Drinking the Water

I used to set up my little tray table with my paint water, always at the top right of my pad, right next to my hourly Diet Coke. Somehow, however, even though the cans are very different from my collapsible green water cup, I always managed to end up drinking at least a little paint water.

When my doctor gave me my diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease a couple weeks ago, he recommended a low-salt diet and, hearing the amount of caffeine that I normally drink, also suggested I cut down from my diet soda intake to one cup of tea each day. I’d already promised Thing1 that I’d get clean and decaffeinated (like all adult kids he’s an expert on health and everything else) and figured it wouldn’t be any more of a hardship to give up my two favorite foods (salt and added salt) as well.

All of that bargaining has led to more water drinking. Experts do claim is is better for you but I’m guessing most of them don’t do watercolors because the recommendations never mention the risks of drinking water.

Last night The little green rinse cup sad was in it’s traditional spot. My shiny blue water bottle sat nearby, and, sure enough, and the heat of painting (which is much hotter than you can imagine), when that first bit of thirst hit, I found myself picking up the little green cup.

The paint isn’t toxic, and I doubt it or interact with any of my medications. Depending on how long the painting session has been, it can taste bad enough to get your attention. In the beginning, however, it’s easy to have a sip and not really mind the flavor.

So on the first screw up, I still did my usual mental panic as I put the cup down (how much have I had? Will it be safe to drive after this much paint water). Then I remembered that at least I’m painting again and at the very least, the paint water, in addition to not being diet soda, and it didn’t have any salt in it.


Original available here.

Good to Know

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Vermont and got its first foot of snow for the season.

Skiers were giddy. The woodstove was roaring, and, almost five years to the weekend after we got back on the grid, the power was out (again).

I’d gotten up at 5a.m. on to get the apple cinnamon oatmeal slow cooking on the back of wood cookstove. While the apples melted into the oatmeal, the Big Guy and I went out to dig out one of the cars so Thing2 could get to work.

Wet snow had bent dozens of trees down to our driveway, collapsing the canopy layers of lace curtains and cutting us off from the little bit of civilization that starts 1000 feet up our road. The Big Guy and I laughed as we shook branch after snow-laden branch, shrieking as the snow exploded off the loosened limbs, onto our heads and down our shirts.

We’ve talked about leaving this place in a few years to be closer to better healthcare options and to wherever the kids end up. Part of me won’t miss the digging and lighting of candles, watching the batteries to make sure the fridge and the well pump hold out until the power company has cleared the lines.

The other part of me knows that there is magic in the snow covered branches. There’s something else — not quite magical but almost as good – about all the work. As we pull out water jugs from our emergency supply and check the wood bin, I realize that, if ever we leave this place, the one part of these challenges I will miss is having the regular reminder that it’s good to know that we can get through them.


A few weeks ago I woke up strapped to a tilt-a-whirl in my head. It hurtled me back and forth, spinning around for good measure until, like anyone who’s been on a roller coaster for one too many rides, I threw up. 

I kept throwing up for the next few days until we went to urgent care and then get sent to the ER to learn that no one knew exactly what was wrong. A visit and a call to the GP yielded diagnoses of virus-filled ear and then a game of dialing-for-diagnosticians. All of it has added up to several weeks of sporadic absence from life.

This morning, like several other mornings in the last four weeks, I woke up thinking it might be over. By the time I stood up and walked down the hall, someone had put a seashell to my ear, and I could hear waves pounding in the distance. The waves and ringing will get closer during the day — the medication they gave to combat vertigo is of questionable value – and all of it has made me question my go-to philosophy of handling healthcare issues.

Our parents didn’t really do sick days. My dad was a pediatrician, so proving you were sick enough to stay home from school practically required coughing up a lung in your hand. As a teacher (before Covid enforced staying home with symptoms) that practice translated into plastering on my game face no matter what the rest of my body was telling me.

A few weeks ago, however, my game face, unable to ignore the turbulence, felt too much a Picasso, and it was an abrupt reminder that you can’t willpower your way through every setback. Sometimes you have to step back and accept the bad so you can get a game plan for your road back to life or school.


The Picking My Battles blog has been evolving over the last few weeks, with the title of the main site focusing on art. Over the next few days the site and the blog will be moving to a new host. You’ll still be able to find art at rachelbarlow.com and blog posts at pickingmybattles.com, but if you use the Follow button to receive updates, you’ll need to bookmark the site or update your subscription at the new location, www.pickingmybattles.com.

Mental Gallery

There is a painting of a sunlit stand of trees in the permanent wing of the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, MA, And I have to stop every time we visit so I can feel its heat.

It’s bright and sunny here, but the light is cool, and I keep going back to my mental gallery for warmth.

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Picture this…

I told myself to find something, anything to draw while this virus has me couch surfing for a few more days.

