A Profound Loss

It’s been difficult to pop onto my blog. By now, I should have written a happy after Craft and Hobby Association trade show post with lots of smiling selfies with my artsy/crafty peeps. For those of you looking for this, I’m very sorry I haven’t been able to get that up. The reason why is that 2016 CHA was unlike any other I’ve attended in the past 10 years I’ve been going.

I flew into Anaheim on Friday to the awesome newly-built ICE Resin booth by Ranger Ink. Susan and myself and our associates at Ranger quickly got to work hanging up the shelving and hooks for all the beautiful art samples. Then it was on to Susan’s class from 6-9 p.m., then dinner and then back at the hotel and in bed by 11:30 for the first day of the show. Opening day was amazing! A whirlwind filled with hours of doing ICE Resin demos and talking to buyers and distributors and designer friends. After the show was the official Ranger team dinner (oh my goodness, so much fun to be part of a new big family!) Sunday morning was another big day because it was the Ranger VIP event where 68 important industry peeps come by before the show floor opens for a tour of new product releases by Ranger’s Signature Designers. From that event, we went straight into doing demos at the booth.

Then at about 2 p.m. I received a text from my husband saying my elderly mother had a stroke and he had found her on the bathroom floor, where she had fallen. By God’s grace, he had stopped in to check on her within 30 minutes after the stroke. He called 911 and off to ICU she went. When I received the text, I walked off the show floor to call him and my sister. Both told me to stay put and do my job until they knew more. I had a sold-out class to teach Monday morning, so I was waiting to see if I needed to immediately hop on a plane home or if I could wait until I finished teaching. Turns out the emergency team was able to stabilize her and my family encouraged me to stay and teach. Susan and everyone at the Ranger team told me time and again to follow my heart and family first, above all else, which of course is true. I couldn’t have had any more support. They were wonderful.

I left Anaheim with my brain going in all directions. My husband picked me up and took me to the hospital to see mom. I sat with her until visiting hours were over. Over the next two days I learned the hemorrhagic stroke caused a massive brain bleed. Doctors had to take her off her Coumadin. She’s been living with AFib for a decade, but her weak heart needed a stint and her body was not strong enough to undergo surgery. Not to mention her heart doctor wouldn’t do the surgery with an active brain bleed. She couldn’t swallow and was on a feeding tube and IV for liquids. My sister and I didn’t wish for my mother’s life to end in ICU. The hospital’s hospice coordinator found us a beautiful 24/7 hospice facility. The hospice staff was wonderful. They made her comfortable with maximum oxygen and pain medicine, and she finally slept soundly and deeply.

Unable to process how quickly she left us (in comparison to my father), my sister was the first to post the news on her Facebook page. Later in the day, I finally wrote a long and flowery status update. I also found a memory necklace I had made using her high school photo and her favorite colors of red and purple. Here is what I wrote:

marjorienecklace

Posted January 14th, 2016 on my Facebook page-

Thank you for all the lovely condolences and heartfelt sentiments today. As many of you know from my sister Patti, our mother Marjorie passed away at 5 a.m. today. I’ve spent the morning doing everything I can to stay present. I have photographs from her as she’s aged and photos with her and my children, but I wanted to share a memory necklace I made in 2010. This photo is from 1947 when she was 17 years old and a senior at her all-girls high school. She loved this photo. Whenever she looked it at, she would say “Look at me, Jennifer, I was beautiful. I had a waist your dad could span with his fingers.” I would tell her “Yes, mama you ARE beautiful!”

My mother was all about children and babies. She raised two generations of her own children and then her twin grandbabies from my brother. When I was a kid, she worked the church nursery taking care of other people’s babies. When my son came along, she was 68 years old and my dad was 70. They took care of my son from six months to 4 years old while I worked three days a week. They were too old by the time my daughter came along to spend much time with her, but they loved her so much too,

We got her settled into a beautiful hospice facility yesterday. I was able to tell her it was OK for her to go be with my dad and my brother, her father and mother and best friend Dot. I thanked her for giving me and my siblings life so we could live these amazing lives of ours and I told her we would all be OK even though we would miss her. When I gave her a kiss goodbye on her forehead, she was sleeping peacefully because the hospice nurses had made her comfortable. She never woke up. I believe she literally just let go and let God.

