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It started with a spark.  Like a tiny ember that produces a raging wildfire in the forest, this hint of an idea led to something big.  A flash of creativity came to her and she wanted to make something.

Decorating her home has led her in many directions.  In search of ideas.  And blank wall space directed her toward art.  She wanted big art.  Oversized canvasses, filled with color.  In the art galleries and home décor shops she found such paintings.  At a very high price.  At least for her budget.  So she chose another route.  She would do it herself.  And so the idea of painting a large canvass was born.

I can’t speak to her creative process.  Art is very personal.  And creativity is even more so.  I can say however that I like her paining.  She calls it an abstract.  Untitled number one.  But I have another name for it.  Because I see something deep inside of it.  To me, it is The Calm Before the Storm.  It’s the story of a young woman ready to burst upon the Universe in her full glory.

With a dark blue background, like the outer reaches of space, or perhaps the inner reaches of her brain, the upper portion is covered in a gray haze.  Thoughts and ideas and personality all forming and beginning to congeal.  As your eye moves down the canvas the colors change. Now it is filled with flashes of white and dark blue and light blue and gray.  All very well defined and distinct.  And appearing in a very random order.  Many ideas and aspects of her soul are formed more clearly now.  And the complexity of the individual is displayed.

There is no judgment or qualification as to value or propriety.  It’s just a transformation.  As we all go thorough.  But this one is displayed on canvass.  Fabulous.

The only issue was that while she was figuring out what she was going to paint, the bare canvass sat in the house, still wrapped in the plastic cover used to protect its brilliant whiteness from dirt.  In hindsight, she should have removed the plastic while she waited.  Inside the plastic, one of the wooden sides of the canvass stretcher warped.  Thus, the painting would not lay flat against the wall.  One corner stuck out.

I’m pretty sure I could have come up with some explanation for that deformity relating to the artistic expression contained therein.  Oh, that corner represents the three dimensional nature of our existence and the fact that the corner protrudes as it does indicates that the artist is moving onward, and outward along a continually changing line.  Art critic speak.  But I knew it was a warped idea, and a warped frame.  And I knew how to fix it.

A frame, built rigidly with wood and attached directly to the stretchers would do it.  I could straighten the warp and all would be well.

So I broke out my miter box, and the accompanying saw.  Gathered up some narrow strips of wood and brads. And for good measure, some dark blue paint.  She had told me she didn’t want a frame on the painting.  I could make it a quarter inch thick on each side and paint it the same dark blue color as the background.  It would blend right in.

Measure twice, cut once.  Apply a couple of coats of paint.  Pretty. Firmly flatten the stretcher and attach each of the sides with a couple of brads.  A perfect fit!

But when I held it up, it was still warped.  Looked beautiful, but still warped.  Maybe the idea of the three dimensional explanation wasn’t so bad after all.

The artist told me she would just toss the whole mess and start over. Nope. Now this was an engineering challenge to me.  One that I could not back away from .  Or lose to. So what’s the real problem and how do I solve it?

I’m not an engineer, or an artist.  But I can look at something like this and figure something out. Maybe not the way Einstein would, but I could get it to work.

I decided that two of the diagonally opposing corners had to be pulled together.

Hmmmm… I’ve got it I said.  I’ll attach a brace to the back and tighten it all up.  It would have to run diagonally, from corner to corner. But the brace itself would have to be shorter than the span it was to cover.  Using the shortened brace to cover the whole distance would put an arc into the stretcher.  And eliminate the warp.  Genius.

Properly measured, I tacked one end of the brace into the corner. Then held down the center of the stretcher and pulled up on the other corner.  Holding it all together, rather awkwardly, I set the second tack.  Wham!  And I let go of the whole thing.

With some amazement, and a good bit of self satisfaction, I realized that this had actually worked.  The picture would now lay flat against the wall.  So I touched up the brad heads and the corners and a few little scrapes here and there with the dark blue paint.  And let it dry.

And then I loaded it into the car and took it back to the artist’s house. Where I hung it on the wall. Laying very flat.  She may still tell me its untitled number one, but I will always see it as an expression of her inner self.  And a wonderful collaboration between me and my daughter.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?


