(Not) Paris! (Part 5)

In addition to being a working member of society (stop laughing), I am also a pet owner. A trip like Paris! doesn’t just happen. Time off needs to be requested, money saved, money spent, animal care found, etc. I also needed some encouragement from friends to take the plunge. Thank you for listening to me dither, “A” and “L.” I was so incredibly lucky to have three friends volunteer to take care of my animal crew, staying at the house so routines changed as little as possible. Thank you “S”, “D”, and “P”.

* * *

Upon returning to real life, I was amused to discover a batch of notes covering the unusual items my house sitters discovered while sitting the crew. I knew these things, and had even mentioned a few, but the entertainment value of these notes (which were marked “Toss”) struck my funny bone.

Pets not allowed in Tara’s room while she is away. Only Anouk is allowed in Tara’s room while she is away. She enjoys the window.

Cats do not go outside. Garage okay but block the doggie door.

Cats walk on the counter. I use a cutting board for food prep.

Sometimes an ice cube lands on the floor when freezer opened and melts. I turned off the ice maker to prevent ice cube overflow. Turn back on if you need more ice.

Key barks at big vehicles. Run water in the sink to distract him if necessary.

He won’t go outside in the back until you go on the steps and wait. He’s funny.

He appears to save poops for walks. That’s a talent or a skill.

I hold him back while filing his dish. Spread around, it takes him longer to eat.

I just find it fascinating the things that seem ordinary to me, but worth mentioning to other people.

* * *

As usual when I travel, I fight homesickness for the pets. “P” is also a pet lover, and her texts and pics kept me going for the last few days of the trip.

Oct 8

Tara: As with other things, tech is not cooperating with me and I’m not able to get my texts to send. How’d the first day with the Fuzz and crew go?

P: Anouk is the most lovable cat and very talkative. She finally fell asleep on me for a while last night at about midnight, then spent some time in the window of the guest room. Chitza is still a bit skittish but is eating well. Anouk is eating well. Key eats so fast that “my dog” hardly gets started before he’s done. They are all behaving and adjusting to “my dog”. Key likes being a lap dog. “My dog” is a bit jealous, but she is adjusting. Everyone misses you!


Oct 9

Tara: I am soooooooooooo glad to hear this!!!!! I miss all of you so much! I’m doing okay. I’m having fun and finding interesting things, but I have no stamina. I hate to admit this, but I am counting hours!

P: Well rest easy. The kids are great. Key isn’t even barking at the garbage truck, though he was doing circles and barking when I was preparing his breakfast 😀 Ah food. . . Don’t push yourself too much, do only those things that will bring you the most joy. ❤️❤️❤️

Tara: Key is food motivated to an insane degree. As discussed.

P: Yes he is, yes he is. He really is a good boy and knows how to use his beautiful eyes to get what he wants. 🥹 I thought I would send this picture along. Anouk likes “my dog”. 🙂

Anouk and “P’s dog”

Tara: So cute! Love it!!!

Oct 10

P: Good morning Tara.  I hope you are doing well. You are missing a beautiful rain storm with gale force winds. Anouk let me sleep last night, I think she finally ran out of things to tell me. 🙃 I kind of feel bad for Key, though. He wants to sleep on the bed, but between “my dog” and I and Anouk wandering around the bed, he ends up getting down and sleeping on the rug on the floor next to the bed. “My dog” and I take up most of the space. All is well here. I’m trying to keep up with the muddy paw prints. Your floors may be a bit dirty when you return. Enjoy your last couple days!

Tara: Don’t worry about the floors. They are currently unnaturally clean. Put some dirt in them so I know I’m home. I’d love rain. It’s dry, warm, and muggy here for day 13 of 14. And don’t worry about Key. That rug thing is his patented “I’m an abused dog” trick. He uses it on my when the cats are in his space. Or something…. He will survive. Chitza hasn’t come out? Anouk is an attention sponge.

Oct 11

P: Chitza comes out to eat and I love her up for a bit, but she seems to prefer to stay in the pantry area during the day. She is still pretty timid around “my dog”, though she doesn’t run away from her. I give her love several times a day in her little bed and she walks the shelves when I’m in there cleaning the boxes rubbing up against me. She is quite loving, but the exact opposite of Anouk. I don’t know what she does during the night, she doesn’t wander into my room.

T: She’s the cautious one. She does love Key, though. I hope they are talking.

P:  Pictures of your babies to help you get through the rest of your trip.


Let me know if these go through okay. I can send them as attachments instead.

