Monday, December 31, 2018

Fast away the old year passes

I am emotional about the old year ending. I know, this year I went caroling a couple of weeks ago, and it is a wonderful memory, bursting into bars with my friends singing "Fast away the old year passes, hail the new, ye lads and lasses!" and happily accepting free drinks. But still.

This was just one crazy magical year.

Bad things happened and good things happened but at the end I feel I landed on my feet. And what more can you ask for?

I am having a wonderful time drawing and painting and I feel very blessed.

My head is clearing after decades of round-the-clock, 24/7 busyness and I feel I should be able to get a certain music writing project wrapped up, not that anyone remembers that besides me but the point is, I do.

This was the year Howard began his donut business and that has been fun. At St. Anthony's at Christmas we had the first Latin Midnight Mass that Buffalo has seen in many years. And I do not need to remind anyone that it was an epic year for thrift shopping. Just check out the picture at the top of the post. That was a score from just yesterday.

Long story short, what I am getting at is, this was a tremendous year in many ways. And it is setting up to be so next year is even better.

Still, you cling to what you know and I feel nostalgic that this year is ending.

2018 ... Sure there are always less-than-great things that happen in any year. People die. Things happen.

But all in all, it was a very good year.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Drawing on the right side of my brain

I drew this horse and rider and it looks great! But do not get all excited. I drew it because I am working my way through the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain."
It is an upside-down drawing!

The horse and the knight were originally drawn by some medieval German artist and you turn it upside down and copy it.

Suddenly I can draw a horse!

I had heard of this book from a long time ago but I never read it. Recently I inherited a copy because my sister's father-in-law is downsizing and my brother-in-law was nice enough to pass on to me many of his father's art books.

I thought: There is a reason I have this book. I am supposed to look into it. Because I do want to polish my skills and this book seems like a neat way to do it. 

It is fascinating what the book has in it about the right side and left side of your brain. You are reading it thinking: So that is what is going on in there! 

I am not sure I need all the exercises but I do them anyway. I realize that the left side of my brain does tend to dominate and say, "You don't need this stuff." And it cannot hurt, you know?

But I already do already have some of the thinking the author talks about. She said that when you were doing an upside-down drawing, you would start losing track of time, and also that it might seem you were putting together a puzzle.

Just last week that was how I had described it to Howard, what it is like to do a drawing. I said, "It is like putting together a puzzle." 

And he asks me how long certain drawings take and I cannot tell him. I honestly do not know.

Well, something similar happens when you are writing, too. I think you lose yourself in something and the time just goes.

If I know so much why ain't I rich? I had a roommate who used to ask me that.

Well, I am on my way.

I have drawn the upside-down German horse and rider!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Me and my Christmas cards

On the Fifth Day of Christmas I found myself making Christmas cards.

I know, I am jumping the gun just a little. In the traditional Catholic crowd I run with, it is not only acceptable, but it is encouraged, to wait until after Dec. 25 to send your cards. It is especially desirable to wait a little later because Christmastide extends till Candlemas, Feb. 2.

And after that you will find all of us at the gym doing overtime. That is because of the Tom & Jerrys which are another story for another day.

I could not believe how I took to these Christmas cards once I had found my groove. I love working with letters. I just love it.

For one card I wrote with a wide-nib dip pen and white ink. It was kind of chalky but when it was dry I drew in the letters. I striped one stroke and I added dots to another one... Too much fun, is all I can say.

For a while I was writing on the cards with a white gel pen: "Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus, ex Maria Virgine, gaudete." It was a mouthful but it filled the card and I had a lot of fun with it. I filled letters in with my Dr. Ph. Martin's ink that I splurged for a while ago at Michael's. If not now, when?

Then I decided to cut the words back and I did, "Gaudete, Christus est natus." That green card below, by the way, it is not finished. I add a lot of gold and silver and stuff because I believe that belongs on Christmas cards in vast quantities.

So it goes!!

It goes like it goes as the David Shire song goes.

I just hate to see the tradition of Christmas cards disappearing. I like traditional Christmas cards, too, as opposed to the ones with photos. I mean, the photo cards are better than nothing, but I like cards with artwork. Even a tacky Santa I will take, with rejoicing. I love the entire genre.

And I am proud to be contributing to it! I even wrote on Facebook that if people sent me their addresses I would send me one. I got about a half dozen responses. See, that is how popular I am.


Friday, December 28, 2018

The uneasy Brisbane Building

I got to sketch outside today. That was exciting! It is not as if I never draw in the cold but when it is beastly cold you cannot.

Today it was -- I want to say it was almost in the 50s, because you did not need gloves. So I sat outside the, ahem, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, and I drew the Brisbane Building. It felt like spring, even as it was getting dark. I always seem to be drawing when it is getting dark.

Howard looked at it later and he liked how I drew the flag at half staff. He said it showed I was drawing it for real, as opposed to from a photograph -- just the way it was.

He said, "The flag makes you feel a little uneasy."

And I was thinking, I wonder if my picture of the Brisbane Building does make people feel uneasy? If it does, though, I do not think it is because of the flag.

I think it was because I once worked there!

I worked there when I was with Citibank and that was one job that just ended up blowing up in my face. One of these days I will describe that but meanwhile, if the picture looks stressful that is why.

I am glad it is now and not then.

I am glad I am drawing the Brisbane Building, and not working there!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sketching the smoky alley

You know how Monet went back again and again to his lily ponds? And Georgia O'Keeffe returned to her New Mexico landscapes?

I keep returning to this one Buffalo alley.