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My neighbor told me the other day that if you have a fire in your fireplace before Thanksgiving you are a wimp.  Then added that he himself had indeed had a fire during wimp season.  I didn’t tell him, but I did too.

Early man must have been ecstatic when they figured out what fire could do for them.  Light, safety, cooking, warmth.  Just to name a few things.  Millennia later we still enjoy certain aspects of the power of fire.

My earliest memories are of a split-level house my parents owned in New Jersey.  Some very vivid images, but I can’t remember if there was a fireplace.  I remember the yard, the neighborhood, the stairs and the lower level family room.  And the bathroom downstairs and the garage.  Other than the living room I remember nothing of the upstairs.

When we moved to Pennsylvania in 1962 my parents built a new house.   It had a fireplace in the living room.  During the construction I remember going in and out of the house through the fireplace. Or the hole in the wall where the fireplace would be.  We had to walk across a board that spanned the hole in the ground that would serve as the ash chute.  I was in kindergarten.

That fireplace was often lit with a burning log. My dad let me crunch up old newspapers to build a base to start it.  He managed the wood.  On a winter’s night we would sit in front of the fire and read Shakespeare’s plays out loud. Or watch the colorful flames dance. Or wish that school would be cancelled because of the snowstorm raging outside.

They waited until I graduated from high school to move again.  This time into an old farmhouse in the country.  And yes, it had a giant stone fireplace.  I was in college by the time the first winter rolled around and I don’t remember there being a lot of fires in that fireplace.  My father preferred to sit in the kitchen next to the blazing coal stove.  But at Christmas there was always a burning Yule log in the fireplace.

The various apartments I lived in, and the first home I owned did not have a fireplace.  On a cold, cold day I missed that burning warmth.  So when I bought my second house I made sure it had a fireplace. I didn’t use it that much because by this time I had infant children in the house.  But one winter the power went out and I had to light the fireplace off to provide any heat in the house.

Part of the joy, and nuisance, of building a fire is that you have to build it, and tend it.  So, in my next house I had not just one fireplace built, but two, both with gas logs.  Flip it on and off at will.  Want a fire for fifteen minutes?  No problem! The main fireplace saw endless service! Almost every night from Thanksgiving until Easter, and often on a weekend during the day, that fire was burning. It was warm and tantalizing.

The house I’m in now, after “downsizing”, has a wood stove inserted in the fireplace.  That thing will crank out some heat.  And although I don’t light it up as often as I’d like, because you have to build it and tend it and so on, I do enjoy building it and tending it.  So I’ll light it up and settle into my lounge chair to feel the warmth and watch the flames.

With all the wonders of fire apparent, I have to remember that it is a powerful force.  And it demands respect.  I’ve seen scary and destructive fires.  It’s a sight you’ll never forget.

Like all of nature, we as humans can enjoy it in many ways, but we have to take care of it.  Future generations want to enjoy it too.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Blue Paint Spot

Selling my house meant that the basement would have to be cleaned. I remember thinking to myself at the time that such an accomplishment would be equivalent to Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.

For nineteen years the basement had been the repository for a million and one items to be stored. Some of which I never looked at during those nineteen years. And then there was my tool bench. Covered with tools and bits of metal and jars full of nails and tacks and innumerable goodies that I knew I would need at some point in the future. Even if I had to view the future in the way that the universe sees progress. Then there were the treasures, memories and other “junk.”

I could put it all on one thirty yard dumpster. But I need all of it. Orr most of it. Some anyway. So I got to work packing boxes and crates and whatever I could use to hold these testaments to my past, present and future.

Sweeping the floor I noticed a spot of blue. Kind of a dark royal. It was paint. Marine paint that I had spilled while I was restoring a sailboat in the basement. I didn’t build it in there so in spite of the images that floated in my head of having to cut either the boat or the house in half to get the thing out, it fit nicely through the double door.

It was an older, classic style Moth racer. Designed for one person, it had a main and a jib and was sixteen feet long. My neighbor had recently moved from California and brought the boat with him. He hadn’t sailed it in years, and no intention of starting now. I think his wife talked him into getting rid of it. And lucky me, I got it. No cost, but I had to promise to restore it. Gladly!

