I told you the other day that my daughter had started her first ever oil painting. So she has… but I failed to show you the picture of the green basketball that she intended to be a cactus. Well, that wasn’t entirely me being forgetful. I wanted to show you what it looks like once it has undergone the full treatment and transformation into a credible cactus. I wasn’t trying to make fun of the Princess, but rather encourage her in learning to paint with oils.
Here is the finished cactus;
She does still have cactus spines to paint to make it look less basketball-like, but you can certainly see the progress here already.
My daughter, seen here in this oil painting of me and her, she’s the one trying to talk to the spirit elk in a previous lifetime, has started painting oil paintings. She started with a picture of a small cactus growing in sand. I have to admit, when she showed it to me for the first time, I thought it was a green basketball. But she has worked out the details since and it is beginning to actually look like a cactus. Now, you might think I was making fun of her in this post, calling her an oil painter who makes cactuses into green basketballs, and using my oil painting of a nude and overly-white Native American girl to illustrate her, but actually, this post is praising her abilities. She is already a much better watercolorist than I will ever be. And she is learning to paint green basketballs… er, cactuses, in oil paint at a much faster rate than I ever did. This semi-competent oil painting of mine took many practice paintings and many years to achieve. Far slower than her mastery of the medium coming into focus before her eighteenth birthday. And besides, she is leading the sacred spirit elk into the safety of the lake and away from the stormy darkness of the background, while I, as my Native American self, can stand hamming it up and looking at the artist as I have my vanity-project portrait done in oil paint.
Okay, so this is not a perfect essay, and it is not 500 words. But painting in oils and trying to be a real artist is hard enough without you criticizing. Be kind in the comments, or I might cry.
My daughter the Princess often disses my cover designs for my novels. The one I created for my half-written manuscript, displayed above, is really too yellow by about 500 degrees. I wanted to write a yellow book about sea stories and island magic set in Iowa, a State about as far removed from an ocean in any direction as a State can be (Well, maybe tied with Kansas and Nebraska). But yellow is not the right color. In fact, the green accent color makes me a bit nauseous next to the yellow. So, I vowed to my critic I would try again and do better.
Take a look at these alternative designs;
Will this one attract woodpeckers, do you think? Or is that too racy an idea for a novel about a young girl growing up. Woody Woodpecker is a sex symbol, isn’t he? No? Whereever did I get a fool notion like that?
I could really use your input. If you wanted to vote, you could choose a cover name from this list to tell me about it in the comments;
Purple and Wood
Something better, Stupid!
I promise not to get mad about any commentors who choose the last one. But I don’t promise to make any new ones either. It is, however, quite easy to make changes using computer programs. I don’t have to redraw anything. Although I could be slightly worried that the Tiki totem could be viewed as racist, even though his race is “little men made out of wood.”
Valerie was thinking about chores when she wandered out to
the machine shed. She hadn’t gone into
the house yet for a reason. Feed the
chickens and check for eggs. Put fresh
water in the water bottles. God, she
hated Mr. Boofoo chickens! …Err… un-cool
chickens. The ones that were going to
peck at her for checking their nests were all Mrs. But the other part fit. Lingering outside meant she didn’t have to
march out to the chicken house immediately.
She’d get it done… just not
As she wandered into the machine shed, she saw her Daddy
there, leaning up against the combine.
The engine housing was up and various parts were laid out on the white
concrete floor in a very careful rainbow of different size pieces, bolts, and
screws. Kyle was leaning up against the
combine with a paper in his hands. He
stared at it with red eyes. Had he been
crying or something? It looked like a
bill, this paper that seemed to be making him sad. Then, he suddenly wadded the thing up into a
ball and pitched it across the shed. It
plinked off the corrugated tin wall and banked directly into the empty barrel
there. Two points! But it did not make him happy. Then he noticed Val was watching him.
“Oh, hi, Princess.
You are looking lovely tonight.”