Key and his “curl up on the rug guilt trip”

Tara :  Got them, thanks! And I needed them!! Key is really putting on a guilt trip for you!!!!

P: Yes, Key is on his best behavior. Treats are helpful. 😁

Oct 12

P: I assume you are getting ready to return to our wonderful, wet state. Looking forward to seeing you. All the kids are as well. How many hours before you start your return trip? When you get into PDX send me a quick text to let me know you have arrived. Key and I will be excited to meet you. Take care and have a great trip. See you on the other side. Rest easy. All is well. 😊Oh, I wanted to tell you that Chitza has come out of the pantry and joined us in the main rooms. She sat on my lap a while, but Anouk kind of pushed her off. A little jealousy there. She is now asking for and getting attention and as far as I can tell, she is using the litter box regularly. Anouk is really playful and makes me laugh. Take care and enjoy your trip home. ❤️

* * *

I didn’t take anything except my phone on vacation, as far as communication, but it allowed me to email and check Facebook. Below are a series of email between me and “L”.

Sept 27

Je pense á toi, chère amie!

Sept 28

What a lovely view from your hotel window!

How was your trip there? What have you been up to?

October 7

Bonjour encore une fois

How are you feeling? Have the antibiotics made a difference?

“L” is the best.

* * *

Thank you, everyone, for a great trip! It was a team effort!

Painting. Survival. Painting.

Hello, friends. Apologies for the radio silence. It’s been hectic. As I posted two weeks ago, the last couple of weeks have been focused on the 2nd Annual Coastal Plein Air and surviving. More about surviving later.

Last weekend, Sandra Pearce came down and we cruised the coast, painting for three days to capture images for the show. (Note: If you are not following Sandra’s fine art page on Facebook, you should look it up!) Friday, we did some warm-up painting in the Depoe Bay area. Depoe Bay is to the north of the allowed painting zone, so I think both of us were just practicing and “getting our eye in”. I tested the kit I am planning to take to Paris to see if it would be sufficient.

Saturday morning, we drove to Seal Rock and then further south to Waldport.

Sandra says I have a “tourist information” sign around my neck, because people are always stopping and asking me questions or otherwise engaging. I kind of like it, but it can wear a little thin. Sunday, in particular, I had my fill of “ugly American” tourists. (Question: Why do people with really loud cars always leave their car running when using the bathroom?) Sunday, we brought Key along (he had been inside all day Saturday.) However, there was an incident with an off-leash dog that really got me steamed. We started the day at Ona Beach (where we painted last year) and finished at Yaquina Head.

I can’t speak for Sandra, but I can tell I was getting tired. While “Kingfisher” and “Painter” deserve to be finished, “Island” is just an oversized doodle. I am pleased with “Fireweed.” Excitingly, juror Aimee Erickson agreed and gave it an “Honorable Mention” at the show. Sadly, though Sandra’s works were fabulous, none of her words received any prizes (though a red dot award is ALWAYS the best award and I hope she gets one), but as she was best in show last year… well, I still think her stuff should have received something.

It must be my week for painting excitement. On Thursday I received an email that my painting “Graceful Grazers” (liquid charcoal and watercolor on paper) was accepted into the NWWS 83rd Annual International Exhibit by juror Stan Kurth (thank you!) This is my first national show acceptance with NWWS, and with two member shows in my past, I can apply for signature status! The exhibit runs Oct. 14-Nov 12 at the Matzke Fine Art Gallery in Camano Island, WA. The in-person reception will be Saturday, October 28 from 2:30-5pm. So close to my return from Paris, I will probably not be able to attend. But I’m thinking about it!

“Graceful Grazers”

Now you are caught up on my painting life. I will be focusing on trying to finish the paintings I started. And getting ready for Paris. (7.5 weeks to go!)

Everything Else

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my work life continues to be on the bleak side. A combination of too much work, big personalities, and lack of support. I end my days worn out, and just glad that my commute back home is short (ha ha.)

Unfortunately, while the commute is short, home is not quite as restful as I like. I have a new neighbor and he has complained about Key’s barking. Now, I’ll be the first person to admit this is fair. Key has a loud bark. As a small dog, his bark is particularly startling. His motto is, “Bark first, ask questions later.” To top it off, Key has separation anxiety. COVID has done nothing to convince him that I should be able to leave the house without him. I was disappointed to learn that (apparently) Key is expressing his opinions for HOURS when I leave. I had been assuming that he barked for a few minutes, then settled down. But my new neighbor assures me this is not so.

