Sunday, December 16, 2018

The art of the stitch

My graphic spin on the Love design by Robert Indiana.
This one I stitched with love and a tennis racquet for Norman.

I have always loved fiber arts. When I was a young art student, my dad built a huge table frame in the basement of our house in Whitestone for me to weave on. Even then, I was excited to share my creations with anyone and everyone. While I am very much an introvert and way too shy to dance in front of a crowd, I've always wanted my handcrafted art to take a bow. So back in the day, when Uncle Arnold looked at my woven piece of adolescent art and asked why I would want to make a horse blanket, I was crushed. My mother's older brother may not have had a creative slant to his conceptual mind, but I adored him and I sought his approval. If what you do on a stage or in an art studio defines you and the thrill of it inspires you, you must be an artist.

If you say you can't be an artist because you can't draw a straight line, just pull out that old wooden grade school ruler hidden somewhere in your junk drawer. It'll help. But to be an artist you also need a big and sensitive ego. The instant gratification of an Instagram heart has done more to support the creatives of the world than any ruler in any bag of artistic tools. You may not crave an audience but if what you do matters, you're in.

I often let my art do the talking and my gifting. There is no greater expression of love for me than to share a piece of my soul with the people I care about. I will not go to a Hallmark store any more than I frequent Macy's. Having a birthday in our family meant children running downstairs to the kitchen to see their birthday poster. They knew not to come down the night before because I was busy painting and they all wanted to be surprised on their day. It was what defined a Levine birthday morning.

My gifts to my husband are usually a combination of tennis and art. The cross-stitched Love design was completed just in time for our anniversary. I think our tennis and art theme has inspired me on many occasions. I don't just paint fur, sometimes I go crazy painting grass around a tennis ball.

"Tennis"
20x24" acrylic on canvas

Cross stitching took a 30-year hiatus and I finally picked up a piece of Aida cloth again this year. When I was pregnant with Sam, I was told to stay in bed for the remainder of my term. And Zach was less than 2 years old at the time. Can you imagine that? A toddler and I had to stay put. We watched VCR tapes together. We read together. We napped together. And I started a cross-stitch sampler of a teddy bear alphabet for Zach's soon-to-be baby brother. It took 5 months to finish that sampler, but it kept my hands busy and it hung proudly in his bedroom after Sam sang his way into this world.

Detail from Sam's cross-stitch sampler.
How great that M is for Music and not Marshmallows!

Just after retiring this year, I signed on to participate in a Torah stitching project. They sent me the Aida, the embroidery floss and a chart to complete one verse of the Torah. I could do this. I did that huge sampler 30 years ago for Sam! With the Hebrew verse, I was given the option to embellish the design. On my computer, I drafted a grid and plotted out a donkey walking along the road.

Completed Torah panel

As soon as the Torah project was complete, I was completely obsessed with my new hobby. I ran to buy another kit. This one was filled with other techniques for me to learn. And of course, I changed this design as well. Sam found the word for "Female Artist" and I stitched that at the top. At the bottom, I added a quote from Albert Einstein.


At Ranney School, I was once asked to give a speech to the senior class at a Cum Laude ceremony. I was an art teacher, not a physics or English teacher! As much as I knew that art mattered greatly across all subjects and in life, this was an academic audience. A quote by Albert Einstein gave me the confidence and the beginning of my speech.

"Knowledge is limited whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulates progress and gives birth to evolution." 

Einstein understood this important revelation, years before Daniel Pink developed his premise on how important design and creativity will be to surviving a future in the conceptual age. My finished cross stitch with another quote by dear old Albert hangs in my art room and reminds me that I was once a proud member of an academic community and I am still part of a greater community of artists, people who matter for the future of this world. As a retiree, I often need to be reminded that I still count.


I do my stitching at the dining room table. We don't eat there much, so Sam and I fill the space with jigsaw puzzles and embroidery floss. He plays jazz music and I stitch away, enjoying the company and the meditative act of pulling a needle through a piece of fabric. Right at the moment, I am between paintings and happily stitching a Matisse nude. This time, no kit. Just a blank piece of cloth and a print of the painting for inspiration.

