I Have Published a Book and it is on Amazon!!!

September 7, 2015 4 comments

Front cover for web

I am proud to announce that Love & War: the World War II Letters of Arthur Smook, which I edited is now available on Amazon in print and for Kindle. This has been a labor of love for me as I have edited 450 letters that my father wrote to my mother during World War II down to all or part of 150. There are also two wonderful letters that my mother wrote to her parents when she visited my dad in Paris, Texas, just before he was shipped to Europe.   Here is a link to the description on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Love-War-World-Letters-Arthur/dp/1508406502/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433355769&sr=1-1&keywords=diane+smook

Throughout our childhood, my brother Richard and I were aware that our mother saved all the letters that our father wrote to her during his service in the 395th Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division during World War II. Periodically, she considered throwing them away during a house cleaning, but the letters always remained in the box in the attic. If I mentioned wanting to read them, she was doubtful, saying that they were mostly love letters, repetitive, and not that interesting.

During dinnertime, Dad sometimes told us stories about the war – usually the same old yarns about taking a farmhouse and getting to sleep in a bed, or liberating a cow that was then slaughtered by one of his men who had been a farmer so that they all could have a meat dinner after weeks of rations. As a First Lieutenant who attended Officer Candidate School and trained troops in various camps in the American South before he was shipped overseas, my father was clearly devoted to the men under him. He fought on the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Bronze Star and four Purple Hearts. Yet he never attended post-war 99th Division reunions, and never traveled to England, Belgium, Germany or France on vacations. As annoying baby boomers, my brother and I groaned at the stories and knew all the endings. Mostly, I quarreled with my dad about his overly strict rules that governed my teenage social life. My brother was disappointed that he and Dad never did the things that other boys and their dads did together, like going to ball games.

My dad died in 1984 from an aneurysm, at the age of 65. When my mother died at 74 in 1996, I retrieved the letters, but it was a couple of years before I put them in order and read them. When I read them in order I was stunned. They told a distinct story with a real arc.   They were written by an articulate, passionate man who was not the man with whom my brother and I battled.

In addition to detailing military life, these letters bring to life a true love story. They begin as Arthur writes to his buddy Sylvia when he is preparing to leave Cornell after final exams to travel to Camp Croft in South Carolina. My parents never dated at Cornell, but became friends when my mom dated a couple of his fraternity brothers. We follow their friendship as Dad is stationed at several army bases in the south and has a few home leaves in New York. Then, after one wonderful leave, they become engaged. The correspondence becomes passionate. He tries without success to convince Mom to marry him before he is shipped overseas, tells her over and over how much he loves her, and she does visit him in Paris, Texas. Sadly, only two of my mother’s letters survived. Both were written to her parents; one describes her trip to Texas by train, and the other describes her stay at the Gibraltar Hotel and what she observed about military life in Texas. They are gems. As an infantry soldier, Dad could not keep any of the letters Mom wrote to him when he was overseas. He was constantly on the move.

Both before and after shipping out to Europe, Dad writes about army life and his feelings about what he is doing. His letters portray pride in his promotion to First Lieutenant and his good grades in courses in tactics and hand to hand fighting; his eagerness to go overseas; his dislike of having to censor his men’s mail; courage and the lack of courage he observed; and how he copes with the horrors of war. He describes daily activities in the states, on the ship sailing to Europe, in foxholes, on maneuvers, on passes to Paris, in the hospital in the rear, and in running post-war prisoner of war stockades. The letters also reveal a great deal of his love for my mom, and his deep desire to be reunited.

As I now review the letters, I am struck by the parallels between his experiences and impressions, and those of the men and women returning from the wars in Southeast Asia and the Middle East during my own lifetime. I wonder about the scars that my dad carried home with him when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was undefined; when soldiers returning from horrific experiences in battle were expected to slip right back into civilian life without missing a beat. Their abilities to do this, after fighting a war in which they believed, are the reason they are known as “the greatest generation.”

It’s a real page-turner!!

