May 26, 2015

Saying Goodbye to My Grandma

{ Caroline Kathryn Schwarz September 1, 1923 - May 21, 2015 }

Thursday afternoon, at 12:31pm, my mom called to tell me that my grandma had passed away. I had been half-expecting the news for a long time but it still took my breath away. She had a long life (almost 92 years) and maintained excellent health, and full independence, until dementia began to set-in following a stroke just five years ago. I was living in Colorado at the time of her stroke but I received regular updates from my mom and was able to speak to my grandma often. When it became obvious that she could no longer live on her own, my grandma moved to Arkansas to live with my aunt until she recovered enough to transfer to an assisted living community. Due to several factors and complications, her move to assisted living never happened and she ended up staying with my aunt until going into a nursing home with 24/7 care last year. 

Dementia slowly took away the woman that my grandma had always been and turned her more and more into the little girl that she once was. It is a weird and wild disease, as fascinating as it is frustrating. Thankfully my grandma always maintained her sense of humor, which made us all feel more comfortable giggling at times, even if to keep from breaking down. Dementia is the ultimate dichotomy- seemingly as fast-moving as it is excruciatingly slow. With every conversation and every visit, I knew that I was losing more of the connection with her that I always had. I fought the process and questioned her treatment and care, but ultimately my grandma was going away, physically and mentally, and there wasn't anything I could do to bring her back. 

The last five years of my grandma's life were by far the hardest for my family, but it was really the first 87 that really mattered the most to her.


Born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1923, my grandma met and married my Grandpa while she was in high school (he was a few years older). He served in World War II and after his service ended, they moved to California. My grandma raised three daughters, mostly as a single mother, while working full-time. She held a 34-year career with Rockwell Corporation where she built circuit boards and worked on the first Space Shuttle orbiter. She used to climb into the nose of the B-1 Bomber to work on the circuits because she "was small enough" and her fingers were so delicate. She was an active member of her church community for decades and traveled the world beginning in her sixties. 

In 1983, at 60 years old, she earned her high school diploma, followed by her Bachelor of Science degree from Cal State Dominguez Hills. She served as President of the Redondo Beach Senior Center and received the Volunteer of the Year award in 2006, at a banquet in Beverly Hills, as well as an award from the Mayor for her service. She was unapologetically patriotic and proud of the servicemen and women who served our country. She would spend summer evenings dancing on the Redondo Beach pier with her friends, I would go down often in high school to watch her. She later came to watch Dan and I take ballroom dance lessons at the Elks Lodge, before we were even officially dating. She knew he was the one before I did and I let her have all the credit. 

Growing up, my grandma lived just 1.3 miles from my house and she helped raise me in every significant way. She never missed a birthday party, school performance, soccer/hockey game, or holiday dinner. She witnessed every backyard Easter egg-hunt and chaotic Christmas morning while my brother and I ran and squealed around her with delight. We could hear her brown diesel Mercedes Benz coming down the block, and the sound of her voice calling to us as she opened the back gate. She stayed with me when my parents weren't home and watched our pets when we were out of town. We would swim in the pool at "her" building (she owned her unit for 35 years, it may as well have been), eat her candy, and curl up on her green leather couch to watch TV. She hung our art projects in her house and wore a broach enclosing pictures of my brother and I as babies on her pastel sweaters. She would pick us up from school and stop to drop off our friends on the way home, often slowing down at the end of our block so I could stand up on the back seat and stick my head through the sun roof the rest of the way. 

My grandma comforted and cared for us during my mom's battle with breast cancer and let me test out my learner's permit in her car. She danced to any song that was playing, including at my wedding. Her laugh was infectious, her smile lit up any room. Her snow-white hair was impossible to miss in a crowd. She was the most incredible, attentive, and generous grandma I could have dreamed of, despite her busy schedule of volunteering with the city and her church, managing her investment properties, and traveling the world. For a woman who never seemed to slow down, she always made time for her family and her faith. Everywhere we went, people knew, and loved my grandma, and I loved that.


The day that my grandma passed away was peaceful. I had been able to speak to her the day before, and through streams of tears I had tried to hold back, I was able to thank her for everything that she had been for me, to tell her that I loved her more than anything, to give her the freedom to let go and be free, and to sing a few of her favorite songs (that also happen to be some of mine). As I whispered into the phone, "Grandma, I hope you can hear me because I want to tell you a secret",  my mom, who was sitting by her bed holding the phone, gasped, "Hailey, she opened her eyes, she opened her eyes!" for what would be the last time. 

The next morning I woke up with Blackbird, by the Beatles, stuck in my head. 
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night..."

I don't remember hearing it playing, but I know all of the words by heart.
"take these broken wings and learn to fly..."

 In part because it's the only song Dan can play on the guitar, but mostly because it's such a simple melody. 
"all your life..."

I sang it in the car and around the house. 
"you were only waiting for this moment to arrive..."

