Friday, December 28, 2012

The Week Illustrated

Proud to say, I got the tree up and decorated on time, with ample time for adjustment and readjustment.

This year I tossed away the old artificial pine garland covered with artificial snow which I had used for the past 6, 7 years to line the mantel at Christmas. Then I had a problem: the mantel was bared and needed some covering. Buying another artificial anything seemed absurd since I just threw out the old one. So I came up with this idea, with material from right here this land of ours: 

What would you call the shade of blue that is the cedar berry? There's not another blue quite like it. I put the twigs in the mason jars. I make sure they have enough water to drink.

I have twelve of these to line the entire mantel, with the Nativity scene in the center. I don't have a photo of the center. What you see here is the right half of the shelf. The clock is a Christmas present from a friend in Texas. It arrived on Christmas Eve. 

Our cow Daisy gave birth to this little one, five days before Christmas, an early Christmas present:

I hand-painted some Christmas cards. The motif is an angel-like snow man, or a snow angel, as my friend Jan calls it. I sent these to just about five people. I didn't send cards to everybody this year. One reason is I couldn't find the cards I bought last year, which I liked; I looked in the stores this year, didn't see any I liked; I set out to hand-paint my own, and found out that it would take me the entire Christmas season to paint enough for everyone in my address book! 

I baked some mini loaves, put a bow on and gave them away to friends:

And I in turn received delicious treats from friends, not the least from my dear friend Jan. I should have taken picture when it was first opened but I didn't because I was a block head. The contents disappeared fast and furious. You're looking at the last one standing. I know both I and KDM are exercising our utmost social grace not to be the one to eat it.  

It snowed on Christmas Day: 

The next morning, our new calf looked like this: 

The clothes line looked like this: 

Pup the dog looked like this:

After excitedly taking a million snow pictures, I came in the house and drank some of this:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brainy Leah Reviews Les Miserables

How the young and smart Leah Libresco can think as clearly as she does is a little scary. In her review of the new Les Miserables movie, she writes:

Some of the movie reviewers have called Javert the villain of the piece and implied that he’s motivated by vengeance or cruelty, but Javert is scrupulously fair.  He is like a peculiar ascetic; denying any mercy or forgiveness to himself leaves him free to be indifferent to others.  But to yield even once would damn all his previous actions.  If he admits that mercy is to be longed for, then his idolatrous God of Law is dead, and he must look back over all the works of his strength and joy and righteousness in shame.
Javert doesn’t want enough.  He would prefer a mean sort of fairness to grace, because it lies in his power to achieve one and not the other.  By only accepting standards he can achieve, he betrays those who would have benefited from even his fumbling attempts at kindness.  He refuses to become visibly imperfect in the service of a higher perfection

Law, grace, mercy, redemption, scrupulosity, asceticism, fairness, forgiveness...hmmm. I want to see this movie.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shut My Mouth

A blog post I read by The Anchoress last year had been off and on my mind lately and I had been meaning to find it in her archive and read it again. I put it off because I did not remember the title or date of the post and wondered how I could ever find it. Today's event in Newtown, CT, pushed me to go digging. After about 30 minutes of trying a dozen categories, dates and key words, I found it, which in turn took me to this source blog. Read the story of the Petit family , you will see that extreme evil is not unique.

What I remembered so distinctly were these words:
The lowest evil is like the highest love: it is mystery. 
In the face of evil of such magnitude as what took place today in Newtown, CT, any analysis, diagnosis, conclusion runs the risk of rashness, blitheness, or self-deception. I've heard it explained that the word mystery has its root meaning "shut the mouth." 

Not surprisingly, gun-control crowd is rising to the occasion, again. I don't pretend to know the history of American gun politics. But for those who think guns are the only weapon wielded in these crimes, I have a couple of headlines of recently history to share, from my native country, China. There were more similar incidents but these are the only ones I could find in English-language news archives. The weapons used in both cases: knives.

While I concede that the gun is a more efficient thus deadlier weapon than, say, the knife, I find that many of the gun-control activists (at least those on Facebook) for the most part hysterical in their reaction. It is disturbing to see their hatred for their political opponents extending to perfectly law-abiding gun owners. Many of these otherwise sophisticated thinkers seem intellectually incapable of recognizing that evil is a constant in human history and the culture of death is poisoning the advanced societies at large. Furthermore, the zeitgeist, of the last hundred years or so, is that evil, or sin, is a silly construct by the superstitious followers of a dark age religion. Ironically, when it comes to attacking their political enemies, such as the NRA, many of the same enlightened people morph into positive believers of evil. 

But the depth and breadth of this subject is not for me. I am in general cynical and wary of politics and fruitless bickering. 

I will shut my mouth, where there is only ashes. 

