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Thursday, December 27

sidestepping the cliches

It would be easy to draw a Christmas story replete with imagery of the miracle baby and gathering of wise guys and making do before the manger was put together but I won't.

We came together at the home of my son and his wife to celebrate the Holiday and to enjoy the new baby. And we did. There wasn't time or room for a tree, (the baby's furniture hunkered in a corner of the living room while her room was being painted)  so I wired together bunches  and swags of greenery and decorated doors and windows and the mantle. Gifts were piled on the hearth. It was pretty cool, actually.

 I was there for 2 weeks before Christmas, Russell and the other grandparents arrived on the 23rd. But before that, I had quiet time with my granddaughter. Holding her for the first time was a heart quake.

She gained almost 2 pounds in 3 weeks and she will never again be as tiny as she was in this picture.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day we had one baby, 2 parents, 4 grand parents and 5 dogs. It was glorious. Billy and Leisha tormented me with Christmas carol parodies from shows like South Park and I still find myself  softly singing "Ding, fries are done" as I putter around the house. They will pay for this. 

We left for home right after Christmas dinner, deciding to beat the coming snow storm by outrunning it. It worked. We got home at 5 am under an oddly pink night sky, napped, ran for food and then hunkered down to enjoy the feeling of being trapped in a snow globe, kept warm by a fire, some quilts and new memories.

Heavenly peace, indeed.

Saturday, December 22

meanwhile, in Michigan

I used to post a lot, about everyday things and big things and art show stuff. Then I got side-tracked by life, I guess. It is easier, somehow to write of small things that loom large, than it is to write of the major  
life events that rattle the earth beneath you. That takes time and thought and perspective. For a while it seemed too big of a job and blogging should not be a job.

So, OK,  I got cancer again and had surgery again and was pronounced clean and fit again. The procedure I had, (over and above removing the small tumor that was nestled in fatty tissue and not, thank God, in an organ, was elective.) I had to keep reminding myself of this during a recovery that seemed to be taking eons longer than I thought. I'm OK now. Moving along...

I became a Grandmother in November. I'm not sure how to explain that feeling. It is one part "am I really this old???" and 99 parts "what a miracle".

My granddaughter, Emma Rachel (her middle name is my Mother's) was delivered early due to complications my brave and tough daughter-in-law suffered. My daughter-in-law has Cystic Fibrosis but has not allowed it to impact her life in any measurable way.
I admire and respect her and love her.  Emma spent some scary weeks in the NICU, tubes everywhere, but she is home and gained 2 pounds in a month and is beautiful and what a miracle. I watch my son, besotted by this peanut of a child, gently tending her and it fills my heart.

On the art side, I had none of my usual Christmas shows for various reasons which impacted my Christmas shopping  and will really hurt when I start sending out applications in a few weeks. I need to make some decisions about shows but I'm having trouble settling back into normal. My studio looks like a victim. It will take many hours of concentrated work to get it back to workable space. But I love this time of year. Out with the old, everything in order, clean brushes and new pots of glue. Beautiful. Promise.

I have been here in Grand Rapids staying with my son and his family for a couple of weeks. Lending a hand, tending to chores, providing moral support for Emma's first bath, first nail clipping. I helped pick out her first Christmas dress and went with the kids to help choose paint colors for the nursery.  I'm not sure how much they actually need me, but it has been good to feel like they did. Emma's other grandparents will be here for Christmas, after which we will leave and they will stay for a few weeks. I may be back in February for a bit.  It is a sea change from the easy, cozy life Russell and I have been living, but it is good for all of us, I think.

And so it goes. Life and all its surprises.

I missed writing my blog, it seems. I'm going to try to get back in its good graces.

To write of simple things, to make yourself really see them is like an act of grace. I haven't just missed writing the blog, I've missed what the act of writing it gave me.

Friday, November 2

what happened

So, I guess I left you in a rest stop in Iowa and quietly disappeared. Well, not quite. We were not abducted by the children of the corn, in fact we went on to our Oregon beach house and had 9 days of sand and sea and kids and friends and family. I made big platters of things like chicken fingers and spaghetti and we had pancakes in the morning and while this may not sound like an exotic vacation to most people, it was to me.

But, underlying all these joyful times was a pulse beat, counting down. 2 weeks, 10 days, another week.... See, back in June, at a routine 6 month scan that I assumed would confirm that I was still cancer free, "something" was found. They never name these things. Something. We would need to figure it out, tests, PET scan, yadda yadda and it became clear that this something was cancer again. Tiny, no spread, nothing else anywhere. OK. Surely such a something (the size of an M&M) could be removed easily and I would go about my business. And, it seemed that this would be the case. While in my booth at Syracuse, a call came in from Roswell and a PA told me that they had had a conference about me and it was determined that the something could be plucked out and I was to come in a week or so later to discuss the details. My surgeon was jovial and confident, maybe we could even do this with a scope, a tentative date was set. It seemed like our original vacation plans could stand. Then I got a call from another doctor, from a different clinic, making me an appointment to see if I "qualified" for the surgery. Huh? I will spare you the convoluted road to understanding what was going on. Apparently, my initial surgeon, while discussing my case with others, came up with a plan. It would have been nice to know this when I went in for the appointment, but so be it. Turns out that there is an elective procedure for patients like me that actually has a high cure rate. Cure is not a word that they use very often in cancer treatment. Not that it doesn't happen, but they don't want to get your hopes up. I'll make this quick. If you are healthy and there is no other disease than the tumor they are removing and that tumor appears to have sprung from a cell left behind as opposed to metastasis within your system, they can do this procedure where they remove the tumor and anything else that looks the least bit suspicious, make your innards "squeaky clean", put a chemo solution right in the abdominal cavity for an hour or so, flush it out and you are done. That kills any other cells that might be ready to sprout. So, they scheduled it and we quickly re-did our vacation plans. It hung over me all those weeks. But we had fun and we got back the day before surgery and I took a deep breath and plunged in and we did it. It's been 5 weeks now and I am almost myself again. The procedure was successful so now we just wait and see. It was not easy, I will admit. They did a hysterectomy also since ovaries are tumor magnets and I had a couple of "iffy" spots in the uterus. I had OK'd this ahead of time. I wasn't gonna use that stuff any more anyway. My Dr is very happy. He says I should be the poster child for this procedure. :) So, that is where I have been. Life goes back on track. I have 2 shows coming up and a granddaughter coming very soon. So much happiness on the horizon. Guess I better get up to the attic. It missed me.

