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Friday, December 30

kicking and screaming

I hate New Year's Eve. Almost always have. I hate the maudlin looking back aspect of it. The ubiquitous "people who died" montage on every news/entertainment show. I was very sad about Steve Jobs, but I lost 2 mothers this year and their pictures won't play anywhere but in our hearts. They didn't invent anything awesome or have 8 husbands or make movies. They just lived simple, honorable lives dedicated to their families. Both of them worked hard and prayed hard. I will miss them every day.

But, as usual, I digress.

We usually try to be asleep by midnight, but we live reasonably close to downtown and there is a local ball drop that is accompanied by the loudest, longest fireworks extravaganza that we may be able to sleep through but annoys the schnitzits out of the dogs. I've tried actually attending the thing. It is advertised as family friendly and alcohol free, but it is neither. I have no problem with people drinking and having fun. I do mind when drinking makes them stupid, rude and puky. (Is puky a word?). So, we stay home, wait it out.

I don't want to have a rerun reel playing through my brain. This year had chemotherapy in it. And loss.But it also had remission in it and my son's beautiful wedding to the woman of his dreams. So, maybe I can have an edited reel?

Looking forward seems to be the way to go. We have plans for the house and I'm ready to work. I have a new book idea and when I can't sleep I tinker with the design in my head. Makes me excited about the season to come.

Every morning is a new start, every night is a time to reflect on what is past. This weekend will be no different. Except for the relentless booming from downtown, of course.

I will probably have a glass of wine tomorrow. But don't try to get me out to celebrate what happens every single day..a new beginning. I have learned to celebrate each one in my own, quiet way. With thanks.

Sunday, December 18

surfacing

The shows are over. I missed the last one because we were with Dottie. My latest 3 month scan at Roswell has been read and I am still without cancer. Next scan now 6 months away instead of 3. Soon it will be once a year. Christmas is in a week and the tree is still atilt in a bucket on the front porch. It's like I've been in a marathon race with the finish line obscured by fog. Suddenly it is clearly there and I am closer to it than I imagined.

And my sneakers are untied.

It is very hard to make long range plans when there is an underlying understanding that long range may not be an option. It is impossible to look forward with joyful anticipation to the future when you have been hobbled by loss.

I lost 2 women this year who were very dear to me. My mother and Russell's Mom who I loved as a mother. It is a trick to juggle joy and grief. Is it right to celebrate my return to health as 2 loved ones lost theirs? This is my struggle. I console myself that both of them were close to or older than 90. A good run.

Well, this is a festive holiday post, is it not?

U turn

This year I got myself an awesome daughter-in-law with whom I will celebrate this weekend. And I got to see my son happier than he has ever been. Sheer joy.

I will pull the tree from its bucket, set it up and force it to be beautiful.

Did I mention that I am still cancer free?

My annual stocking stuffer buying binge (I am renowned for my stockings) will have to be a one day sprint, but I know I will laugh at least a few times while accomplishing the task.

I missed a couple of last minute shows that would have padded my shopping budget nicely, but so be it. It means I have stock for the retailers that need it. That will be a nice change. Usually I say "Oh, sure, I can get some to you" and then I dash upstairs in a panic.

There will be no baking this year. Oven is dead and we are behind in stripping and painting the kitchen in preparation for the delivery of the new stuff. It can wait until next week. I've learned that a lot of things you think are important can wait. Except for Dr visits ;)

My brother and his wife have picked up the responsibility for hosting Christmas and, bravely, recreating Mom's traditional foods. Have I mentioned how much I love them? Well, I do. On top of all the acceptance and loyalty and love, they make me laugh until I cry.

Yesterday I wallowed in a deep funk and allowed myself to do so. This morning, the sun is out, Oliver is curled up on my lap, I just listened to reggae Christmas music and I am contemplating pancakes.

This will be a week devoted to Christmas. Then guess what? Yep. Application season. Ho Ho Ho. I have 5 of them just waiting for me to get the pen out. Not sure why these shows can't allow us a few weeks to burrow and not even think about art and craft and commerce. Yes, I whine abut this every year and, yes, every year once the season starts I am having fun. But I have designated January as my bitchin' month.

Oh, I did get one awesome thing accomplished. I made real greenery garland for the porch, two large swag wreaths...one to anchor the garland and a bigger one for the front door. Then I made 2 small ones for the french doors. They all have bundles of silver balls and red berries at the center. Total cost for all of it....3 bucks. Give me paddle wire and a glue gun and I am unstoppable.

Feels good to be back in the race.

Wednesday, December 7

Dottie

Russell's Mom had 9 children, all of them as different as snowflakes. They are all here now, except for a son who passed away a few years ago. They stand around her hospital bed and stroke her hands, touch her cheek, joke about what the others are doing. They tell her "I love you, Mom", "rest", "here we are". The nurses smile tender smiles at the gathered families, but there is no sign from them that this is anything other than what it is. A long goodbye.

We drove through the night to get here, knowing yet not knowing what we would find. What we found was this quiet, sad, accepting knot of siblings standing guard. And Dottie. Breathing with help from machinery. Her face, peaceful yet different. Her life ending. At least this part of it.

I loved this woman. I loved her spirit, her dry sense of humor, her love of books and crossword puzzles, the conversations we would have about religion and family and kids. Nothing much got under her skin and I so admired that. But as Russ always said, when you have 9 kids, you pretty much have to have a Zen quality about you. She didn't suffer fools, but she accepted them for what they were.

As she aged, she lost most of her hearing and vision. Never complained. She just got audio books and a headset.

Tomorrow they are going to disconnect the machinery that is keeping her "alive". She will stop breathing, we will lose her.

But I will remember how she always wanted to feed me as soon as I walked in the door. How she would make 3 quick kissing sounds against my cheek. How she loved breakfast at a diner decorated with cow knick knacks.

I was blessed to have this woman in my life. I loved her.

Monday, November 28

Christkindl revisited

I referenced the Christkindl Market in Canandaigua in my last post, but now I want to talk about it with pictures. I started to just write a little blog about setting up at an art show. Russell is always impressed by how I can pull it together despite missing display parts or booth spots that sport a tree smack in the center or neighboring artists that infringe on your precious footage, tossing your careful layout into disarray. I give credit to my years in theater as a stage manager. The show must go on and if it looks impossible you make it work anyway. Both activities...set design and booth set up...are alll about illusion. Once the play starts or the products are on the shelves, the "audience" is not going to notice that it is all held together by duct tape and thumb tacks.

So...here is our Christkindle spot before:



and after:



It all fits into an Odyssey van.

While I was gathering the set up pictures, I saw that I had some nice shots of the event itself that I should share. It really is a one-of-a-kind event for us. Based on the traditional German Christmas market, the grounds of a Victorian Mansion are transformed with huge tents and roaming elves.



The folks who run this show also are involved with the show at Sonnenberg Gardens. Both present you with a welcome packet that makes the usual manilla envelope of info look like an insult :)




The best thing the committee does, though, is bring out the crowds. I wanted to take pictures of the show, but all these people kept getting in the way,



Nice problem to have. I've said it before, but these people should give classes on how to put on an art/craft show.

I don't like to post pictures of my art carnie friends but I have no such reservations about funny signs my art carnie friends have in their booths:



A nice extra was our motel. Last year when we did Sonnenberg, we decided to stay at a funky, 50's style motel that was under renovation. The back of the place looked like an episode of "Hoarders", but the very nice owner assured us the inside was all done and it was and the folks who run the place are exceptionally accommodating.




I booked it again, curious to see how the reno was going. The deor of the place is retro chic and we loved our room and it's funky bathroom





And so it goes. There is more to this business than just selling our "stuff". It's about being part of an event, a family, a place.

If only for a weekend.

Thursday, November 24

ho, ho, whoa!

I've been busy. The sad truth about this business is that, like most retail operations, you really don't make much of a profit until November. You get out of the red by mid Summer if you're lucky, but you are really just getting breathing room. Art fair goers see us in our little white tents, taking money and handing over bags of our creations (which they know they could make if they just had the time) and assume we are making money like crazy. Crazy may be the only truth in that whole sentence.

Most of them don't know we probably paid about 300 bucks just to set up that tent. And that the organizers charged us maybe 35 just to apply. Hell, they often don't even know you have to apply. Many think you just reserve a spot. Nope. There is a jury, people, for which you need professional photos of your work. And so it goes. Supplies can kill ya.

But I'm not here to whine. I'm here to say thank you. Thank you to all the lovely people who made our last 2 shows profitable. You really count on Christmas shoppers and my stuff is infinitely gift-able. But this year, I also brought my "art". (At some point I will stop using quotes around that. I even do the 2 finger dance when I say the word out loud) I brought my new collage work because, honestly, I needed something for the back wall :) But I sold it! At Christmas shows! Seriously, I thought it was something I would pursue harder at the Summer shows when people are more likely to buy "art". I did not at all expect to sell it now. But I did. At both shows. I am positively giddy. More about that later.

There have been 2 big shows so far: Christkindl Market in Canandaigua and the Holiday Show at the Kenan Center. One more big one next week. Christkindl was packed with artists I have come to truly love over the years. A group went out one night for the best Mexican food I ever had and the next night we just hung out in our hotel room with one of my most favorite artists and her family, drinking wine and eating pretzels, talking about everything from politics to burglary.