Some people read, others play tennis. Me? I draw with thread. (At least as long as this obsession lasts!)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Happy Anniversary


In 1983, the car radio played "All Night Long," "Billy Jean," and "Every Breath You Take." My personal favorite voices, Billy Joel and Culture Club, filled my ears with delight and assaulted my poor soon to be husband's ears with my out-of-tune humming. He, on the other hand, changed the lyrics to every Sinatra song and sang along in perfect pitch maneuvering through Brooklyn traffic in our little brown Honda Civic stick shift.

He still loves a good Sinatra tune and he still changes the lyrics when we drive through Brooklyn or New Jersey. I still laugh.

35 years ago, we went to the Cobble Hill Cinemas at the corner of Butler and Court and enjoyed Yentl, Tootsie, and Flashdance. Risky Business made us want to dance in socks and underwear, and Terms of Endearment made us all cry.

Mario Bros was introduced in 1983 and so were Cabbage Patch dolls. Ronald Reagan was the president, MASH aired its last episode, and you could pull up to an Esso station with a five dollar bill and drive around town for miles.


And, in 1983, a girl from Whitestone who never thought it was possible to find love, became engaged to a boy from Park Slope. December 11th brought with it rainy skies, but they say that is good luck. We were married in Roslyn surrounded by friends and family. It was a beautiful day despite the raindrops, and a very good, lucky day. 35 years later, many of those who celebrated with us have since passed, but our memories are long and happy ones.

Families change and grow, children make you laugh, and new friends touch your life like a gift to your soul. If you are lucky, you get to meet those changes together. If you are lucky, you get to grow old together.

We called 20 Butler Street home even though it came with mice. 1410 Avenue S came with roaches and our short stay on 28th street was in a three-family house that came with the Mafia. Moving to New Jersey gave us a safer home and much better pets. Some things do improve with age, such as our dog Murray. Back then, Norman was a tennis player and I was an artist. That hasn't changed much. But I think we improved with age too.



35 years brought us joy with three amazing children. They all came home for Hanukkah latkes this week. Zach, Sam, and Katie cuddled up on the couch with the ones they have chosen to love. I don't know about you, but my wish for my children is that they each find their person. Someone who will love them for the rest of their lives as much as we loved them. Someone who will nurture them, help them see the hard moments as fleeting and the joyous occasions as what really defines their lives. This coming year, we get to see our Zach marry his Michele. We already love Michele as a daughter and we feel blessed that they have found each other. 35 years after the start of our family, our children are beginning their stories. I hope they all have a long and sweet journey even if it costs much more than 5 dollars to get around town.

35 years ago, I found the love of my life. I get to honor that momentous occasion every December 11th. But what is even sweeter is that I get to celebrate him every day. Norman makes me laugh, he keeps me young, and he is the best husband and papa I could ever have dreamed of finding back in 1983. I found my person. (Thank you, El.)

Happy 35th Norm! I love you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pet portraits for the holidays

"Zoey"
14"x18" Acrylic on Canvas

It's been a furry business around here lately. Two dog portraits are off to their new homes and a pair of cute cats are at the framer! I've taken up stitching as well, after sending my cross stitched Torah panel off to Canada. It feels good to keep my hands busy with so many creative activities.

Zoey the portrait next to her photo

Zoey is a German Shepherd and my first portrait of that breed. There seems to be a lot of Shih Tsu's in my life, but painting this large, muscular dog with her regal fur and sweet expression was simply a joy. Norm's friend Paul commissioned this portrait and we discussed many things for her, such as the background, the size of the dog, and the special markings that make her unique. A German Shepherd's fur is a rich blend of black, brown and white hair and was as important to get right as the twinkle in her eyes and the white dot on her nose! Zoey is a much-loved member of her family and I hope her portrait brings them joy for many years.


"Bear"
18x24, Acrylic on canvas

My last portrait of a dog named Bear is on his way to my friend Ruth who commissioned him for her dear friend, Phyllis. Bear is an adorable pup, an also much-loved member of his family. Doesn't he look so smart in his bandana? That detail on the canvas makes it a very striking portrait. I can't wait to hear what they think of him once he gets to his forever home! Thank you for giving me the honor of working on him, Ruth.