His face was happier by a mile and a quarter, but the redness of his
eyes still showed.
“Is something wrong, Daddy?”
“Of course not. You
haven’t done your chicken chores, though, huh?”
“Well, not yet… I
will go in a minute. I wanted to talk to
“Oh? What about?”
That was the thing.
What about? She didn’t really
have a what about. She just sensed that
she needed to talk to him.
“You know how everyone thinks Pidney Breslow is going to be
a great football player this year?”
“Yeah. The big goof
is just a freshman and he’s already made the varsity team. What about him?”
She had to say something fast… but that usually meant saying
something stupid because she couldn’t think
“Do you think he would make a good boyfriend for me?”
“You are ten, Princess.
He’s fifteen or sixteen, isn’t he?”
“I’m eleven. Mom is
younger than you are.”
“Only by two years.
Not as big a deal.”
“You don’t like Pidney?”
“I like him fine.
But you are ten. Any boy who
thinks he’s going to be your boyfriend will have to get past two bear traps,
some electric fencing, and my shotgun loaded with rock salt.”
“Why rock salt?”
“It won’t kill him, but it will sting like hell.”
“Besides, don’t Pidney and that girl Mary Phillips already
have a thing going on? They are always
“They are best friends.
They live next door to each other.
More like brother and sister.”
Kyle laughed. “Pid’s
a red-blooded American boy. They may say
friends to each other, but when they
are alone together, well… Dagwood
Phillips needs to have some rock salt in his
shotgun for that.”
“Nobody’s gonna shoot Pidney are they? I mean, I think I am in love with him.” There may have been a look of terror on
Valerie’s face at that point. She
really wasn’t sure.
“No, Princess. No
one is really going to shoot him. It’s
just a joke that fathers say whenever they are thinking about their daughters
and young men. Besides, I never figured
I’d have to shoot Pid anyway. I always
reckoned it was more likely to be somebody like that Murphy brat.”
“You’d shoot Danny?”
She wasn’t sure how she felt about that one.
Kyle laughed. He
walked over to his daughter, put his big greasy hand on her neck and gently
pulled her face up next to his heart.
“I love you, Princess.
I would never intentionally do something to break your heart. But I will do everything I can to protect
your heart from being broken. Just try
not to like the boys I might have to shoot for something, okay?”
He said that last with a laugh that told her he loved her and was only playing with her. Daddy was her real handsome Prince.
Despite what it looks like, this is NOT a bowl full of dog poop. It is actually gingerbread dough in the process of being mixed. I had already folded in the one large egg, and already stirred it almost to readiness for the kneading process.
You see, my daughter and I have been staying at home in Texas while my wife and son are off on a trip I couldn’t manage for health reasons. So, since the Princess and I have some bonding time, we decided to have a gingerbread cookie contest that we ended up putting off too long last December.
We decided to make just two cookies. I suggested unicorns, she wanted to do a dragon. So we each took half of the dough and started sculpting. We didn’t make the cookies mobile once cooked. The plan was to make them, decorate them, photograph them, and eat them.
The Dragon is the Princess’s entry and the unicorn mine in the fantasy critter cookie contest. In the previous pictures they are in raw dough form. In the next set of pictures they are cooked cookies.
The en-fattened cooked cookies didn’t look quite as fine as our original sculpted conceptions. We were hoping to improve their artistic merits by decorating them. I had frosting left over from the gingerbread house we did in December.
The chocolate frosting, though, had congealed in a strange, barely spreadable manner. To deal with this, had to warm it and melt it slightly to get it to spread. The Princess chose to forego using chocolate frosting. Like an idiot, I forged ahead with the tasty goo.
Unfortunately, the warm chocolate had a tendency to melt all the other decorative frosting.
So, I tried my best to be artsy creative and rescue the look of my unicorn cookie. I failed. I turned it into a fire-tailed ugly dog with a bleeding white stick stuck in its forehead.