The master’s degree is done, and I’ve set my sights on writing and illustrating books kids in my classes can read. For now, as ideas and word lists germinate, I’m practicing by picturing my life in doodles again, and Thing2 gave me the perfect tale to doodle.

My second pride and joy sat down on the couch to figure out a new song on the guitar for school. The incoming storm made the lights flicker in and out, and I started to draw as I listened to the unelectrified strains of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy.

The drawing was terrible — even for a first after a hiatus -but the picture it saved in my mind is priceless.

It Doesn’t Have to Look Good

My job demands a fair amount of creative energy, and, for a week or two, I wondered if that was also draining it.

I had, afterall, thought I’d pick up my brushes as soon as I finished my masters a few weeks ago. Instead I waded deeper into the Ministry of encouragement, painting not at all. I celebrated the end of my studies by recruiting kids and teachers at my school into doing community art in the form of Inktober and helping Thing2 purchase a new guitar.

Friday evening, the late fall evening sky was so dense with color and moisture from the rainstorms that had passed during the day that I found myself snapping pictures for most of the carpool ride home. I assumed the power of nature was about to obliterate my creative lull, but less than an hour after I got home, I was asleep on the couch.

Dad and son both play guitar (Thing2, having fully sold his soul to rock-and-roll, plays drums now too), and, on Saturday, Thing2 had little trouble coaxing the Big Guy to come along to a music store to play some very expensive guitars.

I watched the two of them drool over and “test” the guitars and found myself wandering over to the junior guitars. Suddenly I remembered Thing2’s old acoustic which is just about the right size for me. With a little guidance from the Big Guy and a lot of encouragement from both of them, I bought some strings. I said it wouldn’t sound good, but they didn’t care, and neither did I.

When we got home, Thing2 strung the old guitar with the new strings as I blasted out a painting of the previous night in my watercolor journal. It wasn’t going to look good, but for some reason, I didn’t care.

The paint started to dry, and I got a first lesson from the Big Guy and Thing2. The guitar wept (and not gently), but my teachers pushed me to keep going as they demonstrated their best licks. By the time we all decided it was too late to be up, I had produced a passable D chord, a scale, and a mental note to self that none of it has to look or sound good to be good.


Perchance to Dream

I spend an embarrassing portion of every day daydreaming, worrying, planning for imaginary (and, occasionally, real) contingencies, and, did I mention worrying?

Now, as Nicolas Cage once opined in Raising Arizona, “Y’all without sin cast the first stone,” but, as the surgery date gets closer, the worrying gets wilder.

I’ve been through enough procedures to not worry about what’s on the other side of this one. A day ago, I thought the angst might be mourning for the impending loss of fertility, but it was willingly surrendered fifteen years ago. The Big Guy and I had replaced ourselves and, having hit the jackpot and getting two moppets with great comedic timing, were pretty sure we had our share of miracles. Besides, my uterus and I have been — at best – frenemies for most of our lives. 

My worries are way dumber than kvetching over a piece of bodily equipment I’m not using anyway. They’re more along the line of hoping the anesthesia has truly kicked in before doctors start disconnecting wires. Or that they’re sure anesthesia’s safe for people my size (short and round). And will the Big Guy get Thing2 to bed before 2 a.m. if something goes really wrong?

And there’s the rub.  Rubs.

It’s not fear of dying or that, per chance, that you’ll dream. Or that you might not be dead when they start putting the nails in the coffin (Hamlet was an amateur). A few hours before launch, I’m trying to stop the dreams just to get to sleep.

Sleep will come just when the alarm goes off, and, once it does, the day will move too quickly for dreams to move in again. The other side of this is, hopefully, more energy and freedom. The Big Guy has been pulling me back to those, reminding that the best part about the other side is that it won’t be a dream.

I know I’ll get to sleep just in time for the alarm to go off, but, once it does, the day will move too quickly for dreams to move in again. The other side of this is, hopefully, more energy and freedom. The Big Guy is great at pulling me back to those, reminding me that the best part about the other side is that it won’t be a dream.

Summer of Storms

The last time we had a summer as saturated with storms as this one, Vermont got a visit from an angry lady named Irene. The ground was saturated and the rivers so high, that when Irene swept through, many towns in our little state saw seasonal streams turn into major waterways. Roads were washed out, with some towns only accessible by horseback.

The ratio of heavy equipment and work animals to people is pretty good here, and many places were on their feet before FEMA even looked our way. Recovery was so quick that sometimes Irene seems like a memory from someone else’s lifetime.

Then I drive by a favorite view – this one is Ice Pond Farm in Arlington – and see another line of clouds passing over, drenching the fields and mountains again. I love the storms, but I often wonder if they’re trying to tell us something.