As the saying goes, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your neighbors. To keep the peace, I hired a young gal a few doors down to come by and let Key out of his kennel (inside the house, windows closed, fan on, radio on) on the days I have to go in to work. This worked for a few weeks, then she didn’t show up (or at least she didn’t take the money I had left for her). I was able to stay home the next week, but I haven’t found a long-term solution. In the late fall and winter, I can take him to work and keep him in the car, taking him for walks every so often. But not during the summer.

With all this going on, Friday, as I was painting with Sandra, another neighbor called. Her story was that Key had been barking for a year and she was tired of it. Sandra and I came home, but Key was fine. Sandra, who overheard the conversation, said she thought the neighbor was talking about his outdoor barking, like the other neighbor, not about any barking he might have been doing right that moment. But the call upset me. I really don’t know what else to do. Later conversations did reveal that things had been better recently and that her call on Friday was a bad timing issue, though the situation is still precarious.

Into this comes the kittens, Chitza and Anouk. For a few weeks/months now, we have been having some “litterbox issues.” Occasionally, someone would decide to pee in an empty cardboard box instead of playing in it. Or I would fine urine in the empty clothes hamper. The most usual issue was a suspicious wet spot on the area rugs in front of the outside doors. I had been keeping an eye on the situation, but it was infrequent and often had a behavioral explanation. For instance, a friend had stayed over. Or I was late getting home. Or some other infraction.

But Thursday morning I saw Chitza in the litter box for a LONG time, and when I went to clean the box, she had made only the tiniest of pools. A few minutes later, she squatted in front of the cat tree and made a bigger puddle. I’ve been through this before. I also know that one of the kittens’ brothers has crystals in his urine. So, I called the vest.

The next day, Sandra arrived and both kittens (now three years old) went into hiding, expressing their opinions about the situation whenever they could get me alone. Monday morning, I captured Chitza and took her to the vet. It was a drop-off appointment and she ended up being gone around six hours. Just as I suspected, she has Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC). Sigh. BIG sigh. New food, new routine, new other stuff is on the horizon.

After bringing Chitza home, I figured this particular trauma chapter was over. Not so. Anouk became convinced that Chitza was a COMPLETE STRANGER CAT! Yes, I know she is reacting to smell, etc. But seriously. They’ve been together for three years every day. So, for the last four days everything has been separate. Separate food, loves, play. It’s like having two cats! I’m delighted to report that Anouk didn’t hiss at Chitza during the unpacking of the groceries last night.

Anouk (left, inside the grocery bag) and Chitza (right, looking cautious)

Can world peace be far behind?


I’ve always had an affinity for the number two, not least of all because I was born in February, the second month.

So, yesterday, Key and I went to (yet another) NW3 trial (20th, but who is counting…) While I’m not normally one for “feelings”, I had a good feeling about this trial from the moment we got in. To hedge my bets, I decided to wear my “lucky” shirt (worn a couple weeks ago for the Vehicle 3 title). At this point, I think it’s fair to say that any sign of rationality has left the building. I just want to pass!

Key rocked it, and I stayed pretty relaxed. And guess what? We passed! Well, technically, we missed one hide, so we qualified. But I already had another “leg”, so at the end of the day we took home our second NW3 title, a second place in Exterior searches, and a second place overall!

If we can pull it together for a third time, we’ll get a NW3 Elite title and move up to Elite trials. We’ll never be able to get into the trials (demand far outpaces supply), but at least we’ll be able to work on points not perfection!

In other two-related news, last week I booked a trip to Paris this fall. That’s item #2 of my bucket list (own a dog, own a horse, and go to Paris.) Alright, it’s a stretch to related it to two, but how else will I tie this post together?

The letter I haven’t sent

A couple of weeks ago, Key and I moved up in the run order and thus got into a nosework trial. I was excited and pleased. The drive was about 2.5 hours (not bad) and Key has been really strong in practice lately. My goals were to watch my dog, look for an alert, and keep my mouth closed otherwise.

The day turned out to be a disaster. I had some sort of anxiety attack, and we ended up leaving the trial after 3.5 (of 6) runs. On the long ride home, I thought about what had just happened. I had the best dog in the world and I had let him down.

But… well, I felt there was more to it than that. In my opinion, the trial pathways had been laid out exceedingly poorly. There were certainly dogs who would have been okay, but I have to watch him very carefully and keep an appropriate distance from other dogs. And there were certainly people who would have been okay, but having so much going on in a small area had affected me. I got home and called a friend, who was a good listener (hello, L).

