Things I am learning: People tell me that when a person is grieving they are not themselves - they are a bit looney. That's not right for me - I am a lot looney a good bit of the time. Now I could be more myself if sudden feelings of sadness and grief did not slip up on me and slap me upside my head. Like the other day at the dentist when sedated on Nitrous Oxide I roused up to feel tears flooding my checks and the assistant brushing them off. That's how it is - you cry without warning and without giving that water permission to run.

Filling out forms to change your status from wife to widow is hard. Its not just a form its a declaration. And if you have done it at the doctor's office it's saying right there - I am in charge of me. I am the responsible party.

When you are on your own and beginning to figure out how much money you need to run your house - every thing will break down - from the water heater to the washing machine to the toilets. There must be rule somewhere - go ahead mess with her.

Keep saying to yourself over and over - "I am the boss of me." because everyone you talk to will have some ideas about what you should be doing and have nothing to say about how well you are doing anything - even sweeping up in the kitchen.

Thank God every day for good friends who understand that you aren't yourself right now - and you hope to be back soon.

VIDEO: A 1945 NC Summer Hurricane

A childhood memory from the WWII years when we were at Wrightsville Beach, NC when a hurricane rode in and scared us pretty bad. We escaped the beach in the last Army bus which was evacuating people off the beach to near-by Wilmington on the mainland. Hearing the warnings for Florida on CNN today brought that memory right back.


Hello. Lorla here.

Hello there - Lorla here.

Ellouise is working her taxes. That's the 2011 taxes.  She has asked me to blog a bit for her this morning.  

I am not exactly sure what I have to say. Jim and Ellouise packed me away and while I was out of sight I lost touch with this world. Better question yet, what is this world? It has certainly changed.

Jim is gone. He died in March. Ellouise is working adjusting to that - on making a new life for herself. None of that is easy. Nothing is the same.

And how - nothing is the same. Monday Ellouise had to fill out paperwork in a new doctor's office - the first time all the info is changed to her new status - being a widow. That was hard. Then yesterday she had a major dental appointment that required "gas" - and for the whole 2 hour session unbidden tears coursed down her cheeks. "Are you all right?" the dentist asked. "Yes."
What a lie.

So, here I am as a guest blogger. Where can I possibly fit it?

I will start at the beginning. Take this morning for instance.

This morning there was a new white blossom on the gardenia plant that is sitting in the middle of the dining room table. It has a strong scent that is filling the place like someone had come through with an atomizer pumping out perfume.  Its not a perfume I would every buy for myself  to wear - it smells a lot like an old lady. I have always thought gardenias and boxwoods smelled like old ladies - - but everyone has their own taste.  Ellouise loves it and told somebody that it reminds her of North Carolina. Hmm.

 I come from California.  The sweet perfume from rows of blooming orange trees in huge orchards in the "valley" - that's what I like.

Another thing here ... enough with watching the Hallmark Channel. How much sweetness can one grown woman stand? I "get" that Ellouise is resting her brain and does not need challenging plots right now - but going all the way to "dumbing down". That seems over-the-top.

And, this little dog that lives here. She looks like the old dog ChuChu but I knew him and he was never as stubborn as this one. Lately Ellouise is having to cook rice to go with the dog food to help settle her doggie stomach and staunch the diarrhea. Ugh. Leia, that's her name, is Jim's dog and really had little use for Ellouise. Snapped at her if she came too close. But the dog is stubborn - not stupid. After six months she is getting it that the food now comes from the enemy. She is warming up to Ellouise. It looks to me as though they understand each other and are making a sort of "friendship."

If it were me, I would never have gotten that little dog - but no one could convince Ellouise it wasn't a great idea. You might say - she brought this on herself. Then, in the beginning,  Jim stepped in and adopted Leia. He fed her, played with her and trained her. The dog has a routine of tricks. She even  dances.

As I see it what these two females have most in common is how much they miss Jim.

Talk about being "in flux".

That's what death does, isn't it? It creates a new normal ---

And, then leaves people to cope with it on their own - no workbook.


Her Name is Lorla


Introducing Lorla.

 Jim and I gave this doll to his mother in California years ago and reclaimed it when she died. We kept this little cutie on a shelf in our den where she watched over us like a kindly sprite for quite a long time until we removed her to a storage box for safe keeping.

When I ran across a photo of her the other day the sight of her touched a soft spot in me.  I wondered what she would have to say about my life these days so I will ask her to be a guest blogger here from time to time.

