Precarious Unpacking

Are you familiar with Jenga? You know the game where there are a stack of pieces that you pull out one at a time until someone pulls the wrong piece and everything goes tumbling down? Welcome to my world. Nearly three months in and still unpacking. We left a house that was a little more than three thousand square feet, and moved into one just shy of fourteen hundred. To say space is an issue is an understatement. My studio is jammed with books and supplies, and there are still unopened boxes in the garage. The kitchen isn’t even half the size, actually about a quarter of the size of my old one. The weight of “stuff” is upon me. I mentioned Jenga because that is how things are happening around here. I open a box and put a precarious stack of things together, and hope nothing will fall. It’s not that I am being careless; it’s that I actually don’t have anywhere to put anything. As I told Dan this morning, “You know I’m in trouble when I’m happy that I broke something. It means that I don’t have to find a place for it!” We are collectors. (Actually it’s more me than Dan, but this is California, you know 50/50? He owns half, I own half, so he gets half the blame) Thirty years of flea markets and antique stores, and our shared passion for books. He is equally guilty on this one. We love to read, for Dan world events, current events, and history; I have an addiction to design, art, and cookbooks. We built shelves, lots of shelves, but there just don’t seem to be enough. There are bookcases in the studio, one in the guest room, and soon to be one in the very small master bedroom. Then there is art. This one would be obvious because I’m an artist and photographer, as is my daughter, and my son (if he could ever admit it) has a good photographer’s eye. My mother-in-law is an artist, as is my brother-in-law, we love Maxfield Parrish, and vintage prints, photography, and have cool funky fleas market pieces….I think I’m starting to sweat, like I said, overwhelmed, buried alive, frustrated, and unfortunately, extremely sentimental. It makes getting rid of things a nightmare. I look at a box with dread, but then I open it and the “Oh I remember this.”, or the “But the kids made this…gave me this… might want this…”, and then there is, “It might be worth something, we can’t just get rid of it.” Breaking stuff (on accident I swear) takes the decision making out of it for me. I feel an instant pang of regret, followed by an equally joyous moment of elation because I have to throw it out. I’m sure to some of you it would be easy. No room for that old doll? Off with its head. Another antique plate? How many plates can one eat off? Gone! But not me, I remember every piece, every moment. I know that the vintage wooden pillars with the delicious aqua patina were a steal for $35 at the Wheeling, Illinois Flea Market. The guy had no change and I did, so he let them go. The white shabby half column? From a road trip through Ohio with Dan and the kids, the same trip that brought me the reproduction funky, slightly creepy, painted crow with the glass eyes that seem to stare right through you. The four green Depression glass plates that Jessica bought for me, one of the first gifts she bought me with her own money. The little ceramic chef that was a gift from my mother-in-law that reminds me so much of Brian. I obviously have issues. For me vintage pieces come with a former life, a connection to another soul, something that someone cared enough to hang on to, maybe it comes from the desire to have a larger family. Most of our family is in Ireland. No big family reunions, no crazy aunt that everyone giggles about behind her back, no old family home with an attic filled with treasures. For most of my life it was just my parents and my three sisters. When the four of us were married and had eight children between us, I was thrilled. When the kids were small holidays were great. Now I am here in California, the kids have all grown, my daughter lives in New York, my niece currently resides in Nebraska, another nephew exploring the idea of Texas, my sister soon to move to Nevada, and our parents are gone. We’ve gone from a party of eighteen to three, and that is only until Brian decides where he will end up, and then there are two. There is no one in the world I would want to be in a duo with more than Dan, but it does get lonely in our little world…did I get sidetracked? Yes, of course I did. Back to the stuff! The boxes are dwindling. I am finally making some headway, and making some hard choices along the way. We have decided to set aside some things we really love, even if that means they live in a box in the garage for now.