It is downtown and for some reason whenever I draw it, it is always getting dark. The other night there was smoke coming from a chimney and I sketched it and signed it with a flourish, as you can see up above. Your signature is the thing about art that is the most fun! See, this is something other artists will not tell you.

This was the sketch before I put in the shadows.

I kind of like it that way too! But I thought about what I loved about that alley and it was the smokiness of the scene.

Earlier when I sketched this alley it was from a different angle. What I loved about it that time, looking at it from that slightly different direction, was the building in the middle, on that garage building, and the snow on the roof.

That building is just so cool!! I want to go back and try it from that angle again. In the upper versions you can only see the edge of it.

When darkness descended I drew the alley again. From this angle I had a good glimpse of the gas station sign in the foreground. I loved drawing that sign. In the top picture you just see the edge of it.

And I did not even show you the mistakes! I love drawing that alley, is all I can say. By the way right to the left of the alley -- it would be off the paper -- is the famous "Rainy Night" corner building that Charles Burchfield painted so magnificently in 1930. Here is Burchfield's famous painting.

He returned to that building several times. I just read that and I loved it because it made me think of me and the alley. I started reading up on Burchfield recently because some people who saw my drawings said my style reminded them of his. Which, could you please tell me that again?

La la la la la la la.


Anyway. That is the greatest compliment ever, and I am not going to say I deserve it. But I am enjoying learning about Burchfield because I am seeing that many of the things that appealed to him are the same things that appeal to me. And I think we share some of the same ways of thinking and looking at things.

This is cool: If you look at Burchfield's corner house, the house that stars in his picture, and count over three houses to the right, according to my calculations that is the building that stars in my alley picture. The two buildings in the middle are gone now, replaced by a pawnshop and I forget what else, probably a parking lot. But that building on the right, the little one with the four rows of windows -- that has to be the building on the left in my sketch. And sure enough, in the Burchfield painting, to the right of that building, you can see my alley.

I wonder if Burchfield ever painted it? If he never got around to it, that's too bad. But he can rest easy.

I've got it covered!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The infamous Christmas feast

That picture looks wild but it is just something I snapped out the window on our way to see my sister Katie last night for Christmas dinner.

They live in East Aurora, aka the Snow Belt. They got snow. We did not.

It was exotic to me and so I took another picture.

At my sister's house disaster hit. I could not stop eating!

I started with split pea soup my brother George brought in a Crock Pot. He set the Crock Pot down on the floor near the Christmas tree and you had to go help yourself there.

Then we sat down at table and the food just kept arriving!

My sister's husband, David, is a hunter, and there was venison. Venison like fine steak, pink in the middle and sliced really thin and enjoyed, at least in my case, with horseradish.

There were mushrooms that David foraged. And Katie made some kind of dish involving what I believed to be roasted pears and onions -- delicious.

A platter of turkey showed up. And David is also a fisherman and served the most delicious steelhead trout. Howard thought the trout was the most delicious thing there and that was saying a mouthful.

Speaking of mouthfuls we also had a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, yummy with the mushrooms. A beautiful big salad with pomegranate and blackberry vinaigrette. I cannot remember what else. The thing is, dishes just kept showing up, one after another.

After dessert, which I will not even get into, I was so stuffed I could not move!

I asked my sister if I could help wash the dishes just because I wanted to get on my feet and move. She said no and then brought some cranberry liqueur a friend had made. And we had that.

There was also a great Crock Pot full of Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice, our favorite. That was the only thing I consumed that had no calories.

As Neil Young sang, ohhhh, the damage done!

Today all I wanted to do was be on my feet. So it being Boxing Day I boxed up tons of things I did not like any more and that were getting under foot and I took them to Amvets. I managed to get out of Amvets without buying anything to take home to replace the stuff I had delivered, which is what I usually do. I parked way across the parking lot so I would have a hike.

Later I thought: Uh, Mary, you could just go to the gym, you know?

Gym? What's a gym?

It is the Second Day of Christmas.

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bombing around Buffalo

Today my friend Meghan and I went downtown to sketch and wound up bombing around. Which I loved. When was the last time I bombed around? I could not even remember.

We went to Fountain Plaza and sketched the skaters. That is my masterful rendition up above!  It was something different for me and I had a lot of fun with it.

Then we turned around and sketched the old Buffalo Savings Bank across the street.

And after that we went wandering down Main Street and there was a hot dog man and so we ate hot dogs.

Then we found ourselves in Roosevelt Plaza and we drew the Hiker. That is a statue put up to commemorate the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Here is what I loved. The whole time we were sketching, nobody stopped and wanted to see our work. However, everyone looked at us and then they looked up at the Hiker.

I loved that people were looking at the statue. I loved that they noticed it. Normally people walk by statues and never notice them.

After that Meghan was a little cold so we stopped in a hip coffee shop but it was small and crowded so we went to the Lafayette Hotel and got coffee at the Public. We got our coffee to go and, coffee in hand, aimlessly wandered the hotel, all three floors, admiring how beautiful it was.

Then at long last we emerged and meandered down to the Electric Tower. We wondered if we could go in and sure enough, we could. There is a pretty coffee shop in there so next time we get coffee that will be where we go.

To our delight the corridors of the Electric Tower were lined with historic photos of the place. We learned what it used to do, which was sell electric appliances, lamps and refrigerators and such. We must have pored over those pictures for an hour, discussing the eras they portrayed, and what our lives would have been like had we lived then, and whether or not we would have been able to do our hair like the women in the pictures, and how people used to dress, and which buildings were there then that are not there now, and why was it necessary to take them down.

La la la la la la la.

