April 29, 2018

Back to collage

No, its not a typo. Cutting up pages from magazines, adding bits of handmade paper, throwing in the odd bit of ephemera here and there...and gluing it all down without thought into my journal has become the only way I can name emotions too big for me to look right in the eye.  (You can read about my technique, if you call it that, here.)

The other evening, even two glasses of a very nice beaujolais failed to dissolve the massive emotion that was still pushing out from my brain into my eyes. I was desperate. I surrendered to glue stick and my plastic box of clippings.

And 10 minutes later, this appeared.
 The Yiddish alone told me the name of the emotion: I miss my mother. She is here but she is not she any more.

I keep the little Mexican china bowl on her coffee table filled with M & Ms and slip her oatmeal raisin cookies every few minutes. I remind her that I am not just "Mort's daughter," but her daughter, too, and she also had a son. Once. I tell her the weather outside every three minutes.

I love this woman...

But I miss my mother. A lot.

April 19, 2018

The Meaning of Rusty Old Door Latches

The big waves that washed over me last winter washed away my interest in quilting. Instead, they activated my passion for assemblage. I hobbled with Himself through the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a small exhibit of pieces by Joseph Cornell and came home as full of energy as someone on two crutches can be.

I  dragged out our ghost town and Dead Horse Bay finds...and discovered that we have cornered the market on rusty old door latches. I don't even remember how it happened but they turned themselves into elephants.

A strong and sturdy mama elephant....


 A big ole bull papa elephant...

And of course, a baby elephant.
When I finished with this little guy, I started humming songs from Disney's Dumbo.  Which was when I realized that the family was trying to escape from the circus. I used Jude's technique of cloth weaving on pages from an old dictionary and made a platform out of an old frame. I decorated it with equal parts distress ink and spills from my lunch.  And now, I'm getting them ready to leave the Big Top:
 Old bicycle wheel, mounted courtesy of woodworking husband, and pieces of an old Erector Set are a good start, but there's more to go. I am loving working on this, which is pretty ironic considering my one and only experience with a circus did not go well. ( I was five years old and was completely overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of what was probably a Ringling Brothers three-ring extravaganza. The whole family had to leave once people started flying out of cannons.  Cannons? Shooting people out of cannons???? I started screaming in terror and didn't stop till we got left the tent.)

I also went back to a piece I started in an assemblage weekend workshop in 2015.

I ripped out stuff that no longer spoke to me and, if we're being honest, some of the stuff that was hanging by my thread of shoddy technique. I added other objects, including strips of burlap I ripped off a wall of an old miner's cabin. As the piece changed, it felt like my life in its contained form.  
I found an old date book I must have gotten from a flea market and suddenly, my little life became my midget life...and my piece, My Midget Diary:
It needs coils and springs, but don't we all?

I have another piece waiting in the wings for some fine-tooling. The Mama Elephant above is made from the back of a clock we found at Dead Horse.  A bunch of gears popped off and they made their way to the front of the clock. The whole thing made its way onto a wood scrap donated by my favorite woodworker. And when it grows up, it will be The Tree of Knowledge:
Of course, this assemblage stuff really only works if you have stuff to assemble. Not to mention your own personal woodworker.  And that really goes against my entire being (the stuff, not the woodworker. Generally.)  I am just having too much fun to stop and besides, I'm using it up, right?

It wasn't fun at the beginning. As always, I tripped myself up desperately trying to seek out a story and  impose Meaning. But a trip around your blogs and some wonderful You Tube assemblage creators slowly showed me what an idiot I was. Meaning is discovered, not imposed. In fact, creation itself is the meaning. If you're lucky, and if you create honestly, you will discover Meaning.

If you're not lucky, you still can have a blast sanding, drilling, screwing, and painting...and making a dent in your supply of rusty old door latches.
 



April 15, 2018

Riding the Waves



I took a photo of this sign on a beach in Iceland because I loved how it cut right to the truth without a whole lot of extra verbiage. And now, it pretty much explains where I've been for the past 7 months.

When I was here last, I waxed rhapsodic about the medication I was receiving for my newly- diagnosed dermatitis herpetiformis. It eradicated my skin inflammation in just days. In just weeks, it also eradicated about a third of my red blood cells. Yeah, the ones that carry oxygen. My walks with the dogs dwindled to a pitiful halt and climbing up stairs looked like this:


My falling blood count scared the doctor so badly that he even gave me his personal cell phone number. Maybe so he could walk the dogs? 

We stopped the medication and slowly, my community of red blood cells replenished itself. I had looked at my gluten allergy as a prison of sorts, but quickly shifted my perspective. Avoiding gluten is the simple and magical way to keep that toxic pill out of my life.  It is often a challenge and I find myself pouting in the company of other people, but by and large, it falls into what the Manhattanites in Anna Quinlan's new book (Alternate Sides) call: "First World problems." 