Her name is Lorla.

I am curious ... will she notice that I have changed over the past months to the point that some days I hardly recognize my reactions to my world. Probably because I do not recognize the world most of the time...and certainly don't claim it as my world yet.

More will be revealed.


VIDEO: Granny Makes a Cake

Playing with childhood memories in a story about my grandmother, Ellie Hall Keasler Baer.


Marilyn keeps watch.

I enjoy public art especially the unexpected murals on city buildings.

When I wait for the light to change at Connecticutt and Calvert Street I always enjoy an encounter with Marilyn Monroe and I feel comfortable to see she is still there.

Seems to me she has been watching over the cars since the 1970s. Could that be true?



VIDEO: ER off the camera.

Thinking about storytelling.
In Coney Island Hospital, when I tried to recapture sentimental and sweet memories of our early marriage, yesterday and today collided to create a new story of medicine today.


Little bits

Life keeps you on your toes.

Looking through my pictures I found this little drawing. I like it.
Never did any others. Now I cannot remember how I did it.
That ever happen to you?

I was with a friend recently for coffee.
Time to go.
She could not find her car keys.
She then we went through her purse.
Finally she went back to her car
Had she dropped them
She had left them in the ignition
With the motor running.
That gives you pause.

The last two months my electric bill has been astronomical
$200 more than ever before
When I have less going on here than ever.
Needless to say it was a stab in the budget.

The utility company hardly answers and then could care less.
Yes, its been hotter than hot - but I can't believe that's the reason.
But they won't come to check the meter.
Instead they sent someone who installed a new "smart" meter -
which I can read.
And someday they will read meters from far away over the computer
And, we will talk about the days when the "meter reader" used to come to the house.

I called to have the A/C checked.
They came out - - that's not the culprit.

The guy who came has been tending to our AC and heat for 20 years. When he heard that Jim had died -
  he took lots of time to check the vents, the filters, and instruct me on the idiocyncracies of the 
  thermostat - and to tell me how warmly he remembered Jim and his interest in him.

Another legacy to me from Jim. 

When they come I am very grateful.



CALL FOR DC, MD, VA TELLERS - Tales in the Village September Opportunity

Tales in the Village
3rd Season opens

Wednesday September 19

7:30 PM
Friendship Heights Community Center
Chevy Chase, MD
For our 3rd Season of Tales in the Village at Friendship Heights Community Center in Chevy Chase, we are opening with something new.

A one-time opportunity to be part of a group telling. (Normally we have only have one or two tellers every show.)

Looking for 5 tellers who have a well-tuned 12 minute story.

THEME: "Life in Transition"
The story must be fresh, true and family friendly - let's keep this one clean.
 (This venue caters to an audience of astute adults audience who are are great listeners -
but not necessarily edge-y.

Looking for new voices on our stage. Any ideas?

Tellers can be experienced or newbies - as long as it's a good story that fits the theme and the time limit.

Asking for your help in identifying these 5 storytellers.
Do you want to tell?
Can you suggest someone?

Interested Tellers please contact me by Wednesday August 15. Decisions will be made before September 1. No need to send a tape but a link to your website would be helpful.

Ellouise1@Juno.com (Please put TALES IN THE VILLAGE in the subject line)

A note about Tales in the Village: If you are new to us, these are free programs, open to the public. They are held every 3rd Wednesday from September through May. Mark your calendar -- they are really fun!

Look forward to hearing from you.

Ellouise Schoettler
Tales in the Village


A New Day -

Some reflections on being a widow.

When, during the reception at the Fort Myers Officer's Club last week, I looked across the room to where our grandson was sitting I felt tears in my eyes and a quick catch in my throat.  I recognized a bit of Jim.

Our grandson Dan wore Jim's dancing shoes - which I had given to him along with Jim's tux - to the burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetary.  I loved the sweetness of that and felt how fitting it was that Jim could walk along with us on that day.

So far I have been trodding along the path women have walked for generations. I move through what I figure are the opening stages of widowhood. First the shock of the loss, which even though Jim's death was not a surprise, is overwhelming. You barely catch your breath next day when you are suddenly recast as Perle Mesta. There are a million details to take care of in planning the events surrounding someone's death.  From meeting with the funeral home - (a low on my scale) - to informing everyone, planning the services, swallowing hard a million times a day, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and so on and so on. Where, when and who will do what. It takes a lot of time and energy. Bottom line I felt grateful it kept me so very busy.