In an earlier post I mentioned the possibility of starting a blog about our new home and the renovations we would undertake. The truth is that the house just isn’t large enough to do that. We have made some changes, significant ones, but I think that I could cover it in about two posts. Some changes will have to wait for monetary reasons, some because quite frankly we are tired, and some because we have decided that this time, in this house, we will take our time and get what we really want. So for now I’m off to the land of bubble wrap and moving boxes, and hope that in today’s game of Jenga I come out the winner.

One final note, our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary was June 24th. Dan’s job made it impossible to go out for dinner. As anyone who reads my ramblings might know, the one thing we miss the most about our old house is our garden.The new garden is a hideous mess of dead weeds and hard cracked ground, but there is just a small bit of a patio. I decided with a little help from Brian to create a little piece of our favorite city, Paris, in our own back yard. A quick trip to the home improvement store for some lattice panels and metal brackets, some rummaging through our stuff, and a bistro was born. We had dinner in the garden, and enjoyed it so much we plan to expand on it. (That will be of course once the Jenga game is completed) A few photos of the “bistro”.

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Starting Over

I spent this morning thinking about my Dad. I still miss our phone calls, but I am grateful that there are no unsaid words between us. I think in many ways his passing was easier than our Mother’s. We had no idea just how bad her health was. She chose to keep that to herself. I suppose like so many mothers, myself included, she put herself last. Unexpected complications from unexpected surgery, and she was gone inside three weeks. It was like a blow to the stomach where you find yourself winded and unable to catch your breath. Dad had his first open heart surgery in 1986, and from that day forward he tried to prepare us all for the inevitable. He planned and paid for his own funeral, including asking the undertaker if he could get in the casket and try it on for size. (He had quite a sense of humor, along the lines of a thirteen year old boy) His health had been failing in the last few years. A bout of pneumonia on New Year’s Eve was the final trigger. His health both mentally and physically rapidly declined. Although there were moments where we thought we saw glimmers of hope, the reality was that he was tired, he was lonely, and he was ready to go. My sister Colleen put it best. She said, ” The selfish part of me wants him to still be here, but the other part of me is glad he isn’t in pain anymore.” I feel exactly the same. The strange thing these days is not having parents. It does feel a little like we are orphans. Not in an Oliver Twist kind of way, but more that no matter how old you are, you still look to your parents for comfort and advice. I think we all want our parents to be proud of us. It’s almost as if we never outgrow “show and tell” from kindergarten. We share new jobs, new relationships, our homes and accomplishments, all in hopes of garnering their approval, a smile, or a pat on the back. As I struggle to unpack and move in to my new home, (I know, still at it. That’s a post for another day!) it saddens me to think Dad will never step foot inside these walls. I even miss the idea of him checking my paint job, and believe me he did. I know that both of my parents will always be with me, I need only to see a soccer ball, a yellow rose, to look at my face, or on those of my children, and I see them both. I also know that they will live on in my heart, although right now that hurts. The anniversary of my Mom’s death is in three weeks. It’s been eight years, and for Dad it is not quite two months. Even as I write this a tear falls down my face. I think that my heart broke when my Mother died; a break that I don’t think will ever really heal. Now with Dad’s passing I think the crack has grown a little larger. Time helps, I know that, but I’m in no hurry for time to pass. I will instead continue to try to make them proud.

I titled this post “Starting Over”, and that’s what I need to do. Between the move, and my Dad’s illness, and funeral, I have been feeling a little lost and overwhelmed. I haven’t touched a paint brush in months, (other than the kind used to paint a house.) I have done a little sketching, but I have really nothing to show for it, so it’s time to begin again. I made mention of restarting another 365 day project, and I still like the idea of it, but unpacking takes precedence. My studio is about 80% completed, as for the rest of the house…Yikes! At best I believe I’m looking at another week or two before I can begin. Time to regain control a little, and do what I was meant to do…ART!  There’s a lot of emotion bubbling near the surface these days. I hope I can channel it into some really good work.

