A blog as September ends. A perfect morning. The kind we suffered all summer for, knowing the cooling breezes of fall will again mix with achingly blue skies, birds will sing, and Arizona will feel like paradise. I sit behind my favorite caboose, savoring a waffle and chai tea. The magic of Clarkdale pervades.
My mind falls on the many friends who have slipped away in the past few years, friends who gave me so much. There was Rim Rock Granny, Patty. She befriended me when I felt unworthy of friends, shared her magical eye for photography. We paired up on a couple of magical calendars, tried to make framed photos with her image, my words. There was Naomi. She had to move from here, but we continued to connect over our love of the Torah, and the magic of Spirit. Truly a holy woman. Judie left earlier this year. She was my rock for times when my health challenges felt too difficult for only one person. She was my voice of moderation and love when I started to slip off on my rational base. So deeply connected to God, she wrote daily letters to Him, and got answers. There was Helen. Helen who knew green so deeply her garden glowed, and her imagination created fairy houses and stick trolls out of scraps she found lying around. Camp Helen my dogs loved! Most recently, Isabelle passed on. Another magical photographer, she brought beauty to my webpage, and friendship into my life.
Death is a part of life, and as I grow older I know I will encounter it even more frequently. What to do? Clearly, for me, mourning, in traditional forms, has no place. Tears are hard for me to come by, and do not do that much. But I revel in memories. So often, when I see a sunset I remember the sunsets Patty and I shared. And I am reminded I am still here. I feel responsible for registering that beauty for not only me, but for Patty as well. When I begin to fly off the handle, I call in the quiet rationality of Judie. I ask her to speak for me, to guide my thoughts until I can retake control. And then, when I am ready, I take over the controls.
I have new pieces I would have asked Isabelle to photograph. I look at them, plan how they will pose, and affirm they will grace my website soon. That is what Isabelle dictates!
I believe I pick up parts of others’ souls. I take this as a holy responsibility. I have been granted a wonderful life, more time to live, to enjoy than many. I feel so privileged.
I also believe I can play a part as a role model. I have so many friends who, as they age, face many infirmities. Fibromyalgia. Migraine headaches. Digestive problems. Depression. I have fallen into all these pits, many others as well. And I have been so fortunate to have found a way out. I want to show others the hope I have found. the resolve to put one foot in front of the other…
I was working on this at Violette’s as Tom walked up. I have known Tom since the days when I crafted the Cottonwood Library Parking Lot book, five years ago. A crusty Italian businessman from New York, he shared his experiences in building a New York kind of business, surviving the New York streets, in that writing group.
Since that time he faced macular degeneration. He has now gone essentially blind. I watched as his illness progressed. I heard him as he expressed concerns about what it would mean to be blind, what he would lose. He gained tremendous help from the Veterans’ Administration.
Now Tom is a positive man who makes his way around Cottonwood and Clarkdale on public transportation. He goes everywhere. And he brings his positive attitude with him, his total zest for life. We talked about this zest, about the way we both get up from bed, one day after the next, and find ways to enjoy every one of them. We agreed there are moments of doldrums, but there are so many more times for excitement.
Tom has promised to “headline” a forum at my studio after mid to late January where we can share these uplifting attitudes with others. Stay tuned. And, in the meantime, I love the fall in Cottonwood!
I think I learned the art of throwing a good party by instinct. Certainly my parents never entertained. Events in my childhood home alternated between family dinners with Granny and the annual progressive Christmas party the Homebuilders put on. “None of us housewives want to be burdened with planning an entire party by ourselves, and God forbid I would have a party and then have to clean everything up by myself!” My mother served the soup course for this dinner. Each hear she opened a package or 6 of Lipton’s french onion soup, and added a bottle of red wine.
(Wine was a rarity at our house. My grandmother was a card-carrying member of the WCTU, Women’s ChristianTemperance Union, and wine had to sneak in and then hide cautiously into our home, for fear Granny would see it and throw it away.)
I remember how salty that soup tasted, and the food encrusted dirty soup plates Mother had to wash the next day. “Could you imagine of having to clean up the dishes from an entire dinner?” my mother would whine, puddles of cooling scummy dish water slopped onto the floor.”