Thursday, September 6


That's how I think of this part of the trip. Get through the "drive by" states of Iowa and Nebraska, then the fun begins. Which is not fair to Iowaska. Iowa is all green, rolling, soft hills, the roads lined by corn fields. And more corn fields. The highway takes you away from towns and cities, although at times you see a shimmer of a distant city, a tall building reflecting light over the endless corn. Then it vanishes like an apparition. Mostly what you see as you go is this

There are many windmills in this open, flat land and Quincy sees them as creatures threatening him with waving arms. He barks and jumps from front seat to back, from side to side. They are so close to the road that you can see just how massive they are. I tell Russell we should have called him Quixote instead of Quincy. Barking at Windmills. He smiles indulgently.

It is a thriving business here, we see truck after truck transporting a piece of the thing. A blade, a stand, a housing for the mechanism, each piece so large it has its own rig. We met some guys in a rest stop that were delivering a blade. The truck escorting them had a logo that said 'Escort Service which cracked us up, so Russell posed there, hamming it up.

The truckers spoke with pride about driving these behemoths, proudly saying this was a small one, the next trip would be with a blade 15 feet longer. I asked how one drives such a rig and the driver smiled, pointed to our SUV and said "just like you drive that" and he winked.

We are indulging ourselves at a lovely little LaQuinta with pretty rooms, nice beds, a loving pet policy and a breakfast buffet. We should be gong but we are cozy here, enjoying the break. I have brought the dogs some breakfast sausage which prompted a lot of tail wagging and now I''ll go bring up some things for us so we can get started with the day.

The road will soon start to rise and fall, the scenery will change from corn to hills and rock and we will be in Wyoming before noon, Iowaska just a long, lazy strip of green in the rearview mirror.

Wednesday, September 5

Start, sputter, go

Day one of our yearly cross country trip. First day is always awkward. We leave later than we planned, the car isn't configure right even though much thought was given to it. Quincy is restless, never sleeping,always vigilant,pacing, I think he is waiting to get where we are going and doesn't understand what is taking so long. Oliver sleeps whenever there is a soft spot available for him which is almost always.

We sailed through Ohio and Indiana and Illinois, checking off the " drive through" states. Waiting to cross the Mississipi. That is our goal. To drive right through, get to the good stuff where we will slow down and enjoy the journey.

Even in the dark and with a heavy rain obscuring the view, Iowa feels different. Cleaner, softer. We will travel through endless miles of corn fields and the tedium of that will be a running joke until we hit Nebraska where the joke will start to lost its charm. But I know the road will start to wind and rise and Wyoming is next.

People ask why we drive, they ask how long it takes as if it was a chore to endure.

It is an hour to sunrise, I am snug in our roomy car with the man I love and our 2 dogs, all of them sound asleep. It is raining.trucks line the space behind us because the truck lot is full, so we are surrounded by other road takers, sleeping in cozy compartments. The rest stop is clean and modern with free wi fi. The bathrooms so bright it hurts my sleep-tender eyes. We decide to take another hour here with the sky slowly turning from black to indigo, the rain softer now allowing the windows to be opened and filling the car with the sweet smell of wet grass.

I'm in no hurry, surrounded as II am by the creatures I love, watching the sky wake, looking forward to the corn fields and the road.

Saturday, September 1

images of August

I write about these shows and seldom post pictures of them. Not sure why. One of the perks of this business is that you sometimes get to spend a weekend in a place a lot nicer than your usual haunts. That is the case with the Chautauqua Institution and Sonnenberg Gardens. The exception to the rule is Elmwood Avenue which, as it happens, is my usual haunt because I live in the neighborhood. Sometimes, during that show, I do things like return library books and when we run into the co-op to get a cold drink, the cashier says "member 53, right?" There is something special about that.

The pictures are a combination of show and setting. To share with you what my "office" looks like these days. And to think I traded a gray cubicle and dusty windowsills for this. What was I thinking? :)

You also get to see how my booth is evolving as I wander deeper into the scary world of framed art.




August rewards

How could this month go wrong? Two of my best shows and one that has potential.

Chauatuaqua, as always, a wonderful show. I didn't get the guy who wants everything, but I sold almost everything anyway, one at a time. Breathing room. Finally.

Elmwood, at the end of the month, my neighborhood, the show I wait for, was also very good. Love this show.

But the show that ended up being the one with a reward was the one that came up short on earnings. Sonnenberg Gardens. What a gorgeous place, what a stellar organization. They treat the artists like they were, well, artists and not interlopers. We are respected. You gat a little puffed up with treatment like that.

But sales were disappointing and not just for me. So, much schmoozing about marketing happened amongst us (we had a lot of free time to chat) and somehow, with the encouragement of several of them, an idea was born. I was bemoaning the fact that while I was happy to have given up making low priced trinkets to boost the bottom line, I missed the money they brought. People love my cards, but it is tedious to make individual, uninspired collage one at a time. I hated the production aspect and I was not proud of the boring designs that happen when you are cranking out quantity.