The Princess was, however, much more successful.
And fortunately, both cookies were delicious when it came time to clean up our respective messes.
This beautiful song, an operatic aria by Puccini, is from the comic opera Gianni Schicchi. But, more important than that is what the song actually means in context.
In the opera, Gianni Schicchi is a con man intent on swindling a family out of their inheritance and knowing all along that he will be destined to go to hell when he dies. The family is gathered for the reading of the rich man’s will, which is, because this is a comic opera, lost for the time being. Their main concern is for the money, which rumor has it has all been willed to the church. But one among them is actually worthy of inheriting the money, Rinuccio the son of the rich man’s cousin. And, as luck would have it, as it always does in comedies, Rinuccio is the one who, during the manic and desperate search for the will, actually finds it. And assuming he comes out well in the will, he secures a promise from his mother that if he inherits money, he can marry Schicchi’s beautiful daughter Laurretta whom he truly loves.
But when he reads the will, he is devastated. The money all goes to a monastery. He begs Schicchi to help him convince the family that he should marry Laurretta anyway. This Gianni Schicchi tries and finds it harder than turning water into wine. So Schicchi is about to give up when Lauretta finally speaks up for herself through the song,
O Mio Babbino Caro (My Beloved Father)
At this point Schicchi is moved by the beautiful song and even more beautiful love his daughter has surprised him with. He not only agrees to help, but executes a bizarre plan, hiding the rich man’s body and pretending to be him come back to life to rewrite the will. Now the will favors Rinuccio, and over the protests of the family, he inherits the money and marries his true love, Schicchi’s daughter. The opera ends with Schicchi singing his case to the audience, telling them in song that going to hell is worth it to aid true love.
And this, then, is the truth of O Mio Babbino Caro.
Love, expressed through the surprise of hidden talent suddenly revealed, is the most persuasive argument there is.
Whether it is the love in the music suddenly discovered in the overwhelming voice of a little girl like Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen, or the late great Maria Callas who also sang the role, or even the singer of Puccini’s greatest work who is yet to perform it and make silly old men like me weep for beauty’s sake, the song is the most persuasive argument there is in favor of true love.
That is a thing I desperately want to capture in the novel I am writing now, Sing Sad Songs. Love expressed in music. Love that reverses loss. Love that heals all things. And Love that moves all people. The love that is masterfully sung in O Mio Babbino Caro.
I now have six good books and one embarrassing one published. They represent stories I have been crafting, revising, telling, and retelling for over 40 years. They represent things that happened to me in real life and people I have known and loved in real life that have all been transformed in the wizard’s crucible and witch’s cauldrons of my bizarre imagination. They contain some of my best magic spells and some of my most worthwhile wordsmithing, by which I mean writing in ways that give the spellchecker fits.
I tried to tell you this story about telling stories yesterday, but my computer glitched and burped and spontaneously deleted more than half of what I wrote just as I was finishing it to publish it. So the complex part I had planned to explain this Paffooney was lost and the resulting tantrum I threw kept me from remembering and rewriting.
But it was fortunate that I delayed the repair of this post until today. Because last night my daughter finished her end-of-the-year art project for school, and the snafu-demons have inadvertently given me the opportunity to include it here.
It is a soft sculpture dragon made of felt and hand-sewn. She didn’t tell me what his name is, or even that it is a him, but one can imagine that it must be something like Rumple-Tum Sneezer, or something equally awkwardly foolish like that. One can imagine it because one has a slightly off-kilter and Disney-demented imagination. But the whole project took a boatload of time, and you can see she crafted it with great care and skill.
Treasure takes time to create. We who attempt to create it in the red-hot forges of our stupid little creative heads put all the skill we have acquired over time into it. And the endeavor renders something of value almost every time. Time… time… time… Treasure takes time. And now I need to hurry and publish this before the computer tries to fart it all away again.