At Kenan, another artist I truly love was having knock out sales at her first time ever at that show and her beautiful smile lit up the room. She has struggled against the odds as a jeweler and it has been fun watching her success this year. Doors are opening for her, as they should. She was happy for me, too, noticing how many people bought "art" and hugging me in celebration.

There were lots of familiar faces at this show, also, and we got to catch up. We had, sadly, lost a favorite artist but her family was there with her work, donating the proceeds. The happiest story was from a fiber artist who was overflowing with joy. After a long time waiting for a child, their son-to-be was due to be born on Christmas Eve. The birth mother's name is Mary. :)

So, yeah, finally I am feeling rich. But, somehow, it has little to do with money.

Monday, October 31

rewriting the cliché

OK, I was grumpy. It had been a trying day at work. A part time job at a theater sounds like perfection, and it often is, but Sunday had been a parade of problems and I was tired. And I needed to buy groceries. That task needed to be checked off the list of weekly chores so I could devote real time during the week to getting stuff done for the Christmas shows.

So, maybe I was a tad impatient as I tried to stuff a cauliflower the size of a small country into the fridge. Maybe I should have thought it out. But I didn't and so the new container of half and half that had perched precariously on the edge (sort of like my life lately) gave into the gigantic veggie and toppled to the floor where it popped open like a creamy grenade.

Instantly, I was standing in a puddle of cream. The hems of my good work pants were white. My feet, still in the black trouser socks, were white to the ankle and I was standing in the middle of it all. Our old house hasn't a level floor anywhere, so the milk ran to the back door, under the fridge, behind me, beside me. All of this as I alternately yelled for Russell to save me and cursed the heavens, the hells, the girl scouts, anyone who came to mind. He came to my aid with a roll of paper towels to make a paper trail upon which I could escape my mess. I hopped off, pulled off one, sock, then the other, grumbling, whining, self pitying. Stepped put of my soggy slacks.Now I am barefoot, wearing a sweater and underwear, Holding my dripping duds, I turned back to assess the situation and, probably wallow in some more poor me prattle and what do I see? Russell, on his knees, mopping up my mess and Scooter the cat sitting placidly at the edge of the mess, lapping it up, in kitty heaven.

Scooter seldom comes when I call. Russell almost always does. Russell knew I needed help, Scooter somehow knew there was cream on the floor. Whatever the reason, there they were and it cracked me up and I changed into my jeans and dry socks, made dinner and all was well with the world.

Laughing over spilt milk.

Monday, October 24

the art of economy

For a long time now I have been trying to understand this economic mess we find ourselves in. I know 2 things: the current POTUS did not cause it and (2) politics is getting in the way of fixing it. Other than that I am clueless. I did take economics in college. Well, I got a lot of rest during economics in college, but I remember clearly the instructor telling us that no matter how one tinkers with the economy, if left alone it fixes itself. Maybe I'll call the prez and reassure him, tell him to not sweat it, focus on the environment or health care or something.

A friend was set up next to another artist at a show last weekend who opined that we cannot raise taxes on the job creators. Now, the job creators, who I assume are the folks with the money, have had a break for a decade now and there are fewer jobs than ever. Obviously this is not the case. So I pondered this and decided to apply it to the art show life with moi being the job creator. I do pay taxes but the amount is so pathetic that for the sake of pondering, I will use show fees instead of a tax rate. Are you with me? Great.

The shows charge an average of 30-40 bucks to apply to a show, then, if accepted, the booth fees are anywhere from $150 to $500. When I calculate my profit after a show (as if!) I deduct the expenses like materials and fees. With the economy gasping for air, our sales have been less and less. Now lets give me a choice between cutting the booth fees (taxes) in half or selling more. Naturally I will choose selling more. To sell more, my customers need more disposable cash, need to feel free to spend money on whimsy instead of canned goods for the disaster pantry.

Hmmm...OK. Seems to me that the answer is to give tax breaks to the job doers, to the little guys, to retired folk, to the middle class. Because when I started this gig 15 years go, the country was rockin', throwing money at us. The job creators were not throwing money at me. Regular old people like me were spending. And the more they spent, the more I spent. I bought clothes, furniture, a car, food, a Golden Retreiver. We went on trips, filling the gas tank as if gas was 2 bucks a gallon. Oh, wait...

Anyway, folks like us are good for the economy because we spend our money and keep stores and gas stations and PetSmart and Holiday Inn Express in business. Job creators, it seems, sit on the money and wait for it to hatch.

Mr Obama, there is your answer. Give financial help to the spenders, the little people. The beautiful people who wander into our gypsy caravans longing to leave with something pretty. I promise, the money they spend will be spent again and again and again.

I'm tellin' you, I think I'm onto something here. Sure hope it works, I need new appliances.

Wednesday, October 19

painless

This morning, bright and early and without coffee, I find myself yet again in a facility with nurses and doctors and solemn looking waiting room people and the smell of pine-sol and ammonia in the air. The usual furniture, this year's color appears to be teal, Are there no decent magazines willing to sit on waiting room tables? Is it only fishing periodicals and medical journals that get the nod? Where is the New Yorker? Vanity Fair? The Esquire Summer short story issue? I mean, it's bad enough without trying to pretend the price of waders is enough to hold your attention while you wait for your name to be called.

Yes, I'm digressing again.

So, today was a good thing. I was to finally get the sight in my left eye back with a simple cataract surgery. It has been 8 months of walking into people, squinting, searching for glasses. Even with all the reassurances in the world about how simple and painless this procedure is, I want it to be over. The endless questions with the usual answers. the IV, the unknown, the shower caps. and that smell. The smell that says "not gonna like this".

You get to keep your street clothes on but they still wheel you down that hall full of supplies (don't any hospitals have closets for this stuff?) and back you into a room with a lot of light and even more supplies. This brought back unpleasant memories of last year at this time, but I chided myself silently. This, after all, was to be a happy surgery. And it was. The only ting I felt was cold drops every so often that ran down my face. The visions were pretty cool. Dancing cotton balls, mostly 3D. Weird. And then a kaleidoscope of dancing silver circles as the new lens was slipped into place. They pulled off the drape that had been on my face. That was actually the most uncomfortable part of the whole thing. Then my little cart was off again, this time away from the bad place and into a curtained cubby with a window and a comfy chair where I was served..finally!...coffee and urged to relax for a few minutes. Russell came in, happy to see me, carrying my stuff and it was then that I looked, really looked out the window and realized I could see. Out of both eyes. I could see.

OK, the blinds were wavy and focusing was a tad odd. It was like twisting the lens on my Nikon. A tweak here, there, once more..Aha! But I could see. It had been 8 months , almost to the day, that I lost the sight in that eye. Boy, the world is wide!

Now, I have to admit I am a little peeved that the eye seems over corrected which means I will probably need reading glasses. But maybe it will be better tomorrow. we did, after all, have lengthy discussions about how this was my reading eye, uncorrected, just fine as it was, so please just make it as delightfully near sighted as it always was. The contact in my other eye serves for distance. My brain accepts this chaos and switches seamlessly from near to far to middle without a flutter of indecision. A person could pretend they had normal eyesight with this system (called monovision) It was perfect for a decade. I am sad to lose it mostly because I can't keep track of my reading glasses. For 8 moths now I have been unable to keep track of my reading glasses. You'd think a person would learn.

I admit to getting a bit teary about it this afternoon. I was weakened by the happy shot they gave me in surgery. I had been waiting a long time to see normally again and, it appears, that is not going to happen after all. So I had a short pity party. Until I remembered that besides the fact that I am lucky to be alive right now, I am also lucky to have regained the sight in my eye at all. What is wrong with me? Cripes.

I'm not sure whether to look up to the heavens when I say thanks, or directly at the assorted Docs who did the work or the sweet man who sits beside my bed/chair/table during all of it. But thanks I say. No more pity party. I'm going to buy the most kick ass pair of readers you ever saw and get on with it.

After I do a little jig to "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone....."

Sunday, September 25

Lady Marmalade

Because I don't have enough to do what with the arts business and the part time job and the house worky stuff, I decided to make marmalade.

It all started when a friend who has been living off the land...well, part time when she's not a corporate attorney..sent some peach jam home with friends and I got one of the precious little quilted jars and it was the best thing I ever ate. It was spoonfuls of orange sweetness, tangy bits of peach, I swear it glowed in the morning sunlight. I fell in love. I wanted my own little quilted jars. I wanted to make something to put in them. I googled and googled (things to put in quilted jars that glow in the sun) and found a recipe from my own personal guru, Ina Gartin. It seemed simple and straight forward. She said if you had a mandolin it would go faster, I have one, Ina, I thought proudly. I assumed success was a given.

I found the appropriately thin-skinned oranges, bought a box of the pretty, quilted jars, some lemons, a barrel of sugar. I was ready. The recipe is fairly simple, actually. You slice up the oranges and lemons, cook them in a whole lot of water for a couple of hours and let it sit at room temperature overnight. I was really good at this part. I retired for the night, smug in my expertise.

