I was about to give up.  Those aren’t words I say lightly.  I never given up on anything without a fight, even when giving up may have been the wisest course of action.

But two events happened recently to remind me that what I know about my next step, and what the universe has planned for me, are two entirely different things.

I got an email recently from one of the editors at Workman Publishing.  He wanted me to send images of my handbags for inclusion in the 2014 Handbags Page-a-Day  Calendar.   The 2013 Calendar features everyone from Judith Leiber to Muiccia Prada, and to say that I was overwhelmed by the honor is putting it lightly.

I sent five images, and was told there is a good likelihood they will all be included, including the tiger eye handbag I sent to Aretha Franklin a few months ago.  When I posted about the email on my facebook page, I had another surprise coming; a major handbag “player” (she was a judge on the now defunct Project Accessory) wrote back to say she had  a meeting with Workman  Publishing  about getting unknown handbag designers in the calendar, and that she was impressed that  they had approached me instead….

I also had a pair of experiences recently that are hard to describe, not because of the incredible generosity of the gestures involved, but because its the sort of thing I do for people; not the sort of thing that is done for me.  My friend, Randi Leader Oakes, sent me a handbook on the fashion business (a book that I had been coveting for quite a while.  She didn’t know I wanted it, but somehow this incredible woman always seems to get what I need and then, just as magically, makes it happen for me), while Whitney Peckman sent me one of the best books on writing I have ever read.

I have been told all my life I should be a writer, but since I don’t write like Vladimir Nabokov, and I don’t have a personal story to tell that involves divorce, a lucrative book deal, and travel to exotic lands to eat and pray my way through life, I never bothered to try.

But Whitney was right.  She usually always is.  So I am putting an application in the mail today for the Great Smokies Writing Program.

Thank you Randi, Whitney, and Aaron…for encouraging, supporting and celebrating the me that has yet to be revealed!  Because I can see it now…a wildly beautiful handbag designer who moonlights as a crime solving detective….

I got an email the other day asking when I was going to write another blog.  It made me wonder what I wanted to write about, and since I try to go with the first thing that crosses my mind, I thought. “Life Lessons”.  That’s a good subject.

Because, quite frankly,  I am sick of life lessons.  And I can’t be the only one….

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I think life lessons are marvelous.  Up to a point anyway. But  it seems there an endless string of lessons I have yet to learn, or that I learned once but apparently need to learn again.  As if the lesson alone weren’t enough, there are  people who believe that you should have a positive attitude about the lessons you are learning, which isn’t all that easy to do when the point of most lessons seem to be finding the good in something bad that happened, even if, as it turns out, you were the one who decided it was bad in the first place.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that nearly everyone who posted on my home page on facebook were either coming or going from someplace exotic, and I wondered outloud  where I had gone so horribly wrong in my life that I hadn’t been anywhere in ages.  Someone wrote back and said, in effect, “that with attitude, its no wonder”. Well if attitude had anything to do with it, I would be sitting on the veranda on Hatchet Cay with a cocktail in one hand watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean, so I got to thinking….was this another one of those pesky “lessons” I was about to learn?  One of those, “your time will come, be grateful for what you have, don’t compare yourself to others” deals where you know its true, but you want what you want now, and you don’t want  another damned lesson to spoil a perfectly good pity party?

I am not good at waiting, anymore than I am good at keeping something that is bothering me to myself.  And its been bothering me a lot lately that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  It bothers me that I feel lost, and small, and insecure, and even though I am not supposed to write about stuff like this for the whole world to see, I have never been one to keep my heart in a box on a shelf.  Its right there on my sleeve,  and most of the time, I like it that way.  Except when I feel embarrassed and ashamed by the fact that its left a nice red stain on my new white blouse, and I wish I’d have never taken it out of the box to begin with.

I am 52 years-old and I am still learning to accept myself for who I am.   And one of the parts of me that often gets lost in the translation, the part that I don’t talk about as much because its the thing I wrestle with the least, are all the times throughout the day when I look around and think….

“I am the richest woman in the world”.

Not because I’ve been to Paris, or I have a beachfront home in Maui, but because I got to watch the new male cardinal get his red feathers in bits and splotches from my office window this spring.  Because I have a ten pound  Shih Tzu who comes to work with me every day because that’s her job, and she takes it very seriously.   I don’t have a huge bank account, but  I live with a man who works harder than anyone I ever met in my life because he adores hard work, and never complains about it.  I am lucky enough to have friends who aren’t afraid to tell me to get over myself  when I go off on one of my tangents, like my friend Suzie did yesterday.   I didn’t like what she had to say, but even I knew I had it coming.

I found a 62 piece set of Franciscan Starburst dishware 45 minutes from my house when a single plate of this stuff is hard to come by.  My family is healthy.  It rained this past week.  The tomatos are starting to come in. I found a top of the line barbeque grill at Habitat for Humanity for less than half the cost of a new one, I am the proud new owner of an Elvis on velvet painting,  Bella has stopped eating every dog bed she’s had…..

