Pure Nostalgia and a Weird Convergence

Seeing the paint-by-number ‘artworks’ decorating Hot Plate, a neighborhood breakfast place, plunged me into nostalgia.

At 10, nothing was better than making art that looked ‘real’ or perhaps I should say, ‘recognizable.’ Horses fascinated me and I labored at drawing them, using my horse statue for reference. One birthday, I received a paint-by-numbers kit for a horse portrait. Dip the cheap brush into the dime-sized plastic pots of paint, dab it in the blue-outlined shapes and voilà—my horse looked like the one shown on the box! Success!

A weird convergence.

Until my husband read the historical note in Hot Plate’s gallery, I’d never known that the Craft Master Corp., which made the paint-by-number kits, was headquartered in Toledo, my hometown. At first I thought, “That figures,” then I reminded myself that Toledo is also home to the Toledo Museum of Art, at the other end of the art world spectrum.

While crunching home fries and laughing at the paintings of questionable landscapes, sad clowns, and plucky dogs, I marveled at the paint-by-numbers concept. Someone had to curate images, analyze and isolate the placement of highlights and shadows, and choose the appropriate colors. Today, that function can easily be done in a graphics program, but in the 1960s that wasn’t the case.

The appeal of paint-by-number kits (popular in the 1950s and 1960s) and Bob Ross’ PBS show, “The Joy of Painting”(mid-1980s to mid-1990s, now immortalized on YouTube and in popular culture) is the idea that ordinary people with little or no artistic training can have an outlet for their creative impulses and paint something they’ll be pleased with.

On the paint-by-numbers box was the slogan, “Every man a Rembrandt!” We l l l, not exactly. But for my 10-year-old self, there was a real pleasure in making a painting that turned out.

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Procrastination—I haven’t lost my touch!

I used to be a pretty good procrastinator. Not a champion, but definitely a contender. My peak performance was from my undergraduate years into my early thirties.

Paper due Monday morning? I’d get jacked up on coffee and start work by 9 p.m., telling myself, “I work better under pressure.” More accurately, it was the only time I worked. But I’d better have a draft by 2 a.m., because after that my brain would fizz out and all the coffee in the world couldn’t bring back coherent thought. Unfortunately, that system worked well enough to regularly give me B+s, which only reinforced my procrastinating ways.

By the time I was in my 30’s, I was married, had two sons, and was working full-time. Way too many chores and too little time! If I didn’t attack a distasteful task like putting away holiday decorations, they would stay untouched for weeks, a constant depressing reminder. I learned to slog through scutwork more promptly because the alternative was worse.

Fear of failing my clients and losing business kept me from procrastinating too much when I had my communications business. I’d learned that I had to build in time to write a draft, let the piece cool off for days (or at least hours), and then revise it before sending it to the client. When I had a particularly tedious project, say catalog merchandise copy or highly technical training materials, I might suddenly feel an acute need to do something I never do like alphabetizing spices or organizing my sock drawer. At very least, I’d clean the kitchen and switch loads of laundry (something! anything!) to postpone the icky project.

When our sons were little, unwelcome tasks were constant: their toys were scattered everywhere, and they drizzled on their clothes so there was more laundry. Seeing two days’ worth of crusty sippy cups and soggy cereal bowls piling up made me want to run away from home. I realized that sometimes it’s better to tackle the work right away and get it over with. After all, I’m never going to wantto do dishes. They only get more gross the longer they sit.

These days, I’m more inclined to get chores out of the way. Sort of. For at least four weeks the special tile cleaner I bought sat in the bathroom while I put off using it. Today, there’s a tricky part of an essay I meant to revise. Instead, I cleaned out my file entitled, “Blog Ideas,” and decided to write this!

A Home for the Marys?

The sound of breaking glass might have been heard beyond our garage walls. An hour of cleaning had yielded a large bag of stuff for Goodwill and a number of items that had no second use. The noise was the crash of an engraved mixed drink carafe with a matching stirring stick and two small engraved glasses. These were wedding presents that were very personalized and never used. The thought that there might be bad jokes in a stranger’s home because our name lends itself to humorous pronunciations didn’t feel okay.

Like many Boomers, our cabinets are crowded with generations of glassware, quilts, boxes of photos and family Bibles. As our parents passed, their treasures became ours to maintain.  Anyone want a few sets of 50thanniversary champagne glasses with my parents’ names? Again, their last name has a few quirky pronunciations that are better kept out of strangers’ parties.

A crystal statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary we received one Christmas has a sister that my mother owned. They both stand, hands folded, behind wine bottles on a top shelf in the pantry. Taking more shelf space was a beautiful glass Christmas ornament on its own pedestal that was once the most valuable useless item we owned. Add two clear glass platters decorated with horses and sleds to carry dozens of holiday cookies. Plus one that has a lobster engraving, a total mystery. And the green platter with Thanksgiving in a lovely scroll that I never saw used at my parents but came to rest in my home.