In my case I had to do it twice. Once two weeks after Jim's death and the other five months later when he was scheduled for an Arlington military burial. Arlington was absolutely worth the wait. Actually I had no choice. Our daughter was buried there in 1964 and she had been holding the spot for 47 years.

It was good to have his urn at home with me all that time. The first Mass and Reception was public and we were grateful that many friends came to console us and to celebrate Jim. The second Mass and reception I chose to have as a private gathering.  The guest list included a few out of town family and people who knew us well - long-time and close friends. The people who came were the same ones who had walked with us the last weeks of Jim's life and that felt just right.

The down side of the long wait is that the final good-bye was a difficult wrench. Leaving our house for the last time was tough. Later the beautiful solemnity and grace of the Mass and the Honors Ceremony softened the rip and comforted us.

Why am I writing about this? Just to share the experience in case it can help anyone else. To lay out the choices. Short and sweet or drawn out and sharp. At the close of the day - its the same. Good-bye. Nothing changes that.

But I am a strong believer that making the ceremony - not matter what kind - personal to you is not just a gift to your  loved one it is important for healing.

What helped me and my family was that, at every turn, we made it our own. I advise folks to do that - although taking the time to make choices can be draining and tiring - in the end - it feels personal and right. I thought of this as my last gift to Jim and wanted it to feel as personal for me, him and the family as possible. From the music to the Pall covering his urn which I made, to the beautiful box for his urn which was made by master craftsman, Jack Abgott. Before Jim left our house each one of our immediate family tucked an envelope with a private personal message into the box with his urn and I wrapped the urn in one of my fabric at works - a golden yellow piece he and I had taken to an exhibit in Italy on a wonderful trip in 2001.

No matter what you do - the day after is the same. Quiet and achingly alone.

August 1 was Jim's burial.

August 2 was the first day of my life without his presence - in some way.

Now I have to figure that out. Jim and I were together 56 and a half years. I have no concept of what a life without him in it will be.

But the truth is - I have no choice but to work it out. Somehow.

A dear friend, once a widow herself, sent me this poem which she said was a comfort to her.

Perhaps someone will read it who also will find it comforting.

As for me -

I have deeply appreciated all the comfort and support people have sent first to Jim and me for that long time and then to me. Thank you. Your words have meant more than I can say and have been a great comfort.

The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat 
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

You have all be very kind and understanding to listen to my writing about our life. 
I will keep writing - because I like to - 
but I have no idea how that will go - -
More will be revealed.


Without a Clue - A Cautionary Tale

When artist Nancy Cusick died out-of-town several years ago, the family brought her to Arlington National Cemetary to be buried with her husband Tom Fox. I must have been out-of-town because I never knew that until I discovered her death when I googled her last year and found - not a recent show in SC where she was living but her obituary.

I had attended Tom’s Arlington burial nine years before and knowing their devotion to each other felt certain Nancy would be buried with him.

As I was going to be in the neighborhood the other day, I decided to stop by her grave in Arlington National Cemetery to say a belated good-bye.

Sounds simple, right?

Well it wasn’t—even though it could have been.

My first step in locating her gravesite in that huge place was to check the grave locator on the Arlington National Cemetery website. Its very straightforward. Type in the name and it pops it right up. Except that it didn’t. I typed in her professional name again. No luck.

Fortunately I knew her husband’s name and rank and, as I said, I assumed she was buried with him. So I looked up Tom. Easy. But there was no mention of Nancy.  I took down his location determined to go to his site and see for myself.

And what did I find?

A lesson for women.

Look at this. Its a lovely grey marble stone - but it is wrong.

The lovely monument says Tom Fox is buried with his beloved wife Nancy Taylor.
Who is she?
This is not Nancy's maiden name—or her long time professional name Nancy Cusick.
It is probably her middle name - which no one knows.

So I am spreading the word.
Women need to be identified as they are most known, otherwise they will be lost.

I often tell a story - "Your name is your first story." In this case...it is possible this could be Nancy Cusick's last story.

Don't let that happen to you.


Nancy Cusick.
This picture was taken in Nairobi Kenya at the 1985 UN Conference on Women. Nancy, along with Cynthnia Navaretta and me, organized Global Focus, a project to represent United States Women Artists during the Conference.

