Thoughts From Behind the Torch (and elsewhere!)

November 5, 2011

Back to the Blog!

It has been too long! My last post was more than a year ago, written in Baltimore as we were only partway into my husband's chemo and radiation for throat cancer. Now, 15 months later, he is feeling healthy again, enjoying retirement, and appreciating NOT being in Baltimore at the mercy of the radiation and chemo teams. Their care was extraordinary, and we can now turn our attention to exploring our 'new normal'.

His is newer than mine... He is now retired, and busy putting the cottage and our main home to bed for the winter. Once that is done, it's time to figure out what will occupy his days while I spend the bulk of mine back in the studio. Writing is one option.

My new normal will involve keeping my mind on glass when I know there is someone retired down the street, who could play hooky with me at the drop of a hat. A quick jaunt to our favorite consignment shop or a drive to see the ocean are enough to distract me from the creative play I am now eager to enjoy. But we have both learned, it's all a balancing act.

I am back to teaching, which makes me so happy. I've missed the inspiration my students bring me, and the very act of preparing for a class keeps me on my toes. I have new venues to round out this year and begin the next, and a return to Penland School is planned for July.

As you can see in the photo, the birdhouses behind my studio are all vacant now, the kayaks and sailboats are put away, and it's a good time to turn that torch back on and warm up inside!

July 5, 2010

How Life Changes...

A year ago today, July 5, 2009, family and friends were gathered at Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, on the Island of Martha's Vineyard, to celebrate the life of my late father, who died of Alzheimer's Disease at the age of 89.

And now, I'm in Baltimore with my wonderful husband, 30 years younger than Dad, as we fight the cancer that has put our lives on hold, scared the hell out of us, and demanded our full attention. We are well into the treatment that has been tailored for Ted by a team of doctors: three big doses of a trio of chemos, with a period of rest after each; this being followed by daily radiation - in the middle of which we find ourselves now.

There is nothing like the immediate rush of adrenaline one feels at the onset of such a diagnosis. Even before the diagnosis - the suspicions, the scans, the biopsies, second opinions - at each point the jack-in-the-box has been wound tight. Nerves are on edge, waiting for the phone call when the jack pops out, triggering another dose from the adrenal gland, another heart-pounding rush.

For now, those shots of adrenaline have subsided as we fall into a routine of daily treatment, weekly chemo, and periodic visits by other members of our supporting staff. I call it the cadence of cancer. Can you imagine? Patients and spouses all heading down to the cancer center like it's their day job, all used to phlebotomy, oncology, scanning their patients' cards, buying parking tickets at a discount. Like this is normal!

When we were coming to grips with Ted's diagnosis, all the little scenarios we equate with cancer - loss of hair, nausea, weight loss, fatigue, radiation burns and worse - all these flashed through my mind. I'm sure they flashed through Ted's too, although neither of us wanted to bring this unpleasantness up. Sort of like the elephant in the room - the side effects of cancer that were sure to come. Better not to dwell on them, though. Why borrow trouble before it appears? It only mars what could be a good day otherwise. So out of sight, out of mind. And when the hair began to fall out and the nausea came, we were able to handle it matter-of-factly. Maybe because you're 'eased' into these afflictions. They didn't appear full force after the first chemo (well, nausea began...). After the second, hair started to come out and Ted decided to have Todd give him a short cut. Less fuzz to notice when it did fall out. So you get used to what is happening gradually. Surprising to me. But what can you do about it. And there are so many people in the same boat... It's almost like a subculture. The cancer culture. So you just deal with it all and don't bemoan it. Set your jaw and plod through.

Along the way, even as the caregiver and not the patient, your sense of self changes subtly. One rarely notices the passage from one phase to the next in this life. Aside from giving birth, if you choose to, one usually isn't really aware of where he lands in the timeline of his life until he's smack in the middle of the next phase. I mean, didn't middle age creep up on us? And don't most of us in our 50's still think we're in middle age? Ahhh - but are we really? Nothing like cancer to remind you that AARP has relevance. That what was normal last year is hard to remember a year later.

I am feeling more introspective about everything as I deal with entering this next phase of life. I think about my parents (especially my mother) all the time. Trying to look with new eyes at their lives when they were the age I am now.

And Ted. I admire him so for what he is shouldering. I can't imagine how I'd behave if I had this fight going on in my own body. Giving myself up to be injured - burned - on a daily basis. I feel inadequate to help - unable to lift this burden of pain from him right now.