 

iPhone in the Snow

February 7, 2014 2 comments

We have had a snowy winter here in NYC.  It was messy underfoot on Monday, but beautiful above, so I took out my iPhone and began to capture what I saw:

Broadway and 95th Street

Broadway and 95th Street

On the way to the subway.

On the way to the subway.

Subway entrance on Broadway and 96th Street.

Subway entrance on Broadway and 96th Street.

View from The Ground Floor Pilates studio.

View from The Ground Floor Pilates studio.

Later, outside of CVS at 96th and Amsterdam Ave.

Later, outside of CVS at 96th and Amsterdam Ave.

Photo Album: Post #5 Jacmel 2013

June 14, 2013 1 comment

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are a few that might fill in the blanks left by my reporting:

The fact that Art Creation Foundation for Children offers three meals a day to its youth is very very important.  Here is where money for food goes:

Sorting beans for lunch

Sorting beans for lunch

Kids enjoying lunch.

Enjoying lunch

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Dining area

Dining area

And here are more photographs of what the children are learning and accomplishing:

Mosaic vases

Mosaics are used to create vases out of bottles.

Another shot of the photography group.

Another shot of the photography group.

Students doing homework after school.

Students doing homework after school.

Group working on papier mache projects.

Group working on papier mache projects.

The work is painted.

The work is painted.

Paper can be glued to a mask base.

Paper can be glued to a mask base.

A fabulous mask

A fabulous mask

A colorful vase.

A colorful vase.

The showroom in our new building.

The showroom in our new building.

A mosaic design begins with a sketch.

A mosaic design begins with a sketch.

The mosaic pieces are cut and glued to mesh.

The mosaic pieces are cut and glued to mesh.

The tiles are cemented to the wall.

The tiles are cemented to the wall.

Grout is added when the wall is complete.

Grout is added when the wall is complete.

You can see how the children’s imagination and skills have evolved in these images.  And they are so proud of their work!

ACFFC will celebrate its tenth anniversary as a 501c3 corporation later this year.  This milestone is the perfect time for us to reflect on the amazing achievements of the past decade and move ahead on plans for the future.  A future that looks very promising for the Art Creation Foundation for Children youth!

4-13-2_168 ©DSmook

Mosaics Everywhere: Post #4, Jacmel, Haiti 2013

June 4, 2013 2 comments

The Art Creation Foundation for Children began to work in mosaics after the 2010 earthquake when Laurel True arrived from Global Mosaic Projects to work with the group.  Together they created the Tree of Life as a memorial to lives lost and to hopes for the future.  Here is a link to last year’s post.

The wall was a great success and immediately became a source of great pride and a gathering place in the city of Jacmel.  And the children loved making the mosaics.  Over the past year, panel by panel, they completed the wall along Congo Plage (beach).

Congo Plage

A grant from ARCADES propelled their abilities to a new level.  Under this grant, wonderful walls and benches have been created all over the city.

Bruno, as head of the design team (here is last year’s blog about Bruno) created a mosaic version of the image of Catherine Flon, La Belle Kreyol,

La Belle Kreyol, Catherine Flon

 

and another of the flag of Haiti 4-13-5_012 copy

at a main crossroad:

 

 

 

 

There is a beautiful wall depicting the history of coffee at a building that was once a coffee warehouse:

History of Coffee

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Because of the impact that these beautiful projects had on the various neighborhoods, ACFFC was given commissions by the Tourism Office in Jacmel, and by individuals and businesses as well.

 

 

Here is bench next to the barber shop:

Barbershop Bench

The Khawly family commissioned two walls – one based on transportation at the Texaco station:

Transportation Mosaic at Texaco StationAnd another featuring Jacmel’s famous race car drivers:

Jackie's Wall - Racecar Drivers

Here is a beautiful wall and bench in a neighborhood where some of the ACFFC children live:
Neighborhood where several ACFFC childen live.