I mentioned Dad’s sense of humor. It often showed itself in merciless teasing of Mom. That’s how I want to remember them, the laughter, the good times, and the love they have for each other. I believe it still exists, I believe God has brought them back to each other, the way they are meant to be.Christmas

Bernie's wedding

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It’s Final

I wrote the following a week ago. Too much to do to sit and post, and now the time is here. As of five o’clock yesterday the house officially belongs to another family. We closed on our new home today. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure. When I heard it was official all I could do was cry.
I look to where a clock once hung; I’m reminded that the time has come. The boxes are packed, the echo of hollow walls sounds with each and every step. The day I had hoped would never come is imminent. I look wistfully out my windows to my garden, my sanctuary, and know now it will belong to someone else. The process of moving is never easy. Memories reside within these walls around me, and now they will have to live inside my mind. It has been a long and difficult road filled with job loss, fear, anxiety, and wisps of hope. I recently said to Dan that it has been like have a bandage pulled excruciating slow from a wound. There is a difference in deciding that it is time to leave your home and having to leave your home. We could have hung on, but we are tired of struggle. I remind myself that things will be better once we are settled, but I think that this wound is so deep it may never close. We are lucky, I know that. There are those who didn’t make it, who not only lost the life they were living, but the four walls that contained that life. My heart bleeds for them. We made it. Through the grace of God, through the love and support of family and friends, we had a house to sell. For that I am grateful. I look for the positive in all of this, and there is much good in this move. I, the one so intimately acquainted with orthopedic surgeons, will be moving to a one story house. I will also be moving to a house half the size of this one. Half the house means half the cleaning. There is also the challenge of a new space. I passionately devoted myself to this home for almost twelve years and it shows. I have loved design since childhood, and now I begin again. That has been the saving grace through the last few weeks. I have begun looking at colors, and redesigning spaces in my mind. I am more than anxious to get to work. The next few weeks bring a new life, lots of work, and I’m sure some nostalgic sadness as well. I haven’t been writing much, too much work to be done, and too many tears. I’m ready to go. This place that I have loved so well is no longer my home, without my things around me it has become a house for someone else. They already love the garden, and have chosen not to paint over my mural, that makes me happy. I wish them well, and hope they have as many wonderful memories here as we did.

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Riley is all set to go.

Lost For Words

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. There is an old saying that silence speaks volumes. That and sometimes there are no words to adequately express the pain in your heart. I had written of my desire to have my elderly father come to live with me. To give a little back to someone who gave me so very much. That won’t happen now. My dad’s condition has worsened. My greatest fear at this point is not seeing him before I lose him. I am living in limbo these days. Our home is still on the market, we have yet to find a new one, I need to be here to sell one home and to find another. That means I can’t go home yet. Stress has become a daily habit.

…I began that draft weeks ago. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever finish it, or even write on this blog again, but here I am. Another of the little voices that reside inside my head has told me that the time has come. Big changes in the last few weeks. To begin with I finally made it to Chicago to see my dad. He didn’t look as bad as I expected, but my sisters tell me that what I came home to was a vast improvement from the weeks prior. It was hard enough to leave him again, I am grateful that he was on the mend when I saw him. He is slowly recovering, but I think sadly will never really be the same again. Though there were glimpses of him as he danced about in his wheelchair when he saw the Irish cookies I brought with me. There were also still trances of his boyish humor as he poked fun at those around him, and also his soft heart as he was more worried about hurting the nurses than himself as they tried to pick him up and move him. There were dark moments as well. Moments where he seemed to forget that our mother was gone and we cried again together. I cannot express my gratitude enough to my sisters for being there with him, for doing an outstanding job of watching over him, and for continuing to do so. I talked to him yesterday. He knew who I was, and he sounded even better than last week when I was there. I am happy for every good moment.