Then the light came on. My big collage, the ones that made me happy, might be able to be reproduced. Some folks thought scanning, some photo. I decided to try it. I had a week to get some together. I was psyched.

Monday morning I started. Took pictures of a few of my favorites, tweaked them for color and brightness, contrast, yaddayadda. I am not a photographer although I love trying to be one. Some came out great, some awful. Then I had to decide what printer settings to use to get the most realistic reproduction. I chose mixed media paper to print the first batch. It has a soft surface texture and heavy enough for presentation. I had so much fun. That tummy bubble you get when you're on to something and having fun with it took up residence. I made a hundred of them.

But would they sell? I brought them to Elmwood. Set them up in a spinner near the originals and waited.


Oh, people looked. They smiled. They told me how lovely they were. I sold a few. I was deflated. It had seemed like such a good idea.

Sunday morning I put the spinner a little closer to the street to encourage walkers to peek. By noon I had decided that it would have been great, but chalk this one up.

And then the damn broke. I had priced them at $4 each, 3 for $10. Only a few bought one. Suddenly they were selling. One after another, customers holding 3 cards. On Sunday afternoon alone, they brought me $300.

The beautiful thing is now that I have them ready to print, I can make bunches quickly. As I make collage I really like, the collection will grow. It is win/win. An impulse purchase, affordable, easy to replenish and based on work I really love to do.


I am trying not to think about how great it would have been to think of this before the season started. It's not easy.

So, just like that, the Summer season is over. The stars have aligned to give me just one Christmas show this year, but that's OK. My granddaughter will be here shortly after my last show and I am chomping at the bit to play Grandma.

But first, some vacation. Blogs from the road coming up!

Monday, July 30

I'll take just a few..

So, from the high of my instant sell out during the opening moments of my last show to 3 days of sweating it out. Literally, figuratively, physically, mentally.

I dont know what it is about Syracuse. I like the place. It is a gritty college town with a solid cultural base. Last year was a debacle with an ill-advised change to the layout that relegated a cluster of us to a dead end, separated from the rest of the artists by bath-fitter demos and used book sales and 2 dresses for the price of one. I was very vocal about the idiocy of this and the organizer actually visited me, apologized, said she agreed. Before I applied this year, I emailed her to make sure things had changed. It had, she said, and she hope I would participate. Oh, OK.

I was rewarded with a primo spot with parking in a lot behind us, shade trees, the exhibitor restrooms across the street, lots of wonderful artists all around us. Well, OK, then, this could be a good one. Or not.

The show runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Friday downtown is only busy during lunch time, but we are there 10-6. It is deadly. Saturday started out with a lot of rain and flooded streets, so the show really started about 1:30. Sunday was gorgeous but hot and lots of people came. Some artists did very well, some tanked, I tanked. That's how this business goes. The question now is whether I use common sense and drop this show or whether I let my affection for the thing lure me into dropping another wad on doing it. I have all WInter to figure it out.

The good? Yes, there is some. I sold my guest books and wine journals and collage. Miniature book necklaces sold out. Very cool. I sold large journals but not so many smaller ones. Odd, that, but sometimes you can't figure it out. What it tells me is that I am on the right track, that dropping the trinkets was the way to go. Hopefully I will have a ton of stuff to bring to the next 3 shows, all of it things I want to make, things that really define who I am as an artist.

Some shows are good for you because they make you money, help you carry on to the next one. Some of them are not so lovely for your bank account, but they enrich you in other ways. The changes I have been encouraged to make this year have made me better and happier. Set me back on the right road.

I can do this.

Tuesday, July 10

i want everything. Part 2

If I was ever going to have luck at a show with no trinkets in the booth, it would be at Chautauqua. I have written of this place before and I won't bore you with more breathless accolades. Feel free to check out July and August from previous years. But here are a few moments from this weekend:

Artisans want to do Chautauqua because of the people who live and visit there. They have serious discretionary income.( It is very expensive to stay there.) And they choose to spend their time and money in a place devoted to the arts, culture, academia and spirituality. It doesn't get any better. Few people buy a piece because it matches the furniture, Instead they comment on texture and composition. It is like standing under a cool waterfall after a hike in the Gobi. This is not to say that the people who buy a piece from me because they like the colors or because it compliments the rest of the room are somehow lacking. Art is all about pleasing the senses. But it is nice to have the actual work involved appreciated.

The show is also run the best of any others. The organizer is a dynamo and her staff is the bomb. They ask what they could do better and the answer is always "not a thing"

I decided to go all out for this one. No cards, no magnets, no trinkets. I designed a wine journal page. I ordered baby book pages that were imported form Italy and printed in a gentle sepia tone. I made diaries with the months written in 3 languages. The miniature books were covered in sheet music paper. I used quotes from Proust and Ginsberg in the collage. I made new price signs and slipped them into plastic frames. I was ready.

The show started at 10 am. At 10:30, a jovial man in tennis gear strode in, took a rather quick look at the collage and with a big grin said "I want everything". I considered it a compliment. Like when you go into a shop filled with chocolates and you clap your hands like a child and say "Oooh, I want one of everything". I just smiled at him. He asked if he would get a discount if he bought everything. I laughed and said sure. He reiterated that he wanted everything and he swept his hand across the back wall where the framed pieces were hung. I laughed again, but rather uneasily at this point.

Let me say here that the man was Chinese and spoke with a bit of a clipped accent and part if me assumed I was not understanding him properly. To hedge my bets, I said he should just hand me what he wanted and I'd consider a discount.