Raymond Les BainsOn this trip, I ended working with the kids on a large mosaic commission at Raymond Les Bains, a beautiful beach just outside the city.  This work was requested by the Department of Tourism in Jacmel and the Ministry of Tourism of the government of Haiti.

Raymond Les BainsAdding tiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I love most are the whimsical details that the kids have created – their own interpretations of how, in this case, the sea creatures should appear:

Detail, Raymond Les Bains

Detail, Raymond Les Bains

 

Detail, Raymond Les Bains

Some of the funds received through these grants and commissions pay for materials and contribute to keeping ACFFC operating.  But a portion of the funds are deposited in individual bank accounts for the youth 16 and older.  These teens receive a stipend for participation and are learning to manage their money.  Financial literacy is a goal of the foundation.  Each child can give some of his/her money to his/her family, can use some for immediate personal needs, and must save some for the future.  As well, a portion is allocated to families who the youth feel have significant need, whether or not a part of ACFFC.  The younger children, who are beginning to learn skills in mosaics, as in papier mache, are helpers.  Some funds are set aside for their future.

In this way, an ongoing public art project that is so creative, also contributes to personal growth, financial competency, plans and goals for the future for these ACFFC youth, just as it contributes to aesthetics and pride in Jacmel among resident.  Amazing achievement.

Art Creation for Children's Truck

Papouche: Painter, Dancer, Carpenter: Post #3 Jacmel, Haiti 2013

Papouche is a gentle giant.  He was one of the first people I met on my visit to the Art Creation Foundation for Children last year, and was a tremendous help to me this year.

His was a difficult upbringing in Port au Prince in a home for street children, where Jen Pantaleon of Zanmi Lakay first met him and began to work with him in 1997.  Even in that environment, Papouche made many friends because of his integrity, his respect for himself and others, and his wonderful smile.

In 2000 when the group home closed Papouche was back on the street.  Jen was glad to find him again the following year at yet another group home.  He was able to take part in Zanmi Lakay programs learning carpentry, and was sent back to school.  He is very intelligent.  He is also a fabulous dancer.

After the house in Port au Prince where he was living collapsed in the earthquake, Papouche was invited to move to Jacmel and become a part of the Art Creation Foundation for Children.  He is older than most of the youth, but was not yet able to earn enough to live on his own.  It was not an easy transition, but he has blossomed at the foundation.

He has become involved in a dance troupe that performs in the annual Karneval parades and is now teaching dance.  He has learned to paint both on a small scale,

4-13-4_090 for blog

and on a large scale.

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He has used his carpentry skills to rebuild homes for ACFFC families, and to great advantage in the new building.  These are cubicles he has constructed in the new computer room.

4-13-5_021 computer room

Papouche is a leader with the mosaic team and visiting groups, and works on assignments for Zanmi Lakat.  He is earning a salary and respect, making friends, and his life has changed dramatically.  He has worked hard and, despite the obstacles, is making a productive and satisfying life for himself.

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He is a wonderful role model for the younger children!

The Challenges Facing Women in Haiti: Post #2 Jacmel, Haiti 2013

May 25, 2013 1 comment

Haiti is a male-dominated Society.  Ergo, during my 2013 trip to the Art Creation Foundation for Children in Jacmel, Judy asked me to host a dinner for three of the teenage girls that have shown leadership ability.  Nynedia and Sheldine, sisters, were working with me in the photography workshop.

4-13-4_076 for web

Michou, who is a leader of the mosaic product team also  joined us.  We didn’t take photos in the restaurant, but here is a link to a beautiful short film about her prior work in photography made by Kuba, a colleague of Jen and Guy Pantaleon of Zanmi Lakay.

Ironically, also joining us were Georges and Vladimir, the two male directors of the Foundation in Haiti, who were needed to translate.  To their credit, they were not intimidated!

The story I shared:  I resolved upon graduating from college, and opting not to continue to graduate school, to find an interesting job that did not involve typing for others.  This, for a woman in 1968, was easier said than done.  I was a polite person, so I ended up taking a lot of typing tests for a lot of jobs that I would never take.  Finally, I ended up as a researcher at WNET, the public television station in New York.  That led to a job with a film company as a production assistant, then production manager and finally, producer.  I had a lot of challenges and adventures along the way.  There were very very few women doing those jobs at that time.  I had to fight for recognition, for assignments and for equal salary.  I recounted some of these situations and how I managed to achieve my objectives.  The girls were fascinated.

I even told them stories of my grandmother’s childhood in the early 1900’s and how she managed, as an immigrant child in New York, to learn English with no accent, and then how her father forced her to quit school in 8th grade.  She took, and then after a few days quit, a menial job in a garment factory, put her hair up to look older, and through a neighbor got a job in an office.  She realized that bookkeeping would not be very difficult for her, and used her first paycheck to enroll in a bookkeeping class.  Her father almost threw her out for not bringing him the money.  Within a year she made more money than he did.  Later, she and my grandfather built a business of their own.  She was a 50% partner, which also involved a struggle.  This reminded the girls of life in Haiti.

My grandmother is standing on the right.

My grandmother is standing on the right.

 

The point of the discussion:  You can’t be intimidated when you have a goal.  Especially if you are a woman!

The girls had many questions about whether I had boyfriends, when I married, had children, etc.  We all agreed that life is complicated, but that you have to believe in yourself.

These young women are future leaders in Haiti.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of them could one day head the Foundation in Haiti and be a role model for the next generation?

 

Return to Jacmel: Post #1 Jacmel, Haiti 2013

May 12, 2013 6 comments

It was great to be back in Jacmel to work with teens at the Art Creation Foundation for Children!  There have been so many changes – the kids have improved in both language skills and photography, and the foundation has moved to a marvelous new building.  By the time I got there, everything had been moved and the families of the children all pitched in to paint rooms.  The  kids installed mosaics on the front.  Beautiful and welcoming!

New ACFFC building

New ACFFC building

There are separate rooms for a library, computers, homework review, art projects and an efficient kitchen.  The eating area is bright and airy.  And the entire building buzzes with activity.

Each morning I photographed various subjects needed for the new ACFFC website designed by another board member.  And three afternoons I worked with the kids.

The group this year consisted of 5 girls and one boy, Fedno.  I had worked with all but one last year.  Everyone loved using the newer cameras sent to them by my photographer friends.

We had three specific goals:  Tell a story – with establishing shot, action and close-ups.  Move your images onto the computer – make a file, name it in a consistent manner ( name, date, what it is) and put the photographs into the file.  Edit.  Chose the best 3 photographs.  Don’t include several that are similar.

The group of 6 divided into three pairs and took 30 minutes to shoot an activity:  chosen were food preparation, homework review and a local business.

Team Homework Review

Team Homework Review

Team Food Prep

Team Food Prep

The challenges began when we looked at the images.  The photographs were uniformly good.  But only two of the kids had any idea of how to create a folder or how to name it.  I had not realized that there are NO computers used in their schools. Fortunately, five laptops had just arrived and computer work areas have been built into the new computer room.  (Computer classes will begin in a couple of weeks.)  Meanwhile, four of the kids had never typed, did not know how to capitalize a letter, make an underscore, or where the letters are on the keyboard.  That you can use two hands.  We spent the next two afternoons practicing these skills,  with those who knew how teaching those who did not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We then chose the best 3 photographs for each person and discussed editing and organizing.  A more cerebral exercise than last year, when we used cool new backgrounds to photograph artwork, but of tremendous value in the long run.

On the last day, a Saturday, the whole group had to work on a wonderful long mosaic wall commissioned by the city of Jacmel, so I photographed the work and then worked along with the kids – great fun!!

Working on the wall at Raymond Les Bains

Working on the wall at Raymond Les Bains

Later, in the evening, we went out for a farewell dinner.  I will miss them!4-13-7_21 for web

Team Food Prep
Team Homework Review