Jewish Geography

Tonight I went to see a show with traditional Irish dance and song. There was storytelling in between: hardships, love of country, war, leaving home and settling in a new place. It got me thinking about my ancestors. No matter where you are from the common thread we all share is the varied history of race, religion, love, and persecution.

I am not Irish, not one drop, much to my dismay, but I was able to identify with the stories because they reminded me of stories I heard from my elder family members. The dance was more in line with Russian folk dancing and the Hora. The language, instead of Gaelic was Yiddish. The stories of persecution were the same, hate based on religion.

I come from a long line of proud Jews, although my grandfather on my father’s side did change his name at the young age of 13, so he made not have been so proud of flaunting his Jewish identity or perhaps just felt the need to hide it. I don’t think he really wanted to hide it though because it was still a Jewish name! He went from Moses Rogovin (way Jewish) to William Rogoff (kinda but definitely Jewish). Like going from Orthodox to Conservative. He was born on the lower east side of NY, 13 Essex Street. His dad, Jacob, emigrated from Russia.  My dad loved to tell us stories about going into the city for pickles, knishes, books, and yarmulkes. When I got married he felt it was really important to go to Essex Street to the guy that has been making yarmulkes forever rather than order them in New Jersey

My grandfather on my mother’s side was an immigrant. He came from Poland. At the age of 13 he was sent off to Prague to go to yeshiva, he was to study to become a rabbi. Little did his parents know that he was skipping school to find odd jobs to save a little money to get a boat to America.  He and a friend traveled across Europe trading bread and sugar to get to Spain. He was 16. They found a boat that was going to South America so they took it. He ended up living in Argentina for 3 years and Brazil for 3 years, saving money so he could get to North America. He learned Spanish and Portuguese; he already spoke Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Slovak. He arrived at Ellis Island in 1921 with 6 languages under his belt, but not English. He was very learned for a guy that didn’t finish his schooling and had no issue with learning another or two. He lived in New York, where quite a few years later met his wife, Lillian Rand- who turned out to be his first cousin, that he had never met before. Makes for an interesting family tree: my mother is my cousin, my brother is my cousin, mutation in cells makes cancer an easy target. Of course, the good totally outweighs the bad, they were the best grandparents in the world.

My grandfather, Leo, was driven, as one could gather from his plight from Europe after WWI. He and Lilly married and moved to New Jersey. Newark. The Weequahic section.  The Jewish section. He ended up opening a dry goods store in the Italian section of Newark. You guessed it- he picked up Italian (already fluent in English) and was fluent with the neighborhood, especially all the old widows that came in to buy their black dressed that they had to wear every day. His store carried all sorts of dry goods -sheets, towels, clothing.  The store was eponymously named Leo’s Dry Goods and was so incredibly cool. Dark worn wood, an old cash register with fancy keys and piles as high as the tall ceiling, stacked with work pants, floral sheets, housecoats (remember those?). Everything was made from natural materials because there wasn’t anything but natural materials.

His incredible story is what inspired me to name my business in honor of him. Handmade goods constructed with attention to detail, of natural materials. Leo’s Dry Goods, there isn’t a green awning with white letters hanging over a window anymore, but there still is the passion and drive for quality and success. Inspired by my heritage, proud to represent a part of my family’s history.

Staying the Course

I’m a dreamer--not because my nationality is being questioned at the border, or I stare out windows at clouds instead of doing my work, but because I love to look for possibilities that may not be obvious and I get excited about what those possibilities may present. For the past couple of years, I've been dreaming about buildings.  It's always fun when my ideas are met with collaboration and enthusiasm and there is already a momentum of current behind it, providing me an outlet to serve an effort.  For the past couple of years I've been dreaming about buildings-- a lot.  And lately I find myself the one establishing the current and this can be personally challenging for me.  Sometimes these ideas do not fit the “norm” or pose the path of least resistance.  Sometimes sharing these visions evokes an amused chuckle, or gets me a pat on the head with a “What a great idea!  Good luck with that!” and in some cases the uncomfortable shuffling of feet and averted eyes.   

Architect, Chris Alley created this rendering of this addition to Wasson Hall, a building on the "State Complex" severely damaged by the flood.  Reimagining it into an arts center was a SUPER fun possibility to dream on!  

Architect, Chris Alley created this rendering of this addition to Wasson Hall, a building on the "State Complex" severely damaged by the flood.  Reimagining it into an arts center was a SUPER fun possibility to dream on!  

Wasson Hall, a sweet building with a TON of potential.  Currently it still stands empty in this raw, post-flood state.  

Wasson Hall, a sweet building with a TON of potential.  Currently it still stands empty in this raw, post-flood state.  

