Monday, October 20, 2014

Let Hope Live

Originally written 10/09: If any event can be termed "thought provoking," yesterday's Arts Festival for "Let Hope Live," a foundation for the care of children with cancer might get such a fitting title. The setting was pastoral, a family owned produce farm set on a ridge overlooking New England hills donned in fall apparel and fields of pumpkins in all directions. I arrived before 10 a.m. with one jewelry case and one crate of nothing great, but more than anything, I just wanted a chance to hand out cards, promote my business and make a few bucks. The women who were running the festival were beautiful Vikings. Their long blonde hair flowed around faces hardened with the work of running a small business and they were stocky and strong from physical labor. They ran large tractors as well as any male with the swiftness and surety that comes with growing up in the business. And one of them had lost a child to cancer, which is why they had established the foundation. At 11, nobody had driven up the hill to attend the festival. There were about fifteen vendors besides me, set up and waiting patiently. After 12:00, the wind grew more bitter as the dark clouds whipped by. The tent behind me was picked up and stuffed animals flew everywhere. Thankfully, having such a small set up allowed me to fly from the scene as quickly as the wind had kicked up. I was extremely grateful for my gas guzzling beast when I was able to kick it in to four wheel drive and high tail it out of the mushy cornfield the organizers had asked me to park in after unloading. I left the beautiful Viking women behind and considered the thirty dollars I spent a worthy cause for an all too real tragedy in many families that occurs all too commonly. Let hope live.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Looking for Mad Men in All the Right Places

Okay, the gig is almost up and this is the final season of that incredible series Mad Men. It's a well known fact that coupled with a dynamic cast and story line, the show helped spur a trend in Modernist interior design. From the 50s to the 70s, Mid Century designs have found a rebirth in homes and offices all over the country and even current architectural planning has hearkened back to the latter half of the 20th Century. Danish Modern is hot again and Ikea, Crate & Barrel and Pier One Imports get it. But what about the real deal? The stuff that was made in America by Americans in a highly charged Post WWII economy? It's no secret that Americans followed the Scandinavians when it came to style and were very adept at doing so. Major furniture companies hired young, enthusiastic designers who all tried to outdo each other. We hear about Adrian Pearsall, Paul McCobb, et al, but actually finding a piece of these designers' creations anywhere except on 1st Dibs has become next to impossible. For many of us the price tags keep us at bay, but there are places one can investigate to find comparable Mid-Century designs without emptying the coffers. Thanks to the internet, one does not even have to leave home to begin the search. There are the usual heavy hitters like One King's Lane and ebay. Etsy also has some killer Mid-Century stores as well. If you want to save shipping and aren't in a hurry, your local Craig's List is always a good bet. I can't tell you how many times I have scored thanks to this site. True, it was easier a few years ago, before the Mad Men craze hit full stride, but if one is willing to use intuition regarding bad picture taking and incorrect/incomplete descriptions, the treasures can still be found. A couple of years ago for ten dollars I scored a Thonet dinette set in a Danish Modern style based on a partial picture of the chair tops and a sweet black Lab pup which happened to be posing in front of the table. If one wants to get out and search locally, along with the usual antique and vintage shops, thrift stores and garage and estate sales, there is the Salvation Army Store, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Goodwill and City Mission. This past week alone I scored a Broyhill Brasilia (designer Kent Coffey) night stand at the ReStore and yesterday at the Salvation Army, a Lane Acclaim (designer Andre Bus) step end table. Though it would have been better to find these items in pairs, there are plenty of folks out there looking for mates, so they are still very desirable. Despite being saddened by Mad Men ending its television journey this season, I am grateful for the appreciation of Mid Century Modern design it has helped to promote and I will continue, as I hope you all do, to discover the next Modernist treasure just around the corner.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Creating Tacky Furniture