Needless to say, entertaining was not something I jumped into readily. Nonetheless, I began early. My first dinner party was in the Peace Corps in Nigeria. I was 22. A challenge lover even then, I decided to invite 10 Nigerians to a Mexican style meal. No internet, no cookbooks available, I had to prepare recipes myself. (And I had never cooked these foods, only eaten them.) Then I had to replicate the ingredients. Nigerian peppers were not the same as the Mexican ones I knew more about. Cheese was very different; actually not readily available. I plowed ahead.
In the end, the refried beans I made were great. Except I made enough for about 50 people. The Mexican rice was almost fine. It still had the Nigerian under-taste, and it still had its crunchy sand. The guacamole was wonderful. My poor steward had to go to three different villages to find enough avocados.
The disaster were the chili rellenos. The cheese did not perform as needed. It was gloppy and stringy. And the peppers I used were extraordinarily hot. Not even my Nigerian friends, accustomed to fiery foods could eat more than a bite of them.
But, despite the food problems, the party was great. People lingered at our house. Conversation was lively. I inhaled their effusive thanks! And our garden boy, who could barely afford food, ate refried beans for weeks.
Although I was intoxicated by the experience of entertaining, events intervened. Working full time with a crumbling marriage left me little desire to do much of anything else. In the midst of these travails, my self-esteem took a tumble. Eye contact became painful. I worried so much about what I could say to anyone, I opted for shyly glancing the other way to insure people would not address me.
I remember the first time I hosted three friends for mah jongh. I had my cleaning woman clean for two days. That distracted me, or perhaps fed into my anxieties for the evening.
After the Nigerian experience I knew food was critical. I planned and replanned the snacks I was going to serve. Crackers? Maybe Sue did not like Triscuits. Grapes? They tasted too sour. Iced tea? Which brand? Sweetened or not?
I was a bundle of nerves. I could not focus on the game and ended up losing all my betting money before the break. I was mortified. But the iced tea was sweetened to perfection and Sue liked Triscuits.
Mah jong entertaining, with only four players, meant I had to do it once a month. Within a cycle or two I was able to pull in a concealed singles and pairs hand just before refreshments, recoup the money I had lost that first week.
Over a few years I discovered tricks to gaining self-confidence. Now I loved throwing parties. Give me an occasion and the party went off without a hitch. I found two secrets to a successful party. One was the guest list. Invite a wide range of friends. Conversations could not be limited to the same boring topics every time because these people didn’t know each other, had to fish a bit to find things to talk about. And soon. parties jumped.
Food. The essential ingredient of any successful party. If all else failed, guests could fall back on talking about it. I did a chili party once. Potluck. And I threw in the rule, “make it paleo.” Guests discussed recipes until they found other mutual interests. I did a basic lentil soup and asked everyone to bring a cooked ingredient to throw in. But, since it was a Jewish gathering, I asked them to “keep it kosher” by avoiding meat, absolutely no pork. The only problem with this party was I had never cooked lentil soup before, so I did not realize how far one lentil went. Everyone went home with gallons of lentil soup leftover.
Now the time came to plan my grand opening for my new studio. I had to plan a party to remember. I went back to my formula. Invite a wide range of friends who didn’t necessarily know each other beforehand, and make the food good and plentiful.
Juanita’s Taqueria, the best Mexican food I have ever eaten, was a block from my new studio. I chose their soft tacos and guacamole. I ordered too much food, as usual. But everyone raved. And the mix of guests? It was hard to get the entertainment launched. Too many conversations that chose not to be interrupted.
And the start-off topic? My art. My kittens. I have come a long way with my art in the past 20 months. But, even more importantly, I have moved out of my reclusive, shy introversion. I talked to everyone at my opening. So many different conversations, so many wonderful friends who came to celebrate!
And do not believe my entertaining days are coming to an end. I am in the midst of planning monthly Sunday Soirees. These will be the first Sunday of each month. We will have a theme, a musician, a writer and hopefully an artist to help us focus on the theme. We will have potluck food, and, because I believe it is imperative to give back, we will have a charity for donations. Keep your eye out!
