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Monday, November 29

Thanks a lot-really

This Thanksgiving was going to be special. We were invited to share the day with the family of my son's fiance. After all, come August we would be a family and it was time for us to come together, toast the engagement of our kids, celebrate our blessings.

OK, I was a little nervous about it. I wanted them to like us. I wanted to like them. I love their daughter and I am over the moon that she and Billy are getting married.

So, off we went to Rochester, my brother driving us in his behemoth SUV, the GPS lady chirping instructions. We came bearing pies and ratatouille and wine.

What was it like? Well, it was everybody's dog waiting for something to drop

It was tons of food from everyone's kitchen

It was chilling after dinner with football and new toys

It was desert and coffee

It was the joy of watching the love between the children we shared

There was laughter and teasing and conversation.

It was family.

Tuesday, November 23

picture this

My camera died. A few years ago I was looking to buy a decent camera and a friend offered to sell me hers since she had recently purchased a better one. Hers was considerably better than the one I was using, so I went for it and it has been a loyal companion ever since.

But it stopped charging its battery and I missed a gazillion shots on vacations waiting for the thing to turn on. I put "new camera" on my list of things to consider buying when I had a good show.

I had a good show last weekend and I bought this one:

I am not an accomplished photographer by any stretch, but people say I have "a good eye". I started a companion blog "morning lens" as an incentive to practice the art. I had an encyclopedic manual for the old camera, but my eyes would blur after 2 pages of technical stuff I could not decipher to save my life. I just wanted to take pictures, I wanted the experience of seeing life in a new way, which is what happens when you tote a camera around. You develop a different perception. You start to really SEE. I loved what happened to my brain when I was actively taking photos.

I can't imagine what I would have done if I had actually learned to use the thing.

So, this time, I decided to Read. The. Manual. And not go further into the book or use the camera until each page had been read, understood and practiced. I was encouraged by the first chapter which was entitled "Take the camera out of the box"

I got the camera yesterday morning. So far I have learned to take the camera out of the box, attach the strap and set the language.

But I am determined. Determined to be able to take pictures of the first robin. Because I'm thinking the coming holidays may remain undocumented while I plod through the endless chapters of the manual. And I'm missing the elegant simplicity of my first camera, a Christmas gift from my parents. The Polaroid Swinger.

Boy, did I think that thing was amazing. I still have the tiny pictures of my friends that I took endlessly that year. I have them in a special Polaroid album and if you lift the pockets up a bit you can still get a whiff of eau de polaroid which sends you on an immediate trip back in time.

The instructions, if I remember, were just printed on the box.

Good times.

Monday, November 22

The old and the new

The "old" is the Kenan Center Holiday Gift Show which I do whenever they let me and is usually one of my better shows of the year. I've blogged about it before, but I'll risk boring the 4 people who read this blog with some pertinent details.

The event is held on an arts campus which is anchored by a beautiful Victorian mansion. They decorate the beshootsis out of the place so it all looks like something out of Dickens. Christmas Carols fill the air. The mansion has artists in all the rooms, from the front parlor to the ladies parlor to the kitchen. Upstairs, the bedrooms host more. It is very festive. I've been in that location a couple of times, but I prefer the Education Building which is just down the path and has lots more breathing room. Across from our building was yet another, the Theater and Greenhouse. It is all just too precious for words.

This was the 30th anniversary of the show. Any event with that kind of tradition is sure to bring in a nice crowd of shoppers. And it did. Of course, getting those shoppers to actually pull out money and buy stuff can be a challenge these days, but enough of them did to make my weekend a good one. Phew!

Now, the "new" is very cool. I had heard of a device for taking credit card payments that was too great to believe. A little "doggle" the size of a quarter that plugs into your iPhone's earbud jack. You swipe the card through it. It authorizes the sale, the customer signs on the face of the phone using a fingertip. Done.

I mean. Come. On!