My sister has spent many years caring for my parent’s physical needs, while I have done whatever I needed to do for paperwork, finances, etc. It is just the two of us left, and I’m so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing/beautiful/talented big sister.

Thank you for the kindness you have all shown us these past few days. I know many, many of you have lost dear ones as well. How lucky are we to have loved them in the first place?! Let’s promise to keep faith, keep hope and always share the love. In the end, it’s really all about the love.

JenSig

For the love of Shelter pets

 

AJ2

We made an appointment with the Arizona Humane Society this week for our sweet old boy AJ to say goodbye.  The paperwork asked for my name and relationship to the pet, along with my address, payment information, consent, etc. Standard paperwork questions. On the relationship line I wrote mom. When Heather, the tech, came in to check everything over she very kindly said “I see you wrote mom, but we need you to write owner.” I looked at her in surprise.

The word owner never once came to mind. My husband and I are mom and dad. To our children and our pets. When we bring a life into our house, we just take care of them and they stay. That is until it’s time for them to transition.

AJ passed peacefully and quickly with the two of us petting him and telling him we loved him, along with an incredibly kind vet and sweet tech who did the procedure. It’s been two days without him. It’s too quiet at night. He slept next to my husband on the floor and snored louder than us humans. I keep looking behind me whenever I move my chair back at my desk. He was always there and if I didn’t watch out, I’d push back too quickly and bump into him. He’s not underfoot every time I walk into the kitchen.

We got AJ, a beautiful white-and-brown English Springer Spaniel mix at the Arizona Humane Society 13 years ago. They said he was two years old at the time and that he had been turned in because he wouldn’t stop digging up his owner’s yard. He was never a digger for us. The first weekend we took him to our family cabin, we went for a walk and he saw a squirrel. This particular breed are known bird dogs with soft mouths to fetch and return. AJ (the name he came with) never much cared for birds, but he would spend hours trying to catch a squirrel. His sweet nature would’ve been lost as to what to do with it if he ever did manage to catch one. That first walk, he pulled the leash so hard that it jerked from my hand. He took off like a bullet and was gone. The only thing that stopped us from immediately losing him was a thick patch of brambles where he got cornered in the thorns. My husband went in without hesitation, scratching up his legs and arms, to collect our new dog and bring him home. My husband never complained once about the stings and welts. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

It took many years for AJ to settle down when his nature was to bolt. Eventually with enough time, he learned to walk the woods off leash and hike for 10 miles with my husband, never more than a few inches from his side. He loved those hikes. Just last month, even with a body riddled with large fatty tumors, cataracts, limited hearing and old arthritic joints, he had to join in on a three-mile hike. He slept for a week, but I swear that old dog of mine came home grinning from ear to ear.

AjJen

He lived past his life expectancy, as have all our shelter animals. He was a great dog and companion. The hardest part about being a loving pet owner, I believe, is making the decision to euthanize humanely when they are sick and in pain. Many people cannot be there in the end. For us, however, we feel it’s our duty to talk to our animals and love on them even after final breath. The vets say hearing is the last thing to go. The last words our dogs have always heard from us are we love you. See you again!

AJ is now with our other dogs — each one we adopted from the Human Society. While writing this remembrance about AJ today is my way of coping (writing is how I make sense of things and get them out), the take away I’m hoping to leave here is a personal plea that if you’re going to adopt and care for an animal, give a shelter/rescue dog or cat the first shot at your love. There is something about an animal who is given a second chance on life. I swear they know it and give back more than you can ever give them. Also, when it comes time to make donations for causes you believe in, please remember the animal shelters. We give every year to the Arizona Humane Society. Writing that check is always a satisfying experience.

For those of you reading this who have fur babies, give them an extra pat or snuggle today. I have two more shelter dogs in my family. I’ve cried into their collars and been rewarded with compassionate looks and reassuring licks. I know they miss AJ too, but they seem to understand the circle of life way better than we humans do.