After the skaters and the Buffalo Savings Bank and the Hiker we never did end up doing another drawing. However I did feel we accomplished something. Later I realized I had not taken a single picture. I had snapped nothing with my camera! I had only what was in my sketchbook. And that preserved the day, you know? Looking at my sketch of the skaters I remember it all, how the flags were flying in the wind, how one skater fell on her bottom, what the day was like.

Leonard Pennario told me that he never took pictures, that what he had in his head was better.

With me it is what is in the sketchbook.

It is better!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Step away from the fruitcake

Piously, this year I was trying to stay away from Christmas baking. Aside from church coffee hour, I mean. I can bring things to church coffee hour and not eat them myself. OK, not eat so much of them myself.

Then disaster struck!

My niece and nephew came over yesterday to decorate my Christmas tree. Yes, it went up! I put it up on Sunday and we decorated it yesterday.

And naturally we had to bake. Well, Barbara and I baked. Her little brother just wandered in now and then to lick the beaters.

We did not mess around. We cut right to the good stuff and made fruitcake. It was called Applesauce Fruitcake and Alexa gave us the recipe.

"Alexa," I said to my tablet, "find us a Martha Stewart fruitcake recipe." Because I made these wonderful fruitcakes once and I remember the recipes were hers.

Alexa gave us this applesauce cake recipe and whether or not it was Martha Stewart it was great. Making it was a little problematic because the tablet kept blacking out on us whenever we got busy and neglected it. But a robot does not judge you. And so we could feel free to say again, every five minutes, "Alexa, find us a Martha Stewart fruitcake recipe." And this one would bounce back up. It was something like No. 20 on the list.

The cake could not miss seeing that everything we put into it was great. Butter from Aldi, maraschino cherries from Price Rite, dates from I forget where, thick homemade and home-canned applesauce made from apples from that tree going begging in the Town of Tonawanda. It baked for about an hour and a half and then it was so good that I did not do as I had piously planned, and send my assistants home with it. When my brother was ready to leave with them, I grabbed half that cake to keep for myself!

It was just so good!!

It has chopped maraschino cherries and dates and walnuts. The World War II Sunbeam Mixmaster went the distance as you can see in the picture above.

You know that mixer smell? It was in the air. I love that aroma and there is no describing it. The cake, too, has an intoxicating aroma. I felt like Eve giving the apple to Adam when I gave Howard a slice to eat. He loved it too!


Help us stay away from this cake!

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Appassionata and me

A little while ago, just because I had dinner ready and Howard was not home yet, I sat down at the old Steinway and played Beethoven's "Appassionata."

Just because I could!

Well, I did not know it would go as well as it did. Aside from running through the first movement yesterday, I had not played it in yikes, 15 years. But it came back pretty easily, I have to say that.

Something is almost funny in a way. I think I play better than I used to. Which does not make sense considering I have played hardly at all in 10 years or whatever. When I went to California to see Leonard Pennario I stopped playing. I do not know what it was. I think it was that I loved Pennario and when he died I just did not want to play, because what was I next to him? Maybe it was something like that, who knows.

Who cares, at this point. The long and short of it is, I have been going back to it a little bit here and there, and oddly enough, I am a lot better. Every time I leave the piano for a few years and go back to it I am way better than I was. Another thing, it might be now that I have become a better listener. Part of that comes from listening to Leonard while I have been working on his biography. Part of it comes from working so long as The Buffalo News' classical music critic. I had to listen to a lot and listen carefully and with an open mind.

Not to brag, but when it comes to music, I amaze myself with my capacity to listen. I got better at it over the years. I can sit through entire long, long concerts and never cough or move or fall asleep. I sit there motionless but wide awake, listening, listening, listening.

So maybe that has made me a better pianist when I was not looking. Another thing, my teacher, Stephen Manes, he was great with me. Now and then through my life I have met people who, their teacher told them over and over how great they were, and they have these big egos as a result and it stunts them. Stephen never told me I was great. Heck, he never told me I was good.

Instead he worked me hard. As I was reading through the Appassionata just now, there were signs of a struggle. Faint signs, in pencil, but eloquent all the same. Stephen always wrote freely in my scores, but his writing was always very faint and in pencil and I was finding it hard to read. It was a victory when, at one point, I made out "Rich tone."

My writing was no picnic either. Mostly what I wrote was notes. The notes in the Appassionata get really high, way above the treble staff, and really low, below the bass staff. Now, as opposed to then, it occurs to me that Beethoven was pushing the envelope of what was the normal voicing of the piano. He had the hands very far apart, or else very close together high up or low down. Anyway, I would count up the lines and the spaces, and pencil in "E flat," or "C," or whatever. I seem to remember Stephen was kind of disgusted by that.

And now I can kind of see why. Often these notes are part of arpeggios or something, and you can figure out what the notes are without counting up the lines of the staff or having to write them. Well, having said that, I have to say that my old notes did come in kind of handy.

Anyway, the Appassionata. Because I can!!

I am going to get it back under my fingers and never let it go. I decided that. A half hour every couple of days to run through it, how much is that? After all...

Play the piano daily and stay sane!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Baby, it's cold outside!

My Christmas tree is not yet up. Yet I have a Christmas song on the brain.

What song, you ask? The same song that is on everyone's brain. "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The more you hear that it's banned, the more you keep thinking about it!

It kind of bugged me how people are suddenly condemning this song. My sister even told me last week she had always thought it was kind of creepy. All these years, she never told me she thought that song was creepy.

You know what I think the problem is? People aren't taking the melody into account. It is this sweet and flirtatious tune. As I said to Howard the other day, if you are going to go down this road, ignore the music and ban things because words are offensive, there goes half of opera.