Almost twenty years ago. I had divorced my husband moved beyond a verbally abusive, super-controlling relationship. I lived then in an apartment on the third floor of an older building. I do not remember it having many windows. The ones I had looked out into a drab parking lot or across a dusty alley. But from my bedroom, between the buildings, out beyond traffic-clogged streets, was a direct view of the setting sun. I was depressed then, in the throes of a nasty divorce., with a job of teaching severely disturbed adolescents, kids with trigger-point anger and violence. My self-esteem did not exist.
Every evening I found myself seated in the rocking chair which faced my view. I pulled out my prayer shawl, wrapped myself in it. With no ability to organize, to verbalize prayer, I sobbed and shuddered, enclosed in the protective folds of fabric my prayer shawl provided. Now I could see the sparks of the Schehina, the soft, gentle presence of the feminine aspects of God.
I “met” the Schehina in Shoreshim, a Jewish community in Reston, Virginia in the early 90’s . The women in this group talked about this feminine indwelling piece of God. She was God you found in the hearth, the comfort for women. On Friday night as the Sabbath came, everyone welcomed her into the home, where she would dwell until the following sunset. I learned that in the Bible, wherever God was mentioned in conjuction with wings, that was the Schehina. I was so excited to discover a piece of God I could speak to, invite into my heart.
When I sat in my rocking chair, I reviewed Psalm 91 as found my comfort. “You know you will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. She will be your shelter and your fortress in whom you will trust. She will save you from the devastating traps of pestilence. She will cover you with Her wings. Here you will take refuge. Her truth will be your shield. You will not fear the fright of night, nor the arrow that streaks through the day. She will command her Angels to be with you as you walk through life, to guard you as you sleep at night.
I had designed my prayer shawl a year or two before. Constructed in navy blue fabric, it is created in the shape on an angel’s wings. Appliqued on it are the folds of those wings in a gossamer blue silk. This silk partially circles a bird, perched in an oak tree. My Hebrew name, Alana Tzipporah, means “bird in an oak tree.”
My pain, my fears subsided. I bought a house with no view of sunsets. I continued, from then on, pulling out this shawl from time to time, sighing into its embrace. It remains one of my most precious possessions. That rocking chair in my apartment in Falls Church exists years behind me, in memory. For the most part, I have moved beyond the depression and the fears of those years. But that prayer shawl remains with me. It still has the wonderful power of pulling me into the protection, and the love of the Schehina; it moves me into a grateful acceptance of the heres-and-nows I encounter. In fact, I wrote this essay wrapped in my own angel wings.
As I don my shawl, I go through a short ritual, blessing this shawl, moving with it into prayer. I pull it over the back of my head, cover my face in it. I state my intention: Like the One who separated Light from the dark, I wrap myself in a curtain of clouds, draw myself away from darkness, up into the power of transcendent prayer. Blessed are You. I move into deep, personal prayer.
About Preparing for the Jewish New Year:
There is always a rhythm to the year. The moon waxes and wanes over each period of four weeks, an ethereal crescent turns to a full-blown disc of glowing light, then a scrap of debris, awakening later and later each evening. It disappears and returns in its crescent garb.
The seasons have rhythm, too. Cold and wintry, then warming up. Eventually the weather gets almost too warm, then retreats into brisker days. Winter returns.
In Judaism, the multitudinous holidays flow with this rhythm. At Hannukah religious practice dictates lighting more and more candles when the nights are darkest, last the longest. By the eighth day, with eight candles blazing, the light returns, days get a bit longer. Jews have withstood these darkest days yet again.
Purim is a holiday where celebrants observe remaining hidden darknesses. It is celebrated in the early in spring. Six weeks later, Jews observe Passover. In among the myriad traditions, the spring growth is recognized when celebrants dip fresh, bright green parsley into saltwater.
This time of year, late summer, when excessive warmth gives way to cooler mornings, shorter evenings, we experience an amelioration of the worst of summer’s heat. The excesses of summer’s bounty groan in produce aisles. Just when we tire of daily trips to the swimming hole, the cooler evenings chill the water there, just a bit. The swims do not seem quite so delightful.
In Judaism, this current month is called Elul. It is the month which precedes the High Holidays. Jews have a whole month to transition from the excesses we marked in the summer to the introspective work we will do during Rosh Hashanah and into Yom Kippur.
