About Me

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear - regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how junky it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ... Oh, the two pictures below are NOT of my garden, although the one with the pink French doors looks very much like the backyard I grew up with. I am searching for pictures of that wonderful place and will post soon.


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October 29, 2015

A Halloween Treat To Remember

To begin with, this story is Faux Fiction. You, the reader will determine what's real … or not …

When I was 7, I longed for a shiny acetate store bought Halloween costume. They were glorious to look at, and if you got one, you were mighty special. You could be Dale Evans, Peter Pan, Mighty Mouse, a clown or the Frankenstein monster. Maw had made mine, and I endured it for years – A furry monkey costume, complete with mask and tail.

The thing about that costume is it itched me to death! I broke out in hives every year, but was too proud to admit it until I was safely at home with my bag full of candy, oranges and pennies. Making matters worse, I was forced to wear my costume over my school clothes, including tights, a pair of wool leggings with stirrups that fit over boots, and a heavy coat. On top of that, I had a tight hood secured to my coat, placed over a woolen cap. My monkey mask was tied around my bulky head, and my tail stood straight up. It's a wonder I could move at all. My friends never waited for me. By the time I got down our front stoop, it was almost November 1st.

It didn't matter because I was not allowed to go out on Halloween with my friends. Rather, I went with Maw, who stood right behind me as I went door to door down our long block. Maw hated the ordeal as well, but it was that way or no way.

At each and every door, Maw would stop; look the house over; and either nod or shake her head before I could approach the door. Then she would prompt me, “Say trick-or-treat!”
“Trick or Treat, Mam.”
“Say Thank-You!”
“Thank you, Mam …”
And it went on and on. She was selective as to which houses I could stop at or not, and this always made me mad. I could see my friends running in and out of the street like banshees wailing and hissing in the night. I wanted to run wild and out of control too. I always wished Granddad would come with me, but he was left at home to pass out candy to the other children.

My friends never missed a house, and they always had bigger bags than I did; some had two. “Why can’t we go to the Rozelle’s house?” I would wail. “All the others are going there.” She'd say,
“Because you are neither a vagabond nor a scalawag, and you’ll go where I tell you … where the food is safe!” I rolled my eyes safely behind my mask.

Towards the end of the block, up by Marsden Street, there was Mrs. Hazel’s lonely little house, set farther back from the street than the others. We all had standard “Jamaica Houses,” with three windows and a door, but she had a tiny bungalow that was nestled back in the trees that shook when the Long Island Railroad rumbled by. This was the first year that we noticed Mrs. Hazel decorated her house for the holiday. She played in Maw’s bridge club, and she and her husband, a short quiet man, had no children of their own. Since she recently retired, we figured she'd be home. On her little porch was a pumpkin with a candle burning inside, and seated in a large cane back rocking chair was one of those big, stuffed effigies. You know, how folks take old clothes and stuff them with newspapers so that it looked just like a real person, placing them in chairs or trees to scare the kids. Back then, stuffed people hanging from trees weren’t too popular in our neighborhood. But Mrs. Hazel had a good size person on her porch. It was headless, with a large pumpkin for a head, and wore a red plaid shirt and old dungarees stuffed into some scruffy boots. His arms were folded across his chest and he was slumped down in the rocker.

I was terrified. “I don’t want to go there, Maw,” I whimpered. None of my friends were there to go with me, and frankly, Maw was even standing closer to the street than usual.

“Don’t be foolish, go on!” she urged. Chills tickled the small of my back, and I suddenly wished I had on even more clothes. I was so cold, and scared of the pumpkin goblin. I hate those things, and the pumpkin itself was beginning to ripen and stink. I rang the bell and ran back to Maw in a snap. “What are you doing, silly? Go back up there!” Just as I was about to defy Maw and fly home, the door slowly opened. Maw pushed me back towards the door.

“Say trick-or-treat!”
“Trick or Treat, Mam.”
The door opened wider, and the warm light from inside lit the porch completely. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Hilda, is that you?” Mrs. Hazel hollered?
“Yes, girl! I’m out with Irene.”
“Well, well, well, is that you in there, Miss Queen?” She patted my layered head.
“Yes, Mam.”
”What you supposed to be?”
“A monkey again, Mam.”
Mrs. Hazel was silent for a while, and then mumbled, “Sure you are, heh. Come on in!” Before I could protest, Mrs. Hazel grabbed my arm, pulling me in past pumpkin man, and Maw quickly followed behind. “Come in and warm up. I’ve been waiting for some nice company.”

Mrs. Hazel led us to her small kitchen with the aroma of meat roasting and hot cider. It was quite warm and cozy in there. Her little round table had an orange linen table cloth and displayed a large milk glass punch bowl filled with hot cider, plates of cookies and candy corn.

“Wow!” I shouted. “Look, Maw!”
“Mind your manners,” Maw reminded me.
“Oh, Hilda, it’s Halloween. Let the girl enjoy herself. Here, Queen, help yourself.” She handed me a little china plate and I loaded it with cookies, ignoring Maw’s warning glance. I knew the gluttony lecture would be given once we got home. I sat sipping hot cider, which was very, very spicy and had an odd taste. I figured that was just Grown Folks Cider, and I was feeling very full and sleepy, while the two older women sat and gossiped quietly.

“Where is he, Hazel?”
“I don’t know, Hilda. It’s been two weeks. That woman stopped calling here and he hasn’t come home since. I know he’s with her!” Mrs. Hazel began to sob softly.

I had learned long ago from Maw what my place was and not to butt into grown people’s business. But this was good stuff! I tilted my head back in the chair, closed my eyes and pretended to doze off so they could speak more freely.

“Did he take his clothes?”
“No! That’s just it. He left for work that morning, and he never got there … Neither did she!”
“Nooooo,” Maw crooned.
“Yes, the dirty blood clot even took his lunch that day! The police ain’t doin’ nothin’ to help find him. He’s just an old man who run off wit de woman, that’s all.” They had both reverted from proper English to their more comfortable West Indian dialect they fall into when angered.

