Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A real artsy cat

Click to "embiggen"
A bit more than a year ago, our blogging friend Mrs. G revealed one of the artistic treasures of her home, and courageously bared her soul to the comments of critics.

It was a yard-sale find; one that she felt was an undervalued treasure. It was a painting - in fact, it was a larger than life-size portrait of a Siamese cat with compelling blue eyes.

You can read all about it at the link above. The gist of the story is that despite the critics, Mrs. G still treasures her cat painting, seeing it as an excellent example of naif American folk art. Or maybe paint-by-numbers.

That in mind, the other day while at a local antique store, I was struck by the painting above. A small panel, perhaps 12" x 12" painted in acrylic, it is another cat portrait painted in the naif style American folk art.

This cat, a ginger tabby, with a muscular, stocky body, looks guardedly at the viewer as it poses alongside what appears to be a papier-mache bobble-head toy tiger. The overarching line of the cat's tail is echoed by that of the toy. Both the cat and the toy have unusually large and powerful paws.

I sent her a photo, and await her response. I think Mrs. G could expand her collection, don't you think? It could be the primary on-line gallery of American Vernacular Cat Art. Perhaps we could host it together! It would be the Cat Art event of the year.

Detail of the shrine
I find that I have more Cat Art around the house than I realized. My folk art Vodou shrine bought after Hurricane Katrina shows a herd of cats being rescued from a flooded house Uptown by mischievous Lwa spirits.

I even have a papier-mache bobble-head cat - this one from Oaxaca.

Of course, this leads to a larger question - why have artists found the Cat to be such a fascinating subject? Is it the inscrutability of the Cat that proves to be so ellusive? Are cats easier to paint than dogs? As subjects, are they more rewarding?

Here's another exploration of Cat-as-art - the rather disturbing photo essay "Why Paint Cats?" by Burton Silver and Heather Busch

Painted cats? No. That's too much.

 It's just wrong.

Do you have Cat paintings in your home collection? Or Painted Cats?

UPDATE: I am humbled by the amazing Cat Art collection exhibited by Smalltown Mom.  Please disregard my feeble efforts, and visit her awesome blog.

Still waiting in Topanga

Is anyone wondering about the Century Plant's once-in-a-lifetime bloom? Did I miss it by being in the hospital?

I came home Sunday night, and Monday morning we took Jack for a walk down near our friend Patty's house and the Century Plant.

Here's how it looked on Monday.

And here it is today.

Just starting to unfold its odd looking flower stems.

It looks like some kind of alien creature! What will happen next?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Comfort to strangers

A young man hiccups in the hallway. He must be twenty, twenty two perhaps. He sounds like any young dude, a little high or drunk, maybe. At first, he is so mild-mannered and casual I think he is a visitor or a hospital worker. He hiccups again.

He can't stop hiccuping. The nurse asks questions one after the other in her pert, accented voice, chirping almost merrily, "Can you take a deep breath for me? Do you smoke? How many packs a day? Does it hurt here? Where you from?" He talks of Hinsdale, Illinois - it's not clear what the connection is. Then suddenly he retches, painfully; gasps, and sobs.

With that, I know he's a patient.

"You okay?" asks the nurse. It is a rhetorical question, but he answers honestly, his voice breaking, "No. No, I'm not okay...." and his voice breaks. "I don't know where I am, am I in L.A?"

He retches again. "I'm just so tired of throwing up," he says, sobbing. "Will you hug me?"

The nurse laughs - and though she laughs it is nevertheless a laugh that holds great tenderness. "No, we can't hug you, but we'll take care of you. Here is your pillow, you hug your pillow."

Day nurse

He strides into the room in the morning, a manila envelope in his hand. He pulls out his notes and checks them. He says my name, checking the notes, then puts out his hand to shake, introducing himself. "I'm S. I'll be your RN today."

Tall, lean, grey-haired, blue-eyed, handsome.  He asks if I need anything. He checks the IV, the epidural. He checks the wristband.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Off leash, still in the doghouse

I arrived at the hospital on Wednesday. On Wednesday night when I came to this pleasant room, I had three tubes attached to me - an IV for fluids and nutrients, an epidural line in my spine for pain management, and a Foley catheter to my bladder.