Certainly you could kiss this duet goodbye.

We did a little research into "Baby, It's Cold Outside," because it was on our minds.

I did not know it was by Frank Loesser, who wrote the musical "Guys and Dolls." Don't say that too loudly. "Guys and Dolls" will be next on the chopping block, because of the demeaning term "dolls."

I did not know it won the Academy Award.

One more funny thing, if you look up the YouTube clip of the movie "Neptune's Daughter" which featured the song, first you see the guy trying to get the girl to stay, and then you see the girl trying to get the guy to stay.

"Neptune's Daughter" must get its name because it starred Esther Williams, the famous synchronized swimmer. A romance featuring a synchronized swimmer and the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" ...?

I had not known any of this. Well, neither does anyone protesting the song. They're going to be protesting me soon, because now thanks to them I've got the song on my brain, and just like the gal in the picture up above, it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

It's in, and it's got to come out.

Baby, it's cold outside!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fun with Early Times

A few days ago I had occasion to go through a bunch of photos. I mean, I scanned several years' worth of photos I had taken with my phone. Long story what I was looking for, but the upshot of it was, it hit me ...

Almost all my photos fall into one of just several categories.

The cat. (Speaking of categories.)

Views of Buffalo -- Delaware Park, downtown, and other locations. It is a funny thing now. Something strikes you as pretty or dramatic, and you have to snap a pic.

Wow, how the months pass! That was not that long ago.

The third category is things I am baking or have baked for church coffee hour. I did not realize I have taken so many hundreds of pictures of cakes and pastries and whatnot. You cannot have too many, that is for sure!

With which, above is the Whiskey Squash Cake I made for today's gathering. My friend Joe at church is a master gardener and he grew these mega-squashes, five or six of which I inherited. I have a way of inheriting Joe's stuff. In that picture of Jeoffry up above, of Jeoffry looking out the window, those are Joe's TUCO puzzles. Well, they came from him. They are mine now.

But back to the squash. They looked like Delicata Squash only much, much bigger. I could find no hint of how to cook them so I roasted one of them at 350 degrees while other things went in and out of the oven.

It may have stayed in the oven a bit too long, however, not a bad thing. The squash's skin was so crisp and roasted that it just fell away.

You know what I hate? The word doneness. So I will not use it here. I will just say that the squash was well done. And in the cake it married nicely with Early Times whiskey.

Ha, ha! I always laugh thinking of that. My brother George and I were once on one of our road trips going God knows where, and we went through Kentucky, and we kept seeing that the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby that year was Early Times. We would always laugh at the billboards because all we could think was Early Times meant that you drank it at 6 in the morning.

Baking the whiskey into a cake lets you enjoy it politely at, well, early times. This cake was gone before I could taste it.

I'll have to roast another mega-Delicata!

And uncork, again, that bottle of Early Times.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Farewell to Cooking Light

The magazine Cooking Light is folding and I seem to be the last person in the world to know. This despite my longtime subscription which I have reported on at great length over the time I have been keeping this, ahem, chronicle.

Our subscriptions are being replaced with subscriptions to Eating Well. I already subscribe to Eating Well so we will have to see how this sorts out. Oh (Eating) well....

I suspected many times that Cooking Light was circling the drain.

There was the issue in 2010 that, all it did was yell at you.

There was the Thanksgiving of the "cooked plants."

And my suspicion that the magazine was trying to get me addicted to breadsticks.

I get the idea they repeat and recycle a lot of recipes. Just now I opened the Farewell Issue at random and it opened to "Shrimp and Grits." I know I have seen versions of that before.

The magazine irritated me to the last. There is that word "gut" unattractively used literally, as in the illustration above.

Gut ist nicht gut! When that word first surfaced maybe five years ago I knew right away it was here to stay, and sure enough.

Yet as I have written before, the price kept dropping, and I kept capitulating, and I do look forward to the monthly thump of the magazine in the mailbox.

I like pretending I am organized and crossing off the recipes as I make them.

I like the food photography. I liked this one editor, Ann Taylor Pittman. And the magazine's most recent makeover -- the last of dozens -- looked good.

Plus, I just like the excuse to consume.

I'll have to find another!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Feast of All Hallows

Today after church we celebrated the Feast of All Hallows. The kids all dressed up as the saints of their choice. And they paraded in, and took the stage one by one, as the adults sat around enjoying the show with our coffee and donuts, not to mention quiche and soup and bagels.

We have done this for five years now. Every year it gets a little bit letter. This year a sound system played "When the Saints Go Marching In" as the kids paraded in. It also played during the Musical Chairs game that followed. There was also a Halo Toss.

My nephew Georgie participated. He was St. Matthew. I was proud of him. He got up there in his robes and proclaimed that St. Matthew, being a tax collector, was the patron saint of tax collectors and accountants.

The littlest saint was St. Maurice. He led the pack, carried by his mother because he was so small. He sported an amazing Roman helmet and armor. I had never heard of St. Maurice before but he was a Roman commander who was martyred.

St. George and St. Michael were very popular because boys got to put on armor to portray them. A couple of chubby little girls dressed as nuns. St. Therese was popular. Surprise choices included St. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentists and teeth, and St. Dymphna, patron saint of insomniacs and the mentally ill. Alas, wee St. Dymphna arrived too late to the party because her family had some commitment in Niagara Falls that had tied them up.

It was a hallowed morning, I will say that! And afternoon. Our coffee hours often go into the afternoon and this party drew a big crowd and no one was in a hurry to leave.