I would rather put away bitterness and pray. When all is said and done, there are only the saints. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

the subject is light

And here, more of "the-subject-is-light", to trade with my pal Jan:


Some happenings of the week:

Painted this (I take inspiration from what I see around me)

Went to see a parade (I've always loved clowns)

Lost electricity Monday night (two extra kerosene lamps are on my next shopping list)

Painted this (a cluster of chrysanthemums)

Saw these this morning, right from my front yard (nothing compared to the two dozens we saw the other day. I was too overwhelmed to grab the camera). I agree, I need a bigger lens.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Something for Cheer

Tired. Stressed out. Lethargic.

All but how one should feel in the first week of Advent.

But I'm trying to shake it. So here, something for cheer:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How I Spent First Four Hours Post-election

I did what I like the best, and my beloved indulged me by sitting patiently for me for four hours. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prayer and Epiphany

Just read this quote in an article regarding Bishop Fulton Sheen:

In his autobiography, Treasure In Clay, Sheen tells a story which shows this in action:
“I remember a stewardess on an international airline who began instructions [in Catholicism]. When we came to the subject of confession and sin, she said that she could not continue. I begged her to take one more hour of instruction, and then if she did not like what was said, she could leave.
At the end of the second hour on that subject, she became almost violent and shouted: “Now I’ll never join the Church after what I have heard about confessing sin.” I said to her: “There is no proportion whatever between what you have heard and the way you are acting. Have you ever had an abortion?” She hung her head in shame and admitted that she had.
That was the difficulty; it was not the sacrament of Penance. Later on I received her into the Church and baptized her first child. From my experience it is always well never to pay attention to what people say, but rather why they say it. So often there is a rationalization of the way they live.”
— Fulton SheenTreasure In Clay (New York, NY: Image, 1982), 278-279.    

That concluding sentence of the Bishop reminds me of a recent epiphany I had.

At the beginning of the school year I had some strange, shall we say, difficulties, with a particular person with whom I'm associated through work. For a while she appeared to not just be cold, but almost hostile towards me. A very opinionated woman, she seemed to live in and breathe anger and victimhood. In all honesty I found her anger and porcupine-ish posture revolting. I decided that with exception of professional contact I'd simply cut her off from my mental field of vision and count her as nobody.

Then I remembered that I was a Christian. And I prayed for a better understanding and mindset.

One day while I was tending to something as domestic as watching water boiling on the stove, without any preoccupation on the subject, a thought came suddenly: she is not hard and thorny as she puts on; inside she is a puddle.

The message came through loud and clear, but also soft and natural like the vapor rising from the just- now boiling water. It was as authoritative and unequivocal as someone had just told me that the sun would rise the next day. Through the vapor I clear saw a lonely, fragile and frightened little girl feigning aggression to preempt oncoming malice and injuries, real or imagined.

All my subsequent dealings with the same person have borne out the message. This has nothing to do with confession or sin, but rather with that "it is always well never to pay attention to what people say, but rather why they say it. So often there is a rationalization of the way they live.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fr. George Rutler on NYT Hypocrisy

I receive Fr. George Rutler's weekly column via email. Here's this week's to share:

Pope Benedict XVI was in Lebanon last week where the principal Catholic rite, the Maronite, traces its roots to Saint Maroun, who in the fourth century was a friend of Saint John Chrysostom. The Holy Father spoke to people who “know all too well the tragedy of conflict and . . . the cry of the widow and the orphan.” Like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Pope linked violence to contempt for the right to life: “The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life.” The defense of life “leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart.”

   This contradicts those in our own country who plead for peace while violating the innocent unborn. Our current President has defended “partial-birth abortion” when (in arguing against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002), as he infelicitously put it, “. . . that fetus, or child, however you want to describe it, is now outside of the mother’s womb . . .” It is not surprising that The New York Times should be so opposed to the Catholic Church whose teaching on the sanctity of life exposes the hypocrisy of that publication. If, according to the adage, “hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue,” there is much vice promoted by The New York Times, but one is hard pressed to detect the remnant virtue.

   Pope Benedict's final Mass in Lebanon attracted 350,000, yet the largest gathering of faithful in the long history of that ancient land was mentioned only on the bottom of page eight of The New York Times with a tiny photograph. The same issue's “Quotation of the Day” was by an “Egyptian religious scholar” Ismail Mohamed: “We don't think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression; we think it is an offense against our rights.” This is where hypocrisy burst into a veritable tap dance, for in March of this year, the Times ran a full-page advertisement mocking the Catholic Church, and a few days later refused to run a similar one mocking Islam.

   The “Grey Lady” is only a few shades removed from what our Lord called “whitewashed tombs.” The mainstream media have defended vulgar and even pornographic anti-Christian films, stage plays, sculptures and painting as “art” entitled by free expression. When it comes to Islam, there is a different standard. Perhaps it is because newspaper editors know that Pope Benedict XVI will not demand that they be decapitated.

   The Pope risked his life to go to the Middle East. At 85, he still is on active duty. And so will his successors be, long after the last subscriber to The New York Times has cancelled his subscription.     

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Down Today

Had to miss work today as I'm laid up by an infliction as inelegant as a spider bite. Our open-door policy in country living has caught up to me.

Nasssty, nasssty ssspidersess.

Who do I sound like?

