Happy 86th Birthday, Dad

My Dad, who turns 86 in a few days, published a book in January. My last blog post was celebrating still being creative, and creating, at age 85. But the beauty of creating at this late stage is that all the years’ of joy and sadness of life are also layered into the art. This is also true of my Dad’s book.

My parents were married for 58 years. And all the events described in Dads book were also a tribute to and love song for my Mom, who passed in 2013. She helped him start the book, but she didn’t see Dad finish it and get it published. Most times that I talk with Dad about his book, he comments that he wished Mom could have seen it published.

So I decided to create an art piece that visually demonstrates The physicality of Moms presence in Dads story. I took my favorite photo of them and created a piece of strip book art on the pages of Dads book. The picture is literally cut into strips and glued to the edge of the pages.

Mom and Dad circa 2005 (?)

I had to use two copies of the book in order to have enough pages to fully incorporate the image and to have enough strength and stability to hold the piece together. But I like to think I needed two books just like they needed each other to have the strength and wisdom to make it through their life together.

The gold button on the ribbon is a reference to old family stories. Though Mom and Dad grew up in the same town, they didn’t start dating until Dad was at West Point. Mom always claimed he was too much of a cut up in high school for her. Dad always said she was attracted to the gold buttons on his cadet uniform.

This is a deeply personal piece. On the surface, it’s a lovely, but perhaps more crafted than artistic, representation of an old photo. It’s when I explain the interconnected meanings of the parts that the depth of the whole comes into perspective. Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you like it.

“World Views” or “Define a Meaningful Accomplishment”

Someone asked me if I ever write down the explanations for my art pieces — what was going through my mind when I created the piece? Sometimes I do. This piece has two possible names. The first one is “World Views.” That was the working name while I was doing the making. My original vision was simply three yin yang patterns stacked vertically to emphasize the repetition of the shape, which I love. The patterns are the same, but the book out of which they are created makes them different. Just as people who seem similar in ways also have completely different (world) views. Then I decided to crystallize one of the books. Because sometimes, people’s world views become frozen, or crystallized. As I was trying to figure out how to mount and frame the three books, I remembered a vintage Atlas that I’d picked up at Good Will. So I created a collage of maps; intentionally choosing maps of the world through different lens’ — climate, geography. I turned some maps upside down. I juxtaposed continents unnaturally. Louisiana has it’s own reserved place in the world. Antarctica is at the top of the image. Then I added origami cranes to suggest migration — of birds and ideas and people. There are 18 of them, though some are hidden behind the books, which is Chai, or Life and indicates blessings in Jewish culture.

Once I got everything mounted and put together, I realized that, at the very center of the image, the words “Define a Meaningful Accomplishment” are highlighted. That also seems like a good title. People have different definitions of what is meaningful. Same word, different perspectives. And for each of us, the definition changes with time and with place. I like this title as well. But I don’t think it fully represents the layers of meaning in the piece.

Sometimes, where a piece finds a final home completes its story. I gave this piece to Robin. Yes, the Robin I wrote about before. Her world views have changed so much. She has grown so much. Robin still meets people whose world views are frozen, crystallized in their own belief systems. But I think, too, what Robin would define as a meaningful accomplishment has also changed through the years. I wish her life and blessings.

When I’m 85 . . .

. . . If I reach that magic number. I’ll be 60 this year, so 65 (cue the Beatles) is a bit too close at hand to be aspirational. My Mom passed at the age of 76, so I also realize that 85 is not guaranteed. But both my Dad, and my mother’s best friend from grade school, have both reached that grand age. And they are each inspirational examples to me of what I could be doing when I’m 85. They are both still creating and putting their creations out in the world. I want to be doing that too when I’m 85.

