. I bought it from my parents and I got a good deal on it. So while everything else was going wrong, I at least had a place to hang my hat.
In 2013 I accepted my current position which is an hour and 15 minutes each way from my house. I said that if I survived a year, I’d consider moving. In the meantime, I’d spent the year getting my house either ready to be shown or to be worry free.
My house... before and after!

My house… before and after!

I’ve passed my year and my self-imposed deadline (April 1) is approaching and I’m nearing a meltdown. In the last week I’ve changed my mind once a day about whether to sell or not. It’s exhausting in every possible way.
For this long weekend, I finished the last project on my list and repainted the back bedroom. It was a bittersweet experience because I remember my mom and I painting that bedroom (sponge painting) and laughing about it. It was so pretty when it was finished. But it doesn’t fit my current decorating scheme.
This weekend, while waiting for paint to dry, I went to look at a few places listed at At the end of that I felt panicked, so I decided to just table the whole thing until something like a sign came along.
So today, I got news that I got into a workshop that I had been wait-listed on. Then I got news about my fall Keenland workshop.
In summary: When I settled down and focused on the present, good things happened. So I think another Oxford English word of the day may suite me–
philopatric, adj.: “Of an animal or species: tending to return to or remain near a particular site, esp. the place of origin.”

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