So, of course, I ordered one. It was free, the discount rate per sale is less than what I was paying. I read everything I could about it and it seemed to be legit and the company was solving problems quickly if they appeared. It is supported through Apple and I bet Steve Jobs doesn't let anything pop up on iTunes or work on his phones without vetting it to the max first. I couldn't wait to try it. I wondered how the customers would react to it. What would I do if they sniffed at the idea of transmitting this data over a phone line. (Never mind that it's done every day. Usually we don't see how these things are done. You hand over your credit card and the server walks off with it. You expect that they are charging your soup/ salad/breadstick lunch but they just as easily be booking passage on a cruise ship to the Aleutians.)

Well, the gizmo worked great. The customers loved it. Signing with a fingertip seemed to be the cherry on top for many of them. More than one person chirped "There's an app for that!" Each time I pretended that was the first time I heard it.

So, I went to an old familiar place where I proceeded to leap headfirst into the future, technologically speaking.

Cutting edge, that's me.

(You can see the doggle at

Tuesday, November 16

breaking with tradition

Christkindle Market, Canandaigua, NY

You have to keep trying new shows every year because you never know if the next one will be the great one. I usually try for one that I think might be "over my head" and often I am surprised to get in. Other times, you go for a show that a lot of your peers do which means it can't be too bad.

This weekend I did the latter. A pretty Christmas show that a lot of people I know do and they speak in glowing terms about the organizers and the venue. The rest is up to us.

A Christkindle Market is a German tradition which explains all the German Food in the food tent. That took me a while. Sad, eh? The show was held in Camelot tents that promised to be heated and cozy. Well, they were cozy. And pretty.

The volunteers were awesome, dashing about with their Santa caps and offering help. There wasn't much more they could have done. The event was promoted well and run beautifully, but people just didn't spend enough to make it good for us. So be it. I had fun. A good friend across the aisle, another close by. Many art buddies in the house. DInner at a cozy Italian place with friends on Saturday. It was really OK. And then Sunday happened.

We tried to find a nice place for breakfast in town but it was getting late and I suggested we just go to the venue and get food there. The Strudel place had a breakfast sandwich.

And that's what I was looking for when it happened. Staring at the booth as we walked along the sidewalk, I neglected to see the drop off from path to gravel to sunken grass and, before I knew it, the ground was coming up to meet me. People came running, brushing off my black cords which caused serious discomfort to my bruised leg until I yelled "stop it!" I've fallen before
so I knew I'd be sore tomorrow but when I took a step, I knew there was going to be more. That foot felt broken, baby. $%^&*#

I hobbled to my spot with help from Russell (the show must go on) and proceeded to get tended to by so many artists and volunteers I felt like a queen. Or a pathetic broken person. Pick it. I sort of went back and forth about that all day. They brought me ice and an ace bandage and a blanket and more ice and juice and aspirin. They hugged me and cooed over me. All. Day.

I was too tired to stop to have it looked at at the end of the show and I had chemo the next day so I wanted to be rested. We were chatting with Karen, my PA, before my appointment and she said we should look at the foot which she did and we all saw the same thing. A fat, blue, swollen ham hanging off the end of my ankle. Oops. OK, she says, we are gonna xray that thing, which they did.

The xray tech said that nothing "jumped out at" her as broken, so I was surprised when Karen popped her head in my chemo room, announcing gayly "You broke your tootsie, Tootsie" But, she assured me, it didn't look bad enough for a cast or anything, but she wanted me to see an Orthopedic person to have it evaluated and followed up on to make sure it healed.

So off we went this afternoon to yet another doctor ( I have been healthy and doctor free for decades. Now I'm a groupie) and just to prove the point that only the experts can really tell you what the scoop is, I walked out of there wearing this charming baby:

So, I came, I saw, I stumbled. Had I stayed in the neighborhood, done my usual show (Women's Gifts) I would have made more money and my foot would be whole.

Of course I would be without the charming "ski boot" that seems to make people in crowded places more polite than usual. I love being an object of pity.

This weekend is Kenan Christmas. Always a good one for me. No hotels. No huge gas expense. No broken sidewalks.

Of course, if I've learned anything lately, it is to not take anything for granted. I haven't checked the weather report for this weekend yet. Do they predict locusts?

Wednesday, November 10

measuring loss

It was a bad time to take a few days off to drive down to Long Island and visit with the family. Two big shows in 2 weeks and not nearly enough stuff to make it worthwhile. I needed to be chained to my work table. But we needed to connect, see for ourselves, how things had changed since we were there last.

