Carmen Patti Studio
4Jul/160

Overtime on the Fourth of July

Orange is not my color. But in the summer on 1976 from 8 p.m. until 3 in the morning it was the color of my uniform, along with a doily in my hair. I was a waitress at Zucky’s Delicatessen, a Santa Monica landmark that opened in 1946. It was one of those places where career waitresses and customers thought of the place as home.

It wasn’t for me. I was the new girl, bleached blonde and sunburned tan, just trying to make enough money to join my girlfriends backpacking in Europe and buy a used car. That’s why I got the “overflow station” where they would only seat customers when the regular stations were filled. The old-time waitresses were not the most gracious bunch. One of them used to clean her ears with her pencil (yes, her pencil!)

Still, I had some pretty memorable customers during that time. I waited on Bob Crane just days before he was found dead in an Arizona motel. Ramblin' Jack Elliott used to put a napkin on his head and flirt with me. And I loved the after-2 a.m. crowd. I had one truck driver suitor with his cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve trying to convince me a life on the road would be swell if I would join him and his sidekick. A lovely male singer from Africa who sang at the Escobar Bar and Grill and whose voice I can still hear was smooth as silk and a true gentleman.

Once an elderly man with severely swollen ankles was wheeled up to my station by his chauffeur. It was a slow night, and I think he was my only customer. He began to order just about every item on the menu, one at a time. When I’d bring out gefilte fish or noodle kugel, he would take a bite, or maybe just take a look at him. It dawned on my 19-year-old self he was saying goodbye to all the foods he loved. He left me the biggest tip I ever received, and I never saw him again.

The most memorable shift at Zucky’s, though, had to be 40 years ago today: July 4th, 1976. It was the nation’s bicentennial, and I was stuck at work, sneaking a bite of a chocolate eclair at my empty station—that is, until the fireworks ended at the Santa Monica Pier. Within minutes the whole restaurant was jammed, including my overflow station which had about 30 tables! Even the old bitty waitresses were scrambling to keep up, the cooks were totally overwhelmed, and the customers were cranky.

The last straw was when I saw my party of six walking out the door while I was delivering their pancakes. At that point I shouted “IT'S MY BICENTENNIAL TOO! AND I CAN'T WAIT ON ALL THESE TABLES WITH NO HELP, SO WHO WANTS PANCAKES??” Well, my Norma Rae moment kind of broke the ice. The old waitresses helped out a bit, the customers got more in the spirit, and we ended up giving away a lot of free food that night.

So four decades later, I’m happy to be wearing red, white, and blue but staying close to home. Happy 4th of July to all those who unfortunately find themselves at work today...

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7May/160

Carolina on My Mind

“Can I take a look in that mirror?”

Every time I go on the road I lose something. A purse (twice, don’t even get me started), an iPhone charger, a favorite turtleneck. This time it was was my perfect lip gloss.

That’s what brought me to the cosmetic counter at Macy’s in Greenville, South Carolina. As I was searching around for the perfect replacement lip gloss, I overheard this request for the mirror and stopped.

“Why, of course you can sweetie,” replied the beauty specialist who was in the middle of giving a makeup demonstration to an elderly woman sitting at her station. That’s when the woman began her story.

“My husband left me for a younger woman. I had a 3-year-old and a 5-year old, and no education. I got a job as a cafeteria worker at the elementary school. I was there 28 years. My son graduated from Princeton, and now works at USC as a geologist. Well, my only girl grandchild is getting married and I’ve decided to go all out. I have never had a dime to spend on myself before.”

I was overcome by the grace of this woman. I left Macy’s without new lip gloss, but regretted I didn’t just turn around and tell this mother how truly beautiful she was.

So this Mother’s Day, I hope all of you hardworking, resilient moms and hearty old dames—you know who you are—take a moment to look in the mirror and see how precious you really are.

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5Aug/1419

More than a Reunion

I basically hated high school, but when I first heard about the planning of my 40th reunion, I got excited. Not because I wanted to celebrate those years at Millikan High; they were difficult ones for me. I was not one of the "popular girls" or homecoming queen material. I felt like an outsider, searching for where I fit in. I started to become aware of the consequences of the Vietnam War, drugs were everywhere (at least around me) and there was lots of partying! Not to say I didn't have some fun, and the friends I hung out with then are still some of my nearest and dearest. We were and still are always there for each other. But I made some pretty bad choices and could have easily ended up on that memorial board.