Through the slits in my eyes, I watched as Maw took another sip of cider after Mrs. Hazel doused it with a big splash of sugar cane brandy. Oh, brother, this is going to be a long night. Eventually, I really did sleep, and the next thing you know, Maw’s dragging me back out into the cold, past the pumpkin man and down our long, lonely street. It was dark and scary. All of the children had gone in, and I couldn’t even see our house at the end of the block. I was grateful when Maw grabbed my hand in hers and we trotted the rest of the way home.

I was freezing cold, and the frost from my warm breath in front of me swirled above my head like a ghost. The big Jamaica houses loomed on either side of us, and I was too afraid to even mention there was not a soul nor car out on this Halloween night. Finally, we reach the comfort of our house, and found Granddad waiting at the door for us.

That night, I didn’t even bother to sit up and count or sort my candy. I washed my face, piled into a pair of warm pajamas and climbed into bed without being made to. I slept fitfully, tossing and turning, enduring nightmare after nightmare. Soon I was awakened with a start by the sound of sirens wailing down the street.

That’s our street, I thought! I sat bolt upright in my bed, just as our doorbell rang. Who could that be so early in the morning? It was not even daylight yet. I heard Granddad at the front door talking with someone; who, I don’t know. He walked back to him and Maw’s bedroom, where they spoke in hushed voices. Suddenly, I heard my grandmother’s familiar bawling, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no! (her favorite expression),” then, “No, no, no, no!” They talked some more, and there was nothing to hold me in my bed any longer.

I stood outside my grandparents’ bedroom door and listened to him relay the story to her again. A neighbor had heard a gunshot coming from Mrs. Hazel’s house. When the police arrived, they found her shot to death at her kitchen table; apparently it was a suicide. Our finger prints are on that table, I thought. Something was burning in the oven. When they opened it, they discovered cooked human remains – a woman’s body stuffed in a big roaster, all fixed up with potatoes, carrots, onions and celery. On the porch was a headless Mr. Hazel propped up in a rocking chair with a pumpkin stuck where his head should have been. His own head, by the way, was found brewing on the stove in a large cider-filled stockpot full of cloves, cinnamon and apple peel … Grown Folks Cider ...

I never dressed for Halloween after that, and the monkey costume was finally put to rest. Today, as I sit sipping my hot espresso, and spread orange marmalade on my muffin, I am busy planning. How shall I dress my pumpkin man for my porch this year?

Excerpt from my novel “Queen Irene: A Garden of Easters,” not yet released.
Originally published in The Courier-Times, Oct. 25, 2015

September 28, 2015

Loving This Place Where We Are Right Now

The power of Sankofa. In Ghana, West Africa, the word “Sankofa” means to 'reach back and get it.' This phrase is often symbolized by the Asante Adinkra symbol of a bird, with his head looking backwards towards the middle of his back in order to pick up an egg that had been resting there. Reach back and get it; meaning, your heritage, your history, or something from your past that was lost, but is sorely needed now. One cannot move forward without claiming the past. You must reach back and get it, and savor the gifts within your egg. The bird flies forward while looking backwards at the past, in order to assure the future journey will be fruitful. Another symbol representing Sankofa is a stylized heart; which brings me to my message. Once again, I am speaking of love.

Sankofa-2 by StaceyTorresART
Love has a tendency to spin things to appear to be what they are not. Like things we hope for and long for. Some of us live for it. Love can be elusive, fleeting in its appearances, and will often take leave for years; decades even. Love can come and go in and out of our lives throughout these years. And, for a few fortunate souls, love can stay and last a lifetime. But, sometimes we have to remember that love may be misplaced at times, and we think it is lost forever. Yet, if we look back to our past and gather our eggs, we move forward with clarity, and love will find us.

Not long ago, a close friend introduced me to another very close friend of hers. It was a casual introduction, certainly not intended as a “hookup” or a matchmaking effort. She was merely introducing her friends to each other. However, there was something more – much more.

Very quickly, we discovered we had more things in common than most people do in several lifetimes. Both of us had cared for our mothers, who have since passed on. We like the same things -- unusual, quirky things that few people could even relate to. Within a few short days, our lives became entwined, in a wonderful positive way, and life as I knew it would never be the same. I suppose it's safe to assume life for him has changed as well, but I won't speak on his behalf. Things are still quite new for us. Without going into details, “smitten” would be a good word to use to describe our current situation.

The grin on my face feels permanent, my outlook on life is much lighter. I am happy. I have not been nor felt happy in many, many years. I sing again. I laugh a lot more. I feel giddy … silly … much like a school girl – an almost 62 year old school girl. There is peace and sweetness in my life again, and the pain and darkness from the not too distant past is beginning to fade more and more each day.

So, what does the power of Sankofa have to do with all of this? Well, one evening during one of our marathon telephone conversations, I mentioned something about a building I once lived in many years ago in Indianapolis. This prompted some distant memories and several questions ensued. It was then that we realized we had actually met briefly 34 years ago. On that night, we shared a pot of tea and talked for hours; much like we do today. But, what happened to us? How did I let him get away? How did he? We don't know … nor do we really care. At that time in both our lives, neither of us were ready for each other in any way. We needed to grow, to live and experience love, hurt, disappointment, joys, grief and tragedy all in our own time, in our own ways. While our lives did have some parallels, we simply were not prepared to even know each other. Life had to happen. Love had to happen. And, love had to leave in order for the process to continue. Our pasts had to happen in order for us to journey towards our futures. And, as our lives began to unfold and open like a late blooming rose, love came back again.

At a time when I truly thought all was hopelessly gone … When I believed that love only happens to the young and those who have been steady on the path … When I believed it was all over for me, and I was ready to just give up on everything and resign myself to being an old cat lady (without the cats), love stepped out of the shadows and offered the egg.

My guy has an amazing mind for remembering millions of song lyrics. And he's fond of an old Cole Porter tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Well, we don't know. What it is to me, may not be for him, or vice versa. However, it seems to work for us. We're just enjoying the view and basking in the comfort of each other and our new-found friendship. Last night, he told me that when he woke up in the morning, he felt completely surrounded and engulfed with love. I'm still trying to imagine what that feels like. I'll be honest, he remembers far more about that night in 1979 than I do. At first I doubted his revelation, but his recollection of the evening – of me – and other details validate our little miracle.