And that, my friends, is my life lesson for the day.  Because, as it turns out, after writing this blog, I find I don’t mind life lessons that much after all….

I have been cleaning out my life lately, getting rid of old artwork, old clothes, selling things I don’t want or need anymore, giving what’s left over away to thrift stores, or charity, in a focused effort to live by the motto, “nature abhors a vacuum”.

I am ready for so much more than life has given me in the past few years, that I decided to create a vacuum where none existed, and while I know I am luckier than most to have survived the “economic downturn”,  I also know that I have been forced, by necessity, to let opportunities pass me by that I would have normally grabbed a hold of with both hands, and without thinking twice about in the past.

A few days ago, I found a signed and framed print by a Sioux artist named Ed Defender.  Ed and his wife Sue were among the first artists I’d ever met who traded artwork with me when I was just starting out. Shortly after we met, when I was still busy making a name for myself, they came to the Weems Artfest in Albuquerque to purchase my artwork to give as Christmas gifts to their collectors (among whom was the singer, Kenny Loggins).  Ed died of acute alcohol poisoning twelve years ago, and when I found that print, I decided to look him up online, to see if I could find out more about his life and what motivated him to create his innovative, tongue in cheek paintings of traditional Native American activities.  I found just a handful of references to his work and even fewer examples of his art.   It upset me greatly to think that this incredibly talented artist barely registered on a google search engine, like a passing footnote to a life I knew so little about and yet impacted me so deeply.

I was inspired by the memory of Ed Defender to write about an artist I know who is in the final stages of early onset Alzheimer’s.  I wanted to write about her, not because of her disease, but because I want people to know about her before she is gone.  I want to celebrate her incredible talents, her personal journey, and the man who was by her side along the way, so people to remember her, in the same way I hope they remember me, as someone whose life mattered, who was more than a name in a search engine that lead to a few photographs and a line or two on askart.com.

I first met watercolor artist Susan Guy, at Southwest Art in the Wine Country.  Created by gallery owner, Lee Youngman to celebrate the best in southwest, wildlife and cowboy art, I was honored to be included in such outstanding company, and felt I was in way over my head, despite having challenged Lee to be included in the first place.  Held on the grounds of a magnificent old winery and carriage house built in the 1800’s in Calistoga, California, Southwest Art in the Wine Country featured the talents of people like Leo Monahan, Neil Boyle, and Bob Boomer, artists I had only previously read about in magazines like Southwest Art and Art of the West.

One artist in particular stood out for me, even in such a stellar group of artistic talent.  Susan Guy’s work as a watercolor artist was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I’d tried my hand at watercolor off and on throughout my art career, and I found it to be an absolutely maddening medium.  It is thoroughly unforgiving, in my opinion anyway, and yet, here was a herd of horses, thundering across a river, water splashing everywhere, each crisply rendered detail of every horse as distinctive as the landscape they emerged from.

I had never seen anyone do with watercolors what Susan did, and so effortlessly.  I fell in love with her work as easily as I did the woman herself.  Beyond the fact that she had a smile that could melt a polar ice cap, with wide blue eyes that made me swoon, she left an indelible impact on my life.  I had the chance to do a number of art shows with her over the years, and still kick myself for arranging a trade with her that never happened.

Susan was 22 years old when she met Wes Guy after a performance of Hello Dolly. Just back from a tour of duty in Vietnam and living with three kids from a previous marriage at his parents house, Wes was invited to attend the performance by his best friend, who was married to the woman Susan was in the play with.  After the show, Wes and Susan went to a nearby diner where they talked until 4 o’clock in the morning.  Five months later they were married, and Susan, who was the youngest of four, suddenly found herself living in an old farm-house with Wes and his children.  They raised quarter horses, and Sue continued to act, adding Nell (from South Pacific), Evita (in the title role) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (from The Lion in Winter) to her repertoire. Along the way, Sue continued to paint, but it wasn’t until she decided to enter a competition at a local bank that she decided to pursue her art full-time.

As an artist from Michigan, Sue found it difficult to make her way in a world where antiques and needlepoint were all the rage, so she talked her way into a spot on an invitation only Artists Ride where technique and subject matter were the focal point of each summer session.  Buffalo, Indians, elk and cowboys were brought in to allow artists to paint and observe in an up close and personal setting, allowing Susan to hone her craft to the point that her work was accepted into the prestigious Arts For the Parks.  Arts for the Parks was an event that started with the Top 200 paintings which were then narrowed down to the Top 100, and it was as hard as hell to get into.  I was never accepted into the show.  She was accepted on her first try, and the painting she hoped to sell for $600, was auctioned off for $1800.