On the other home front here in Temecula there are also changes afoot. Finally having our friend who is a realtor represent us, we sold our home. We have found our new home. It isn’t miles away as we had planned, but here in this little city we have grown to love. In the end we couldn’t find an affordable safe neighborhood in Los Angeles. I’m sure there must be some, we just didn’t know how to find them. I’ve looked at more than one hundred houses since October. I was exhausted, depressed and feeling hopeless. Dan and I talked and realized that neither of us has ever lived anywhere as long as we’ve lived in this house, and that for us Temecula is home. We began to search here but again we left feeling like we would never find “our house”. We had discussed all along getting something that needed a little fixing, but nothing we looked at was speaking to us. Our friend suggested an older neighborhood, and there it was. From the moment we walked in the door we knew it was ours. We left the house and told her to stop looking. Leaving this home will still be bittersweet, but it is becoming easier by the day as we begin to plan for our life in our new home. We are excited at making that house into something special just as we did here. It is half the size, and there isn’t a single stair in the place, my knees are beyond happy.

Meanwhile my pledge to begin art again will have to wait. I am packing, and planning, and designing in my head! We have also decided that as we move on we will document our progress. More than likely in a sister blog to this. I am a great believer in fate. It has been a long time since we’ve had good news to share. Hopefully this will be the beginning of better things to come.

Questions Without Answers

There has been art this week. I am in the middle of something as I write this, but tonight isn’t a night for sharing art. It is a night about questions. I made a piece of art last week. It was a homemade postcard for my dad. It was a simple watercolor encouraging him to get well enough to come to California. Unfortunately that remains to be seen. If you have followed this blog over the last year and a half you probably surmised that my mother’s death wasn’t an easy one. That’s one of the reasons that I have questions about my dad’s condition now. For my sisters and I our mother’s death was a long three weeks of suffering, both ours, our dad’s, and obviously much more so hers. Now it is my dad who hasn’t been well for weeks. In his case it isn’t that he is even close to dying, but that we are losing him in another way. Again I won’t share details, his privacy, our pain. I can say that I am personally questioning why? Why again must we watch one of our parents suffer so much? I don’t have any answers. I only have bewilderment, pain, fear, and of course prayer.

There was another question in my life this week. Not my question, but one of an innocent eight year old who asked me what prejudice means, what racism means. Tough questions. There are of course definitions to be offered, but really no explanations. This is a child of mixed race. He is a beautiful child, a child who has unfortunately known incredible pain in his life far too soon. He is a child that some people might not like simply because of his beautiful warm brown skin. I explained the best I could, but in the end I offered him only this: We are all the same inside, and that I have no answers to why people are who they are. I wish I did. I wish I could offer him more. I wish that I had some magic that could make the world a better place. Maybe I do, maybe we all do, one child at a time.

 

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

So I dared 2015 to keep me down, and as my title states, be careful what you wish for. 2015 took my dare and ran with it.

I did start a few pieces of art, but nothing to post as of yet. Instead after the New Year’s pat on the back for creating something, I find myself struggling to create. New Year’s Eve my sister had to take our elderly father to the hospital. He has pneumonia, and worse yet has been diagnosed with some severe neurological problems. I won’t go into detail, I respect his privacy, but it is never the less a blow I hadn’t counted on. What is even more difficult is to be so very far away from him. I am not in the financial position to go. I have had some offers from my daughter, and one of my sisters to help, but I am choosing to hope for the best. For me that would mean my dad moving here as soon as he is able. I know it won’t always be easy, but it is the least I can do for him.

My dad worked hard his whole life, and he did it all to give us a better life in this country, his chosen home. I don’t know of anyone who loves Ireland as much as he, but he knew there was a better future somewhere else. He left Ireland for Canada, and Canada for Chicago. When he came to this country he talked his way into a job driving a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus. He had never driven one before, but he had a pregnant wife and two kids, and he needed the work. He always told a hilarious story about driving the bus down an alley in downtown Chicago. He was stopped by a police officer who took one look at my dad, who was clearly very young, heard the brogue, knew he was fresh “off the boat”, laughed and let him go. Later he learned a new trade; he became a painter and wallpaper hanger. He was one of the best. For a number of years he was “the painter in the zoo”, at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I have fond memories of days spent there. When Jessica was a baby, my sister and I would bring Jess and my nephew John to have lunch with Papa at the Children’s Zoo. Just a few years ago while in his seventies, he cut in a portion of a wall for me. His normally shaking hand as steady as a rock while he held that brush. He often worked two jobs to meet the private Catholic school tuition for my sisters and myself. My mother worked as a waitress from four in the afternoon sometimes until two a.m. to help fill the gaps. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. Below is a photo of the First National Bank of Chicago, sixty stories high. My dad painted the outside of it, once dangling from its side from a safety harness when scaffolding broke. He was fearless, strong, and would go to the ends of the earth to take care of us. Now he is old, frail, and lost without my mother. As a friend said, “Sampson is lost without his Delilah.” How true.