My Dad has just published his second book. Mind you, my Dad had a first career as a US Military officer. He had a second career as a Human Resources manager. He had a third career as a university professor teaching English literature and business communications. I guess he’s had a fourth occupation as a hay farmer over his last 30+ years in Montana. And he’s an author. Dad wrote his first book, “Ringed in Steel: Armored Cavalry, Vietnam 1967–68” while he was still on active duty and working full time. I remember him closing himself in his study and working on that book evenings and weekends. The first book was published in 1986, four years after he retired in 1982. Now, 36 years later, he’s got a second book out, one that took an equal amount of dedication and passion. He’s been working on this one for over 10 years — he started it before my mother passed. Now in a world of digital media, he’s editing online and writing promotional blog posts.

Roe (Halper) is an artist ( https://www.roehalperart.com ). I believe she has a degree in art education and, perhaps, taught in public schools for a few years. Then, as women did in that era, she stayed home with her children and created her art “on the side.” She’s been teaching art again now out of her home studio for many years and her art has evolved so much over the years. Originally, Roe’s work was very realistic. Powerful, focussed on the human form, on social justice, and on Jewish tradition.

Gradually, her art has simplified movement of the human form down to the most basic lines. The following image is an abstraction of a photograph of a dancer from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

Roe has an exhibit opening at the Westport Library in Connecticut this month, “Orange.” And the work is an explosion of energy and color and sweeping lines. The work is not representational, but it is as powerful and as full of emotions and energy as her work has always been.

It’s tempting to compare myself to them. To count how many careers I’ve had; how many books I’ve written; how many exhibitions have featured my work. I’m going to try not to do that to myself. What I want to focus on is how age has just been a number for these two. They’ve continued to be true to themselves, to embrace their passions, and to share their gifts with the world. They’ve been persistent. So even when it seemed like the world didn’t want to hear them — they continue to insist that we listen.

Laila’s Goodbye

Laila with the portrait of the Pack

When my husband and I got married, not only did we become a blended family of 5 children, we also became a blended family of 3 dogs — Boadie, Batya, and Laila. Laila was the Grande Dame of the pack. The oldest, the calmest, and the most patient of the three. She had the biggest grin. She was also the biggest beggar at the table. And she ate some really disgusting things in the backyard. She tolerated grandbabies crawling on her. She tolerated her ‘fur brother,’ Boadie, licking and chewing on her ear until it was soaking wet. She came to Sunday School so our pre-K class could learn to be gentle with a dog.

Laila was a ‘rescue’ dog, a mix of mostly beagle and something else. Andrew got her as a puppy. Right after he brought her home, he discovered she had only one functioning kidney, which meant she piddled all over the house. They operated to remove the kidney which solved the piddling problem. But during surgery, they left the heating pad she was lying on turned up too high, which caused 3rd degree burns across her back. As a result of the skin grafts and healing, she had a bit of a Frankenstein pattern of lines on her back. Laila was the smartest of our dogs too. Andrew describes telling her to get her leash, when she was a puppy, so they could go for a walk. And when she pulled out all the toys, Andrew could tell her to clean up and she’d put all the toys back in the basket. That was before my time.

Laila Grinning

Laila left us at the end of May at 16+ (human) years. She and Batya were due for their annual shots, but when Andrew took them in to the Vet, Laila had not been feeling well all day. The Vet suggested we bring her home and watch her overnight. Laila ate her dinner, went over to the dog bed in front of the fireplace and didn’t move for the rest of the evening. Before we went to our own bed, I covered her up with a blanket because she was shivering. Usually, all three dogs slept in our bedroom. Sometime in the night, I woke up, positive that I had heard the tags on her collar clinking. I sat up and peered at the end of the bed in the dark. Mind you, I wear glasses, which I didn’t put on. But I saw a dark shadow move across the floor and settle at the end of our bed. The other two dogs were sleeping up on the bed, at the foot. I was relieved and said out loud, “Oh, Laila’s come into the bedroom!” But in the morning when we got up, Laila was still in the living room, on the dog bed, and clearly hadn’t moved. She was not doing well. Andrew rushed her back to the Vet but with COVID protocols still in place, he couldn’t go in with her. His last view was the confusion in her eyes as the technician took her inside.