By this time he had most likely assumed me to be sort of mindless. He started taking the collage off the walls, handing them to me, one at a time, reassuring me that he meant everything which he solidified by grabbing the matted works out of the browse bins and handing them to me also. I called Russell to come in and help. I was flustered and had to enter the sales a couple of times before I got it right. As I was getting the things together I asked what he was going to do with them, He laughed and with a twinkle in his eyes asked if I was suspicious. I answered that I wasn't, but a gallery had inquired about buying a bunch for a medical office and he nodded and said that was exactly what he wanted them for. He was a doctor opening a new office in New York. He paid with his AMEX card and Russell helped him carry the things back to his cottage where they had an interesting discussion about Chinese medicine and herbs and all that stuff that Russell finds so fascinating.

I had 2 or 3 framed pieces left, only because they were on a front wall and he missed them. I took down the front walls and hung the pieces on the back. An hour later he came back with his wife because he thought she might like the work of the artist next to me He spotted the new pieces and snatched them up, too.

Word of my good luck spread through the show like a brush fire or maybe a Lake Effect snow storm. By noon, dozens of my fellow artists had stopped by to congratulate me or to ask me to touch them for good luck. It was a good feeling to see how many of them really were happy for us.

The rest of the show was as delightful as always. Saturday, the day that some renters move out and a new crew moves in, is always quiet. Sunday is free admission so it picked up again. I left there exhausted and sweaty in places I didn't remember I had, but happy.

I sold all 3 of the wine journals I was testing. And a baby book and 2 diaries. I made more from the things I decided I wanted to make than I would have from dozens of cards and magnets that I thought I needed to make. It was a wonderful, freeing feeling.

My trinket days are done.

Monday, July 9

i want everything. Part 1

I have not been blogging like I used to. There was a time when I was addicted to memorializing all things that drifted through my life. Then I got distracted.

One of the things I have been wrestling with, and probably could have worked through best by actually blogging about it, is where I should go with this art thing.

As one of my fellow art show peeps likes to say (over and over and over) none of us makes anything anyone needs.

Well, unless you consider adorning yourself or your surroundings with things that cheer or inspire you as necessary. But I digress.

So, I tried making all sorts of small items, my philosophy being that everyone who comes to an art fair wants to go home with something. I took it upon myself to be the maker of said items. I made cards and magnets from the scraps of paper left over from bookmaking. I scaled down my journals still one more size (to 4 X 4 1/4) For a couple of years I made bookmarks out of cord and beads. As I added trinkets, I dropped items that used to define me. Specialty books. Large journals. There was no time for them.

It is true that the cards and magnets often paid my expenses, but there was an added cost. Me. I hated the production aspect of making them. And it started to sap my joy. At the shows, it began to rankle when a customer would wander in, praise my work, admire the workmanship, whatever, and then come up with a $4.50 card. Over and over. Little purchases. It took an hour or more to make a hundred bucks. Now don't go thinking that sounds like a fine hourly wage. There is time spent making the thing, packaging it, ordering the supplies to make it, keeping the A/C on in the studio while I glue up the little bits. I didn't think I could make a living on books alone, but I knew I wanted to stop playing around with trinkets.

Funny thing about epiphanies. Sometimes it is an instantaneous, maybe even spontaneous, blinding flash that makes you sit up straight and shout "Yes!" That never happens to me. With me, it tends to happen after the Universe taps me on the forehead enough times to produce a furrow and I eventually sit up and hiss "What??!" The last one I experienced came after the 412th person buying a collage card told me they were going to go home and frame it. Tap, tap.

I love collage, perhaps by necessity. I am unable to draw or paint or take a photograph that makes a spine tingle. But I can take bits of this and that and make something nice to look at. Something artistic. I didn't have enough confidence to do it on a large scale, ergo the cards, the cards that others were going to frame. I could charge $4.50 for them, but did I have the guts to make up and frame a larger piece and smack a price tag of $75.00 on it?

Of course not. At first I made up a few and charged much less. Testing the waters. And I made up a whole bunch that were not framed, just matted and backed and neatly packaged in clear sleeves. There is a theory in art show land that the back wall sells the booth. In other words, hang big, pretty pieces with big pretty prices on the walls and then offer them unframed at a third of the price.

People bought them. I perfected my matt cutting technique, ordered some more clear bags. I got better at it. Now the collage were made not just of papers, but they had wire and fibers and charms and twigs in them. Little spirals of paint. Bits of sheet music. Grasses. I was having fun. They flowed like syrup from a maple tree in April. Made me smile.

And I realized that there was no sense in taking on art as a profession if you were not going to fall back into its colors and shapes and shadows. Might as well get a mail route.

I decided to stop making trinkets. I made more collage. Designed a wine journal. Got text blocks for baby books and diaries from Hollanders. I became an artist again. Poverty be damned.

Monday, June 25


I have whined about this before. Let the tradition continue.

ELbert Hubbard's Roycroft movement celebrates the artisan movement with a special nod to the book arts. AFter a few years perfecting my craft, I was able to get into the show and I was inspired and motivated by the company of the certified Roycroft artisans amongst us. That was intensified by the fact that we set up our little tents along the meandering pathways of the Roycroft campus. It was heaven.

So, of course, they moved us to a parking lot 6 blocks away on a side street.

There was construction and the traffic and the blah blah. SO we set up on hot, unshaded asphalt in front of an elementary school and the campus is host to a flea market.

If the sales continued to be as good as they used to be, one might suck it up and focus on the artist friends around you. But my sales are now about 60% of what they were. That is a problem.

It's a conundrum. The good shows are hard to find and to have one deconstruct before your eyes is a sad thing.