 

Since 2011, staying the course has been hard for me.  Before that I was clearly dedicated (maybe even too much so) to pursuing a path that I wanted and gave me joy, despite its trials.  But because of events that happened starting in 2011 (Hello, Life!), my best-laid plans had to change and shift. I was determined to make use of myself in these new circumstances and saw within the events an opportunity to reclaim a dream that I had held since childhood—having an art center in my hometown. I had attempted this before, but in those ventures, clearly the town was not ready to understand the value an arts center offers a community, or they didn’t want their taxes to go up any more, or it was just the classic example of New Englanders resistant to change.  I could respect these concerns, as I held them all myself, but I also had a career of working in the arts and experiencing the tremendous subtle and not-so-subtle benefits that the arts offer individuals, communities, and economies. And our town, after being swept away in the course of Tropical Storm Irene, desperately needed all those things.  This was the time if there ever was going to be one.  

 

This building, also on the State Complex, was another historical site we looked at.  They used it as a staging platform while renovating what they kept of the State Complex, and then tore it down later.  We tried to see if we could save it by moving the metal trusses which were designed much like those in Grange Central Station.  The State decided to crush them rather than let us give them new life.  Sigh....

This building, also on the State Complex, was another historical site we looked at.  They used it as a staging platform while renovating what they kept of the State Complex, and then tore it down later.  We tried to see if we could save it by moving the metal trusses which were designed much like those in Grange Central Station.  The State decided to crush them rather than let us give them new life.  Sigh....

So I launched a renewed effort and showed up at every possible meeting.  Despite the open attitudes, there was tremendous resistance. There were supporters, to be sure, but I soon learned that my job was first one of education to inform and advocate to the public, as well as for me to operate in this new theatrical arena—small town politics.  It wasn’t until many months later that the Deputy Under Secretary of the USDA toured through town politely listening to the FEMA recovery projects from the leaders that were present (mostly infrastructure upgrades) that my elevator pitch received a jolt of validity.  He became animated in his approval of “projects like these!” and people started to really listen.   

Our dear friend Dan helping to fill the dumpster in the first round of demos at the Grange Hall.   Those bathrooms had to go!  

Our dear friend Dan helping to fill the dumpster in the first round of demos at the Grange Hall.   Those bathrooms had to go!  

I searched for a place for this center relentlessly.  It was my vision to have it downtown in the reconstructed flood zone, but flood mitigation and insurance alone rendered the art center completely unsustainable.  I looked farther afield, but it eventually came to us. Doing play readings at the local Grange Hall for years had introduced us to those taking care of the building.  We had even suggested at one point to rewire the whole building in exchange for guaranteed time in the building to produce our productions (the lights we wanted to plug in would have burned this humble but wonderful building to the ground).  That arrangement didn’t suit them, but I believe it planted a seed that one of the Grange members watered in their conversation of dissolution.  They came to us with the opportunity to steward the building to keep it in public use.  It needed every upgrade you could imagine, but we couldn’t say no to this unexpected gift.  It didn’t look like what we thought it would in 2011, but all the core elements are present in this bourgeoning project.  One day I would love the full vision, but for now staying the course on this dream takes on its current chapter.    To be continued…

Our awesome neighbor Matt and my husband (also awesome) standing in "the cellar" contemplating their next dismantling strategy of what's left of the second floor.  On the right is the front door with the sun beaming in, on the left the door to the gallery/dining/classroom/intimate performance space.  This 3 story hollow will be (respectively going up) the lower lobby, the upper lobby (or Front Of House), and at some point in the future, our lighting booth (I just can't stop dreaming!)

Our awesome neighbor Matt and my husband (also awesome) standing in "the cellar" contemplating their next dismantling strategy of what's left of the second floor.  On the right is the front door with the sun beaming in, on the left the door to the gallery/dining/classroom/intimate performance space.  This 3 story hollow will be (respectively going up) the lower lobby, the upper lobby (or Front Of House), and at some point in the future, our lighting booth (I just can't stop dreaming!)

Staying the Course

Perseverance with a side of branching off

I can be quite a scatterbrain.  I have no doubt that is the scientific term doctors from my generation used when referring to ADHD or ADD.  Brain science hadn’t gotten that far yet, I guess.  Staying the course has always been a challenge on a small scale. The larger picture was much more doable. As an adult in my late forties and early fifties, quite a few people have said to me, “You have ADHD, have you ever gotten tested?” There were two sides to that coin for me:  I made it this far and am perfectly fine and well, if it is a problem why not do something about it.  I found that it was really more of a problem for other people. And that’s their problem!

Whether reading an article in the paper, schoolwork, grabbing a garden tool, even making dinner, distractions or random thoughts pop up and I can turn down another path quickly. My husband likes to say (jokingly) “SQUIRREL” when that happens which I find to be funny, and gets me back on track.  It happens the most when just having conversations, though. I will just go off on a tangent and most likely I end up forgetting what the original thought was.

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Back to my original thought-staying the course on a larger scale. Being self employed my whole life has been a joy. I am blessed that I have been able to support myself doing what I love, which is making things, first murals, later textiles. Lately, I find that I have not been delegating my time properly, though.  I am trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle including being a good mom and partner, work full time, find the right education for my son, who has auditory processing delay, and socialize with friends, and… a biggie,  deal with menopause. The socializing with friends sounds easy, but always comes last and is probably one of the most important elements in one’s life. One of my friends once referred to me as a “shut-in” when I began my business, Leo’s Dry Goods. That made me laugh and reminded of the program on Sundays, Mass for Shut Ins. I think it came on after Davey and Goliath.

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I have been changing my business to accommodate my needs- FINALLY!

This has been a game changer. I used to try to do tons of markets: craft, handmade, makers’, farmers’, etc. It needed to be done to get my name and product out there. I started getting wholesale accounts and online and local retail, which is really what I wanted.  I started feeling guilty, like I was supposed to do all the markets, even though I didn’t want to anymore. I felt like I owed the market people my business. I thought that if I wasn’t at them, people wouldn’t remember my work. I was running myself ragged, especially around the holiday time.  I took a step back, realized that I had to do what was right for me, for my business, for my family.

I made a conscious decision. Time to scale back the markets. It was like a revelation. I was able to focus more on delegating my time properly and getting my work done. I still fall behind a bit- I have a large order to deliver to a local account that should have been delivered last week.  Having said that, I must stop rambling and get on the sewing machine. But first, a jog out at the Eagle Trail.  

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Groundwork: Art From a Horsewoman's Perspective

One of my favorite phrases to use is “if six-year-old me knew what 23-year-old me was doing- she’d pass out on the floor from excitement.” I use this visual frequently when I am describing my current career path. I am a full-time, year-round professional wrangler in Big Sky, Montana.  My job encompasses horsemanship, a deep knowledge of the natural world and outstanding customer service. The combination of such efforts ultimately provides clients with the adventure of a life time. I have been entranced and enamored with horses as far back as I can remember. Throughout my life, I have found horses in various ways and places. My experiences and lifelong passion have helped me realize dreams I never even dared to dream were possible. In order to get the horses trained and safe for clients, we must begin with groundwork. Groundwork, in regards to horsemanship, traditionally refers to exercises done out of the saddle with the purpose of building a relationship of respect, response and confidence. Groundwork is how I experience what I understand as art on a daily basis. A horse is so much more than a color, a movement, or a shape. Few people understand that horses are very much thinking, feeling and seriously empathic creatures. Each individual equine that I get the honor of teaching is an entire universe unto itself. Taking the time to perform groundwork with a horse is how the art is made. The groundwork, and ultimate relationship made with the horse creates art in the form of peace. Peace as understood as an art form is not a visual delicacy. The art of peace is dirty hands, wind-blown hair plastered to your face, sweaty backs, and that shine in your horse’s eyes when you finally begin to understand one another. Groundwork creates incredible art.  

This is Lilly Belle. She is a palomino Missouri Fox Trotter mare. Here we are exploring Porcupine Creek Valley on a stormy July day last summer. She is a particularly sweet girl and i really enjoy spending time with her. Being with Lilly Belle is a relaxing salve.

This is Lilly Belle. She is a palomino Missouri Fox Trotter mare. Here we are exploring Porcupine Creek Valley on a stormy July day last summer. She is a particularly sweet girl and i really enjoy spending time with her. Being with Lilly Belle is a relaxing salve.

This is Clem and I atop Lemon's Knob. Clem is one of the first wrangle horses I started riding for the outfitting company. To this day, I am still trying to understand and appreciate this horse's extraordinarily complex personality.  

This is Clem and I atop Lemon's Knob. Clem is one of the first wrangle horses I started riding for the outfitting company. To this day, I am still trying to understand and appreciate this horse's extraordinarily complex personality.  

The gang patiently waiting for me to stop taking silly pictures and get on with the adventure. Here we are in the forest surrounding Moon Lake. Our final destination this day was Deer Lake. Time, my mount, is the small brown mare. She is my unlikely partner and we have bonded strongly. She is one of the few horses that trusts me enough to put her head in my arms, and fall right asleep. I love her dearly.

The gang patiently waiting for me to stop taking silly pictures and get on with the adventure. Here we are in the forest surrounding Moon Lake. Our final destination this day was Deer Lake. Time, my mount, is the small brown mare. She is my unlikely partner and we have bonded strongly. She is one of the few horses that trusts me enough to put her head in my arms, and fall right asleep. I love her dearly.

Groundwork

It feels like the work I have been doing for a very long time is the groundwork for where I find myself today, launching off into a beautiful unknown full of magical surprises.

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The year was 1987 and the assignment in my 3d Fine Art Studio was to make a piece of felt and then use that material to create art.  I loved the texture and material but was not so into the process - my first Ragamuffin was conjured up using that first felt 'hide'.  My dad gave me the idea to use shrunk wool sweaters for material rather than the cold, wet felting process for making more.  They sold!  All of them!  So, I kept making them and graduated from Mass Art debt free thanks to the sales of Ragamuffins!

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Post graduation I traveled around the west coast of Canada and came back to Massachusetts planning to move west.  While back home saving money for my move to British Columbia, I participated in my first ever craft fair.  $24,000 worth of business was written at that show which was more money than I had ever made in a year.  And the orders kept rolling in.  My move date was pushed back and help was hired to fulfill orders.  Within 24 months after graduation, 40 employees made up my tribe.   We were supplying stores all over the country and internationally with handmade stuffed toys, mittens, and blankets made from recycled wool sweaters.  The company continued to grow with sales doubling every year for the first 5 years.  Product categories expanded to include clothing, accessories, and soft home furnishings, all made from recycled clothing.  During that time my plans to move west evaporated.  I was in a relationship and had my son in November 1992.  A year into parenthood I was a single mom having left the physically abusive relationship with my son's father.

In May 1995 my then two and a half-year-old son was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and given 18 months to live.  My focus changed to being the best mother I could be and taking the best care of my son I could muster.  I made a conscious decision at this time to keep my shit together and raise my son in a calm, loving, home, celebrating each day as a gift. 

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The company continued without much growth for the next few years.  In 2003 I sold my business to a local benefactor who became my employer.   She grew the business to be less seasonal, larger and less profitable. 

Fast forward to 2004 – Wedding Bells!  My son's health continued to be surprisingly stable.  Within two years my longtime dear friend and I got married, had two babies, bought a church and rectory, and moved home and business.

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In 2008, after 5 years of working for the new owner of the company I founded, sales were slumping and the economy was changing.  She decided to close production and, after a few months of limbo, gifted the company back to me. I was in no position or headspace to run the company she had closed without her help and financial backing.  So, I took a never before experienced, break.  I wrote a teaching book and launched my workshop career.  Time was spent brainstorming about what we could do with the 125-year-old church that my husband and I had purchased to house the business, that was now closed. 

We bought the building as an investment property and the mortgage was covered by the rent we were collecting.  All of a sudden the building was a huge expense with very little revenue generation. 

For the next 12 years, my focus was divided between trying to make the building pay for itself and my creative work.  After the production company closed and my book published, I found myself content teaching and making one of a kind work, which was (and still is) an extension of the work that had been produced in volume with the production company I had founded. 

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Fast Forward to December 2017.  I am 52 years old.  My youngest daughter has had trouble in school and began attending a private school where she is flourishing.  A switch went off in my head one day and it became clear, that this is my time.  I have never focused on money and have made a mark in the world by the seat of my pants.  I cannot let the cost of tuition be a stress to our family. Sending Violet to the school she attends is what I have to do for her to give her what she needs.  That enrollment day, back in December it became clear that it is my duty to make the money we need.  My duty to spread good living by example, and it is my duty to be the best mother I can be.  I have given myself a new, well-paid, super engaged and exciting job.  My focus on growing my brand has already shown upticks in sales as my tribe builds.

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So here I am, developing scrap projects with textile waste generating manufacturers, selling and making with recycled textiles, partnering with my sister on our second generation screen printing business, teaching, designing, and getting jazzed about the discovery of a whole new business model.  My son, Ben, is 25.  While his health is fragile, my family is well; we are blessed to have firsthand knowledge that every day we spend together is a beautiful gift.  As 2018 rolls along, keep an eye out for my brand: Crispinaffrench. Screen printed posters, greeting cards, our primary product The Dolphin Studio Calendar, and textile recycling kits, patterns, lots of free content and teaching is in the works. Visit my site at www.crispinaffrench.com.  Read my blog to stay in touch on the cyber waves where creativity, confidence, gratitude, fun, and empowerment are yours for the making.  Feeling blessed to live An Embraceable Life.