The next morning, I proceeded with part 2. This entailed boiling the orange mixture gently for several hours and then, boil it not so gently until it reaches 220 degrees. (Yes, I have a candy thermometer, Ina!). To test the doneness, you put a bit on a cold plate, wait 10 seconds and see if you have jam or juice. I put a small plate in the freezer to be at the ready. Soon, I would be filling those jars.

It takes a while to get stuff on the stove to 220 degrees. I'm not sure you know that. I didn't. I pulled my little ice plate out of the freezer a dozen times to test my mixture and it never changed from juice to gel. I did not lose patience. I was, after all, doing an old-fashioned thing, a take your time for a change kind of thing. I was serene. Almost cocky. Write this down: Cockiness is never a good thing.

I calculated how long I had been boiling the goop, ran an equation in my head about how much longer I could expect this to take based on my cold plate to gel ratio and decided to play a game of Bejeweled on my laptop.. Well, face it, that old-fashioned charm thing doesn't last all that long.

I blasted the last row of gems with the bomb icon and went back to the kitchen expecting the thermometer to read 219 degrees at which time I would retrieve the little plate from the freezer one last time, put a golden spoonful of deliciousness on it and watch while it miraculously transformed itself into marmalade. I would then ladle it into my newly sanitized jars and I have 8 jars of orange sunlight perched on my pantry shelves. I was smiling in anticipation.

I could smell the burnt orange from the dining room. No, no, no. It could not have burned. Bejeweled is a one minute game. The pot was bubbling rambunctiously. The burnt smell was stronger. I picked up the wooden spoon, approached the pot, the thermometer read 220, I stirred. The spoon stuck to the bottom of the pot, mired in an inch of thick, burnt goo. I did not have marmalade, I had tar. It gelled immediately on the cold plate. Brown marmalade.

Apparently there is a magical moment when the boiling goo becomes jam and if you wait just 30 seconds too long, you have botched it. Ina neglected to mention this. You failed me, Ina.

Per the instructions (if it is too thick, add some water) I adjusted, added water, ladled some of the watered down tar into my sparkly new jars. Brown. No sunlight penetrated. 5 minutes later, it was too solid to get out of the jars. Sigh.

I am not defeated. This was my learning batch. Sort of like a dress rehearsal, your first loaf of bread, your first marriage. Get the kinks out so you do it right the next time.

I have more oranges. And a recipe from a lawyer acquaintance.

Saturday, September 17

rooms

Mom's house is for sale. There is, of all things, a big sign in her lawn announcing it, inviting strangers to poke around the rooms, peer into the closets, test the water pressure.

Absent of furniture and window treatments, it is just rooms, really. A living/dining room, galley kitchen, 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, a screened porch in the back, a backyard big enough for one of those round swimming pools and a huge willow that I loved but that she had removed when the shedding annoyed her. It seems impossibly tiny. It is a house I would never buy. There are no winding hallways or 2nd and 3rd floors to get lost in. Everything is square and even and exact, unlike our very old house with its odd shaped rooms and oversized windows and doors. My parents built that house themselves, with a kit they ordered from a department store. Imagine.

The house did not seem tiny when I lived there. My brother and I had our little worlds within our little rooms. Mom and Dad made amazing Italian food in that tiny kitchen. We skated round and round on circles in that basement, practicing for Friday nights at the roller rink. The porch was the gathering place for our parents' friends. Coffee and donuts from Freddies and everyone smoking cigarettes and telling jokes with the bad words in Italian so the kids wouldn't hear. Life happened there.

I thought that when I wandered through the empty rooms I would hear echoes of memories, but I don't. Oh, I do have flashes. Lots of Christmas trees, searching for hidden presents with my brother. How we used to practice sneaking to the tree after everyone was asleep on Christmas Eve.

But I realize that most of the life there belonged to Mom. She loved that little house. It was her haven, the neighborhood her world. She often complained about her boring life even though we could seldom get her to go anywhere with us the last few years. Truth be told, she was pretty content to watch TV, smoke menthol cigarettes and watch the world pass by the living room picture window. When we tried to encourage her to sell and move to a condo or something she would insist the house was perfect for her. And it was.

My brother and I have talked about how nice it would be if a young couple bought the house as a starter. If they updated the kitchen and had children there. But, who knows. I guess we have to let it go, drop our attachment to it. It is an investment now. No more no less.

Except that lately when I have medical stuff done that requires me to be still and wait for the time to pass so I can get the hell out of there, I imagine peaceful places. And lately that place is under the low hanging branches of that willow in the corner of the yard. It is Summer and it is cool under there. I have a book to read and cookies in my pocket. There is a breeze that moves my hair and cools my neck. The grass is soft beneath me and I can rest my head against the trunk, prop the book on my knees and get lost. It is quiet, safe, a place of contentment. It is my private room.

The house will be sold, other lives will happen there. Years will go by without turning onto that street. But a corner of the yard lives in my heart, giving me a sweet memory and a place to go when I need a few moments of comfort. The smell of grass, the play of shadows, sweet crumbs on my fingertips, safe, warm. Home.

Sunday, September 4

quietly there

It's been 4 months since Mom passed. Seems impossible. All the legal stuff is just about done. Her beloved little house, the house where I grew up, is empty of everything but echoes and soon it will have a For Sale sign on the front lawn. Life goes on and you assume that all is in place. Documents, furniture, memories, odds and ends, sadness.

And then, on a quiet Sunday afternoon that you have been determined to make lazy even though it winds up making you restless, a torn piece of a sentence in the novel you are reading brings this:

An early Spring day, warm, Mom insists on wearing her pea coat to the Doctor appointment. It has lint and dust on it and I want to brush her off, make her more presentable. She is wearing that scowl of impatience that seems to be her real face now as she walks to the car with the aid of her cane, She sighs at the chore of needing to fold herself into the Beetle. She is equally irritated to climb into my brother's SUV. Only the old car we wrested from her 6 months earlier against her wishes was just right. Like the 3 bears. She fumbles for the seat belt and holds it for me to buckle it in. Secure now, she settles back, but when the car starts and the radio comes on she flutters her hands against the sound angrily and insists I turn it off. On the way to the appointment she reads every sign aloud, tells me to slow down, tells me we are going to be late, picks up a stray Starbucks cup from under her seat and scolds me about not cleaning out my car more often, I am old and she makes me feel like a child. I try to joke her out of her ill temper but she will have none of it. "Oh, Patty" she sighs.

My brother and I had many late night talks about her, releasing the frustrations of dealing with a loved one who was so difficult to love. We knew we would miss her when she was gone, though.

It's just that you don't feel how true that is until you are having a lazy Sunday afternoon with the smell of rain in the air and a gentle breeze meandering through the house, ruffling the curtains and you have let your guard down and there it is. The sleeve of an old pea coat with lint on the cuff. And you feel the sadness in your heart and in your gut.

It's as if the loss is too great to think about when you are busy with other things.

I'm not too busy today. And I miss her.

Friday, September 2

Elmwood Avenue Festival and missing Summer

I've written of it before but I will reiterate: I love the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. It was established by artists a dozen years ago. I happens in my own neighborhood, and it is usually a pretty good sales day. There is a happiness about this show that is hard to explain. It may be that it is family friendly and has music and dance along with us in our little huts. It could be the attitude of the artist/organizers. Not sure. Even our customers note the difference. They compare it often to the city's "big Kahuna" show, Allentown, and declare this one to be better. I notice the crowd is different.

Allentown brings out the suburbanites, venturing into the city for their yearly pilgrimage. They are there to people watch and celebrate the start of Summer. Elmwood brings out the folks from the 'burbs, too, but they are there to buy stuff. Big difference. Not sure why.

So, anyway. Saturday was pretty dismal, sales-wise. Not sure why. I was experimenting with my new collage work and I wondered if that was a failure. But when I compared sales, I sold as many of those as anything else. Which means not much. Sunday started with the sale of my most expensive framed piece and I was tickled. (I love doing collage, I have a fantasy of a booth with nothing else. When I am in the attic making them, I am loathe to stop and keep working on my more practical stuff). That broke the dam and sales picked up to triple what they were on Saturday. Cool!

There were sweet spots along the way. I saw many old friends who stopped by my booth to say Hi. I have a few followers who love what I do and sometimes aspire to try it themselves and I had a few of them stop by for long, happy chats about the work and promises to get together for a "play date" Several of my gallery owners stopped by. One was reminded that she needed to put in a new order, the other, a collage artist herself, was thrilled with my new work and asked me to send her everything I could. This meant a lot coming from her.

And so the Summer season ends. Seems like I was just whining about applications. Already some mornings are cool and crisp. I'm starting to see crinkled leaves on the walk. There are a few Holiday shows coming up and then it all begins again. The first apps often coincide with the first Holiday show.

When I was younger, I used to mark the years in semesters. Teaching for a few years after college bookmarked my life September to June, Spring break in the middle. Now it is Application Season, Summer shows, Holiday shows. What is missing is Summer.

I vowed to Russell that this year I would go to the beach, that we would make time to enjoy Summer, that I would organize my work in such a way that I wasn't spending long, hot afternoons in the attic. Maybe we could even dust off the camping gear. But it didn't happen.