I’ve waited a bit to write this post as the subject was a bit raw. But I also don’t want to forget, so I write this short story, collect the pictures, and share. I want to remember that sense that Laila came into our room that last night. Maybe Laila wanted so strongly to be in our room with us and the other dogs, that I could feel it. Or maybe she was telling us goodbye.

For Robin

I’ve been thinking about this post for about a week . . . since my last haircut. I’ve known Robin for years. She’s been cutting my hair, I think, since 2009. I’ve seen her go from a large salon to her opening her own business. And have followed her to multiple locations. I’ve listened as she told me her wedding plans. And I’ve listened as she found that her husband was unfaithful and through the subsequent divorce. To be sure, she has listened to me as well — through divorce and re-marriage and raising children and stepchildren. On a hairdresser’s salary, Robin has started nonprofits to build houses and to provide micro loans to the poor in South America. Robin is a tremendously loving and giving person.

Last week, she shut the door to the salon and through tears, told me she’d found love again. But those tears were not happy tears. Her lover is another woman and Robin’s family has a belief system that doesn’t accept homosexuality. Robin was about to go spend a weekend with her mother and was dreading a weekend of hiding who she is and the life that she’s creating for herself.

My own daughter defines herself as Gay or Queer. I remember when she came home from a summer abroad and had fallen in love with a woman over that summer. I think she was terrified to tell me so the “confession” came out in a very direct and blunt manner.

So here is my reaction as a mother — in written words for my daughter, but also for Robin. I am not sure that there is such a thing as unconditional love. But my love for you is as close to that as possible. I want you to be able to share all of you with me. I don’t want to be the person you come to only when you need money. Or when you get an A on a report card. I want you to be able to share your joy as well as the hard stuff. I want to be there when you are celebrating, not just when you are mourning. And when you tell me you’ve fallen in love with a woman, I hear “you’ve fallen in love.” I hope that the person you are gifting your love with understands they are receiving a treasure and that they treat your love, and you, as the gift that it is. That is my expectation of whoever you love, whichever pronoun they choose to use — that they love you wholly and treat you with respect and honor in return. If they do that, then that is enough and that is everything.

Of course, having a job is a good thing too . . . .

Mondays Are Different Now

It’s the second Monday of my retirement. Outwardly, the days are as calm as they can ever be in our house. It’s inside me that I’ve noticed the real roller coaster over the last 8 days. The first Monday — I had a List. Of course, I had a List — of all the projects and types of things I was going to do for the rest of my retirement and I wanted to start out right, right away, on the right foot. I drank an extra cup of coffee in my jammies. I went for a brisk walk. I finished an origami crane project that I’d been holding onto just for this first day. I framed the original origami crane project. I refurbished a thrift store lamp. I was Busy.

1000 Cranes of Covid — Cranes Rising (L), Cranes in flight (C), and Cranes Settling (R)
The original 1000 Cranes — A Mother’s Prayers — finally framed and re-hung
The Refurbished, Thrifted lamp

The second day, I had moments when I was just giddy with my new freedom — Target on a weekday? Oh My! And then moments of sadness or anger. Extremes. By Friday, I was exhausted. I woke up with a migraine and slept much of the day.

In comparison, the weekend was so normal! We grocery shopped, we cooked dinner for the extended family. We took care of chores. I worked bit. The rhythms were really unchanged from pre-retirement.

But here it is, Monday again. I still have that List. But I sat and had that extra cup of coffee again while I scrolled through Instagram. I went for a walk again. The List is different than it was on the job two weeks ago. As before, the List is a mix of things I like to do and things I could do without. Write a consulting proposal. Write a blog post. Create a downloadable file for Etsy. Order holiday gifts. But I didn’t have to go anywhere. I had lunch with my husband. The List is 100% my choice. That’s new. And the timeframe for doing it is 100% my choice. That’s new. And if I want to take a nap or stop and pet the dog, I can. That’s my choice too. The weekdays definitely have a different rhythm to them compared to Before. But it’s okay that Monday’s are different now. I think, maybe, Mondays will get better.