Last month, I wrote about what “Love Is.” It can be so many different things to everyone – it does not have to be about romance, but it should always be about passion. Your love of your family, your friends, a career, a pet … anything … Put your all into that love. As we all know, life is so terribly brief. Grab what you love and hold it dear. And, of course, give as much back – and then some. Please don't deny the ones dearest to you the knowledge that you love and care for them. Tomorrow is not a promise; nor is the next hour.

What I realize now, is love never really leaves. It stays around, but not necessarily in the way we expect or hope it will. Sometimes we don't recognize it. In my life, I know I have loved many people; and in all due respect, many men. And, I am being candid when I admit I've never been in love until now. And for what it's worth – whatever this thing called love is … whether it be for a minute, a year, or if it is the beginning of everlasting … Love is Always Here to Stay. Open your heart, and reach back and get it.

Stacey Torres is an artist, dancer, and the author of “Jewels Of My Soul,” available on www.amazon.com.

First Published in The Courier-Times, September 27, 2015

August 31, 2015

Consider For Yourself Today All That Love Is

As you (should) know by now, I am very candid in my messages to my readers. Being at a stage in life where I no longer feel the need to be who or what I am not, I write things the way they are. Today, I sat in the waiting room of a local food pantry – no longer concerned with what anyone else thought. After all, they're there too. Today was interesting. Hard times have hit many of us in ways we never expected. And I began to think of two words a new friend said to me the other day; “Love Is.” We are in a world of overly processed hatred and envy; prejudice and jealousy. So, I thought about those two words.

Love is the gentle rain soothing the parched yellow corn in the late August sun.

Love is the grape throbbing in the heat of the afternoon as it clings to the vine that gives it life. And the grape, in turn, will give life to others.

Love is the gift of forgiveness, even when we admit we can never forget.
Love is the strength and lessons we learn from that painful incident we can never forget.

Love is the gift of patience – you give to yourself.

Love is the gift of forgiveness – you give to yourself.

Love is the baby sparrow, who prances proudly before me with his spike “hairdo,” showing me that he can walk. Love is also the watchful eyes of his parents, confident he can fly – After all, he did not fall from that nest.

Love is the first time I saw his smile, and knew God's gift was before me.

Love is the water that flows when the faucet is turned on, when you thought you didn't have a dime to pay for it. Love is the simple mercies that made it possible.

Love is the gift of the elderly, whose wisdom and experience brought us here.

Love is the one who hears your cry in the dark, and comes to your aid.

Love is the one who hears not your cry in the dark, but comes to your aid anyway.

Love is his voice, soothing and comforting when you feel life and love have left you forever.

Love is she who stops to comfort and shelter a wounded animal.

Love is he who makes room in his life to comfort and shelter a child with a wounded heart.

Love is acceptance.

Love is diversity

Love does not judge or assume the virtue of the diverse souls our Creator placed on this earth.

Love is the melody of a language unknown to you that speaks of peace and freedom and the chance to live and work with dignity and pride.

Love is he or she who is strong enough to embrace those different from themselves, and learn to exist globally in unity.

Love is not being so ignorant to believe what they read or hear about others – without knowing FACTS.

Love is not being so shallow to spread False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR) because they were so ignorant to believe what they read or hear about others – without knowing FACTS.

Love is a tomato, right off of your own vine.

Love is knowing your neighbor's name, and knowing you can count on them to help you when you are alone.

Love is knowing that even if they cannot or will not help you when you are alone, that you will be there for them just the same.

Love is the light at end of your street after a long journey.

Love is a cup of tea in a worn, chipped mug with an old friend.

Love is a warm loaf of bread you've baked for a new friend.

Love is his laughter, when your heart is aching.

Love is a three-legged dog who wins the race, because he's too grateful for the three he has to be worried about the one he lost.

Love is knowing your soul mate was there all along.

Love is being humble enough to put aside your pride and ask for the help you need.

Love is giving it back when you are able.

Love is the effervescent memory of a mother, father or grandparent.

Love is their surprising visits to us in the night in the form of a dream.

Love is taking a fish and feeding yourself; or, add some bread crumbs, and feed your entire family.

Love is sharing your talents with the world.

Love is that strange, unidentifiable scent – like powdery flowers, or a faint perfume from ages past. This fragrance lasts a brief second and then it is gone... I am told it is the scent of an angel, a lost loved one, or the Holy Spirit.

Love is knowing we happen to love the same dish.

Love is the choice collection of friends who will listen to your pain while silently bearing their own.

Love is strong coffee and a handwritten letter.

Love is that 50 year old rose bush that still blooms humbly in spite of your neglect.

Love is realizing that it's never too late – for anything.

Love is a welcomed phone call – even at 5 A.M.; and,

Love is wishing you had thought of calling him first.

by Stacey Torres
Originally Published in The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN 8/30/2015

August 6, 2015

Mojito Watermelon

I discovered this luscious recipe on Pinterest (via countryliving.com) this evening. While there is no alcohol in the recipe (and there's absolutely no reason why you can't add a touch of run to the mix), it's still a beautiful and refreshing side dish and/or dessert. In my case ... a summer evening snack.


Mojito Watermelon

July 27, 2015

On My Stay-Cation -- Wish You Were Here

Stay-cations are not new. They became begrudgingly popular in the 90's when we all had sticker shock from gas prices hovering around $2/gallon. So, we were encouraged to stay at home and take “one tank trips” on weekends in lieu of the classic summer vacation. That was fine for some folks, but for those of us with wanderlust tendencies, that was never quite enough. However, in 2002, as things began to change in my world, I came to the realization that I may never get a real vacation again. Sure, I've had working trips, and a journey or two that took me to family funerals. But, no, those aren't vacations. And, I longed for one.

