Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Colorful Life - Lived in the Dark

This article came out in Sr. Perspective at the beginning of May. I was so pleased to interview this wonderful lady. What an inspiration!

Genuine, caring and courageous, with a great sense of humor mixed in. That would be a good way to describe Carol Alperin, 69, of Maple Grove. Alperin’s life has been full of challenges that make her both interesting and inspirational. Navigating through life is difficult for most people. Alperin has been navigating through most of her 69 years without sight.

Alperin doesn’t let herself be limited by her disability. Her spirit and her laugh are contagious – she is genuinely happy and content, loves her family, and enjoys her friends and neighbors. She has some tools she uses, like a Braille machine and an Amazon Echo, but she mostly relies on her other senses and strong sense of herself.

Alperin’s brother, Roger, was born blind, but Carol could see until she was 12 years old. Surgery wasn’t an option in 1959 – the medical procedures were costly and not as advanced as they are now. But, both Alperin and her brother had gifts to share, and they didn’t let the lack of sight stop them.

“Roger had the gift of music,” said Alperin. “He could sing! You want me to sing Long Ago and Far Away. I’m not a singer.”

Alperin has many accomplishments of her own. She went to school, taught sixth-grade for a while, played the piano, and was involved in swimming and gymnastics.

“I was an active enough child to maintain a distance judgment. I biked on country roads so my balance was always good, and I loved swimming and gymnastics – especially the trampoline.”

Alperin even passed the junior lifesaving test in swimming after she lost her sight, but the teacher wouldn’t give her the certificate. 

“She had a question about my blindness,” said Alperin. “But, I know I passed.”

Even though she lost her sight at 12, Alperin didn’t have “cane use” until she was 16. It was then, at 16 or 17, that she had one of her fondest volunteer memories: Working with babies. “That was such a delight,” said Alperin.

One of the things Alperin learned from her mother prior to losing her sight, which she still really enjoys and excels at, is knitting. She knits beautiful sweaters, ponchos, capes, hats and purses. She even makes the buttons herself. The details in her knitting projects are beautiful – roses, fringe, hand-knit and clay buttons, and bags that are fully lined with fun embellishments.

“My mom started teaching me knitting before I went totally blind, the summer before I lost my vision. I like to find a pattern and modify it a bit. I started making baby sweaters as gifts and a lot of women had their baby’s first pictures done in them.”

Currently she is working on dishclothes and washcloths for babies and for an organization she loves working with, Vision Loss Resources. Alperin loves to share her talent in helping and teaching others. It’s there that she makes the “sculpey clay buttons…you just roll and mold it, poke holes in it, and then bake it,” she says.

“We do lots of projects at Vision Loss Resources,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place. They even have adaptive quilting and make soaps with scents mixed in.”

Alperin enjoys interacting with others and has shown many people how to knit, crochet, and work with different crafts. She’s inspired by motivating others in being creative, especially other people who are blind. She wants them to know there are not as many limitations as they think there are. She also loves animals, reading, sewing, writing, plants, and enjoys music. But, she has a genuine helping spirit. She really feels truly rewarded in challenging others to be creative and make their lives better.

Alperin was just about to enter seventh-grade when her sight issues started. She described it as a “slow shutter.”

“It was the beginning of the school year,” says Alperin. “I could still see light and vibrant colors, and the sun shining off of bright colors. The loss of vision would come on suddenly and could happen at any time. For a time, my eyes would open back up. It would take a couple days and still be blurry or seem cloudy.”

Just being in school, or anywhere, was hard. You have to go up and down stairs, or walk on ice in the winter, or deal with uneven pavement. The types of things most people just take for granted they’ll see ahead of time. When your sight is suddenly changed, it makes everything more difficult. Since it came without warning, it was also scary, and hard for the other kids to understand.

“In school, I was the one who was different. The kids were not unkind, just thoughtless. Once they found out, they were right there for me.”

Eventually, her sight left her completely, but she never let that stop her. She always kept a light in her spirit, and she never let it make her feel like she wasn’t good enough. When asked how she knew her sight wasn’t going to return that last time, she said she could just tell.

“It was like frosted glass. The depth was whiter. There was a difference in the depth of the fog,” said Alperin. “I was sewing, of all things, when it happened. I just knew the vision wasn’t going to come back that time. I sensed it.”

Alperin wasn’t able to graduate from Brooten High School because of her disability, but she still attends high school reunions with the class of 1965. Even though she had to move, and still ended up getting a teaching degree, Brooten High School will always be a part of her. She has lifelong friends from high school that have never forgotten her.

“I’m grateful for not being isolated in a school for the blind,” said Alperin. “But they did learn better coping skills. I wasn’t around any other blind kids, except for my brother. And blind women have more insecurities, especially in big schools.”

Alperin may have her own issues, but she happily helps her husband of 46 years, Stan, as his caregiver. She likes to joke that they met on a “blind date” all those years ago, and they support each other and have a friendship that only comes with many years of being together.

They also raised three children together, two daughters and a son, and have five grandchildren. She became a stay-at-home mom after she had children. She’s very devoted to her family. She also has her cat, Cinnamon, who she adores.