Never saw the sneaky, mean little creature. Three days have passed and the wound has not morphed to resemble the dreadful job by a black widow or brown recluse. There lies my peace of mind,

A beautiful, sunny but coolish morning here. I'm sitting in my PJs, catching up on world news online, smelling the bacon cooking on the stove, listening to the wash machine humming, and the faint sounds of radio wafting out from KDM's workshop. The man is busying himself with building a large outdoor scale for weighing cattle. So far he has been taking cattle to a friend's farm for weighing before shipping them out for sale.

Funny I can feel this much peace even when my body is swollen and covered with rash. Is it the trick of medications?

Still, the nasssty, nasssty, ssspideress.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Old Indulgence

KDM and I have been watching some movies. Last night we revisited one of our favorites, O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen Brothers, about whose newer movie, True Grit, I wrote a post some time back.

A small chain reaction ensues: in addition to listening to the soundtrack of the movie, which the Coen Brothers alternately call a "hayseed Lawrence of Arabia," and a "three stooges movie," I'm itching to re-read the Odyssey.

I'm a sucker for vagabondage stories.

How not to be fully-alive

During a somewhat distracted meditation prior to Mass yesterday, the quote of St. Irenaeus popped into my mind:

The glory of God is man fully alive.

But what does it mean, man fully alive?

Too all-encompassing a notion to grasp. But I instinctively knew what the opposite of a "man fully alive" was:


a spiritual sickness perfectly explained by Catholic Encyclopedia (emphasis mine):

One of the seven capital sins. In general it means disinclination to labour or exertion. As a capital or deadly vice St. Thomas (II-II:35) calls it sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve (Tristitia de bono spirituali). Father Rickaby aptly translates its Latin equivalent acedia (Gr. akedia) by saying that it means the don't-care feeling. A man apprehends the practice of virtue to be beset with difficulties and chafes under the restraints imposed by the service of God. The narrow way stretches wearily before him and his soul grows sluggish and torpid at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspires not joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness. This is the notion commonly obtaining, and in this sense sloth is not a specific vice according to the teaching of St. Thomas, but rather a circumstance of all vices. Ordinarily it will not have the malice of mortal sinfulness, of course, we conceive it to be so utter that because of it one is willing to bid defiance to some serious obligationSt. Thomas completes his definition of sloth by saying that it is torpor in the presence of spiritual good which is Divine good. In other words, a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. It is then a mortal sin unless the act be lacking in entire advertence or full consent of the will. The trouble attached to maintenance of the inhabiting of God by charity arouses tedium in such a person. He violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength." (Mark 12:30).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Art and Doubt

Another day struggling to sort things out on canvas and in sketchbook. It may be hard to explain an artist's struggle because people who aren't in the "trade" sometimes think we're over-strung and given to melancholia. Although there's truth enough in that assessment, there's also real reason for our occasional despair.

As we grow in our chosen "trade," (I still dare not to call mine "vocation"),  our ideal for where we want our work to go keeps getting re-difined as we become more critical and demanding of ourselves. When that ideal eludes us in the physical battle with our material, it can be brutally demoralizing. The doom of defeat, even a sense of futility, pervades our air.

In order that people understand our seemingly esoteric trouble, it is important they recognize that the ideals we chase are more than technical excellence.

I recently read an essay regarding artist's doubts, the concept famously associated with early twentieth-century artists such as Paul Cezanne and Alberto Giacometti. Cezanne wrestled with optical uncertainty and his desire to make Impressionism "something solid and durable." Giacometti was so anxious about his work that he declared that painting is "impossible," while his sculpture of tenuous human figures ever threatens to disappear all together. If someone has difficulty understanding Existentialism, all he needs is look at Giacometti's art and get it. Yet these two "doubters" each left us a body of soul-stirring works and enduring legacy of art of high seriousness.

sculpture by Alberto Giacometti

Painting by Alberto Giacometti 

Giacometti's work is often linked to the ethos of Existentialism, expressing the immobility and raising the question of human freedom. Yet looking back at these works as a post-Modernist, I'm profoundly touched by their relentless quest for meaning. I suspect Cezanne ever considered himself a pagan. A crucifix hangs on the wall in his studio to this day. I do not know Giacometti had any sort of spiritual conversion towards the end of his life, but that ignorance doesn't prevent me from sympathizing with his search. The very fact that these works got made at all negates any belief that he is a believer of nothing.

When art is nothing but a trade, it's possible to separate the work from the artist; when it DOES become a vocation, however, the artist's battle is never simply technical. His work is the stage where he grapples with who he is. Where he is awarded clarity in his search, he makes an interpretation; but even when that sense is vague or downright lost he still doesn't stop. If he is Christian he sees potential in his crisis, or, poverty. If he loves his work he goes on despite the absence of consolation. He becomes a willing traveller in desolation.