“What do you do when. . . ” Love and Resilience in the Era of Climate Change

I started this blog explaining that one way I had chosen to deal with difficult times was to start folding origami cranes. In fact, those cranes were originally made from the paper liners of sanitary pads . . . symbolic of a Mother’s fears, worries, and tears. Life continues, through unplanned pregnancies, hurricanes, Covid pandemics, oil price crashes and job insecurity. Sometimes we laugh. And sometimes folding a crane just isn’t enough.

What do you do when your adult child’s gender-fluid partner has top surgery to remove their breasts? We sent chicken soup.

What do you do when your autistic adult (step)son calls, not your husband, but you, to ask if he can come to live with you, because his mom is kicking him out? While you’ve got 6 people living in a 3 bed/2 bath rental house and are repairing your own home post Hurricane Harvey. You tell him “of course,” buy a sleeper sofa and crochet a soft blanket for him to let him know he is ‘home.’

What do you do when that same son hands you his sex toy because it’s broken, and asks for help fixing it? I got out the super glue.

What do you do when your son develops his first relationship with a girl, but thinks he might have STD’s from cleaning toilets at Walmart? Take him to his doctor for testing and education on STD transmittal.

What do you say when he then inadvertently texts you instead of the girlfriend asking “so, ultra thin or bearskin (condoms)?” Tell him, “I don’t have a preference, Love Mom.”

What do you do when your daughter’s fiancé walks away one week after going down on his knee in front of her family and his to propose . . . . and she won’t sleep in her own bed because it still smells of ‘him.’ You change her sheets for her.

What do you do when your daughter and her new baby daddy call up to say they’ve arranged to be on the Maury Povich show to talk about said baby daddy’s sexting incident — just to get an all expense paid baby-moon in New York? Well, that response was kind of unprintable . . .

What do you say when that same daughter, now with two kids, for whom you have just bought a gorgeous white wedding dress, calls to say the only job she can find is as a sales clerk at an adult lingerie and sex toy shop? Tell her “Call your Dad!”

Mom’s Day on Father’s Day

For an inexplicable reason, this year, my Mom was with me for Father’s Day. Maybe it was because it would have been my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary that day as well. I felt her presence all day. First, I decided that I wanted to make her German Potato salad. I found the recipe tucked in my old recipe file box — the one with the lid coming off that survived Hurricane Harvey. I’d hand-written the recipe down on a scrap piece of paper while I talked to her on the phone, and it is complete with illegible shorthand like ‘pot’ for potatoes. The potato salad was great though, just like I remembered it!

Then my youngest daughter decided that, along with the flourless chocolate cake she was making, she would also make whip cream from scratch to top the cake. My Mom always made her own whip cream. It was a tradition at Thanksgiving — after the main meal, we made the whip cream for the pie while the table was cleared. Always using a hand beater. I explained to Devon that, at some point in the really distant past, my Mom had made the whip cream with an electric beater and she’d beat it too long and the whip cream turned to butter. So forever after that, when we made whip cream, it had to be with an old-fashioned hand beater.

But I don’t have a hand beater any more. So we had to use the stand mixer. And I’d made Devon nervous about turning her first attempt to make whip cream, into butter. So as the whip cream got stiffer and stiffer, Devon would call me over, open up the stand mixer and say, “is it ready?” And every time I peered into that bowl to check the whip cream, I felt my Mom’s hand on my shoulder, leaning in to look too. Then, with a gentle shake, we’d both step back and say, “not yet . . . keep going.” I think Mom and I checked the whip cream 4 times before we both nodded our heads, satisfied that what was in the bowl was stiff enough, but not too stiff.

Needless to say, the whip cream was delicious too, the perfect topping for the cakes. I’m not sure how Mom knew that I needed her that Father’s Day more than Dad did. But Mom’s know these things, don’t they?

What is the Difference Between Art and Craft?