I'm not blaming myself. Chemo every 2 weeks. sheesh. I didn't expect to go blind in one eye and need surgery. I mean, who expects that?? And then, Mom getting so sick and passing. Long days by her hospital bed. The sadness sapping the joy that creativity feeds on. So, I am cutting myself a bit of a break here.

It wasn't all sad stuff, of course. There was that beautiful wedding of my son and his long time love. I smile whenever I think of it.

I'm praying that I will have a stretch of boring, normal days. I have plans. Plans to just enjoy life, working my art into ordinary days, planning ahead, avoiding stress, day trips, bike rides. If I do it right, if I start now, next Summer I can start my days reading at the water's edge, taking a dip. I can ride my bike in the afternoons and come back refreshed and ready to work.

I can dream.

Monday, August 22

Happy endings

My son married the woman of his dreams this past weekend. It is a story I will write about later when I have long, restful nights to ponder life and it's miracles and mysteries. Let us just say that he has loved her for a dozen years or more and even after they broke up, she was the woman of his heart and he always missed her.

But, apparently, they got back together! Oh, yes they did and on Saturday they got married and I swear I never saw 2 people so in love.



I am a cryer. I cry at sad and happy movies with little distinction between them. I cry at parades. At weddings, funerals, graduations, even when I hardly know the people. OK? Got the picture? I am freely admitting this and accepting the smirks. I was determined to keep it together during the wedding weekend so as not to embarrass my kid and to keep the wedding pictures from capturing a woman with bloodshot eyes, red swollen nose and streaked makeup. Did I mention that I don't cry pretty?

I got a lot of that emotion out in the months leading up to the big day. When Leisha sent me a picture of her dress, when they showed me the wedding invitations, yadda yadda. And then, of course, there is the rewind. This is the perview of the parents, I think, whenever your child approaches a milestone.

My memories seemed to really dig into the vault, with most of them being Billy as an infant and toddler. I could remember as if it were yesterday, his nursery, crib, the bentwood rocker so popular in the 70's. I would sing to him there. If he was cranky, it would be "Song Sung Blue" with it's happy cadence. If I was trying to get him to sleep, it was always "Sweet Baby James" except I would change it to sweet baby Bill. These memories brought tears close. Happy tears, sweet memories.

I was so young and hopeful then, everything seemed tinged by magic. But in a few years I would be a struggling single parent, hoping for the best. Thankfully, the bond between us never broke and Billy and I had and have a strong, loving relationship that is the joy of my life.

And so, I made it through the wedding needing only to dab at my eyes, no sobbing. So proud of myself. My brother's toast brought me to tears, but I controlled the flow. There was only one more hurdle. The big one. The mother/son dance. I teared up watching Leisha dance with her Dad to Billy Joel's " Lullaby". Her bond with her parents is also very very close and loving. I started taking deep, calming breaths. I could do this.

And then it was time.

"And now", the DJ said, "The groom will dance with his Mother." I took a deep breath, prepared to rise from my seat.

"The song he has chosen is 'Sweet Baby James' "

Thursday, August 4

doing time on Montgomery Street

Ah, Syracuse. Nice city. Good University. Crazy weather. Decent art show. Friends live there.

Ok, that covers it,

But seriously...This show has been tinkered with within an inch of its life over the past few years. Why not? It was good. Let's see how much it can take. What could happen? Change the date, schedule it with other festivals, rearrange the layout.

As with many high end shows, a "gypsy" show takes place on an adjacent street. A gypsy show (also called an alternative show or, depending on how good or bad it is, a scab show) attaches itself to a juried, quality show and has folks who either could not get into the main show or who prefer the low key atmosphere or who are selling bazaar items. They syphon off the crowd who can't tell the difference and it is usually just fine with everyone. In Syracuse, the gypsies set up on Montgomery Street. So when I studied the map to see where our booth was, I said to Russell that, as usual, I can't read a map because this sure looks like we are on Montgomery Street.

And so, we were. The gypsies had been moved a block away and onto a parking lot. We were in their place. A volunteer said they had added 40 artists. We were in front of the city's soup kitchen and no fewer than 4 security guards warned us to watch our money which troubled my liberal soul, but they were on target. Over the next 3 days we were subjected to fights and an arrest and loud profane singing. Yay for an art career.

But that wasn't the worst. When I ventured up the street and onto the main part of the show, I was stunned to find the first half of the block filled with commercial booths like BathFitter which featured a nubile spokeswoman in teeny shorts and a tight T whose main job appeared to be climbing in and out of the tub.

We were appalled and many curbside conferences were held amongst the artists, OK, maybe I was the most vocal, but damn it is about respect, We work too hard, Way too hard to have this sort of thing in our faces. It was agreed that we would address this issue with the committee after the show because trying to deal with it while they were harried would be useless.

Meanwhile, the gypsies who had become accustomed to shady Montgomery Street were baking in the shadeless parking lot.

OH...and did I mention the flood? It rained hard on Friday morning. An artist a few spots up had reportedly covered up that pesky unattractive drain in her booth so my space had a 4 inch deep flood. I could only navigate it barefoot and, naturally, no customers could come in. The maintenance guys said they couldn't fix it because the display was over it.

Note to maintenance crew: You say "Ma'am you have created a public safety issue with your irresponsible act. Dismantle your display now and remove the cover you put over the storm drain. You have 20 minutes"

The dear friend who had graciously opened her home to us yet again was deeply hurt and probably irritated by my daily morning rant over these issues. But I had to vent and get it out so I could take a breath and be my charming self. Truly, spending the weekend with her and her husband was the best part of the weekend and would have been even if the show had been a barn burner.

And then, Sunday, the impossible happened. A woman came into the booth, introduced herself as the person in charge of the show and said "I agree with you 100 percent"

I have no idea how she knew I was complaining (I was not alone) or what I was saying, but she had a laundry list of complaints that we had all been vocal about plus a few of her own. She promised to fix it. She explained some of the circumstances, but agreed they shouldn't matter.

This never happens.

I guess we'll see what happens. I wonder if the "Buy 2, get 3 more free" clothing sale will be gone. That took up easily 6 booth spaces. Had to keep the parking lot visible. Hey, BathFitter, try using a 70 yr old model climbing in and out of your tub using a handrail. Could be edgy. And could we have a different guy in the cutlery booth? He looked way too angry to have all those knives.

Good news..sold more collage. The experiment of selling some unframed was a success. I am energized by this, by the notion that people may really want to own my version of "art". I admit to be growing weary of some of the items I have been crafting for a decade. The idea that I can sit at my worktable and have fun and then sell it is intoxicating.

On to Chautauqua, and then, in just 2 weeks, my son marries the love of his life. I may wear make up. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 17

seeking grace

No, not the spiritual kind:
Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people
I have a sort of convoluted theory about all that stuff and I am sure that whether I am right or wrong will not matter a bit to the powers that be.

I am speaking of grace as defined in the dictionary thusly:
Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.

I don't have that. I have never had that. It is not related to my foray into what will soon be considered my "golden" years. Except for a decent showing on the dance floor during the 80's I have never had what could be considered charm of movement. I was reminded of this yet again when I finally got my bike out and went riding along the waterfront.

I meant to get pedaling earlier, like late April or May. But it was cold and rainy and then I got busy and I kept putting it off. I live on a bike path. I have no excuse. It was July before I finally got the bike on the street.

Russell still rides like a teenager. He puts one foot on a pedal, pushes off and throws his leg gracefully over the seat while careening down the street. His bike moves straight and true as he does this.

Meanwhile, I have both hands on the handle bars in a death grip and I am trying to decide whether I should keep trying to get my leg over the seat from behind or if I should put my foot between the seat and the bars and scoot in sideways but my shoes keep getting stuck. The bike is wobbling fearfully as I keep trying to do this while hoping no kids ride by and start laughing at the chubby old lady trying to get on her bike.

Russell, meanwhile, has circled back several times waiting for me. No pressure.

I finally get on the thing and now I have to start out. I can only start out with the right pedal. No, I don't now why and, yes, I have tried it with the left and it just doesn't work for me. It has always been so. Apparently, the way I stop and start means that the right pedal is always in the highest position so now I have to get my foot up there and balance it before I can start. No, I never think to even out the pedals before I do this. Once again, I don't know why.

Russell is circling like a land buzzard.

OK, pedal engaged, off I go, wobbling mightily until I can get up some speed and then, praise all, I am riding. As long as I don't have to stop, I am riding!

Every stop sign is a challenge, crossing the street is a project, but I carry on. I know that in a week or so I will have remembered how I do all this. But I will never look good doing it. Russell can make small, concentric circles while riding. I have to hop off the seat and do this little hopping in a circle dance with the bike between my legs. I expect a sign to pop up at Canalside any day announcing the newest comedy act appearing daily.

One would think that my clumsiness would discourage me from trying, but it doesn't. Because once I'm riding and the wind is in my hair and the sights and sounds of the neighborhood or trail are all around me, I am not clumsy. I am not getting old. I am like the wind. Well, maybe a breeze.

It feels good to make my knees work, to get out of breath a little bit on a rise, to coast downhill with my feet out sideways like a little kid.