I had to write all that down in persuasion to myself. I'm the first one to admit how weak I am sometimes.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Today's Thoughts

Taking a breather from painting, which, by the way, hasn't been smooth. I'm struggling a lot, but I can't give up. I'm a realist who knows no other way to get better in painting than to keep on painting. I can't sit around thinking of a solution. Solutions elude me outside the physical engagement inside the studio. Even then, some days I just can't see I'm making any headways, still I have to keep trudging along. Sometimes no choice is the best choice.

For what it's worth, I've decided to stay away from FaceBook for a while. Never a place for serenity, FB is getting even sillier now the presidential election heats up in white flames. I've gone from having a very low opinion of the social medium to tolerating and gradually enjoying it in the span of about two years. It has been especially rewarding for me to have connected with a circle of good painters whom I would not have had the opportunity to meet in person. To be able to see their work and dialogue with them professionally has been stimulating. But I can not say the same of its social benefits. Without being too pedantic, I would say that FB is a place to trade personas rather than authenticity. I've considered why texts and social media have taken place of voice calls and even emails these days. One quick answer is that it's easier to socialize mutely than to bump sound waves, so to speak, with one another, not to say being face to face and making eye contact for an extended period. Human interaction is going minimalism trending trouble-free.

And we all know (or not), how much we want relationships trouble-free, until, when we want to be wanted. Even more so, to be loved.

So for that and other reasons which I won't get into here, I'm taking a break from FB. I'll come back when the elections are over. If the full-throttled anger vent and the half-baked moral pontificating persist and linger in the aftermath of the dogfights,  I'll wait still longer. After all, man do not live by FB alone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The Christian religion likes to talk about forgiveness. Tons of words have been poured out to address how to forgive to let the hurt go. I used to wonder just who those people were, the ones who won't, or find it hard to forgive. I had no such problem nor difficulty. I was above the fray. I tried to think if I'd ever felt bitterness towards anyone for a sufficiently long period. And I always answered that question with "No."

As far as I could recall, I had only treated two people I've known to utter distain and disregard. I refused to acknowledge their existence in social occasions, I would not give them the time of the day. Then again, I never saw that as un-forgiveness. After all I did not hate them in my heart. I was not serious about my attitude toward them. I might as well be indifferent to the wrong they had done me.

I didn't know what hate was like. I hated no one. What was there to forgive? Forgiveness was an issue of others, not mine.

Until now. That is to say, until I began to give it another look. You see, six-years being Catholic has given me enough opportunities to be humble and put me on edge. I've learned, often through humiliation, that no assumption except God's mercy is safe. Just when you think you've gotten it all figured out along the straight and the narrow, something comes along to reveal the truth you don't want to see and shake you out of complacency (Flannery O'Connor more than anyone, has helped me to be on guard against complacency. Think Green Leaf, A Goodman is Hard to Find,  A Circle of Fire, The Comfort of Home).

And those revelations don't have to be big. Rather, they infiltrate like gnats or fleas or bedbugs. You either don't see them or don't take them serious. Yet they move in steadily, sucking your blood. The damages they do can hardly be called hurt; but the irritations they cause distract and erode your soul.

And I am constantly irritated and distracted. Anyone who's ever sat in the pew in a Sunday service or Mass knows just how hard it is to overlook the ridiculous outfit or a lame hairdo someone has on; or why that parent has to rub the back of her teenage boy throughout consecration; doesn't the father know that he shouldn't let his son wear the hat in Church? Why are my students such block-heads? And you already know how I feel about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

I can go on with many, many such examples. But to put it short, I've begun to be conscious of my preoccupations with these small irritations and grudges. I see their danger. I'm re-accessing my presumed magnanimity and I'm seeing laughable pride I had in myself.

If I truly want to be free, I need to be free of my own assumptions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It is fitting that today's Gospel reading (Luke 4:38-44) speaks of God's power of healing, and the Church's prayer is to intercede for the sick:

"Since the moments of our life unfold, O God,
according to your good pleasure,
receive the prayers and sacrificial offerings
by which we implore your mercy
for our brothers and sisters who are ill,
that, having been anxious for them in their danger,
we may rejoice at their recovery of health.
Through Christ our Lord."

In the Gospel reading, Christ heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law by "rebuking" the fever. Elsewhere we read that Christ "rebuked" the wind, or the demons. "Rebuking" demons seems easier to understand, as we tend to think demons as creatures, like Satan, with a mind to destroy. But fever and winds are natural forces, within the fabrics of creation. Like most modern people I tend to see everything through lenses of science (wisely or not), and I believe that chemistry and physics are immediate causes of illnesses and weather phenomenon. Following the logic my question becomes "May God 'rebuke' chemistry and physics when they wreak havocs at His good pleasure?"

As a Catholic who accepts that God is sovereign over all of creation, it is not difficult for me to accept the answer "Yes." After all chemistry and physics obey the Creator's law and His command.

With the Church I pray, as often as I am reminded, to intercede for those who suffer illnesses and natural disasters. But I try my best to put the coda "Thy will be done" to each of my prayers. In other words, I accept God's timing and "His good pleasure."