By Thursday night, I could drink clear fluids. Encouraged to walk the halls, I wheeled my dancing partner - my IV stand - along with me. I successfully met  the goals and objectives that were set for me - to fart and poop.

By Friday, I could eat solids and my IV was removed, but the epidural remained, plugged into the wall when in use and beeping "battery low" warnings as I wandered the halls.

This morning the epidural went away. All that remained was the Foley - a white vinyl bag about the size of a spring-time purse, that I dangled  from my wrist while walking up and down the linoleum halls. Then, it too went away.

Now I sit in my hospital room - off the leash. I'm wearing clean pajamas I brought from home. When the epidural went away, so did any pain medication. I'm slowly becoming aware of my incision, a tender, crimped feeling below. I think the plan is to give me oral pain medication eventually - but so far I haven't seen it.

Will I go home, or spend another night here? No one knows anything yet.

Meanwhile, I sit here, in the ward that is sometimes quiet, sometimes lazy, and other times bustling with action and characters. From behind my curtain, I observe some of these characters. I sometimes get to peek out at them, or sometimes, they peek in at me.

The Master of the Universe

The Master of the Universe is not pleased.

He was promised a shower immediately when they sent him upstairs, but the nurses insisted on doing something with the meds and things, and next thing you know it's eight o'clock and they're telling him he can't take a shower till morning. What, is there like some doctor's orders saying no showers?

The doctor promised when the Master of the Universe talked to him downstairs - but the doctor is gone now - just like him to take off without assuring that all arrangements for the Master of the Universe were firmly in place. Typical. "Well, yeah, it's UCLA but it's the one in Santa Monica. No, in Santa Monica. On Wilshire."

He can't see how they put the gown on him, and the way these tubes run through it here, no wonder the Master of the Universe knocked over the water pitcher. If the nurses had been quicker at getting the floor cleaned when he asked, he woulda been able to keep his socks dry, but now he needs a new pair - "I mean now, not later!" - of course if he could just take his shower everything would work out.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hell Hospital

Click to "embiggen"
It's two in the morning. I suddenly awake in the dark to a child screaming.

A full-throated moan it rises unbearably. Fear and panic ring as the voice cracks as it reaches its height..

The sound is on the other side of the wall at night in the hospital.

Pink Saturday - Un kir

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

In France, when asked if you want an apertif, you can't go wrong if you say"Je prends un kir, s'il vous plait."

We were in Dijon, in the wine country of Burgundy. We were guests at a medieval townhouse in the old part of the city. Our hostess settled us into the guest room, above what is now the garage, looking over the inner courtyard. We climbed out the French doors onto the balcony, and she brought glasses, a bottle of white wine, and a small bottle of a thick, dark syrup - creme de cassis, or liqueur of blackcurrants.

She poured the wine, and then glugged in a small dollop of the syrup. It settled in the bottom of the glass, a deep rosy flush. She swirled the stem a little and the wine suffused pink.

 Named after Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon after the second World War, a Kir is traditionally made with the  white wine made from Bourgogne Aligote grapes.

 It was a popular drink in Dijon cafes after the war, because the sweet dark flavor of the blackcurrant syrup enhanced the thin, cheap, acid wine that was all people could get during those days.

We sat on the balcony planted with pink oleanders, overlooking the cobblestones, the apricot tree heavy with fruit, blooming hydrangeas beside the white-washed walls. The plants were still damp from an early afternoon rain shower, but the sun was out, warming the mellow ancient stone carved with lion heads and lion caryatids.

You can make a kir with a little bit of syrup - just enough to tint the wine a pale salmon - or you can make it with a generous dollop, for a deeper color and more sweetness. Either way, it's a pretty drink, simple enough to sip at a cafe on a warm summer evening, or before a meal.
We enjoyed it so much in Dijon that when we returned to Paris, we stopped in the bar at the Gare de Lyon and had one there, in the Big Ben Bar.
Le Train Bleu
If you dine at the Gare de Lyon's famous Le Train Bleu restaurant, you might want something a little fancier, like a kir royale, made with sparkling white wine or champagne. In France, you can also order a kir made with syrups from other fruits, such as mûre (blackberry) framboise (raspberry) or pèche (peach).