There is an All Hallows High School, how cool is that?

I hope they name their basketball team the Deathly Hallows. How can they resist?

And in London there is the medieval All Hallows church, pictured above.

What a look! Apparently it is surrounded by modern office buildings. Imagine, you are looking for the office where you are to begin your temp job, or see your accountant (with appropriate prayers directed toward St. Matthew, of course) .... and then this.

This church where you have to believe King Arthur attended Mass!

But anyway. Back to our All Hallows celebration. I floated the idea, and it quickly gained a large following, that next year we should take an adjacent Sunday and do Grown-Up Saint Day. That is when all the grown-ups will dress as saints and say in a couple of sentences who this saint was. Plus from experience we can talk about how this saint has come through for us.

What saint will that be for me?

I had better start planning now!

Monday, October 22, 2018

The ghostliest statue at Forest Lawn

There is this statue at Forest Lawn Cemetery that is just so --

... Well, let us say, atmospheric.

I do not want to say spooky. It would not be fair to the family whose memorial includes the statue. The family happens to be the Pratt family. The memorial is one of the highlights of Forest Lawn. It is, so scholars say, a prime example of esteemed Victorian funeral art.

But the finish has worn away from the central figure, resulting in that vision above. Here, another view.

This ....

... was easier to draw, I will tell you that right now.

The Pratt memorial which you may read about here dates to the 19th century. It is not as old as you think. The first burial took place in 1872.

There are gargoyles all over the place at the Pratt memorial too. I have to say I do not quite get the gargoyle thing, when it comes to what is supposed to be your serene final resting place. Who could rest easy with this ...

... over your head?

(The gargoyles at the Pratt monument looked a lot like that one.)

Yet Samuel Fletcher Pratt sleeps peacefully as far as anyone can tell. I have not seen him, not on any of my explorations of that cemetery.

I will have to go back just to make sure.

That, and to have another try at drawing that statue!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Delaware Park in the dark

We have a little heat wave going here in October in Buffalo. It reminds me of other Octobers that were very warm. It happens!

But after tonight the temps are supposed to fall into, well, fall. Big time.

With which, tonight I took the Huffy Harvard Limited on what might be its last spin this year -- although, who knows. I pedaled aimlessly around North Buffalo a bit and then, when it was getting dark, I swung twice around the Ring Road of Delaware Park.

It is a kick to go into Delaware Park in the last warm days. Last night I went walking around and even after it was dark, I mean really dark, the park was still full of people. It was as if it were 3 p.m. Kids were zooming past on scooters. Families were camped on the lawn. The basketball courts and the exercise area continued to play host to nonstop action. Speed bicyclists were racing around the park with their helmets and strobe lights. Those bicyclists are kind of annoying, you know? But still.

Fun to see everyone there! I took that picture above, by the way, when the sun was going down. I hate to see that evening sun go down!

Tonight was the second night and I did not stick around quite as long, but the place was jumping as it was last night. There is a kind of desperation in the air now because here it is 80 degrees but tomorrow, so they say anyway, will be different. Motorists were extra obnoxious. Radios were loud. Motorcycles were roaring around by the million. It was enough to make you think ....

.... almost enough to make you think....

.... maybe it is time for fall, after all.

No. I did not say that.

But almost.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A poisonous prompt for #Inktober

Today we went for another family picnic. This is in the grove we went to when we were kids at Emery Park. It was a beautiful day! I took the above picture while we were playing croquet.

Every time we go for a picnic we get a little bit better at it. Today we were more in order with our dishes and our tablecloths. The food was great. My sister made a salad with all kinds of good stuff and I made a red cabbage salad with walnuts and cheese and my brother George grilled pork loin and hot dogs. I brought Fuji apples I had scavenged and my sister Katie and brother-in-law David brought mushrooms they had scavenged. They are great at mushroom foraging and brought wonderful mushrooms that we threw on the grill.

I told David about these alarming orange mushrooms I saw in Delaware Park this morning.

I asked him if they were poisonous and sure enough, my instincts were right. Those are Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms, David said, and they are deadly!

That settles it. I will have to ink a picture of them. The first #Inktober prompt was "Poisonous." I have not been going with the prompts because -- well, because of that first prompt. I could not quite come up with a good picture to go with it. I had planned to head over to Hertel Avenue to draw a picture of 5 Venoms, a tattoo shop. But it rained and I could not go.

I do believe I took a picture.

But it was out of my car because it was raining. And I have a rule to draw my pictures in person as opposed to from a photograph. I have to impose rules because I am German. One rule I have imposed is that one. Another is that I cannot draw the picture in pencil first. I must wing it.

My third rule for #Inktober was to take as my theme "Look in your own back yard." Everything I have drawn so far has been in my immediate neighborhood.

But today I might have to cheat because I was away at the picnic. I did a picture at Emery Park and I will have to use that. Perhaps I can amend that rule. I can draw something in the course of my normal life. I happened to be in Emery Park so I drew a picture there.

Tomorrow perhaps I will return to those orange mushrooms and give them a shot. It is not too late to catch up with a few of the prompts. 

Here is a hilarious article about a legend that says the Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms glow in the dark. That totally settles it. 

They must be sketched.

For #Inktober!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

'That old-fashioned fruit that is so hard to find'

Today at church before we went in for Mass in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, also known as Our Lady of Victory, my friend Joe presented me with a little paper bag. Inside was something I had never tasted.


"I have a flowering quince tree," Joe explained, almost apologetically.

He said he was not quite sure what could be done with quince other than jam, because you hear of quince jam or jelly but nothing else.

You cannot eat quince raw! That was what Joe told me.