This is not to say that it's always easy for me to submit my own will to His. Not that long ago I felt, for the first time, bitterness toward God, for being silent. Similar trials have not (and will not, I pray) turned me away from the Faith. The reason for staying is very simple, best said through the mouth of the straight-shooting Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."

It's that simple: I have nowhere to go. You could even say that I came to the Faith in an act of desperation. Only many days and nights later did I recognize that what once seemed an act desperation was in fact an act of hope. Hope isn't issued from human will, but Grace.

But I digress. Now back to healing of the sick.

As I write -

  • a relative is recovering from surgery he underwent yesterday, for colon cancer;
  • the mother of my best friend is dying of colon cancer;
  • my Dad is lying in bed in an nursing home, completely dependent on care provided by others;
  • my mother lives with disability as a result of several past strokes and diabetes;
  • the mother of my sister-in-law lost her husband eight months ago and is suffering from diabetes and a past stroke;
  • a friend is living in anxiety of possibly losing her husband to Leukemia;
  • an art critic and fellow artist is still absent from her intellectually stimulating blog due to the grave illness of her husband;
  • a co-worker (who seems not to like me much) is mourning her mother who recently took her own life;
  • ... ...

These and others, are in my mind whenever I kneel down to meditate and to pray. I've ceased to use words in these moments, just intentions.

Because words feel very thin where intentions are grave.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Augustine, my Augustine!

I couldn't let the day close without saying something about the specialness of it: the feast day of St. Augustine.

My first knowledge of Augustin came by way of reading T. S. Elliot's Waste Land, the famous line "To Carthage then I came," an enigmatic quote from the saint's monumental autobiography Confessions: “to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.”

Still a pagan, while reading Elliot's footnotes I was struck by the amount of Christian-themed allusions and quotes used in the poem. Something about the reference to Carthage and the hidden figure of the Bishop of Hippo intrigued me. I wanted to know more about Augustine but I put off the research. Then, right in the middle of my obsession with Elliot, a family tragedy hit. 

It was to be a trigger to set off many things. Timeline of closely-followed events remains jumbled to me to this day. Everything seemed to have been moving along a crudely edited reel, un-comprehended yet every pixel magnified by tears. Time collapsed and warped. Amidst the days of chaos I was shuffled down into a strange tunnel. 

By the time I came out of the "tunnel," I did not know who I was but could not bear any longer being my own stranger. I was ravenous for a new knowledge. I resorted to books, to minds more solid than mine. I bought the Confessions and devoured it whole. There was much indigestion but it didn't matter: I was famished for truth. 

When I came to the line "God, you have made us for yourself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," I knew what had hitherto been the root of all my doomed self-love and neurosis and illnesses. To have met that line was like to have met a song that had been in my heart all along but somehow was lost. Augustine did not give me something new, he simply awakened the deepest secret I had suppressed with unconscious fear and willful ignorance. 

I almost chose Augustine to be my patron at baptism, instead I picked St. Therese. Augustine was almost too big, too brilliant. By that time I sensed an acute need for approaching holiness by the Little Ways, the ways of Therese. Therese is doing fine for me. But Augustine will always be my prince, one who speaks heart to heart, one forever directs my eyes upward. 

Friday, August 24, 2012


Saw this somewhere online a week ago and thought it was a joke someone made up. Well, a joke it isn't. Unbelievable. While I feel sorry for the person who did this, who probably is eaten away by insomnia, I just cannot swallow it whole: Why????

Friday, August 10, 2012

Speedy Post

We got home from our northernly trip last night. Here's a list of what we accomplished during the trip, in random order and/or degrees of significance:

  • went to the wedding of KDM's niece, who treated around 200 guests to a warm, lavish, roaring good time. KDM was even awarded his personal bottle of his fav whisky.
  • KDM and bros played two-and-a-half rounds of golf, with one half rained out.
  • stayed in a flashy casino, ate two buffets, won $100, lost $130. Net loss: $30.
  • KDM drove about 900miles, I about 500.
  • went to 3 different Sam's Club in 3 days, had tires rotated and balanced, twice, the second round done right by a solicitous, bustling, sweaty, mechanic named Mo. I know our paths will likely never cross again, but I will very likely never forget his face. In my home country folk's reckoning, a chance to behold the countenance of a passerby for just a moment requires a hundred years of karma from the previous life of both the beholder and the beheld.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Okay. Okay.

Since I don't want to keep the suspension overnight for my pal Jan, here it is:

I know. I know. What a letdown, right? Across the green earth, people dye their hair everyday. My little sister, originally a blackhead just like me, has been chestnut blonde since I don't remember when. This last trip to China saw me among the minority of black-headed fellow native women. Another Asian-American girl assured me (during one of my consultation sessions) that I just couldn't "mess up" black hair. In order for that to happen, you have to bleach it first. I called another friend, an Asian red-head, for a second (or third, fourth...) opinion, who said pretty much the same thing: go ahead, you will be fine...Yet, none of these, seemed to have helped easing the nail-bitings and nerve losses. I was mortified to imagine myself looking like the girl on the commercial color box minus the Caucasian complexion and blue eyes. Two days after blowing the first bottle (how I won't tell, for your benefit, so that if you happen to be eating or drinking, you're spared of the danger of choking, which happened to my Texas friend when I phoned), I got up the nerves and resumed the plan, came out of it unscathed.