I never owned or painted a cat before. I never even pet a cat before! Here are a couple of cute cats I was commissioned to paint. I figured fur is fur but this was a learning curve for sure. Their cute expressions, so typical of young kittens and so very different from puppies, simply captured my heart. Now I know why my friend Lisa is so enamored with them. This portrait is at the framer but I have to find out their names. A portrait is not complete unless it has a name (or two).




And finally, keeping with the theme of animals here is my Torah panel created for Torah Stitch by Stitch, an international stitching project I participated in. After asking for a translation of my verse, I was delighted to learn that my panel had to do with an animal. So I designed my donkey in cross stitch and added him walking proudly along a road. No animal of mine will be made a fool of!

Torah Stitch by Stitch is a project started in Canada and completed by stitchers all over the world. I hope the exhibit goes on tour so I can see my panel again one day. There will be almost 1500 panels joined together as a full Torah scroll. So exciting!

I am just as excited to see my portraits framed and signed in the home of someone who loves them. Commissions are open! Contact me for details.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Starry Starry Night

Exhausted after an amazing week in Florida

A day of unpacking.
A day of laundry.
A trip to Shop Rite to stock up.
I miss Delmy.
I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

Norman, on the other hand, woke up early yesterday. He grumbled about it being cold in New Jersey and went to the club. My husband spent a full day of doing normal stuff and played poker at night. It was just another Wednesday in his life, unfazed by a week of warmth and friends. How does it he do it? My Fitbit vibrated just from climbing up and down the stairs in my house unpacking and I'm still not ready to resume my regular life.

There were two flights home to Newark when we arrived at Palm Beach International Airport on Tuesday. Our luggage enjoyed a trip home on the first plane and we had seats on the second plane. (I wasn't too concerned. My blue luggage was filled with dirty laundry. If someone wanted it, they could have it.)

People take a plane to get from point A to point B. Period. Most are not interested in how that happens or they are too drugged up to imagine how they could be traveling in a metal tank in the sky. A few strong drinks or a Xanax does a great job of blurring it all. Beam me up, Scotty.

Since retiring, I have been trying to appreciate the time I am gifted with each day and to be present in the moment. I am not just getting from point A to point B. I am creating my very own point B. The process interests me, the journey is exciting... and that includes a very magical plane ride connecting one world to another.

I'm sure I have flown in the dark before, but the stars in the sky took my breath away this time. Our plane was pretty empty and we were able to spread out, allowing me to slide over to a window seat and enjoy the most magnificent view. Millions of stars glittered through my window. Constellations made connect-the-dot pictures for anyone who knows about that sort of thing. I saw stars lined up in possible arrangements everywhere I looked. In those couple of hours, I was closer to heaven and closer to my mom. It was magical. It was brilliant. It was the vision of Vincent van Gogh.

If I craned my neck far enough, there were earth lights peeking through the clouds below us, competing in brilliance with the stars above. Clusters of cities and busy highways showed signs of life on the planet, but I was more enthralled with the stars in the night sky. There's got to be more than we understand to this life. And because I did not have a drink or a Xanax, I have clear memories of that vision screaming out to be created as art someday.



Today is a pretty autumn day in New Jersey. Separated by a mere 2 1/2 hour plane ride, the paths we travel on the ground look startlingly different. In Marlboro, the trails are colorful and rustling with leaves. In West Palm Beach, little lizards dance across the path as fast as a New Jersey squirrel. I love both towns and I love both seasons. The sun shines beautifully over both places.

I also love my family and want to stay close to my children. I just hate shoveling. Now that I saw the warm and beautiful home of our friend, David, it's not hard to consider a new possible point B to our journey.

As long as I can take everyone with me.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Levine's of Florida

Uncle George with Ira and his nephews. He adopted Florida as his home.