That evening I woke up around 2am and all I could think about was writing a letter explaining that what had happened at the trial was not acceptable. When I got up the next morning, I did the minimal amount of morning things, then sat down to write a letter.

I haven’t sent this letter. I’m not sure I will. “L” says it’s not clear what I want. I’m not sure what I want. But I want some to know that the situation was not okay and fix it for next time.

To whom it may concern:

My name is Tara Choate and I have a dog, Key. We enjoy doing nose work. Key is a dog who has come a long way; I am his fourth owner. He has problems with reactivity , both to dogs and humans, as well as a general terrier-like attitude about the world. He also has separation anxiety, so we walk a fine line.

I am a human who also has come a ways, but I have a long way to go. I have social anxiety and struggle with my mental health. Things with a lot of people tend to be challenging for me. If I were younger, I might have been diagnosed “on the spectrum”, but that’s just speculation.

I want to emphasize that the point of this letter is not to complain or blame anyone; I am simply hoping that some elements of trials can be improved.

On ***, 2022, Key and I went to the ***, Oregon trial. It is a lovely site. The weather was cold but beautiful. In case you are not familiar with the trial site, I am placing some screen shots taken from Google below.

Everything should have been right in my world, but I had a bad mental health day.

My first trigger happened before the trial started. After arriving, parking, and using the bathroom, I wanted to take my dog out to exercise. As you can see by the photos above, the sidewalk area is very narrow. All dogs had to go down the sidewalk to get to the potty area at the end and there were a lot of dogs out and about. Just before we got to the potty area, there was a group of people who were exercising their dogs in a way that made it very difficult to get past them and to the official area. One we got to the potty area, I settled down again. We were able to navigate in back of the cars (though close to the road) returning to the car.

My second trigger was the briefing.* Trying to get in past all the people who chose to stand in the doorway, not allowing anyone else to enter, triggered my anxiety. I spent most of the briefing doing breathing exercises and trying to settle myself down. The corridor was very small and quarters tight. COVID concerns aside, there were the usual problems with people complaining about not being able to hear.

My third trigger was the first run of our day. We were #17. One group started at #1 and another group started at #12. The second group had some problems getting started and it became apparent to me that our number might be called sooner rather than later. Sure enough, 12 went, then they called 13-16. #16 was a golden retriever who promptly went past the number flippers. The volunteers called for #17, so we went up. Then dogs #13-15 came and were put back into the run order in front of us. At this point, there were two to three dogs from group 1 and four dogs from group 2, in addition to Key and I. Additionally, volunteers and the people using the bathroom were moving through the area. On the edge of all this, dogs and handlers wanting to move by to use the potty area. Quarters were too tight!**

The same basic thing happened when our number was called for the second run of the day. Numbers 13-15 were late, then inserted into the run order. This time I wised up and just left to go back to my car rather than struggle with the staging area. While Key and I were there, #18 expressed frustration with me because my number was on the flipper. What #18 couldn’t see was that number 13 was “in the box” with 14-16 waiting to go.

During the lunch break, at which time we had run three of the six tests, I left the grounds to go to a nearby park. Key and I walked around, and I gave myself a lecture about relaxing and having fun. I also tried to come up with a way to deal with the staging area, which seemed likely to stay busy, but I can’t claim success.

The final straw came just before our fourth run. There was not the scrum of dogs, so that part had been sorted out. But there was some kind of incident that had #16 waiting at least 10 minutes.*** The staging area was busy, but not overcrowded, but this time there was a Belgian Malinois who was barking.**** I am assuming the dog was about to run, because they didn’t leave the general area. The area did not feel safe to me. Once we got inside and into the “next” position, I was sitting in the chair, fooling around with Key and working on our tricks. Key is very cute, and I was working on shake. A volunteer came by and said, “He’s so cute” and rubbed him on the head without asking. Key gave her a look that in prior situations has meant he is preparing to snap or bark.

When we were called into the search, for the first time that I can remember, Key didn’t want to search. I am 100% sure that he was reacting to me. He wouldn’t “move off” and instead just kept his eyes on me. He has NEVER not searched before. In the third run of the day, we did a blank exterior search and he got first place and was BEAUTIFUL.*****

I called finish in our fourth search when he found something (not before getting our second “no” of the day) even though we hadn’t searched the entire room just so we could end on a high note. I took him back to the car and told the volunteers to cross us off for the rest of the day, then went home.