And at 11:35pm (1:35pm in Arkansas), in the middle of my restorative yoga class that I had dedicated to her, Blackbird played and my grandma, 1600 miles away, took her last breaths on this earth.
"Blackbird, fly. Blackbird fly...

She was finally free from her broken and tired body. Her mind was again whole, her soul already on its way to meet her Savior. 
"into the light of the dark black night."

She had held on longer than any of us truly thought she would, but there's something to be said about my grandma: she was stubborn as heck, she loved the spotlight, and there was no way she was going to miss out on a single second of this life until she was absolutely sure she was ready to go. Words cannot describe the ache we will always feel in our hearts and the deep longing we will always have for her, but she will be with us no matter where we go and what we do, telling us to keep going and to enjoy every second on this earth. Which is why I should go now. Grandma would never approve of this much time spent behind a computer screen when there's a whole big world out there to fall in love with. 

Love you forever, Grandma


May 18, 2015

my favorite staff meetings


With any new job there is always a bit of risk, especially when it comes to getting along well with your co-workers or staff. Being a stranger in a new city and starting a job as the store manager for a locally-owned and well-loved art supply shop was, in some ways, a dream come true and in others, one of the most challenging times in my life. The existing staff was fairly small and mostly made up of people who had been there for several years, and the business's non-corporate culture was very laid back, so there was a chance that an overly-caffeinated outsider swooping in with a shiny new agenda was not going to be welcomed with open arms. 

Thankfully there weren't too many bumps in the road and I became close with a few awesome girls that actually still want to hang out with me I am grateful to call friends! In just a few short years we've witnessed each other's weddings, new babies, graduations, surgeries, career changes, and more. Although we have almost all moved on from the little shop where we met, we still get together every now and then for a fun evening of cocktails and catching up. These are really the only staff meetings I think we are all a fan of. 

Recently, the girls came over for some India-inspired treats and we caught up on work, school, moving, art, travel, boys, and babies. We made sparkly gin spritzers, noshed on samosas, and each of the girls picked out a unique ink printing block that I bought on my trip (the rest will be going to my shop! details, soon). Despite our different ages, schedules, relationship statuses, and lifestyles, we chatted and laughed the evening away and grew even closer, just like usual. I am excited to see how these girls continue to grow and to keep up with them as our lives change in the coming months and years. Love you ladies, and I look forward to many more happy reunions in the future! 


May 12, 2015

20 Things... I'll just go ahead and tell you about myself

Question 1: How tall are you?
Just a smidge shy of 5’8”.  I was always one of the shortest kids until high school. I often forget that I’m actually on the taller side now, until I see a picture in which I'm towering above my friends. But I have freakishly small feet (size 6) so I have terrible balance, but I can pretty much always try on the sample pair of shoes, so it evens out. 

Question 2: Do you have a hidden talent? If so, what?
I do a pretty good impression of a velociraptor. My brother and I used to hide in opposite sides of stores or outdoor areas and “call” to each other then come running out with our hands tucked into our ribs like claws. It’s terrifying for others, I imagine. Few people have seen "the raptor" in real life... it's starting to make a comeback though. When the moon is just right, you may see it too. 

Question 3: What’s your biggest blog-related pet peeve?
Guest posts that are like “Tell us about your blog, what it’s called, and what you write about” and people are like “My blog is called :::some silly nickname:::: and I mostly blog about my husband and pets and sunshine and things that make me laugh”… Actually, MY blog is my biggest blog pet peeve.

Question 4: What’s your biggest non-blog related pet peeve?
Bad drivers. People that speed in residential areas, don’t use their turn signals, and don’t know how to merge onto the freeway. Also, bad service at a restaurant or retail shop. Louis CK discusses this perfectly here. And mostly…the way some people (ahem, girls) eat granola bars… grabbing little tiny pieces with their fingers… it’s a granola bar. It’s in a wrapper. It does not require using multiple hands or really, multiple bites, for that matter. It doesn't have to look cute. Ugh. 

Question 5: What’s your favorite song?
I’m gonna need more specifics…Like, favorite song to sing at karaoke? Anything by Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, or Elvis Presley. To blast in the car? Anything by Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, or Elvis Presley. To sing in the shower? Anything  by Johnny Cash Tracy Chapman, or Elvis Presley. Or… whatever the last song that I heard playing was.

Question 6: What’s your favorite way to spend your free time when you’re alone?
I like to draw and paint while listening to podcasts or audio books. Currently listening to: TheLivelyShowEliseGetsCraftyFreshAirAll the Light We Cannot SeeBossyPants. I also love to reorganize my closets...or your closet for that matter.

Question 7: What’s your favorite junk food?
Flaming Hot Cheetos. It’s really never a good idea. 

Question 8: Do you have a pet or pets? If so, what kind and what are their names?
Ha.Ha.Ha. Yes, I have pets. Three. We are out-numbered. We have two cocker spaniels, Arthur (10), and Wilson(almost 5), and a liger named Logan (6). They appear in most of my photos.