In July, everyone was well. (Or we thought we were). It was a festive time and it was a real kick for me, coming from a family you could count on your fingers, to see this virtual army of relatives descend. But now it was Fall and things had changed.

At first, all seemed well. We got in at night and everyone was heading for bed. Saturday morning seemed normal and the day was filled with visits from the sibs, lots of conversation and laughter. Political talk, medical talk, family talk. It may have been too much.

In the morning we had to go for breakfast quickly. No time to shower. Now. Now. She's afraid to stay here. Afraid to stay in a house you've lived in for 60 years? Off we went. And then we started to see it.

"Who is that sitting on your lap?" "Why is the waitress carrying all those flowers?" "Who is that man behind you?"

Well, I thought, she really is legally blind. Macular degeneration. The bad kind. That must be it.

But then, at home, she leaned over the table and whispered to me that people were coming into the house at night, taking it over and she didn't know why the landlord allowed it. They banged pots around and kept her awake. Then, in the morning, they left.

I said, no, that was Russell and me. We spent the night. We made tea after you went to bed. That was us you heard.

She narrowed her eyes and leaned closer. "I'm not stupid", she hissed, "I know you were here. THEY come every night. You didn't hear them?"

No, I didn't hear them, I thought. And I didn't see the little girl sitting on the couch and I know that nobody stole your tool shed and I know with certainty that a woman I loved like a mother is leaving my life. I can touch her. I gave her kisses when we left. Tight hugs. But she isn't there.

I wish I knew how to get her back. I miss talking to her, sharing good books to read, working crossword puzzles, debating politics and religion, gossiping benignly about people I never met.

We learn to accept the fact that we will lose people we love. But this loss breaks your heart in advance.

Meanwhile, theories are tossed about. Maybe it was the fall she took, maybe the green tea, maybe the cough medicine.

But, one voice, clear and strong says it is the cycle of life and we need to work on accepting that.

He's probably right, but few of us are ready to begin that work.

On the ride home, we talked about it some and pondered it a lot. There is so little anyone can do. So we will wait and see what happens next. It is an uneasy time.

Along Rte 17, signs were everywhere that the iconic roadside antique and flea market shop that has distracted drivers on their way to NYC for decades was closing. Big sale! Let's stop, I said, it may be gone the next time we pass by.

So we did. And bought a heavy iron coat hook thingy to hang by the back door. I wandered through the rooms, looking for the big sales, but most of their things were still too expensive for me. But interesting. Always interesting. I hope the new shop is on an interstate, too. A little piece of whimsy on the long, endless highway.

As we left I asked Russell to wait while I took a picture. To remember the place. I think the first time I stopped there was just before I started college. Could that be possible? Well, whenever it was, I certainly would never have been able then to imagine the shiny iPhone I was using to take the picture.

"The name of the place is sort of ironic this weekend, isn't it?" I asked Russell and we looked back at the sign.

Wednesday, November 3

A New Gallery, an Old Friend

Some years ago I met a woman who was in charge of organizing an art show at a suburban art and nature center. We didn't know each other before, but somehow over the course of participating in the show over a period of a few years we became friendly. That's how it often is in this business. We are connected through art and commerce. We "get" each other.

So, anyway, the little show was a delight to do and many established artists adopted it. Then, one year, a whole new crew was in charge and she was elsewhere. I spoke to her after that and expressed what so many artists had said. That she had made the show what it was and her loss would end the show. And it did.

She went on to bigger and better things. An accomplished collage artist herself, she went on to manage another gallery, a gift shop, she moved on. She visited many of the art shows I do and we always were happy to see each other and she almost always bought something from me.

This Summer she wrote and said she had opened her own gallery and would I be part of it? I was thrilled to be asked. Then all that other stuff happened, so I was late to the party, but I got things made and Russell and I went there to drop them off.

What a delight. She had opened up the rooms in what had been a fairly typical suburban box house. There were "shutters" made of glass with painted panels, a door with a mural, a crayon box of colors highlighting the exterior. Shiny, buttery wooden floors, sunlight through unadorned windows, clean, bright spaces for hung work. I was proud to be part of it.