It’s true that your other senses are stronger when you lose your sight, but it’s still very difficult in a world that operates for people who can see.

“I do use sound a lot,” said Alperin. “The television, music, an open window, can help me navigate better.”

Moving from their house in Brooklyn Park to an assisted living building in Maple Grove in the last few months has had Alperin learning new surroundings.

“We had to make a choice for Stan. He has intense OCD, and other physical problems. Maple Grove is nice, and has more of a town feeling, but transportation is harder because we’re farther out. But, we get some housekeeping, and help with laundry and medications. I like that it’s very woodsy and lodge-like, but navigating in a new apartment with an angled kitchen has been hard. But, the love and community feeling here…the people are amazing. We help each other.”

She’s glad to help Stan, but when she gets overtired, it’s harder. To try and rejuvenate when she needs it, she does take time off occasionally.

“I do go to a support group, and I try to take a long weekend every three months or so at a Christian retreat. It’s all blind people there or partially sighted people.”

Alperin has never let her loss of sight define her. She’s happy and is both confident and humble.

“I don’t have to impress people,” Alperin said. “I don’t need to make a big deal out in public. It isn’t that we go out to set an example. We choose other adaptations to be the person we are. To stay the person we are. The way I start every day is to think of three positive things. It gets my day going.”

Everyone has their obstacles and challenges in life, but Alperin has faced each challenge and kept a positive attitude throughout.

“You have to go through the fire sometimes to get to the glory,” said Alperin. “You’re a person first. When people lose their vision, they lose touch with themselves. They get so upset with their vision loss. They don’t realize what they can do.”

While most of us can see things unfolding before our eyes, Alperin has had to do it in the dark. The funny thing though is that in some ways, she actually sees things more clearly than those of us who can physically see.

“The one thing I want people to see is that life doesn’t stop when you have a disability,” said Alperin. “Everyone has strengths. There are so many people who are so awesome.”

  Carol with some of her projects. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Piccadilly Prairie Hosts Paris Flea Market in New Location

The Paris Flea Market at Piccadilly Prairie is a fantastic event. It really does bring the lights of Paris to gloomy, winter Minneapolis skies. This article came out in the Southwest Journal at the end of January, just in time for the flea market. I'm honored to be able to write and photograph about such a great place. It's so unique and so much fun.

 Photo by CY Hunter
Once a year at the end of January, Piccadilly Prairie brings the lights of Paris to the gray, winter skies of Minneapolis.

The store’s Paris Flea Market, in its fourth year in 2016, had over 1,000 people buy tickets online for opening night.

“Something really clicked, and it exploded,” said Lacey Brooker, the store’s owner.

Now the Paris Flea Market is an anticipated annual event that takes place the last weekend in January. The next Paris Flea Market is Jan. 27–29.

This year’s Paris Flea Market will be an even bigger event thanks to the store’s new location, which opened in November. The store relocated from the Fulton neighborhood to Southdale Center, just a couple miles away.

“We have the same rustic, boho vibe as we did in our previous location but with more space and better parking,” said Brooker. “And when you’re done shopping there’s always dinner and a movie.”
Piccadilly Prairie’s new space has little vignettes, with sections dedicated to kids, Minnesota and local artists, as well as other fun areas to discover.

“We have more artisan gifts, like apple jams and honey sticks,” Brooker said. “And we added more local artists that craft everything from pillows to candles.”

The vibe is cool, creative and modern mixed with history. Piccadilly Prairie’s commitment to authenticity is mixed in throughout the store in refurbished pieces that keep the original hardware, always maintaining the unique nature of each piece.

The same workmanship and history are also in the new store’s design. From the 100-year-old Minnehaha Avenue bricks in the front windows to hand-laid, repurposed wood designs on the walls throughout the store, Piccadilly Prairie has a warm and cozy atmosphere that’s truly unique.
The store is a fun place to shop all year round, but the Paris Flea Market is a special event. It mimics a European flea market with many pieces brought in from Europe.

“For the Paris Flea we source as much as we can from France,” Brooker said. “We have pickers that live abroad and some that travel back and forth. The rest of our selection during the Paris Flea is French-inspired.”

Brooker’s eye for unique, authentic pieces is evident everywhere in the store. Beautiful linens, clothing, furniture, hand-poured candles and jewelry hang everywhere, mixed in with other great treasures. It makes the store’s Parisian atmosphere shine like Paris itself.

On opening night last January, people were lined up outside in the cold, waiting for the doors to open. They walked in to great finds, fun conversation and wine to enjoy while shopping (it is French, after all).

The always-warm atmosphere of Piccadilly Prairie is particularly radiant with the Paris Flea Market. The little store that started near the corner of 50th & Xerxes transforms itself into a magical Paris shop each January. They even greet everyone with a friendly “Bonjour” upon arrival.

Piccadilly Prairie stylishly displays pieces as you would actually use them in your own home. Linens and beautiful dishware are displayed on a gorgeous shabby-chic table in the corner, drawings and photos are hanging high up on the walls and tapestries, clothing and chairs are set up in a way to help you visualize them in your own space.