Question 9: What are your number one favorite nonfiction and fiction books?
I read The Whip a few months ago and have recommended it to everyone I know. It’s a novel based on the true story of a woman who disguised herself as a man and became a stagecoach driver during the gold rush to try and avenge her husband’s murder. It’s amazing. Favorite fiction? Pretty much anything by Sandra Dallas does it for me. Historical fiction, badass lady characters, love, loss… can’t go wrong.

Question 10: What’s your favorite beauty product?
I’m not totally committed to any single product, but I love me some fancy, natural bar soap. I usually buy a few whenever I travel, at the grocery store, or farmer’s market. My husband, parents, and best friend have all given me bar soap as gifts and it’s literally the first thing I unwrap and use. I’m easy to please.

Question 11: If you could only drink one beverage (besides water) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Red wine.

Question 12: What’s your favorite movie?
Most Watched: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Forrest Gump, Just Friends, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, You’ve Got Mail.

Question 13: What were you in high school: prom queen, nerd, cheerleader, jock, valedictorian, band geek, loner, artist, prep?
Oh boy, it depends on the year. I ran with a lot of different crowds, sometimes all at the same time. I wore heavy eyeliner and a studded belt to cheerleading practice, joined theater for a minute, went to lunch time Bible studies and Gay-Straight Alliance group meetings, dated boys in bands… I didn’t have one particular group or activity that I stuck with all four years. I loved having friends all across the spectrum but it also made it some of the hardest years for me. I didn’t really know where to fit in, I just liked making people laugh. 

Question 14: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
New Zealand. I would love to have a bed & breakfast with a vegetable garden or vineyard, a barn with lots of animals, and studio space for hosting artist retreats and workshops where guests could learn to make cheese, cook, paint, sculpt, and more.

Question 15: What’s your #1 most played song on iTunes?
Amsterdam by Gregory Alan Isakov…81 times, and that’s not nearly enough.

Question 16: If you could know the answer to any question, what would it be?
When will I ever learn not to _______. Oh, never? Well at least now I know.

Question 17: What was the first album you bought with your own money?
First cassette… Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrisette. I was in third grade and probably way too young to be listening to her but I convinced my parents that I wouldn’t listen to any of the "bad words". I even took the lyrics sheet out of the case and crossed out all of the bad words I could find so that they wouldn’t “be there” anymore. First cd was either Hanson, All Saints, or Green Day.

Question 18: If someone wrote a book about you, what would be the title?
“You May Not Want To Hear This, But...”

Question 19: If you could try-out any job what would it be?
I’ve secretly always wanted to compose soundtracks for movies… like the actual songs, not sound effects. I have no idea who or how this works, but if anyone has pointers, or wants me to make a soundtrack of the movie of your life, hollah. It would be really, really, really good. 

Question 20: What’s something you’ve done that you would never do again?
Be a teenager. Live far away from the ocean. Sky dive. Yep, once was really all I need on those.

Ok, your turn...byeeeeee!


May 08, 2015

Happy Messes & Mimosas : a day with my mom

For months my mom and I have been promising to find time to paint together in my studio space and a few days ago, we finally made it happen.  There are so many things about that sentence that I am grateful for, and even though we find a million excuses for not spending as much time together as we would like, I never take for granted that I can see my mom, let alone spend time creating, talking, and sharing life with her as often as I can. 

Growing up my mom and I were far from the "Gilmore Girl's" ideal, and our relationship was often rocky at best, but over the years I have come to appreciate who she is, her story, and the role model she continues to be for me. Even though I was basically a teenage nightmare, she gave me the space and freedom and respect I needed to find my way in the world. We never talked about hair and boys, she never borrowed my clothes. We fought and loved and laughed harder than anyone else I knew. Our relationship was, and is, raw, and rare, and real.

But along with my strong will, fierce compassion, and germaphobia (despite our houses full of pets), one of the traits my mom, well, both of my parents actually, instilled in me is my love of art and creativity. When she wasn't teaching Hands On Art classes at school, making felt banners for soccer teams, sewing Halloween costumes, decorating our home, or helping with homework assignments, my mom was taking my brother and I to ClayBisque to paint ceramic mugs and plates, and proudly displaying them throughout the house.

At a young age, my brother and I knew all of the restaurants in town that provided blank paper placemats that served as our canvases during dinner, and before every big trip, mom took us to the store to pick out a sketchbook and art supplies to bring along. When I would tell people I wanted to be an artist-veterinarian-photo journalist (in that order) when I grew up, my parents never batted an eye. Creativity was just as much as part of my life as the next thing. To this day, we can't send or receive a greeting card to one another without filling it with more doodles than words; all of those blank spaces just begging to be covered in ink. Come to think of it, the Lowe family would probably kill it in Pictionary, but I digress.

Spending a few hours painting with my mom, making messes, drinking mimosas, and listening to music was exactly what my soul needed this week. Of course, we are planning to make an actual habit of it, but for today, I am thankful for the present, and the gift of our afternoon together. 

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.