Finish line

I did manage to cross the finish line for the Blogging from A to Z.

It was a bit tricky because I had a last minute trip. I got the tickets last Sunday and flew on Tuesday. I flew back on Friday and got home on Saturday. I traveled super light: no laptop, no big camera, only phone and a small day pack and one change of clothes, so I washed some by hand daily. I am proud that I still got the A to Z done!

I feel more like a finisher than a winner. It does feel good to share so much of my mother’s artwork. Helen Burling Ottaway died at age 61 in 2000, so her artwork did not have much of an internet presence. She is present in the Lake Matinenda Cottage Owners Association here. She and my uncle and other family and friends worked on a Matinenda flora of the wildflowers and plants. There have been two more since.

Hooray for everyone who contributed to or supported or read the Blogging from A to Z this month and hmmm, what should I do next year?

Daily Evil: W is for Wild

Is wildness evil? What sort of wildness? The forest and waves and wilderness are not things we think of as evil, but some wildness in humans seems very evil. Some is silliness, some is substances, and some is truly violence and cruelty and terror and evil.

This is another of Helen Burling Ottaway’s fantasy etchings, titled The Hunt, number 6 of 30, 1986. A merman with a trident and dogfish, with a variety of tails. The etching is 6.75 by 8, the paper 11 by 15. I like the lines of movement, of waves, from the escaping shark.

Daily Evil: T is for Thief

Time is the evil thief I am thinking of today. This is my sister, Christine Robbins Ottaway, painted by Helen Burling Ottaway in the early 1970s. Time has stolen both of them.

This is another watercolor, over a pencil drawing, 10.5 inches by 14 inches.

Daily Evil: S is for Sneaky

Sneaky. One thing that I think really is evil is gossip. Talking about someone behind their back and spreading rumors and never speaking to the person themselves. But I do not need to punish anyone. The gossip will eat them from the inside, like a cancer, and they will look like fools when they are proven wrong. Curling churlishly with guilt.

I look at the sea and I let it all go.

This watercolor by Helen Burling Ottaway does not have a date. I love the whitecaps using the paper. Tricky to do that, I have tried. My daughter also draws horizons and seascapes, over and over. This is 11 by 15. I suspect it is from the late 1970s or early 1980s, because there is a watercolor of my sister on the beach, similar to this. My paternal grandparents lived on Topsail Island in North Carolina and that is the most likely location.

S is for sneaky and snarky and sea. Here is a snarky song.

Daily Evil: Q is for Quiet

When is it evil to be quiet? When you are witnessing bullying or injustice or someone being harmed. Have you witnessed bullying and stood by and does it bother you?

I am at a dinner, invited. It turns out that the agenda is to talk a partner into staying, because she has quit. Partner one wants partner two to stay. Partner three and I are horrified and don’t want her to stay, but we do not want to say that to her. We frankly can’t wait for her to leave.

The dinner turns in to partner one and two bullying partner three. I am the newest and don’t know what to do. The next day I am ashamed and think, why didn’t I take partner three and leave? What is the matter with me?

Part of it is that I revert to childhood. I survived a complex household with people who were loving sometimes and horrid and drunk at others. Clamming up and being quiet was how I survived. But I am an adult now and I can leave. I can also speak up and say, “Stop. This is not fair. This is an ambush.”

Today’s watercolor is flowers. My mother loved flowers, had a wild and delightful garden, and painted them often. This is a small watercolor, 7 by 10 inches, no date.

I am thinking about the latest shootings. Aren’t we supposed to welcome strangers, for they may be angels in disguise? What did you stock up on during the pandemic? A gun didn’t occur to me. I bought more water filters and wished I could buy for the whole county. I bought seeds. I bought rice and beans. You can’t eat bullets and they aren’t good toilet paper either. I studied local edible plants. What did you buy? So many people are so afraid.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: nothing. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Daily Evil: P is for Persnickety

Again, this might be evil in some situations and not in others.

I interviewed at the National Institutes of Health in the mid 1980s, with Dr. Steve Rosenburg. He asked how good I was with details. I said it depended. He asked what I meant. I said that I was excellent and persnickety when it came to science experiments, but at my present job I had trouble caring about the exact margin widths that the director of the non-profit I was working for wanted. He said that might be important. I said that I agreed, but I would be better off in a lab. He hired me.

I was excellent and persnickety in the lab and went from there to medical school 3 years later.

Etchings are profoundly persnickety. You can’t even do the drawing until you have tarred the zinc plate and then you etch the drawing in acid, take the tar off, ink the plate, run it through the press with paper and put more tar on the plate after you wipe the ink off. And once you get what you want, you have to re-ink the plate for every picture. This etching has two colors, which makes wiping enough ink off to get the lines right very tricky.

This is “Those are the pearls”, 4 out of 25, 1981, Helen Burling Ottaway. The plate size is 8.5 by 11 inches.

I am having to be persnickety about photographing my mother’s works. I am getting better at it, but it’s tricky to get the light right, without shadows. The cats always want to help. Today they are out in the box watching the birds, since they kept walking over the etching. I am jealous of the professionals downtown who have a camera on a frame and can be very very persnickety about the photograph. I may try my tripod, as a weak second. I have my mother’s slides too, so I could try digging those out. She did her own mostly, so I am not sure about them.

Hooray for the letter P!