Susan continued to gain entry to shows that would never consider my work, and it all came so effortlessly to her.  She managed to show at the Charles Russell Show, the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale and won the People’s Choice Award at the Coors Art Show, selling out every opening night for three years in a row, which, by the way, was one year more than any other artist was allowed to show.  People not only came out in droves to buy her work, what was shocking to both Sue and Wes, was that she couldn’t give her work away in Michigan, and in the West, she couldn’t keep up with the demand.

I met Sue just a few years before Wes was about to retire from his job at Xerox. She was over the moon about the fact that they were going to sell their house in Michigan and move to Wyoming, so she could be among the wildlife  she loved, and cowboy culture that inspired her work, and he could pursue a career as an outfitter.  Despite having been a performer most of her life, she was still painfully shy, so she decided to sew several beautifully crafted dresses from vintage patterns that would  act as conversation starters at her art shows.  I remember one outfit in particular; a deep, rich purple wool outfit with a bustle and fitted jacket that she wore to the Phippen Museum Western Art Show where I saw her for the last time.  Despite the incredible heat, Sue managed to look as beautiful and as collected as she had the first time I met her.

I hate the fact that Alzheimer’s Disease has taken this amazingly talented, incredibly beautiful, warm and engaging woman away from all the people who love and admire her, and I know that her husband of 40 years is suffering more than anyone over the loss of the woman he calls his “heart”.  Wes told me that the inscription on her headstone will read, “All my love, all my life.  Vows were kept”.  He told me he found a clay sculpture she had done of a grizzly with a fish in its mouth while packing up her studio.  He wasn’t aware that she had sculpted it, so he had it cast in bronze.  It is one of one, just like the woman who made it.

I am hugely fortunate to have met Susan and Wes.  My life is better for it.  And I hope, someday, when people are searching for her name online, they will find this blog, and know  how gifted and beautiful and amazing she really was.

I am no great fan of mysteries.

Maybe it’s because I found out at 39 that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and my entire life (for a period of time anyway) became one gigantic mystery.

Maybe it’s because I am really just not that bright.  It  took me six months to figure out that the married man who had invited me to paint a “mural” at his summer home in Sun Valley a few years ago, hadn’t shared the details of his plan with his wife.  My friend Daniel finally told me he was gay because he couldn’t believe that in all the years we knew each other, I kept asking why some lucky girl hadn’t snapped him up.  It takes me longer than most people to figure out the obvious, so you can imagine my complete surprise when I figured out within minutes after a screening of  THE CRYING GAME began, that the chick in the beauty parlor, was no chick.  I was even more shocked to realize that I was the only one in the theater who knew that.

Its taken more than a few years for me to come to grips with the fact that the life I used to have is not the life I have anymore.  Like many artists I kept holding on to the hope that the economy would change, that an old client or a former gallery owner would call, that I would get accepted into a major exhibition…that a miracle would happen so I could go back to what I love to do and what I am so good at.

Twenty years ago, I took a one day class from a set decorator in Santa Monica who made decorative gourds in her spare time.  I fell in love with the medium on the spot and dedicated myself to becoming the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea what I was doing, and no one to turn to for guidance  or support.  The only other gourd artist I managed to find out anything about at the time was Robert Rivera, and  even though I will credit him with single-handedly creating a market for gourd art until the day I die, he’s no great fan of anyone he considers his competition, and I made no secret of the fact that I hoped to  leave him in the dust.

Being so naive about art in general, and gourds in particular, was an unexpected gift of the greatest magnitude.  Unlike artists today, who can find a wealth of information about gourd art online, and at gourd societies around the United States,  I taught myself everything I know about gourds, from how to work with a surface that is curved in two directions, to how to create and use gemstone inlay, to marketing and self promotion.   Because I was blissfully unaware of the “rules” I wasn’t afraid to try, and I wasn’t afraid to ask for what I wanted.  I thought art, unlike the film business, was deliciously non political, so I barreled into situations where more seasoned artists would have – and did – balk.

I still remember the time I contacted a gallery in Calistoga, California after reading about a call for entries in Art of the West Magazine.  The gallery owner was clear on the fact that, in her opinion, “gourds are a craft and we don’t accept crafts”.  I showed an equal amount of moxie  when I shot back, “Then you obviously haven’t seen MY work”.  I was not only accepted into the show, I exhibited in her gallery for many years afterward.

I dedicated over twenty years of my life to gourds, and I can honestly say that I was considered the best there was for a great many years.  There are a lot of amazing gourd artists these days, including Bill Colligen, Patricia Boyd, Mark and Karen Klay, Dave Sisk, Bonnie Gibson and Doug Fountain, but for awhile….I was the number one gourd artist in the nation.  Not many people can say they were number one at anything, but I was, and I am really REALLY proud of that distinction.  I am still the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500 and I have had articles in the Wall Street Journal, Southwest Art, Cowboys and Indians and Art of the West on my work, as well as a segment on the Carol Duvall Show on HGTV.