I didn't. I survived high school.

And I was excited because most of us have! After four decades, I don't know anyone who has gone through these years unscathed. Illnesses, deaths, financial woes, parental worries. Let's face it, life can be challenging.

But when I walked into the big room at the Skylinks Golf Club in Long Beach last Saturday night there was a group of about 200 people celebrating life and the unique connections that you can only have with old friends…I loved seeing all the hugs, and the smiles from ear to ear!

I was a little nervous because I brought along a handful of photos that represented a good time for me: my childhood. I reached out to a few of my elementary school buddies because I realized that when you get older there is really only a handful of people besides my family that knew me when I was a little girl. As a parent watching my son grow up, I see how childhood can be so fleeting!

I wanted to share with a few who I had lost contact with during those hard years how much those early friendships and memories meant to me. Also the impact of their parents. We were all products of the "greatest generation" and I think now as an adult I appreciate more and more the hardships they went through as parents of us. In return, I was surprised by the stories they had about me. We laughed, cried (good tears), and my heart felt full.

These connections are a gift. I am so grateful I made it to the reunion, but it was so much more….

Guess I'll put away the photos for now, but the warm, life-affirming feelings will carry me through—hopefully for the next 40 years.

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10May/1411

My Mom Journey

Me and Jake on Montana Avenue, and my mom Evelyn in Santa Monica in the 1940s.

I can still see the day so clearly...

It was May, 1987. I walked to my mailbox and saw a pink envelope peeking out of it. It was a Mother's Day card, the real sweet Hallmark kind addressed to me and signed "with love, mom". I called her up and said "What the heck are you doing sending me a Mother's Day card?? I am thirty years old, single, living by myself, and oh yes, I'm not a mother!" She calmly replied, "Oh honey, I see such a good little mother inside you."

Yes, those were pretty lonely days for me. I felt out of place in Southern California after working as an artist for a regional theater up in Alaska the past four years. I was having a hard time dating, and well, even meeting guys my age. Prospects on becoming a mother or even getting married were looking pretty bleak.

Then in 1989 I felt something was wrong. I kept waking up at night drenched in sweat. I was having a hard time concentrating and felt anxious all the time. After a trip to the doctor I got a phone call from a female physician with my lab results.

"Well," she began, "I hope you never thought of having a child, because it's probably too late. You're going through menopause."

"But I'm only 32!!" I screamed into the phone. Yes, she replied, it is very uncommon, but that's what's happening. Good bye." End of conversation, end of my hopes for motherhood. Time to get a new doctor.

I called my mom in tears. "There's no mother inside me. I can't ever have a baby!" After convulsing for many more minutes, my sweet mom spoke again. "There are many ways to be a mother, but I see how you love and take care of people around you and your cat, of course. Isn't that what being a mother is really about?"

Not in my book it wasn't. But she did have a point. I really yearned for a loving connection, and once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, found a different way. One of my three older sisters had been involved in Big Sisters of Boston. I saw what a difference she made in her "little sister's" life, so I thought I would get involved.

I met Sequoia on a warm afternoon. I will never forget sitting on the steps by her grandmother's apartment. We were eating sandwich cookies , she gave me her frosting halves. She showed me her very curly long lashes. When she told me she liked to watch reruns of I Love Lucy, I knew we would be friends for a very long time.

She was only seven, but for the next twenty years or so we were very close. We did a lot of things that I always wanted to experience as a mother: baking Christmas cookies, making tacos, going shopping and playing basketball. (She was amazing at the sport, and was the most valuable player on her high school team three years running. ) I also got to see her graduate from high school, one of the first in her family to do so.

My strongest memory of that time was when she went to the prom. An organization that worked with Big Sisters gave a few of the senior girls a complete makeover, with dress, hair and makeup. She looked absolutely beautiful.

It was also one of the rare times her real mother, Jackie, was out of prison. After dealing with years of addiction, she was living in the projects across town. I thought she might like to see Sequoia all dolled up and my instincts were right. When Sequoia got out of the car, all the kids, adults and her mom came out of the building. It was like Cinderella getting out of her carriage, (although it was just my minivan.) Her mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and that was all I needed to know. You can be a pretty bad parent, but that doesn't mean you can’t feel a mother's love.

Fast forward now to late 1989. I must confess, I was nervous that no man would ever want to be with me when he found out I could not deliver him a "heir and a spare". Then one night at an art opening I met a guy. He loved baseball, African music, and my cat. He felt like the one. When I dropped the news of my infertility, he loved me anyway.

