“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.

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.

#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.

Book Art

I really am a book person. I love to read. (I want to write — I’m starting small-ish with this blog.) I find that very often when I’m drawn to art, if it’s not related to Home, the written word or books are involved. So, no surprise, the idea of creating art out of books really captivated me.

I started experimenting with the shapes and textures that I could create with just the repetition of very simple folds. There’s no pattern involved. As with making 1000 cranes, I just folded the same thing over and over again. The first one I made looked like a stacked cones. I marked the middle of the length of the book with a pencil and then folded the top and bottom corners of each page down until a point was formed at that middle marker. To keep the folds neat and lined up, make sure that the start of the fold is as close to the binding as possible.

I wondered next, ‘what it would look like if the shape was inverse?’ I alternated pages, folding one corner from the top down and the next page, folded the corner from the bottom up. I got ‘crazy’ and stacked the two shapes — gluing them to the back side of a canvas rather than the front. Just because I like the rawness and the wood and the staples framing the books.

The fun thing about this project is that no pattern is required. You don’t need a ruler. You just need an old book. The art is in the repetition of the folds and then the repetition of the shapes that are created by the forms of the book. My most recent attempt was a simple assembly of 4 of the very first type of fold — the stacked cones.

And then I hid a few treasures between the pages — just like we find when we read a good book.

I’m having such fun with re-purposing books. I think there’s some leftover from long ago sense of wickedness about ‘destroying’ a book — remember when we checked books out of libraries or were loaned school books for the year and you couldn’t mark in them or dog-ear the pages? Maybe I’m assuaging my child-like guilt over destroying books by saving them from the dump and recycling them into art? In any case, I’m still deconstructing an old dictionary I picked up off the kitchen counter at work. It’s turned into flower garlands, cranes, roses, butterflies . . .

Arabic Coffee and a Lesson in Hospitality

These miniature Arabic coffee pots are souvenirs from a time in my life when I traveled often to Doha and Abu Dhabi. Aesthetically, I love the curves of the shapes. I love the history — each shape is typical of a different region of the Middle East. I love the symbolism of hospitality that these coffee pots represent — a traditional offering of strong (an American might think it is even a bit bitter) Arabic coffee offset by sweet dates. The carafes remind me, as well, of one of the most profound lessons in hospitality and cross-cultural friendship that I have been gifted with.

In 2003, when the second Iraq War and the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein started, I was managing several teams of geoscientists, a number of whom were expatriates living in Doha, Qatar. While the air base the United States was using was located in the desert outside of Doha, Baghdad is 1130 km away. My company deemed that it was safe for my staff and their families to stay in place in Doha and therefore, I reasoned, it was safe for me to travel there to provide career advice and moral support.

My normal flight into Doha was on British Airways out of London and usually flew over Iraqi airspace — not possible at this period of time. So the commercial flights landed on Cyprus, refueled, and then took a longer route around Iraq to get to Doha. The approach and landing in Cyprus was dramatic — quite abrupt and quite steep.

photo by Alex Sergeev ‘Approach to Sheraton Hotel at Sunrise’ (www.asergeev.com)

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, pictured above, which is lovely and has an iconic pyramidal architectural shape. The hotel, no surprise, was almost empty except for journalists. The joke was that the journalists were posing for their live reports in front of the blowing palm trees of the Sheraton hotel — 1100 km away from the actual conflict.

One morning, on my way down to breakfast before going in to work, I rode down the glass elevator with a British woman and a Qatari gentleman, dressed in his traditional thobe (the white, coat-like garment that Arabic men wear) and Arabic head covering. The woman was chattering to me about how nervous she was being in Doha during the conflict and how ‘difficult’ things were. I was nodding politely, just listening. As we stepped off the elevator, the Qatari gentleman, who had not been part of the short conversation, turned to us both and, in perfect English, said “You have nothing worry about, you are guests in our home.”

