“Sick and Tired” – Part Two

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Note to followers: To understand this post, it would be helpful for you to first read “Sick and Tired” – Part One – posted 10/19. That post was about me being physically sick and tired. The next two posts will cover why I have been emotionally sick and tired.

In order to put skeletons to bed, I need to introduce you to my mother – Helen – the orphan.

My grandfather came to America from Poland, sometime around 1905. He could feel war brewing, and he wanted to get his family to safety. He arrived first, and even though he was an educated man, he spoke no English. Consequently, he was shuttled off to the West Virginia coal mines, where most fleeing immigrants from Europe were told they would find work. This is the only photo I have of my grandparents, which was taken just before his departure.

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When he sent for my grandmother, as well as their 4 children – Martin, the oldest and Anna ( Elaine ), Stephanie ( Lillian ), and Mary … I often heard as a child … that my grandmother cried when she saw her new home,

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a building on stilts, with coal dust everywhere, and no plantable yard.  She, my great-grandmother, my great great grandmother, and my mother were herbalists, and so I’ve come to relearn, am I.

Born in Douglas, West Virginia in 1914, my mother lost both parents – 10 days apart – to the flu epidemic of 1918. She was not yet 5 years old. Below she is pictured with my youngest aunt – Czia Pauline in 1919. Czia is the polish word for Aunt.

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Below, mom is with one of her older sisters, my Czia Mary, in 1920, which is followed by a picture of Mary, Pauline and mom in 1921, right before they relocated to Detroit.

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I can’t even imagine how difficult their life must have been – 6 children without either parent. My Uncle Martin, the oldest, had promised my grandparents before they passed, that he would keep the family together. Living in West Virginia, as orphans, was far from healthy, or ideal, so I’m sure that’s what drove him to Detroit, a city crying for workers for the factories sprouting up everywhere. Once they arrived, the older children all went to work in order to keep the family together.

Since they are all gone now, I don’t know all the facts. I know they stayed together until the older children started to marry, at which time mom and Pauline were separated. That too must have been traumatic for two very young girls.

Mom and Pauline in 1923 … perhaps a communion or confirmation photo.

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When Uncle Martin married, he, and his new wife Katherine, took mom to live with them. She attended catholic school, and while the nuns adored her – as you can see from the next photo – the kids at school constantly made fun of her because she was an orphan. I believe this feeling of being alone stayed with her throughout her life.

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As she got older, mom began to bloom. These next two shots are from 1928 and 1929.

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Mom had a sense of style, and at school, she excelled at everything. The pen and ink drawing below is one of the few things I have from her hand. It is one of many drawings she did for her 1931 high school year book, and it is followed by her graduation photo.

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After graduating, mom worked at a local pharmacy/soda fountain. These photos are from 1932 and 1933 respectively.

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The picture of the flower with writing, is in her own hand. Mom was just 18 then, and you can feel her aloneness from the words she has written here.

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The next 3 photos are from 1934, 1935 and 1937 respectively. In the first mom is 20 and with Katherine, my Uncle Martin’s wife, at the local amusement park, in the second she is in front of the pharmacy where she still worked, and in the last, mom is with an unidentified officer.

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You can see what a stunner mom had become and there are lots of photos of her with unidentified men. This was not her focus however, for she was working hard and saving her money, in order to go to nursing school.

In 1938 through 1941, mom worked at Eloïse Hospital, in the “Women’s Ward”, back then it was another way of saying – women with problems. Mom’s life long friend – Francis, on the far left bottom, was the attending RN. The other women, including mom, were nurse trainees.SCAN0036

A photo of mom’s ward is below. When I was growing up, she shared so many stories of her time there, and about the troubled women who came under her care. (This is very germane later in my story.)

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During those years, 1938 to 1941, she also travelled extensively across the country, both alone and with girl friends. My sister Rosemary has most of those photos, so there aren’t many to share here, however, it was quite unconventional for a woman to travel alone at that time, and yet there mom was, at remote Indian reservations in New Mexico,

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at famous historical sites in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana,

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at girl friend “Round Ups” in the foothills of North Carolina,

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at Great Lake cottage parties throughout Michigan and Ontario, CAN,

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as well as bird hunting in West Virginia with her best friend, Irene. (Every time I see the photo below, I understand why people who knew her have so often told me I look just like her.)