But I was hardly listening. All I could picture was a flowering quince tree, as in the picture above. Joe is always bringing us treasures from his gardens and now there was this too.

"Joe," I said. "It sounds as if you live in paradise."

Which he emphatically told me was not true, but I do not believe him.

Now there is the matter of what to do with the quince. There is not that much of it, maybe a couple of pounds. I would like to make some manner of jam and present Joe with a jar of it. Or make something with it to bring to our coffee hour. Perhaps a 16th Century Quince Pie.

Oh, look! Kitchn calls it "that old-fashioned fruit that is so hard to find."

Me, all I can think of is Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat."

After the owl and the pussy-cat got married, they "dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon."

When I bring my quince pie to coffee hour, I will have to remember a runcible spoon.

You have to do these things by the book!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ink-stained wretch

I am three days into Inktober. The door up above was for Day One.

They give you prompts for Inktober and the prompt for Day One, Oct. 1, was "poisonous." I love the idea of following the prompts but life got in the way. It rained and there went my plan to walk to Hertel Avenue and sketch the 5 Venoms Tattoo Studio which was my plan on how to deal with "poisonous." But the rain did not let up till later so I dashed across the street to the zoo and drew this door.

I feel so blessed to live across the street from a Victorian-era zoo! That is how I described it on Instagram. The zoo brass keeps trying to obliterate all historic elements but a few have escaped and this door is one. Howard and I have long admired it.

"Who would be authorized to open that door?" Howard marveled on one occasion.

They suggest that you take a theme for Inktober and mine is Look In Your Own Backyard. I love finding seasonal Inktober-ish stuff looking out my back door.

I realize, as I mentioned, that I am blessed. I have this zoo right on hand, and Delaware Park, and right next door one of the nation's great cemeteries, Forest Lawn, complete with the grave of a U.S. president. Today I sketched the statue of Mozart in the park. I will have to post it.

Imagine how good I will be at the end of October.

I hope so, anyway!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Prepping for Inktober

I want to do Inktober this year. It is a 30-day art challenge and all you have to do is draw in ink.

That could even be a ballpoint pen!

Of course I do like to complicate things. That is why my Leonard Pennario book project has taken me 10 years and also why I am drawn toward those fine inks from Germany pictured above. Drawn to the inks, get it? Ahem.

Also I had to go complicate things by getting a sheaf of colored inks and I would like to try painting with them. At the same time, though, I like that ink can be simple. Plus I love how ink goes with October. Way back in '08 I celebrated October by telling tales of the supernatural ever day.

Yikes, that was 10 years ago!

It is high time I did that again!

Along with Inktober. I can post my pictures too.

Anyway today, downtown, we sold out our donuts in only half an hour or so, and I had extra time, so I biked by Forest Lawn and began prepping for Inktober. I drew mausoleums and statues.

Ink might be simple but it is a challenge in that I did not let myself use pencil. I have to learn to wing it. I used a narrow little drawing pen.

I drew these things.

That was a stone mausoleum and on the right is this statue which I believe is called Aspiration. Forest Lawn is kind of strange like that, you find statues to things like Aspiration.

Aspiration was a doozy to draw. It got discouraging because when I get to work in pencil and erase, I am capable of better stuff. Several times drawing in ink I almost gave up. But I made myself keep going.

I did not want to take forever on any one thing because I have all kinds of work to do. So after a little while I turned the page and began again.

And again.

Technically these are not much better. The picture on the right, I almost ripped the page out in disgust. But I kept going.

And now, you know what, I like it!

I got home and first thing I did was get out my sketchbook and look things over. Funny thing, at the cemetery I had felt like a loser because I was thinking everything I had done was kind of a failure. Then I saw that picture and thought, I have something going on with this one.

This picture, I kind of liked it. I liked its swirls and its long lines and the weird look on Aspiration's face.

Clearly Aspiration was thinking, What in the world?

This picture was one percent Aspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Perfect for Inktober.

This will be fun!

Monday, September 10, 2018

The secrets of the garden

You know what is almost as much fun as identifying mystery birds?

Identifying mystery trees!

Through what amounts to a supernatural act of God, the back yard is being cleaned out. We are cutting back some trees to encourage others. A tree that has pressed against the garage roof forever is now ausgegangen. That is German for "outta here"! My dad used to use it frequently.

The apple tree is being rehabilitated. Remember the apple tree? It has been so hopeless for so long. Now things are different. Dead branches are ausgegangen and so is a vine that it turns out was choking it and depriving it of sun. It will produce apples again!

Honest, it is like "The Secret Garden." And my name is Mary! Just like in the book. Plus, I have the book. And I have the coloring book. It is only fitting that now I have the garden too.

Speaking of Victorian literature, one thing we have found is Hibiscus Syriacus "Blue Bird," or "Oiseau Bleu" if you are feeling French.

Not only one but two of them!

This flowering shrub, which I worked hard to identify, was popular in Victorian gardens. Tomorrow when it is light I will post a picture of the real thing. Meanwhile there is this.

I cannot wait to tell my friend Ari because we always used to joke about the Hibiscus Room. I cannot remember exactly where or what the Hibiscus Room was because the entire joke was that Ari would say, "The Hibiscus Room," and I would laugh.

Now my back yard can be the Hibiscus Room.

I am on my way!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Like a Bos

You know how people ask you, "And what did you get out of Mass today?"

Today I have an answer!

Sleepy as I was, and preoccupied with the coffee hour as I was, nevertheless this Mass taught me something I will never forget.

In the Gospel today there is something about a cow. And the Latin word for cow is "bos."