At home, I thought about the day. The dog was fine, it was me who was a mess. And, yes, I need to work on that. But…

One of the things I have always liked about NACSW was the emphasis you put on keeping the dogs away from each other. The emphasis on giving the dogs the space to do their job, not have to interact with humans and dogs. I understand the searches are designed to mimic real-life situations. Obviously, a police dog can’t get reactive in tight quarters with a bunch of people around. But the basic situation and traffic flow of this trial really seemed off.

I know there are many, many things I don’t know about what is going on behind the scenes. Concerns about sightlines and volunteers and property and stuff. However, I think this would have been a better way to set up the trial site.

The biggest problem would have been people seeing the flipper numbers, but that was an issue in the original flow anyway.

I know that everyone complains about everything. And I feel bad about complaining about such a lovely site with such nice people. But I needed to express that it doesn’t feel right to ask my dog to work for me, when I can’t be there for him. I let the team down because the environment was too much.

I want to advocate for event planners to think about people like me who find the environment too stimulating and for dogs like Key who have come a long way, but still have to trust their handler to ensure their ultimate safety.

Thank you.


*I am not sure why NASCW is still doing the morning briefing. It seems like topics could be covered in a video briefing. I LOVE the virtual walkthroughs.

** Aren’t we told to keep our dogs in the car unless they are exercising or about to run? Why were there so many dogs around?

*** I would actually guess 20, but I’m trying not to exaggerate.

**** It seemed like at Key, but it could have just been in excitement,

***** He deserves a much better handler than me, but I think he’s stuck with the one he’s got.

Three and thirteen

This weekend Key and I travelled down to Grants Pass to make our 13th attempt at our NW3 title.

We headed south on Friday, and by the time we made the 4-hour drive plus a few birding stops, that was our entire day.

Saturday morning we headed out to the NW3 trial. For those of you who haven’t memorized all the details I’ve shared over the years about canine nosework, here’s a quick recap along with some photos by CreekWalker Photography of my own favorite practitioner of the sport.

“K9 Nose Work was developed in 2006 by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot and Jill Marie O’Brien to bring the concept of detection-dog style training to dog lovers and their companion dogs.  An enthusiastic community was soon created and the desire to have fun competitions in this new activity grew. The NACSW was founded to ensure the highest standard of excellence and structure for these competitors in this new sport.”

Basically, the dogs are trained to find a scent (think essential oils) and the job of the handler is to correctly read their dog’s clues about when the dog has found the scent.

Key and I started nosework in 2017, about a year after I first adopted him, when it became obvious he loved being trained. In 2018 he passed his initial odor trials, after which he could compete in a series of more advanced trials. We got our NW1 at the first trial and also received the Harry award, which is a big deal  It took about a year and three trials for us to get our NW2 title. And it has taken three years and 13 trials for us to get our NW3 title. It is NOT uncommon for handlers (not dogs) to struggle to put together all the pieces at this level. Between the death of my mother and COVID, it’s been a challenging few years. Still, watching myself make stupid moves over and over again while at the same time watching Key get better and better has been discouraging.

Since the beginning of the year, I have been taking occasional classes with Terri Spaeth-Merrick (Sniffketeers K9 Scent Detection) in addition to my regular classes at Best Friends Obedience & Agility School. Sometimes it is important to have someone new to say, basically, the same old stuff. Specifically, Terri has been working with me (not the dog) on leash handling and watching his cues.


Well, finally… I am delighted to announce (drum roll)… Key got his (at least) 8th NW3 title and I got my first, bringing us to a total of one title ribbon.

Captive Ball

captive ball

A pinball trapped within a small area of the playfield. The captive ball never leaves this area, and the free ball can never enter it. However, the free ball can knock into the captive ball, which in turn can knock into targets in its area.

I was searching for a term to describe the last week, and nothing seemed to fit. I felt like a pinball, bounced randomly back and forth between bumpers that someone else was working. That feeling does not have a name (or at least not one that I can find), but the definition above was close and interesting.

Health update

I spent the week working, calling doctors, and surviving. That may not sound exciting, but frankly, it was as much as I could handle. While I still have (at least) one more test to do, I am delighted to report that SOMETHING seems to have worked and I am breathing pretty well and feeling MUCH better. The working theory is that I have had something causing sinus drainage for the last few months, which gunked up my lungs. That, in turn, made everything work harder. My heart responded by trying to beat more (and more…) which is actually not an efficient thing for the heart. Thus, my body was not getting the appropriate amount of oxygen, causing me to try even harder to breathe and generally starting the whole process over again.