Actually, I'm a happy camper, as you can see in the photo.

Friday, July 27, 2012


I am about to embark on a journey into the unknown, like the Hobbits taking leave of the Shire. It's going to take a leap of faith. I'm not going to tell what it is. But I'll give you a clue: it has everything to do with the proverbial female vanity (not Spanx, that one taken), well, maybe a bit to do with stirring up some reckless fun.

Maybe it's just the heat. The same heat that drove Van Gogh to cut off his ear.

But don't you worry, it's not that radical. That won't happen until I've painted my house yellow.

Yet, there's potential for trauma in this experiment, so, won't you bless me?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Girl on Deadlines

For the precious few of you out there who actually expect to see something new on this blog now and then, I haven't forgotten you, nor have I been willfully neglecting you. Here are just some excuses assuming you care to know.

Since returning from China, my native country, I've been stuck in a most peculiar psychological state which may be called an "ethnic identity disorder:" I was stuck in between being Chinese and American, a Southern one of the latter, even. The most confusing part of being in this limbo is what to eat. That's right, I spent the first post-China week ruefully looking into the fridge and pantries feeling absolute zero appetite for anything in sight. I missed the rice porridges with red, green and black beans and sesame seeds and goji berries in it; I dreamed of Sichuan hot pot and my sister's handmade pancakes with sugar and green onion tucked into them; I even had hard time shaking my newly acquired habit of drinking room-temperature water in my PJ's and slippers...

That's the extremely truncated account of the first post-return week. The second, however, is very different. It hit both KDM and me like a rock out of the blue sky, of which I wrote in a previous post, namely, two of our calves got sick and were attacked by our own dogs while recuperating. One died of drowning in the pond on the night of the attack. The other, "Bud," stayed with us and alternately treating us to hope and despair for two weeks and died two days after Fourth of July. The whole affair took on a transformative intensity which is very hard to write and to relay to outsiders who aren't schooled in cattle farming. I had thought during the ordeal what a good story it would have made for writers such as Hemingway: the story of saving the life of a calf attempted by a very odd couple who are also self-taught farmers.

After the death of "Bud," our life resumed some normalcy. Rain came after seven weeks of smoldering heat and everything in the pastures turning into dust. Then the deadlines of submitting works to shows and competitions moved up my to-do list. When it comes to deadlines, I'm really good at never beating them too far ahead, preferrably. just by an hour or two.

There have been numerous other threads besides these more salient factors. If I were diligent, they would find their way to this blog for your amusement, but alas, diligence has never been my strong suit.

But lest you are let down, here are a couple of things that stand out in my current affairs:

  • I've finally begun reading The Lord of the Rings (with The Hobbit out of the way after two thirteen-hour cross-ocean flights last month).
  • I have a new way to describe my total reaction to my latest home-going trip: China: a fascinating place. This is significant because I used to think of my motherland as many things, but never "fascinating." When I heard people use the word for their impression of her, I usually chalked it up to someone wanting to impress me with their multiculturalism. 
  • Our dogs are still alive, all four of them. KDM has gone back to talking to them and calling them by their names (not just names!)
  • I've just purchased my first Spanx!!

I leave you at that, and bless you from my Hobbit hole although I'm not small and I wear shoes!

Love, Izy

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

My family pampered me during my recent 3-week visit to my home country. I hardly had to lift a finger before my every need and desire was attended to by a hovering group of siblings and relatives. One day when Mom urged someone to take over a light chore (like feeding myself) I was attempting on my own, my younger sister, known for a barbed tongue, snapped, "it's time we trouble her to do something. She's lived a life out of this world for way too long, a little work won't hurt her."

She was referring to what was perceived as my idyllic, arcadian, pastoral, American, country life.

She was mostly right, both in perception and judgment.

But things have been rough in paradise the past few days. The two sick calves KDM had been trying to nurture back to health were attacked by our very own dogs during the night before, one driven into the pond and drowned, the other found lying on its back barely alive, its ears and legs mauled to bloody mess. The sight was horrific. When KDM informed me of the incident, he had a shotgun in hand and was looking for the dogs.

The past twenty-four hours have been a roller-coaster ride of hope and despair. Our rescue work is made extremely difficult by the three-digit heat. While KDM has gotten the drown calve out of the pond, the ground is too hard to dig a hole in which to bury the animal. Among the thirsty trees and crunchy grass, the vultures are coming as the day is heating up. At this very moment, the survival of "Bud," the calf with a tattered ear who's hanging on to dear life, is uncertain to say the least. As for the future of the dogs, I've run out of excuses to defend them. Their crimes have been too heavy. I can hardly believe they were capable of such savagery. I'm bringing them food and water out of a little more than humane sympathy.

I realize that my psyche is undergoing a stress test.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Language do You Think in?

My sisters and I have been spending a good amount of time on Skype lately. As a result I've begun to think in Chinese. Trouble is, as I go about business, I don't notice what language I'm thinking with. Example: I stop at the post office, before I get out the car, I grab the mails, my purse and sunglasses from the passenger seat, at the same time rehearsing in my mind the questions I'm going to ask the post office clerks. Only one step away from the counter do I realize what is about to roll off my tongue isn't English. My mind moves into emergency mode, dives into a murky backroom and snatches the right English words, whips them into right order, send them onto the airwave. The clerk understands perfectly and answers my question, by which time my mind is all English and I am conducting a normal conversation with her.

Unless you speak two languages, you don't know the fun. Not to mention the languages you dream in.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Find out whether you are a conformist:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Skull II

Here goes:

Skull II, oil on canvas, 8"x8"

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Skull I

New painting. Skull II is in progress and to follow.

Skull I, oil on canvas, 8"x10", 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Couple of Self-portraits

Art for a change:

Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 8"x10", 2012

Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 8"x10", 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

China News

It's hardly the fifth month of 2012, things, big things, explosive, political, things, have been erupting in China. Two of them dropped, free-fall style, smack dab in the middle of the already tricky chessboard of the Sino-U.S. diplomacy. This is the latest one bursting on scene just last week, starring (read the story, you'll see why I use this word) this man:

Mr. Chen Guangcheng

The incident was preceded by this, other, explosion, on a scale hasn't been seen in decades, the ramifications of which no one can see the end of, starring this man, and his powerful, glamorous wife and son:

the formerly extremely-powerful,  Mr. Bo Xilai

Mr. Bo and his wife and son, portrait of a Chinese, Communist aristocracy

A Perfect Photo

KDM's daughter-in-law, Mandy took this photo of her daughter Kyleigh petting a calf (you can't see the calf, just the hair on its neck). I like it so much I'm using it on my desktop. It's a perfect picture. The dramatic light-dark contrast is balanced by the subtle contrast of textures: Kyleigh's skin, her wind-blown hair, her sweatshirt, the weaves in her sweater, the hair on the calf's neck. I also adore the non-symmetrical, but stable division between the fence as horizontal and Kyleigh as the vertical. The simplicity of this under-pattern makes the fuzzy, soft, flowing movement of the textures ever more enjoyable:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not Your Port Religion

Spotted at The Anchoress; I'm glad for the quotation marks around the word "happy." Yeah, it's not THAT kind of "happy." Hehe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Our Dogs Don't Eat Carrots

We had house guests during Spring Break, who boarded with us for two nights while en route relocating to the Southwest. Along with the four humans were two full-sized dogs who had lived indoor suburbia life with a penchant for healthy food. I was floored to be told that they liked vegetables such as the carrots I was peeling for dinner, and almost passed out when they gently took the carrots from my hand and consumed them with apparent regularity and delight. My guest assured me that all dogs like carrots and took some to our dogs to prove the point. With a straightforwardness characteristic of country dogs, all four turned away from the orange sticks of goodness and health. My guest was baffled at such indifference and rejection to healthy life style. What you see in these photos may be an explanation. I would be remiss if I neglected to point out that these scenes are by no means rare occurrences here on the farm. What's rare was my quickness in responding with a camera: 

What's on My Mind


First Hours

It is 8:30 AM.

  • I have said my morning prayers
  • done my morning stretching
  • greeted four dogs at the door
  • serenaded by the summer tanager from the summit of an oak tree: one scarlet among clouds of green, is he the same sojourner from last year?
  • drunk one cup of coffee
  • eaten two slices of toasts
  • read one paragraph of Chesterton (the one on the first man who ever rode a horse)
  • interrupted by the urge to blog my peppiness while changing bedsheets
  • distracted by thoughts of what sorts of painting I would do today
  • had conflicting visions of my wardrobe: should I start buying larger sizes, or lose weight and return to normal? 
  • realized that, at this rate of progression of spirit, my day would be a series of regression
  • decided to interrupt the interruption and return to changing bed sheets.
  • Good Day, all!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Notes on an Ordinary Day

I got a call from KDM while in class today. He was in town running errands, and knowing it was nearing the end of the work day, he wanted to know if I would meet somewhere for a drink. I counter-propsed a dinner somewhere and met with a whole-hearted approval. I hang up the phone, winked at my students, announcing that I just fixed myself a date for the evening.

Dinning in town proved to be a profitable idea. Besides getting to sample a new restaurant, I'm using the regular cooking time for something I was planning to do tomorrow. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day: making hot cross buns in the morning, an appointment in town at noon, RCIA by 7.

I am making hot cross buns. Last year hot cross buns were served only after Easter because I couldn't manage it by Good Friday - having to do with the fear for the two ingredients: yeast and egg white. Since then I've overcome the fear for using yeast. But egg white? I still don't like it. The idea of separating the yellow from the white strikes me as unfair and violent.

Still don't like it, but making myself do it.

This means that I could use the morning for something like painting.