Twelve years ago, I loaded up a six month old Pharaoh Hound and headed to Santa Fe for Indian Market.  I sold a gourd for $10,000 before I even got there.  We stayed at a series of Motel 6’s along the way, and I even bribed the desk clerk at the Motel 6 in Santa Fe with a pizza to babysit Rajha while I was at my opening.

I loved those days.  Walking into a gallery where people were waiting to greet you, where the art was professionally displayed, where the only thing that was required of you was to shake hands, talk about your work, and take pictures with the clients.  I got the chance to meet some of the best Native American, Wildlife and Cowboy artists on the planet, and even created and produced two art shows of my own (Reinventing the West at  the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and Outlaw Artists at Fallbrook Fine Arts Center) featuring the incredible talents of artists like  Cliff Fragua, David Caricato, Bruce LaFountain, Carrie Fell, Thom Ross, Anne Embree, Lyn St Clair, Sherri Greves Neilson, Pati Stajcar, and Susan Guy.   It was an amazing time, and I still marvel at the memories I have of the people, the places, and the experiences I never expected to have.

Last weekend, I took the last of several dozen raw gourds I had to a gourd show in Eastern Tennessee.  The event was held across the street from the Bledsoe County Detention Center, a far cry from the galleries I used to show at  in Santa Fe and Delray Beach.  Classes were held in the exhibit hall at the Bledsoe County Fairgrounds where, I would imagine, jam and handmade quilts are center stage every summer.  I made $600 , and while its hard to imagine that it’s over, the most amazing and wonderful thing about this past weekend wasn’t that I finally took the hint that the world has changed and its time for me to move, on, that its time to let go of what used to be and open myself up to what comes next, it’s that I got the chance to end this experience the way I started.

I spent 12 years travelling the country with a skinny red Pharaoh Hound, who was my constant companion through everything I did on the road, and in the studio. I traded a client for him and to this day, I still think I got the better deal.  She will have the Egyptian themed gourd I did in exchange for him long after he is gone, but I will have the memory of this goofy, sleek, smart, funny, aloof, independent, difficult animal for the rest of my life.  If I heard “what kind of dog is that” once I’ve heard it a million times, in the same way  my nice Baptist neighbors heard me bellow “Goddamn it, Rajha, get OVER here” (thanks to his incredible tendency toward selective hearing ) at least once or twice a day every summer.

Being able to bring this journey full circle by taking my 12 and a half-year old  Pharaoh Hound with me to Crossville, Tennessee, to a Motel 6 (where I bought the desk clerk a pizza after getting my panties in a knot about my reservation) is easily one of the best weekends of my entire life.  I don’t know how much longer I will have this amazing boy, and while it won’t be easy to let him go when the time comes, the fact that I got to end this journey with him, the way it began, made taking the hint, and letting go of who I used to be, sweeter than I would have ever imagined.

I don’t get contemporary art, and after watching a recent episode of 60 Minutes, I don’t think I ever will.  Morley Safer visited Art Basel in Miami as a follow-up to a segment he’d done on contemporary art twenty years ago, and as he wandered through exhibitions that included blue plastic casts of bathroom fixtures, a set of vintage lawn chairs (where I come from they call that patio furniture, not art)  and the gigantic skeleton of a dead dog lying on its back, I thought, I don’t get this either.  It almost seems like the more outlandish an idea is, the more committed some overpaid, over-educated, intellectually superior art snob is determined to convince you that the pile of crap you are looking at has great significance in the advancement of human culture, and if you don’t agree, then YOU are an idiot.

I will confess to a certain level of genius on the part of artists and gallery owners to slap some fancy words about “what it all means” on a plaque beside a can of cigarette butts and some used condoms that some cleaning lady at a gallery in London LOST HER JOB over after sweeping it all into a dustbin because the “installation” had just sold for some ridiculous amount of money, but seriously?  How can anyone actually buy into this garbage?

I wanted to scream when a gallery owner describing a new piece by a Korean artist to the Guggenheim’s head curator spoke solemnly and with great intensity about the “sadness” of  this artist’s work, and how it captured the tragic paradigm of our own tangled lives. This “tragic paradigm” was an IV stand draped in a tangled extension cord with a couple of plastic leis tossed over it, and looked like it took all of twenty minutes to assemble, including the trip to the Dollar Store for $6 worth of supplies.

This isn’t the first time I’ve blown a gasket over the contemporary art market either.  Not by a long shot.  I had to give up my subscription to  Art News Magazine several years ago because I used to throw it across the room every month.  First, there was an article on a French artist who bought terra-cotta pots from Home Depot and spray painted them gold (they sold for HUGE sums of money),  a guy who spent years tiling very square inch of his home, and then several more tearing all the tile back out again to protest  consumerism (at least, I think that was what his art  was supposed to “represent”).  There was the trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art several years ago for a Vasily Kandinsky exhibit that, inexplicably started with an artist I’d never heard of before.  Her work was benign enough to begin with, but I eventually found myself in a darkened room, lit only by a single light bulb, staring at  row upon row of dead birds and mice in crocheted outfits.  The accompanying wall text explained that this was artist, Annette Messager’s “homage to women’s work”.  Messager found dead birds and mice in her Parisian neighborhood,  took them home where she bathed them, made clothes for them, then put them in a baby carriage and walked them through the streets of Paris with them, and “when they were bad, she would punish them”.