I am on a diuretic (removes water) which seems to be helping my heart. I am also on something that makes my mucus thinner, which makes it easier to cough up; the result, is that I am coughing less, which seems to make everything better.  Again, I need to do this test, and I have an appointment with the allergist and the heart doctor, but for the first time in weeks, I can report feeling borderline okay.

Long term, I DESPERATELY need to loose weight. I am working very hard to use my WW app and I am investigating some other accountability ideas. I read an interesting book, The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, which pointed out that as an Obliger, external accountability is important for me. Thus, I am working on making those.

The Rest of Life

Feeling healthier, I have begun (trying) reassemble something called life. The dog has gotten pretty squirrely on his reduced exercise regime, so I have been giving him as much walking time as I can. Most days now we are hitting 8000 steps, which is down from 10,000+, but up from 2500 a few weeks ago.

Key: “Where can I find ripe blackberries to eat… Something to roll in… A mouse to chase…”

Also this weekend, I did some deep cleaning. I think I MAY need to do this more often; the kittens (who turned 1 year old this week!) looked startled by my actions. Between this unprecedented housekeeping, errands, food prep, and continuing to work on editing my book, I may not have a lot to show, but I actually have a good list of accomplishments.


But, we all know that you tune in for painting. And, for the first time since I went on my trip, I am thrilled to be able to show off some things!

  1. I am waiting for results for the WSO, NWWS, and the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society show (entered on a whim.)
  2. I hope you have marked the calendar for the Westminster Presbyterian Church Festival of Fine Art, happening October 7-11. Five of my paintings will be there!
  3. My painting, Measuring Infinity, will ship off to Michigan for the ISEA show this week. Finally!

    “Measuring Infinity” – watercolor on Yupo (2021)

  4. I put the final touches on these two paintings and ordered the mats they will need. I will be turning them into ODFW Stamp Contest. I do not expect anything, because my style is not as detailed as most of the paintings that win. But I enjoyed the process! A few of you might notice that I added a background to the horned lark. It took me six months to make that decision! I don’t know when (or if) there will be an exhibition of entries this year, but I’ll keep you posted.
  5. I am just showing off the following two paintings. I am not sure when I did them (after vacation) and I don’t think they are done. But… I did something…
  6. I am taking a step back from this large, half-sheet piece. I’m not sure what it needs.

    For You Are Crunchy

  7. Finally, I used all the extra paint from the horned lark and dragon to make this. I already have an idea about where this new abstract is headed! It’s a full sheet; we’ll see if it stays that way!

I truly believe that is all the news that’s fit to print around here. I am hoping that some shows and conventions and other things will be restarting, but with the delta variant on the surge, I am starting to see things being cancelled again. Fingers crossed that the WSO Convention goes on. I signed up and the breakouts looks great. I am particularly excited that my friend, Sandra Pearce, is doing a session on creating depth in paintings. I know she’ll rock it!

Just put a happy little dog in it…

After a long week where my main focus was overcoming the stomach malady reported in my last post, I entered the weekend happily, but with a full schedule. Key was entered in two “element” trails over the weekend and between the drive over (1 hour), trial, and drive back, my afternoons were shot. Thus, between food prep, house cleaning, and other irritating but necessary chores, I can’t claim a lot of painting got done. But Key is happy (and probably weighs 2 pounds more than he did from all the treats!)

Key with his qualifying level 3 Exteriors ribbon. 2nd place overall! Sunday was just as fun, but ribbon-less.

With this in mind, my meager pieces should be viewed more as exercises than full paintings. In fact, they are exercises from this month’s theme of balance.

First of all, based on critique of this piece, I adjusted the insipid corner (loved that comment!)

Then I repurposed some old paintings to tackle a couple of the monthly challenges.

Grid design – “Something, everywhere”

And then…

Spiral design – “The Moment”

Neither are done, but the second has some “versions” for you to ponder.

Hopefully I’ll have more time in the week to come!

Timely Tara Tells Tantalizing Tales

It’s my story that the last two weeks of not posting or doing art have not been my fault. And I’m gonna stick to it.

The last few posts at the end of August were about the finishing of two paintings for an upcoming show. I worked hard on them, and the remaining steps were to varnish the panels and deliver them. The next weekend, I did the varnishing, but delivery is not for a couple more days.