In a few more days I know I will be able to hop on that bike like a 40 yr old. I will ride on a street alongside cars without chanting "don't hit me, don't hit me" under my breath. I will make a tight U-turn while remaining seated.

Yes, there will be snow on the ground by then and I will have to start over again in the Spring, but maybe I will achieved something else. A little bit of effortless movement.

You might call that grace. Both kinds.

Monday, July 11

Chautauqua on my mind

It was the weekend I have been looking forward to for months. I love this show for the educated, affluent customers, yes, but the Institution itself is the kind of place that prompts you to take a deep breath when you enter the grounds and it holds you with a sense of well being the whole time you are there. Last year it was at this show when my illness started to really make itself known and I was aware of and grateful for the differences this year. We had a tough set up in a downpour but it didn't faze me except for the stress on my damaged knee. It was better by the next morning and I wandered about the grounds with a spring in my step the rest of the weekend - even did a quick run home for some materials so I could spend Sunday morning finishing up more work to bring. Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am?

But it wasn't any of that, really, that made this a beautiful weekend. Sales were blah compared to other years so I guess the economy has everyone spending more cautiously. Didn't bother me. I'll explain why I didn't join the chorus of disgruntled whining going on around me as we broke our booths down.

One of the first persons to enter my booth Saturday morning was a petite, elderly Chinese woman who studied every single thing with a serious expression on her face and then turned to me as she was leaving and with s sweet smile said "so much beauty here".

A bit later, enter Judy, a one woman self esteem creator. She bought a couple of things, and proceeded to throw so many compliments at me that I wondered if there was a hidden camera somewhere, But, no, she just really related to my stuff. She came back several times over the weekend, always bought things, always went on and on about how wonderful the things were. She brought a friend in one afternoon to show her just how wonderful I was and then, to top things off, came back on Sunday to take my picture so she could include it with one of my things she had purchased as a gift.

I may adopt Judy.

One of the employees of the Institution came in and was moved by one of the quotes I use and it started a conversation which led to us realizing we had both lost our Moms recently. We talked about that and about feeling their presence and signs and she said to me that she believed there were few coincidences in life and that many things happened for a reason, even conversations and she hugged me.

Another woman studied my collage pieces for a very long time and talked to me about how she loved them and wished she could do it and so we talked abut letting yourself try things without fear, respecting your own vision.. I offered some elementary advice on how to get started (I'm pretty new at it myself) and she said she was inspired..She bought a piece and gave me a hug.

There is a trend developing here.

So many people that come to this show have art in their lives and it makes for interesting conversations about book binding techniques and types of handmade paper and how to cut mats and which philosopher actually said that quote I used on a fly leaf. I had to hold one woman's cello while she dug out her credit card, another was carrying a partially completed papier mache ogre she was constructing for a diorama.

This is not your usual craft show, this was not my usual year, this was not your usual show crowd.

I may not have made a record amount of money this weekend, but I was made richer nonetheless.

Oh, and today, the day after a show, when I would normally be exhausted and sore and housebound, I went for a bike ride with Russell down to the Harbor, sat on the newly painted Adirondack chairs along the canal. let the warm breeze wash over me while I ate a strawberry ice cream cone and celebrated nothing but the joy of a normal day and the gift of connections made and cherished.

Monday, June 27

Roycrofting in the rain

Oh how I used to look forward to the Roycroft Summer Festival. It's one of those shows that I envied before I turned pro myself. I was inspired by the accomplishments of the Roycroft Artisans. I won't bore you with the details but you can read about the movement and the artisans here: http://www.ralaweb.com/

Eventually I started to apply to the show and almost always got in. I loved it.

So, anyway, 2 years ago there was construction happening on the site so they moved the show from the historic, charming campus to the parking lot of an elementary school a few blocks away. Major bummer. So we lost the trees and the ambience and the history and the cache. They marked our spaces so that the booths actually touch each other making set up a real challenge. Elbert would not have approved of some of the adjectives being tossed about as artists struggled to squeeze their fingers between metal poles so they could zip the sides of their canopies. But we managed. In this business you adapt or die.

The fine art show that traditionally runs concurrent with the artisan show still is held across the street from the old site and there is now an antique show on the grounds so I think some patrons think they have seen it all and fail to ponder what happened to the Roycrofters.

Oh, plenty of people come to the school parking lot, but it's not the same. We had hoped that the 2nd year in the new place would be better, that people would remember. But not enough did. I guess we aren't the only ones who believed location is everything.

It is still an honor to be in the show with the amazing certified Roycroft Artisans. I have regulars at this show who come look for me, people who actually collect my books and want a new one every year. We had a laugh-filled good time with a group of friends at the artist picnic on Saturday night and the next day I was mentored anew by one of the Roycroft masters who also happens to be a cherished friend. She's gonna make an artist outta me if it kills her. And it isn't the Roycrofter's fault that the weather forecasters said sun and warm when the reality was damp and cold.

But the thrill is gone. This used to be one of my best shows. I never had enough inventory. I would spend Saturday night finishing up stuff to bring on Sunday. Hard to believe I am wondering what other shows might be better at this time next year. I miss the old place, the funky buildings, the traditions. I think the customers miss it, too. Many of them mentioned it.

Oh, I'm sure that next year, with snow on the ground and echoes of the laughter from the picnic still echoing in my memory, I will adjust my expectations and apply again. The businesswoman in me is always at war with the sentimental part of my psyche. There is a little soft spot in my heart for this show, this place, these people. Oh, if only I could deposit soft spots in my bank account!

So, on to Chautauqua, my true number one, with visions of new, mentored work that will knock their sandals off.

Hope is that thing with feathers.....

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/hope.html

Tuesday, June 21

taking flight

It was a peaceful Sunday morning and I was taking a break from the studio when Russell dashed into the house and told me to come outside, hurry up, I would like it.

Now, with Russell, this could be anything from a new bud on a tree to an unusual cloud formation to a funny license plate. I went anyway.

He motioned me across the street to a bush in front of the apartment building and there, crouching under the lowest branches, was a bird. Either a hawk or a falcon. Young. He had been hopping around on the grass when Russell first saw him but the combined interest of the neighbors and a couple of their cats had driven him under the bush. He still had some baby fuzz peeking out from his feathers and he peered at us from large, round eyes. I don't think he was pleased. He raised his wings slowly but went nowhere. Eventually he escaped our well meaning presence by flying low and clumsily across the street and under a car where he commenced to crying pitifully. It killed me. I knew he was calling his mother.

Well now, what to do?

By now we had the attention of some of the folks in the building as well as our neighbor friends and a conference ensued. What to do? He didn't seem to be able to launch himself into the air from the ground. What if he stayed under the car until someone drove over him? It was decided a rescue was necessary. Tara got a cat carrier, Jo and I started calling every place we could think of, Russell gently pulled the little guy from under the car and put him in the carrier.

Nobody was in. It was Sunday. We left messages. We waited. Tara kept checking the carrier which was on her porch, in the shade. How is he, we would ask and she would shake her head sadly. Not great.

FInally we got the SPCA emergency wildlife number, actually talked to someone and we were told to bring him down ASAP. Russell was elected to drive the rescue vehicle since I was to wait for the painter we had hired and the others had kids and things.

I called him after a bit and he was in and he said the SPCA person had pronounced the bird ( a Kestral Falcon as it turns out) healthy enough.



This news was shared with the neighborhood trauma team and I assumed that was the end of it. But when Russell came home he was toting the carrier and he informed me the bird was in it.

What? I didn't believe him, but it was true. He was told to bring the guy home (they estimated he was about 6 weeks old) put him up high somewhere so his Mom could find him and he would be fine. They assured Russell that in a battle with cats, he was sure to be OK. So, up the stairs he went and onto our upper porch and over the railing to the very edge. He opened the carrier, lifted the bird gently and stooped to put him on the roof.

And then, as Russell tells it with joy, he soared. Soared! Up and over the trees and back across the street where we all believe his Mom was pacing, waiting, watching for him.

It was a good morning and we were all happy and proud and we went back about our business. But it stayed with me.

Then it dawned one me that this is how people really are. This is what a society is. People who watch and care and act. People who sacrifice something to do good. This is a neighborhood. Men and women gathering on the sidewalk, discussing options, making calls, checking the internet, posting on facebook about what to do. Community.

I can't help but wonder at what level we lose this. When do a half dozen barefoot city dwellers, wearing jammy pants and pulling out cell phones to help a bird become politicians who bicker over whether their fellow human beings should be given health care or be allowed to marry the person they love? When does that natural instinct to give a shit go away?

I'm talking to you, Washington. Get over yourself, get down on your knees and pull us out from under the car. You will feel really, really good.

Thursday, June 16

showdown in Allentown

Every job has its own peculiar idiosyncrasies. There are rules that the public never thinks about but that rule our world. Like, at my theater job, we are never allowed to say a show is sold out until the boss says it is even if you can't find a seat in the whole place. You are not allowed to hang around the lobby for a sneak peek during a concert sound check. You can't wear sneakers even though nobody can see your feet.