It took me a while to make up my mind, but that July, I decided to plant a small (3x4') bed of perennials in our 9th Hole-looking backyard. I found an old outdoor chaise lounge and a table with an umbrella from an antique shop, and created my own getaway. I reinvented “stay-cation” to suit me … Thus, it became a vacation taken at home without the cost of gas or expensive lodging. True, there was no beach, no swim-up bar, no sounds of the surf at night, no sexy waiters, no island music or exotic foods … all deal breakers for me. But, I'm a damn good cook – especially when it comes to island fare; I have my own music – can't swim to the bar if there was one – And, I bought some of those mood enhancing seashore audio tapes (a poor facsimile; but better than nothing). And, well, no, I never replicated the sexy waiters either, but I'd sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair with my iced tea, close my eyes, and imagine.

Over the years, things began to develop. I spent an entire winter growing (winter sow method) dozens of plants from seed, including Rugosa rose bushes, perennial Maximilian sunflowers, Bee Balm, Daylilies, Oriental Lilies, Asiatic and Orienpet Lilies, lots of Rudbeckia … even a yellow trumpet vine (yes, I knew better; but after 8 years, it is finally blooming, and is magnificent). What began as a humble little 3x4 foot perennial bed, has evolved into a quarter acre of green chaos.

There is even an accidental peach tree growing right outside the back door. Initially, I purchased a small ornamental patio peach tree (traditionally grown in containers, and moved inside during the winter). In true Stacey form, I planted it in the ground, figuring it would only grow the average four feet, and I would keep it pruned. It was a pretty little tree that survived two Indiana winters, and then gave up the ghost. So, in the following spring, I took a saw to it and cut it down … I thought … What I had not noticed was the little sucker I left sticking up out of the ground. That sucker is now 12 to 15 feet tall, and my not-so-patio peach tree bears fruit – the sweetest, tiniest little peaches ever. The sucker was from the original root stock.

So, for several years, I tended to my little piece of Eden, and that's how I have enjoyed my summers. Every year, something new was added … four Rose of Sharon trees (gifted to me by my mother); Viburnum, Hydrangea, Hostas, an American Plum; Bradford Pear; and a couple of Mulberry Trees are allowed to stay because they give good shade, and fortunately, no berries. I've added archways, and a couple of paths …

But two years ago I became ill with chronic anemia, which had me in a terrible weakened state. I had no idea anemia could be so debilitating, even though it was the initial cause of my grandfather and aunt's deaths. It blindsided me, and so I struggle with that, along with my asthma, on a daily basis. Some days I feel great, other days, I can't leave my bed. Needless to say, my garden suffered for my lack of energy and ability to care for it. What was once my sweet stay-cation getaway, became a horrifying man-eating jungle of sorts.

Because I do not have (nor can I afford) help with it, a lot of it was left to fend for itself. To make matters worse, the Indiana Monsoons of 2015 have not helped at all. I dreaded even looking outside. But one day this week, something told me to look out my back door. In the pouring rain, I noticed my favorite Tree Lily had been broken off at the ground from a horrible storm we had last week. I went out to see the damage, and was shocked at what else I saw … My fickle Sumatra Lily was blooming, and I could smell her strong perfume through the rain. I had brought the bulb home from the Patio Show in Indy years ago. All of my Daylilies, their bed hidden by Rudbeckia and some Wild Roses, were shining like yellow beams of sunlight in the rain. The Rose of Sharon trees were starting to bloom, and a rich and flamboyant “After 8” Oriental Lily was giving a show to beat the band. The biggest surprise was the lavender Bee Balm (Monarda), which was spreading and had grown to at least eight feet tall! I've never seen those heights before. So there were some surprises.

I have learned, that no matter what, God will take care of nature – with or without me. I see peaches; I see my Dinner Plate Hibiscus coming along … and some Dames Rocket that should have been done months ago, still blooming beautifully. I need to get out there and clear away the overgrowth, but I still don't have the stamina – or help. I do a tiny bit at a time. It would be wonderful to sit on my tiny mulched patio and sip tea again. You know, I would love to have a pond … Yes, I know you're thinking, “that's all she needs!” But I do. I've come to love the countless birds and other wildlife that visit me. But, there is a place in my Secret Garden where a pond would be charming.

With this wet weather, however, much of my summer life has been put on hold. This stay-cation is different than years past. My dog has been very patient with me; we don't walk as much as we used to because of the rain and humidity, and I spend my days painting, eating fruit or liver and onions. I do practice my dance when I can, or troll the catch and release ponds (a/k/a online dating sites) – not exactly the type of pond I had in mind. Moreover, my little neighbor, Willie the Siamese Cat, makes regular stay-cations to my habitat to hunt on safari. I've gotten used to him, and he's a good mouser, and moler and chipmunker. He now leaves my rabbits (and me) alone.

So, today I'm standing here in my gardening costume; old baggy jeans, long sleeve shirt, a straw hat, boots and my leather gloves … I'm ready to face the Hoosier Rain Forest and do some work. I plan to have supper outside tonight; a Jamaican Beef Patty, Coconut Rice, Salad and a Mai Tai … And I don't have to tip anyone! Oh, wait! What's that I hear? Can it be? Thunder again! Ah, well ...

July 23, 2015

Where Do I Go When ...

Some days we just have to face it -- life can be a challenge. In my case, yesterday was a roller coaster - a fusion of joy, fun, compassion, anger, frustration, more anger, relief, comfort and then trepidation ... all in one day. What's up with that?

As I get older, I am constantly learning new ways to decompress, regenerate, and de-stress without destroying. So, yesterday, I found a spot in my secret garden (at home), where I sat in silence and solitude for several hours. There, I was able to breathe, clear my head, create some art, and cry ... and cry ... and cry.

Two days ago, I received an annual piece of mail - the one that comes from the County Assessor that gives you the current assessed value of your home. It comes every year. Only this time, it was addressed to me. I have not stopped crying yet (except for a brief hour or two spent with two girlfriends having lunch yesterday). It was the sudden shock value of seeing it - the finality of it - the surreal reality of it - the fears. Here it was in my hand, and it was real. It also meant that my mother and dad are truly gone. My mother passed six months ago, and he died 17 years ago. I never expected these emotions to overwhelm me. So, it's mine now. What do I do? How do I fix it? I'm tired, confused, and clearly in over my head ... The symbolism that they are gone from me. The grief has come back like gang busters.