Sometimes called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the culmination of the High Holy Days is when Jews can sit in Synagogue all day reciting their shortcomings, planning for ways to live better in the year to come, Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the Days of Awe. This is not a day to walk right into, unprepared. The Jewish calendar builds in first this month of Elul, then the rising action of the New Year celebration for Jews, giving time to do moral inventories, to make amends with others, we might have quarreled with to plot out a better year-to-come.
Semantically, the names assigned to Yom Kippur put up barriers for many to understand what Yom Kippur is all about. People refer to this process as “confession of sins”, atonement. the Catholic experience comes into play. A whole day of guilt, of confessions? Sounds deadly!
I welcome this period. Although the sun continues to blaze outside, I feel a bit different as the moon moves into the month of Elul. I begin to awaken later in the morning, laze in bed a bit longer. No need to hop out of bed at first light to walk the dogs before the sun comes up. I find myself reviewing the past year, thinking about relationships I have developed. I was a bit too brisk with Bob. What can I do to let him know I recognize my mistake in getting perturbed with him? I really have lost close contact with my aunt. I used to call her monthly. It has been three months since we checked in. Time to call her. Time to resolve to call her more frequently.
Most important, for me, are the relationships I maintain with myself, with my higher Power. How I treat Bob, when I call Aunt Marge, reflects how I am treating myself. When I get down on myself, when I notice every shortcoming in my make-up, I am more reticent in my dealings with others. When I continue to move on obliviously within my personal relationships with others, with myself, and with my Higher Power I realize I am “stuck.” I find I am out am out of alignment. Elul, this month preceding the High Holidays, is the month for realignments.
As a lover of poetry, when I get deep into my spiritual Judaism, I turn to the Psalms. There is no better poetry anywhere than that found in this book of the Bible. And, in Judaism, different Psalms speak for different holidays. This time of year it is Psalm 27. The psalm lays out a way to move deep into myself, reflect on my shortcomings, and reestablish my working relationship with my Creator.
Years ago I reworked Psalm 27 so it spoke more directly to me. I pull out my working of the Psalm every year, and use it as a focus for Elul’s soulwork,. Here is the working spiritual evaluation I am using now, in 2017:
You who have protected me from all fears,
from nightmares and day terrors
and soul-devouring enemies.
The Divinity is my strength, my protector. I take a moment to feel gratitude for this gift within me.
You who have brought light
into my darkest caves,
woven strength into the lace
finery of armor.
what power I can find within this close relationship with the One
I pray to You,
provide me with retreat,
raise me up on Your rock
in the face of my enemy.
Let me dwell with You
in the glories of creation
all the days of my life.
I retreat for a moment into the space of at-one-ment. I savor this space of safety. I can gather the gifts it provides me so that I might be better prepared to go out and face the daily rat-race we all encounter.
Hear me, Joy, as I song fills my heart.
I take a moment to express my gratitude for this special relationship.
Comfort me in gentle wings
as I cry out in pain.
Show me Your face.
As I acknowledgement my short-comings, I am overcome with remorse. I wanted to do better. I did not. I wrap myself into the gentle wings of the Divine. I look into this forgiving face.
Even at times when I have broken
my covenant with You,
at times when my anger
has overcome me,
at times when I covet
my neighbors’ gold;
I stop a moment for an inventory. I remember back to the times when I was not proud of my personal interactions. I remember the times when I despaired because I believed I did not get what I felt I deserved.
Look on me with Your mercy.
Wrap me in your tender love.
Forgive myself Accept the forgiveness of the powers of the One.
I pray to You,
though my mother, my father,
my son, my friend, my enemy
might abandon me;
might leave me out in the fields
in the midst of a rainstorm;
This, for me, is the central verse of this Psalm. I remember all the times people, even my own son, my closest friend, has abandoned me, left me in a dangerous place. I know, though. the One will not abandon me. I can draw this Power closer to me, I can move beyond these painful times, step with courage into the light. I can move beyond the initial pain I felt, can forgive even those who truly hurt me, understanding they, too, are only trying their best.
Shine your light onto my path.
Illuminate my way through Your world.
Consider my path ahead. Consider how I will repair my interactions with others, with the One.
Help me, Eternal,
as I seek courage, strength
and patience to follow
in Your way today, tomorrow
and all the days of my life.