At our wedding, my mom was beaming, I thought going through menopause would take away my desire of being a mother, but it didn't. When I told my mom this, she just smiled.

I knew there were lots of ways to have a family, but I wanted a child. We tried In vitro fertilization three times. I know many families have started their families this way, but mine just wouldn't. I found the hormone shots grueling, especially in the middle of getting one during an aftershock from the Northridge earthquake. I found myself crying in my car. Maybe this parenthood thing was just not in the cards for me.

Taking a break from infertility sadness, my husband and I took a trip to London to visit his brother and his family. I thought I was getting away from the pressure, but after spending time with my very creative niece as we painted watercolors together, my sister-in-law took me aside. "You know, don't give up on trying to become a parent," she said. "You have a real gift with children." My sadness came back.

After returning from that trip I was telling my mom about a dream I had about her while we were staying at a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds. She was dressed as Queen Victoria, walking in an ethereal glow towards me. After a long silence on the phone, my mom said, "Please give adoption a try."

I had been secretly researching adoption and it seemed daunting. There were many more financially successful people looking for healthy babies, so my standard reply to this was, "No one is going to let an artist and a struggling writer adopt their child."

Then, after meeting with a well-respected adoption attorney, we started to have some actual hope. We posted adds in newspapers across the country with words like" Open hearts and a cozy home would love to become parents of your child." Which is how I met Barbara.

Barbara was 27 years old, living in the Midwest, and already had two kids. She told me she accidentally got pregnant when her birth control patch hadn't kicked in yet. She loved her children, but felt overwhelmed at the thought of adding another one to the mix. I got the feeling life had not been easy for her, and she really wanted to give her kids a better chance. She thought that this child might have a better chance at life if he/she were raised by someone else. She also told me that it felt good to give a couple become parents who couldn't on their own. We really connected. She liked to read crime novels, got a kick out of keeping up on celebrity gossip and loved her family.

We felt very lucky with our adoption experience. Barbara and the birth father Randy came out to California for the birth. They were such sweet people. When I asked them why they chose us to be the parents of their child, Randy said "Well, I'm pretty good at drawing, so thought it might be nice for our kid to grow up with creative people. "Hooray for Artists! I thought to myself!"

Randy was a funny guy, who would tell great stories, even one about how he missed his flight. We were laughing so hard I don't think we ever figured out why he missed his flight. Barbara was a little like me. I could tell she dealt with some anxiety, because one phobic can always spot another. Still, we enjoyed many of the sights of L.A. together, like driving by celebrity homes, going to a Dodger game, and spending time at the beach.

When it came time for Barbara to deliver the baby we really felt like a team. Many tears of joy and sadness fell in that birthing room. My husband said I was squeezing his hand too hard. When a little baby literally popped out into my arms, Barbara turned to Randy to make sure he was okay. She was amazing.

There he was, a beautiful, healthy boy, and we named him Jake. Before Barbara and Randy left the hospital I encouraged them to go see Jake in the nursery. They were nervous and afraid, but I think they were glad they got to say what they thought was goodbye. I watched them leave with a heavy heart, her clutching the birth document with his footprint on it while I went home with her baby.

That first night I was feeling so scared and inadequate. What right did I have to be this little boy’s mother? Then we had a moment. His big brown eyes just stared at me, and I felt this bond happen and I told him I didn't really know what I was doing, but I knew we would figure out together. Right there I became his mom.

After about three months, we felt brave enough to drive to Las Vegas so Jake could meet his grandparents.. My Dad was in the middle of making his homemade meatballs to mark the celebration of meeting his new grandson, and my mom was waiting, poking her head out, into the hallway of their apartment building for our arrival. Jake was immediately drawn to my dad’s big, booming Italian voice, and he snuggled right into my mom's very soft cuddly lap. Her singing “Lavender Blue Dilly Dilly ” to him as she had to my sisters and me just made me swoon.

My journey to become a mom was complete, but the journey of motherhood was just beginning. When Jake was little he was an active, curious boy. We made the decision early on that he would grow up knowing he was adopted. I remember one of our first conversations when I told him I couldn't grow a baby in my tummy. He said, "But you saw me with your eyes." Yes, I certainly did.