I gazed at that word charmed.


That explains "bovine."

And even better, it explains "Bossy."

That is why people have historically named their cows Bossy!

Remember the bossy Lutherans and the bossy estate sale people? "Bos" does not explain them. Nothing can explain them! But cows named Bossy, the Latin word has to be the reason.

It has to be!!

Naturally I could not wait to share this observation -- or should we say rumination -- with a couple of my fellow choristers up in the organ loft. A few minutes later I felt terrible. Here I am diverting their attention from the Gospel. What is it in me that makes me want to disturb people's devotions?

But still, Bos.

They will remember it.

They will thank me!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A day of croquet

The other night our family had a picnic. My brother Tony brought a croquet set and after dining in the open air, we played croquet. That is us up above, enjoying our sport. My brother Tony is at left.

Fooled you! Actually this is us.

From left to right you are seeing my brother Tony, my nephew Georgie, my niece Barb, and Tony's friend Jacquie. You may wonder at Tony's look of grave concentration! It was his job to instruct us all as to the rules and keep the game moving. Not easy!

If you could not see the wickets in the picture we could not either. But that is part of the challenge of croquet.

We used to play croquet years ago in our family. We went to Emory Park in East Aurora, to the exact same location shown in the picture, and would play croquet as the sun was going down. We would play until it was too dark to see.

Once Tony, who was about 12 then, missed a shot and he threw his mallet into the air in frustration. My dad filmed it on this camera he had and he would play it in when we had Home Movie night. Then he would play it in reverse so you could see the mallet airborne, then returning to Tony's hand. Ha, ha! Tony tells the story hilariously.

Now, I will tell you this, I can understand his frustration.

There is nothing like whacking that ball toward the wicket and it just grazes it and rolls off into an utterly inconvenient direction. The other day that kept happening to me.

I lost that game fair and square!

I put the "croke" in croquet!

But I am looking forward to next time. And there will be a next time. This is the second family picnic we have had and everyone is psyched for another.

I will be working on my game.

No more sticky wickets!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My encounter with Aretha Franklin

I was sad to hear a few days ago of the passing of Aretha Franklin. She died so young. And it gets me on a personal level, because of the time my path crossed hers.

It was a unique encounter! The saga began with a phone interview I did for The Buffalo News.

This particular call was an accident. Our pop music critic, Jeff Miers, happened to be on vacation when Aretha's publicist called offering the interview. We did not want to say no to an interview with Aretha Franklin, seeing that she lived in Buffalo as a girl. So I stepped up to the plate. I put myself through a quick crash course on her career -- I was an expert on Leonard Pennario, not on Aretha Franklin -- and then the diva and I spoke.

Here is the interview I did. Reading back on the interview I smiled remembering how when I mentioned I played the piano, and began asking her about her own playing, she seemed to relax and brighten. Pianists love to talk to other pianists!

But the real fun began afterwards.

It was right as I was telling her goodbye -- isn't it funny how that is when people come out with stuff? Aretha began talking about the friends she had as a little girl in Buffalo.

She wondered if I could help her get in touch with this family. And so I did. First I put together a story, a kind of shout-out to them. Blassingame, the name was.

Subsequently I was able to get a hold of Wayne Blassingame on Facebook. We had a bunch of friends in common and so I was able to message him. Aretha had remembered him as the baby of the family. She had been sort of sweet on his older brother, Gordon.

Aretha came to town and as you can see in The News' photos, was delighted that she was able to meet Wayne, who still lives in Buffalo and, may I add, is still my Facebook friend. Meanwhile, I got to talk with Gordon Blassingame.

We ran that story under the subtle title, "Aretha Franklin's Childhood Crush Tells All." I believe I wrote that headline.

The whole experience really touched me. You could tell Aretha was taking stock of her life. You could tell she was looking back wondering what things might have been like if her life had been different. This boy Gordon Blassingame -- well, he was now, like her, in his 70s -- she had tried to reconnect with him a couple of times in his single days, after their paths separated. Once, when she showed up looking for him in a limo, he was out of town.

He struck me as a salt-of-the-earth guy, the kind of man every girl would be lucky to marry. He had been in the military, joining the Marines. Then he had settled down to a job in public transit, and retired with what I imagine must be a good pension. He had been married to his wife for 41 years and hoped to top his parents' record of 50 years of marriage. He chuckled that he and his wife joked about Aretha from time to time, affectionately.

No wonder Aretha had seen something in him. A celebrity's life can be lonely and I bet you wish for that kind of normalcy, for a good faithful man to stand between you and the world.

My Aretha Franklin story did not end when her concert did.

A few days later, this gigantic bouquet of flowers arrived at work. That is the bouquet in the picture at the top! Howard found it. The flowers were from Aretha, with a note thanking me for helping her reconnect with her friends.

I think we did an email back-and-forth after that. I know I wrote her to thank her, and she mentioned to me that when she next came to Buffalo maybe I could give her a tour of The Buffalo News. Which, we all would have loved that. But she did not come back here, at least not that she knew. She did come back from time to time, we heard, to visit her mother's grave in Forest Lawn.

It got so I liked to go to Forest Lawn too! Too bad we never realized we had that in common.

I sort of thought I would get to meet her one day. She had invited me to say hello at Artpark, but I think I had to be at the Philharmonic or someplace. Plus I learned a long time ago not really to listen when artists invite you to meet them backstage. Who needs another stranger backstage, you know? And those situations do not bring out the best in me.