It didn’t matter if we were American or British, male or female, Muslim or not — we were guests. And the most important idea this gentleman wanted to communicate to us was that because we were guests — his guests — and the rules of hospitality over-rode everything else that might be going on in the world.

I think this memory is one of the strongest of my time traveling in the Middle East. I was treated with as much respect there as I have been treated traveling in former Soviet countries, Southeast Asia, West Africa, South America, or even in the United States. My home is decorated with momento’s from my travels. Those Middle Eastern momento’s, and the memories, are treasured. In fact, the very first oriental rug (the rug is actually from Kashmir) that I ever purchased was from a shop in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha. Along with the coffee pots, my rugs survived Hurricane Harvey.

The Importance of Pom Poms

I’m not sure that Pom Pom’s really are all that important. But they are whimsical and slightly irresistible. Personally, I treasure the bits of whimsy in my life given the stress of real world work and family commitments. Pom Poms seem to be having a Moment in the the home decor and DIY community too. Which is just fine with me. During a last minute run to the mall during the holidays, my daughter and I saw the throw pillow on the right and we did the classic . . .’oh I could make that. . . ‘ that all crafter’s are prone to do. Of course, by the time we bought the yarn, the pillow, and the professional Pom Pom making tool, we probably could have just bought the pillow in the mall. But the result is the picture on the left. And an opportunity to share how easy and fun and soul-satisfying making Pom Pom’s is.

We found our supplies at Michaels and the Pom Pom making tool is manufactured by Clover . . . it takes about 2-3 minutes to make a Pom Pom and little to no concentration. You unfold the ‘wings’ on the tool, wind yarn around each side in turn, and then cut the yarn along the split between the ‘wings’ of the tool. Using a piece of the same yarn, run that piece around the split between the two halves of the tool, tie as tight a knot as possible and then open up both wings and pry the tool apart to extract a finished poof ball. Very satisfying. I made about 25 of the Pom Poms in two sizes. The hardest part, honestly, was figuring out how to attach the Pom Pom’s to the pillow. I tried gluing them on, but they didn’t stick very well and I wasn’t happy with the hard spots left by the glue. Ultimately, I sewed the Pom Pom’s on — it’s easier to sew them on if you start from the center and add on towards the outer edge.

The Pom Pom pillow is now tucked onto the guest room bed — adding a little extra cozy for when the kids come home to visit.

Crafted Giving

This year, during the gifting season of Hannukah and Christmas, I wanted to give all, or mostly all, handmade items. I was largely able to meet my goal; the gifts were definitely a reflection of the creative journey I took in 2019, focusing on re-purposing and re-using found items, particularly paper. I’ve already talked about re-using the paper backing of sanitary pads for my cranes. Oddly enough, cranes only played a minor role in my gift giving though. I spent a lot of time playing with old books — folding pages of books found at thrift stores and tearing apart a give away old dictionary. The piece that took the longest is pictured above — a piece of abstract artwork a gave to my son. The four books are folded in a very simple geometric pattern. In the center is a bouquet of origami butterflies. Hidden in the pages of the books are some vintage pressed butterflies that I found for $2 at a consignment store. Fortunately, my son loved his artwork.

My sister, who celebrates Christmas, received this tree made of paper roses from the old dictionary I found at work. I originally was going to make a set of three trees of different sizes. But the roses took way longer to make then I realized ’cause I had to let the glue dry overnight. And they were glued twice. So, she got one tree . . . Sorry, Jen!

Several gifts were traveled-inspired, as I spent so much time on the road this year. The watercolor looking picture is actually a photograph I took from Signal Hill, hiking around St John’s (Newfoundland) one evening after work. I used the Waterlogue app on my phone to convert the photo to the image above. I liked it so much that I then used Snapfish to print a copy on canvas for my husband and additional copies printed on foam core for my Dad and my daughter.