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And, mom attended many concerts and dance venues in Florida, California, Louisiana, New York City and Washington, DC.  Below, she is seated in the lobby of an upscale hotel, in Hollywood, CA, with Irene and another of her girlfriends, Anne.

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The next photo was the last one taken of mom with Irene, right after her enrollment at Mercy College in Detroit in early 1942, to become a registered nurse.

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It was at Mercy College that mom really blossomed.  All of her creative talent surfaced while there. Not only did she study hard … she graduated magna cum laude …

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… mom was active in the Drama Club, starring in 3 productions – singing, dancing, painting sets, and designing playbills – and in one production, she stole the show as the male lead actor. She was very convincing. This next photo is the only one I have from her performing days at Mercy College.

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In late 1943, she graduated, while also working at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital. There, she had fallen in love with a resident doctor, and they planned to marry when he returned from his tour of duty. Finally, she was happy and not alone.

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As love sometimes goes, when her beau deployed to England – where he met a war nurse and fell in love with her –  in mid 1944 he sent mom a “Dear John” letter. She was heart-broken, devastated and once again, alone.

My dad, who I will talk about later, grew up in the same neighborhood as mom. He went to the same school, and always had a “thing” for her, however she was two years younger than he, and not interested. None of us know the “real story” of how they re-connected. My sister and I have queried all the living first cousins over the years, but no one seems to know or remember. Mom and dad never talked about it when we were growing up. Here is a photo mom sent dad in late 1944, while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Based on her apparel and the flower in her hair, perhaps she went to visit him in Hawaii.

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In June, 1945, mom told her friends and family she was engaged to my dad, and despite their advice – that this seemed a rebound reaction to her being jilted – and that she should wait before taking such a step, mom and dad married on October 13, 1945.

to be continued ….

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Sick and Tired – Part One

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Note to followers: Thirteen days ago, on October 6th, I posted on my Facebook page, a story about a Golden Finch who came to visit me in my studio. I was sure it was my mom, and I promised I would post a blog about her and Golden Finches.  There is much more of a story here, which due to its length, I am splitting into several parts.  I hope you will go back and read that FB post for a better explanation of what is to come. This is the first in the series and I hope you with stay tuned for it all.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been 8 months since my last post.

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In my last post, “Relearning to Fly”, I spoke briefly about an extremely traumatic event – which occurred at the end of my freshman year of college – and which changed my life forever. I did not go into detail, however after having been so sick most of this year – which really slowed me, the energizer bunny,  down – after also experiencing a volume of significant dreams during this time, after being let down by so many people, and especially after reading a post by Robin Rice at bewhoyouare.com, I’ve come to understand how important it is for me to release the anger that’s been accumulating and festering within through all these months and years, about many, many things.

It is not my loving intention to hurt anyone through the story I am about to tell, and if I do so, then I ask for your forgiveness now, because once I’ve finished this first of a series of “Sick and Tired” posts and then released it to the Universe, I will forever on present things the way they are – from my perspective – and you might not like what I have to say. For my own creative and spiritual growth, I can no longer pretend to be some one that I am not. I can no longer say and do things because I want you to like me. I’ve spent almost my whole life doing that. Now, I must say and do things because they feel right for me, regardless of the outcome. You can blame it on the Harvest Moon if you like … for me, it’s all about truth.

I’ve always said, “Some day I’m going to write a book”. Well, that “some day” starts now. Maybe this post is my BIG WHINE. ( I think everyone is entitled to this at least once in their life.)  Maybe this is the wrong place to tell my stories. Maybe I’ll get too personal, and even offend people. Maybe, maybe, maybe …. what’s important for me, is that it no longer matters whether I have followers or not. I’m doing this for me. So get comfortable, because there is a colorful cast of characters, and they are bulging at the seams.

Thank you Mary Ellen Bork, Suzy Farbman and Aime Miyamoto, for without even knowing it, you three brought me to this place. I will love you forever for this gift.

Why “Sick and Tired” ?

It’s a long answer.  I’ve been physically, emotionally and spiritually sick and tired for almost a year now, and today, I really miss my mom. You’ll learn more about this later.

Physically sick and tired – Christmas 2012 until May 2013, was a downward spiral. For most of my life I’ve been pretty healthy. I’m careful about what I eat, and I get good exercise and rest, so when the stomach virus I thought I had at Christmas didn’t get any better by late March, and when I started having diarrhea so bad, every day, all day long, that I stopped eating, I realized something very serious was happening. It was time for my annual physical anyway, so I called and made an appointment with my doctor. The appointment was delayed due to a problem on his end, so by the time I finally saw him at the end of April, I was so weak I could not even hold the hose to water the garden. Those of you who know me well, know how important my garden is, and understand I must have been REALLY sick.

I had the battery of tests that comes with a doctor’s appointment when you complain about an ailment, and from these tests I learned I had picked up a parasite and my only option for treatment was to take antibiotics. Since I am allergic to penicillin, that narrowed the options, and since I’ve never done well on them, this concerned me. My doctor put me on 5 different drugs. Those drugs made me even sicker. I’ll spare you the details … suffice it to say that I became a hermit. I was too dizzy, nauseous, headachy and light-headed to drive anywhere, and in fear that if I did go somewhere, I might not make it to my destination without causing an accident or soiling my pants.

The drugs also produced another problem, which after another stool sample, revealed I had c.difficile. This is a very common – yet little known – side effect of taking antibiotics, which kill the good bacteria in our stomach and intestines, and can cause more diarrhea. In the U.S. alone, more than 30,000 people a year die from this – mostly seniors – and many after being hospitalized and exposed to this bacteria – which runs rampant in hospitals because it is so difficult to eliminate.

I read about this bacteria before I agreed to start any further treatment and yet when I questioned my doctor about it, suggesting I should have taken pro-biotics simultaneously with the first treatment, and wanted to do so now, he got angry with me, said this was not a proven fact, and that if I would not take the second dose of antibiotics he would have to turn me over to a gastro endo chronologist – which he did.

I was so angry when I left his office. On the way home, I kept hearing this voice in my head say, “Stop at Jimbo’s ( our local health food store ) and get a massive dose of pro-biotics and start taking them right away.” Since many of the dreams I had experienced over the previous few months had focused on me listening to my gut – my intuition – I stopped and got the pro-biotics and started taking them immediately.  Within two days the diarrhea had definitely subsided and two days later it had stopped.

Simultaneously, I also checked out Facebook to see if I could find my original Naturopathic Doctor – Samantha Brody, who I had met in 1997 while I was living in New Haven, Connecticut. She had since moved to Portland, Oregon and I had moved to California and we lost contact. Dr. Samantha was responsible for getting me on a very healthy living path at a time when I had lots of stress in my life – from a recent divorce, relocation, and career change. I was successful in finding her, and once we connected and I shared my sad tale, she added several things to my pro-biotics program in order for me to get well.

While I was sick, but before I saw my doctor, I would go out to the garden and cut a stalk of fennel and suck on it. I had such strong cravings to do so, and then stopped when as I kept getting sicker, I started worrying  that the fennel was contributing to the problem. It’s interesting, that one of the treatments Dr. Samantha started me on is DGL – deglycyrrhizinated licorice. Fennel is a licorice herb.

When I went back for my next stool test, 10 days later, the c. difficile was gone. Had I followed the traditional path, and taken the second batch of antibiotics, who knows what would have happened. I just know I would have been another $647.00 poorer. (Even with a special co-pay arrangement with my Medicare insurance provider, the drug was $647.00 – normally it costs $1856.00). I’ll talk about our health care woes in another blog.

For now, let me say, that being so sick for such an extended period, opened  my eyes to a lot of things. Very few people, once they learned I was sick, followed up with me to check and see how I was doing. There were no flowers, no soup, no cards, very few emails, even fewer phone calls, and less than a handful of visits. I truly felt alone. I was hurt and disappointed, and inside I was very angry with people, although they had no way of knowing this.