I create art with my hands, my heart and the images in my head and I am really, really good at what I do.  I also can’t get arrested as an artist, and yet some crazy French broad can get an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with dead sparrows in a crocheted scarf, and the Tate Gallery in Liverpool proudly exhibits a can of artist excrement that cost them $30,000 because its one of the few that didn’t blow up after being sealed.   This artist got the idea to take a crap in a can and sell it for the cost of what an equal amount of gold would cost at the time, and while I must admit to a grudging respect for the moxy it took to dream up such a scam, I just can’t get my head around the fact that someone bought a can of poop on purpose and then triumphantly splashed the purchase all over the pages of an art magazine.

I don’t get the art, I don’t get the artists and I don’t get the multibillionaires who spend fortunes on stuff I wouldn’t have in my house on a bet.  Eli Broad bought a “premiere” piece for a small fortune of what looked like someone running down an alley.  I couldn’t tell if it was charcoal, or pencil or acrylic, but I do know it was really REALLY ugly, and if that is what passes for “premiere” art these days, then he can have it.

I went to an exhibition at the Temporary Contemporary in Los Angeles a few years ago because several artists I had only heard about were in a group display.  I’d never seen work by Kiki Smith, Red Grooms and Brice Marden, and while I am still not in the least bit impressed by any of them, it was a woman whose name I chose not to remember who sent me fleeing from the building in a complete fury.  Her “installation” involved a giant block of chocolate with the edges chewed off, a heap of Crisco that had started to melt, and at the other end of the room, a glass case filled with chocolate lipsticks.  A video interview with the “artist” accompanied the work, so I decided to find out what I was missing.   This very lovely, very soft-spoken, VERY well-connected young woman spoke about her passion for sculpture and the great masters like Rodin and Michelangelo.  She said she wanted to “emulate” their style and so she thought, and thought, and thought, and realized that she could approximate the greats BY CHEWING THE EDGES OFF A BLOCK OF CHOCOLATE AND REGURGITATING CRISCO BY THE MOUTHFUL then forming the chocolate and Crisco into a consumer product as an indictment of female vanity.  Are you kidding me?

Not to be outdone, I went home and decided to cut and reassemble several gourds in different shapes and sizes, “paste” them back together with glue and dowel rods and Bondo, then paint them or cover them with glass beads and you know what I got?

Those are phallic.

Maybe I should have draped some tangled extension cords over them, spray painted the whole thing gold and crocheted sweaters for them to wear.

When I started my art career twenty years ago, gourds were my choice of medium.  I took a class in Santa Monica from a woman who created gourd art on the side, when she wasn’t working as a prop artist in Hollywood.  I came away from that one day class filled with such an intense passion for gourd art that I decided, right then and there, that I wanted to become the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea how I was going to get there, I just knew that for once in my life, this drive I have to be the best at something might actually have a shot at coming true.  I encountered plenty of obstacles along the way of course, not the least of which was my own naiveté about art.  I had no idea how to get into galleries, how to do an art show, how to even find out to apply for an art show.  I was blissfully unaware of the politics of art, declaring to my boyfriend at the time that I loved art BECAUSE it was so “non political”.

Through a series of events that lead me from a holiday art show in a friend’s garage to my first real art show at the Pasadena Civic Center, I tackled art with the passion of  a religious convert.  I followed up on every art show lead I could find, challenged gallery owners who deemed gourd art a “craft”, and went after the goal of becoming the number one gourd artist in the country as if my life depended on it.  Robert Rivera, who I credit with singlehandedly opening the door to gourds as an art form, was my guidepost for what to do and how to go about achieving it.  Everyone who told me that gourds would never be taken seriously as an art form along the way, unwittingly added fuel to the fire of my unwavering determination, until the day I sold my first piece of gourd art for $20,000.

I still remember standing in line at the bank with the check clutched in my hands so tightly that if an earthquake had hit about then, I would have been found in the rubble, still holding onto it, and probably wouldn’t have let go to grab onto a rescuer.  When I stepped up to the counter to cash it, I had to fight from bursting into tears, and the sense of relief and accomplishment as I walked away from the teller window was overwhelming.  I couldn’t WAIT to tell all those naysayers that they were wrong about gourds as an art form.

I gave up gourd art a few years ago to tackle a new medium and a new way of expressing my artistic talents.  I wanted to create art that wasn’t something you left at home.  I reasoned that since people don’t buy jewelry, or a new outfit, or even a set of golf clubs just to leave them at home, why should art be something that gets left behind every time you leave the house?