As I follow my heart more deeply into this creative journey I’ve set out on, I’ve started to wonder about the difference between Art and Craft. I named this website ‘1000 Cranes Craft and Decor’ for a couple of reasons. One was simply the alliteration of the words Crane and Craft . . . it sounded good. But the other reason is that I have always thought of myself as a ‘crafter,’ not as an ‘artist.’ It’s self-effacing and something I think (without doing any research at all) that women have always done — minimized the things we create out of necessity or in our spare time — as craft with a small ‘c’ rather than as ‘Art’ with a big ‘A.’

But my husband, with his loving eyes, always tells me I’m an artist. When I went to the Haven Conference last year and tried to explain to someone, an experienced decor blogger, what I was doing with my cranes, she looked at me and said “oh, you’re an artist.”

So I’ve been wondering if I am an artist? What is that boundary between craft and art? It’s not necessarily level of skill or amount of time spent on a piece. The cut and fold book art of a menorah, pictured above, is something I’d call craft. It took patience. It took time. It took practice. But it’s from a pattern that someone else created. And in the end, my product looks just like the picture that came with the pattern when I downloaded it. Except that I painted the cover gold.

But my canvas of 1000 cranes, made out of sanitary pad paper? That might approach Art . . . I did get good at folding cranes because I folded 1000 of them. And it did take me a year to finish. But the end product is something that no one else would be able to easily replicate. It’s a thought, an idea, a story, that I can’t provide a pattern for.

I just finished reading the book, The Gown, by Jennifer Robison. The book is a description of the creation of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown in 1947 from the perspective of the embroidery artists who decorated the dress. One, in the end, is a craftsman and the other is an artist. Ann, the protagonist and the craftsman says, “What we do takes a lot of skill, and a lot of practice, but nearly anyone can figure it out with some training. This, though . . . this is different. This is the sort of thing people will line up to see, and when they do it will change the way they see the world, and when they go away they won’t forget it.”

Maybe that definition is too grand. Or perhaps I’m still too self-effacing. I don’t think that a canvas of 1000 cranes will change the way someone sees the world. But perhaps there is not a distinct boundary between craft and art. Maybe the boundary is actually a transition — ‘ombre’ as my husband and I like to tease each other; a gradual blend of one color to another and each color in between is no less special and beautiful.

#quarantinecrafting

My guilty pleasure during this quarantine is crafting. I say ‘guilty’ because the pandemic is giving me an excuse for treasured time to create. The world has slowed down long enough that it’s actually okay to just be. And breathe. In some upside down and backwards way, I feel guilty for not feeling guilty for taking the time to do something that I love. Okay, that’s enough guilty.

I think I’ve been a bit like a kid in a candy store — “ooh, ooh, what shall I try first?” I’ve re-arranged the furniture. I’ve bought new furniture (well, new to me, and it was sight unseen off a consignment store website which is kind of bold, eh?). I’m painting the old furniture. I’ve re-hung pictures. I’ve made bread; and clafoutis; and matzah covered in toffee and chocolate. I’ve gardened. I’ve made more pom poms (of course)!

I pulled out the sewing machine and made masks — from thrifted toile flannel pajama bottoms (really, I only wanted to wear the top).

I made bracelets from leftover fabric and ribbon and embroidery thread and mailed them off to my daughters. (It’s amazing what you can work on during a Skype call if the video is turned off!)

I’m working on my book folding skills. I’ve purchased several different kinds of patterns to understand the different techniques. The Book End guy, at the start of this post is one. That pattern is from SimplexBookFolding. (He’s got an inverse partner who’s up for folding next.) The abstract Yin Yang is another piece, from an excellent YouTube video by Johwey Redington (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWXugfboYvE):

But always, it seems, there are cranes.

I started the quarantine with 289 cranes. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to try to fold 1000 cranes again this year. One month in to the quarantine and I am up to 500. I started folding cranes last year to build resilience. That need for resilience, that need for a sense of creating something concrete, and the zen of having something unobtrusive to do with my hands while my brain focuses on other, less pleasant but necessary, tasks — those needs haven’t gone away in 2020. This year, rather than being folded from panty liner backing, the cranes are folded from the pages of an old dictionary. Words in flight.