Our drive to David's neighborhood from West Palm Beach airport was not at all like driving down the New Jersey Turnpike with smoking factories on the right and a big blue IKEA on the left. You know you are in New Jersey when you land in Newark. Here, we drove along quiet, wide streets dotted with Italian villas. Each community announced their presence in a grand way, focusing our attention on stone archways, beautiful waterfalls, sparkling fountains, and lush tropical leaves. I am not sure why they all have Italian names. We saw Valencia Shores, Valencia Palms and Valencia Bay. There were variations of communities named after Villas, Venetians, and Villaggios. The Italians must really enjoy the letter V and the Floridian Jews must really love the Italians. If it weren't for the palm trees, I would have thought the pilot took us out of the country.

We also passed a neighborhood with the unfortunate title of Journey's End. Floridians, as well as every human from every other state, will eventually meet their journey's end. We all will. But why rub it in? Journey's End might be a great place to live, but I am sorry, that is not a good name. Nor is The Falls. Completely missing the reference to its waterfalls, I immediately thought of the commercial with the lady who falls and can't get up. Don't you think there could be some more upbeat communities for the sunshine state?

Uncle George moved down to Florida years ago with his family. He did meet his journey's end here, but his legend lives on. Just yesterday at the pool, Norman met a man he knew from the Board of Ed, another legend in his own right, and they were reminiscing about Uncle George. Like my husband, his uncle's reputation precedes him. All who know of him, love him. A New York City gym teacher from Canarsie High School, Uncle George will live on forever as a Floridian, basking in the sun at his pool and remembering a life that touched many.

Visiting with Uncle George's family.
Richie and his wife, Gracie

Aunt Sonia and Paula

There are many who now call Florida home, just like this branch of the Levine family tree. But there are also many native to this area, including a vast population of earth's creatures. My favorite activity besides painting animals, is taking a walk and seeing animals. Florida has scores of nature preserves and wetlands, each with an abundance of wildlife and forestry. Green Cay is such a place. This trail gave us a reason to fall in love with Florida beyond the appeal of a warm winter or a warm hug from the people we have been missing.



Norman's friend Brian introduced us to Green Cay. A narrow boardwalk raised above lakes and grassy swamps meanders through the preserved land, offering many opportunities to bird watch or take a photograph. Norm was so excited to see his friend and they spent the 3 mile trek catching up. Once we said goodbye to Brian, the two of us set out again on a much more leisurely pace just to absorb the beauty before us. Many Floridians come to walk in Green Cay, but most do not come for exercise, they come with tripods and cameras slung over the necks. I am assuming those impossibly huge back lenses were telescopic to capture a rare bird on a distance tree. My brother would know this better than I would and I hope he could come one day with his equipment and enjoy the wildlife that abounds here.



How ironic. We came down to Florida to see people we've been missing, and I spent the morning thinking about my brother, a photographer who lives in New York. When you experience something this spectacular, you want to share it with the people you love. I am glad Norman and I got to walk this path together.

The animals of Green Cay call this place home. We are intruding on their world with our foot path, yet they seemed not to care. Some of the birds perched on the railing and did not fly away even as we approached. How lovely that some creatures can get along with each other in such sweet symbiosis. The people of this country should take a lesson from them, hopefully before we kill them all off. The Earth is a beautiful place to live.

So is Florida... something Uncle George knew very well.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Flying to Flakowitz

These two could stay in the pool all day.
Here is my husband getting fitted with a snorkel thing.
David has all the newest Florida gadgets!

My first plane ride happened when I was a teen. I flew across the country with my parents. I don’t know what I imagined I’d see out of the plane window other than an image of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of clouds. When I looked down over the land, I was surprised to see vast, unending stretches of brown and green fields. I guess I was expecting some sort of border identifying the states, after all, my only view of the country was a map in school with black lines separating the states. Where were the black lines when I looked out of the plane window? How will anyone ever find California, Florida or New York? Geography was obviously not my strong suit.

Along with my many quirky personality traits, I suffer from a bad case of acrophobia. I don’t do down escalators, especially those big open ones in the department stores. I won’t look over high balconies like there are in Shmooey’s building or chance a peek through the panoramic windows of Vicki’s New York City apartment. But if I could open the window of an airplane and stick my head out to see what is 35,000 feet below me, I would. That makes no sense, I know. I love to fly. I would have missed out on some really great trips if I let my fear of heights take over the skies too.