The gift pictured on the right is another quirky re-use of ‘found’ materials. I take the ‘do not disturb signs’ from every hotel room I stay in. I guess that qualifies as ‘found,’ doesn’t it? The new, different ones get hung on a frame outside my bedroom door in a not so subtle attempt to discourage the kids from coming in (no, it doesn’t work — my stepdaughter didn’t realize they were ‘do not disturb’ signs for a year). Anyway, with lots of duplicates and extras, I created this collage for my older daughter . . . She’s a grad student with a wicked dry sense of humor and I thought she might hang it outside her office.

I did revert to some of my old favorite crafts. The crocheted blanket was a gift for my 4 year old grandson. Once upon a time (before he was born), I had started another afghan for him — the small blue squares — but that one never got finished. I had chunky yarn left over from an afghan I made for Andrew’s Mom and from an afghan I made for my youngest daughter. So I used the leftover yarn and the leftover squares to create something new and soft and snuggly. All while tutoring my oldest son in Algebra. This afghan represents Thomas’ final exam. By the way, he got a C in the class, which was, in my opinion, a triumph!

The gift, pictured on the right above, required me to learn how to use my new sewing machine — definitely slowed me down. I lost three sewing machines in Hurricane Harvey. My children gifted me with a new one for my birthday this past year. With all the traveling, I hadn’t had time to open it up. But Thomas, bless his heart, had bought a boy’s size small Dungeons and Dragons themed tshirt as a momento when his favorite card shop went out of business. Thomas is 6′ 7″ and weighs closer to 300 lbs than 200 lbs. He was not to going to wear this t-shirt. He entrusted me with his shirt and it needed to be turned into a throw pillow for his bed. So, I learned how to use the sewing machine. It was so liberating to be able to sew again!

Cranes did figure in my gift-giving in one small way. I decided that one evening, for Hannukah, everyone would get a gift of homemade peanut butter fudge (Thanks to Leslie @my100yearoldhome for the recipe). I packaged a few pieces for each person in a chinese-style take out box and glued a small sliver crane on each one. It’s the closest I come to a ‘Martha Stewart’ moment . . . unfortunately, the little boxes aren’t all that photogenic. When I posted this photo on Instagram, someone thought they were bugs. Which, when I look at it, I totally get. They do look like bugs.

1000 Cranes – achieving my milestone

The last 10 cranes

I folded the last of my 1000 cranes yesterday. We had talked about making a celebration out of the last fold. But finishing in the middle of studying for the algebra final with my son was also ok. A bit anticlimactic. Being in the middle of the flow of life was appropriate. The journey of folding cranes has ended up being a journey of mindfulness in the middle of the everyday.

I’ve folded most of the cranes while we were studying algebra this year. Or during very long and not very interesting business meetings a long way from home. The act of folding was like doodling on paper or fiddling with worry beads. Keeping my hands busy kept me awake and focused and contributing. It helped me endure a lot of moments that together might have been unendurable. That was the superficial benefit of the journey.

There was the subtle joke that very few people understood – the pink paper that looked so oriental and delicate and that I was so openly working with (and occasionally sharing) was sourced from sanitary pads. So there was a strong element of rebellion, putting the private in public without anyone around me knowing.

The journey freed me as well – to be creative and recognize and embrace how vital that drive to create is to my own sense of well being. I created more this year, beyond just the cranes, than I have in many years. I taught myself new skills, explored new avenues. Gained my first 1000 followers on Instagram. Started this blog.

The year has been every bit as difficult as I expected it to be on New Years Day. The financial burden of other people’s needs has been heavy. And several of the dreams that I tried to hold on to at the beginning of the year are well and truly gone. Early retirement and a house on the beach.

But, I turned my stepdaughter’s vacated bedroom into a retreat for myself. And I found a way to sustain myself. So that simple desire to have something of my own to show for the year has turned into much more. I want to keep going. The completion of 1000 cranes seems to have become more of a milestone than a destination. I need to glue the last 100 cranes onto my canvas to complete my art work. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. But I do have a vintage dictionary I’ve been cutting up. Maybe, once the mother’s prayers are complete, words will start to take flight.