I try to memorize little scenarios when they occur - a visit to Baltimore Harbor for lunch before the first chemo, holding hands on a bad night until one of us falls asleep. The way the back of his head looks in his recliner, now that he has no hair - so young and soft.

I don't know why I'm inspired now to add something to this stale blog. Perhaps it's the irony of the date, or my need to record these conflicted feelings. Seeing them in black and white, reading them, might help me understand everything that's popping into my head these days. This was the result yesterday:

Sitting in his Easy Chair

                                         The back of his head - coiffed by cancer
                                         Vulnerable, precious, kissable
                                         I didn't know his ears went quite like that…

                                         Is this what his mother saw, reading Golden Books at 6?

                                         Cancer pulls back curtains
                                         Lays you bare.

March 12
, 2009

Wow! It's been awhile! But I've been busy - I finished up the Commemorative Beads for Bead and Button (more on that in another blog posting) then turned my attention to cleaning the studio for Tom Holland's visit. Here are some pictures of the event:

This has been a wonderful first "Visiting Artist" experience! Tom was a terrific teacher and a fantastic guest.  We had a chance to tool around Narragansett, eat "lobsta's" that Ted bought from a lobsterman right off the boat, and we had time to examine old beads and even visit the Sackler Museum at Harvard to see artwork from the Chinese Warring States period.

Tom demonstrated all sorts of stringer work, how to make folded beads, how to bend beads - our heads were about to burst by the time Sunday evening rolled around.  My dear friend, Karen King, was able to come up from DC for this, so that was an added bonus.  I'm looking forward to hosting more bead teachers in my studio - Jennifer Geldard being the next!

But now... time for taxes *sigh*

February 20

Spring can be very long in coming, here in New England, and by February I'm pining for open windows and bird songs. Any change for the positive in the view from the studio reminds me that I won't be sentenced to 365 days of below freezing temperatures. So yesterday, when I stood at the slider and looked at the river, the sign of receding ice was exciting! We've been deprived of our view of an animated river for several months now, and the static ice, with few waterfowl paying a visit, reminds me how lucky I am most of the year. It was fun yesterday to see the ice reduced to a thin covering that was moving to the south by several yards as the hours ticked by. The geese enjoyed taking turns floating in the water or roosting on the floe.

The birds are pairing up, too, a sure sign of spring to come! We've had a pair of swans down by our house, as well as the omnipresent geese, now finding their partners. By last night, we saw a double date out our back window:

After having a 2 1/2 week break from the studio, it's hard to get back into the rhythm of production, especially with the distractions out of the window. Maybe this familiar outdoor cycle will remind me that the spring shows are on their way and I can't be caught daydreaming much longer!!

February 16

Sterling H. Ivison, Jr., 6/26/1919 - 8/16/2008

Six months ago, my dear father died. I don't think he had an enemy in the world, such a gracious, generous gentleman. For the 5 years he was living in Narragansett, slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's, I was his pal, his support, his protection, his medical advocate. We developed a daily rhythm. He was able to spend the night by himself, in his own home 5 doors up from us. I would show up early in the morning and help out with breakfast, then go to the studio downstairs to work on my beads, always with an ear open for what he might need upstairs.

Dad's house, like ours, is on the Narrow River in Narragansett. He loved to sit in the living room, the TV turned to the Weather Station, his eyes mostly turned towards the river. In the spring and fall, he would enjoy seeing the URI crew team row by his house (he was on the crew with MIT as an undergrad). Year 'round, he loved to watch the birds and squirrels feed on his back deck. If the weather wasn't too cold or rainy, Dad would venture out for a walk, twice a day. He was a sailor and a Naval officer, a lover of maps, directions. He never lost that bump of location and always found his way home from his neighborhood walks. In the morning, he would head out in one direction, in the afternoon, he would head out in the other. He was never gone long - maybe 15 minutes of fresh air. I always kept an ear out for his return up the front steps.

On days when the weather didn't cooperate, I'd pop a Lawrence Welk tape into the VCR. Dad loved the old music, and I could hear him tapping his feet in time with it, and sometimes even clapping along. It always raised his spirits (and mine!).

