Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Sword of Damocles

 In 1979, my Father died of pancreatic cancer, and suffered from coronary issues while sick. He was 60 years old and I was 20. As I grew older, I did wonder whether there was a certain sword of Damocles hanging nearby my head. When one's parent dies early, it is hard not to think about what your time on Earth has in store for you. A year and a half ago, I turned 60 myself. It was surreal to consider that my Father had only that many years to live and feel what that span of life felt like. Life has just turned sweet again for me after some difficult years and I am ready for a new chapter of designing and living with a life partner. Fast forward to a full check up with a new Internist in my hometown this September. He places a stethoscope on my chest during the exam and says, "huh". I ask him what does "Huh" mean in this context, and he says he hears a large whoosh or heart murmur. Suddenly, I feel a panic of what I thought I had escaped a year and a half ago in that 60 year old threshold. Maybe "my time" had just been delayed for a little while? My doctor gets me to schedule an echocardiogram the next day and the day after he has the results: "You need to see a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic." I swallow. It turns out I have a bad mitral valve. The good news is that it can be repaired. The "whoosh" sound is the valve "leaking" or regurgitating blood back into the heart that should pump outwards. Also, good news: The Cleveland Clinic is one of the top places in the Country to have this work done and it is only an hour away from home. I proceed to have days of testing and follow that up with a visit with the surgeon, where he informs me that as heart surgeries go, mine is relatively minor. He has done thousands of bypasses, stents, valve repairs and even heart transplants. Also, good news: I find out my overall heart health is pretty good. Eating a healthy diet and exercising has paid off along with a lifetime of statin use. Almost two months ago, he performed the valve repair on me with about 20 colleagues in the OR ( I lost count before the anesthetic took control) and it was successful. I spent five days in the hospital and am now writing this from home.

Each day I take my meds and walk. Each day I am feeling a bit stronger. Each day I worry a little bit less about the pressures I feel in my chest, the palpitations, the ache from within from the healing.  

On the second day after my surgery, I was recovering in the cardiac ICU ward. At about 2:30 in the morning, I get a call on my cell phone from a California number that I did not recognize. When they called back an hour later, I thought I'd better answer it. It turned out to be Life Alert and they had received a signal from my 90 year old Mother and were not able to reach here. I feared the worst and essentially was right. She had fallen in her bathroom and was not able to get up and had indeed broken her leg in the process. Paramedics eventually were able to reach her after she was on the floor for probably about three to four hours and brought her to the ER. She required surgery on her leg. 

I am very lucky because both my daughter Jesse and her girl friend Amy as well as my Fiancé Carisa were here and were able to help with my Mother's situation. At other times, I would be involved and taking control over what I could do remotely. Under the recovery situation I was in, with fragile health and not a great deal of energy as well as the need to avoid stress, I am and was so grateful for the love and support of my family. Accidents happen at the wrong time no matter when they occur but somehow life had conspired to provide me with the help and support I needed when I was not able to do much on my own. Life always seems to be a test. How much can you handle? Being in the Cardiac ICU is not enough? How about dealing with your elderly Mother's crisis too? Just for icing on the cake, I cracked a tooth and had to see the dentist, (needed a crown), my Mother developed Covid-19 in a rehab facility, and one of my daughters decided it was time to vent some of her feelings that I was not quite ready to handle. It's a good thing I have a blood pressure cuff at home! 

I am getting through all of this. I am trying to practice gratitude and acceptance. I am focusing on my breathing. I am keeping the big picture in mind. I am taking life one step and one day at a time. Each day, I feel stronger. Each day I walk a little further. This year is starting off just as it was meant to be.

I have not shared this news widely beyond my immediate family and friends in Canton because I am a private person by nature and because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary worrying by friends farther away. My business continues and so far 2021 is looking a lot better than last year. Although I have a large and healing scar on my chest, I am feeling pretty good in almost all respects and although I cannot lift anything heavier than 20 lbs, and have to limit my upper body use, I am doing almost everything else I could do before the surgery. For the moment, I am thankful that the sword of Damocles remains a metaphor.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

hall of fame parade

 A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a rather surreal process: judging the Hall of Fame (Football as this is Canton we are talking about) Parade floats.  There are floats that are made by groups and Companies as well as a Hall of Fame "Queen and her Court". The day before the parade, all of the floats as well as the people who "ride" them are assembled in a large building at the Stark County Fairgrounds and each float demonstrates their presentation for the judges (there were three of us). I was asked by a few people what qualifies me to be a float judge. I honestly cannot answer that question. If being a furniture designer and an artist are my claims to fame, I suppose that is it. I did not seek this position, I assure you. The opportunity presented itself to check off an item on my bucket list that I never knew I had. The other judges were a Museum curator and a lighting/event designer. As we were being briefed in a small room on the criteria for judging the floats, which includes such categories as "enthusiasm" and "use of natural materials", we could here booming voices coming from one of the float areas. We began our judging with the "12th Man" float.

Not being much of a football fan, my memories of the sport are going to the old Soldier Field in Chicago to watch the Bears get beat by yet another team and long for a quarterback who could complement Gayle Sayers or Walter Payton. I never heard of the 12th Man. Apparently, it is a member organization. You cannot just decide that you want to wear makeup and a costume but must be accepted into the ranks of 12th mandom. They were nothing if not entertaining and enthusiastic. On a scale of 1-10 I gave them a 10+ for enthusiasm. However, the float itself had zero character, it was just a platform in the pattern of a generic AstroTurf football field to support all the singing, hooting and waving of the 12th Men and Women. This was my first clue as to how the floats themselves were considered by their makers.

posing with one of the Oakland Raider 12th Men.

The only float that had real character, utilized natural materials, looked as though it was designed (which it was) and conceived to have interesting aspects in all angles and sides, as well as a narrative theme was created by the Boy Scouts. If every float had had this kind of creativity and attention to detail, it would have been a joy to judge and examine the 12 to 13 floats. They had a sponsor who was more like a salesman telling the tale of the conception of the float with the plans, etc. but his efforts were totally unnecessary. The float was cool and spoke for itself. It was the unanimous choice as the Grand Prize winner.
Then there were a few floats that were so lacking in imagination and personal character that they seemed like a corporate heartless infomercial. Which is exactly what they were. This Ohio Lottery entry was an example. The people were nice and well meaning and even had a bit of a sense of humor. The float depicts the "biggest scratch off ticket" being dragged to the car of a presumed ticket owner. There were virtually no natural material used unless you consider a few potted plants that look like they were borrowed from the back office of the Lottery. To even consider "judging" entries like these is an insult to human creativity. I could not help thinking repeatedly about the boundless inspirational creative projects that are part of the Parade the Circle, only about 50 miles to the North in Cleveland every year. Groups of people and artists in the community gather for months to plan and execute home made but incredibly interesting creations and have a parade just to honor that creativity. If you live in North East Ohio and have never seen this event, I strongly urge you to go next year. Here is a link to more info:

There were a few floats that honored Veterans and Fallen or injured soldiers. There was no category on our checklist for "emotional impact" or "meaningful tribute". It was impossible to compare these solemn floats with the whooping and hollering of the 12th Man. Veterans of World War II and Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq were all present, including a 95 year old Vet. Photos of young faces from Stark County graced some of the floats memorializing their ultimate sacrifice. As is typical in Canton and probably throughout most of the Country, these honorable presentations are often connected with Christianity, inadvertently perhaps, making members of other faiths feel left out. 

I will never forget the experience of the judging and in no way want to make my sponsors feel that I did not appreciate the honor of being selected a judge. I also had the good fortune of being visited by my business partner, Carisa Marie during this time, so she got to accompany me on this journey. She is familiar with the Rose parade in Portland, Oregon having grown up there and they go all out with flowers on their floats.  I could ask her after the event if this really just happened or did I make it up?! 

The Hall of Fame parade floats are such a long way from being interesting creations that I believe the judging should be suspended until such a time that the float makers make an honest attempt to come up with creative and self made (rather than guest and professional float makers) presentations. Communities and Companies should be encouraged to plan and compete for real honest and original floats. Natural materials should be used rather than plastic. There is nothing wrong with paper maché, hand painting, etc. It could be a real testament to Canton and make the event a special moment of pride for the community. The football enshrinees and the National media present for the week might even take notice.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Check out this link to see how one style of CMJSCreativ chandelier shade is being made. Craftsmen Alex Petrakis assisted by K.C. Carter are at work.

This was my first iMovie. I hope to do more....

Friday, November 29, 2013


I like to cook. One of the "dishes" that I enjoy, and that can become a satisfying component of a meal Winter or Summer are Mexican style beans. A pot of beans tastes great, is warm and filling and is a great source of protein and fiber. When I cook beans, I don't follow an exact recipe, but several people have asked me for one, so here is an attempt to be a guide, more than anything set in stone. I make my beans vegetarian. My Father in Law doesn't believe in vegetarian beans, they must have bacon fat in them he says. (And his ancestry is Mexican). But I have found preparing the beans the following way has won him and many others over to the fact that you don't have to use meat in the beans. Cooking beans is forgiving, and many of the ingredients can go into the pot early so that it is also an easy dish to prepare. The key is having access to a Mexican grocer for some essential ingredients.

So here it goes:

I like to use pinto beans, but have also mixed in Northern White. You start with a bag (about a pound- all measurements are approximate) of the dried beans. The first essential step is to very carefully clean and sort the beans. I do this on a big wooden breakfast table, sitting down so that I can look closely at the beans. The goal is to keep all the whole good looking beans and to throw aside broken beans, mis-shaped and mis-colored beans and also most importantly little stones that make their way through the machinery process at the factory. Once you have a pile of all the good beans, which should be about 95% of what you started with or more, put those in a large pot and cover with cool water, at least an inch or so over the top of the beans. Cover and let sit overnight.

The next morning, drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside. Take a large stock pot and heat over medium heat and add a generous amount of olive oil. The oil is going to take the place of the bacon fat so don't worry about using too much. Sauté garlic in the olive oil. I use about a half dozen good size cloves, minced. Don't burn the garlic. You can also sauté an onion at this time. When the onion is clearish, add the beans and cover with cool clean water.

Now you need to add a few things. First of all about 3-4 sprigs of Epazoté. This is a Mexican herb that adds flavor and also is helpful in reducing the flatulent aspect of the beans. I add at this time about 6 bay leaves, either fresh or dried, and 1 or 2 dried chile peppers such as chipotle. Also going in, you can either buy a prepared pinto bean seasoning mix or add a tablespoon of several spices to your taste. To me essential ones are cumin and black pepper, and also Mexican or domestic oregeno. You can also add chili powder of your choice and if you wish one or two fresh poblano or jalapeño chilis which you have roasted and skinned, seeded and veined then chopped finely. This whole mixture is brought to a low boil and immediately stirred and put on a very low simmer, covered (essential) and left to cook for about 2 hours or so. Check every once in while to make sure there is enough liquid so the beans don't burn, stir from the bottom. Taste to make sure the beans are cooked to a tender consistency but not mushy, remove the bay leaves, and salt to taste. Voila!

The great thing is that the leftovers can become tomorrow's "refritos" or refried beans, which you can heat in a cast iron skillet and serve with eggs for breakfast or a side dish for dinner. Good corn tortillas are a wonderful way to enjoy the beans with rice and sour cream or cheese and a vegetable side dish. Of course they also go great with chicken and beef and so I have heard pork. Let me know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


This October at the High Point Furniture Market, I gave out little vials of lavender infused sesame oil. To back up to the Summer, this is how I made it. First start with blooms of fresh lavender;

Blooms of fresh lavender. I once saw fields of lavender in Southern France and fell in love with the plant. The smell makes me feel good.
 I rinsed the lavender flowers and stems so not to accidentally infuse any fauna, and let the flowers drain on paper towels.

 The next step was to pull all the blooms off the stems and collect that into a couple of piles. I then had two bottles of organic sesame oil at the ready. I first heated the oil but did not let it boil, as you don't want it to burn at all and smell toasty. If you heat the oil and let it cool, it seems to absorb better into the skin when its used as a massage oil. Let it cool a bit and pour back into the bottles, leaving room for the blooms.
 I then stuffed the blooms into the two bottles and let them sit in a dark pantry for two weeks. It was pretty intense and interesting looking stuff. The smell of lavender is soothing and calming and when added to a massage oil becomes an aromatherapeutic process. In small amounts it can be rubbed onto the temples to alleviate a head ache and I have used it to good effect for reducing skin irritations.
If you want a small sample, I have 5 ml bottles available in my store, Elemental Arts or you can order some by calling my business John Strauss Furniture Design, Ltd in Canton, OH or emailing me John at Straussfurniture dot com. They are 5 bucks plus shipping. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Since I wrote extensively about my friend Scott Morgan (see earlier posts here) I need to say that Scott passed away peacefully in Goa, India on September 11, 2013. His American doctors had given him 2-4 months to live and he lived 11 months. Credit good fortune, genes, fate or more likely a combination of his determination, sheer will power, and most importantly making every day count and finding something to be happy about. In Scott's case, his partner Katy and his art provided almost everything he needed. For Katy's incredible recounting of the last eleven months' "adventure" please visit her blog Going to Goa. Katy is a real life hero. Out of her devoted love of Scott she was the one who made his last year possible in so many ways. She did things that most people could never face doing, and she did it with style and without complaint. When you next see a butterfly, think of Scott and think of his love for Katy. Carry that message of love with you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

bending wood

One of the factories in Amish country that fascinates me every time I enter it is a steam bending plant. I love the smells, the moisture, the heat and of course seeing wood being treated like it was a wet noodle. I get several parts here for my designs. The bases for the Sheridan Rd. collection are steam bent. Some of the chair backs are as well as the new sculptural accessories for CMJSCreativ. The technology is 19th century steam tanks and hydraulic machinery. Take a look below: