Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Notes on a Great Man

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

My dad passed away last week. He was 93. It has been a long 11 years since he was diagnosed with dementia, especially long for my mother, who was his primary caregiver for most of it. He was able to live at home until last December, when his gall bladder, of all things, had to be removed. After the surgery he was unable to regain his strength, and we had no choice but to place him in a nursing facility where he could get the care he needed and which none of the family was able to provide on our own. 

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

We celebrated his birthday in March, but we noticed a marked decline in his health and behavior. He was eating much less, barely anything, in fact. He wasn't interested in the chocolate treats he'd so loved throughout his life, nor was he interested in even a sip of scotch, a favorite drink. He constantly asked when he could go home, which broke our hearts, yet we understood that often times Alzheimers patients ask to go home even if they are home. They are searching for the place in their past life where they felt safe, secure, and at ease.

I compiled his music on an iPod for him to listen to. Dad had been a great reader, but now was unable to make sense of pages of text. Very little seemed to interest him now, but at least his music seemed to soothe him.

A week or so later he stopped eating completely. Our family was asked if we wanted a feeding tube inserted; we didn't, and knew Dad wouldn't have, either. It was horrible watching him fade as we still questioned if we were doing the right thing. I hate this fucking disease.

For a while he was drinking fluids, but then he stopped that, too. Hospice was called in, and all of his children came home to be with him and Mom.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

My sisters and my brother were with him most of the time while I stayed with Mom and tried to comfort her best I could. One day all of us—Mom, myself, and my four siblings—all sat in his room. It had been a long time since we had all been together like that. We talked and laughed and reminisced and consoled each other, and I believe my dad heard us even though he was deeply relaxed from the Xanax prescribed by hospice for his comfort. As the hours passed, one by one his organs began to shut down, but his heart refused to cease beating.

I talked to him, telling him what a wonderful dad he was, how I was living the life I wanted to live and was surrounded by love, how lucky our family was to have him. And he gazed at me, and I saw such a look of deep love and kindness, and was humbled. 

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

Dad always taught his children by example, and even as he neared death we believe his lessons continued. My firstborn sister, always the fearless leader with her checklists and will to complete a task, was taught that not everything can be controlled and completed on a timetable. She laughed when she told the story of how a kind person at the nursing home saw her waiting at Dad's side for the inevitable, saw her frustration over her inability to end his struggle, and said, "Maybe you should open a window to let his soul escape." My sister, willing to try anything, did so, only to have a small avalanche of snow which had built up outside the window pile into the room (an inch or two of snow had fallen the previous evening—rare for April, even in Ohio). 

My brother, the only son, was taught by my father in his final days that even though their relationship had been a struggle, my dad deeply loved his son and wanted the best for him.

My second sister was taught the same lesson about control, and that sometimes it must be relinquished in order for life to progress.

My third sister, terrified of death but no stranger to it after having lost a dear friend to cancer not long ago, and myself, afraid of living at times, were given the greatest gift of all from my dad. The two of us were present when he took his last breath. We gripped each other's hands and held onto Dad as his breathing slowed, and my sister gave words of encouragement to Dad as he prepared to leave us. I mostly studied his face, my voice stilled by this profound moment, this parting gift he gave to two of his children—possibly the two who needed it the most. I watched his breath leave him and felt his soul depart, as did my sister, and it was beautiful and peaceful. I have never witnessed childbirth, but I'd imagine it is as deeply profound and life changing.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Because of his final gift, I was better equipped to deal with the difficult days after his passing. I saw many relatives and friends not seen in a long, long time, and was comforted by their love and respect for Dad. I saw him in his coffin and understood completely that what I saw before me was not Dad, but a kind of cocoon from which he had flown. 

In the days after his death, a red-breasted robin came to visit. He pecked away at my mother's garage window, charmed by his own reflection in the glass or perhaps entranced by what he thought was his perfect, unattainable partner. We watched him from the kitchen window, dancing away on the window sill.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Rest in peace, Dad. You did good.

"The Great Minimum" by G. K. Chesterton is a poem about gratitude. We are grateful for the life Dad lived and the joy he brought to us and others around him.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Many Moods of Pine Nut

He's bold. He's brash. He uses bad grammar. He's Pine Nut, yet another red squirrel character in my upcoming picture book, tentatively titled "Flying Dudley."

This looks like some sort of weird album cover, doesn't it? "Pine Nut and the Shirelle Heads," or "The Many Moods of Pine Nut," or "Pine Nut: Can I Borrow A Feelin'?"

But Pine Nut, as with the other squirrel puppets, has interchangeable heads with varying expressions. In the past I've varied puppet expressions digitally, but I didn't like the vague feeling they were creeping into Uncanny Valley territory. This time I've decided to fabricate the damned things.

* * *

In other news, my dad, who just turned 93, is not doing well.

Last December he had his gall bladder removed, but has had trouble regaining his strength. On top of that, he's had vascular dementia for the past 15 years or so. He's been relatively stable for all of that time, and has managed to live at home under the care of my sainted mother, various siblings, and a home health care nurse. But the last couple of months he has lived in a nursing home.

And, every minute or two, he asks "When am I going home?"

In the last week, he has not been eating or drinking much. We have called hospice in. He may not last much longer. My heart is breaking, and the sorrow comes in waves.

I debated whether or not I wanted to talk about this here. In the end, I decided to let you all know the situation and why I disappear from time to time. I don't feel like burdening you with my pain.

But now you know. Say a prayer for our family as we go through this journey with our beloved dad.

Quips from Dad:

1) My dad told the physical therapy nurses he's going to the Olympics. He said he's going to have a kissing booth and it'll be free. My sister says she can see the headlines now: 93 YEAR OLD MAN MEETS PUTIN AT OLYMPIC KISSING BOOTH.

2) When he was in the hospital, I stayed with him one night trying to keep him soothed and comfortable. At one point when I pulled his blankets around him and added another, he said, "Hey, you're all right. I don't care what everyone says about you."

3) My sister: "Dad, I want to tell you something. You know, you and mom did a pretty good job of raising us kids."
My dad: "And I want to tell you something."
My sister: "What, Dad?"
My dad: "You have nice teeth."

And this, my friends, is where my family gets its sense of humor. God help us all.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Things learned while fabricating squirrel puppets:

1) Squirrel puppet heads bounce


2) Squirrel puppet heads are close to the same size as those cat mousie toys. You know the ones—the peach pits covered with fuzzy fabric. 

Our cat Mickey has discovered the similarities between the cat mousies and the squirrel heads, and has brought it to our attention…after batting one of the squirrel heads around for his amusement.

One day, years into the future, someone is going to find all of those toy mousies we bought for our cats, the toys they've batted into the old furnace vents (probably). 

Eight more heads to make for the book.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Big, buggy eyes

Sadly, a page has been cut from the upcoming squirrel book I'm working on.

Here's the page sketch, in which three nasty red squirrels harass our hero:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A meeting of woodland creature minds

They just showed up one night, these woodland creature heads. No bodies. Just heads.

This one appears to have Pink hair.

These three seem content to perch on spools of thread, telling assorted squirrel/nut jokes.

You have no idea what it's like, hearing them chatter while I try to get some work done.

One of them is always telling a dumb squirrel joke. It's like they're running a vaudeville act.

And they laugh at their own jokes. Abominable.

They don't seem to be going away any time soon, either.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Let There Be Pi(e)

(From Gracie Goat's Big Bike Race by Erin Mirabella, illustrated by Lisa Horstman)

And another thing found in the archives, a sketch for a proposed book:

This book is tucked away for now, waiting for the story to ripen. It will reappear one of these days. Sometimes it takes a while for stories to crawl out into the sun.

Meanwhile, the squirrel book is ramping into high gear. Squeeeeeee!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lost and Found

We've been clearing out an upstairs room, with big plans to turn it into a music room/library of sorts. As a result, I've come across all sorts of treasures. Like this:

My mom gave me this years ago for whatever reason. I think it was a party favor or something, and once held a Hershey's Kiss inside. Its weird charm made me laugh.

I had taken it home with me and repurposed it.

Squeeze the thing's sides and its mouth opens.

Enough time had passed that I'd completely forgotten what I'd put in there. A treasure box!

But what's inside?


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When it's a slow day, here's what you can do:

Preliminary sketch for my upcoming book, which will be illustrated with squirrel puppets and other assorted troublemakers. Look for it this summer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Oldies but goodies

I will be posting erratically while I work on the illustrations for the new picture book. Unfortunately, I'd much rather be at the beach.

In the meantime, I've dug through old archives and will be posting random stuff for your mild amusement.

Like my old illustration of Nigel the pastry chef:

Or this old card once carried by a deaf salesman:

Maybe it was carried by this fellow:

(photograph by Frank Hohenberger)

How about an image of my cat, Mickey, looking like a nun with her hands tucked in her habit sleeves?

Oh, Internets, you're just too fickle.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Not quite the cabinet of Dr. Caligari…

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was clearing out her father's house and asked if I wanted this little wall cabinet he'd had, along with some 78 rpm records. So I brought them home, not sure what to do with the cabinet or where to hang it. Until now.

Ta-daaaa! A display for various puppet heads.

Vaguely disturbing, but funny, too.

* * *

In other news, I'm looking into setting up an online store by this summer, possibly on Etsy. It will mostly be prints of my work, but on occasion I may offer up original art and perhaps other types of merchandise. I'll post a link when it's ready. Stay tuned!

* * *

And work on the books continues. First, early thumbnail sketches of the squirrel book. Two of the squirrel characters supervise:

Second, an art panel, sans text, from the graphic novel I'm working on:

I can't image two more opposite worlds: one of fluffy squirrels who talk, the other a gritty adult world during The Great Depression.

I can't write happy books ALL the time (not that the graphic novel won't be funny. It will be. Darkly funny).

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