All that down time gave me lots of time to “sort”, and brought me to the realization, that in the big scheme of things, we are each responsible for ourself – mind, body and spirit, and to ourself – mind body and spirit, and that depending on others for our happiness, or blaming others for our lack there of – is not the way to go. It was a hard pill to swallow, yet I’m happy now that I got so sick, because it helped put everything in perspective for me.

I no longer expect anything from anyone, and as such, I hope I’ve finally closed the door of disappointment. The past two months, while I’ve been healing, tests have appeared to push me back through that door, and so far, I’ve stuck to my guns. That’s not to say I don’t ever get angry – it’s just that now it’s a healing anger – a positive creative energy I’m now using in my art pursuits.

I am almost back to 100% – I still tire easily, however I’m so happy to still be around. Thanks to my cousin Amy Yakima. Following your rising star to win this season of So You Think You Can Dance was sometimes my only bright light during some very dark days.

Emotionally sick and tired – Forty two years ago yesterday, my mother died. It was the day before my 25th birthday and has been a pain I’ve lived with ever since. We separated with unresolved issues and in my next post, I need to put some skeletons to bed.

To be continued …..

Relearning to Fly

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Child's Dream

Artwork courtesy of Lucie Bilodeau Lucie Bilodeau

If my mom was still here, yesterday she would have turned 99, and if my dad was still here, today he’d be 101.  Since they are both germane to this post, this is my way of saying Happy Birthday and letting them know I’m OK now.

From the time I was about 4, until I was almost 19, every night I flew in my dreams.

Early on, and before I saw Mary Martin in Peter Pan, I just flew around my neighborhood, especially down to the swimming pool at our local park. As I got older though, my flying excursions took me to incredibly beautiful places, filled with all types of art, architecture and music. I met all kinds of artisans who always seemed immersed working on one creation or another.

My stay-at-home mom, a nurse, as well as an artist, encouraged me to share my expeditions with her. She would then help me to merge what I’d seen and heard into whatever school project(s) held relevance then. My projects were always “different”- sometimes aggravating and sometimes mystifying the nuns at our parish grade school.

My dad worked for a very old, very large, and very prestigious architecture/engineering/planning firm. When I turned 6, he started taking me to his office on Saturdays. He’d sit me down at an empty drafting board, give me pencils and papers and let me draw away.  The flying dreams got even better and more detailed.

Upon entering high school, taking art classes was not an option for me … the school was new and did not offer any non college prep alternatives yet. Between the two of them, my mom and dad managed to find the funds to send me to outside art classes … drawing, painting and sculpture. I flourished. My Saturday trips to dad’s office continued, however I spent less and less time at a drafting board, and more and more time in the Interior Design department. I loved all those fabrics and tile samples … the colors, textures, and even the smell of all those different materials. My flying dreams were now in Technicolor 3D. It was FABULOUS !!!!

It was no surprise to my “Auntie Barbara”, one of my parents’ dear friends, when I told her at age 15 that I wanted to become an architect specializing in interior design. There were few women architects then, and even fewer interior design architects. She immediately started calling me Michelangela, and pitching in with additional financing for art classes. We all thought I was on my way.

I enrolled in college, loved my art and architecture courses and the flying dreams got better yet. Then, at the end of my freshman year, an extremely traumatic event occurred – life altering – in that it pushed me off the path I had chosen, and more importantly, I was no longer able to dream fly. My parents were supportive and loving, but nothing they said or did helped.

I was a lost soul.

Since architecture was in my blood, I spent the first two-thirds of the past 40 years working as a marketer for architectural firms. I was happy and loved my work – but I was creating things for other people – not for myself, and still no dream flying.  I spent the last third of my career as an organizational development consultant working for an international training and development company. I loved this work as well, designing my workbooks and classes and then traveling around the globe to share them. I logged nearly two million frequent flyer miles, but the work itself was not my own, and still there was no dream flying.

Sometime during those years, I stumbled upon a greeting card with “Child’s Dream” featured. I was immediately drawn in. I purchased the card and tacked it up in my work space. I would look at the image, pining that I no longer could fly in my dreams. I tried every type of meditative and spiritual practice presented to me – but still no dream flying.

A few years back, when the economy took a nose dive, my consulting services turned from being a “given” in companies, into a “luxury” item . No one was hiring people like me. I found myself jobless, and after a year of looking, I made the decision to retire and refocus my energies on being the artist I always dreamed I would become.

The first few months were very difficult because I had not a clue of where to begin. I turned my home office into a studio, but still sat pining at “Child’s Dream” tacked on the idea board next to my computer. Days and weeks and months flew by. I continued pining and found myself working in my garden over zealously to avoid being in “the studio”.

Just as I was about to give up this crazy notion of being an artist, I had a very significant dream. I found myself in a huge showroom/warehouse, with rolls and rolls of fabric, fiber, ribbon and all kinds of embellishments. As I looked around in awe, I recognized my dad sitting on top of a huge pile of paper. As I approached, he reached out his hand, took mine and said, “Everything will be alright. Just sit down, start using all the resources you’ve collected over the years and make art with them. Don’t worry about the outcome – just start creating – and have fun”. I remember that dream as if it occurred last night.

I wasn’t sure I completely understood, but it was my dad, so I starting opening all the boxes of stuff I’d collected and hauled from home to home with no idea of why. It took me 2 weeks to go through everything, and as I did, I started to get ideas. For the next few months I experimented. I cut, pasted, glued, glittered and painted and I actually started liking what I was making. That is when the miracle happened … I started to dream fly once again.

I was so shocked, elated and overjoyed that it took me several more months to focus while dreaming, and to make notes upon awakening. I’m pretty good at that now, and I try always to stay “tuned in” to what the Universe has to offer me. It is always so abundant with ideas.

There have been many artists who have inspired me through the years, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Lucie Bilodeau for listening and allowing me to use her art in this post. Lucie’s paintings are incredible. From Fantasy to Tigers and lots of stuff in between, her attention to detail and her vivid colors speak volumes on her canvases. I hope you will check out her portfolio.Lucie Bilodeau

Now that I’m flying again, I’ve been busy trying out all kinds of techniques and mediums and look forward to sharing them with you soon. In the meantime, stay tuned for more on art and artists that inspire me, and again, Happy Birthday Mom and Dad. I miss you.

I’m here, and I’m staying

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Art has somehow managed to weave itself through every fiber of the tapestry that is my life. I see it in everything. Nature gives me a daily fix from its abundant palette of patterns, colors and textures. Music provides the shades and shadows. Doric columns, Zen gardens, upholstery fabric, a dog’s curled ear, a tiger’s bold coat … art, art everywhere.

During 11 years of catholic schooling, wearing those God awful ( no pun intended ) uniforms, I was always looking for a way to add something artful – ribbons in my hair, rainbow-colored shoe laces, whatever.

Then, while working in corporate america for 40+ years, I embellished my “suits” with handmade scarves, or earrings, or some other piece of handcrafted art that made people take notice. It made me feel good that they liked my funky approach, and even better, it made me feel great that I was supporting artists.

Now that I’ve put that life aside, and am excitedly embarking on a new journey, which will be completely devoted to creating art, I was thinking – how should I introduce myself, and what should I say on my very first blog posting. What would give people a sense of who I am and what I believe. The Universe, as usual, responded with an AH HA – “Show pictures of yourself in one of your funky pieces of wearable art.”

I chose these photos for three reasons. First, they represent all the ruminations I went through before I took the leap – questioning, listening, seeing, laughing, doubting – all those emotions we experience when we make life changing decisions. Second, the jacket is awesome. It is a statement about my biggest wish – that there be peace on this sacred planet. Third, the photos and jacket together, remind me that now my responsibility is to contribute to that end through art.

Enjoy, and I look forward to sharing more of me and my work soon. Dog and art, what a combo, right?! The spectacular jacket I am wearing is created by Kippy.