The hull was intact, but had a lot of spidering cracks. The boom, tiller and part of the dagger board were teak. All in need of refinishing. The standing rigging was missing and the running rigging was rotten. It needed new pulleys. And paint.

Kind of a mess I realized when I got into it. What had I signed up for?! A deal is a seal and I knew it would be a lot of work, and fun. I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

The mast could stay outdoors, but everything else needed to come inside to be worked on. The basement. I brought in the boom, the rudder and tiller, and the dagger board. And then I set up a pair of sawhorses to rest the hull on. And then I headed to West Marine to shop for supplies. What’s on the list? Bondo, sandpaper, steel wool, metal polish, teak stain, lines for the running rigging, cable for het standing rigging, three colors of marine paint, and a special tool designed to crimp the cable to assure that it held the mast up properly. And a pirate pennant.

Six hours and three hundred dollars later I was back in the basement. Ready to restore. The teak was easy to sand down and refinish. I polished the brass bolts and wing nuts on the tiller. Stainless steel screw heads along the top of the hull were all polished up to a bright shine. And I polished up the thirty pound steel dagger board. Check. Check. Check. Now for the hull and standing rigging.

Classic car enthusiasts prefer original parts. And real metal. I was working with a fiberglass hull so I decided Bondo would be OK to fill cracks and scratches and dent and dings. It was all getting painted anyway.

Bondo. Sand. Bondo. Sand. When I was satisfied that the entire hull was as smooth as glass I was ready to paint. The hull would be royal blue. The deck a cream color. And the splash rail a bright red. And inside the cockpit I was planning on some sort of arrow design.

Since the hull was resting upright on the sawhorses I painted that first. Three coats. With a brush. And not a single brushstroke showing. Took a week.   Then I hit the splash rail with a couple of coats of red. Just a splash of color! Ha-ha.

Enlisting some help from my daughter, we very carefully flipped the hull over and set the deck side down on now padded sawhorses. No scratching!!!

And then the blue. Five coats of it. With a brush. Long strokes. And nary a brush mark. It looked brand new. Fabulous.

Flipped over again I taped of an arrow on the floor of the cockpit and painted it blue. Pointing forward. Thataway to the finish line!

It was ready to go back outside to have the mast set. New halyards port and starboard. And then a new forestay. That one had to be custom measured. Add the rudder, tiller, dagger board, and boom and viola!, we have a sailboat.

I had the sails. Once the battens were slipped into their pockets I could hoist the sails. And the pirate pennant. All in my backyard. I took lots of pictures. And then I sold it.

I had sanded, bonded, sanded more, stained and painted. And on the floor of the basement was that blob of blue paint I had spilled. It would stay there forever as a reminder to me of the sailboat I had reborn.

Of course the new owners of the house would have no idea what it was. And would probably never guess that a boat had been there. But I know. And now I’m looking for another boat to restore.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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New Traditions

Traditions formed around our celebration of the holidays take on a significance that defines the way we celebrate. And come to represent the holidays in and of themselves. Turkey at Thanksgiving. Lights at Christmas. Without them, there is no holiday. And any change to this routine can be devastating. In our minds.

Lights are how I define Christmas. Religious aspects aside, the lights mean more to me than anything at Christmas. Candles in the church. Lights on the tree. And lights on the house.

This year was different for me. I had moved into a new house, and had to redefine how I would use lights to decorate for Christmas. The new house has a different shape than the old. And different landscaping. All of which impacts the places I can put lights, and how they look.

It’s a work in progress, and next year I will add more. But for this year I settled for one hundred feet of colored lights, the big ones from the old days, strung out along the gutter of my ranch house. And three giant light up snowflakes in the picture window of the living room. Framing that window is a candy cane rope light. And a giant blow up Santa Clause waving from the garage. Lit inside with a single bulb. Without a light, the wreath hangs from the door knocker on the front door.

Around the back of the house there are three lit up blow mold toy soldiers, a blow mold Santa, and a Moravian star. Complete with a flaming tail made of icicle lights.

Inside there are two trees. One lit in white with formal decorations, and a second, larger one, brightly colored with hundreds of little lights. That tree is covered with decorations I’ve collected over the past thirty years, all with a rich meaning and significance. And, there is a lit up blow mold Santa. Not bad for the first year here.