Norman picked up a Post before boarding our plane to Florida. I usually don’t read a print newspaper as I prefer up to the minute internet coverage to stay informed. Doesn’t everyone want to get their bad news as fast as possible? Halfway into our flight, Norman was sound asleep and dreaming of pickleball, so I grabbed his newspaper. This guy murdered that guy. That guy punched this guy in the face. Some creep ejaculated all over a woman’s back in the subway. Yuck. Why does he read this stuff? My personal favorite was a story where TV anchor, Rosanna Scotto’s son testified that a man admitted to killing someone in his home. After the murder, the killer sat down to eat pancakes. Gee, it must not have fazed him much. It seems that murderers can have a night of good fun and still enjoy a hearty breakfast. And because this was the New York Post, the pancakes made the headlines, not the murder. Fear of crime on the streets chased us out of Brooklyn many years ago and I bet it’s why people retire to Florida, leaving the city and the cold behind.

Newark to Florida seemed a short and easy flight to me, but then again, I was not flying the plane. Thank goodness for that. I don't have much experience these days with airplanes. We had a wonderful male flight attendant who I had assumed was the pilot but then wondered who was doing the flying when he was busy handing out drinks and cookies. (I guess they’re not called stewardesses any more.) The plane touched down in West Palm Beach with applause from the snowbirds happy to have reached their winter home safely. I was looking forward to the warm welcome of Florida and seeing where David lives, but there was a down escalator in the airport I still had to deal with. I could fly, I just can’t ride a moving stairwell. I don't think I am that old, but maybe I do belong with the altacockers after all.


A beautiful home

And it comes with a cute butler along with Delmy

Our friend David has a lovely palatial home, with artwork worthy of any museum. And his newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, is a much more delightful read than its New York cousin. No murders were discussed in this paper and pancakes were only offered as a recipe for the home chef. The top story in David’s Post mentioned a man hired to remodel a home. He left his truck unlocked and when he returned to his vehicle, all of his tools were missing. The man wasn’t killed, but his day certainly was. This made news in West Palm Beach. No plate of pancakes would have make up the difference for him. 

Unless, of course, it was served to him by Maddy, the waiter at Flakowitz.


Norman, as the more experienced guest Floridian, told me that my first visit to the sunshine state would not be complete without visiting Flakowitz of Boca. He said anybody who is anyone would be having breakfast there between 9:30 and 10:00, and we will probably run into a Brooklyn homey or two. My husband finds friends no matter where we are, and sure enough, we heard, “Oh, Mr. Levine!” as soon as we parked the car. An old coworker from Norman’s school was so excited to see him that she dropped her laundry in the parking lot before we ever got into the famous Jewish eatery. That’s my husband. Friends flock to him like a Brooklyn Jew to a good bagel store.

Flakowitz has fat New York style bagels, enticing aromas of freshly baked babka,
appetizing perfect for a Bris or a daily brunch, and knishes that should be classified as a cultural phenomenon. This is a Jewish Mecca of delight and I could understand why it has such a large following. Guy Fieri’s face was even plastered on the walls. It’s not just Jews who enjoy a good smear.

Sue was our hostess. She was in charge of crowd control and she did this with a smile, joking around with the hungry guests who lined up for a table. Sue refilled coffees and happily swept the floor between seating her customers. This was a woman who should have retired years ago along with the folks who think every day is Sunday, but she clearly loved her job. The regulars kiss her goodbye and thank her before leaving just as they would thank their mom for a home cooked meal. Coming to Flakowitz is like
visiting your extended family.


A Flakowitz brunch starts with a plate of complementary marble cake. Friendly waiters who know everyone’s name offer coffee and oatmeal as an appetizer. Two elderly ladies at the table next to ours were discussing the marble cake. I bet they meet there every morning and exchange the same words, as if they memorized the lines of a funny script. The marble cake was very light and one of them remarked that it was from properly beaten egg whites. Her friend said that there were other flavors in the cake that made it so delicious. She knew better, after all, she was the baker. There’s not much a Jew enjoys more than a heated argument. Except maybe a good breakfast special.

I think I like it here!