July 21, 2015

I'm Back

Yes, I have returned - after a very long hiatus, I have returned to my beloved blog - and you. I have much more to share than before. Please come back and check on me when you can. Namaste
As The Sun Goes Down On My Life, by Stacey Torres (Acrylic Paint on 14x11" Stretched Canvas

Just Be An Instrument

Exactly one year ago, I picked up my brush and began to paint again after a 40 year hiatus. Having studied art decades ago, it was assumed that I would pursue a career in art, but it was not in my cards. So, in 1974, I gave up my childhood dream of being an artist. Last year, I returned to my first love, and commenced to create as a means of therapy as I dealt with my mother's failing health, and my inability to “fix her.” With art, I have complete control of what I manifest on canvas or paper.

Unexpectedly, things began to happen for me rather quickly as far as my artwork goes. At almost 62, I never dreamed I would see the word “artist” after my name. But it is there, and it has taken my life down a new and wondrous path.

Last fall, I painted a portrait of an African woman. Usually, when I start a painting or drawing, I rarely know what I'm creating until it is done. When I was finished, I looked at it somewhat in awe, because it was not something I had planned, nor the type of portrait I usually do, or someone I would have normally been drawn to paint. The woman in my painting was young, with dark skin, gray eyes, a crooked smile, and a short blond Afro hairstyle.

My process is, once I've completed a portrait, I study it and imagine who the character I've created may be, where he/she may come from and what type of life they may have had. Sometimes, I'll include the story with the artwork.

I named the woman in the painting LERATO, which means “love” in Sesotho, a Bantu South African language. This painting was slated to be entered in Indiana's Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann's Hoosier Women Artist Contest. At the last minute, I withdrew this entry for another. I don't know why I pulled it, but something told me to. I held onto it, and on January 29, 2015, I listed it on Etsy for sale.

I thought no more about Lerato for a while. Some paintings sell rather quickly, and others linger for months. On May 26, I received an email from a woman I did not know. With her permission and blessing, I am sharing a portion of her message to me.

“ … This is so crazy. I have the wildest story to tell you. Is there any chance you painted this after someone named Lerato Moletsane? I am thinking there must have been some way you knew her? My name is Asheley ***, and I live in Louisiana, but I met this Sotho girl named Lerato about 13 years ago when I was working in an orphanage in Lesotho. Her and I became like sisters over time, even though we lived on separate continents for the majority of our friendship. I saw her as much as I could and she became like blood to me, even though our lives were so opposite. Anyway, she suddenly passed away recently and I was thinking of her tonight, and had the idea just to type her name into Etsy and this painting is the only thing that came up. I couldn't believe the similarity this photo has to Lerato, and even she had her hair dyed blonde when she passed away. Your description could not be MORE SPOT ON for her and that's why I keep thinking you must have actually known her and created this piece after her. What's more -- and God as my witness -- and I can prove it -- you posted this painting to your site the DAY Lerato died -- January 29, 2015 … I posted a photo here so you can see the uncanny resemblance. Did you know her somehow? This can't be just a coincidence ...”

Even now, a month later, I still get chills when I read her letter and think of all the events leading to the morning of May 26. Why did I paint that portrait? Why did I pull it from the contest? Why did I list it on that day – January 29? I've never seen her before in my life, knew nothing of her existence, nor Asheley's. And, why did I name her Lerato, and even reference her hometown and heritage? Moreover, how did I paint a portrait of a woman who looks almost exactly like the “real” Lerato?

I've included the photo Asheley sent me, along with my portrait of Lerato. Some people have looked at the two and just assumed I painted her from the photograph. No, I never saw the photo prior to painting the portrait.

The original painting is now in the hands of Asheley, purchased for her birthday by her loved ones. She says it has brought her much comfort and closure. I have a myriad of mixed feelings flowing through me, and don't understand any of this. But a friend told me to just be an instrument. I feel God directed my hands as I painted her; and things began to fall into place from that moment on. So, I AM an instrument. Perhaps some day, Stacey “the artist” will make a small fortune – perhaps I won't. But nothing will ever compare to the peace and gratification I continue to feel knowing that God used me as an instrument to do some good for someone else. Our talents go much deeper than the product. Sometimes they can work miracles and heal a wounded heart … and bring souls back together.

First Published, 6/28/2015 by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN

We Get By Giving

We Get By Giving

It has been around since the beginning of time -- Bartering. For centuries, people have survived on it; families thrived on it. This very simple exchange brought people together, saved money (especially where there was none) and cultivated forgotten talents and gifts.

The concept of bartering is very simple ... trading goods and/or services for other things without ever using any money. Communities grew by using the bartering system. Going back in ancient history, the Phoenicians adopted a simple bartering system that they picked up from earlier tribes, such as the Mesopotamians and Egyptians. It started out very simple, among family members, villagers, and grew rather quickly wherein the Phoenicians developed a very sophisticated network and bartered with people and far away nations. There was no such thing as money in Ancient Egypt, and their bartering system included food, textiles, livestock, jewels and spices ... even slaves. And, because certain minerals were such a rare, commodity in those times, it was quite common for Roman soldiers to be paid with salt, which was highly coveted.

Craftsmen bartered for grain, barley and other precious sources of food, and animals, using their skills as potters, weavers, goldsmiths, etc. The exchange was both powerful and practical. I've got what you need; you've got what I need; let us help each other.

So, the practice has been in existence for thousands of years. In our country's early years, people bartered for health care, paying doctors with a chicken or preserves. In some cases, an education may be bartered for other skills, such as cooking or sewing. Transportation was often paid for with eggs, a piece of carpeting or boots. To some, this may sound archaic, stupid and very impractical. Think again.

We are still in an economic crises, and things we took for granted for decades are now hard to come by. Baby boomers, like myself, are aging and while we are still in the mainstream swing of things, we are beginning to know our limitations, and because we are who we are, we know how to delegate tasks to others. However, many of us can no longer afford to. Life changing situations have put some of us in a tailspin. My grandfather always warned me that everyone -- everyone -- is one paycheck away from being homeless. Sit in denial if you wish, but 30 years ago, none of us thought we would have to work until we were 70; not by choice, but by necessity. Now, we are learning to sacrifice more and more. We talk about having more than our parents did at our age, but at our age, our parents were able to sit down and enjoy retirement.

In the State of Indiana, the minimum wage is $7.25/hour. Sure, you can live on that - but what quality of life do you have? What level of nutrition are you able to afford yourself? Everything you read about healthy eating tells us we must have five to 10 servings of superfoods per day. Really? Some of the foods on the short list include Blueberries, Blackberries, Spirulina, Wheat Grass, Asparagus, Seafood, Cherries, Pomegranate, Acai Berry, Maqui Berry, Goji Berry, Sour Cherry Juice, fresh powerhouse vegetables ... Fine. But, have you priced those lately? I've made the analogy before: a young single mother with two children reads this data in a magazine and wants what's best for her family. So they go to their local grocery store, and cherries are $6.99 a lb. That's barely enough for a one-time healthy desert for her children -- and maybe herself. Perhaps she could bag them up in sandwich bags for a healthy snack at lunch -- again, one time. Or, she can choose a sugar-laden dry cereal for the same price that will feed them for a week. Which do you think she is forced to choose?

Not long ago, it would not have been unheard of for her to barter her services -- perhaps tutoring, sewing -- anything -- for food. And nobody would have looked down on her. Today, there's this lame predicament called false pride that prevents us from reaching out to others when we (desperately) need help. And for some of us, when someone seeks help from us, while we may give it, it comes with a cost ... gossip, judgment and conditions.

As my life evolves again and again, I have been forced into situations that were not necessarily ideal for me, but I know I am in survival mode. I do believe in the law of abundance and prosperity thinking, but not in a cash or economical manner. I believe we get by giving, and we are all in a situation where we must lift each other up -- regardless of our predicaments. My yards (front and back) have been in disarray for two years. My garden was my pride and joy, but because of health and economic issues, I'm unable to tend to it the way I have in the past. Dependable/affordable landscaping is no longer in my budget -- and, so is concrete. So, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea yesterday. BARTERING!

I posted on social media that I truly needed help. My proposition was, "I bake; you mow!" Being a skilled baker, I was certain people who know this would jump on the opportunity. Well, it wasn't quite like that. You know, it was one of those posts that everyone reads, but quietly ignores. The concept of bartering terrifies some folks. It's as if you are asking for their first born child, or favorite chair. "What's in it for me?" Homemade breads, muffins -- a Key Lime Cake -- whatever! "How much cake would I get?" Well, that depends on what you think the yard work is worth ... I've paid $20-$60 to have it done in the past ... I also know my breads and cakes are priceless.

Then, finally, a friend messaged me that she thought she had someone who would be very interested. Praises Be! Without going into the details, I'm quite comfortable with this. So, I think I would like to continue bartering for other things. As an artist, I have tons of people who tell me they love my work, but don't know much about art, or don't have the money to invest in good artwork. Can we barter? Last month, I made another offer on social media - car repair for a couple of my original paintings (I even offered commissioned artwork) ... They laughed. The car repairs came to $862. The paintings (which had been on Criminal Minds, CBS TV), sold for more.

And so, I think we should look, step and walk way outside the box when we are faced with challenges we may not be able to afford, or can no longer physically do. There are always safe, comfortable and creative ways to get what we need and help each other out. About 40 years ago, I used to walk an elderly woman's dog in NY. In exchange, she gave me what she said was "junk" jewelry. It was not; it was estate jewelry that I cherished for many years. Of course, I sold that about 20 years later ... Life is full of investments. And sometimes the best investments we can make are in each other. Bartering is also an excellent way to get to know your neighbors better, and meet new people. We never know what one may have to offer -- unless we ask.

First Published 5/31/2015, by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN

New Beginnings

Once you've lived or worked among different textiles and fabrics, you develop a talent for recognizing them by scent. Organza, while very beautiful, has an olfactory sensation slightly different to Organdy, both of which sparkle like magical gossamer wings in the sunlight. The faint smell of Organdy, daffodils, natural straw, patent leather, powder and Arpege signaled a very special, but familiar event. In the distance, was always the distinct savory aroma of roasting lamb. This was the scent of Easter Sunday Morning as I remember it growing up. To this day, the fragrance is like comfort food to my nose.

Nana was born early on Easter Sunday Morning in 1896. That year, Easter fell on April 5, as it does today. Easter always comes on the first Sunday after or on the first full moon after the spring Equinox. According to Nana's (Episcopal) Common Book of Prayer, it has only occurared on April 5 five times since then. But my grandmother insisted that our family celebrate her birthday twice, on both April 5 and Easter Sunday. We indulged her this accolade because it humored her and, well, we liked a reason to celebrate.

A few years back, I started to pen a fictitious autobiography titled, “Queen Irene – A Garden of Easters.” I say fictitious, because I embellished it with all sorts of madcap events that never happened. Some of the stories, however, were true, and each of these had some sort of right of passage for me. Such as the absence of my birth father for several years, and his unexpected arrival one Easter morning before church, brandishing a huge Pepto-pink bicycle, and a hideous brown plaid cotton dress that would fit a 40 year old matron. I was only 9. It was the worst dress ever, and I glanced at the beautiful powder blue Organdy confection my Nana had made for me that hung on my bedroom door. Did he really expect me to wear this – on Easter Sunday? It wasn't that I was spoiled or felt I was too good to wear the brown plaid dress on Easter. No, I believe it was what that dress represented to me at that time; a person who felt entitled to walk in and out of my life at will, simply because he was responsible for making half of me. My father was someone I resented horrifically for many years thereafter.

Sensing my dismay and making no effort to hide her own outrage, Nana explained to my father that the dress was “too big” for me, but once I grew into it, she would see that I wore it proudly. After he left, she carefully folded the brown plaid nightmare, muttering something about it being made for a god horse, and not a little girl, as she put it in her cedar trunk. I never saw it again.

Me, in my Nana's Garden 1963
The Easter prior to my mother and I moving to Indiana, she and I had walked home from church. I was upset because that morning, I discovered a baby robin had fallen from its nest and I tried to comfort it by placing on the Easter grass inside of my basket. I didn't realize that the mother would not approach the foreign object that held her young one. When we got home, the baby was still lying among the purple grass, candy eggs and jelly beans (I had salvaged the chocolate cross my aunt had given me), but I had hoped it would feel well enough to nibble on the candy and get well. Surely I was old enough to know better. But there is a side of me that remains to this day, that thrives on the hope of things not likely to ever happen. Gramps came out of the house and quietly took the Easter basket and baby bird to a small grave he had dug in the back garden of our house on 118th Avenue.

Birds have a way of reminding you of certain things. My family always associated the presence of a cardinal with a deceased loved one. Gramps died at Easter in 1985. I remember his home going service was more of a celebration of the Resurrection. It seemed to make perfect sense. Upon his death, we brought his body here to New Castle for burial, and that was when my grandmother and Aunt Thelma moved here and made this their home. Whenever Nana saw a cardinal, she swore it was Gramps. I never had the heart to tell her that it was our state bird, and they were everywhere.

Then, about 25 years ago, doves built a large nest at our backdoor on top of the electric meter. Every Spring, my step-dad, Lewis, would remove the nest; and the doves would rebuild it. He too died at Easter (1998), and upon his death, I decided to leave the nest alone. The doves continued to use it for many years. Mom developed a relationship of sorts with “Mrs. Dove,” as she called her. Interestingly, about 10 years ago, robins began to show up and they would fight the doves for residency. Usually, the robins win. It's still there, and has become petrified. The year my mother went into the nursing home, a robin built another nest at our front door on top of the porch light. I removed it, and they rebuilt. This went on for a week. As usual, the robins won. So, Thursday, I watched the robins battle with the doves in the front lawn – along with some other “odd” activity I won't describe here. They made a ruckus! And lo and behold, during the deliberations, a small sparrow perched herself on the ready-made nest, and has been there ever since.

This made me think of a lot of things. Easter is the season of change and transition. Through it all, we continue to move on and hopefully grow and thrive. This is my first Easter without my mother, whom I lost in February. The numbness is as bitter as ever. However, in the midst of my pain, I was contacted by ABC Studios about featuring some of my artwork on an upcoming episode of “Criminal Minds.” I almost missed this opportunity, because in my grief, I was not reading emails. They selected a total of seven of my paintings, with the hopes that they will air on CBS (not ABC – confusing; I know) April 8, and possibly the 29th. I was reminded that there is a possibility that my work could very well end up on the cutting floor and not be seen at all. I don't care! The fact that the network was interested enough to even look at my art, let alone choose some is validation enough for me.

This is bitter sweet. In my grief and sadness, this ray of light, which in all honesty is HUGE (for me) has reminded me that there will always be change – and New Beginnings.

First Published, Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN

My Mother's Precious Gem Eyes

I received a phone call the other night from the nursing facility where my mother resides. Of course, seeing that number on Caller ID at 9:30 p.m. sends chills up my spine. They advised me that she had stopped breathing twice, and called for paramedics. It was one of the coldest nights so far this year. My car had not started in days, and I panicked.
As I waited for my uncle to pick me up to take me to the emergency room, my mind was flooded with emotions, fears, madness, memories, and the constant overwhelming feeling of guilt I continue to battle ever since I was forced to place my mom in a nursing facility.
I've spoken of these feelings before, and I work at feeling more confident about my decision every day. You know how they say when you have a near-death experience your life flashes before your eyes? Well, this was a similar experience —  but, instead of memories, it was the urgency of wanting her to wait for me — give us one last chance to be with each other and say a proper goodbye; for me to see her eyes one more time before they closed.
"Beryl," by Peter Cristofono
Precious gem
She was born in 1923. In those days, doctors placed drops of silver nitrate in a newborn's eyes, and they sometimes did not open them for a couple of days. When my grandmother got her first glimpse of her second child's eyes, she saw they were a very pale green; the same color as beryllium — one of the precious gems of the Bible — the eighth stone in the New Jerusalem, Beryl. And so, my mother was named Beryl.
I've been thinking of some of the wild-and-wacky experiences I shared with her. Because my father was in Germany at my birth, and Mom went back to work within weeks, our extended family helped her raise and nurture me. Her older sister took me on several trips with her. By the time my mother was ready to take her first plane ride to Canada, I was to go with her as her escort. I was five. She was terrified and pretty vocal about it. I told her to calm down and put her seat belt on, because (I thought) they kept the plane from falling.
We took the subway to the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows again and again, eating huge Belgian waffles with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries; Japanese food, escargot, crepes and my favorite, Polynesian food.
Baseball and The Beatles
She loved baseball, and went to the last Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field (supposedly, I was too young to go, so she went with friends). However, she and I went to the first NY Mets game at Shea Stadium when I was 10. Two years later, she braved the young masses (and my mania) and took me back to Shea to see the Beatles — what were we thinking?
Before we moved to Indiana in 1967, Beryl had a different persona. She worked at Lever House in Manhattan for Lever Brothers, and wore these amazing tall, skinny stiletto heel pumps ("Mad Men" style), with pencil skirts and flamboyant dresses my grandmother made her.
I remember sitting on our stoop in Queens during the summer waiting for her to get off the bus, which she took from the subway home. When I heard those heels clicking, I knew she was coming. She played poker and wore the same hair style from 1949 until just a couple of years ago, and the same lipstick, Revlon's Cherries in the Snow. Yes, they still make it; there are a few tubes around here somewhere. And, she always wore eye shadows in shades of purple to enhance the soft, green beryllium color of her eyes.
She was stabilized while in the ER. But, I watched her cry endlessly for her mother, and I felt the presence of our ancestors in the room. She's changed though. Now she appeared less tense and fearful; a bit more peaceful and comfortable. Today, she stared at me a long time with those eyes, and I know there's just a short time to bask in them. How does one prepare for that end?
Ezekiel 28:13: You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering, the ruby, topaz, and emerald, the chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, the sapphire, turquoise, and beryl; your settings and mounts were made of gold. On the day you were created they were prepared. — Ezekiel 28:13

First Published 1/25/2015 by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN
Photo, "Beryl," by Peter Cristofono

What Is It About The New Year?