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So 2015, I offer my deepest apologies. Can we start again? I just want my dad to recover, and to hopefully have him spend some time here with me in sunny Southern California. I have lots of plans to keep him busy, including a few little painting jobs that will hopefully bring back some good memories. I love him dearly, and miss him terribly. For now all I can do is wait and hope, and when the time is right to head to Chicago and bring him back with me.

One more photo from happier times. Dad outside the Lincoln Park Conservatory with Jessica as a baby.

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Get well soon Dad, I love you.

 

The First Day

 

A quick post just to pat myself on the back for following through. I finished the first step in a project last night. I would have posted it then, but my couch and I have a very intimate relationship. It lulls me to sleep if I sit for more than a few minutes in the evening. My first piece for the year. A little something for Valentine’s Day. There is more to do, but I think this is a pretty good start. Accomplished with a little home-baked clay, my fingers, a butter knife, and a toothpick. More to come later today…IMG_2511

A Year Of Possibilities

Happy New Year one and all. Another new year, another new beginning. Another chance to hope for better things ahead. We started out 2014 with Dan still unemployed. We started out worried, yet hopeful, that somehow, someway, better things lay ahead. Not everything came out as well as we hoped. A job that has definitely had its ups and downs, but employment none the less. We started 2014 with no idea of changes coming our way, including our daughter and son-in-law moving to the other side of the country, and our son moving out. To say that 2014 left me adrift is barely hitting the nail on the head. With Jessica and John so far away, Brian gone from home, and from enjoying Dan’s company every day for sixteen months to barely seeing him at all (thanks to a one hundred and ninety-four mile round trip daily commute), I’ve been feeling lost. I miss the kids. I miss Dan, but more so appreciate every day what he does for us. I had hoped by now to be moved somewhere closer, and to be gainfully employed myself, but as we all know life can be the ultimate magic act, taking hopes and dreams and making them disappear right in front of our eyes. I am no longer sure of my place in the world. One thing I have learned in this life of mine is that only I am responsible for my happiness. I think I forgot that for a while. December kept me busy in fairyland, but while my hands were working, my mind was thinking. I don’t want a job. No, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work, but rather that I don’t want to work for someone else. I have all the employment that I need in my hands.  I need to begin filling my time, as well as my bank account, with what I do best. The amount of creative things that I can do is quite impressive (if I do say so myself!) So 2015 I dare you to keep me down. Life, I’m old enough to know the secret to a lot of magic acts, I’ve looked behind the curtain. No disappearing acts this year.

Just before I sat down to write I began my first project for the year. A few months ago I stated that I wanted to start a new 365 project, then my engine stalled (I think it was all the glitter), fairies were occupying my every waking moment. New year, and the holiday rush behind me, there are NO more excuses. Commence the creating. Whether I make it back later tonight with something to show remains to be seen, but I will be working, I will no longer be drifting, I will be anchoring myself to my life’s salvation, art. Here’s to a good year ripe with hope and possibility, and making my life better for myself. If things go as planned you might all just be hearing from me a little more often, and in the process have some beautiful work to look at.

Just in case…one of my photographs from here in the hills of Temecula.

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What It’s Really All About

Merry Christmas to all!

Now that the frantic shopping has ceased (at least for a day), I thought it was time to reflect on what this holiday truly means. I have a very simple story to tell that will say it all…

As you may or may not know, this blog began as a way to force me to focus on my art for a year. I had spent a lifetime putting the needs of everyone in my life ahead of my creative dreams. It worked for a while, but then life thumbed it’s nose at me and the blog became more about my life’s journey. I have however in the process produced a lot of art, and some that I am quite proud of. I hope to return to its original purpose soon. For today I am posting art, it just isn’t mine.

