Monday, June 19, 2017

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love

Eight years ago today, an essay I wrote was published in the Charleston newspaper. It's not that I remembered that specifically, but thanks to the wonders of social media, I received a reminder this morning and a link to the essay. Only, when I followed the link, the article was gone. Apparently, the Charleston Post Courier thought it too hard, in this digital age, to maintain all those digital files, so retired some, including this particular article, about my mother. Luckily, I still have a copy of it, and dug it up to re-read. Their title was Memories of a Life Still Lived.

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love: A Remarkable Journey
Amy Nadel Romanczuk

I am a stowaway on a remarkable journey. The main traveller is my mother, Ruthe Nadel, born 87 years ago on New York's East Side. In her four score and seven years, she has done both remarkable and ordinary things. But she did them all with true joy and immersed in love for the world. Whether it was being teaching assistant to Abraham Maslow (yep, the fellow of the Hierarchy of Needs theory in Psych 101) or discussing Jane Austen, she has a style all her own. She’s loved one man, raised 3 children (10 dogs, 5 birds, a few dozen guinea pigs and a assorted other critters), adored her grandchildren and great-grands. She has won hearts around the world with her spirit, courage and humor. She did all this while almost completely deaf from young adulthood, and while living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 50 years. For the past year, breast cancer has also been in the health mix.

Our "Bumma" (the nickname given to her by our son) sailed through initial treatment and surgery under the wonderful care of MUSC’s Breast Cancer team. In March, Bumma had a sudden, vicious recurrence. Because of the extensive scope of the disease, she opted for palliative treatment. She told me she'd had a good life, but that she had only one regret: “When the inevitable comes, I am sorry I will not be around to read the letters people send you about me.”

I looked at this tiny woman with the enormous heart, and thought “I can do that for you. And you don't have to be gone for me to do it. It can happen now.” With the help of my brothers, we have reached out to people she has known over her lifetime, inviting them to send a thought, wish, memory or whatever, to her now, before she's gone from us. What started out as a whim has turned into a life affirming, joyful celebration for and of our mother.

Emails started coming in immediately, followed by cards and letters. Friends worldwide sent care packages, stuffed animals, handmade gifts, photographs, drawings, poems, musical recordings. She received a beautiful comfort afghan from the nonprofit HeartMade Blessings. There is even a site online where a candle can be lit for her. As people shared their hearts with her, she shared their responses with us.

Our childhood friends recalled coming to our house just to look at her, because she was both beautiful and she talked to them, never down to them. Or how she demonstrated making a french twist, then shook her hair down like the proverbial librarian throwing off her bun and glasses and letting her inner tigress loose.

She showed one child to do wheelies in his wheelchair by demonstrating in hers. A busy executive remembered she helped him learn to take time from his urgent work priorities to cherish the here and now. Jazz greats at the Stanford Jazz Workshop would tumble like puppies in their eagerness to be in her company. The image of her zipping around on her mobile scooter, orange flag waving on the back, is a memory for many.

She has a huge following of people online, especially at www.bookcrossing.com, a book-lover's website she joined at the young age of 82. Her candor and unique style are adored around the world. She is a sweetheart: strong willed, outspoken, loving and generous. A true “oner”.

Our family is a family of storytellers. We thought we knew our history pretty well, but have been astonished to find so many acts of kindness attributed to Bumma. This experience has opened avenues to explore and learn, new stories for the grandchildren to pass on to their children, someday, about a remarkable woman. Our days are extra poignant as we learn more about this woman we love through the lives she's touched. And it has meant an enormous amount to her, to see that she has indeed helped lives and made a difference in this world. She and I made a pact in March: we would face this with Courage, Caring, Laughter and Love. She's kept her part of the bargain. I’m trying but am sometimes blinded by bittersweet tears.

I encourage others to do this same project with your own loved one, should the opportunity arise. Help show the wonder of how they have made a difference on this planet. One need not be famous to be extraordinary. I have learned that, and so much more, from one little woman I am honored to have as my mother.
Ruthe Nadel,on the way back from first Radiation Therapy 2009


Amy Romanczuk is a retired pediatric nurse, active BookCrosser , blogger and pysanky artist here in Charleston, SC. She, her husband and son, have shared a home with their beloved Bumma for the past 20 years.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

An Artist's View

The following post was prepared at the request of the JordanCon Blog before this year's Art Show. It will be shared at some point to the JordanCon family via the blog, but I thought maybe it should be shared more generally as well, particularly after several recent discussions on art, folk art, and inspirations.

Art and music, color and sound, have been a huge part in my life since childhood. I have a bit of synesthesia, where one sense triggers a response in another. For me, colors and patterns trigger music and vice versa. A print of Van Gogh's Starry Night hung in my childhood bedroom, and I used to stare at it, transfixed by the sounds that the colors and brush strokes created in my head. It wasn't until years later, singing in a choir, that I realized, to me, Starry Night looks the way Mozart's Ave Verum sounds. Patterns and repetition, colors and sound all work through me when I create. I have found inspiration in the patterns around me, both in nature and in human creations. For as long as I can remember, I've had a physical need to find a way to express the designs that filter through my brain, and have done so using a multitude of mediums over the years.


The means of creative expression I may be most known for comes from the folk art of pysanky, the intricately decorated eggs often displayed at Easter-time. Pysanky (a word derived from the Ukrainian word “to write”) are created using a wax-and-dye resist process similar to batik, though on eggshell instead of cloth. Though my family comes from Ukraine, writing pysanky was not part of my cultural heritage, although it was for my husband Alan's family. I had long loved the patterns and intricacy of the designs but figured I was incapable of creating such beauty. With encouragement from a Master pysanky artist, I picked up the kistka (the tool used to apply the wax) in my 40's, and have yet to stop. Writing pysanky is a form of meditation for me, the meanings behind the symbols and the music in my head becoming a sort of prayer as I work on each egg. Writing pysanky was a way for me to relieve stress after working long days with disabled children and their families as a clinical nurse specialist. And when I became ill myself, it was a huge part of my healing and acceptance of the changes one takes on with chronic illness. I only began to feel comfortable with the title “artist” after I had several of my pysanky accepted into the collection of the Kolomyia Museum in Ukraine. To this day, I am more likely to describe myself as a folk-artist.


Taking the pysanky art from eggshell to paper and ultimately to interactive art such as Patterns of the Wheel, a coloring book based on The Wheel of Time (Tor, 2016), is entirely due to the JordanCon family. Without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and a bit of nagging, I'd still be only working with eggshells. My art, in all its forms, reflects the wabi-sabi concept of Japanese art (before I became a nurse, I received a degree in history, anthropology, and Asian studies, and embraced some of the cultural ideas I encountered, particularly from the Far East). These ideas reinforce the folk vs formal aspect of my art. I also incorporate aspects from some of my favorite artists: the Impressionists, whose paintings color my memories from childhood visits to museums; Utagawa Hiroshige's marvelous prints and drawings; Warli, Kalamkari, Mehndi, miniatures, and even the painted trucks of India; indigenous creations from all over the world; street art, local works, and artistic friends. Lately, the art of Nigerian-born Victor Ekpuk, both for his designs, and for his exploration of nsibidi (a traditional pictorial writing of his homeland) has been calling me.  The similarities between two arts using pictorial language and a transient format (chalk/eggshell) is a thrilling find, as are his artistic talents.


Wheel of Time-inspired art ranges from elegant, elaborate fantasy creations to simple stick figures. Individual taste and perspective guide the way artists approach their craft and the way in which viewers assess the result. One can glory in the art of Michelangelo, whose realistic depictions of the human form captured every nuance precisely, yet also delight in Marc Chagall, whose folk-art style featured casually drawn people and cows seen floating in colorful skies. One artist was a genius whose technical skills were flawless; the other recreated the art of commoners for a totally different purpose and effect. Luckily for me, there is room among the extremely talented Official Wheel of Time artists for a folk artist to explore the world Robert Jordan created. One of my most treasured memories is talking about pysanky with Jim Rigney, and his fascination with the symbols and language of pysanky. His interest in both the history and the art-form, and Harriet's encouragement, is what led to my becoming one of the licensed Wheel of Time artists. I am still astonished and grateful that my folk-art is in the company of such amazing art and artists.
Pysanky and Pysanky-inspired designs artist Amy Romanczuk, with a guitar she hand-decorated.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Food52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner--And Make-Ahead Lunches, Too by Editors of Food52

Who needs a book about salads? I do!
Salads have come a long way from that hunk of iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise (or, shudder, Miracle Whip Salad Dressing) of my childhood. And this is the perfect season to get some salad inspirations-- which is what this book is for me: inspiration. I look at the recipes and the ingredients, and it helps me regroup my mind to plan a meal. I can't say that I've followed a recipe exactly, but I've used them as launching points, substituting when I don't have something or someone is allergic to an item, skipping things neither of us enjoy, adding in some other favorites. This is a lovely collection of ideas for using leafy greens, fruits, veggies, proteins, grains, and more. These are salads with biceps (I'd say guts, but that implies heaviness and extras you don't want to carry) strength to carry a meal but also the ability to take a minor role in a different menu.

Bottom line, for me is this is good inspiration for when I can't think of what to do with what's on hand. Thank you Blogging for Books and the wonderful Food52 for sharing this with me. Happy table; happy tummies.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble

Oh please. Not only was this transparent from the get-go, but ridiculous in many aspects of premise. I read it only because it was supposedly set in Charleston and a nearby plantation. I'll give the author credit for getting Hibernian Hall as a conceivable location for an Irish performance, though it's not a theater, and she didn't have John Corless mentioned.  She also got that there can be blackwater within 20 miles of Charleston, but not much else realistic about the setting of the "decaying mansion" where Alanna and her new husband reside. My eyeballing was so evident as I was reading the book, that my husband, sitting across the room from me, thought I might be having seizures. I think I actually slammed the book shut when she had a characterstuff his face full of "bennes" (meaning benne cookies, or benne wafers) and come from the kitchen holding two more. The problem is "bennes" are sesame seeds and distinctly different from benne wafers. And let's not even get into some of the medical stuff that happens... full body burns healed completely, enough for final facial reconstruction with no scarring within 6 months? Knife wounds and other miraculous healings? Even a willing suspension of disbelief and a deep faith in powers beyond human couldn't sustain me.

I recognize that the author has many, many books to her credit, but now realize there's a decided difference between a USA Today best selling author and a New York Times bestselling author. 

PS Don't feed alligators marshmallows.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

I've heard people say that this is a departure from Fredrik Backman's norm, but I disagree, somewhat. Sure it doesn't have the quirky humor of A Man Called Ove,  the magical realism of My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry, the hope of Britt Marie was Here, but it has the depth, compassion, and the compelling story found in all his books. This, more than all his other novels (and the novella), pushes the setting into a character, for Beartown interacts with all the other characters in unique and memorable ways. If you're looking for Ove, this isn't the place, but if you want a really fine read, pick this up-- and remember, your actions, both good and wicked, created repercussions not just in your life but in the world.

From the Publisher:
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daddy Sandwich

My father was many things: brilliant scientist, gifted actor, always ready with a quip or pun, loving father, trusted husband. He was not, however, much of a cook. I remember he barbecued for a bit, on a grill that he imbedded in a cement wall (to keep his young children from running into the hot grill)... until the wall fell down one day, because apparently my father was not that gifted with cement. However, he would, upon occasion, make for us something he called Daddy Sandwich. It was a treat at the time, mostly because it was prepared by him, but also because it was tasty. He toasted whatever bread we had in the house at the time (white, pumpernickel, or rye were the most likely candidates) and then added a layer of cream cheese. On top of this, went a layer of canned salmon, carefully mashed. (Fresh was not easily available. For the first 10 years of my life I thought salmon came from a can, or from the deli as lox.) He trimmed the crusts off the open faced sandwich, then cut it on the diagonals to yield 4 triangles of deliciousness.

This morning, I made a Daddy sandwich. No matter that the bread was gluten free, since I've developed a wheat allergy, or that, thanks to my Ashkenazi heritage, I prefer to use lactose free cream cheese, and that the salmon, was leftover wild CoHo salmon I broiled last night, or that I left the crusts on, because, why not? It was a Daddy Sandwich, and I was so happy to share my breakfast with his memory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I've yet to read anything by this author which I have not been swept up into the story. I was not disappointed. In fact, this book grabbed my heart and didn't let go. I mean, the main character is a graphic novel artist/writer and hits the cons!

But Joshilyn Jackson has a way of writing about the South, and the many layers of life here that delve beyond sweet tea, manners, and magnolias. She gets that duality of two types of south that has troubled me for so long-- there's the south I love, with the beauty of the land, the traditions, and the close knit community, and then there's that dark underbelly that launched abominations into our world which still rear their ugly heads in ways such as the slayings at Mother Emanuel AME, racism, bigotry, and other ways of stamping out human hearts and lives.

Plus, there was real compassion in the way Jackson wrote of Birchie's decline and illness, and the love between Birchie and Wattie. I also was moved by the way Jackson explored Leia's path of understanding and willingness to share her pregnancy. (But Batman as baby-daddy? How cool is that???)

Joshilyn Jackson, thank you. You hit it out of the park, again. And thanks to LibraryThing early reviewers and the publisher for sending me this copy.

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyearly-review-librarythinggreat-titlemade-me-thinkplaces-i-have-beenreadset-in-the-southtaught-me-something

From the publisher:
With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality---the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs' weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She's having a baby boy--an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old's life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel's marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she's been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother's affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she's pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she's got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie's been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family's freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.