Florida is a lovely place. We arrived at the airport in New Jersey wearing winter coats and we’ve been living in shorts ever since. Friends and family we haven’t seen in years are welcoming us with hugs and stories of a happy life. The sun is shining, the skies are blue even if the forecast calls for a shower, and our friend’s home is like a dream. The best part of this vacation is seeing David in his element. He is as handsome as ever, swimming in his pool and busy meeting friends for a game of poker or a lecture. He just needs to buy Delmy some baking powder and vanilla so I can make him a proper piece of mandel bread... a breakfast treat worthy of any Flakowitz order.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Come From Away

A KR backdrop of Hopewell Junction that Sue and I painted for a camp musical.
Those were the days when a set dressed the stage.

Broadway has changed, and I don't mean the couple of city blocks now lined with tables and chairs. The entire experience has changed. I can remember when our seats faced a velvet curtain and an overture filled the air with music and anticipation. A full orchestra was as important to the Broadway experience as the illusion a set designer created behind the velvet. Shows do not have overtures anymore and they all seem to have taken down the curtains that used to rise into the rafters. The stage of your next show will probably be in full view as you walk in, with members of the cast or crew roaming around and setting things up. Nothing is hidden, not even the actors; the audience is the one making the dramatic entrance.

An intermission is something else that seems to have become a thing of the past. Better locate the restrooms before you find your seat.

Not everything has changed. Ushers in uniforms still escort you to your seat, hopefully on an aisle or with lots of leg room. Last night all the ushers in the Schoenfeld Theater wore the usual tight black pants and jacket, a crisp white button-down shirt, and a colorful tie. I happily thanked ours for our Playbill even though I can't remember the last time I actually read the program. Now we just hold it up in front of us for a Facebook selfie and hope a little square piece of paper does not fall out. Last night, an understudy was given the break she was waiting for, but it didn't much matter to us when the notice fell out of the program. It wasn't like Carol Channing was out sick. All the actors in this show were wonderful. It was more of a team effort, a far cry from the days when there was the star and then there was the rest of the cast.

Our audience was of a certain age, like me. Most would remember Broadway as I remember Broadway. In the row in front of us sat an older gentleman with an impressive head of silver hair and bright red glasses. His wife (I assume) had bright red hair and silver glasses. I found that amusing and I wondered if she dyed her hair to match his glasses. Next to them sat a couple we met while we were waiting outside. As it happens in Jewish geography, we knew people from their over-55  neighborhood in New Jersey. And they went to Tilden High School in Brooklyn, just like my husband. People of a certain age not only have people and places to talk about, but they help each other take selfies. I know it is not really a selfie, but sometimes you need another set of hands to get your face and the sign in the same picture.

Come From Away hangs a poster outside the theatre just for your selfies.

People of a certain age also tend to dress up for the theatre. Last night, I admired how proper and fancy one man looked with his suit and tie. His wife was dripping with jewels. (I forgot to wear mine.) With this age bracket of theatergoers, the actors get to enjoy a well-dressed audience.

The set for Come from Away was not dressed to impress. Trees lined the simple stage and we were invited to watch the musicians set their stands and instruments among the branches. Chairs and tables were the only props. The small cast of twelve actors moved the furniture around themselves and they played multiple roles, taking off a jacket or adding a hat for a simple costume change. It was all so minimalistic.

Come From Away is not the story of 9/11. It was the story of 9/12 and the days following the attacks. Travelers to the US were diverted to a small town in Newfoundland. Canada welcomes us every time we need to escape our country or our airways. From Vietnam to Trump, we always have a reason to cross the border. This show told us the story of the stranded plane people and the amazing friendly neighbors in Canada who embraced them with open arms, a change of clothes and a place to sleep. I could not imagine such a horrific tale set to music, but the show ended with a big song and dance finale, so I guess it could be defined as a musical. A Tony Award show, Come From Away was very well done... even without impressing us under the Broadway lights we remember.

If a stage does not have a curtain, can the actors still have a curtain call?

A better question is why we went to see a show about planes making emergency landings just days before we board our United Airlines flight for a vacation. Let's just hope our landing does not become a story that deserves a stage.

The art of the stitch

My graphic spin on the Love design by Robert Indiana. This one I stitched with love and a tennis racquet for Norman. I have always lov...