Out of curiosity I drove by the old house to see what the new owners had done. Would it be as spectacular as I had done it in the past? More formal? Bigger and better? I had no idea. And when I drove by the house in the darkness of the late evening, I was amazed. Not a single light to be seen. No wreath. Nothing.

Inside I could see a Christmas tree. Located in the living area where I had always placed mine. But gone were the green and red rope lights wrapped around the columns of the front porch. Gone the wreath on the front  door. No Moravian star hanging on the porch, waiting to greet visitors. No strings of colored lights adorning the shrubbery lining the front of the house. And no lights strung out along the roof line. Not white. Not colored.

It was very disappointing. And as I thought about how I had decorated that house for the past nineteen years, since its very first Christmas as a newly built home, I thought for a moment that the house was calling to me. I miss you! Come back and decorated me!

Does the house take on the personality of its residents? Does it remember? Or mourn? I don’t know. It looked happier lit up. I do know that.

New traditions for me at my new house. And new traditions for my old house with new owners. Change. I go with the flow.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Thanksgiving Theory

This one is a no brainer. On Thanksgiving we write about the things we are thankful for. And this year I have a long, long list. But I’m not gonna go into all of that for you, dear reader, because that’s not what you came here to read. Instead, I’ll just hit a few highlights, and a few concepts on things I’m thankful for.

This year, I’ve come to see things in a new light. I’m thankful for my mediocre health. It’s better than it could be. I’m thankful for being retired. Going out on disability wasn’t how I envisioned it, and I’d rather be working to tell you the truth, but my career has always taken it’s own twists and turns. It’s better than it could be.

I’m always thankful for my family. And how well they are doing. Not as well as some I know, but better than it could be all around. They are happy. And so am I.

I have a new house this year. New to me anyway. And I’m thankful that it is one story, and that I live in the country now. After a long stint in the suburbs, it’s better than it could be.

But mostly I’m thankful for a new way of looking at things. I’ve found a new way of thinking about the way the universe works. You can call it what you want, but it works for me. In this new vision, great spirits and ancestors inhabit the world around me, and if I ask for their wisdom, they will share it. The wisdom of centuries of being.

I don’t ask for money or power or objects. What I am searching for, and asking for help with, is finding my happiness. I’ve opened my ears and my soul to listening for the wisdom that is out there. Wisdom on how to find what makes me happy, to surround my self with people who make me happy, and to know when I’ve found the right path to that happiness. I’ve also asked that I have a kind thought for myself. Forget the negative thoughts of the past and concentrate on the possibilities of the future.

Life is too short to be miserable. I live with physical pain. And I’m still working to shake off many great mental burdens. But I’ve opened myself to hearing new wisdom, and I’m finding that with the right mindset, I hear the voices of the wise. Happy to share.

There is a lot to be thankful for. And with an open heart, I find more and more.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Which Boat For Me?

What a delightful dilemma! In planning for my financial future one of the exercises I undertook was an attempt to lay out major expenses I anticipate for the future. My kids have graduated for college so that’s out of the way. My house is nearly paid for. There will be a need for at least two new cars over the course of my remaining life. And I want to travel. A lot.

Then there is that one other thing that I have always longed for. A boat. The financial plan only looks at numbers. It doesn’t care what the numbers represent. The plan doesn’t say things like why the hell do you want to go to Pago Pago? Or, a boat is a lousy idea. But family and trusted advisors do say things like that. Then again, there are some who say follow your dreams, listen to your heart. Buy the boat. So I allocated a very small sum toward a boat. At some point in the future. Hopefully before I am too old and feeble to enjoy it.

With the modest budget I have set, and I mean not much more than a fancy bicycle, I have no choice but a used boat. Which is really what I want anyway. A fixer upper project. There are thousands of them out there. The choice I have to make is between three types of boat.

With my love for all things mid-century, I am fascinated by small speedboats from the late 1950’s to the late 1960’s. They are known as runabouts. What I love is the curved, single piece windshield. And the sleek lines. Something measuring fourteen to eighteen feet would be nice. The wooden Chris-Crafts are beautiful, but my budget is more along the lines of a fiberglass hull. Besides, I’d be afraid to scratch a Chris-Craft! Runabout boats have a certain look, and you know it as soon as you see it. They are getting harder to find, and even one requiring some work would be near the top of the budget. The positives are that they are beautiful. They zip about with style and grace. They attract attention. And they are fun. The drawback is that you have to step in and out and small engines require maintenance.