Here in the United States, it's hard to find Bourgogne Aligote wine, and if you do, you'll often pay up to $20 for it - which is foolish. A simple sauvignon blanc works fine, or any cheap French white wine, like La Vielle Ferme blanc, easily found in American supermarkets.

You'll pay a price, too, for the creme de cassis, especially if you buy one from Dijon. But do buy one from Dijon, instead of the cheaper brands of Hiram Walker or Marie Brizzard or Bols. It will go a long way. And you can sip your kir this summer on a lovely Pink Saturday evening, and imagine you are sitting on a 16th century balcony, over a cobblestone courtyard, in the ancient city of wine, food, and medieval palaces.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thanks, co-workers!

Beautiful! Orchids, roses (2 kinds) tulips, peonies and amaranth!

Fart Proudly!

In the 1780s, American diplomat, scholar, inventor, and all-around smart guy Benjamin Franklin wrote to the Royal Academy of Brusselles. They conducted an annual prize competition for scholarly innovation, and he had an idea for a competition. It is included in a slim book of Franklin's essays titled "Fart Proudly!":
"It is universally well known, That in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People, therefore, to avoid giving such Offense, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so restrained contrary to nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, etc., often destructive of the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself."
Franklin proposes, therefore, that the scholars of the academy devise some methods or supplement to be taken at meals that would render our farts more acceptable. Or, as he put it:
"To discover some Drug wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common Food or Sauces, that shall render the Natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes."
He was ahead of his time, perhaps. Modern civilization has invented a whole array of methods to mask the scent of farts, including scented candles, incense, plug-in air-fresheners, and aerosol sprays.

In 1998, a gentleman named Chester "Buck" Weimer of Pueblo Colorado patented underwear that was fitted with an odor-absorbent charcoal filter.

But do these work? In my family home, the scent of Glade certainly didn't mask the scent; it mingled with fart blossom wafting in the hall and inevitably warned us to check if the other bathroom was free.

While farting is generally considered offensive and embarrassing, it also is viewed with some peculiar admiration. In 19th Century France, a gentleman with the stage name of Le Petomane was celebrated for his ability to fart at will, imitating musical instruments and creating sound effects like thunder and cannon fire. He could play the ocarina, and extinguish a candle set several yards away. Of course, other humorist wags have combined farting and flame to create other pyrotechnical effects.

Many of those who view farting with approval do so for health-related reasons. Including my surgical team.

After a successful colectomy, one of the signs of recovery is the ability of the patient to Let One Rip.

My doctors and the nursing staff await my first post-surgical fart with great anticipation. After my first fart I get to eat solid food. And if that's successful, they will let me go home. So far, I am experiencing some interesting gurgles, but no serious action, yet.

Hey, doc. Pull my finger!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two patients

It's time to give some support to [The Man I Love.] He has given me such support during my month of illness and surgery. He raced over to be with me the day I went to the ER; he's helped me with my dietary needs through out the month, and he brought me to the hospital and delivered amusements and comfort to me.

But today, he's dealing with another invalid.

Our Topanga fields and meadows are full of Hordeum murinum or the annual grass known as "wild barley" or "foxtails."

When the seeds dry, dogs can pick them up on their fur, between their toes, in their ears, or aspirate them into their nose or throat.

A couple of days ago, Jack began to show symptoms of having a foxtail in his mouth or nose - he began sneezing, shaking his head and working his mouth. So today, after my surgery yesterday, [The Man I Love] took Jack to our vet.

Like me, Jack will be given general anesthesia. The vet will go into his pharynx with tiny instruments, and take out the offending particle.

[The Man I Love] will pick Jack up when he's awake, and take him home to recover. Poor guy.