As we all know, tacky, unused furniture can be found in just about every home. It lurks in the recesses of our rooms, hidden behind piles of clothes or stashed in an attic or basement, future Salvation Army fodder. But the tacky I bring to you is something you can do to recreate a piece of furniture you might otherwise discard. All it takes is a little paint and a few tacks to create a design original. I first came up with the idea after I pulled a broken vintage stool from a cellar clean out somebody had left on the side of the road as trash. Along with the stool was a table that had been slightly modified with an extra board added at the bottom for stability. I'm pretty sure it had been used as some type of work bench. Both of these discarded items sat in my cellar for a few months before I decided to do anything with them. It was the find of an awesome primitive bench complete with tack embellishments at a nearby vintage store that led me to upcycle the pieces. First, I repaired the stool and spray painted it a John Deere green. Then I carefully hammered cheap white tacks you can get at the grocery store in the hardware section (the ones that are on cardboard backs) to the legs, but I didn't like the contrast between the white and green, so I spray painted over the tacks. I loved the textured look it gave to the piece. Instead of painting the table, I sanded its original green paint and sprayed with a coat of clear to show off where the wood came through and to give new life to the existing paint. Then, I embellished it with heavier brass tacks. It gave the piece a totally different and appealing look. I knew I had done something right when an interior designer friend of mine purchased it from me to use as a plant stand in his kitchen. I did other smaller stands later and have had great success with this type of furniture upcycling. It's a nice and easy alternative to keeping your tacky furniture in hiding.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Loss of our Dog and Bernadette of Lourdes

Our family dog died on July 6th and my family was devastated. Buster had been what I liked to call our sole source of love and joy for fifteen years. A beagle mix, we had rescued him from the local Animal Rescue at eight months and he never failed to delight us. My son had been visiting my oldest daughter for the 4th of July weekend and was not at home. The partner was at the neighbors and I was returning from the shop with the middle daughter behind me. I was the one who found him lying on the bedroom floor where he often slept. I could go into the whole business about grieving for a beloved pet, but it really isn't necessary. People who love their animals understand the feeling if they've been through it. That was Sunday. On Tuesday, I asked my son, who had returned from his visit to come with me on a picking trip to Canajoharie and he acquiesced. We both felt the emptiness in the house without our dog and needed to get away. There's a little strip of shops on the main drag in Can, a once thriving industrial community thanks mostly to the Beechnut Factory. The factory has since closed and moved to a nearby location and though they did stay in the vicinity, the effects of its leaving can be seen and felt in the little town. Brothers of Industry is run by a couple of African American brothers who seem to have their hands in just about everything. They are nice guys and I've known the one brother for a while since he used to sell advertising for the local Dollar Saver. He now runs the little deli next to the Brothers vintage shop. His brother was not in, but he opened the door to the vintage shop and allowed my son and I to browse by ourselves. There were a few things I liked, mostly vintage fabric and some incredible Victorian cast iron fence post finials, but I didn't find that one stand out item, so I ended up going to another shop, which I knew was more expensive, but the owner's taste is exquisite despite him often smelling of alcohol. My son nearly tripped over a stone garden statue of a woman kneeling in prayer that was sitting in the middle of an aisle at the back of the shop. I looked down and there she was, Bernadette of Lourdes, Patron Saint of bodily ills and illness. The artist had painted her eyes with a tortured longing that was frightening, yet compelling at the same time. I fell in love with the chipped statue and asked the shopkeeper what he wanted for it, certain that it would be too expensive. "Forty-five dollars. I just moved her from the front window and she's extremely heavy and I'm tired of lugging her around." I said "would you consider forty?" He agreed without hesitation and with a hand cart pushed her out to the truck for us, not smelling of alcohol for once and obviously relieved that he would no longer have to move her. She sits on the floor of my shop now, hands clasped in earnest, looking toward some ethereal sight above her. My son didn't say much when we purchased her, but on Sundays when the small businesses on the walkway open up to an outdoor market, he carefully places her in the front of my shop. We still miss our dog so much, but the trip was good for both of us. We connected in a way we hadn't for a while, felt grief and felt hope through the purchase of Bernadette.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Humans of the 518