Speaking of painting, here are two recent ones. I have a small class in the morning which easily allows me to sit down and paint with the students. These two are one-session studies from models.

"Ally", oil on canvas, 8"x10"

Head Study, oil on canvas, 8"x10"

I'm also doing a series of copy work from the 19th century American painter Thomas Cole, one of the leaders of a group of painters known as the Hudson River School, a group I paid the least attention to while studying art history, leaving a gaping hole in my knowledge in that discipline. I hope to make up some by way of "conversing" with the old master through the copy work. Once I have photos of these reproductions, I'll post them here to illustrate the idea.

It's the Holy Week. I solute and hold all of you and your intentions in my prayers. Peace to all.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Break: Day 1

Cinnamon toasts.
Spring break.

Low clouds.
Sounds of jet engine.
Cancelled luncheon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tax Day

This is my designated "tax day." You know how it is. I'm swimming in papers, shuttling between computer, file cabinet, and 2011 calendar. It is about 80 degrees outside. I look out the window and see green pasture and trees swelling with early spring pink. But I can't budge. I'm stuck.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Do-nothing Saturday

Has been busy around these quarters. As a deserved (so I feel) respite, I did nothing today.

Our fruit trees are blooming: peach, pear, with the apple on the verge. KDM discovered five spears (trunks to be more precise) of asparagus in the overgrown patch. I chopped off the tops and threw them in the noodle soup.

It's crazy. And scary: What's in waiting for us this summer? After the three-months drought of last summer, we are leery, suspicious of another ambush.

Lent is not over. A time not just to discipline the stomach, but also the tongue, the mind, and the often "insubordinate" fingers on the keyboard. Can't say I have done well on any, especially the last part. So if you come back to this blog and find the previous post missing (remember, I held it back for a day), it would be that I'm carrying out a wrist slap on my own.

Not that anything I write here may be consequential, but that discipline is discipline regardless whether others are watching or caring. I owe it to myself to chop what needs chopping, prune where needs pruning.

You've heard the old adage of the "Catholic guilt." Depending on which side of the door you are on, it's either a curse or a boon. There's no science in it. The paradox of living life to the fullest joy by one who knows guilt is too much for the uninitiated. The word "guilt" is a cheat: an examined life is the only one worth living.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Few Things

  • This Lent, I'm focusing on the d-word, archaically known as detachment. The saints know all about it. My more clinical, modern version of it would be disinterested. But I really like my vernacular version: don't care. To explain it simply, in all things non-essential, I will not fret, I will not calculate, and I will not care. 

  • In his book Catholicism, Fr. Barron translates one of the beatitudes "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted," into "how lucky you are if you are not addicted to good feelings." This has stuck with me. It applies, almost daily, to the circumstances I find myself in, as those around me. I see this "addiction" especially in some of my young students, who are dependent on constant affirmation. I try to be thoughtful in meting out compliments, mainly to wean a person from this "addiction." At the same time I also take care not to be a scrooge in encouragement. The problem isn't that we savor the sweetness of compliment, but rather that when compliments are not forthcoming, we still have the will to go on. This freedom from the chains of good feelings truly sets us free. 

  • I am sick and tired of cooking.

  • KDM is reading Mark Levin's Ameritopia, which is having a strange effect on our dinner table conversations: we find ourselves discussing Plato's Republic and Sir Thomas More's Utopia. He is now on the chapter on Thomas Hobbs, which means he's very close to coming to Karl Marx. By virtue of all this, I feel the pressure of getting educated on the linage of Utopianism. 

  • My poor niece Mimi just took the dreaded TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) Test yesterday. She signed up taking the test without telling anybody because if the result is disastrous, nobody would find out. She told me only because she needed my prayers, and swore me to secrecy. I asked the Dear Lord to please humor this poor girl. She wants to study in the U.S.. TOEFL is a big hoop to jump through.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    A Little Nut

    Okay, I had a minute, and I looked at some pictures on my desktop, and saw this. This has nothing to do with the previous post, nor with anything of immediate relevance. I just thought I'd show you something which no one else will ever show you. It is a wall poster of a bygone era in my native land, China. The genre was known as the New Year Pictures. They typically hang on household walls till they yellowed and curled around the corners at the end of the year, just in time to be replaced by newer ones for the incoming year. Now I'm showing you this one because one exactly like it used to hang on the wall in our commune house built of wood and mud, when I was about 8 or 9. According to my Mom she bought it because she thought the girl looked just like me. And so said everyone else who ever saw it and compared it with me.

    In hind sight, as a little girl I was never that chubby. But by gosh, a poster girl looked just like me! My vanity was greatly satisfied and enlarged.

    Unless I explain, you would never be able to decipher on your own the meaning of the metal nut the little girl holds in her hand: you see, in our great Communist, Serve-the-People Republic, everyone was equal. Everyone was a small part of the great machine that was the State. As the title of the pictures declares: I Am a Little Nut. The tiny part of the great machine. That was her, and by extension, my, purpose of existence. Get it?

    The word on that box behind the little girl? It says: "Conservation."