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.

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!”


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.