I still cannot actually name one Aretha Franklin song aside from "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." But I began jokingly to think of her as my buddy. My buddy, Aretha. I said a prayer for her when, in the car, I heard she had died. We should all say our prayers for Aretha Franklin, pray that she makes it to heaven. I have a feeling she will.

She was more than the Queen of Soul.

She was a gracious lady.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Sunday baking report

One reason I went for that bike ride yesterday was that I was relaxing after my church coffee hour baking.

It is hard to believe I have been baking for the coffee hour for two years now. Two and a half years! What is really funny is I still get a real kick out of it.

Yesterday my theme was, I was baking out of a cookbook called "Breakfast at Nine, Tea at Four." It is put out by, ahem, the Mainstay Inn in Cape May, New Jersey.

With us it is more like, Mass at Nine, Coffee Hour at Ten Fifteen. But it is all good. I made Orange Kuchen and Blueberry Breakfast Cake, both from that cookbook. They were part of a larger buffet that also included banana bread, corn bread, eggs with sausage and veggies ...

... and my trademark Jackson Pollack coffee wreath pictured way up above. This week I made a chocolate filling.

Also on the groaning board were Lizzie's brownies and yummy zucchini bread, and watermelon that our friends Bill and Margaret bought. That is life at St. Anthony of Padua's Latin Mass! Every week is like Babette's Feast. Other people bring stuff, too. We do love to eat.

Yesterday to the pleasant surprise of Team Coffee, the turnout was great even though it was a summer day and our Latin Mass Picnic was last week so you would have thought people would have had enough of each other for the time being.

We went through almost all the food!

And my friend Alenka who is from London praised in particular the Orange Kuchen. Alenka does not care for cinnamon and deplores that here in America it is everywhere. And so I had subbed in allspice for cinnamon in the recipe, all on account of her.

I was particularly proud of the eggs because they were a last minute sub for something that, uncharacteristic for me, had not worked out. I threw this dish together and prayed it would bake fast enough to get me to the church on time, as the song goes.

My prayers were answered! I was on time! Well, almost on time. The priest and the altar boys ...

... made it in just before I did, darn. I had to stand back.

But still. Such fun, you know? Sometimes at Mass it is hard for me to keep my mind on the prayers because I am thinking about the food.

I am not Mary, I find myself thinking on those occasions.

I am Martha!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My favorite fountain

This being Sunday when we are supposed to relax and enjoy, I went on an evening bike ride.

I love biking through Buffalo's Central Park neighborhood. It reminds me of when I was a kid and used to bike around Snyder, only it is, dare I say, perhaps just a little bit nicer. Vast stretches of it are so quiet, which makes it wonderful this time of year. In August you get the crickets and the cicadas.

This evening I pedaled around aimlessly on my Huffy Harvard Limited. Did I tell the story of this Huffy? I do not think I did. I will have to. Anyway, I came to a stop at this idyllic little park where I took the picture above.

I always admire this park when I pass it. I keep meaning to stop one of these days, and sit on that bench, and attempt a painting or a sketch.

Here is the park from another angle.

I was so happy to see the fountain going. The last couple of times I pedaled past, the fountain was not going, which made me worry. This may be the tony Central Park neighborhood but it is still Buffalo. And in Buffalo when something breaks it takes a long time to fix.

So, nice to see the fountain making a splash. And to pedal through the golden streets.

Besides being a peddler's helper I am also a pedaler.

What a beautiful summer this is!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

I'm gonna wash that ceiling right outta my hair

I got tired of the popcorn ceiling in my bathroom so I took it out.

Yay me!!

I have read that no one should ever put a popcorn ceiling in the bathroom on account of it is wet in there and the wet brings the ceiling down. That seems to have been the situation in my house. That ceiling was coming down whether I wanted it to or not! There were a number of patches of no ceiling.

My sister Katie checked it out and said I could likely remove it with a putty knife. So I decided to do that.

Cost of the project: $2. One buck for a putty knife and another for a 10-pack of face masks, both from Dollar Tree. You can also get eye-protecting goggles at Dollar Tree for a buck but I had a pair already from making soap. Did you not know I made soap? There is a lot about me you do not know!

Honest, though, I never thought I could take down this ceiling. The secret is just to do it. Do not think too much about what is involved or you will just want to go lie down.

It was about 90 degrees. I was scraping away! They are right about you need the goggles and the mask. But it was tough going from time to time and I did not think I would finish.

I put a sheet over the sink to catch the ceiling bits.

Then I put the sheet over the tub.

Then things were going well enough so I decided not to give up on the part of the ceiling I had left. So the sheet moved back to the sink. In time it moved back to the tub. I could not complete each section in turn. That is just not how I roll. Several times I even gave up and did a complete clean-up, only to begin again.

It was thrilling when I realized I was winning!

It got so it was raining ceiling. Huge slabs of popcorn ceiling were coming down. At one point a slab hit the light switch and turned off the light. A lot of it also came down on my hair. When I was through I took this picture in celebration ....

... and then I had to take a shower in my cleaned-up tub.

Ergo you may take my headline literally. I'm gonna wash this ceiling right out of my hair! That is what I sang in the shower.

Next comes the task of painting the bathroom. I think I will do the kind of sage green it was so many years ago. The ceiling was the same color and I will do that too.

At the top of the post is a picture of the ceiling as it is now, sans popcorn. It is cracked but kind of pretty, you know? Like something you would see in an ancient building in Venice, along with a plaque saying that Wagner wrote "Tristan and Isolde" here, or Leonard Pennario stayed here.

Well, OK, you have to use your imagination. I do!

But as I said, I never imagined I could do this. And now as a woman I feel very proud.

I have shattered the popcorn ceiling!