Since I consider wood burning my true forte, I settled on wood handbags as the new direction my career would take.  By combining wood burning,  hand painting, and an attention to detail with respect to the linings, the hardware and the fixtures, I could create functional art that would make the women who owned them, stand out in a crowd.  My success at selling these new handbags was instantaneous; I got into every show I applied for, and even some I thought I would never be able to exhibit at, like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Sausalito Art Festival.

But then the economy tanked and the prevailing wisdom among handbag buyers and art show producers was that my work was too “niche”, that women, especially wealthy women, would always buy expensive handbags, but they wanted them to be handbags other women would recognize as expensive.  And presumably, exclusive.  I still can’t quite get over standing in front of a panel of judges at my audition for Project Accessory and being told that my one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive handbags were NOT on the same level as a Birkin Bag, which is also one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive, but that hardly stopped me from continuing to believe that one day, my bags will be as sought after as those bags are.

A few weeks ago, Pam Eggemeyer, who owns Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado,  challenged me to create  a handbag based on the design legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, after the Denver Art Museum decided to mount a 40 year retrospective of his work.  I began researching his design ethic and settled on an idea I felt I could really make my own. The handbag itself was easy, but since I ordinarily line each handbag with a matching fabric, I decided I had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make sure this new bag was a show stopper. I found a way to print original designs on fabric, and had a yard of fabric made from the images on the handbag to line it with.  It has a matching clutch and a matching handmade storage bag, along with a  handbeaded  handle.

I am far from where I want to be with this new venture thanks to preconceived notions about wood handbags, but I know myself well enough to know that telling me it can’t be done is a surefire way to make sure I accomplish my objectives.

I first learned about the provenance of serendipity when I was in my late thirties.  I’d just found out that the man who raised me was not my biological father.   My mother still insists that I knew the truth about my past,  and  it was my decision at six years old, never to speak of him again.  A few weeks after I met my biological father, a letter arrived in the mail from his sister that cleared up a thirty year old mystery for me.  When I was six, I had a huge collection of stuffed animals that mysteriously vanished from our house while I was at school one day.  In the letter, my aunt explained how she used to work at a department store, and every payday, she bought a stuffed animal for me.  I also learned that my stepfather officially adopted me when I was six, and the day the paperwork was final, everything about my past went into the dumpster.

I am also reminded more frequently now of the power of serendipity thanks to the 10 pound Shih Tzu who lives in my house.  We got a phone call last winter to apply for seasonal jobs at the local ski lodge.  We headed up the mountain on a Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 and as we rounded the corner, a half frozen Shih Tzu with a huge chunk of hair missing from the middle of her back sat shivering in a snow bank.  She was emaciated and matted, and we adopted her on the spot.  We also found out we’d gone the wrong way to the lodge.  There was absolutely no reason to be in that particular place on that particular day….except for the provenance of serendipity.

A few days ago, while I was working at one of part time jobs, I got a phone call from a woman I would never have had any reason to meet otherwise. Her name is Shirley Lucas, and she was one of a very famous pair of sisters who worked as stunt riders, trick riders and rodeo queens in the 1940’s to the 1960’s. They doubled for everyone from Lucille Ball and Betty Hutton to Lauren Bacall and Esther Williams.  Shirley is 88 years old now and has a new book out called IT TAKES  A GOOD HORSE.  The book is self published and in desperate need of wider distribution and acknowledgement, so I put her together with Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of Outwest Boutique and Marketing, because Bobbi used to work for the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and is as in love with the Old West as I am.  In fact, I admitted to Shirley that I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was growing up so badly I could hardly see straight.

I was also surprised to learn she is not in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and has never been interviewed for a feature story by Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

This is the link to her website and the new book, and if anyone knows ANYONE who can help get this woman the recognition she deserves, then please, do whatever you can to make sure Shirley and Sharon Lucas are not forgotten. Because it seems to me that the path to this remarkable woman and our new friendship was meant to be.

I have an extremely close friend I’ve never actually met.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never even talked to her on the phone. I have seen pictures of her, and she’s absolutely gorgeous.  She used to work for my husband, and had even dated him for a few weeks close to thirty years ago, which, amazingly enough, is NOT what’s so odd about our relationship.  Her best friend met my husband and I at an art show four years ago.  We were in discussions with Toni about artwork for the new home she was building in Scottsdale, when she died suddenly of brain cancer. Suzie knew how close Toni and I had become, so she wrote to offer her condolences, and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Over the years, we’ve helped each other through all sorts of things, not the least of which were the two years her husband was serving as a doctor in Afghanistan.  When he got back, they decided they needed to change their lives completely, in part because they’d both lost their jobs, and in part, because they both realized it was time to ask themselves what really mattered in life.  A few weeks ago they decided they wanted to buy an RV and travel the U.S. in search of the place they wanted to spend the rest of their lives, and within days, they found an amazing deal on an RV, sold all their things, and headed to Flagstaff to begin their journey.