And as I seek, experience this sought-after “at-one-ment,” I am not alone. The Eternal is here with me.
The timing for the beginning of Elul this year has been a challenging. I have just transitioned my art from Jerome to my 6th Street Studio. The move down the hill raised issues for me. I walked away from a mess I could not clean by myself. I discovered not every person I have encountered is a friend. I have had to accept the fact even I have enemies. No matter how hard I try to get along with everyone, not everyone chooses to like me, But, as I review these relationships, these actions, I have opened myself up to finding, yet again, the at-one-ment. Even within the challenges I faced in the Jeromes in my life I can seek out ways to improve my relationship with myself, with others, both friends and enemies, and with the One,
I am so excited by recent developments! Last week I was juried into Made in Clarkdale, a venerable Christmas season art and craft show in Clarkdale. Look for my assemblages in Clarkdale the first weekend in December. And I was asked to be the Biz of the Week at Arizona First Bank, at the corner of 89A and Willard in Cottonwood, October 12.
I will be featuring several new lines of assemblages, beginning with my grand opening. I have my Mezuzahs and House Blessings. Mormon Tea roots decorate the front of glass tubes. Inside are scrolls with either the Hebrew prayer, V’ahaftara, the prayer in Deuteronomy beginning “You shall love the Lord your God” or an English house blessing which I have written. Both of these cases are accompanied by a copy of the prayer in English.
I also will be offering wall hangings and stand-alone pieces with tubes for holding flowers or dried grasses. These pieces draw attention to the wonderful wood grains found in desert woods and desert-dried barn wood.
Finally, I will have a preview of Christmas ornaments. These will feature Mormon tea roots and other small intricate pieces of wood as sparkly hanging ornaments. All of these pieces are made with hand-collected desert woods, then cleaned, oiled and crafted into one-of-a-kind art.
If you cannot come next Monday, feel free to drop by as you are cruising 6th. Whether on your way to the library, the Rec center, or perhaps the post office, you come right by my studio and gallery in the Appliance Junkies. Once my obligations diminish a bit I will be there on a regular schedule. In the meantime, as you drive by, look for my battered blue Honda Civic. I am there almost seven days a week. If my car is there, so am I.
And remember, my kittens, Manzanita and Junipurr, are always ready to entertain. They are darling (even though I tell them about the possibilities for grilled kitty-steak from time to time.)
See you next Monday, September 18, from 5:00 on!
I am blessed. Let me enumerate just a few of my blessings. The obvious first is my new studio. The location, right on the street to the Recreation Center and the library, means everyone I know drives by my place. And they are beginning to stop in! The space is perfect. I have room to make art, and to line up cabinets with my supplies all around. And the show-space will be perfect for displaying my art. The lighting is perfect. The swamp cooler has handled this latest heatwave. George, the guy in Appliance Junkies, and his wife Joyce greet me each day with cheerful good mornings. His customers, and he has many, are looking into my space. Three walked in yesterday, and I am not yet set up for visitors.
The kittens. They are beautiful, gray and tan with big ears and fuzzy fur. Manzi comes and sits in my lap regularly. Junipurr is a bit more reticent. They play together, wrestling and attacking each other for hours. They animate the space. I am never alone. And, they do a wonderful job of attracting customers. Yesterday one woman stood in the window for ten minutes watching them play. She came right in when I invited her.
Friends. I have never had so many close friends. Leslie lives next door. She keeps my dogs when I am gone. They do not even miss me. And she looks at my art with a critical eye. I need that. Patti has agreed to be the back-up kitty helper. I went to a movie Monday. I knew Junie and Manzi would be fine. Sue (OK, I am trying to call her Zushka, her legal, Slovak name) provides laughs. I do not think we have ever gotten together when she has not laughed fifty different times. She gets migraine headaches, finances are rough. But she always presents as happy. Although I am not currently in a 12 Step program, I need reminders from time to time. She gives me those. She knows the program. This used to be Judie’s role. I am so blessed to have someone slip seamlessly into that. Lynda is supportive. Karen is an artist and reassures me when things do not go just right. I could go on and on with all the people I talk to, laugh with, share intimate details regularly.