OK, enough of that. The good? Lots. Most of my favorite art show friends do this show and much schmoozing happens. The people who are drawn to the show by the Roycroft brand are not looking for tinsel hair crowns and "Peruvian" flutes. They "get it".

So maybe most of the people who wandered into my little tent left without a purchase. Many of them did. Which leads me to my new mission. To memorialize the best of the comments from my visitors. Comments that keep me going, that humble and encourage me.

"I came into your booth and saw your things and I thought "I don;t know her, but I love her soul" Sister Roseanne

"When I came in and looked around, your work brought tears to my eyes. It touched me" Christine Abt.

Can't put it in the bank, but I'll take it. It is still riches.

Wednesday, June 13

Allentown Art Festival: A love/hate story

I have written about this show before. I've whined about how they are the last show on the planet to require slides (they have since joined the digital world) and I have pouted when rejected. This show has been a part of my life since childhood and now I live in the neighborhood. It feels like the whole world comes out for this one. It means Summer is here.

So, yes, I sort of love it. It is not my best show of the season by far, but since I could walk home from there, you tend to forgive certain shortcomings.

This was our first outdoor show of the season and one of our fears was confirmed. Our new (ish) car is not quite big enough to hold our rig. We thought it would be, even studied the dimensions. Russell was a little concerned, I looked into the cavernous back of the thing and could not imagine it to be too small. Spatial relationships are not my strong suit. I figured since I had trouble parking the thing (a Honda Pilot), it would suffice. We made some changes to the display, making the shelves a bit smaller, etc. It was still like stuffing a size nine foot into a size seven stiletto. Impossible and painful. The proceeds from the next show may be going to roof racks.

Saturday, it rained. All day. Almost all the time. And it was a cold rain, so my carefully chosen-to-look-like-an-artist outfit was insufficient. I eventually pulled a grubby over-sized t-shirt over my gauzy summer shirt which helped a little. Surprisingly, there were lots of customers and I did OK with sales. But I couldn't wait to get home and dry out.

Sunday was gorgeous and everyone in Western New York seemed to be in attendance. In the morning, 2 of the young guys I work with came down with a box of coffee and a bunch of Danish and they had breakfast with me behind the booth in the quiet of Sunday morning pre-show. It filled my heart.

There were the usual head shaking moments. A lady asked if I sold my display easels. No. There was the usual questions about my web site. Yes, I have one, but you are here now. Too soon for ya? heh A woman told Russell that she would buy one of my photo albums if I provided the photo corners. Oh, OK, those are right over by the pens that I provide with the journals.

And there were compliments. About my skills, about composition and color, choice of quotations, creativity in general. Some veterans of this industry scoff at that sort of thing, Give me the money they grumble. But those comments feed me in another way. I need them. They reassure me, boost my confidence. One woman complimented my work and then thanked me for sharing it. Sweet.

So, when I was in the line for the porta-pottie and a little girl, spying the exhibitor ribbon fluttering on my shirt, asked if I was an artist, I could proudly say yes. Her widened eyes and whispered "Wow!" made my day.

Monday, May 7

back to books

This is supposed to be a blog about life as an art carney. I've been pretty vocal about life, pretty quiet about art. Since my first big show is less than a month away, I guess I should try to remember what it is I do!Lets talk about tools. Russell taught me the value of tools. Were it not for him, I would be cutting boards with a butter knife, standing on books to press them, using a putty knife as a bone folder. So, over the years I have acquired a mat cutter and some power tools and the right kind of metal ruler with cork on the back. I buy glue from a factory that supplies the library and it comes in big ol' jugs instead of teeny squeeze bottles. But the one thing that eluded me was a book press. The classic, iron presses are the gold standard but they are hard to find and pretty expensive. For a while we talked about just constructing a wooded one with a screw down thingy but that just never happened. In the interim, I actually used a decorative press that Pottery Barn was selling.
A bunch of us on the book arts list serve scooped them up. They served the purpose well enough, but a real book artist would scoff I know. And then, one day, Russ was visiting a friend who said "Hey. Could Pat uses some book presses?" Plural. And there, in my room, were TWO old, heavy, classic presses. Imagine you've been driving a 79 Pinto and come home to find a Mercedes in your garage.

You use the press after you've glued the paper to the cover boards so that they dry nice and flat and then again after the books are bound to let them finish up nicely.

There are a few more steps between that and this:

But that will be another post. I see your eyes crossing. And there are books needing my attention. Upstairs. In the presses.

Thursday, April 5

that vision thing

When the young couple decided to start a bakery in the old building they bought on the edge of a pretty tough neighborhood, I was skeptical. They weren't alone. There were others who saw promise in the beautiful historic block and started a garden shop next door. Another bought a whole corner and has been slowly and surely rehabbing. A little park blossomed. "Extreme Makeover" came to town. The neighborhood became interesting.

The bakery offers a breakfast of toast. Their artisan breads with jam, or gouda with apples, or hard boiled eggs and gruyere. The facade is a grid of windows that pull in the sun. The tables are mismatched but beautifully worn. They have life in them.

Russell and I sat in a sunbeam, drinking coffee and eating toast. Outside, kids scurried to catch a school bus. An older woman walked a dog. We passed poetry back and forth from the magazines that were stacked along the wall. "look at this" "I love this one". The little brass Indian bells on the door tinkled gently whenever someone came in or went out.

It made me think of a Rumer song I have been listening to. She sings of all the ordinary life around here.The refrain is "I'm alive and I'm thankful for this time". Beautiful.

Maybe it is the privilege of the young to scoff at preconceived notions, to go fearlessly into challenge, ignoring the warning signs. Seeing only opportunity.