That ornament will hang on our tree this year and later fend for itself in a box of its peers. The pedestal is gone. Someone will be thrilled with the glass platters. Maybe even use the Thanksgiving one. Three orphan wine glasses wait to be used on Thanksgiving before starting the next purge. They are lovely, but we already have dozens of lovely glasses. Let a bride-to-be furnish her wedding table with these things instead of throw away items and benefit Goodwill in the process.

But those statues are another story like a box of rosaries upstairs. Is there a Goodwill equivalent for Catholic stuff? The Marys don’t really deserve to be mistreated or become white elephant gifts.IMG_5858

 

 

 

 

 

Compliment Activation (or Geeky Fun with Words)

This has been a tough week in the world, so I thought you might like a little diversion.

Sometimes I hear interesting words or phrases that pique my curiosity. These three phrases suggested meanings, but when I checked, I discovered the real meanings were very different.

Compliment activation – What I hope will happen after I get my hair cut or if I’m showing off a new pair of shoes.

When I first heard this term at a medical conference in a previous life, I was delighted. After all, I’m a writer and love expressive language. But if you spell this the scientific way —“complement activation,” you get the real meaning:

The complement system includes 20+ protein molecules that circulate in the blood. When the body senses a pathogen (the cooties that cause disease), the complement system is activated and a sequence of events occurs to fight infection. So either kind of complement activation can be good for you.

Antisense – Sounds like a good description for current events. Also might describe what the chipmunks in my yard are saying.

“Antisense” just covers so many situations. Turns out, it also has a scientific meaning: Having a sequence of nucleotides complementary to (and hence capable of binding to) a coding sequence, which may be either that of the strand of a DNA double helix that undergoes transcription, or that of a messenger RNA molecule (Dictionary.com).

Whaaaat?

After more research, I learned that the concept of antisense evolved into a therapy for genetic disorders. When a particular gene is responsible for a disease, a strand of nucleic acid can be bound to the messenger RNA of that gene and effectively switch off the disease-causing gene.

Regional expression – OK, I think I got this. A regional expression is like “pop” in the Midwest or “soda” on the East coast. Or maybe the way I say, “crick” for “creek” – an Ohio thing. Unless we’re talking about genetics.

Every gene contains a particular set of instructions that code for a specific protein. Gene expression is the process that enables DNA instructions to be converted into something useful, such as a protein. Where a gene lies in the genome (its region or neighborhood) influences the regulation of gene expression. In other words, gene behavior is influenced by where it hangs out. Hmm. Just like people.

It can’t hurt to know a bit more about genetics, but I like my definitions better!

Peering Past the Red Velvet Rope

While vacationing in the Hudson River Valley, my husband and I toured Kykuit, Rockefeller’s lavish summer home; Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s modest cottage; and the Hancock Shaker Community’s very plain dormitories.

Mindful of the red velvet ropes and little fences that kept us from exploring/trespassing, we craned our heads around doorways, peered into corners, and tried to imagine the lives lived there. Despite the tour guides’ colorful stories, sometimes it was hard to breathe life into those rooms. Occasionally, my mind drifted, and I entertained myself by imagining what a future tour guide would say about my home after I’ve achieved some unspecified (and as yet unattained) notoriety.

No doubt, future tourists leaning across the velvet rope blocking entrance to my office will say, “Ooooh, that’s where Ellen used to write! There’s the honey locust she used to look at while she wrote, and there’s the sad clematis on the too-big trellis—remember her blog about defensive landscaping?” 

The tour guide might add, “To preserve historical accuracy, we left the pile of mail on the loveseat. Family stories mention that she used to let it ‘age’ for up to two weeks before she dealt with it.” Visitors will chuckle and some of the more avid ones will lean in to snap photos of the mail pile.

“And over there—a see the cat bed on the radiator? Her cat, Pinky, kept her company on cold Minnesota afternoons. Maybe he was even her muse as she struggled to revise her blogs and essays.” The tourists will jostle each other to take pictures of the cat bed.

The guide will probably point out, “Some of the furniture is antique—like the Mission style oak desk. Supposedly Ellen refinished it when she first moved to Minnesota years before she moved here for good. It was the only desk she ever used.” One of the visitors will probably sigh in appreciation. “We believe that she might have been sitting in that beat-up office chair when she received the call about winning the MacArthur Genius Grant/Nobel Peace Prize/Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.” More clicking cameras and cell phones.

“Next, we come to the music room, where Ellen’s husband composed his opus . . . .” The tourists will dutifully shuffle across the hall to oooh and ah.