And I have found Don Reitz Ranch. This was the eleven-acre land where the world renowned pot maker worked until his death a few years ago, Now this land, in beautiful Sycamore Canyon, ten miles from my studio, or my house, is a memorial to Mr. Reitz and his work. For a reasonable price I can go and work there whenever. They provide clay, glazes and firing. Lessons are coming. Ever since I was 25, and took an adult ed sculpture class, I have yearned to stick my hands back into clay. It feels magical. And now I can go out there twice a week to get my hands dirty. The sculpture bases I am making for my wood will enhance my work, provide variety for what I am doing.
My health. Yes. I have to take acetaminophen on a regular basis for hip pain. But it covers it. I do not sleep well, awakening at least three or four times a night. I could easily fall into a “I hate my dentures” funk. Their taste in my mouth, their looseness, their sound when I chew, the slime my mouth makes around them. But I am teaching myself to learn to love them. Arthritis makes my fingers stiff. My balance is not the greatest. Headaches visit from time to time. But I remember when my life was all about poor health. The multiple hospitalizations, the fifteen different pills to take each day. the dependence on oxygen, the deep pain of fibro, and its accompanying fog. But I am 71. Things could be worse, still. You gotta know when I count blessings, health is now at the top of my list.
My family. I am down to two sons and two grandsons. My sons never call. I have only seen three pictures of Jesse in the first two months of his life—no Grandma brag-book! But I move over to the positive. Both boys are healthy, successful in their careers. There will be a time, eventually, when family moves back into the center of my life.
I could not enumerate blessings without a mention of Baruch and Dodi. They continue to entertain me, keep me company, and bring me joy. Baruch, who used to bark at a stem of grass blowing across the street, made it around six blocks with only one bark this morning. Could have been eight. Good training! Dodi? She thinks she controls my house. She has learned the power of pee. No walk? She will pee on my pillow. Bedtime? When she is ready to go to bed, she comes into the kitchen to tell me. She sends Baruch is for the warning. Then, she pees on the space where I sleep. I have learned the value of closed doors! They play with Bennie, from next door, divide their loyalties between me and Leslie, but overall, they enhance my life every day. And their insistence on a walk means I get exercise regularly.
I have found a faith-community. Center for Universal Love is not the staid Jewish community I had grown accustomed to, but Pastor Arvil’s music is heart-achingly beautiful, I have so many friends there, and I make new ones every week. I find the messages thought-provoking, turning to Einstein, for example one week, discussing parenting skills in the 50s and its longterm impact on our lives the next. I am leading a Sister Circle this Friday, and that has been an outlet for my writing. I am sure there will be more.
I heard yesterday I was juried into Made in Clarkdale, a local art show run every December. Last year I was turned down for this. My nose was pushed out of joint! But in the end, their suggestions from last year contributed to the improvement in my pieces this year. And I am doing Open Studios with the Art Council. These will provide me with peer review which I use well. Hopefully it will also mean a few sales.
My writing, recently dormant, has returned. Writing gives me balance, helps me see my realities on the page. It spurs on my creativity. I have loved having this gift for years, and I welcome it back. The opportunity to write blogs on a regular basis contributes to this Renaissance.
I could go on and on with this gratitude list. I remember, two or three years ago the days I could barely get out of bed. Depression socked me in. The outside heat, friends off on vacations, or otherwise engaged. Remaining health questions. I wrote gratitude lists then as a way to boost my spirits. I set the goal of having 20 reasons to feel gratitude. There were days when all I could do was write Baruch and Dodi’s names over and over to get to my 20 blessings. Today I am most grateful for my ever-expanding list of reasons for true happiness. I know many of the reasons I was depressed have not gone away. I could still focus on the heat wave, the isolation of living here in the Verde Valley without any restaurants or shopping, my lack of contact with my sons. but I have learned every day is a choice. I choose where to put my focus. When I find all the reasons I am blessed, the challenges fall into the shadows, not influencing my mood. I am truly grateful for this life!
And, I look forward to the celebration ten days from now when I officially open my studio, share all my gratitude with my friends. Be sure you mark your calendars for September 18 between 5 p.m. and 10. Juanita’s food, friends’ music and a delicious cake from Violette’s Bakery. More reasons to celebrate!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"