On the other hand, a pontoon boat has a lot of potential. Great for lakes. Perfect for parties. Easy to get in and out of. Get a bunch of friends together, load her up and have a blast. Engine still needs maintenance. But the aluminum body is easy to care for. And I can find a number of these within my budget.

And then there is the sailboat. The romance of the seas has always captured my heart. Call me Ishmael. And I’ve actually owned two small sailboats before. One was so small I couldn’t even fit into it. That was a fixer upper project and when I finished it I sold it. Without ever sailing it. The other was a sixteen foot Snipe. My wife hated it because in a calm wind it didn’t move very fast. Becalmed on the water in July in Georgia makes for a pretty hot day. I sold that one too.

I’m not a good sailor. Need more practice. But I love the idea. And I loved the reno project and would gladly take on another. Small fixer upper sailboats are easy to find. And within my budget.

So, that delightful dilemma remains unsolved. The romance of sailing the seas. The exhilaration of the zippy runabout. Or the party on the pontoon. In a perfect world I would buy all three. I have no idea how I will decide. But when I get the boat, I’ll let you know.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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A Moving Idea

Sometimes an idea will simmer in your mind for a long time before you get the details worked out. Or even begin to take it seriously. Then some sort of trigger gets pulled and you feel compelled to act. Even obsessed with bringing this idea to fruition.

When I was a child my father’s employer transferred his job to another city. Another state. He loved his job, so he was going. And so were we. He was moving from the sprawl of Northern New Jersey to a manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. Not far from the Amish Country. He wanted to live in a rural area.

He and my mother looked at houses to make their new home. One of them was a farmhouse on a large hunk of acreage. In the middle of nowhere as farmhouses with vast expanses of land tend to be. He liked it. My mom, not so much. She was afraid that she would be isolated from the rest of humanity. And that her two young children would be stranded far from friends. Eventually they built a house in an upcoming new subdivision. Close to town, and shopping. The best schools in the state. A one-quarter acre lot.

This particular area was still considered to be in the country, and there were vast cornfields behind the house. And across the street, in the still undeveloped portion of the neighborhood, there were open fields. Up the road was the farmhouse and red barn to which all of this land had once belonged. So my father got a little of what he wanted, and my mother got everything she wanted.

That’s where I grew up. From age five until I graduated from high school. The day after I graduated, my parents moved out. They had bought my father’s dream home. An old stone farmhouse on ten acres of land. With a barn. They lived there for the next thirty-eight years and although I had grown up in suburbia, I have ever since considered this second home, Shadowlawn Farm, to be my real home. Like my father, I too loved the country life.

Fast forward to twenty years ago. My life takes many turns similar to my fathers. My wife and I had started a family and were living in an urban subdivision. The schools were failing and we wanted more for our children. We started to look in the neighboring county. Which happened to have the best schools in the state.

We looked at existing subdivision homes. We looked in the country. Every Sunday we would drive out to the country and ride around looking. One neighborhood had particular appeal to my wife. Best one in the county. We had always heard that you should buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you could afford. That was her plan. I was still holding out for the farm.

Finally it was my father-in-law who caused me to take action. He shamed me into it. What he said to me one day was that my kids needed to move. They needed to be near other kids. And I should get off my wallet and do right by my family. Of course I was going to take care of my family, but I didn’t have to do it at the expense of my life. But I did.

Time was passing and a new school year was approaching. If we bought a new house, or piece of property in the next county we could enroll the girls in the best schools available. There was a vacant lot for sale in that best neighborhood. So I bought it. And my wife and I got together with a builder and proceeded to construct a new house. It was exciting, but a story for another time and blog post.

Fast forward once again. This time to 2016. For the past twenty years I have been poring over real estate books looking at houses. Moving has never been a consideration. The kids were still in school. Then college. My wife was content. I was antsy. Then my back failed. Two surgeries later and I was having real difficulty with the stairs in our three story house. And walking. Moving suddenly became a consideration. But where?

To be continued…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?




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