This is a portrait painting I did to remember a recent visit by my daughter, her wife and their baby. It was magical to have them all out to the house and spend time with them.
For a reference I used a picture that my daughter took of me on the floor in the living room, chatting with Maeve. There’s another picture of hers that I want to use, too.
It’s nice to have a reference that I didn’t set up myself for a change. I am always so self-conscious when I’m doing the picture taking. This is a nice composition. The figures are loose and relaxed. I like the way the light is outlining our heads and faces. I tried not to overwork the faces, but it’s easy to get carried away. Just means I need more practice!
My son Nick and my husband Steve are on their way back from Florida.
I’ve been cleaning the camper, where Nick’s going to stay, at least for now. Steve flew into Orlando last week Sunday, but what with one thing and another, they’re only just coming home today, eight days later. It’s been an adventure, I gather.
I’m really looking forward to having Nick home again. I know I’m supposed to be all bummed about having a boomerang child living with us, but I’m not. It’s going to be a bit more crowded for sure, but I am not worried about that. I have always enjoyed Nick’s take on life, even when things aren’t going his way. He works really hard to stay upbeat. And he’s quirky and smart and fun to be around.
Bonus, built-in dog sitter! Although I haven’t actually asked him if he would do that. But it’d be sweet if he could.
I’ve been scanning the paper, looking for places where he could work while he’s here. His sister Alice has offered him a place to stay in the fall, if he wants to move down to Kalamazoo. He’d not only get the benefit of living with or near a sibling, but his cousin lives there, too, plus an uncle and aunt. So much family.
Sometimes you just need to be around people who know you inside and out. It’s easier to talk about things. Maybe it’ll be just what he needs to get back on his feet again.
I hope so.
I remember Nick’s sixth grade teacher telling me that someday someone was going to really connect with Nick and he was going rocket to the moon, he was just so smart and so talented. I beamed. Then with her next breath she said, “But it isn’t going to be me, because I’ve got 150 other kids to deal with every day.” And she walked out of the room.
I’ve been wanting to punch her ever since.
Not that it was her fault. I get that you’ve only got so much energy and that you’re spread pretty thin and this one kid is just not a priority. He’s not acting out, throwing things, threatening anyone. He’s keeping his head down, going along to get along, telling you what you want to hear. “Yes, I’ll take care of that. No problem. It’s fine.”
He tells you what you want to hear and then you leave him alone because you want to believe that he’s on track now, that he’s going to do all the things he needs to do, that he’s sincere about making changes. And by the time you figure out that he’s really in trouble, it’s just gotten so much worse than it was before.
This has always been Nick’s way. To divert attention from himself and his problems. To tell you what you want to hear. To say, “I’m okay. Yes, I’ve got plenty of food. There’s a job interview tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”
Steve went to get him and bring him home. Partly because I’m still working and he’s the retired one, so he’s got more time to spend on this. Partly because he and Nick have always been two peas in a pod. I knew they’d both enjoy spending time together. Nick gets his love of guns and fireworks from Steve. Also his bent for being logical and rational in his arguments. It used to routinely drive his older sibling Sam nuts. Which I’m pretty sure was the whole point.
So, I’m not really sure how this is all going to work out. If it’s a good decision to bring him home or a bad decision. No idea. Could go either way. But you know what? I’m still glad he’s going to be here, with us. We can do better. Nick can do better. Sometimes you just need a little help.
The part where he doesn’t ask for it? He gets that from me.
It could have been worse. It could have been assassin bugs or spiders. If it had been assassin bugs or spiders, I probably would have made Steve drive back home and never slept in the camper again. But it was stinkbugs. They don’t bite and they’re kind of comical. They toddle rather than creep, half inch long odiferous shields with legs. I thought they smelled like raspberries. Steve thought they smelled like Jolly Rancher green apple candy, but then, he’s a chemist and he’s got a much more discerning sense of smell than me.
We were on our way south to visit our son, some friends, and also to pick up some of my artwork. We took the camper to save some money. On the first night we happened across few stinkbugs sleepily wandering around in it.
“Hey, there’s another one!”
“I found two in the bathroom. Out you go, little stinkbugs.”
They were easy to catch, slow moving and tickley in the palms of our hands. We lobbed five or six of them out the door of the camper and congratulated ourselves on how merciful we were being.
“Go hibernate somewhere else, you little pests! Haha.”
Things get (b)ugly
Two nights later, in a state park in Ohio, I woke up, heart racing, because I’d felt something crawling on my face. Earlier, we’d found about a dozen more stinkbugs hiding in the folds of the curtains that enclosed the bed. Steve was gently snoring next to me. There was a little light coming through the camper window but I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t feel anything. I probably just dreamed it, I thought. I pulled the covers over my head, just in case, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, I stared at the camper mattress and thought, “I wonder how many stinkbugs would fit under there?” I picked it up and looked underneath. Turns out the answer is lots and lots.
We immediately began hurling them outside by the handful.
There’s a limit
As we got farther south, we found more and more stinkbugs. They flew out of the AC unit in the ceiling, they crowded together in the storage areas under the seats, they were hiding behind the valances over the windows. It looked like a stinkbug rave party. It felt like a plague. Around North Carolina, we started to question the wisdom of letting them live.
“Should we be killing these things? Are stinkbugs an invasive species?”
As usual, when squishing insects is required, I cede all control to Steve, who is the man and supposed to take care of these things.
“Hand me a paper towel, please? I found some more.”
“I hate stinkbugs.”