I was back to my self by the first week in November and took the dogs to the field to celebrate. Yes, Molly is sweet and petite at rest...
 

 but never forget the 10th Law of Physics: "A Boxer in Motion Stays in Motion." That day, she zoomed around and around the field...

...and straight into my left knee. Now called the Knee Formerly Known as Good. The xray didn't show any break and I was advised to "take it easy." (Only a male doctor could say this to a woman with a straight face.) I limped around with a cane for three months and then by January, went for an MRI, which showed a tibial stress fracture...and with the general overlay of osteoarthritis, a knee replacement down the line. And quite probably, an end to my point-to-point hiking.

So I began life without weight-bearing for six weeks.  And here's what happened in Week 1:
  •  My boss retired and sold her company, so my job of 10 years was over.
  • Himself also retired so that so he could work full time in his woodworking studio. 
  • The contractor appeared almost without notice to begin the major overhaul of the studio, making it completely off limits to the above-mentioned woodworker.
  • The contractor also tore everything functional out of the kitchen (in my wisdom, I had taken a lesson from Congress and attached to my approval of the studio renovation a plan for renovating the kitchen) 
  • My aging parents each took a turn for the worse, requiring two separate trips to the ER. That would be with him and his walker, her and her dementia, and me on crutches.
 Yes, it is definitely the ultimate in First World problems to whine about being confined together in one room all day for two months, unable to eat much besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or gluten-free versions of same) while fighting for control of the TV remote.  But hey, I am a First World gal. And, honestly,  all my jovial recollections don't really do justice to the psychological impact of those big dangerous waves of  accidents and illness, end of careers, and the relentless march of time over my parents' bodies and minds...and my heart. The name of this big wave is, of course, "reckoning with mortality" and it is a tsunami.

So that's where I've been. And the longer I was there, the harder it became to return here.  But the waters have subsided for now. I'm on my feet after a month of physical therapy. I can walk about a mile today, and feel hopeful about tomorrow. There's nothing on my skin except bits of gluten-free oatmeal and dog drool. The kitchen is lovely and the studio just re-opened. We walk the dogs and take a Tai Chi class together. My parents are getting worse, but at least they now have nurses on call in the middle of the night, instead of me.

So I'm back, in more ways than one. 

With love from the First World,
julie



September 24, 2017

My Personal Lourdes

A combination of my desperation and an opening in the Cosmos got me an appointment with the Gods of Dermatology, downtown in the clinic at Jefferson University School of Medicine.

I am serious about the Cosmic Opening. After getting an appointment in August for sometime in the end of September with an Unnamed Source in the clinic, I felt a strong tug on Monday, August 27 and went to the phone. I dialed the clinic to see if there were any cancellations and for no really good reason, the Office Administrator happened to answer the phone. I replayed my monologue about scratching myself into small julienne strips.

He listened and said, "Well, lucky for you, I am the only person who can override the computer." And he put me in on top of another patient (no, not literally) for two days later.  Downtown Philadelphia  is an hour train ride away and, because of the train schedule, I got there 30 minutes early, thereby beating out poor unsuspecting Patient Number One. They took me back into what turned out to be my personal Lourdes.

After the usual monkeying around with the well-meaning resident and medical student,  both of whom were young and uber-fit, in walked the most Zen physician I have ever met. In his 60s, Asian, kind eyes and portly-ish frame. He silently inspected all the julienne strips and calmly sat down.

In the most kind and sage way, he then walked the resident into a Socratic inquiry. (Remember, this is a teaching institution. Patients are Lab Rats with Insurance.)

"The key finding is that the rash is symmetrical. What does that suggest?"

I didn't even realize that, and I've been scratching at myself for four months.

She offered a possible diagnosis. He countered: "But why would that be symmetrical?"

She demurred. It went on for a few rounds. .

Being a former medical writer, I jumped in. "How about bed bugs?"

"Why would that cause symmetrical bites?" 

"Umm...well, because mine are very well organized?"

Me and the resident surrendered and Dr. Zen said two words: dermatitis herpetiformis.

I only heard "something-something HERPES." But that was just a red herring. He explained that this disorder is a skin manifestation of (cue trumpets): gluten intolerance.

That floored me even more than herpes.

He gave me an overview, tossed off some orders to the resident, and walked out of the room.

"Wow," I said to her. "Can you tell me what causes this?"

Her reply told me that she will go on to be a very, very good doctor. "I don't know! I have never seen this before. I have to read up on it."

When I got home, I looked up everything I could about DH (as we pro's call it).  I also looked up everything about Dr. Zen. That chance phone call in August not only got me into the Clinic faster, it put me in the hands of a full Professor of Dermatology and Vice-Chairman of the Department. He has been practicing for 45 years and "no longer accepts new patients."