I seem to go through spurts when it comes to writing and then a dry spell will hit and I completely lose interest or I get bored with hearing myself write. That being said, something or someone will come along that jolts me forward and I am able to write once again. Yesterday, I had the great good fortune of having two high school girls come into my shop. They spent quite a while looking around and sat in the cool boomerang love seat in the middle of the shop and conversed for quite some time. They were cute, upcoming juniors or seniors. Both wore glasses and one wore a camera around her neck while the other sported some blue neon on the side of her hair. I left them alone because they were enjoying what I had to offer and I was pretty sure they didn't have two nickels to rub together. Eventually, they floated out the front door. A little while later they returned and exclaimed "we're back!" Then they seemed hesitant, like there was something they wanted to ask me. I was thinking maybe a summer job, but that wasn't it. "Have you ever heard of Humans of New York?" Of course, I had and a couple of years ago I liked the page on facebook and have been following Brandon's escapades ever since. "Yes!" I exclaimed. "I love that site." The girls continued "Well, we are starting a new page called Humans of 518 and we wondered it you would let us take your picture and ask a few questions. After I had queried them about why, they basically told me that they were doing an independent study based on the HONY page for the summer without a mentor. The 518 in the page title was for the area code for Upstate New York. It was just something they felt compelled to do. This was their first day and they had already interviewed a few people. They seemed shy and hesitant, asking if it was okay to record my answers to questions rather than write them down. I acquiesced and basically told them what my business was about and my passion for art. They departed, telling me that they would be posting their finds that evening and to check it out. Last night I liked their page and I have to tell you I was really impressed. These two girls, who were obviously not your typical teens had interviewed several shopkeepers on my street and had managed to post sophisticated and thought provoking pictures and statements. It brought me much contentment to know that these girls were pursuing a passion aside from the usual teenage stuff and that they were using current technology to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If you have a facebook account, check this new page out. I'm certain you will see what I'm talking about.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Deconstructed Style

I'm always trying to keep up with the latest fads and styles that pertain to my vintage business, so what's trending is what I try to find for my shop. It's more difficult than it used to be since trends come and go as fast as the latest smart phone development. One trend that I have developed a deep appreciation for is the deconstructed look. Deconstructed furniture and accouterments are pretty hot items in the designer field and I've noted that this is especially true out West. I recently wrote a blog about deconstructing a bench that sold to a young designer in L.A. She loved it. And just a couple of days ago a dress form that was beaten looking, having seen better days, went to a gal in Nebraska.
Stripping a piece of furniture down to its basic elements allows one to see its bones more clearly and gives strength and character to the piece. An added bonus is that in a clean, minimalist environment, these pieces become functional sculptures. So I'm gonna keep this look around and I'm hoping it's a style that will stay around for a while.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Remembering my Father in 1969

In the summer of '69 my father sent my mother to her high school reunion and a much needed vacation and was left as caretaker to his seven children ages 3 to 12 in the week that she was to be gone. We, of course, were thrilled at the prospect of having just Dad for an entire week, especially given the fact that he was generally a softy and often gave in to our whims and more than anything, he was a great entertainer both in word and deed. And being free from Mom's no nonsense approach to rearing her children was an added bonus. We went to Timber Lake or Manassas Park to swim almost every day. I loved it when Dad, a former navy man and an athletic one at that, did wonderful jackknifes off the high board effortlessly. Sometimes one of us would "get lost" or wander off the beach to the refreshment area or second hand shop and the rest of us would end up spending more time trying to find the lost one than swimming while another one got lost in the process. Eventually, the loud speaker at the top of the hill would come on and announce a name and request that the parent please come and pick him/her up. One night we took the Ford Country Sedan station wagon to some drive in movies which my older brothers had picked out. Dad had no idea what they were about until we got there ... rated "M" for mature Hell's Angels 1967, Three in the Attic and another one which I don't recall, but we begged him to let us stay and watch. He just shook his head at my brothers who he said had set him up while on the screen a guy was literally being screwed to death in the attic by three women, who had, upon finding out about his infidelity, gotten together and decided to imprison and "punish" him. Dad got plenty of questions from my younger siblings which he managed to diplomatically answer. My brothers were thoroughly entertained. One morning we woke up to eggs benedict and champagne. Dad taught us about French cuisine and fine dining as we older siblings sipped on our thimble glass of champagne and enjoyed our eggs. We finished breakfast feeling like accomplished and worldly adults. When Dad wasn't trying to figure out where everybody was or figuring out how much money we had managed to swindle from him for candy and trinkets, he would tell wonderful stories about his youth or stories about history. As we didn't live far from Washington, D.C., he took us on trips to all the historical buildings and was our personal tour guide. It was a fun filled week and by the end, I'm sure my mother's return was never more welcomed by my father. I'm also pretty sure he had a greater appreciation of what she had to deal with on a daily basis and I also remember it as one of the best times I had with my Dad while growing up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Woo-Hoo! It's National Running Day!

I went for a nice run this morning without knowing that it was National Running Day. Wow, it's kinda like "I'm a poet and didn't even know it." Anyway, for this middle aged gal, it was no easy undertaking. I just started running again after taking a hiatus last September. Between my partner's health problems, trying to run a small business that requires hours on the computer and physical ailments from years of running abuse, I was ecstatic to finish two and half miles without the bands on the side of my knees kicking out. I even managed to do a sprint interval for about a hundred yards without leaving my pelvic girdle on the ground. There was a time when I kicked ass at running and had these crazy dreams about making it to the Summer Olympics. The year Carl Lewis was jumping (1996?) I was in top condition for a 38 year old. I was cross training and fit as hell. One of the best compliments I remember receiving during that summer was running down a main street towards Union College campus and a group of folks were sitting out on their stoops. One black man observed "That's how I wanna look!" In that moment I felt I had transcended race and gender to become somebody to aspire to, somebody whose hard work to develop physically was being appreciated. It was also during that time period that the Orthopedic surgeons told me that degenerative arthritis was setting into my right hip and that I shouldn't be running any longer. They suggested swimming or biking. But if you are a runner, then you will understand why I couldn't, wouldn't stop. I ran continuously for years after, suffering through iliotibial band syndrome, achilles strains, hip and back aches. After I resigned from teaching and started going through menopause, it was harder for me to get out there like I had since I was fifteen. Life just seemed to get in the way and I found myself running less and less. My son told me the other day if I couldn't run anymore, then I should take up biking, following his suggestion with a politically incorrect comment about wearing a helmet and laughing. His wise ass comments hit a nerve and I became determined, damn my age and my problems and started running again last week. The first couple of days I could barely make a mile, thanks to my bands. But today, I was back and I felt it. I can't run every day any more, but I am working on an every other day schedule. Now all I need to do is to start a new sneaker fund for myself cuz my sneaks are shot and my arches are killing me!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ruth Faktor, Israeli Artist to Watch

Anyone who reads my blogs at all knows how much I love art, be it visual or literary, so when I spend time picking the local thrift stores and City Missions, that's where my eye leans. Yesterday, I had the good fortune to pick up a ceramic wall plaque created by Ruth Faktor, an Israeli artist whose studio is set up near Tel-Aviv. She studied sculpture and modern art at the Ramat-Gan Art School during the 70s and continues her work to this day with her daughter, who is also an accomplished artist. The ceramic tile I discovered features three figures, which represent a small family. The soft earthen colors and the peaceful faces suggest a place far from the violence and uncertainty that often plagues Israel. I am drawn to the balance of the piece. In 2011 Saper Galleries out of East Lansing, Michigan, purchased several of her ceramic plaques and you can find them displayed on the Ruth Faktor page of their website. The tiles depict faces, figures and villages, a collage of earthiness and simple beauty. It's picks such as Faktor's art that keeps me going in my small vintage and art business. Be on the look out for her work and if you have the good fortune to visit Tel-Aviv, visit her studio as well, as I'm quite certain you will be taken with her creations.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

19th Century Farm House Antiques

Yesterday, discouraged by a chilly and cloudy day and a lack of sales at my shop, I found myself at the estate sale my friend Tina has been working on with the prospects of a fresh pick and to satisfy my urge to buy more pieces of history. This was for the second sale as the one for the house had already been done two weeks earlier. The owners of the farm had never thrown anything out and the barns and other buildings were littered with items from the time it was built in the early 1800s to the 1980s. Time had made objects a continuum of jumbled piles regardless of age. I ended up staying longer than intended and found myself hoisting my body up to the second floor of a partially dilapidated storage building, using the top of a precariously placed cupboard as a launch pad. The storage space was ripe with mice and squirrel dung, walnut husks and the dust came up in clouds every time I moved a box. Undaunted, I handed down every useful box of canning jars and wine jugs by the dozens to the girls' waiting hands below. It was a scene right out of American Pickers, except this was a girl thing and no guys were on the premises. By the time I got myself down from there(not an easy task, for this 56 year old body is not as limber as it once was) my hair was powdered with dust and the humidity had increased its volume at least threefold. The gals who were putting the sale together were obviously impressed by my feat and I was allowed to cull through the first floor, finding a walnut jelly cupboard and wooden shipping box for cocoa that were both from the 1800s and a servant's fold up bed from the early 20th Century. Tina threw in a couple of signs for selling fruit and a red bucket which said "for use of fire only" from another garage and I was on my way. I got my son and he helped me unload and then in the quiet of late afternoon after I had returned my helper to the house, I cleaned generations of dirt from the product sitting on the middle of the shop floor. It's hard to describe the feeling I get when I am touching something that has been around as long as these pieces have been. I wonder about the original family who created them and how they lived in a world where there was no electricity or running water and where the crops they grew were a matter of survival. The land surrounding the farm is rich with the colors of wildflowers and overgrown orchards and even some bee boxes which still house the honey bearing insects. Wisdom emanates from the trees and the weathered buildings. It's been a good place for me. A very good place indeed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou

I just saw that Maya Angelou has passed at the age of eighty six. My heart sank and I felt as though a friend had been taken from me. I honestly didn't read much of her poetry, but her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has always been one of my all time favorites. I first read it when I had separated from my husband and left him to go on a journey out West with no prospects and a backpack for luggage. Somewhere along the way, I found it, probably at a newsstand in Arizona or California when I needed help escaping from myself and my situation. Eventually, I got my life somewhat straightened out and returned to the East Coast to have my son and reunite with my daughters. The work life started over again and so did the education and I found myself with an M.A.T. in English and with a job at a small high school in an upper middle class suburban school of predominantly white kids. I decided to revisit Maya's story and taught it to a bunch of misfit 11th graders who took to the story and enjoyed it as much as I did. Despite taking a risk with a book which held much adult content and wisdom, my decision paid off and many of the kids wrote about her story in their final essays. The worn paper back sits on my bookshelf along with my other favorites and I've decided it's time to revisit her again. She's one of the great ones, who transcends race, creed and color to remind us of what the essence of being human is all about.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day in My Hood

My partner is a Viet Nam vet and he was one of the few to return to his street, his hometown after a tour and a half in the jungle. He and Billy were the only ones to survive in this neighborhood. The rest never came home and he can remember the parents of those boys being bitter and asking why him and not their sons. It was tough. Even tougher, the Viet Nam vet was not respected the way our returning soldiers are nowadays. The partner was spit on by protesters when he got off the bus and it took him a couple of fifths of scotch a day to maintain equilibrium for a few months after returning. He had to learn how to turn off the killing machine and become human again. For awhile he had nightmares and I can remember him having a few terrible ones the first couple of years we were together. But that faded, though the complications from shrapnel debris in his body never let up. He went to the V.A. hospital more than once to relieve the fluid build up on the base of his skull due to the metal frag located next to his spine. Then that passed, too. Another decade later and the frag was surrounded with abnormal tissue that eventually became bone cancer which spread to his skull and part of his jaw had to be removed. He was still handsome despite some of the jaw bone loss and he survived that, too. He never wanted to join the VFW or any other veterans' organization. Said he didn't want to be reminded of something he had tried so hard to forget. He lost a good friend in Nam, Red. Found him skinned out after they had gotten separated on a night patrol. They were Special Forces and after that, the partner stayed another half tour to avenge Red's death, only going home after it was determined he had done enough. Sometimes he will tell stories and those liquid blue eyes will leave the room when he does. What bothers him most is memories of the children he tried to save. Mostly, he just chooses to live a day at a time and is thankful for the time he has had, despite suffering from another form of cancer. And every Memorial Day I give thanks that he is still here and that we have been able to spend the past twenty five years together in relative peace.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Should You Wash Your Jeans?