Sometimes things happen in this lifetime that make absolutely no sense to me at the time.  I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the idea that “things happen for a reason” most of my life.  When things happen that I don’t understand,  I am convinced there is no possible reason there will ever be a good outcome, until the day the lightening bolt hits me and I discover that everything about the events leading up to that revelation happened exactly as they should.  I wanted to tell the story about Suzie, because I think Michael met Suzie, who met Toni, who met me, because Suzie needed a confidente and  a best friend at a particular point in her life, and so did I.  And now Suzie has become my hero, because she made a decision, focused on that decision, and made it happen.  I told her I marvel that she found what she wanted out of life so quickly, and that it took so damned long to get there.

I made the hard decision to quit art a year ago to try to save my house.  I was five months behind on my mortgage with no idea how I would manage to avoid foreclosure, when I got not one, but three jobs in a town were jobs are almost impossible to come by.  I am also convinced that I had a guardian angel on my side.  There is no evidence whatsoever to support this conclusion, but again, the “coincidence” is hard to ignore. I went to New York last summer to audition for Project Accessory.  The trains to Pearl River  where I was staying at the time were under construction so I had to take the bus back.  I was in a tiny waiting room at the Port Authority, when I began a conversation with a woman who was also waiting for the bus.  When she told me she worked for JP Morgan Chase, I told her how unhappy I was with the way they had handled my home loan modification.  Meaning, they kept turning me down but never bothered to explain why.  She asked for my card and told me she would have an in-house mortgage counsellor handle my loan.   I figured she would toss the card the minute I was out of sight….instead, I qualified for a permanent home loan modification in three months time.  I can’t prove this woman had anything to do with it, but considering the abandon with which JP Morgan Chase forecloses on homeowners,  it’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

“All of the sudden”,  I am in three new galleries and completely revised my website  to focus on these new galleries, as well as the new corporate gifts line I’m excited to launch.  My work was accepted to the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology for their spring fashion show.  I am in discussions with  a Los Angeles based company about providing Academy Award nominees with evening bags as part of their “swag bag” offerings.  I am also scheduled for a radio interview on January 28 at 9:15 PST with Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of  OutWest Boutique and Cultural Center in Santa Clarita, California.  I was also invited to create a new line of handbags inspired by the designs of Yves Saint Laurent by the Spirits In the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado in a show to run concurrently with the Denver Museum of Art’s YSL retrospective.  The show runs from April 6 to June 30th.  And last, but not least, I have brand new work at a gorgeous new gallery in Florida called Gallery One, which carries an amazing collection of art and artists that I am extremely proud to be a part of.

It seems a new phase of the journey has begun and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

I learned the hard way that you should never turn down an opportunity.  When I was a freshman in college, I applied to be a foreign exchange student in Japan, and after I was accepted, I backed out.  I was afraid to be away from home for one whole year.  I’ve regretted that decision my whole life.  I also learned that when certain opportunities present themselves, you have to act on them,  because you may never have the chance to do them again.  I ask for what I want now, if the answer is no, I’m okay with that, because the next time I have a chance to do something I want to do, I will forge right ahead. I never want to look back and say, “damn I wish I would have done that”.

I’ve been to all three Hollywood premieres of The Lord of the Rings (as well all three after parties) and even  borrowed the executive producer’s limousine  to take me back to the Motel 6 where I was staying at the time!    I’ve been a celebrity wrangler at the Palm Springs Film Festival where I outfitted the legendary composer, Michel Legrand, with a bowtie he never paid me back for, and managed to swing a backstage pass to a  David Bowie concert where I met the great film producer, Ray Stark (who left his table and a fleet of people lined up to pay homage to him, to greet everyone at MY table when I naively asked if he would mind saying hello to my friends!).  I’ve been behind the scenes for the chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede, toured the stables at Cavalia (Cirque du Soleil on horseback), soaked in sulphur hot springs in Thermopolis, Wyoming, taken a helicopter tour of Kauai, auditioned for Expedition Impossible, Project Accessory AND The Amazing Race.

Last year  a friend of mine introduced me to a friend of hers over drinks, and when I found out that he was a flight captain for the big balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, I immediately asked if I could participate.  I have always loved MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET and watch it every year after setting up my tree.  I know every frame of that movie by heart and I still cry every year when Natalie Wood gets her dream house. I swoon whenever I drive through Teaneck, New Jersey (if you need to ask then you don’t deserve to know!) so being a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade experience shot to the top of my bucket list like a rocket.

You can’t just call Macy’s and ask to be a balloon handler; you have to be sponsored by a current participant, and they give first crack at the balloons every year to Macy’s employees.  Because there are about 1800 volunteers for the parade overall, spaces do open up, and this past April, we received our online application to be balloon handlers for none other than the Spiderman balloon.  With the help of a very generous friend who agreed to trade  a hotel room for artwork, we were able to stay at the Marriott on 49th and Lexington, and with an outrageously inexpensive flight from Charlotte to Newark, we headed off to New York City on November 21 to walk in the most famous parade on the planet.

First, we took in the Broadway performance of Spiderman at the Foxwood Theatre on Tuesday night after a taping of the David Letterman Show that afternoon to prepare ourselves for what was to come.  The rush seats we had gave a perfect view of the flying sequences, but everything stage left was blocked so it was hard to see some of the actors.  Even so it was a great way to start the week.  Two attempts at winning lottery tickets to the Book of Mormon on Wednesday fell flat, and so did our trip to Macy’s to sit on Santa’s lap (turns out the old guy leaves the North Pole for Macy’s  Thanksgiving Eve, and because of the parade, doesn’t actually make it into the store until the day after) and go ice skating at Rockefeller Center (Justin Bieber was shooting a segment for the Christmas Tree lighting on November 30 so the rink was closed to the public).

By Thursday morning, I was about to burst.  We left a wake up call for 4:30 in the morning to give us time to pack our stuff and check out of the hotel.  By 5:30 we were on the subway headed to 34th and Penn Station, and as we rounded the corner to the hotel where we would get dressed, the line of volunteers stretched past us for two entire blocks.

My excitement level peaked when the delivery door to the hotel burst open and several people dressed as bees, bananas, and bacon and eggs rushed out onto the street.  Pretty soon we were in the lobby and on our way to the fourth floor where there were signs all over the place for the big balloons.  Kermit the Frog and the Sonic Hedgehog were down the hall to the left, while Ronald McDonald and Square Bob Spongepants were at the other end of the corridor.  I stopped to use the restroom before putting on my jumpsuit, and fought to hold back my laughter.  There were clowns, pilgrims and cowgirls all waiting to use the facilities, and if we were allowed to have cameras in the hotel, I would have taken a picture because it was an absolute  riot.

We dressed in our Spiderman jumpsuits, which consisted of blue coveralls, red vests with Spiderman eyes on the front an the word, Spiderman on the back, grabbed our red knit caps and fur lined gloves and boarded a bus for the flight line.  We sat across the aisle from Mother Goose and some beefy men dressed as fairies in purple wigs and tights, then headed for the Spiderman balloon on 81st street beside the Natural History Museum.

The parade starts on Central Park West, so balloons, floats, performers and bands all filter in from different side streets.  650 teenaged girls were literally squashed together at the entrance to the parade in an effort to stay warm, dressed in thin nylon costumes, leggings and fingerless gloves, while marching bands and Southern Belles in gigantic pastel dresses milled about.  After a brief tutorial on proper balloon etiquette and directional signals, we took up our positions.

Michael and I were in the very front,  and as we stepped onto Central Park West, the view was amazing.  It was 50 degrees and clear as a bell.  The street lights and traffic signals were moved up against the buildings, and between the barricades and 80 billion police,  the street was wide open. The NYPD Marching Band was right in front of us (we weren’t behind any horses, thank god) and up ahead, Uncle Sam bobbed along against the clear blue sky.  There were people EVERYWHERE.  Stacked several dozen deep on the streets, and in the apartment buildings and office buildings above us, people were gathered at the windows and on rooftops to watch the parade go by.  We had a man dressed in a Spiderman costume who was sent by Marvel comics to work the crowd, and he ran from one screaming group of kids to the next for photos and handshakes as we walked down the street.

I think the thing I loved the most about the parade was how it ended.   Just past the Macy’s grandstands, the parade just stopped.  Meaning the bands went that way and the floats went this way and the balloons went down a street covered with a tarp where we deflated Spidey, rolled him up and loaded him into a giant basket, then headed back to the hotel to change out of our jumpsuits.  People were disassembling the floats on all the side streets, and loading individual parts into bags, while cartoon characters  in costume were assisted onto golf carts and whisked them away to destinations unknown.  The streets were jammed with people trying to get home for Thanksgiving dinner, so the train station to Pearl River, where we had dinner, was a zoo, but all in all it was a total trip and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

I haven’t written anything in the last few months, because quite frankly, I have been embarrassed beyond belief to admit just how hard this economy has hit me.

Then a few months ago, I met a pair of business partners who book celebrity guest speakers, clergy and artists for luxury cruise liners, and within seconds the entrepreneur in me was reborn.   I headed straight into the studio that afternoon to design a handbag that not only highlights their company spirit, I also found a way to print fabric from that image that allowed me to line the bag with their company logo and create a handmade clutch to match!

I am working hard to launch a new corporate gifts link on my website, with humidors, jewelry boxes, decorative boxes – just about anything and everything  made from wood – because corporations will always exist and so will holidays and special occasions.