I have never posted the work of another artist on my blog, until today. Last week my dear friend Theresa asked me to pick her daughter up from school. Emily is six. We had a great time together, we made matching poinsettia bracelets out of felt for both Emily and her mom, and with me handling the hot glue gun, and Emily choosing the silk flowers, we created an angel for her bedroom Christmas tree. We weren’t quite finished when Theresa came to get her. As we continued to work on Emily’s angel Theresa and I talked about the holiday. I mentioned that I wasn’t quite in the spirit, missing Jessica, Dan’s long commute keeping his days away from me quite long, and that because we had packed to move I couldn’t find half of my Christmas decorations. Among them my nativity set. Emily left the room and came back bearing a shoebox she had come out of school with. “You can have this.” I opened the shoe box to find a nativity scene she had created in school. I said, “Oh Honey thank you, but I’m sure your Mommy wants this.” Theresa said, “No, she wants you to have it.” I said that I would put it out every year. Emily cleverly pointed out that it was only paper and might not last. I said not to worry. Amongst the many, many art supplies that I own is a small machine to do lamination. This morning I laminated my nativity scene. I will keep it forever and display it with a warm spot in my heart. That lovely gesture from Emily is what Christmas is all about. No UPC code, no brand-name tag, no fancy wrap. A simple white shoe box filled with love from the heart of a six-year-old. You can’t get a better present than that. I bring you my first guest artist, Emily Navis. Have a Happy Holiday.

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Big Changes Ahead

Back from Fairyland. No time to write in the last two weeks, the weeks and weeks of fairy making have left me with a sore shoulder from crouching over, and a house full of sparkle, but I’m not complaining. I made enough money to finance Christmas. I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half, and gratitude for the little things is on the top of the list. We packed up this house months ago, packing much of the clutter in order to make the house ready to sell. I haven’t seen much of my “stuff” in months, and the truth is that I’m not missing it so much. (Although when we went to our rented storage space to get the Christmas decorations I was admiring many of my own belongings. I told Dan I’d like to shop my own storage locker.) We are learning to live with less, and since we will be downsizing that’s a good thing.

It’s been a rather strange holiday season so far. Our son moved out this year, and our daughter and son-in-law are happily ensconced in New York. I found myself struggling for a little Christmas spirit. Brian has agreed to spend Christmas Eve in the guest room, and I am so very grateful for that. This will be our first Christmas without Jessica. Sometimes it seems strange that she is so far away. With all the means of communication available we talk a lot, text almost daily, Facebook, Skype, I even sent her some old-fashioned snail mail. I still miss her terribly. There’s nothing like seeing the people you love face to face.

One of the faces I miss very much belongs to my Dad. He is eighty-two now. I haven’t seen him since September of 2013. Our finances being what they are, and his health making it hard for him to travel, we have been be unable to see each other. I talk to him every day, actually several times every day. He is my first call every morning as soon as I wake, and I am the last voice he hears every night before he goes to bed, and sometimes many, many calls in-between. He knows that I will answer when I see it is him. He is having a harder time remembering things, and suffers from much confusion. Lately he has been having episodes of paranoia. I think his days of living alone are through. Dan and I decided this weekend to see if we can move him here with us. The timing seems right, we will be looking for a new home once this one sells, so I will now be looking for a home that we can share with him. I’m not sure if we can work out all the details, but I plan on doing my best to make it happen. My mom has been gone for more than seven years, and my sisters have been incredible in caring for him. I have the luxury of having a talent that allows me to work from home. I hope to move him from Chicago to California. No more long cold winters, and for him the security of having one of his “girls” around all the time. It will be a huge change in our lives, but one that I feel a call to do. It is the least I can do.

Like I said, I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half. Coming close to losing everything makes you really understand what matters in your life. It’s the people that we love, not the things that we own. Just remember that when you open “stuff” this Christmas.