According to the latest skuttlebutt, Levi CEO Chip Bergh says he never washes his jeans in an effort to conserve water and keep them in "mint condition." While I understand the necessity of conserving water, I wonder if Mr. Bergh has any sense of history about why jeans were created in the first place. The original intent of jeans was for the working class. I believe they were popularized in America via Levi Strauss when folks started gold mining in the 1800s as apparel one could wear that held up to hard core labor and that were comfortable. My partner's jeans come home caked in dirt and mud and grease after a day of driving for a landscaping business. And what about all those hard working moms out there, dealing with infants who spit up, poop and pee regardless of where the stuff is going to land? Imagine wearing those same jeans day after day, removing soil by "spot cleaning." In the 1970s my brother passed on a pair of authentic orange tag bell bottom Levis to me after he had outgrown them. They had gone through several washings, were soft and had plenty of tears, especially in the knees and butt. Eventually, they became a series of holes that I artfully patched for an Art class project, receiving an "A" for my effort. Had it not been for the fact that I gained a few inches and could no longer fit into them, I would probably still be patching them. As it is, I sold them on ebay for a premium, stuffing a few extra patches in the pocket for the buyer's future use. And what about all the commando types out there, who choose not to layer their private parts with underwear? I shudder to think. I've decided Mr. Bergh doesn't have to wash his jeans because he dons a new pair every day. Heck, he can afford it being a CEO and all. But for the rest of us poor folk, it's a good washing that keeps us wearing and enjoying the comfort of a pair of broken in jeans. It's one of the things that makes being part of the working class enjoyable. So much for "mint condition."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Uncovering the Nude Woman

Art is a loosely based term for all types of creative endeavors. I surround myself with art. My shop is filled with the works of mostly unknown artists who have poured their souls out onto canvas or paper or wood or metal. Last weekend I helped my friend Tina with an estate sale. Out on the summer kitchen of the 1805 house a picture of a blonde nude hung. It was huge and filthy and it appeared it hadn't been touched in years, neglected and relegated to the back of the house. Tina and the girls who helped her organize the sale laughed at it and talked about how awful it was. They didn't even price it, figuring it was going to end up in the garbage. Of course, when I saw it and inquired about it, they thought I was joking. I defended my position, saying that it looked a bit like outsider art, but it was probably an art project, something raw. I told Tina I wanted it if it hadn't sold by the end of the sale. Sure enough, on Sunday Tina called to inform me that the painting was mine though she still couldn't see what I saw in it and that she had left it on her back porch for me. I picked it up on Wednesday and brought it back to the shop. After a meticulous cleaning, she sits in my store, an unschooled nude with a sort of mystique that compels me to look her way. Art is what saves me. It always has and it always will.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ode to Evangeline

The ACHIEVE program was grant funded and run through first the local YMCA, then the local community college.  For two brief periods in my teaching career, I taught in the program, pretty much as poverty stricken as the students I served. 

In the early 90s there was a grant run program I taught at briefly entitled "Latimer," an after school enrichment program for at-risk elementary students on the Hill, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city.  When my growling '78 Cougar turned the corner of Craig Street, I was met with drug dealing well wishers holding up blunts for sale, thinking I was a potential buyer. However, after seeing me a few times head for the little three room school house next to the community center, they relegated themselves to their front porches and eyed this paper white blonde woman with curiosity. 

Sometimes I would bring my middle daughter with me as she enjoyed the company of these raucous peers.  We cleaned and organized the little classroom, taught reading, helped with homework and, in short, attempted to escape from a world of harsh realities.

Evangeline was my favorite, a fourth grader with anger issues the size of Mount Vesuvius.  She was big for her age and made her presence known to the other students, either whacking them when they displeased her or vocalizing their inferior traits to humiliate and control.

I soon discovered that Evangeline, who was always in trouble at school, responded positively to my presence, and I even allowed her to play through my hair with her sticky fingers.  Instead of punishing, I praised.  Instead of rejecting, I accepted.  She became my daughter's protector and guide on the streets outside of the classroom.  She told her "I got your back."

I finished that session and never returned to Latimer, though I was asked more than once by the director to substitute.  I asked him how Evangeline was doing and was told that she had psychiatric problems and hallucinated during class.  Later, I was told by her cousin that she had done prison time, but had a child.  One day as I was walking downtown, I saw her with another woman.  I knew it was her because she still wore that same hard and angry look she wore as a child.  However, she had never grown much after fourth grade and now appeared short as a fully grown adult.  She didn't recognize me as she walked past, but I heard her say to the companion "I like her shoes."  I didn't say anything, just kept walking.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

H is for Heroin

If you are a writer, you are always looking for fodder to keep the reader interested. In going back through my diary of four years ago, I came upon a passage describing a brief scene I encountered while my daughter Meghan and I sat on her hospital bed in the hallway in the Emergency Room. It was just another one of her many visits to the hospital for mental breakdowns, but that particular time the place was hopping, so we didn’t even have a room. There was a young girl in her late teens or early twenties in the bed just in front of Meghan who was writhing in pain with her mother standing over her and trying to comfort her. At first I thought she was having appendicitis or something, but quickly realized if she were that sick, she wouldn’t be in the hallway of the emergency room. It turns out it was her birthday and she got loaded up on smack just before she went to the birthday party her mom had put together for her. The load was bad, so she was in agony. She puked her birthday cake out in front of us and the male nurse who was in charge of the hallway apologized for not being able to keep us from being directly in view of the onslaught, then went to get her some medicine. He took his time getting it for her and while she was whining and crying, he asked her “are you ever going to do heroin again?” Of course she said “no,” but I saw her mother’s agony and knew that this was an ongoing battle and I also realized that for this woman, it probably wouldn’t be over soon. I thought about the girl, a beautiful one at that, making a conscious decision to become a heroin addict and my Meghan, who through no fault or choice of her own was on a similar journey and I also thanked God that my children had never made decisions that would purposely destroy them and cause a mother’s terrible heartbreak. There are always worse situations out there. One must remember that. Again, I have shelter, clothing, food and peaceful surroundings. Taking a look at the rest of the world, I realize that what I take for granted doesn’t exist for many. The Middle East, South American and African continents are fraught with conflict and wars, children lose parents, parents lose children, post traumatic stress is normal and the oppressors lose their souls to power and greed. There’s a show on TV about people who try to save whales from Japanese whalers and the head of the operation stated something that often rings true about humans “we as a species are insane.” Even the whales know it as they look at us through pitying eyes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Beauty of the Morning Routine

I have this routine I go through every morning. When I wake up, I wonder what the weather is like outside. Is it sunny or cloudy? Generally, I start out on a happier note when the sun is out. Next I pry myself from the bed after listening to the news the partner left on before he went to work. Then I turn on the burner for the tea water and with my first cup of green tea, I head for the computer. It's the smartest piece of technology I own. I still have a dumb phone and I don't even own an ipad. As much as I would like these modern conveniences, the computer has pretty much become the focal point of my life and I'm afraid of what mobile devices might turn me into. I use it to blog and for my on-line sales. Which leads me to my next step. I check my e-mail to see if any sales occurred while I slept. Then it's on to e-bay and etsy and facebook. Finally, I create a blog or "bliary" which I choose to publish or not publish. If I don't feel like writing on a particular morning, I go back through four years of previous writings and pull from them. It's a nice stash to rely on. It used to be I wrote every day without fail, but things like my daughter's mental illness, my partner's cancer and the stress of trying to keep a small business afloat got in the way. By and large the body of work from the past appears to me as drivel now, but that's okay. There are kernels of thought sprinkled here and there that I can go back to and develop. I can also look out the window in front of this desk and see the changing of the seasons. Today is cloudy and the maple tree in front hasn't even begun to show signs of life. Just before I sat down, I saw a red cardinal sitting on a branch. I tried to get a good picture of him, but he was too far away. Next I saw his mate land where he had been. I love birds and even in this ruinous end of the city where houses sit partially decayed and unkempt by unscrupulous landlords, the birds visit and make everything seem better. Technology be damned, the sound of birds in the early spring can still stop me in my tracks. I'm happy for that. I really am. So that's it. My morning routine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The world is shapes and colors.  I used to teach a lesson about  synesthesia.  I found an article in U.S. News and World Report years ago on the phenomenon of synesthesia.  It's rare, but in some individuals, when they experience one sense, another comes into play.  Many artists and musicians have it.  For example, when a young man heard a car go by he saw dots.  When a girl kissed her boyfriend she saw orange sherbet foam.  When a woman heard her husband's voice, she tasted warm buttery toast.  According to the researcher in the article, all the secondary senses involved in the experience are primitive.  W. Kandinsky paints to sounds.  The colors and images come from the sound.

My first car was a 1978 Mercury Cougar, a gas guzzling beast.  I loved that car.  When my son was little and the muffler fell off, he used to say "go fast Mommy" so he could hear the roar.  I'll bet a synesthete would have gone nuts if s/he had heard that monster flying by.  Gray, red, purple, black dots -- the speed of sound.  What a light show

I wish I saw dots when I heard the sound of a car passing by.  Big polka dots, red and black, like the ones found on old Fire King splash proof bowls.

Now about that synesthesia article I mentioned earlier.  According to the article, most of the people who experience this phenomenon are considered drug addicted or insane.  People don't believe them.

I'm refinishing a pair of 1940s hard rock maple kitchen chairs today.  They will be transformed from cornflower blue to candy apple red with the seats stripped to reveal the beautiful grain and patina of the wood.  How soothing it is to look at them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Smiles, Miles and Miles of Smiles

Years ago, when I used to attend the little Italian Catholic church up the street, known as St. Anthony’s, there was a family I often saw while attending.  They were Italian, a mother, son and identical twin daughters.  I assume the father had left or died early on because I never saw him.  This family was particularly devoted to church attendance and the girls were altar servers. They both had long, dark curls that hung in tendrils around their faces, but what struck me most about this family is that they never smiled.  I never saw them crack a smile the entire time I encountered their presence.  The children wore the same melancholy and stern expression that their mother wore.  I never saw any joy come from any of them and it always made me sad.  I wished many times for some sign of happiness to show on their countenances.  Years later I heard that one of the twin sisters had married, while the other had become a nun.  The brother I occasionally see at Wal-Mart where he works and he still wears that same somber expression.  Today, when I went to the post office to mail a package, the married twin sister and her mother were there waiting in line ahead of me.  A little toddler scrambled in front of the line and I realized that he belonged to the somber woman whom I had watched grow up in the shadow of her mother.  I kept waiting for her to react to her baby’s antics and when he scooted too far away and looked back at her inquisitively, her face broke into a smile that would have shamed the sun.  I was so happy for her.  As the grandmother and mother were leaving the post office together, they both turned to the child and once again I saw not only the mother’s face light up, but the grandmother’s as well.  I waited for years for smiles to appear on those faces, and today I got my wish, though I didn’t even know their names and I don’t think they remembered me from church, either.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Love Me?

Do you love me? I often wonder what the ulterior motive is when this question is asked. Is it a selfish question from a needy and insecure person meant to put a significant other on the spot? Is it a need for affirmation in a world that is often unkind, cold and distant? Should it even be asked? Yes, I love you even when I hate you, even when I am at my wit's end and no longer want to be around you. Compassionate people cannot help but love. Sometimes, the compassion is torn from us when we are very young and we are unable to get it back. Sometimes we are born without it. Sometimes our pre-conceived notions and personal trips prevent us from compassion.
Many years ago I used to substitute teach and would often find myself in a small Resource Room in an elementary school working with special needs kids. It was difficult work and the kids were hyper and I was bored, finding the task of keeping them under control mundane and stressful. One little black girl named Christine took a liking to me and would worm and wiggle around me and try to play in my hair and practically sat in my lap if I let her, telling me I was pretty and that she loved me. Christine grew up, her emotional problems following and I would see her walking the mean city streets, often times alone or sometimes with others. A few years back she came into a shop I had rented space from, her clothes tight on a swollen body and her thick hair dyed blond. I asked if she remembered me. She beamed over the fact that I still knew her name, her smile exposing a lack of several teeth and said that she did. She told me she had several children, though I had never seen her with one. When I asked where they were, she said they had been taken from her. I sold her two beautiful glass necklaces at half price and watched her walk out the door and I wanted to call out "do you still love me?" But I didn't. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? On this 7th day of April, 2014, may we all be blessed with love.