I kept in contact with Barbara those first few years. I would send yearly photos and letters of how he was growing, of funny things he would say. (We saw a lot of Randy in him from early on.) I love that I have a box of letters from Barbara that I can share with Jake whenever he wants them. When I didn't hear from her for over a year I started to get concerned. Then I received a letter and pictures of her new baby.

She shared that giving up Jake was much harder than she thought, but still felt it was the right decision. Her and Randy were in a better place financially and decided to add to their family. I was so happy for them, but it was very strange, I had this physical reaction from that photo. I wished that baby was mine. A little selfish, I suppose, but there it was.

When Jake was about four we attended a small therapy group for adoptive parents. The counselor was an elderly gentleman who had dedicated his life’s work to working with adopted kids and birth parents. It was a small group of us, four sets of parents I think, and our kids were all about the same age. And when the therapist announced that this a good time for our kids to meet their birth parents, the entire room gasped.

We all had the misconception it was better to wait until your child reached 18 before meeting his or her birth parents, but no. This wise man said, "Your children are old enough to know you are their parents, but they also know they are different. It also helps the birth parents get on with their lives, after seeing their offspring as just regular, happy kids."

So it was off to Kansas City. I wish I could say I was totally on board with this, but I wasn’t. What if Jake just ran to them and never turned back? What if it was just too painful for Barbara? Despite my fears, we plowed ahead.

All of us met at the hotel we were staying in. After the first few nervous moments, we all took a collective breath and it was fine. Jake played Candyland with his birth sister. His older half brother was like a gentle giant of a kid, interested in photography. His little brother was now two and recently diagnosed with autism. Both Barbara and I were amazed how Jake was able to reach him, unlike most other kids his age. We visited the zoo together, went out for BBQ and just hung out. I watched as Barbara helped Jake wash his hands, and Randy and Jake got to do a little roughhousing (Jake’s favorite activity of the moment). When we said our goodbyes, Barbara and I hugged, and with her eyes smiling, said "thank you."

I treasure that weekend for many reasons, but little did I know at the time it would be the last time any of us would see either her or Randy. Barbara and I had stayed in contact for a few more years. She had become very involved with groups of mothers on how to parent a child with autism. She was even asked to give an address at a parenting convention.

But then her world began to fall apart. Randy had died suddenly in his sleep. He was the love of her life, they had been through so much together and now he was gone. For the next few years I didn't hear much from her. Then her oldest son called to let us know Barbara had died in a fire. The other children had not been with her at the time, but my heart just broke for her whole family, including Jake. Barbara was the bravest, most selfless mother I have ever known. Her journey was over, and I know that her gift of letting me be the mother of Jake is the most precious gift I will ever receive.

I wanted to call my own mom and cry into the phone, as I had so many times before. But she also had passed away just before Jake turned two. I keep the last birthday card she gave to him with the little red fire engine on it in my nightstand. I was just so sad that Jake would not grow up having her in his life. When my mom was winding down, I was able to make it to the hospital before she died. She never regained consciousness, but I felt the tight squeeze of her frail hand. I sang the “Lavender Blue” lullaby just like she had to Jake just a few years earlier. Saying goodbye to mom was the hardest thing I ever experienced, and that was over 16 years ago.

I’m often asked what my mom did so right to raise four such successful daughters. My oldest sister Linda is a full Professor of Nursing at a major university where she was also the university’s academic chair. She travels the world, including China and the Czech Republic, helping other nurses to stop smoking and set up smoking cessation programs. My sister Roberta is the CEO of a nonprofit suicide prevention organization in Boston, where she helps save lives everyday. Then there is my next sister Joyce is an artist like me. After graduating with her MFA from Yale she became an illustrator and the Chairman of the Art Department of a community college. She has helped so many talented kids with no resources get into the best art schools in the country. I’m as proud of them as my mother was.

Evelyn, my mom, was a daughter of the Depression era with immigrant parents from Norway and Sweden. She met my father dancing to Lawrence Welk at the Aragon Ballroom where they won first prize in a dancing contest and married right after World War II. They spent many of their first years together moving around so my dad could find work. He was away a lot and life was very hard for them. She used to tell me that being on her own with my sisters were some of her darkest days. But she also said that being a mother to her four little girls was her greatest joy. She believed in education, and introduced us to the “bookmobile” at an early age. She let us stay awake and watch movies like Wuthering Heights and Little Women because she thought it was important. She made Christmas magical by hand-sewing a box of doll clothes for our Muffy dolls. She believed in us. She loved us, she took pride in our successes, but she was best at making us feel okay when we failed.

I’m fascinated by different places the journey of motherhood leads. The struggles and the joy. I guess I’m just grateful to different mothers I have met along the way. Jackie, who knew her daughter needed a mentor while she fought her own demons. Barbara, whose selfless love still fills me with wonder. And my own mom, who encouraged me to not give up on becoming a mom, my greatest happiness.

Not long ago I received a letter from the camp supervisor where my son Jake was a counselor in training. She said it was the first year the camp had made room for kids with special needs. She said Jake showed a special gift working with these kids. They just seemed to gravitate towards him.

Hmmm. Just maybe I’m seeing a future dad inside. But I think I’ll wait a few years before sending him a Father’s day card.

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31Mar/1311

The Irreplaceable

I live in a nice neighborhood. Tree-lined streets, lots of families. My son actually walks to school. For the last fifteen years I have always felt very safe here. Unfortunately, all of that changed last Friday.

Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., while I was at Disneyland celebrating my niece's little girl's birthday, with my husband working at his new job, and with Jake counting the minutes at school until the official start of spring break, our house was robbed.

We were lucky, I guess. No one was hurt, and even our old dog Trey (apparently the only eyewitness) seemed fine. The intruders got off with our Playstation 3 system, two dozen games, some money, and some jewelry. Just stuff…replaceable stuff.

After getting over the initial horrible feeling of someone rummaging through our belongings, though, I realized there was one thing missing that wasn't just "stuff", and wasn't replaceable at all: a ring.

After World War II, my father spent some time in Japan. While he was there, he bought us girls some beautiful dolls, some china and my mother a gold ring.

She loved that ring. The design was unique. One pearl with a line of small diamonds set in a deco-like setting. She wore it always. One of my first memories was sitting on her lap playing with it while she read to me.

My mother has been gone for over 15 years. When my sisters and I divided up her keepsakes I was thrilled to get the "ring". By then the pearl had basically worn away and some of the diamonds were missing, but I didn't care. Then a few years ago my sister Linda had the ring refurbished while she was in China, and I was overwhelmed how beautiful it looked. As a painter, I don't generally wear too much jewelery, but every special occasion I loved wearing it.

And now it's gone.

I'm sure it's already been melted down at some "cash for gold" place. I'm just having a hard time understanding why certain people violate other people's homes this way. I'm sure there was no thought at all of the real value of my ring, and this makes me sad for them.

Despite the physical loss of the ring, though, I still have the lovely memories tied to it that no one can ever steal away from me.

And oh yes, the security system is getting installed this week.

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13Aug/122

Free Cake Anyone??

I had a few nights when I was in Dubai when I was so tired, I just wanted some mindless TV. The international stations were mostly news, or very strange Arabic music videos, but then I came upon the good 'ole Cartoon Network. This is not a station I usually go to, but I guess I was yearning for some more familiar background sounds.

What I found was something a little unexpected. It was a show with a large blue bird, and brown raccoon. The premise of the story was that they wanted "free cake" Well, they went through three emotions I feel I experience every day...

First, there was this dance of excitement at the very thought of free cake. I find myself doing this dance quite often, and my family thinks I'm strange. Then, there's the frustration of not getting the cake. The raccoon does this "oh man" thing with his shoulders that I do every time I do something wrong on the computer, which I hate to admit is very often. Then there's the sad dance of "no cake" which unfortunately I feel every time I watch the news.

Today is mostly a "free cake" kind of day. It's beautiful outside, I'm about to barbeque fresh salmon, and I made kale chips for the first time! I hope you all enjoy this little video from The Regular Show, and have yourself a "free cake" kind of day soon.

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26Jul/129

Peach Perfection

I'm not a particularly religious person.Then I ate a peach from our local farmer's market. I thought to myself, "How can something so perfect come to be?" The taste, the texture, the feel of it was just heavenly...

I've been in a bit of of a funk lately, for various reasons: creative blocks, the overwhelming sadness of yet one more tragic shooting of innocent people, the lack of leadership to have an honest, non-political discussion about gun control, and mental illness. Is mental illness evil? I don't think so, but when the easy access to so many firearms combines with a very troubled soul...

So I try to find joy in the most perfect fruit, watch a Nora Ephron movie marathon, and remember how fleeting life can be. Enjoy every bite.