When Dad moved up from his Washington, DC, home of 44 years, he'd been living alone, a widower, for 6 years. He left old friends behind, but he had an instant family with Ted and me and the boys. Most dinners were down at our house, Dad making the walk down the hill in time to keep me company while I worked in the kitchen. I'd take him home when Ted washed the dishes and would get him ready for bed and tuck him in. Roles reversed, both of us fine with that.

Dad's last months were hard on both of us. Moved into assisted living when I could no longer cope, and then to a nursing home, Hospice helped him make a dignified exit. It was time, and he'd long said he had had a happy life and was ready for the next step. But no matter how natural this cycle of life and death is, it leaves a hole in the heart of the one who's left behind. I love you, Dad. I miss you.

February 15

Just home yesterday afternoon from a quick trip to DC to surprise my daughter Eliza for her 30th birthday! How can that be? Seems like I was just 30! I made my first bead at 38, actually...

I had a chance to visit the Smithsonian, both the African Museum to see the Disney collection on exhibit there, and then the Freer Gallery to see some of their Egyptian collection of little core-formed vessels:

Here are just a few of the treasures I saw. What a wonderful collection of museums we all support - and it's free for the visiting. I wish I'd had more time.

The evening of the 13th, family members gathered at a restaurant in Chevy Chase, DC, to surprise Eliza. She didn't have a clue - her husband Pete was able to keep it quiet, and so were the rest of us!

Happy Birthday, Honey!

February 8

Laundry still isn't done, but the beads are out and the pictures downloaded. Here are some shots from our explorations of the African Village and Rodeway shows, and a little of the splendid scenery:

February 7

The week went by way too fast and I'm back in chilly Rhode Island! I have more pictures to put up from our class, and will add some from Tucson when I've unpacked and done the laundry. What a wonderful break from the winter blahs!

February2 - Groundhog Day!

And this is being sent from "elsewhere"! I'm in sunny Phoenix, soon to travel south to Tucson to enjoy some of the bead shows down there. Weather is beautiful and should stay that way this week. I had a terrific weekend teaching 12 enthusiastic bead makers at a huge, well equipped studio called Fire and Friends Z in Glendale, AZ. So much information went back and forth that I think I learned even more than I taught. Nothing like being in close contact with a bunch of creative women for a weekend. That's what makes teaching so rewarding to me! Here's a shot of most of us yesterday afternoon:

A few had to escape early for work (Lisa) and play (Diane). Pity about those poor Cardinals! Here's one more shot of a small bit of the studio:

January 26

Wow! What a great weekend! It started out with the arrival on Friday night of my friends, Brand Gould and Jinx Garza, who would stay at the studio so Jinx could join in the workshop I was having. We had a great time catching up and getting reacquainted. They were still excited about attending the inauguration and it was fun to hear first hand what it was like to be there.

We had a full class for this advanced workshop, with four local beadmakers (Angela Loomis, Anne Viens, Holly Paolino, and Monica Smith), Jinx (from Columbia, MD), and a new acquaintance, Monte Nikkel, from New Hampshire. Besides the glass information that was freely flowing, there were several big life events that happened: Holly became a grandmother for the second time on the 25th - a baby boy named Finnegan was born in the morning. And about an hour into the workshop on Sunday, a huge bald eagle flew by the studio window right as I was preparing to demonstrate something. We all dashed out and took pictures as he (she?) sat in a nearby tree. This was one bird that Jinx had never seen, so she was able to add it to her life list!

Angela and Anne both got information that their high school senior daughters had been accepted into the colleges they were hoping for. Everyone was happy!

We did get some work done, too! Here's a picture of some of the painted beads that emerged from the kiln Sunday morning:

And a couple of studio shots:

Now I have to think about my upcoming trip to Phoenix and Tucson - an advanced workshop, demo, and then hitting the shows!

January 22

Well, I sure let the time slip by - but there were so many interesting things to do! Like make beads, watch the inauguration, and, oh yes... shoveling MORE snow!

I was listing a bead on Etsy this morning and an interview on their home page caught my eye. It was an interview with Dolan Geiman, a mixed media artist. In my workshops, I've always emphasize how important, inspirational and gratifying it is for a creative person to surround himself with other people's craftwork. To use it in everyday life. To celebrate the handmade. When I teach at home, the coffee and tea are hot and my students are invited to choose a mug from my collection and drink away...

So I was so pleased to read Dolan's thoughts about why we should buy art. It's worth passing on to you:

First reason to buy handmade art:
1) It's handmade. This means someone actually took the time to personalize something and put their blood and sweat into it. Good luck getting authentic sweat from a robot.
2) Out of all the things people can purchase, art is the one thing that they will never throw away. It's a fact. It's not a disposable thing and so it's better for the environment.
3) When you buy a handmade work of art, you are telling your neighbors, your friends, and your relatives that you are smart, civilized, and sensitive. When someone is filthy rich, what do they spend money on? Art, of course. So if you, an average Jane, can buy art, then that automatically elevates your status among your peers.
4) Buying handmade art usually means you are helping the artists of the world to continue their existence. More artists mean more free thinkers, more activists, more parks, and more cool events. Artists open the doors for everyone else. Look at gentrification. Who do they send in first? The artists.
5) The best part about buying handmade is that you usually get a chance to have a personal connection to the object and the artist. Buying a handmade item shows your willingness to be a part of a community and your eagerness to contribute to a greater cause.

Well said! Now go make some art. And buy some!

January 13

Wow - managing a website is still so perplexing! I've managed to spend an entire afternoon adding only a couple of pages, but exciting ones! Tom Holland is coming to Narragansett, and if you're reading my blog, you're one of the first to know! If you click here, you will see what he's offering, and if you click here, you'll be taken to the signup sheet. Tom is an excellent teacher - I have taken from him twice in the past and am looking forward to gazing over his shoulder this time around. Don't miss out - there are only 7 seats available for this March workshop!

I've also added a beginning and intermediate workshop of my own for the upcoming spring, the last workshop was so much fun!

January 12

The first class of the New Year is a memory and the beads from yesterday are annealing as I type. We had a blast, and pal Barb was a great help, keeping an eye on studio and students and snapping great shots:

Thanks, Barb!

Workshops are wonderful. Every student arrives with a different set of creative skills and interests, and it's great getting to know all of them. They leave some of their spirit behind when the class is over, and I hope they take some of mine along.

I'm looking forward to the workshop in two weeks when the studio will again be a lively place, full of inspiration.

January 10

More snow! But not early enough in the day to postpone my beginning class. What a fun group of gals, and all very good for beginners. I don't think we ever stopped talking (about glass and beads, of course), but I got everything demo'd and they had a chance to practice each bead at least once. The studio was clean for a change:

I'm hopeful that the snow will stop tonight and we'll be back to work on time tomorrow.

January 7

Ice, ice, ice! If it hadn't been raining, I would have taken pictures of it. But rain on ice - the footing is impossible. So I hunkered down and worked in the studio, and strung a necklace of Ban Chiang (North East Thailand) spindle whorls purportedly over 2000 years old. Who knows how old they are - I got them for a decent price off of eBay and I love how they look. Maybe an inspiration for a line of glass whorls?

January 5, 2009

Back in the studio and trying to get back in the lampworking saddle again! But first, a cool young gal I met at the RISD Christmas show in mid-December, Jenine Bressner, told me that I should start a Flickr page - that it was a good way to network. So that was my morning goal, and it is up. I don't know how easy it is to just do a search and have my page come up, but if you click here, it should take you to the site.

So this will be a work in progress. I am also going to put up my guestbook today, so if you have any comments or suggestions, I would appreciate them all. I am spreading my wings a bit after keeping them close the past 5 years as I was my dear father's caregiver. Now it's time to learn all the networking stuff that was passing me by!

January 3, 2009

Once the holidays are over and the guests are gone, I always try to play with things I love - perhaps string a few beads for me or experiment at the torch. This coming week, I will pull out some of the trade beads I bought this summer when my African Trader friend, Ebrima Silah, came to my studio for a trunk show. A few pictures of his loot:

Needless to say, I succumbed to a number of these strands, and would love to assemble them into something more than the "eye-candy" they are now.

Then, I have to clean the studio. I've just finished making 300 beads for the Bead and Button show this June. That can make for one messy studio, and I have a beginning class next weekend that will need some table space!

January 1, 2009

Me? A blog? Never! I can barely keep up with my e-mails. But from time to time I'm moved to share inspirations and design ideas with friends. I live on a river that runs into the mouth of the Narragansett Bay.

My torch is positioned in such a way that I can see the wind blowing the water and the gulls feeding - a great way to give my eyes a rest when I've been concentrating too much. Occasional birdhouses that pop up from the bluff become busy in the springtime - I can't wait!

©2006Kate Fowle Meleney - All rights reserved.
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