And so it is in art show world. Organizers work hard to keep the cheaters from getting a spot in their show. Believe it or not, there are unscrupulous folk who buy crap from China, pull off the labels and set up shop as "the artist". They are masters at submitting jury photos of their "work" that fools the pros.

Then there are the production crews that have little mini factories set up to mass produce stuff like weathervanes and garden art and send out teams of people to pose as the artist at shows.

So, anyway, the better shows have come up with sets of rules that help to keep the shows real. After all, the main purpose of legitimate art and craft shows is to provide the customer a chance to see quality handcrafted work and to meet the person who created it. Otherwise, you might as well just go to your local consignment shop and pick something off a shelf.

OK, I'm getting to the point here, really.

We set up for the weekend on Friday night. Just the canopy and shelves because we knew we'd be there at 6am Saturday to grab one of the parking spots right behind our booth. It was our first outdoor show of the season and even though we were sure we had everything, we were missing the tie downs for the weights we attach to each leg of the rig. Since we live just blocks away, Russell was going to run home to get them, but our neighbor, a sweet faced man with a shaved head and newly sunburned cheeks offered an extra set he just happened to have. Really nice guy. He told us that he and another guy are partners in their pottery business but he was here alone because the other guy's wife, a paraplegic, was running a high temp and he had to stay behind in Albany to tend to her and their kids.

Potters have one of the toughest setups in the business. Everything is breakable, each piece needs to be wrapped and unwrapped. There are tons of small crates because the stuff is too heavy to pack up in big totes. It is tedious, hard work. We offered to help if he needed it.

Next morning we were all there early, setting up in the early morning dampness, catching up with friends, hunting down coffee. The usual. People started to make their way down the streets and it seemed like it would be an uneventful, fun day.

Then the committee came around. As part of the rules I referenced waaay back when I started this epic, they come to each booth, check your ID, make sure the person who applied is the person in the booth and they punch a hole in your exhibitor permit to indicate you have passed inspection. They were very nice to me, we joked, I got punched, they left.

A few minutes later, I hear our neighbor talking on his cell phone, telling his partner that his only recourse was to pack it all up and there was nothing else he could do. Uh oh. Was he being tossed? The committee woman agreed to talk to the guy and she paced the street in front of his booth, listening, responding, shaking her head. There was nothing she could do. Rules were there for a reason.

It seems that the show only allows one name per app, even if you create as a team, and it was the absent partner's name that had been submitted. No excuses, no extenuating circumstances. Pack it up.

Since the roads were closed, our neighbor wrapped up the pieces slowly, taking his time, commiserating with his fellow exhibitors, sitting in his truck, wrapping some more. It was a sad and odd dance. I felt really bad for him because I knew what the situation was, and even though I usually applaud the tough rules of this show it felt like a bad decision.

Over the course of the afternoon, others weighed in and, surprisingly, few were sympathetic. That is probably because we are all, for the most part, protective of this rapidly vanishing art show world and have grudging respect for the show "gestapo" that keeps it clean.

I was chided for being naive, that the partner was probably at a show in Chicago or Pittsburgh. And that even if he wasn't, you had to bring the hammer down on this guy because the next guy could be a fraud. I pulled out my app and, sure enough, the first rule, in bold caps, was one person per app, applicant must be present.

Since I am always ready to whine about the quality of some of the work allowed in these fairs, I should be able to see the wisdom and determination behind these rules. Without the 'artist must be present" clause, little factories in Arkansas can pump out pallets of cheap "craft" and send college kids out to sell it for 10 bucks an hour. It takes a lot to put together a show of good work. The potter wasn't the only one ousted that day. 15 "jewelers" were also kicked to the curb for offenses ranging from selling imports to making work from kits.

Even with all the rules, there are folks every year who make snide comments about the "crap". Really? I'd like to lock those bozos in a room for an hour and see if they can create anything but noise. You think the artists are lame? Let's see what you can do. Step away from the laptop and try to get up at 5am on show day to set up a 200 pound tent and display and then try to sell work you have put blood and tears into while some frat boy with a thesaurus posts his "critique" in various comment sections, using a fake name of course. One criticism I read revolved around the fact that here were cutting boards and wooden spoons at the fair. Apparently, woodworking, carving these items from a solid block of wood, turning, etc is not in this guy's limited mentaL data bank.

But they don't count. What counts is that we know the reality, how tough it is to get into good shows. We know how many rules we need to follow.

And now I know what happens when you don't.

Thursday, June 9

beginning again with perspective

So, my first "big" show of the year, 100 American Craftsmen, is now in the back of my show notebook, stamped "done", numbers totalled. Onward and upward.

It was a lovely show. I've written about it before. I'm happy when I can start the year there and cap it off at their Christmas Show. The jury is, literally, still out on the Christmas Show so I don't know if my incredible application luck will hold. You just never know.

That is, of course, the worst part of this business. Uncertainty. There were some familiar faces missing from the show this year. Talented artisans with a long history at Kenan. Truth be told, I didn't see anyone there that made me think they had outscored the missing folk. But, if I could understand the jury process properly I could fold up my tent and go into the consulting business.

I have groupies at this show. No lie! People who come back every year and stop by every year and buy something every year and give me detailed stories about who they gave the item to or where they put it in their house and how loved it is. I swear, a person could get a puffed head.

So, anyway, the perspective thing (see blog title above). I've been oddly Zen about my shows this year. What will be, will be. I guess it has a lot to do with the crazy events of the past year, the cancer, the broken foot, the blind eye. Each taken separately would give one pause, but as a collective medley of greatest hits, it is a winner. Having all of these hits properly fixed, or so it seems, has been a joyful thing, but accepting the fact of one's vulnerability less so.

And then, losing Mom, reflecting on all sorts of heavy existential issues. Well, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but it does tend to put things in their proper place.

Last year a this time I would have been fretting about how I only had 2 photo albums and I really should have 6 and where can I get the supplies and how long would it take to make them and on and on ....UGH! So, I have 2. 2 is good. 2 is better than zero.

Adding substance to my new maturity is an awareness of what happened to artists at the Columbus, Ohio art show last weekend. We art carnies are pretty good at weathering storms, tying down the weights and buttoning up when things get blustery. But every so often a storm slams you before you can dig out the lovely, blue home depot tarps and you may lose some stuff to rain drops. And then there is what happened in Columbus:



That is a person's whole business flying down the street. Just the tent and displays were worth about 4 grand. The artist involved estimates the work lost at almost 40.

I think she had insurance, but what they can't insure are the hours spent imagining and creating, the pieces of a person's soul that goes into their art. That image makes my heart stop every time I see it.

It may rain a bit Saturday. Last year I would have thrown curse words at the weather guy who is clueless about what his forecast might do to attendance that day. Not this year. This year I say, bring it on. The real shoppers come out in the rain anyway. It's the dog walkers and stroller brigade that stay home.

I like the view from here. Maybe I'll actually be able to stay a bit this time.

Saturday, May 28

the price is right-maybe

I've been thinking a lot about value these days. How one measures it, decides it, defends it. I wrestle with the simplest part of that equation every year at this time as I ready my work for the first big show of the year. What is my work worth? Is it worth the most I can get for it? Is it worth more than I charge? Less?

A dear friend and talented artist has been telling me for years that I undervalue my work. My prices make her nuts. We discuss it, but the bottom line is that I can tell at what price point my sales tank and so I don't go over that. Yes, a one-of-a-kind hand bound book has a perceived value higher than what I charge, but what good is that when nobody will give me what it is worth? You can't pay the mortgage with perceived value.

And this is a business, after all, not just a creative exercise.

I had occasion to ponder this anew when I got a detailed bill from the hospital that treated me for cancer. I had chemo twice a month for 6 months. Just one of the drugs in my "cocktail" cost over $10,000.00 Twice a month. For 6 months. 10 grand. It boggles me. It looks like the average cost of my twice a month visit was in excess of $17,000. Each time.

As i put the bill down I couldn't help but have a fleeting thought about my own value. Did I really deserve this? Was I worth the quarter million bucks plus this disease will end up costing my insurance company? Am I worth more because I have insurance? What about all the Americans who have no insurance? Do they have a different value?

I think I am valuable to the people who love me, but let's face it. The rest of the world world will not notice if I fade away. Tons of money was spent on my behalf anyway. I guess my sticker price was higher than I imagined.

Perceived value.

Tuesday, May 10

beginning again in silence

There is a strange silence in my Mother's house now that she has passed away. It is quieter than when she was just out having dinner with a friend, quieter than when she was in the hospital. It's as if the house itself has stopped breathing, stopped waiting for her to settle into her TV chair and light a menthol. The heart of the home has stopped.

And there is a new quiet in my head. After months of chemotherapy and then the eye surgery/blindness thing and months and months of arranging my life around Doctors, they have all said "see you in September", you're doing great. Just like that. The silence is deafening.

So I sort of sit here wondering what to do next. No tag-teaming with my brother to make sure someone is with Mom as much as possible. No need to rearrange my work schedule to accommodate the days when I carted chemo around in a fanny pack. No circled dates in my calendar book for treatments/tests/exams. Just quiet days and nights, waiting for me to fill them.