On the 4th I attended my monthly “Roaring 20’s” mentorship check in with Ruth Armitage. It went well, but I was oddly complacent and didn’t get new goals; I still needed to work on my goals from month 2, which had been bypassed in favor of the aforementioned paintings.

But rather than trying to catch up, as I so desperately need to do, I ran amok over the Memorial Day weekend.

Whale Watching

On Saturday a friend and her son, James, came through to spend the night at the beach house before heading north to more exotic locations. I suggested a whale watching trip and off we went.

As usual, the magnificent Carrie Newell presented the pertinent (and fascination) information about the resident gray whales. However, she mentioned that for some reason, there weren’t as many gray whales in the area this year. She voiced a suspicion that the heavy spring squid bolt had somehow messed up the habitat for this year. Still, there were enough whales in the area that we would see at least one.

As we were loading into the boats, a call came out over the radio. A small pod of humpback whales had been sighted out in the main offshore fishing channel. The pilots gunned the motor and we were off! It took a while to find them, but the fisherman who had called in waited around to guide us to the pod.

I hadn’t packed my camera (foolish) so the only camera I had was my cell phone camera. James had a camera, but… well… Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t give a 10-year-old boy a camera and expect great shots.

The video’s quality leaves a little be desired, but you can hear our collective excitement.

James took a few more pictures and I got several with my phone. They aren’t the best, but they are better than nothing!

It was really exciting! I had never seen humpbacks before.


Sunday my friend and James took off, but another friend, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend arrived for a day trip. I haven’t spent a lot of time with 15-year-olds, but I know I’m hopelessly uncool and didn’t taken it personally. My friend and I made very sure not to walk too near the cool kids. We went to the beach a couple of times, then made our way to Mossy Creek Pottery, Alder House Glassblowing, and then a quick tour of the Siletz Bay NWR.


I returned to Salem late Sunday night because I had an appointment on Monday. I have been thinking about getting a pair of kittens for a while. It’s been a while since Bob died, and while dogs have a special place in my personal totem pole, I miss having cats around. I was eyeballing various places to adopt a kitten when a friend announced that a cat had walked into her sister’s garage and proceeded to have seven (7!) kittens.

Trust me, this cat knows a sucker when she finds one. Unfortunately, the mama cat developed mastitis after a week and they had to put her on antibiotics, which meant the kittens had to be hand fed. My friend and her sister split the litter up to ensure everyone got enough attention and food. Monday they were bringing the kittens together for the weekly conference.

Over the last five weeks, I’ve been getting regular reports on the kittens and Monday was the day I got to go pick out mine!

As you will probably note, I picked out the gold/silver tabby (kitten 7 in photo 1) and the dilute tortoiseshell (6). The cream (4), black (1), and silver tabby (2) have homes as well. They are looking for a home for the dark tortoiseshell pair, who are apparently quite the buddy team. If anyone is interested, I can provide a contact. My friend and her sister have done everything right, and these kittens are used to being handled and very people-centric.

It will be about another week (around Sept 19) before my kittens come “home”, but I’m excited. I’ve almost picked out names; Anouk (DT) and Chitza (GST) (yes, from Chocolat) are today’s favorites.

Just don’t tell Key.

Strada Challenge

My friend, Sandra Pearce, challenged me to take part of in the Strada Easel Challenge. Every day you draw or paint something from life (not photo) and post it on social media. At the end of 30 days, those who have completed the challenge are in the drawing for a prize. Sandra has been kicking it. I’ve sort of been limping along.

Other projects

In other news, I fell about six weeks ago and got a slight concussion (very slight) and a huge elbow bruise. Ever since, I’ve had nearly constant headaches and neck pain. I figured it was whiplash, but since moving I haven’t picked out a new chiropractor. Last week the pain got bad enough that I caved and yesterday I went to my first appointment. I had a rib “out”, but was also diagnosed with a neck sprain (wrench or twist the ligaments of a joint violently so as to cause pain and swelling but not dislocation.) I can move my neck more today, but I am so sore.

As I’m sure most of my friends know, we had a major storm that resulted in massive forest fires. Startling, both my new Keizer house and the beach house are near the fires. The beach house has been at level 2 (be ready to leave) a couple of times, and the Keizer house at level 1 (be aware of the situation). The air quality has been terrible and essentially everyone is holed up inside with the A/C running just to keep the air clean. It’s really been an apocalyptic year.

I’m hoping that by posting this and getting up to date, I’ll be able to work on some paintings tomorrow. I’ll still be cooped up, but maybe I’ll feel more ambitious. Wish me luck!