Except for me, for this singular opening in the Cosmos.

So I am now on medication and off bagels. And, of course, being 2017, there's an app to help me out. It scans the bar code on anything prepared and rings with a "go" or 'no go" response.

It took me a few weeks to get my head around this diagnosis. But here's where I am now. No longer itchy, sleeping through the night. And fully aware that of all the systemic diseases that creep into  people my age, this is nothing.


    


August 22, 2017

Mother of the Bride


My daughter married her sweetheart this past June. As you can see, we felt full of joy (that's as joyful as Himself ever looks when someone makes him wear a suit and tie)...

 I was overwhelmed by the majesty of this bride, my deep love for our new son-in-law, and their willingness to stand beneath the chuppah with my own beloved Rabbi Diana.
My return trip back up the aisle ended with my head buried against  my own beloved's mighty chest, sobbing for reasons I still can not explain.

While I enjoyed my fleeting status as Mother of the Bride, I admit that I mostly felt confused about what I was supposed to do. After all, this bride is 31 and runs one of Chicago's premier restaurant corporations. Her name opens slots in reservation books, triggers an onslaught of unordered appetizers and desserts "from the Chef," and results in a check that is two decimal places to the left of what it should be.

Me, I still don't know for sure which side the forks go on.

This bride is surrounded by girlfriends her own age who love her fiercely AND who know their way around stuff like karaoke bashes, nail artists,and after parties.
My version of an after-party is unhooking my bra and climbing into bed at 9 pm with two dogs and a British mystery.

Most of these women entered my life as preteens in Joe Boxer pajamas glued to scary movies rented by the dozen from Blockbuster. We cherish one another and while they lovingly included me wherever appropriate, it felt strange that on this most momentous occasion of my daughter's life, it was clear that I was not of Them. Yeah, I could be disqualified from their company just on the basis of their fresh skin and lovely bodies. But there's more: they know my daughter in ways that I never will.  That is as it should be. After all, she doesn't know what my own dear friends know about me.

Nor should she.

I just never saw it so clearly before.

So only now, two months later, do I see that her wedding was a momentous occasion in my life as well. The moment I came face to face with my daughter completely separate from myself, completely separate from all the memories stacked up within my heart, in the place called "motherhood."

Being able to say goodbye to my delusion of primacy in her life has opened me to a new world.  A world where It turns out my little Thing One is her own woman. Beautiful and poised,  compassionate and deeply committed to everyone she loves.

And now, I would like you to meet her: Elana Stefanie Green Kopp.




August 16, 2017

Itching to Be Here

I mean that literally.

In fact, I am itching no matter where I am. For the past two months, my skin has been jumping out of my skin with a very mean rash  It could be anything from bites by unknown insects to sudden allergy to unknown triggers to an immune response to the action movie that has been my summer.

And just trust me, this is one case where photos will not improve the readability of my blog.

While I await some diagnostic test results, I ingest copious amounts of steroids. You know the expression we use to describe any noun intensified: "XXX on steroids?" I now move through my day like...like..like me on steroids. Last week, I woke up at 6, sewed until 8, walked the dogs, went to work until 4, mowed the lawn, weed-whacked, and blew the landscape clean of all detritus. Then I hand-picked the rest of the weeds and carted them off to the field. There was still an hour to go before sunset and I thought about building a railroad or an addition to the house, but couldn't find the hammer.

Get it?

Twice a day, I slather gobs of white cream onto the "affected areas," which means my entire trunk, arms, and lower scalp. It looks like Crisco--in fact, I think it may be Crisco. After all, when was the last time you bought Crisco? Wouldn't it make sense that General Foods has dumped their inventory onto a drug company?

Steroids apparently make the mind race.

Ok, I found the hammer. Be back when the addition is done.

Sometime tonight.

May 13, 2017

Animal House


A new baby is about to join our extended family. She will get this for her wall when she does.
I adapted it from a pattern by Kimberly Rado that I found in a magazine that had slipped behind the bookshelf. When I say adapted, I really mean "I cut the number of dogs in half, threw out the centers, got rid of the bones, and eliminated the sashing and borders."
 Hers is lots of fun--and a whole lot of work. Mine is Essence of Dog.
My favorite part of the project? Picking the fabrics ONLY from the those already on my shelves. (I don't use the word "stash" except when referring to the candy I hide from Himself, hoping against hope that I will remember where I put it.) I love having a boundary that forces my color and pattern choices and I really love using this stuff up!


In other animal news, Yusra continues to follow her primal maternal instincts...
...although the primate in question does seem rather unresponsive. Perhaps he is in shock because she put him in a diaper?