My friend, colleague and former art professor Nancy Cusick Fox died April 1, 2010.  I first met her in 1968 when she was teaching Art History at Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington, DC, and I was her student. Thanks to her insistence, I attended the first ever national Conference of Women in the Arts with her and that gathering opened the doors to what became my career in the 1970s women's movement.
Nancy Cusick was a dynamic, interesting, energetic and funny woman as well as a compassionate and caring friend.
She was a very talented artist, teacher and a memorable figure in the 1970s national women artists movement and on the Washington art scene. She was a founding member of the Studio Gallery, a leader at the Washington Women’s Arts Center and a long-time exhibiting artist with Gallery 10.


From Leo: Winding Up

Hello, Leo here.

Lots of things have been going on here the past week. The closing of the Capital Fringe and Jim's burial at Arlington.
Ellouise asked me to tell you a few things you may be wondering about.

Ellouise's last Capital Fringe performance of Pushing Boundaries was Saturday July 28.  Her family came for the closing show including her daughter Robin and grandson Scotty from California. It was a great evening. She really hit her stride in the telling for a large audience of positive folks who came to hear this particular story. Nice. Good note for her as she is taking a storytelling break in August.  Jumping back in to tell Pushing Boundaries at the Fringe was hard - - without Jim. She weathered that storm and says she's stronger for it.

Sunday July 29 - Ellouise and her family went to Arlington --- to switch gears, to feel the space, and to prepare for Jim's burial on Wednesday. They picked a shady spot under a large near-by tree where they sat down. They told some family stories, laughed, shed a few tears and talked of ships and cabbages and kings. It would have been easier on a cooler day; even so it was a good thing to do.

Ellouise was startled to see a stake in the ground where Gretchen's grave was "marked" for opening for Jim on Monday. It made the coming farewell powerfully real. But they had come for this reality-check - hoping to open the way to really appreciate the ceremony ahead.

Wednesday at noon family and friends began gathering outside the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer, Va for Jim's Mass. The Old Post Chapel sits outside the brick wall which borders Arlington Cematary.  The day had started out gray and over-cast but by noon the sun was bright, hot but not too hot which was a blessing.

Ellouise was glad her son Jim, Jr. had enlarged a photo of Jim in his AF Uniform to have along with a more recent picture of him. I heard her say, "I love that picture - he looks adorable - just like when I first met him."

Later in his Eulogy Jim's long-time friend and associate Don Mosher, MD remembered when they served together in the Psychiatry Department at Andrews Air Force Base and were receiving and treating the flood of airmen suffering with PTSD who were brought directly to Andrews AFB from the Viet Nam war zone. It was not easy duty.

Don also reminded Ellouise of a day when Jim received an emergency call from home that interrupted a patient session - asking for advice about a moribund gerbil - expiring in the kitchen surounded by their three kids. He told Don later, "I wasn't trained in gerbil first aid and certainly had no idea about gerbil resusitation."
Ellouise remembered that call - and that he recommended a swallow of Brandy, "for the gerbil?"
"No, something for you."

 The flag draped caisson drawn by six dappled white horses waited outside the Chapel.

The procession to the gravesite formed up - a Band in the lead followed by the honor guard and the rifle team which would render the honors - a 21 gun salute - as well as the bugler who - standing at a distance - would sound Taps. Then the caisson, with Ellouise's car immediately behind the caisson, a contingent of famly and friends who were walking, followed by the remaining cars.

The procession to the gravesite which is located to the left of the Tomb of the Unknowns was almost a mile. Arlington is quiet. You could hear the cadence of the footfalls of the Honor Guards and the clop clop clop of the horses - along with an occasional song from the band and the background beat of the drums. 

Jim's urn rests in the box designed and created for it by friend and master craftsman Jack Abgott.
The dark wood is maple symbolizing heart and the light colored wood is eucalyptus symbolizing healing  Inside the urn is wrapped in one of Ellouise's textile works and it is surrounded by private personal notes from the immediate family.

At the end of the ceremony and honors Ellouise received the flag "with the grateful thanks of the President and the Nation for your husband's service."

It was a beautiful and awesome service. Ritual takes out the sting for a short time.

Afterwards there was a reception at the Fort Myers Officers Club which is located conveniently outside the gates near the Old Post Chapel.

The gathering of fifty people was private and personal.  It included family members, dear and longtime friends of Ellouise and Jim and their kids so the reception was especially warm and lovely. Ellouise and her family were deeply grateful to all who came to  be with them.

A fitting way to wish Jim a fond and loving Bon Voyage.