Not all these venues are run very professionally. Art and commerce can mix but it is often a struggle. Not this time. We have spread sheets and updates and accountability. Yowza! :)

She sent an update a few days ago with news and a list of who would be getting checks this week and I was one of the lucky ones. That was nice to see and it made me think again about putting more of my things in shops and galleries.

Problem is, I don't know exactly how to do it. I am reluctant to approach the owners of these places. Like I'm suddenly shy or something? The funny part is that they have already approached me, usually during my busiest art shows...with a card and a number to call and compliments about my work. I know. So what is the problem? Beats me. Russell says he'll be my "agent" and reconnect with these folk, but he gets busy, too.

And I think how nice it would be to get not just one check this month, but 10. That adds up! Yes, I know this is only a revelation to me. I'm going to work on it. Really.

For now I am going to enjoy my one gallery, take pleasure in my one check.

Because it comes from someone who never stopped believing in her art and the art of her colleagues. Someone who has supported my small efforts with praise and purchase.

And the name of the place is just so perfect for my life right now:

Go. Look. Schmooze. Buy. Say Hi to Paulette. Tell her Pat sent you.

Monday, November 1

Luck is in the heart of the beholden.

Now, where were we?

It was August and I was doing the Elmwood show, hoping to make enough money so that our annual trip across the country would be a good one. It was and it was.

Well, for a bit, anyway.

This is gonna be a long one, get refreshments.

Our rental in Oregon was a contemporary flat with an open floor plan, floods of sunlight and a good kitchen (always important to me) and a big cozy bed. We reunited with the kids, planned a birthday party for our 3 year old grandson. I made big pots of spaghetti and huge salads for everyone and we sat around the table and laughed and ate and drank. We would take residence at the beach house the next week and we were all really excited.

But when the birthday party came, a couple of days later, I was barely able to get the food done before I had to excuse myself and take to that big cozy bed. I listened to the party happening from behind the closed door and wondered what was wrong. Truth be told, I hadn't felt well for a while, but I didn't want to spoil our vacation. It could wait. Not.

The next sentence is not for the queasy:

The next day, trying valiantly to soldier on, my body rebelled and, trying to keep the flat's furniture unsoiled, I aspirated vomit into both lungs.

Within an hour or so, my ability to breathe was so compromised that Russell rushed me to the emergency room. I could only manage teeny bits of air and I could not talk at all. An odd calm came over me. I focused on the road, on seeing the lights of the hospital come into view, on the wheelchair that magically appeared, on the immediate admittance to a treatment room, on the bustle of the uniforms around me, on the different masks that were pressed to my face to force air and blessed oxygen into my lungs.

After that, no matter what happened, I would accept it with equanimity and calm. The gift of breath had changed me in some immeasurable way that I have been looking to describe ever since.

This, of course, is not the story. Except to tell you that the staff told Russell he had gotten me there just in time. Another 20 minutes, and there would have been a much different outcome. They might not have been able to save me.

So, I was lucky. Very lucky.

Of course, the doctors now needed to find out what had caused me to be so sick. There were tests, a CAT scan, a tube in my nose, in my bladder, in my arms. I hummed complacently. Waiting.

The kind-eyed doctor told me there was a blockage. It might be Krohns, it might be scar tissue, it might be...."cancer?" I asked.

Most likely, he answered, but survivable. Survivable, he repeated.

OK, I said calmly.

It was cancer, of course. But he leaned over me in recovery and told me that he had removed it all and that from what he could see while playing around in there, there was no more. It would depend on the lymph nodes.

Lucky once again.

And then so many staff asked us over the next few days how we had managed to get that surgeon and it turns out he is their best, people wait months to get him. He is never in the ER, but that night he was. He took an interest in my case for some reason and signed on to do the surgery.


Because of where the blockage was and how he was able to remove it, I was spared needing a colostomy bag.

So lucky.

There was no pain after surgery, I had an epidural for a few days. By the time they took it out, it was over. They stood by with Vicodin, but I never needed it.

I will skim past the next six days except to report that because I had no appetite for a while (I was hungry but the meds made food taste like metal shavings or something)and they were insisting I ingest something, I opted for a container of chocolate milk that was so sweet and soothing and lush I have craved it ever since. The obsession has been calming down a bit, but I still keep a half gallon of low fat chocolate in the fridge. It comforts me.