Jack sniffing the "Cecile Brunner" roses up the street
If only Jack would stay away from the foxtails and save his snuffling for the roses, like he did here.

They're so much more his style.

Give props to [The Man I Love] for his nursing skills.

Late update - Jack is now home and a little wobbly, says [The Man I Love.] They didn't find a foxtail in his nose or throat. The vet said it may be allergies - we've got the only Topanga dog with hay fever. Or maybe the foxtail has gone further up. She said watch him and if it's not better, she has to get a certain kind of instrument and try again.

Breakfast in bed

I came through the surgery fine. The procedure was successful, I had no infection, and they took my appendix out for good measure.

Now it's morning. So far, I'm in a room with no room-mate. I slept fine overnight, and I'm allowed to have clear fluids. Unsalted chicken broth never tasted so good.

Waking up in the recovery room, the first thing I noticed was how horribly dry my mouth was. The next thing I noticed was the pain from the incision.

I am - still, even at this writing - hooked to an epidural catheter that regularly feeds numbing and pain relief through my spine. I'm allowed to push the Magic Green Button if I need more pain relief.

In the recovery room, I pushed the Button four times. But once the nurse gave me some ice for my mouth, I think my reptilian comfort-seeking brain's focus shifted to that. The breathing tube for anesthesia went down my throat (so they say, I don't remember) and because of that my upper palate feels sore and my lower lip is both swollen and chapped.

Fat lip
Since moving to my room, I've felt no need for the Magic Green Button. I'm also wearing a pair of inflatable pads on my lower legs - these are intended to prevent blood clots in my legs while I lie idly. The pads automatically pump up at intervals - it feels like a leg massage!

Breakfast is broth, herbal tea, and juice. I'm told that the popsicles featured on the lunch menu are a MUST!

Continuing the spa-like feel of all this, I just need to look out the window of my room. It looks west over Santa Monica, and there's a view of the ocean.

With this and all the support and good wishes from friends and family - can anyone be luckier than I am right now?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pre-op Prep

Before undergoing major surgery, patients should prepare their bodies for the ordeal ahead. Follow a few simple rules so that you will enter the operating room in the best possible condition.

In addition to the less pleasant matters of preparation prescribed by my doctors, I think a fresh pedicure and a new haircut should put me in the proper frame of mind for the days ahead.

That's the best I can do. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Got the blues

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "Got the blues."

This is an unexpected bit of blue - the sky's reflection in Topanga Creek during a mountain hike.

It's a day at the Spa!

It's the day before my surgery. In the middle of the night I woke up and for a moment, couldn't remember what day of the week it was. It's funny I should feel that way, because it's only the first day of my medical leave. It's a rare luxury not to count the weekdays and weekend days, pacing yourself for the work week.

I don't expect I will be off work for very long - maybe a week. But how nice for a week with no phone calls, spreadsheets, emails. Is having major surgery the price for such a vacation?

Except for the fact that I have to purge my bowels and can't eat anything solid - today is a perfect day.

Wait a minute. Let's think about this.

Spend the day at a peaceful hideaway in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains - Check. 
 Enjoying the sun and scenery, the lazy pace of the morning as it unfolds - Check

 Hike the trails and spend the day in quiet contemplation - Check.
Spa cuisine
Low calorie diet - Check.

 Colonic cleansing - Check

 I can see the up side of this. Don't people pay thousands of dollars to do exactly what I'm doing today?

Just add a few scented candles, pricey linens and some heated stones, and I'm living like a movie star!

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's going to take forever

Click to "embiggen"
Before this Century Plant near my friend Patty's house blooms!!

I've been taking a photo of it every day on my morning walk. The bloom stem must be twenty feet high by now! It still hasn't bloomed.

A snail on the road
Everything seems to take longer than you expect.

Do you think it will bloom while I'm in the hospital this weekend? Or wait till I get back home?

May blooms

Here's what's in bloom in my garden this week:

The delicate single rose "Sally Holmes."

Shrub rose "Lavender Lassie."

A pale lavender clematis whose name I've forgotten

Louisiana iris - sort of a purply-chocolate brown and gold.