“Along with the French country pieces, which are mainly shabby-chic whites, we added Victorian pieces last year. And many of the French pieces are handmade,” Brooker said.

Brooker is also never lacking a fun sense of humor. A French porcelain pig holds a small chalkboard with “Oui, oui, oui” written on it, making you think of the classic fairy tale with a French flair. It’s the stories and the subtle, whimsical touches that make the Paris Flea Market a truly extraordinary event.

 A display at Piccadilly Prairie's Paris Flea Market event. Photo by Caryl Yvonne Hunter
A display at Piccadilly Prairie's Paris Flea Market. Photo by CY Hunter

January is always pretty cold in Minnesota, and it can make winter a little too gloomy for a little too long. But the warmth and beauty of the Paris Flea Market definitely brings a bright spot amid the dreary winter.
Minneapolis may be a long way from Paris, but thanks to Piccadilly Prairie, it seems like it’s right around the corner.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sharing Art in Unique Ways

This was published in Sr. Perspectives on January 1st. I love this artist. She has a wonderful shop on 46th and Grand in South Minneapolis that is full of unique pieces from local artists, as well as her own artwork which is really fun and colorful. She also has a lot of pieces she has done for Prince that are really a great tribute to him and his music.

Minneapolis artist spreads joy through her murals.

There are a few murals around Minneapolis, but Tammy Ortegon’s paintings have a personality to them that makes them quite inviting and unique. When you first meet the artist, you just know she was one of those passionate kids who could always paint. Her creative spirit shines through in everything she does. 

Besides owning a shop in South Minneapolis, Ortegon is known for the murals she has painted around the Twin Cities. “I love public art. It’s accessible to everyone,” she said. “I love driving by and seeing art – it isn’t expected.”

One of the things Ortegon is most proud of is that the murals were actually group projects completed with the kids in the community. The first mural she was commissioned to do is on the corner of Cedar Avenue and 34th Street in Minneapolis, on the side of the Corcoran Neighborhood Center. Ortegon taught six weeks of classes to the kids prior to working on the mural with them. The collaboration with the kids made it special – and the mural reflects what’s important to the kids in their community. Favorite things from their area, along with the kids themselves, are incorporated into the mural, giving it a personalized connection to the families who live there. The mural in the Corcoran neighborhood has a particularly sweet meaning for Ortegon. “In that neighborhood, the kids have more obstacles, and they have to be stronger to resist temptations,” said Ortegon. “We talked about those struggles and being true to yourself. The kids would always hang out in the park. It’s a resource for them.”

When Ortegon painted the mural on Peter Pan Cleaners on the corner of Grand Avenue and 38th Street, she noticed a contrast in the two neighborhoods. “The kids had more comforts and support in the Grand area,” Ortegon said. The enthusiasm was the same, however, and the final product was just as beautiful. It’s obvious it isn’t about the money for the artist – there is little money in doing these works of art, and it’s very time-consuming. On top of working a full-time job, and taking care of her own family, it truly is about working with the kids for Ortegon, and leaving a lasting impression in the neighborhood.

One of the unique murals from artist, Tammy Ortegon. Photo by Caryl Hunter
 Mural on Peter Pan Cleaners

Working on murals includes a lot of painting high up on ladders, and being able to paint to a scale most of us wouldn’t have any idea how to do. In the end, beautiful art covers a once plain wall with a rich and bright heritage. “I always want to do art that affects the local community. We are all connected. When you live as an artist – and I live art – everything we do makes a difference. My art should uplift everyone,” said Ortegon.

Ortegon’s murals not only beautify buildings and leave art for people to see publicly, they tell a tale of the neighborhood where they were created: the kids and their smiles, their input, and the places and activities they enjoy. In this, Ortegon’s murals are truly special. It not only engages the youth of the area, it adds color and art to the neighborhood.

In the Twin Cities, a lot of people know Ortegon’s artwork by her colorful paints and signature faces. Different cultures and places, as well as the influence of her own city, inspires her art, and makes it rich and interesting. As with many artists, it took a long time for Ortegon to be confident in her work. Artists usually don’t earn the title of “artist” until they are successful on society’s terms.“Until you make money, you’re not an artist,” she said. “It took me years to know I was an artist and like my art.”

She attributes a lot of what she does to her mother and her grandmother. “They didn’t have the privilege to be an artist. My grandma would put her drawings in a box under her bed,” said Ortegon. “I have privilege now because of the women who went before me. Women just did things to help their family then – or their art was considered to be ‘crafts.’”

“The most important part of the murals was working with the community,” said Ortegon. “It stays there when I’m gone.” And in that, it’s indeed very public art, whether you’re driving by or you live in the area. The murals are left to be enjoyed by each generation in remembrance of the artist…and the kids who inspired her. When all’s said and done, the buildings are beautifully covered with a story that can be read for years.

Tammy Ortegon is an artist from Minneapolis who is known for the murals she has painted throughout the Twin Cities area. Photo by Caryl Hunter
Tammy Ortegon