I don't quite know how to do this. I don't know what to do with weeks of free time. Hell, I can't decide what to do with 8 hours of free time. Oh, I know what I need to do. I need to plant myself in the studio and get busy. I have so many shows this year, such a great opportunity to actually make a decent profit. And I do go up there. I sit at my table by the window and watch the traffic on the avenue and the pigeons on the roof next door and I think about Mom. Stuff gets done, but I find myself staring into space and thinking, remembering, reflecting. That may be a good thing. So much to process from the last few months.

It's sort of a sanctuary up there with my piles of papers and pots of glue and bins of colorful cord. It is comforting chaos, where the true me lives and where I will slowly, over the course of this Summer, come to terms with the past year, make peace with it. In my own time, in my own space.

Quietly.

Wednesday, May 4

how do you measure a day?

It was long. It started early with a 6am call from my brother. He had been called to the rehab facility where Mom had been trying to get strong enough to learn to walk on her new hip. They said we should get there right away. He said he would check out the situation and call me. We had been called this way before and Mom would recover by the time we got there. But this time, he said that we were at the end and we dressed quickly to meet him and his wife there.

We sat beside her bed, a row of her children in hospital chairs, watching her breathe, willing her to be comfortable, wondering what to expect. She slept on, her brow furrowed a bit as if she was concentrating.

And then I had to go. My own fate awaited across town. This date, May 4th, had hovered in front of me for a month. I could not see past it or around it to any of the days that would follow. It was the day that my oncologist would tell me the results of my scan. He would tell me if I still had cancer or not and what that would mean to me. And so we left Mom's bedside and kept the appointment, my stomach in knots for all sorts of reasons now.

First came a woman who wanted to know if they could use my blood for research. Of course. Signed papers. Would they ask that of a terminal patient, I wondered? Was this a good sign? And then, finally, my NP, Karen, came in and asked how I was and I said nervous and she said I needn't be. The scan was good. We chatted about what was found and she checked me over and we laughed over silly things and she said how happy she was that things were good. And then my Doctor came in and told me that he considered me to be in remission.

And I could breathe again.

But under all the relief and joy was the grief of knowing what waited a few miles away and so back to Mom we went. When we got to the room my brother said he thought she was hearing us and so I bent close to her ear and told her "Mom, I just went to the Doctor. I don't have cancer any more. I think I'm going to be fine". And she tried to speak and she moved her head back and forth and she heard me. I know she did.

And a few hours later she was gone.

How do you measure a day? In teardrops and laughter. In pain and joy. In loss and gain. In hope and acceptance.

In a few days we will resume our normal lives, missing Mom always, but getting on with life.

And May 4th will always be a day I'll remember. The day Mom's life ended and I got mine back.

How will I ever measure this day?

Wednesday, April 20

musings

Some random thoughts over the past couple of weeks.

There was a time when a flu that would let me shed 14 pounds in 5 days would have been cause for celebration and envy. In actuality, it stinks. There is nothing cool about a body that won't do what it is supposed to do.

Snuggled under quilts with a bad movie on TV, ginger ale over ice on the bedside and 2 dogs pressed against you for warmth is not a bad way to get better. Having a sweetheart that runs and fetches anything that he thinks might make you feel better is the sweet icing.

Watching Mom in the hospital has been a revelation about aging. Her skin is baby soft and hairless, her thinking is childlike, her needs are simple and to deny them makes her irritable. We truly do become children again.

Hospitals do not have enough staff. We do not have the best health care in the world. Not by a long shot. Not sure what will happen if we don't take it on.

I've been accepted to every show I entered. I am stunned, grateful and frozen. Where do I start? Aaargh!

I have the best friends in the world. People care about me and my family. They have shown it in so many ways and I am absolutely humbled by it.

It is a joy to know my son and his fiance will be home in a couple of days. I love them and miss them and it is so great to have them in driving distance finally.

I have decided that the new dog is 7 pounds of juvenile delinquent. He can open a child proof cap on a pill bottle. He turns on the computer and watches YouTube.

The library thinks I lost 3 books. They are right here in my special library tote bag. It's been that kind of month.

I need to go to the studio and make stuff.

Sunday, April 3

dear Allentown Arts Festival-redux

OK, all is forgiven. You found me presentable this year and even gave me the spot I asked for.

What changed this year? Well, just going by the number of shows that have extended their app deadlines and/or notification dates this year, maybe there is a smaller pond from which to fish? Or maybe you just had smarter jurors this time around. Matters not. I have a good show steps from my front door. All is well.

Now, as for Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh...what is up with YOU? I applied to your show as a backup to A'town, hoping that if I got a "no" from one I might get a "yes" from the other, rescuing my weekend. I carefully checked the notification dates and "withdraw" dates so that I could avoid throwing booth money at a show I wasn't doing. Your notification date was 3/10. Then it was 3/25. Then it was 4/1. Still nothing. Are you kidding me?

A fellow artist, familiar with the show, says they are still working on booth layout. That makes no sense to me. This show has been going on for decades. Why would you do the booth layout after the jury chose the artists? Wouldn't you have the layout and then place the artists in the existing grid? Makes no sense.

Here's the thing. We all have a season to plan. We cannot plan until you tell us whether or not we have your show. If we don't get the shows we applied to we have to find others. This is how we earn a living, people. Don't play with us!

There is a love/hate relationship between the folks who plan the shows and the ones who exhibit in them. I know we can be a pain. Not following the setup rules, pushing the boundaries of our spots out into the aisles, sending in fuzzy jury images, bouncing checks, complaining about our location, our neighbors, the coffee you provide. But what we need from you is pretty simple. Respect for the fact that while this is a once a year festival for you where you get to wear badges that say you are responsible for this fun event, for us it is a mortgage payment. The word "festival" means little to us. It is a job. Oh, most of us love the job, no question, but that doesn't mean we are immune from the frustrations that come from any job.

So, Pittsburgh, sorry I won't be there in June to try your show and make a stop at Ikea. I'll be in my own neighborhood, saving hotel fees and gas. But I sure wish I knew what was really going on down there. Because that layout excuse makes no sense. I wish you luck.

Tuesday, March 29

addicted to hope

Mom is in the hospital again. This time it was almost the end. And she did it to herself because she is an addict.

Don't picture an 88 year old woman sucking on a crack pipe. No, for that we could have found an intervention. Mom is addicted to her mail. She doesn't get a whole lot of "real" mail. A few bills, her bank statement, sales fliers. Those are not her drug of choice. The monkey on her back is sweepstakes. The promise of a check with her name on it.

We started to become aware of this when she would force upon us bags of cheap goods. Pot scrubbers, key chains with lights on them, a talking calculator. Turns out she was ordering them from Publishers Clearing House which, of course, says no purchase necessary, but why would they sell stuff to entrants if it didn't matter? Well, Mom analyzed her odds and decided it was worth 20 bucks in Taiwanese junk craft to up her odds of having the van pull up to her house with that big check and a dozen roses. After perusing her checkbook and finding almost weekly checks written to "PCH", I contacted them and threatened them with a lawsuit if they didn't stop preying on my Mother. Their mailings stopped, but they apparently sold her info to every bottom-feeding profiteer out there because she started becoming a "finalist" in dozens of contests. Daily. All she had to do was send 5/6/20 bucks to "reserve" her finalist spot. She sent them cash because she knew we monitored her checking account.

Mom lives on $1000 a month. Period. And there are low life con artists out there, looking to snag a piece of that. Daily.

Oh, we tried to reason with her, but a creeping case of dementia makes it harder and harder for her to exercise any judgment. Why would they send these to her if it was a lie? These are big companies! No. Mom, these are small cellar dwelling companies with a mailing list of the most vulnerable and gullible and desperate amongst us. Add to them the plethora of "address label" charities that send her the little 5 cents strips with her name and a bunch of tulips on them and ask her for a donation to cover the cost and support the children/the sick/the mission/the American Indians/veterans. She must have thousands of return address labels.

She is also a prime target for Social Security warnings (send us 60 bucks to help us fight for your benefits) and various and sundry other political causes (Obama is stealing your health care and wants to kill you)

My brother, bless him, lives near Mom and goes there every day to check on her and bring in the mail that he patiently goes over with her, piece by piece. She has been known to slip out a particularly glossy and promising "You may be a winner!!!!" envelope and hide it until he leaves, but he's on to her.

Mom's mailbox is at the curb, surrounded by a mound of snow. She has to navigate 4 steep steps and a slippery walk to get there. She promised to never attempt it alone and my brother promised to always make sure her mail was brought in. A few times she called him and said not to bother coming, that she had her mail and he would explode. And make her promise again.

But the idea of being able to gather up the 20 + promises of a grand life that crowd her mailbox daily and go through them alone, without the voice of reason, without the dashing of hope, is too much for an addict to ignore. When Bob called to tell her he was delayed a half hour but would be there soon to get the mail, she saw her chance. She put on her boots and her warm coat, grabbed her cane, and made her way to the curb. She got there, but the snow behind the box stymied her. She put one shaky foot on the mound of snow and reached for the little pull down door and lost her balance, landing hard on the sidewalk and breaking her hip.

Mom has a serious heart condition which makes surgery extremely risky but without it, she would spend her remaining days bedridden and so, as a family, we had decisions to make.