And during those days I was kept company by my Russell, of course. He even slept in a chair by my bed during the worst of it. But I was also blessed by seeing the children several times. They smiled at me and joked and I could see the worry behind the smiles and I felt loved. Some friends we usually see once a year but who live in our hearts daily, came by, sat and chatted. The phone rang and rang. My family, Russell's family, friends. Phone lines carrying concern and love, warming me. Russell's family sent a generous gift to make sure we stopped often enough at the right kinds of hotel on the journey home.

My son hopped a plane literally hours after hearing the news and he stayed with me a few days, asking all the right questions of the doctors and using the correct terminology so that even if he got the answer right in front of me I had no clue what had been said. At first I had not wanted him to come. I would be OK. I didn't want to bother him. But having him there, my sonshine, brought me such joy.

In contrast, the sweet older lady next to me couldn't rouse anyone to just bring her some clothes to go home in. I still think about her.

And it reminds me how lucky I am.

So, as it turns out, there were lymph nodes affected and I would want chemo, the surgeon said. I was "too young" to skip it. I glowed under the mantle of "too young" for a bit. And tried not to worry. He asked again where I lived. A lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest respond to the info that you are from New York as if you had said "the 4th ring of Saturn". Not this doctor. He smiled and said "Buffalo! Roswell!" and I smiled back. Yes, Roswell.


Then it was time to go home. And home was 3000 miles away. I was 6 days post-op with a stapled together zipper up my belly that spanned from above the belly button to lower than a bikini bottom would start. (Like I would even know where that was. Pfft.) At this point I had only walked with a PT guy holding onto a woven belt that he had strapped across my chest. He followed behind me as if he was walking a chubby llama in hospital garb that might bolt at any minute. But we navigated the nurse's station and the next day I walked up 4 stairs and he was glowing with accomplishment. "where do you live again?" he asked. And he paled at the response.

But home we went. To test my ability to be safe outside the warm cocoon of Good Samaritan Hospital, we only traveled to Portland that first day. Our dear buddy, Linda, offered her guest room and veggie lasagna and off we went.

But first, we stopped at WalMart. I had to. I needed sweat pants with a loose waist to pull up over my zipper. And slip-on shoes. Picture this. Jammie pants with a torn bottom and stains from the ordeal, an oversized Sabres Jersey, slipper socks from the hospital because my feet were too swollen for shoes, multi colored wrist bands I had forgotten I was wearing, a borrowed cane that was spray painted gold and had skateboard logos on it that looked slightly sinister, hair that hadn't been washed in over a week.

And nobody in WalMart looked at me twice.

Once I was outfitted, we continued on, slowly, minding the bumps in the road, the seat belt fastened over a pillow resting on my zipper. Quincy was safely penned behind a travel gate, taking up the entire 3rd row of seats. Whenever Russell expressed sadness at the dog's exile, I reminded him that the dog had considerably more room than I.

Linda's Portland condo was warm and welcoming and cozy. The lasagna was stellar. I made it up an entire flight of stairs without a problem and settled into her lush guest bed and welcomed sleep without beeps or 4am wake-ups for blood pressure checks. We had a lazy breakfast and take-off and I was relaxed, knowing we could do it.

How lucky to have such a friend.

So, off we went, Cross country in a few more days than normal. Seat belt fastened over the pillow. We tried to stop early every night because I found that too many hours in the car made me tired and uncomfortable.
Russell was my dresser and aide, running for anything I needed, tending to my zipper, helping me get around. I do wish, though, that I had video of him valiantly to get the surgical stockings on my swollen legs. Priceless. Luckily that swelling thing didn't last long. After a couple of days, food started to taste good again and we made a Herculean effort to find restaurants along the interstate that served healthy food. That was a futile exercise, but we did find out that Denny's has two for one specials on Thursday for us geezers.

I looked at him over our Senior grilled cheese and tomato soup and wondered at how I got so lucky.

No, not lucky. Blessed. Mightily blessed.