Daily Evil: K is for Katherine

K for Katherine. The picture is one of my grandmothers, Katherine White Burling. My mother drew this from a photograph with conte crayon. I am named after this grandmother. This is a big drawing, more than life size, 18 by 24. I photographed it through glass, avoiding most reflections. My grandmother is wearing a cameo. We have a photograph of her grandmother wearing it as well. I do not know exactly when Helen Burling Ottaway drew this, early to mid 1990s, I think. The story is fiction but my grandmother could be quite wicked, so she inspired this. After all, Katherine means “purity”.


Don’t get the Willies

“Caitlyn.” says grandmother. “You are 13 now.”

Caitlyn sighs internally. Another lecture about becoming an adult? This is the unpredictable grandmother, sharp as a knife. She will never behave like the book grandmothers. Though some of her friends say that their grandmothers don’t behave either.

“Where is your phone?” says grandmother.

“I left it in my coat.” says Caitlyn.

“I think you should take off your shades, too,” says grandmother gently. “Tea?”

Caitlyn reluctantly removes her internet connected sunglasses. Pale pink, but this grandmother isn’t fooled. Was it her eye motions that gave her away?

“Yes, please,” says Caitlyn politely. Her grandmother has an elegant tea service out and heats water by boiling it. Completely archaic. Maybe this is about net overuse.

“Are you observing males or females or both?” says grandmother.

Rats, thinks Caitlyn. Sex after all. She prims her mouth.

“I want to talk to you about the willies.” says grandmother.

“Being scared?” says Caitlyn. Good, not about sex.

“There is another meaning.” says grandmother pleasantly. “You will encounter certain men when you are old enough to date. I encourage you to study the boys for now, but you are more mature than they are. That is less true with the girls.”

“Hmmm,” says Caitlyn. She is studying her teacup, eyes down.

“Certain men will try very hard to control you. They will make promises that are silly and statements that are lies.”

“Ok,” says Caitlyn. Next comes the embarrassing part.

“You will recognize them in part because there are places they will not go and people they will not speak to. They are very very rigid.”


“As they get older, their territory will shrink further and further. They become more and more isolated. You do not want involvement with one of these, for two reasons. One is that they will try to isolate you.”

Caitlyn smirks. As if.

“The other: well, you know the story of Pinocchio?”

Caitlyn blinks. “Uh, yes.”

“In the story it is the doll’s nose that grows. In people the nose can grow, but it is really other parts that shrink.” says grandmother. “So it is important not to get the willies.”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Caitlyn. And they both sip their tea.


Daily Evil: J for Jarring

The news is pretty jarring most days. I hope that we remove viagra and the drugs of that ilk from FDA approval if the mifaprostone removal ruling holds. No viagra and the pregnancy rate would go down, wouldn’t it?

The watercolor is not jarring. The chrysanthemums are in a jar or a vase or a bottle. What amazes me about this glorious watercolor is the transparency of the jar along with the flowers alternating between soft and sharp. This is from 1992 and is just under 10 by 13 inches. My daughter picked this out from her grandmother’s artworks to keep.

Daily Evil: A is for Anger

Welcome to April Blogging from A to Z.

A friend of mine died in February. She has known me since I was born, because she was in college with my parents. In fact, my father got arrested for having her graduation party, though it was thrown out of court. Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, and the problem with the party was that it was mixed race. Luckily there were no drugs and no minors drinking. I was the youngest minor, age 2. My mother was left with me, terrified that she could be lynched.

Anyhow, this friend is an artist, like and unlike my mother. I spoke to her daughter-in-law a few days ago and she says she is in the anger stage of grief. Yes, I know what she means. And new grief brings up all the old grief. How annoying. March 29 was the day my little sister died of cancer, so that all comes up too.

I keep reading that we should be positive. I hate it and I disagree. Sometimes we can grieve and go through stages of grief. Anger can be an indication that we are in a bad relationship or that we are being mistreated. Sometimes it is connected to old past anger, though, that needs to be cleared out. Have I succeeded with that? I don’t know.

Is anger evil? I do not believe any feelings are evil. Acting on them may be evil, but it’s complicated. Feelings are information, part of our senses. This doesn’t mean that we always interpret things correctly, so sometimes we need to check. “When you said this, I interpreted it this way. Is that what you meant?” I usually have to wait a week if I am upset about something, so I can have the feelings calm. I get better and better about not acting on anger. I do not mind feeling it.

A is for Adam and Eve as well. This is one of Helen Burling Ottaway’s etchings, titled “First Valentine”.

For the process of making an etching, read here. This is from 1982, number 29 out of 35, a limited edition each run and signed by the artist.

Theme for April: Daily Evil

I have been thinking in a desultory manner or perhaps not really thinking about the A to Z April Challenge. I want to have a whole month of my mother’s fabulous art, but what is my theme? Mothers? No. Women artists? No. Discrimination against women artists? Sigh, no. Oh! I read an article yesterday about how the negative and nasty headlines get the major clicks. Today I read another very nice kind blog post about putting something nice into the world. So that gives me my theme! My mother’s art and daily evil impulses.

Impulses, not actions. Don’t we all feel those nasty impulses? Now I am interested in my own theme: how does that tie into my mother’s art? You don’t know? I don’t know either, but I know that many of us have complex feelings about our mothers. You might too. What does her art reveal or what does it trigger in me? And you get to enjoy her art, while you react with prim or gleeful horror at the Daily Evil Art Impulse.

Happy April!


The first photograph is of one of Helen Burling Ottaway’s watercolors. It is signed, matted and shrink wrapped. Date: 1996. She died of cancer in 2000. I do not know the title, but this is Lake Matinenda, in Ontario, Canada. My maternal family has land there and I have gone there since age 5 months.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: placid. Heh.

Ooooo and later: