My Mother: Paula Zurcher 1928 – 2021

My Mother: Paula Zurcher 1928 – 2021

The above photograph was taken by John Kelly.

My mother. My beautiful, complicated, brilliant, sensitive, compassionate, loving mother.

Mom at our cabin on Red Mountain

She was the middle daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. Years ago the Aspen Times wrote a profile about my mother, entitled, Their Generation: Paula Zurcher had front row seat to Aspen’s transformation.

Mom speaking at the Aspen Institute’s celebration of her parents

But none of these various articles capture the impact my mother had on those she loved. My mother was a force. She was one of those women who was a beautiful blend of fierce intelligence, wit and passion.

Always elegant, no matter what she was wearing or doing, and oh, so much fun!

My favorite story regarding my mother was when I was pregnant with my first child. I reached out to her asking for advice. She wrote back saying that she had given this a great deal of thought and then wrote, and I’m paraphrasing now, that the best any of us can do as parents is to love our children, tell them, yes, but more importantly show them, daily how much we love them and one day they will forgive us. Fierce, brilliant, funny, passionate, check, check, check and check. And wise. She was so very wise.

Mom reading to her grandson, Nic

During covid my mother sent videos, articles, stories and photographs, often silly, usually funny, always interesting to help cheer her recipients of whom I was one. I often shared the things she sent me on this blog, using the title, Sh*t My Mother Sends Me. Often those posts were among the most popular and that made her, and me, happy.

With her cousin, Peter Nitze and one of my favorite photographs from my wedding in New York City, December 2000

In July of this year I went with my son to visit her. She was frail, but her fierceness was undiminished. When I arrived, having lost the ability to speak, she typed, “It’s been too long.” I promised her I would not allow that much time to pass again, unaware that it would be the last time I saw her. I told her about my upcoming trip to Africa that my husband and I were about to embark on mid-August to celebrate my 61st birthday. Africa held a special place for both my parents and the art and stories of their travels surrounded us when I was a child.

Mom and Pop

Richard and I left for Africa on August 13th. Shortly after, I was told she was failing. Complications related to aging and a life well lived, it became increasingly clear that she would not live much longer. I took to calling in the evening and my sister would hold the phone to her ear so that I could tell her of our African adventures. She died August 27th at 5:30am surrounded by love and her children at home, just as she wanted.

Me holding my son, Nic with my beautiful mother

Mom, you showed me how to love and live life with courage, humor and compassion. You led by example and did exactly as you instructed me to do, so many years ago, when I sought your parenting advice. I grew up knowing I was loved. You showed and told me how much you loved me and as a result, no matter what challenges I have faced, every day was a little easier because of you.

Mom and me


Facing Adversity

There are so many things going on that I cannot talk about publicly for a variety of reasons, but all of these things piled up can make life feel particularly challenging at this moment. The specifics are unimportant. Most people are grappling with things they cannot and do not talk about for personal reasons. What I do know is that staying calm in the midst of it all, certainly helps. In addition, I remind myself to take time to appreciate all that I have.

Which reminds me of the story about the man who is being chased by a tiger. There is a cliff straight ahead and all other escape routes are cut off to him. He must make a choice – get eaten by the tiger or jump off the cliff to his certain death. So he does what any reasonable person would do, he jumps off the cliff, but on the way down he grabs hold of a shrub growing out of the cliff’s sheer face. As he hangs on for dear life he notices a single flower growing from the shrub. He marvels at the beauty of this flower while clinging to what few moments he has left of his life as his grip loosens.

This isn’t how the real story actually goes, there are a number of variations to it, though the central theme remains the same – what do we do, how do we behave when things get tough? The above story is how I reconstructed the original Zen story, which features a strawberry and not a flower. My interpretation isn’t about the importance of staying present or the inevitability of death, though both are worthy topics to discuss. To me this is about how we behave in the face of adversity. We think of life as going on endlessly. When excitedly awaiting something, the minutes pass slowly, however our lives are just seconds when compared to the history of mankind. We are all going off the cliff to our deaths eventually, but on our way down, how do we behave? In the face of adversity, can I still marvel at the beauty of this life and the planet I’ve been fortunate enough to occupy while looking for an alternate way to descend the cliff without plummeting to a gruesome death on the sharp rocks below?

When things are tough can I remember to be curious and explore despite everything else that’s going on?

When creating a new project there are a few themes that crop up over and over. One of them is this idea that there is always more going on below the surface. One of my first pieces that I designed, I put a large metal zipper in to signify that what looks like a pretty garden has more going on. Another one of my pieces I entitled, “It’s Not What You Think”.

Bringing this idea into one’s art is something I continue to explore. The layers of the human experience, the depths to which we can delude ourselves, but also the honesty with which we can examine our experiences and hopefully learn from them is the fertile ground we can explore as we create. During this time of uncertainty, with the pandemic raging, the virus mutating, the constant and seemingly relentless drama in the United States, not to mention the myriad personal challenges most of us face, can I still see beauty in this world? Can I still create inspite of it all?

Yes. Yes, I can.

The Magic of an Encounter

The Magic of an Encounter

The most magical times in my life have been those moments when I met someone and the connection was instantaneous or they did or said something that was particularly moving and memorable. Likewise there have been places that felt magical, like some sort of spiritual vortex, inexplicable, yet utterly unique and beautiful. And there are those moments spent in the company of an animal, whether domesticated or not, moments when your breath is taken away because of the sheer beauty and magnitude of this creature that you are sharing space with. And then there are those times spent in nature, so exquisite, words cannot do the experience justice.

I had one of those moments last weekend. I was accompanying my husband to the Farmer’s market and happened upon a young violinist, Wael Elhalaby, playing in front of the Union Square Market entrance. I stopped and began recording. The music he wove expressed a deeply soulful, yet playful being. Entranced, I stood video-taping him and when he finished we chatted for a few minutes. That man made my weekend. It was one of those magical moments, beautiful, rare and profound. I made a youtube video and inserted the entirety of that recording into the video. So if you’d like to hear it, click ‘here‘ and go to 3:06 to see the beginning and through to the end of his playing. It’s well worth it. In the description section of that video I include links to all of Wael’s social media as well as how to help support him, if you feel moved to do so.

I’ve been lucky as I’ve had a few of these kinds of encounters. I still remember them in minute detail. A couple even led to friendships that I treasure to this day, others were one-offs and I never saw that person again, but all of them were magical.

When my children were young, we had spent a long hot day in the park and were headed home. Both kids were in, what I referred to as the “hummer” of all strollers. It was a double wide – in other words seated both children side by side. My son in a moment of cranky exhaustion began squirming, managed to unhook the straps securing him in the stroller and when I asked that he sit back down, refused. I tried logic, I tried bribery, I tried cajoling to no avail. I was tired and had zero patience left. My daughter, having been asleep, now awake, began to scream bloody murder and then suddenly a complete stranger appeared by my side and said in a soft voice, “I want you to know what a good mother you are. I can see it in your eyes and your children know it too.” I looked at this woman and burst into tears. She smiled, held her arms open to me and embraced me. Then she whispered, “Thank you for being such a good mom.”

I’ve never forgotten that woman.

Here’s to enjoying the magic.

Power Struggles

Power Struggles

Above is one of the images my teenage daughter sent me saying that she wants to dye her hair pink. I don’t have a problem with that, except for the fact that her hair is already pretty fried from having gone platinum (like Gwen Stefani) for years, and only in the last year plus has she agreed to get highlights, (less damaging) instead of full on platinum. Even so, her hair is not in good shape, we just had to trim it again, and I worry that it will get even worse if she goes pink. So we discussed. And then we discussed more, and there was alot of disagreement, interrupted by watching You Tube videos of a number of young girls dying their hair various shades of pink and how they did it. Some were incredibly compelling and I wavered between thinking maybe I should dye my hair pink, to sternly telling myself this was an idea I would quickly regret and reminding myself to get back on track as this wasn’t about ME, this was about my daughter and how could I best support her without her doing something that might just destroy what was left of her hair. Not my body, not me, get out of the way…

Last night I barely slept. Because this is just the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. And yes, I was aware, at 2AM that I was incredibly fortunate to be thinking about my daughter’s hair color and not something actually serious. I even said a silent – thank you – to the great unknown. And then I remembered that when my son was my daughter’s age he went in for some serious ink and came home with a massive tattoo that he now wants to have removed. I didn’t love that tattoo, though I rather like a couple of the others that he got, but again, not my body, not me, get out of the way…

My job is to support my children, now almost adults. This is easier said than done, however. I figure it’s my job to give them good information so they can make, hopefully, great decisions. Unlike my own young adult self who made a series of questionable and even very, very bad decisions! (I will spend the remaining years of my life apologizing to my mother for what I put her through.) But mostly I need to not engage in anything that starts feeling like a power struggle, because, in the long run, I’m not going to win, and anyway it’s ultimately counter productive. Again, not my body, not about me, get out of the way…

All of this got me thinking about designing (see, I told you my thoughts ricochet like a pin ball during the wee hours of the night/morning) and how similar these kinds of challenges are when designing and stitching. Often when designing I begin with a sketch. Sometimes that sketch evolves, but other times it’s simply the starting point. I have to be willing to let go of the initial idea. Some ideas are definitely more bossy than others. I have to go with where the design leads me, sometimes down unexpected paths. But most of all, I have to get out of the way…

Below is a sketch of a bracelet idea I had using 18 Kt Gold and a variety of green colored gemstones.

Preliminary Sketch for Bracelet

That idea eventually turned into this 18 Kt Brushed Gold Bracelet with multi-colored Tourmaline.

18 Kt Brushed Gold & Tourmaline Bracelet

Below is my sketch for what would finally become my Cookies Delight Quilt. The Pattern for this has been written and I’m just waiting on a couple of things before releasing it as a PDF with detailed instructions on how to make and stitch it.

Cookies Delight Sketch

My Cookies Delight Quilt, using Sue Spargo’s wonderful techniques for layering and stitching, free motion quilted and bound!

Finished Quilt

This is the preliminary very rough sketch I did for the piece I’m currently working on, which was begun in a workshop I took a few weeks ago with Sue Spargo.

Landscape Sketch

This is where it’s going or maybe I should say leading me… I am definitely having to follow this one as it’s careening off the original path I’d set out on. We will see! But that’s also part of the fun – seeing where it goes and doing my best to follow.

Landscape Piece in Progress

I’ve convinced my daughter, for now, to get highlights (compromise) and we’ve bought a “pink conditioner” and will apply that this weekend! Who knows where this may lead?!