JenSig

 

 

Purple boots

As I get older it’s the small moments/little details of life that are the most poignant. Recently, my daughter was so excited to put on her new purple shearling boots we bought at Costco. They’re supposed to be cabin boots because they are a bit too warm for Phoenix. I had put them away to take up north. She remembered them and asked if she could wear her new boots to school instead of her normal rainbow-colored sneakers.

Of course I said yes. Her eyes lit up when she saw them. When I dropped her off to school that morning she couldn’t stop looking at her pretty feet. As I watched her walk away, ponytail bouncing and skipping happily to school in her new boots, I had a moment of gratitude, once again, for this miracle baby of mine.

Being a mama in my 40s isn’t always easy. The energy level isn’t the same as it was with my son. Sometimes I don’t really want to color or read one more story after a long work day, making my family’s dinner, cleaning up, etc. What I desire most is to sit on the sofa and watch a movie on Netflix. But then I look into those lovely blue eyes and how can I say no because I’m tired? I do my best to say yes and keep going because God had enough faith in me to finally bring her to me.

I’m thankful today for my darling daughter and the simple fact that purple boots can make her so happy.

It’s Thanksgiving;  what are you grateful for?

JenSig

A soldier’s story

A long time ago before my work with ICE Resin and Susan, I was a magazine writer/editor and paper artist. I started my first WordPress blog in 2006. It truly was an online diary, and I was always surprised when anyone other than family read it. I gave it the catchy name of Get Real Scrapbooking because I was on a crazy quest at the time to get mothers to put photos of themselves in their family albums. This is wayyyyy before selfies. Almost every mom I knew went to crops with plastic bins stashed with family photos where they were nowhere to be found. (Remember when the photos were film that was developed at a photo center. Gasp!) Page after page was kiddo cuteness. How could a mother not love that face? Anyhoo…I digress…another story for another time perhaps.

Since today is Veteran’s Day, I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago when my now-teenage son was small regarding a trip to San Diego. I was determined to find it! When I closed down that blog, I made sure to import all the posts into a file. I spent 30 minutes today looking for what I wrote. After reading it again I decided to resurrect it in honor of all the United States Soldiers and Veterans who give/gave of themselves for our freedom.

JenCushmanCABHbeauty1lr

***First published June 2007

The first day of summer break, we drove to California for a family vacation. We traded our timeshare week for a stay at Gaslamp Plaza Suites Hotel, located smack in the heart of downtown San Diego’s historic Gaslamp quarter. My hubby worked remotely for the first two days, which left my son and me to figure out how to pass the time. Big things, like going to Sea World or the Wild Animal Park, were out of the question since Dad really wanted to do those as a family. I asked my son on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, what he wanted to do.

“I want to take a trolley ride, Mom.” I didn’t want to shell out $32/adult and $16/child to ride the tourist trolley that visited all the usual places. Instead, I thought it was time to teach my country boy about big city public transportation. It turned into an educational lesson where he figured out how to take the light rail’s Orange Line from Gaslamp Quarter to American Plaza so we could transfer to the Blue Line. Then to take the Blue Line to Old Town Station so we could catch the Green Line for Mission Valley Center. We also picked out other landmarks throughout the day so my son could learn how to navigate cross town busses.

He was unsure of himself at first, but soon got the hang of things. He quickly went from being a wide-eyed country boy looking for people to exchange smiles with to sitting stoically on the seat and keeping a bored expression on his face as he looked above, rather than at, his fellow passengers. At one point in the light rail ride, I told him to get up from the seats we were sitting on. He asked me why and I nodded my head in the direction of the man in a wheelchair who was coming aboard.

I explained it’s respectful for able-bodied people to give their seats to elderly or handicapped. The man thanked us as we moved diagonally from him. My son knew it was not polite to stare. He did, however, keep glancing at his legs or rather lack of legs, which were cut off above the knees.

“I bet you’re wondering why I don’t have any legs,” the man who looked to be in his 20s said, smiling at my son, who looked at me after the question was raised for visual clues as to how best to respond. I smiled at the man and then at my son and nodded to indicate it was safe to talk to him.

“I was wondering, but my mom would say it’s rude to ask.”

“Well, buddy, I’m a soldier. I lost my legs in Iraq,” the man said softly, looking straight into my son’s eyes.

My boy looked at him earnestly, a flicker of sadness crossing his young face. He looked at me and then looked back at the man. Then he said something that made my heart drop to my knees.

“I’m sorry you lost your legs, but thank you for fighting for our country.”

The soldier was so surprised by such an honest and heartfelt response from a child. His eyes grew wet and he blinked back tears. My eyes watered and I blinked back tears. 

My heart filled with pride when I realized, yet again, what an extraordinary difference my son makes to my world.

Dealing with grief

I feels like it’s time to reach out on my blog to let those of you who may not follow my social media a little closer into my life. I feel ready, well, truthfully not really. But after having lunch with a friend yesterday, I realized nothing is gained through silence.

Grief is such a difficult process. I’m learning it takes many forms, and each person handles death of a loved one in his or her own way. Some people “white knuckle” through it. Others reach out for support and counseling. Artists friends I’ve talked to over the past couple of months have shared their personal stories with me, and each of these treasured…private…intimate conversations has filled my heart with even more respect and tenderness for them and for the things they, too, are dealing with as they attempt to balance their careers.

My father passed away June 28th. I was in Paris at the time on our private art retreat. Of course, Susan, as well as the lovely ladies on our adventure knew of my situation and were incredibly kind and supportive. My father, a 20+ year diabetic, went into congestive heart failure in March, right before Adorn Me in Houston, Texas. As much as I hated doing it. I called the organizer and, together, we found replacement instructors for my classes. I was grateful to my friends Rikki Schumaker and Kim St. Jean for adding to their already full schedules to teach my classes. This new reality of my father’s declining health caused a chain of events that was like a snowball starting slowly and picking up more and more snow as the days ticked by.

I tried to teach my dad about selfies to pass the time in the hospital one afternoon in May. It took about 13 tries to get a decent shot. He said to me "honeychild, what are you doing?" I said "I'm taking a selfie pop." He responds: "What the heck is a selfie? All these people putting their phones out in front of them. What had the world come to?"

I tried to teach my dad about selfies to pass the time in the hospital one afternoon in May. It took about 13 tries to get a decent shot. He said to me “honeychild, what are you doing?” I said “I’m taking a selfie pop.” He responds: “What the heck is a selfie? All these people putting their phones out in front of them. What had the world come to?”

I immediately started paperwork to apply for ALTCS (Arizona Long Terms Care System), a state program designed to pay for care. ALTCS eligibility is determined by a financial and medical assessment. The system is convoluted and complicated, and I was told on a number of occasions to hire an elder care attorney to handle the paperwork/process. The idea was crazy to me to hire an attorney my parents can’t afford to help them get into a system designed for people financially unable to pursue private-pay options. I did exactly what I do when presented with a problem. I put on my big girl panties and tackled it, and thus started what amounted to an additional part time job on top of my normal schedule.

The end of May, my father called me one night and said he was ready to transition. He asked me to call Hospice and get him and my mother help. I made a phone call to a friend in the medical field and he gave me the info to SAGE Hospice. Thus began a new round of paperwork and more caseworkers. SAGE moved quickly and my father qualified immediately. He thought he would go quickly. It took a full, seemingly-long-but-blessedly-short five weeks for his body to shut down. We had time to say goodbye. Nothing was left unsaid. My father received and gave love all the way to last breath.

I spent hours with him and my mother the last two days before I left for France. All affairs were in order. When I gave him that last kiss and hug goodbye knowing I was getting on a plane the next day, I knew it was the last time I would see him. He wouldn’t let me cancel the trip. Houston was bad enough for him. Paris was unacceptable. He died four days before my parent’s 65th wedding anniversary and two weeks before his 87th birthday.

dadmom

My mother has never lived alone. She is grief-stricken and complains of heart pain, among many other things. I’m still going through the ALTCS eligibility process for her and it continues to demand my time. We will know the outcome within the next few weeks and I pray my mother gets what she needs.

All of this, of course, was going on while Susan and I were also working behind the scenes on our exciting new ventures with Ranger Industries. Talk about the best of times, the worst of times. While I’m so incredibly excited for the future and grateful for the multitude of tasks (also behind the scenes) that we must accomplish before CHA, I find that there are days when I just don’t feel like myself. There are moments when I wonder if my creativity has blown away in the wind because it’s so difficult to wrap my arms around that which is most familiar to me.

On those kind of days, thankfully, someone in my inner circle reaches out to me. Like yesterday, when my wise friend took me to lunch and shared her own grieving process of her father’s death. And last night when a friend/fellow instructor acted as a sounding board to my work ideas and guided me as I refocused.

I’m doing my best to stay grounded in my life. I can’t wait for 2016 to get here because there’s lots of new opportunities to touch even more people with art.  Since my teaching is over for the rest of the year, I have time this fall and winter for some much-needed exploitative time in my studio. I will share visuals on Instagram as I can. For now, today’s share is enough.

Artfully yours,

JenSig

 

A new direction

Susan Lenart Kazmer and Jen Cushman

Susan and me in Madrid, Spain on our unintended day trip after our flight home from France was cancelled. Here we are doing one of the things we like to do — turning lemons into champagne by creating new experiences.

Have you seen the news on the ICE Resin blog?

We’ve entered an exclusive manufacturing and distribution agreement with Ranger Industries for Susan Lenart Kazmer ICE Resin products. Susan and I are staying on to continue working this beautiful ship we’ve built and help steer it in exciting new directions. I cannot tell you how happy we are to have found the perfect partnership to make ICE Resin grow and bloom into everything Susan wanted it to be when she founded it eight years ago. This change is going allow us to focus on our core competencies. I do want to take a moment to acknowledge what an incredible business woman Susan is. Most people see this amazing artist, but they have no idea how much smarts, grace, strategic thinking and hard work she put into her position as President and Founder.  It’s been an honor to work with her.

ranger ink logo

Susan is now Creative Director of ICE Resin. She gets to do what she does best and loves the most: think, dream, build, invent and inspire all amazing things jewelry and mixed-media related. Watch out world, and unfettered Susan Lenart Kazmer is a beautiful thing to watch indeed. Stay tuned! I’ve seen a little bit of what’s to come and I’m blown away. As Education Director, I’ll focus on what I love — being an art educator and creating DIY programs to showcase all the the amazing techniques Susan’s developed over the years so others can continue to learn how to use resin and SLK products in their own art making. We will continue to teach workshops, create videos, do online education, write books and articles and pursue new opportunities. We’ll continue to do new product development for ICE Resin hand-in-hand with Ranger. This is the big time, folks.

One of the biggest challenges of being an artist-based company is that we’ve had to take on all the company responsibilities as we were growing. Finances, sales, manufacturing, trade show logistics, vendor relations, customer service and a host of other tasks that are absolutely essential to running a successful business. We’ve stuck together and done it, even though we’ve had some rough patches where we’ve looked at each other and said “What are we doing? We’re artists”!!!

We woke up every day and put one foot in front of another and grew the company. We “made the donuts” (remember that old Dunkin Donuts commercial?) because we have responsibilities that we’ve always taken very seriously to our customers, employees and creative team of artists. Last year, it became clear to us that in order to up level ICE Resin to the next big rung of success, we needed to find the right partners who shared our vision and also our deep commitment to our creative tribe and industry. This process was a long one that developed after many months and meetings. It was a literal meeting of the minds with every conceivable detail being worked out.

So begins a new chapter, more like a new book; a sequel. The characters are in place, the journey continues, the plot thickens. Keep reading. Hopefully we can make this next book a page-turner. I can promise you that we will never be out of ideas. With Ranger’s support, now is the time to fly.

Susan Lenart Kazmer and Jen Cushman Boat in Paris

Cheers!