We ended up leaving a trail of stinkbug corpses in every state between here and Orlando. I feel bad about this, but not that bad.
The trip wasn’t completely dominated by stinkbugs, fortunately. I got to have dinner with my favorite group of homeschool moms. Steve and I stayed on his friend’s cattle farm for a few days and I did graphic design work on the deck in 70 degree weather. My favorite part of the trip, though, was seeing our son, Nick. He looked really good, healthy and not starving at all, plus he taught us an obnoxious card game that we can’t wait to inflict on friends and family up here, just as soon as we remember the rules.
My friends, as always, told me in no uncertain terms what I already suspected was true, which in this case was that I had to quit sending my kids job listings via email. My son also imparted an important lesson to me, showing me he was fine and that all the stewing that I do in the middle of the night, whether brought on by actual bugs or merely what’s bugging me at the moment, is all about me and not him. He looked pretty wonderful, and required no help, just love, thankyouverymuch. I’m glad we went to see him. It was worth all the stinkbugs just for that.
Last week I took a road trip with my brother Joe to see our sister who lives near Utica, NY. Mary and her partner, Jonathan, run Down Dog Farm, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we planned to visit and help on the farm for a few days.
There’s a whole patch of flowers on the farm. So pretty.
It was a spur of the moment trip and we only meant to be gone Monday through Thursday, but we decided to hang around a bit longer and help them put up their timber frame house. They’ve been living in a barn for the past few years, and while it’s cozy, nothing beats hot running water and the occasional soak in your own bathtub.
I love visiting my family. Last week’s favorite memories include rolling up to the barn at 7 am in Joe’s truck and then listening to him play Reveille on his harmonica. We’d climb the stairs to the loft and have coffee and a peach muffin with Mary and Jonathan before walking with them and their dogs, Maya and Teddy, around the perimeter of the farm.
Staking the tomatoes.
After breakfast, we’d weed the beds or stake tomatoes or harvest vegetables. In the afternoons we toured the Erie Canal, played miniature golf, and sampled beer at the Saranac brewery in Utica. Evenings we played cards or dominoes or Bananagrams.
Every night Joe and I would go back to the motel and sleep like the dead. We were tired but happy. There’s something wonderful about hanging around with your siblings. The chores don’t feel like chores, the outings are a chance to add to the family lore, and it’s relaxing and familiar and precious.
There was lots of work to be done before the actual raising of the timber frame. Mary and I pored over the plans, counting the braces and figuring out which piece was going where. Joe did a ton of routing on the timbers, standing ankle deep in sawdust. I buttered the tenons with beeswax so they’d fit together more easily. Jonathan called the timber frame company with questions about how it was all going to work and sent out an email inviting people to help.
Swinging a sledgehammer.
Sunday came and about 25 Down Dog Farm subscribers and family members showed up. Everyone pitched in to carry the heavy timbers and swing sledges and hammer in the pegs to hold the pieces together. The actual raising of the bents (cross beams with the posts attached) was an elegant bit of choreography, with Jonathan calling out the dance moves (“Lift with your legs! Curl! Stick people grab your sticks! Rope people, pull!”).
Helpers on the bent.
I mostly stayed out of the way, taking pictures and not wanting to be personally responsible for a bent taking a header off the edge of the deck. At the end, though, I wrapped my legs and arms around a corner post and helped to lift the final bent into position. My partner on the post told me, “You are mighty!” and I’ve been basking in the glow of that compliment ever since.
Me and Joe taking the long way home.
I came home with bruises on my thighs, a farmer’s tan and a song in my heart, specifically, “I Hate You All,” which I first heard in 2004 on a road trip with my kids and husband (my daughter Alice has the best play lists). Joe and I took the long way home so we could see Lake Erie, eating the rainbow chard pancakes that Jonathan made us, talking about our favorite parts of the week and missing Mary the whole way. Some trips you just never want to end.
Steve and Diana, 5×7″ pastel study by Marie Marfia
This study is done from a photo that I took last Christmas of Steve and his mom, Diana, on the couch at my daughter’s place. She was just resting on his chest while watching some movie on TV. I wonder if she was pretending he was someone else.
Diana has dementia. She’s living in an assisted living facility. She has her own apartment, a two bedroom with a kitchenette, although she doesn’t cook anymore. She walks down to the dining room for her meals. When she’s walking back to her apartment she always says she lives in outer Mongolia because it’s such a long way away.
Diana doesn’t always remember who we are when we come to visit, so we always tell her as we’re coming through her door. “I’m your favorite daughter-in-law, Marie.” “I’m your oldest son, Steve.” That way, she doesn’t have to scramble to come up with names right off the bat. She’s pretty good at covering up her memory lapses right now, but that skill is slipping away, too, like everything else.
This is a hard thing to watch. She’s always prided herself on her intelligence. She got all As in school growing up and got a Masters of Library Science. She still speaks French sometimes and likes to play Duolingo on my iPad.
The place where she lives just called this week to tell Steve that she needs more care now, help with dressing herself, taking showers, doing laundry. It’s fine. Steve’s Dad made good investments and saved all his life before he died. She’s got plenty to cover the extra costs. It’s just that it’s another step down the road that you hate to have to take. We all gotta die. I get that. I wish it didn’t have to be like this, that’s all.
Linda and family, Nos. 4-6, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 10×8″ pastel on mat board with pumice ground by Marie Marfia. Sold.
So I spread this one out over 3 days and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. Linda’s son is quite a bit taller than his mom and his sister in the original reference photo so I had to do a little adjusting in Photoshop to put all their smiling faces on the same level.