I thought of my little art business and how loathe I am to step even an inch off of my comfortable perch and try something new. And then when I do, it energizes me and brings such pleasure. You would think that it would encourage me to leap. Nah.

It's that vision thing. And that courage thing.

I'm starting to build my schedule for the coming season. I want it to be fresh and interesting. I want to have vision.

It's like the little Indian bells were a wake up call.

Sunday, March 25

surfacing, crashing, reflecting.

I sort of hit wall a couple of months ago. Kinda understandable considering that life got eerily quiet after 14 months of drama, illness and loss. I spent about 2 months staring at the wall. Russell thought I was being hypnotized by the new big TV, but basically my butt felt like it was being held to the chair by a big magnet under the cushion. I played a lot of Bubble witch on my laptop, got addicted to FaceBook, took out dozens of library books that collected dust. Then I suddenly popped up, coughed up dust, did a couple of stretches to loosen the knots and life came back to normal.

Then I heard the crash.

Let me preface this by saying our van died a couple of months ago and so we had to get a new work truck. We got a pretty Pilot, low miles considering it is 4 years old. But it is new to us and we were in the throes of "new" car infatuation. Washing it, dusting it, not letting the dogs in, You know. We still used my little Beetle for most trips because of gas mileage. Other than some ripped upholstery and brakes that bounced when you stopped fast, that little car as still doing its best 12 years after I got it. We thought our car situation was stable.

Then I heard the crash.

It was one of those oddly warm March days the Northeast has been having so the windows were open. Russ was in the kitchen doing dishes, I was in the living room working on applications. Suddenly, there was this loud, extended crash that I hoped was the dumpster truck for the apartment building across the street but it was too loud and too scary sounding for that. I called to Russ asking what it was and he answered "He hit all our cars!" and I heard the screen door slam behind him. I ran after him and had trouble processing what I saw. A neighbors car was smashed from behind and had rammed my Beetle, driving it into the Pilot which was tucked against a light pole. Russ jumped into my smooshed Beetle to go after the crasher who had, of course, taken off. The Beetle left a tail of fluid. I stood there like a stone. He didn't catch him.

The Pilot just had a creased bumper that we were able to fix pretty cheaply. My car was totaled, as was the neighbor's car. She did not have collision insurance. Thankfully, I did and they were surprisingly generous with the settlement, so I was able to get newer car for little cost to me and it gets 38 MPG. It's a Honda Fit which is tiny but looks like an SUV that was washed and shrunk. I love it. I wish I was rich so I could buy a car for my neighbor. I feel really bad for her. She just bought the car a couple of months ago, She stood there on the street staring at the devastation, her face a mask. I don;t know what she is going to do. She doesn't have much money. I really want to find that guy.

So, after all the hassle with the insurance companies and car salesmen (that's a topic for another post), life settled back to normal and it was time for my first show. The Small Press Book Fair. It is held at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum just a couple of blocks from our house. And it is all books, book arts, printing, etc. It is Nirvana for me. I love it. The show is big and draws a surprisingly large crowd for such a narrow focused theme. We get just 4 feet of a table and we are lined up back to back with little breathing room. I am inspired by the young artists who make books from clip boards and cereal boxes and old quilts. The technique is pretty rough but the creativity and spirit of them is electric. I love it.

I sat at my table and reflected how it as just one year before. I was in chemo, had cotton candy hair, was blind in one eye from retina surgery. At that show I lost the contact that I was wearing in my only good eye and it was hysterically funny and scary at the same time. How we found that lens an hour later and soaked it back to a pliable state still astounds me. I was doing the show alone and had to schlepp the boxes and displays myself and I just wasn't as strong as I thought. Some friends saw me struggling and took over, loading my car for me, making sure I was OK. This year I dashed around the big hall, folding chairs and carrying them to the front, back and forth without a thought. Last year I told myself that I would come out of all this OK, I'd be back to normal. And you know, even my hair is back to normal, as thick and wavy and unruly as ever. :)

I'm going to focus on that. On returning to life after loss. On gratitude.

And then I am gonna find that guy....

Sunday, February 26

Guest Blogger

My son. He is doing a 6 week training rotation in the ICU. He was prepared for it to be emotionally challenging and the students were advised to journal about it. Having spent my share of time amongst medical professionals of all levels this past 18 months or so, I can say without motherly pride that this exactly the kind of person you want tending you at your most vulnerable moments.

I am so proud of him.

"I love you too"

I can hear these words in the back of mind as I look around the room I am about to leave. The words are soft as if whispered by a lover, but they hold no intimacy in their context. By complete chance, I heard these words spoken and saw the look that accompanied them in this very room 2 days earlier. The phrase was spoken by a man for whom it would be his last, the look of sincerity that joined them given to a son whose face would be the last he would see. I knew almost nothing about this man or his family, yet the significance of what I accidentally witnessed as we prepared to intubate him was not lost on me.

The man had come into the hospital due to increasing dyspnea. He was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure. We attempted to ventilate him with BiPAP and when it did not work we were forced to intubate him. He developed ARDS and as his oxygenation status worsened the family decided it was best not to fight the inevitable and stopped the treatments.

A noise down the hall distracts me from the almost cinematic replay in my head. The ICU area I am in isn't huge; the area I have been living in for the past three days consists of basically a "U" shape, 19 rooms, 19 people, 19 families, 19 stories.

A subtle movement draws my eye to room 3. I remember when I first met the pt in that room. A man with severe neuro defeceit after multiple CVAs. When I first looked at him on that first day, he was so obviously compromised that I never even felt a human connection with him. He wasn't there, he was a vent to me at that point, numbers on a complicated machine. His sister was there regularly, and I had always chatted briefly and warmly with her, it was obvious that she was remaining strong but struggling with it at the same time.