Listen up, you pathetic leeches. You who prey mostly on the elderly. You who reach into their pockets and snag pathetic offerings to your promises of riches. You who then turn around and sell their info to other leeches so that the mailboxes spill over with ever increasing visions of security and well-being that many seniors can only dream of in this life. Listen up.

We had to sit with cardiologists and internists and orthopedic surgeons to decide how to help this suddenly frail woman. We had to decide whether to put our Mother's life on the line. We had to sit with her all day and sleep by her hospital bed during the night when the hallucinations made it impossible for the staff to control her without tying her down. We had to watch them wheel her up to the OR, knowing that might be the last time we would see her. Then there was the 4 hour wait for the surgeon to tell us how it went. And now the 48 hour wait to see if she can maintain the toughness that got her through surgery.

And all because she went to get her mail. Because she wasn't able to wait a half hour. Because an addict waits for the pusher, becoming more anxious every hour. You lured her out there. To get her 5 bucks added to the sad little pile of other contributions you bleed from the poor, the desperate, the innocent.

The surgeon says Mom is tough. So am I. There has to be a way to put you creeps put of business and if I have to take you on one by one, I swear I am going to try. Enough of your teeny print disclaimers that nobody over 65 can read.

One. by. one.

But first, I have a Mom in ICU to tend to. There is only one promise of hope that matters now. The hope that she will survive this and maybe walk again. No fine print.

She may be a winner.

Sunday, March 13

my new babies

No, no, no. Not that kind. Please, we'd be talking real medical miracles were that the case.

This is a new Simplesong baby. I'll be at the Small Press Book Fair next weekend and I thought it would be a good time to expand my book jewelry line.

(And the art gods say; "Yes, Pat, perfect time to work on miniatures. When you are blind in one eye. Brilliant.")

Should have listened. It was very frustrating. I need one of those magnifiers on a stand. It was close to impossible to make the chains and figure out the tiny gluing spots.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My book pins and book earrings sell very well at certain venues. The Book Fair is a perfect place to sell them. I've been toying with the idea of book necklaces since I started making books, but I could never come up with a design that pleased me. Regular case bound teeny books have a tendency to yawn open after they've been hanging about your neck for a few hours. I hate how that looks. Stab binding on something that small would require different needles and cord and templates and I get tired just writing about it.

Then it came to me. Often when I can't sleep, I design things in my head. One night I was drifting off when the light dawned. Accordion books. Of course! I would have to figure out the closure, of course and make up a template and I've never been good at folding the accordion but I could manage. And what teeny bits of material it would use. Stuff that would have been tossed as too small to be of use.

I was excited.

There was trial and error and I'm still in the error phase, but here is Baby #1:



and here is Baby#1 slightly opened so you can see the accordion



And a couple more:




The tough part is figuring out how to afix the little elastic cord that holds the book closed. I am so clumsy now with my lack of depth perception and reduced peripheral vision. I fumble and lose bits or use too much glue or put glue where it should not be. Stuff like that. And don't even let me start on the chain and jump rings.

I made a few tonight that came out much better so I think I'm getting the hang of it. And a friend thinks she knows someone with a standing magnifier I can use while I'm waiting for my sight to return. That would help.

I realized today that even though trying to make my widgets with this handicap has made me very creative in my choice of expletives and in the vocalization of my bursts of frustration, I am happy in my little attic studio with the traffic humming 3 stories below and the pigeons dancing on the roof next door and huge snow flakes sailing by my window. It is quiet except for my TV and the occasional growl of frustration. It is my place to be.



That's the real View from the Attic :)

Saturday, March 12

Long way to go for a fish fry

I live in Buffalo, NY, where Friday fish fries are a sacred institution. People here tend to eat out a lot anyway, but I challenge you to find a place with a decent fish fry on a Friday night, especially during Lent, where there isn't an hour wait for a table.

So, when my friend, Shaun, asked me to be part of a fund raiser for the arts at a local school and suggested that we would get a fish fry dinner at a reduced rate, I was in! Well, truth be told I am a sucker for fund raisers for the arts, but for the sake of this blog let's pretend I was seduced by fried fish, macaroni salad, coleslaw and french fries. To be a true B-Lo fish fry you need rye bread, but the dense artisan bread they served was yummy.

There were only a few of us selling our wares, but it was a fine group. Quality work, interesting mix, reasonable prices (we brought our "small" items), but we didn't sell much. Most of the folks were there to inhale fish and listen to their kids sing and play drums.



But it was a good thing to do. It was my "warm up" for the coming season. I have the book fair next weekend. I love the Book Fair. And then a Women's Conference. I needed to see how much of a problem working with one eye would be.

Well, it stinks! I swear it is a total pain and a frustrating exercise. Although my medically trained son assures me I am imagining it, I feel that not only do you lose depth perception, but you don't perceive color properly. I have to wear reading glasses because my right eye is over-corrected for distance with a contact lens. Never one to waste money on frivolity, I got few pair at the Dollar Store. I spend several hours a day looking for said glasses. The dance goes something like: pat the top of your head, then your jeans pockets, then spin to look at the table behind you, spin again to check the computer desk, stomp your foot, repeat.

I will adjust to this. I have no choice. There may be cursing involved and I will admit to feeling tears of frustration creeping over my still achy eye ball at odd moments. But I was able to put together a respectable collection for the show



So, how was the show? Well, once we paid for our dinners (at a reduced rate of 5 bucks), donated back 20% for the fundraising, bought tickets for the Chinese auction and grabbed a couple of brownies from the sweets table, we basically earned a cheap fish fry and gas money. But that's OK. I got to see a few folks I really enjoy. I got back in the swing of things.

I also came to grips with the limitations I will be dealing with for a month or 2. If you hurt your foot or tail bone or something that's way different than having a wonky eye. I mean, your eye is RIGHT THERE! No matter what you do, the wonky eye is RIGHT THERE. Between you and the rest of the world. You can't put a thick sock on it, take an Advil and keep going.

What I'll probably do is work in one hour shifts or until I start cursing, whichever comes first. And I'll stop whining now, too. Video of the Japan quake are playing in the background as I write this and it occurs to me that although my personal world has recently been rocked a bit, the earth beneath my feet is solid. Perspective. I keep finding that in odd places lately.

Saturday, March 5

can you see me now?

There is a reason for the latest bloglessness. It started a few weeks ago.

I noticed that there was a shadow at the bottom of my field of vision. Now, I am the sort of person who thinks "Ach it will go away, give it a few days". This, of course, is why I am now getting chemotherapy, but I digress.

The shadow became blobs. Picture a lava lamp. Now picture that action happening in your eye. OK, I'm calling someone.

It took a few days for each Doctor I called to referreferrefer until I landed in the spiffy wine colored leather examining chair of Dr Henry Lee who tsked and said I had a detached retina. Lovely.

He tried a procedure in the office that involves injecting a bubble of gas behind the retina to slap it back against whatever part of the eye it got detached from. But, a few days later we could tell it wasn't going to work and I would need surgery. Lovely.

Of course, by this time the reality of losing sight in that eye was helping me agree to anything they thought might help. Put my eye in a pickle jar for a week? Sure!

So, off we went to the hospital, my nerves all a jangle, my resolve intact. The wait was torture, but they had to put drops in my eye every 45 minutes for a while, so we watched TV and chatted and pretended that I was not going to have my eye sliced up in an hour.

Now, I have to say that I have never been one to drink much or do drugs. High on life, as they say. The few times I have been overserved I have made a fool of myself. Not hard to do since I teeter on the brink of foolishness just in the regular course of my day. So when the Anesthesiologist, who looked like one of the Doobie Brothers, promised to make me "mellow", I was reassured but hoping that I wouldn't start singing the "A" side of The White Album.

There was no singing, but there was also no pain and I was certainly mellow. Mellow enough to remark that they might want to remove "Blinded by the Light" from the operating room playlist. This resulted in general laughter amongst the disembodied voices and a discussion of what the line "dressed up like a ...." really was. I said "deuce" before I drifted off to nap for a bit. Not sure if they agreed or not.

I was home before dark, a cone over my eye. The next day we saw the Doc again and he said that although I wasn't totally out of the woods yet, the retina was now fully attached. Yay.

So now we wait. And hope that my sight will slowly return. The procedure they used, a sclera buckle, is aggressive surgery and it will take 6 weeks or more for us to know just how much better I will be. I think I can still do my craft, even with just one eye, but don't ever let anyone tell you depth perception is no big deal.

So, that's where I have been. I went 30 years without needing a doctor for anything related to illness. I got smug. OK, I am humbled now. I get it, OK? Cut it out!

Now here's the cute part. At first, after the easy procedure, I was told I had to sleep sitting up. Luckily, I have a big cushy chair with a big cushy footstool, so I bundled myself into it, with pillows strategically placed and hoped for the best. Russell came down with his pillow and a blanket and I asked what he was doing. Well, what he was doing was sleeping on the couch to be with me. I assured him it was OK for him to sleep in bed, I would be fine. He could not imagine leaving me alone downstairs. And so for a few days there we were. Me in the chair, Russell and the dogs on the couch.

I may be blind in one eye, but some things I can see crystal clear, right from the heart.