Four paintings and an attack

To paraphrase Victor Hugo, some weeks’ function is to serve as a bad example. This was one of those weeks. By Friday, stick a fork in me because I was done.

“Black Mood”

I sat down in my studio Friday evening and basically destroyed some paper.

“Self Portrait When Feeling Blue”

I would like to report, that got it out of my system. Maybe it did. Saturday I began work on a new painting, continuing my recent exploration of western equestrianism.

“The Getaway” – 22″ x 15″

I got the image on paper, and then started looking for masking fluid to preserve a few whites. I discovered that the masking fluid was still down at the beach house. I had a small list of items I needed at the craft store, so I loaded up the dog (Key) and made a Craft Warehouse run. I’ve been to this store many times and I know where things are. I figured the visit would take 10 minutes on the outside. And I was right. Here’s what I didn’t count on.

As I mentioned, I brought Key. My yard still hasn’t been re-fenced, and I’m a little nervous about leaving him until that is accomplished. It was an overcast but warm day, about 72, but not hot like it had been the rest of the week. For a 10 minute wait, I figured he could handle it. If it had been any hotter or if I had been secure about the fence, I would have left him home.

I went into the store (mask on) and grabbed my three items, then stood in line for a few more minutes. As I was standing in line, I heard an employee walk by saying something about, “Of course the dog is barking–” Key has separation anxiety, and I was concerned that he was disturbing people. Jst a few moments later, over the loudspeaker, a voice said, “Would the owner of a gray Subaru come to the front counter…” As I was next in line, I didn’t do anything, but while I was checking out, I asked the cashier why I had been called. “Oh, someone complained that your dog was locked in the car and it was too hot.”

Now, let me pause here. Anyone who has been on any kind of social media any time in the last 10 years knows that pets should not be left in cars on hot days. I agree with this. I think maybe the warning have gotten a little overzealous, but better safe than sorry.

Out of curiosity, I went online to find one of these charts. If we accept the data (and I’m not 100% sure I do here), the temperature would have got to 94 degrees. I don’t know if this calculation takes into account having windows cracked, but mine were, which does help. Finally, the parking spot I selected did not have direct sunlight. In short, I am confident that it was nowhere near 94 degrees.

Resuming my story, I left the store and went back to my car. Key was resting comfortably in the front seat, no panting or showing any signs of distress. He wasn’t even barking. I opened the side door to put in my purchases and give him a quick pet. The car was certainly not 94 degrees. As I was petting him, a woman approached me (more like pounced…)

Now, in this day of social distancing, it’s unusual to have anyone approach anyone. Even odder, she was not wearing a mask. I was a little alarmed. She started talking, “I can tell that you love your dog, but did you know that leaving a dog in a locked car on a hot day can be fatal?” It was not an actual question. Additionally, it’s a rather silly question due to the social media angle (see above.)

Back in the store, I had rehearsed what I  might say. “Thank you for caring about my dog, but the windows were rolled down–” I started.

“Only an inch,” she accused. “I’ve been waiting ten minutes.”

It is worth noting at this point that she had invaded my personal space bubble, which would have been bad even in a no-COVID world. And she was not wearing a mask. I started to feel frightened for a multitude of reasons. I looked at her and realized that there were no words I could utter to defuse the situation, even if I was good at that kind of thing. She was either a crusader or someone who had been triggered into blowing up.

I closed the side door of my car, opened the front door, got in, and closed the door. The woman kept talking, reaching for the door handle. I locked the door. She turned to her friend (who I had not noticed standing there) and started saying, “She doesn’t care. I mean, she doesn’t even care.” I took a deep breath, carefully backed out of the space, and left. I prayed that the unnoticed friend had not been taping the whole interaction for YouTube.

Mood completely ruined, I came home and called a friend. After a while, I finally worked on the painting that sent me out into the (crazy) world. I also did this one.

“I’ve Got My Eye On You”

I’m calling it, “I’ve Got My Eye On You.”

I’ve really been struggling the last few weeks with the world in general. Facebook feels like a minefield. Nothing we do is normal because of the virus. Social justice protests are everywhere and have inspired me to take on some reading, which is disturbing to say the least. Friends from work are transferring out and even those that remain are visibly stressed. And this move is proving to be more emotionally difficult that I hoped. This week felt like many stresses came bubbling to the fore.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I simply don’t have words to express my discomfort, grief, and anger. I am speechless in the face of extremism and intolerance. In short, I am without voice in a world where everyone is screaming.