It was decided that he was to get a trach and on my second day we were called upon to transport him down to surgery. My preceptor and I arrived at the room a little early, my preceptor stepped out to take care of something else while we waited and soon after the nurse stepped out as well. This left the pt, his sister and me in the room alone. It wasn't uncomfortable, we made small talk, it was polite and without tension. There was music playing in the background and I commented on it as it was the first time any music was playing in the room. His sister smiled broadly and said "Oh yes, he absolutely loves music. He is a musician. He plays the mandolin".

Have you ever looked at those paintings that have the image hidden in them? I think they were called magic eyes or something similar. You stare at it for the longest time and finally something clicks and bam you see it. There is a microsecond disorientation that always happens when I finally see that image, a nano-dizziness. That same thing happened at that moment. He "is" a musician. He "plays" the mandolin. There was no past tense in her description.

In a flurry the surgical team and entourage sweeps into the room and in a flash I am handed the ambu bag and off we go down to surgery. When we arrive there is the usual delay and wait in the hallway while the surgeons and anesthesiologists get ready to take the patient over from us. I am left alone with the patient, my preceptor a couple of steps away on the phone. I look down at the patient and I can see for the first time that he is not a vent or a set of numbers but instead a man. A man with a concerned wife a few feet away from me nervously talking with the doctors. A man who was a musician, and who used to play the mandolin. It is obvious that he will never again create music from a brain that has just been ravaged by a rogue blood clot.

This man was a child once. He played with little toys, cried for no reason and felt fear from such things as the dark and the boogie man. He went to grammar school, probably played some parts in school plays that were not strong candidates for Broadway yet most likely received standing ovations a Broadway actor waits their whole career for. He went to high school, he had a first love, he met the girl of his dreams and shared a first kiss with his wife in front of family and friends. Now I am connected to this man, quite literally as I am squeezing a two dollar plastic bag so that he can continue to live, and I realize that I am playing a small part in this long production that is his life.

"Excuse me bud, " I hear from behind me, snapping me out of my recent playback. It is the cleaning team and they are trying to get into the room I was blocking the doorway to. I hastily step back with muttered apologies and watch as they quite quickly start resetting the room for the next patient.

"Are you ready?" asks John. John is the ICU nurse who was quite intimidating to me for some reason. "To extubate?"" I reply, really more of a rhetorical delay tactic than a true question. I had known that eventually I would have to do this, but I was caught alone in the hallway, my preceptor four the day two rooms down. "Do you need Jane or can you handle this?" he asks, and I can tell his expression is a little softer than normal. My doubts must have been a blazing neon sign on my forehead. "No, it's fine, I can do it." And with that, the nurse, myself, the attending Dr. Young and a resident walk into the room. I suction him one last time as family is waiting to come back and be with him in his final moments and we do not want him to be choking on secretions when they do,

I had been lucky enough to work quite a bit with Dr. Young during the past three days. He is quite an amazing man, more because of the way he balances his confidence and ego with how he treats nurses and RTs. You are never in doubt that he is in charge but you are never hesitant to voice your opinion either. We had done a few bronchus together and he had even called upon me directly to answer some questions in front of the entire medical team over my preceptor twice.

So it was with a little surprise that I watched him take a deep breath and lean with both hands on the end of the man's bed as I began to extubate. It was obvious that he was genuinely sad about the outcome of this pt. and while this makes complete sense, I still did not expect to see that vulnerability, that emotion. The extubation completed, we left the room, the family was ushered back in and we stood in the hallway watching his little piece of digital real estate on the monitors. We watched as his heart rate and respirations got slower and slower, until they were finally zero.

I started to wheel the vent back to the storage room where I would clean it and get it ready for the next patient, the next fight for life. I glanced one last time at that hall monitor that showed everyone in the unit's vitals. The room I just left was, of course, blank, but the other rooms all had numbers and graphics. 18 rooms, 18 stories. The noise level seemed to gradually increase for some unknown reason and I could see families walking in and out of rooms, I noticed a couple of people laughing and hugging. Nurses and RTs and housekeeping, X-ray techs...they all seemed to come out of nowhere yet were filling the hallways with activity as I watched, going about their days. A small smile seeps across my lips.

This was a sad day to be sure, but it was infinitely more sad for the family that was most recently in the room I just left. I realize that the time I spend in the ICU isn't about me. It is about these 18 remaining stories. 18 remaining outcomes that have yet to be decided. It is about recognizing that each room contains a person, not just a patient, and that the care given and the words spoken need to be done in consideration of this. I am just a microscopic player in this gigantic story, but it is an honor to have a part nonetheless.

Sunday, February 19


I had to do it. My retina doctor is 2 minutes from Mom's house. So, after my appointment, I said we should drive by, see if anyone moved in yet. My brother had stopped by a month ago and it looked empty still.

So, I told Russell to drive slowly but not so slowly as to look like stalkers. Which, of course, we were. It was afternoon, but the porch lights were on. Wait. Lights? Plural? 2 new lights flanked the front door. I sniffed that it was overkill. Then I spotted the couch. It was positioned under the picture window. My folks never had furniture there. It was always a table of some sort with a lamp of some sort. One always had to have a light in the window. Now there was a couch. Maroon. Unseemly.

We were beyond the house, so I asked Russ to turn around and drive by again. Even slower this time because it appeared nobody was home.

Home. Their home, not mine.

The screened back patio looked empty, but it is Winter after all. Maybe in the Summer they will have parties there. Groaning plates of food brought out from the kitchen to the big table outside. Soft breezes through the walls of screen. Laughter. Scrabble. Coffee.

The bedrooms were closed from view with shades. Shades. Hmm. Interesting concept. Did we have shades? How can I not remember that? It felt like they were telling me to quit spying already.

By the time we got to the corner, just 3 houses away, I felt the loosening of ties. I had grown up there and now someone else's life will be tied to that place. To the groaning basement, the distant sound of a freight train in the night, the slight uphill climb on your bicycle that turns into a free ride in the wind when you go back. They belong to strangers. I hope the house welcomes them. I wonder if some little piece of my life..a scrap of a note, the back of an earring, will turn up when they sweep making them wonder where that came from.

I may never have cause to turn on to that little dead end street again. No need now. Nobody, no thing awaits,

More than ever, I feel the shift of change, of loss, of fresh starts.

Just a house, after all. Rooms, walls, floors.


Monday, February 13

good morning starshine

It is hard not to think about Whitney Houston today. It was all over the news and the grammies yesterday and today. Snippets of her singing come out of the TV and radio at all hours. People start the inevitable second guessing about what drives celebrities to self destruct, as if they all do. If, indeed she did.

I watched the news coverage of the red carpet at the Grammies last night. The chosen walk up to a area with the appropriate backdrop and photographers at the ready. They strut and stop, pose, practiced smiles that don't always reach the eyes. And the flashes are like strobe lights, like the northern lights, like lightning, like starshine, blinding. How do you not lose yourself in that white light? How can you stay real? I'm amazed that so many do.

I have groupies. Most folks that exhibit at art/craft shows have some. People who love you, love what you do, wish they could do it, want you to teach them, want to come to your studio and watch you, take your picture, yaddayadda. I only have a few, but they always show up and assume I know them as well as they know me. Sometimes I do, sometimes, I have to talk to them for a while before a memory gets jogged. I accept their praise, their affection, try to believe I deserve it but it always makes me a little uncomfortable Like I am a fraud about to be discovered, I dunno. But I digress.

After a groupie takes her leave, compliments dispersed, package in hand, I feel a little happier, a little brighter. It builds me up, makes me remember why I do this. There is a spring in my step, a sense of being in the sunlight. I am an artist. Take that all you people who walked in took a quick look and left without a word. Humph!

Now multiply that by a million, a billion, a gazillion! Add magazine covers and TV shows. Become a household word. What does that do to your head? If a sweet woman in a "hello kitty" sweatshirt can put a spring on your step, put sunshine on your face, just imagine. Incomprehensible.

Maybe drugs dim the burning sunlight just enough? Never been much for drugs, myself. I have trouble taking the ones my Doctor prescibes. But maybe?

There have been times in my life when I have envied the success, the money, the beauty , the poise, the life of others. Not any more. We all find our own sunshine in the end, our own light. I am not destined to find mine on a red carpet, in front of a backdrop with hundreds of photographers calling out my name. I'll take the little white tent, diffused sunlight through its plastic windows, the occasional, whispered, "beautiful" as someone touches a finger to one of my creations.

It is enough. I wish I had always known that it was enough.

Saturday, February 4

making home

There are several reasons why I haven't blogged lately, but mostly it is because we are finally tackling the house. It is pathetically easy to let things go. You stop seeing the need for a paint job. Clutter becomes accessory. The "thing" that was going to be in the dining room for just a weekend becomes invisible. You need something to spur you on, a light needs to be lit above your head. For us, it was new appliances.

I was not about to put gleaming, new stainless into a drab, cluttered kitchen. Once you start, the job mushrooms. I see you nodding your head. So, we painted and re-organzed and cleaned and repurposed and the kitchen is lovely now. Which makes the rest of the house look like crap. So, on we go.

Of course, since this is really a blog about life as an art show artist, I must mention that this is also app season. I will skip my usual rant about why we need to apply for an August show in January. As long as they don't cash my check in January, we can all get along. Because this is also supply-ordering season and studio-cleaning season and tax paying season. I get a little protective about my modest cash supply.

Speaking of supplies, I have caved and ordered some address book text blocks from my bookbinding supply place. And diaries and wine journals. There was a time when I designed and printed my own pages for these things, taking pride in my clever wording and font choices. Nobody noticed, of course. There is a truth about this art business that takes a while to absorb. That is that some of the little things you do, things you are smug about, proud of, nobody notices. I had a knee buckling epiphany some years ago when a fellow artist who also helps run one of our best shows made the off handed comment that the jury had no clue that I made my own paper. Whoa. I had identified myself as a papermaker who used her own paper to make books and stuff. What I learned was that it was my "stuff" that was getting me into shows, not the paper. It was disappointing and a relief at the same time. It freed me to go shopping for amazing papers from all over the world. It opened up a whole new design esthetic. And it freed me from hours over the vat.

I started making photo albums using text blocks from Italy that are already spaced and made of the same quality stock I would choose. And they have glassine interleaves which would have been a real bear for me to do. That allows me to make a classic album and sell it for 25-30 bucks instead of the 50 I would have had to charge if I was laboring over the innards. Win/win. I am still making the book from "scratch". The covers, the case, the design. I get request for address books which would have been ridiculously labor intensive for me to design and print, but I'm going to give them a go with the text blocks. This will be my "new" thing for the coming season.

The studio needs a serious clean up. It always does this time of year. I close the door after the last show of the season and take a month off. When I open the door in February, the chaos is overwhelming. You can see the dash to finish, the lack of discipline. No need to put that tool/brush/paper/glue in a place where you can find it tomorrow. Tomorrow is a month away. I am paying for that now.

So, that's where I have been. My first show is next month. Actually, there are 2 small ones. Then 2 months to gear up for the "real" season.

I hope the dining room is done by then.