Almost home, but first a stop in Ann Arbor to stay a couple of days with my boy and his fiance. I was feeling almost normal by then and so we went out for lunch with Leisha followed by grocery shopping and then I made dinner for us all. Cooking makes me feel like all is right with the world, and while we sat and ate and talked and laughed at the dogs trying every trick they knew to get us to drop something, it felt that way. Like nothing was wrong. I watched the love flow between them and it filled me with joy. They had waited a dozen years to come back together and here they were, in their cozy MIchigan home, planning an August wedding.

Grace surrounded us all that night.

But reality waited. Home. Doctors. Scans. Tests. Odds. Answers. Questions. Fear. Optimism. Resignation. Defiance. Hope. I wanted to never get there. I wanted to get there now. I wanted to know. I never wanted to know.

First stop was my Mom's house. She needed to see me, touch me, know I was well. My brother and his wife came and he hugged me tight and kissed and kissed me. We were all happy to be in each other's company.

I called Roswell the next morning and they made me an appointment. A month away. I was floored. But they had volumes of info, DVD's, reports, probably my permanent record from Junior High. They knew what they were doing.

I tried to use the 4 weeks to refresh and relax. I found it hard to plan for my upcoming shows because everything after October 24th was a huge, black, throbbing question mark that I couldn't see past. I had an appointment with my regular Dr and he unstapled my zipper, thank you very much, and pronounced me healthy and strong. He was advising me on diet and when he heard that we already ate that way (vegetarian except for fish, in love with broccoli and spinach, etc) he remarked that was "probably why the tumor didn't
take off".

I replayed that phrase in my head a lot. A lot. It didn't take off. :)

Finally the first appointment came and it was OK, actually. Not too much poking and prodding, mostly conversation. A kindly, soft-spoken Oncologist and his equally charming partner. There would be chemo because without it this cancer recurs in 70% after 5 years. WIth it, Less than 30. Considering our diet, less than that. OK then. I pondered whether I would get a short wig or go glam.

Then he said that this chemo has few side effects. No hair loss. Probably no nausea but they would give me a prescription to have on hand just in case. The worst would be sensitivity to the cold.


Now I'm wondering when this amazing run of luck would run out and he said I would go up for a scan, dye would be injected. Cancer cells would glow. If they found anything in the organs (God forbid, he whispered) they would adjust the treatment. Aha, I thought. This is it. The moment I overdraw the Karma bank.

So, I was dyed and scanned and handed my chemo schedule and sent on my way. As if I had been there for a mani/pedi.

And, finally, we are at today. If you are still with me, that is.

First was a short visit to my clinic for a look over before chemo.

I handed over my schedule and the nurse asked if anyone had gone over my scan report with me. No. So, that's why you're here, she said and I felt my gut clench and my foot started tapping.

After waiting in silence except for the thrumming in my ears, Karen came in. A sweet, caring PA who explained to me that if they did a scan on HER right now they would find odd little lumps and bumps and scars and oddities that would be of no concern at all. And then she said that my scan was like that. Nothing untoward. A scar on my kidney probably really old. Nothing.

I felt the huge balloon that had been crowding my gut deflate and life became real again.

They say some people, when faced with a serious illness, cry "why me?" I never felt that. Why NOT me?

But this. This run of blessings has me asking why I was gifted with so much luck. I look around at some of the other people in this Hospital and ...well, you know.

The journey is not over. Anything can happen. I know that. But right now, this chilly Autumn night is filled with hope and grace and gratitude.

And that is where I have been.

This is not going to be a cancer blog. We shall return to our regularly scheduled meanderings. Illness will be in the footnotes, not the topic.

I am getting ready for 2 Christmas shows in the next 3 weeks and then we are having Thanksgiving with the family of my future daughter-in-law so that we can all get to know each other. And then another show.

The next few entries will be about that and about my visit to Hollanders in Ann Arbor. Mecca for book artists. Gorgeous papers, tools, books about books. I may have made a fool of myself there but I was prepared to reveal my zipper if anyone questioned my sanity.

Funny thing about u-turns. While you're reversing direction, you might notice some things that you missed while driving headlong straight away. Things you knew were there, but they blur in the periphery of what you thought was important.

I have been turned around, made to look and to say thank you. For all of it. For all of them.