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5Jul/126

Dazed in Dubai

Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world

Sixteen hour flight? Two hours in customs? 24 hours without sleep? I guess you could say I'm feeling a little spacey. Actually, as I think about the last week and a half in the city state of Dubai, the whole experience feels a bit otherworldly.

First there was the heat. Your glasses fog up when you walk outside. It's hard to breathe, and the sky is the color of clay.

The buildings are amazing. My friend Marion kept saying "I feel like I'm in Futurama!" and she was right. I have never seen a city that basically shot up in 30 years and with such amazing space-age architecture!

The reason I was in Dubai was to finish painting some murals for the Cheesecake Factory that will open next month. I spent most of my time on a construction site. The labor responsible for the building was mostly done by Indian immigrants, and there was lots of labor. But I have never seen so many hand saws and screwdrivers. Don't get me wrong, the craftsmanship was really good, but was this city really built without power tools??

I don't know what I expected from my first middle east trip; all I know is that I was surprised by the people. From the moment we got on our Emirates flight, the stewardesses from Nairobi, Slovakia, and Ireland were so friendly and curious. So was the sweet Saudi Arabian student going home to surprise her mother. Everywhere we went, we met people happy to be in Dubai for work. Our favorite shopkeeper from Afghanistan was happy to be working and have his family in a place that was safe.

Dubai could feel a little like Disneyland, with these mega malls and an indoor ski slope, or shopping souks that were meant to look old but were built just last year. The culture, however, does feel very old. I actually loved seeing the traditional Arab dress burkas and all. The call to prayer was oddly soothing to me. It just felt odd seeing a prayer room right next to a Ferragamo store. I actually appreciated seeing little Arab kids having meltdowns in the mall just like kids here at home, but with no Arabs allowed to have service jobs, and the many workers there on Visas who can keep renewing them, that is until they are 60, I knew I wasn't in Kansas.

My friend Marion with our new friend

I think it's time for a nap now, with my windows open and a lovely California breeze to be very thankful for.. .

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13May/121

A Mother’s Day

I like Mother's Day, being a mom and all. I'm looking forward to breakfast at our neighborhood French bistro, then spending a leisurely day with my guys.

I'm in a pretty good place at this stage of mothering. Jake is sixteen, still sweet, pretty independent and isn't driving yet...

It hasn't always been that way. Recently I was looking at some home video and pictures of me with Jake when he was a baby. All I could see in those photos was how freaking tired I was. I waited forever to become a mom, and it's still my greatest joy. But at that time both of my parents were pretty sick, I was commuting a long distance for my job, and while Jake was very cute, he was very active...and I remember feeling tapped out.

With my niece Vanessa's husband away at school, I now look at her with her beautiful kids and see that tired look many young mothers share, and I feel for her. I'm constantly in awe of how Vanessa juggles getting her three kids up and out the door, goes to work at her preschool and still finds time to bake the best cupcakes ever!!. She is a lovely person, and one of the best moms I know. Her kids Ashton, Ronan, and India are sweet, funny and oh so smart!

So this is a salute to 'Nessa, and all my young mother friends. Enjoy the sweetness of your little ones, because time does go fast, and know that someday you'll be able to catch up with all the books and movies you are missing now. Even though you might be exhausted, it's still the best job in the world.

Isn't it?

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7May/124

The Last Generation

Twenty years ago my husband would come from work with little pieces of tape stuck to his shirt. He had just gotten a job as a paste up artist putting together magazines for a publishing company. He still has that job—well, kind of. With advances in digital publishing quickening the decline of print comes the quickening decline of people that do the physical act of putting print publications together. The industry has changed forever....

I'm currently working out of an historic studio that has painted famous backdrops for some great old movies and stage productions, such as Salvador Dali's "eyeball" background for the Hitchcock film Spellbound. The company is still going strong, with many people calling daily for backdrop rental and commissions, but the demand is just not what it used to be with the new technology of printing and projections. This industry is also changing...

I look at these guys paint and I'm in awe of their talent and skill. We were joking around the other day that the median age of the artists here is over 50. We are the old-timers now. My heart aches a bit, though, that these skills aren't being passed down to a new generation. Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of great new creative people doing amazing things with technology. But I know in our studio I am witnessing something that is a small gem, something that used to be a key part of a pretty big industry.

I love the feel of a book in my hand, or the look of something that is hand-painted ( you can still tell the difference!) And I guess both my husband and I would have to say we are proud to be a part of this last generation of artists. I just hope that the jewels of this industry don't disappear completely. I think the loss would never be replaced.

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