New Years Eve memories for some, (if they can remember New Years Eve) may be a blur of drunken kissing at the stroke of midnight. For others, it's the peaceful, solemn observance of Watch Night Service at church.

But for many, if not all, there are some traditions — superstitions, if you will — that are observed every year in order to ensure good luck, fortune and, yes, ward off evil spirits. In researching such traditions, I found some old familiar ones, but I also uncovered some unusual tidbits:

KISSING the ones dearest to you, or standing closest to you, ensures that the affection and friendship will continue for 12 months. If not, don't be surprised if you get the cold shoulder for 12 months!

STOCK your cupboards. You simply cannot start the new year with empty cupboards or wallets, or else the remainder of the year will follow suit. Strike one for me, not to mention that kissing thing.

PAY all debts. If the household is in debt, bills must be paid/mailed before Jan. 1, but don't loan money on Jan. 1 because you will be paying out all year.

FIRST one in better be a guy. This is a new one for me, but the first person to come in your door after midnight determines the year you'll have. He must be tall, dark-haired, good looking and bearing gifts. They should not be blond, redhead, cross-eyed, have flat feet, a uni brow, or God-forbid, be female! Do not, I repeat, do not allow a
female in the door first. I won't even tell you what can happen. Also, the first visitor, called "Lucky Bird," has to knock, not use a key, and leave through a different door than he came in. If you're having a party, don't be afraid to cheat and get a tall, dark-haired guy to hang out by the front door with gifts in tow so he can be the
first through the door at 12:01.

Absolutely nothing precious or otherwise can LEAVE the home on the first day of the year; not even that spoiled turkey from Christmas or last night's empties. Anything leaving means your luck leaves too. Don't even shake a rug out the door. Here's where it gets confusing: You can remove things from the home on Jan. 1 only if something else was brought in first. And, if you live alone, leave your lucky charms in a basket outside the door, pull it
in with a string, and never reach out to pull it in.

FOOD: We like the traditional southern practice: black-eyed peas to attract coins in our purse; cabbage to ensure folded currency; and pork. Never eat chicken or turkey on the first day of the year, because they scratch for their food, and so will you for the rest of the year. Poultry scratches backwards, cows stand still, but pigs root
forward, thus by eating pork, you will move forward into the new year. 

Do something WORK-related that day; just a little bit. If you're idle on Jan. 1, you will remain so. However, do NOT do any laundry or wash dishes on Jan. 1 as a member of the family might get washed away (die) in the next 12 months.

You should wear something NEW on Jan. 1. Red helps with a bright future.

Don't BREAK anything at the first of the year, or you'll crack up. Do not cry on the first of the year, or you'll set the tone for the next 12 months.

Let the old year OUT at midnight. Open all doors and windows to let Father Time and his old year escape. He has to go before the New Year can come in. Shoo him out!

Go on and make all the NOISE you can at midnight. Loud celebrations scare away evil spirits. My neighbors are now familiar with my big brass bell. The devil hates noise, but don't cuss and wake him up on New Years Day.

On Jan 1, hopefully the WIND will blow from the south, bringing good luck for the coming year. From the north; a year of bad weather. Wind from the east brings famine and misfortune. And if it comes from the west, we'll have lots of milk and fish, but also, the death of a family member. How strange, almost all of our wind comes from the west around here. No wind? A good time will be had by all.

BABIES born on Jan. 1 are said to have luck throughout their life, and if you dance around a tree on New Years Day, you'll have luck. 

Make sure to drain the last drop from a bottle you drink on New Years Day for good fortune. I am not, I repeat, NOT responsible for the outcome of this one!

So, there you have it. I didn't make this stuff up. But, it gives us food for thought. And, hey, we didn't even discuss resolutions! Happy, Happy New Year!

First published 12/31/2008 by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN

July 7, 2013

Easy Seafood Supper

The other evening, I had seafood on my mind, but I wanted something more than a frozen cod "tail" sandwich or a flimsy piece of tilapia ... I wanted something wonderful, and decadent and tasty as all get out.

Since I am now focused on budget friendly, healthier alternatives, I came up with a marvelous meal that you can literally throw together in a few minutes. This dish makes a fabulous presentation and tastes as if you have your own private chef on hand.

It's so easy, it's like a SEAFOOD DUMP CAKE! ... Well, kind of ...

Start with a 9x13" baking dish. I prefer to line mine with foil for easy cleanup. Cut a piece of foil a little more than double the width of the dish (so you will only need one piece - use 1/2 to line the pan, and let the rest over hang ...)

I used an inexpensive (99 cents) box of red beans and rice -- Dump the contents into the bottom of the baking dish (dry), making sure all of the seasonings, rice, beans, etc. are evenly distributed.

Lay 3 (or however many you like) swordfish fillets on top of the rice mixture. I used 3 because that's what was in the package - on sale - Any firm, mild fish will do; that's up to your taste and budget.

Lightly season the fish with Old Bay® Seasoning - not too heavy; remember, the boxed rice is already seasoned.

Slice a small onion and place on top of the fish.

Take a package (less than $3.00 in most stores) of frozen Mussels in the sauce of your choice that has been thawed. Dump the Mussels, sauce and all, on top of the fish. Spread it out nicely. I used a blend from Aldi's that was garlic and tomato.

Add one can of diced tomatoes, plus 1/4 can water. I used one that had garlic, onion and pepper added.

Drizzle with some olive oil.

Don't mix or blend, stir or toss anything - just let everything trickle down on it's own. Cover everything with the foil that was left hanging out. You're going to bake this in a 350F oven for about 40 minutes - Everything will steam together, and it will be fabulous!

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips