Monday, December 31, 2012

New year, new word


And so it begins.

Tomorrow is a new year, full of new possibilities and new opportunities. A time for starting over, for making new promises, for doing things better; for making changes.

For the past several years, I've been picking a word at the end of the previous year that resonates with me; a word that I hope to keep in my mind throughout the coming year.

It's a good intention, but I can't say that I've really succeeded all that well yet. I tend to lose my focus and fall away from my inspirational word as the days go on. I blush to say that I don't even remember  what last year's word was; I can't tell you if I managed to use it or not. I hope I did; I'm sure it was a good one.

But hope springs eternal, and perhaps I will do better with this year's word. As you can see, it's joy. It came to me suddenly; I hadn't even starting thinking about what my word would be when it arrived. I'm hoping that's a good portent. I would like to have more joy in my life; it's one of those resolutions that is hard to argue against.

Unlike resolving to lose weight and exercise, resolving to be joyful is, well, a joyous thing. I'm aware that I will, no doubt, find more joy in my life if I continue to be healthy, so eating right and exercising aren't going off the table. Neither is work or play; both of those bring joy into my life. I'd like to add more music; it's one of those things that both scares and delights me. I'd like to lose some of my fears and enjoy it more.

So that's about it for now; with luck, I will remember to add joy to my life this year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Contests

I"m working on another contest piece; this time it's one for Good Quill Hunting's Birds of a Feather contest. See the feathers in this sneak peek? That's the requirement for this contest; every entry must have at least a few feathers in it.

My feathers came from our parakeet who has been graciously bestowing them on us all summer; it's his first molt, and I think he's enjoying it. I like to say that I've collected enough feathers to make a whole new bird; but, instead, I'm using them to make a contest entry.

Why do I enter contests?

It's a good question. I have lots of friends on both sides of this issue, and it's one that many people have very strong feelings about. For some, contests are a very negative experience; there are those who believe that they stifle creativity and are in direct opposition to what art is all about. Others say that competition stimulates creativity, and raises artists to the next level. Some hold that losing a competition is devastating; I've heard it described as a loss that is not unlike a death. Others say that artists must develop a thick skin, and competition is a good way to learn how to deal with rejection.

It's simpler than that for me; I like contests because they give me permission to make whatever I want to make; they give me a reason to get wild and crazy and make something that I will never, ever be able to write up as a pattern. Contests bring out the daredevil in me; while I'm working on a contest entry, I'm not thinking about using supplies that can be found all over the world, I'm not thinking about how to draw an illustration of what I've just done, and I'm not thinking about how I will explain it.

I'm just beading. I'm breaking all the rules I know, and inventing new ones. And then I break them, too. I make something fun; something that speaks just to me. It's not about winning; winning is an extra, and not the reason I enter contests at all. It's about flying. Flying without a net. Beading on the edge. Giving myself permission to not remember what I did; giving myself permission to play.

It's me time.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

gratitude is an attitude

Harriman State Park, Photo by Cynthia Newcomer Daniel

For those who might not know, we make our living as property managers; art and music are what we love, but neither of them pays the bills. Nine days out of ten, the property management gig is an easy one, but when it's hard, it's very, very hard. The past couple of weeks have been full of very hard days; we had to evict someone, and they left the property in very bad shape.

Cleaning, painting and general repairs are to be expected; three months worth of uncollected garbage and never a spill wiped up, wasn't. Nevertheless, that's what they left us with; it's our job, and we've been doing it. It's just dirt, and, with a lot of scrubbing, we're getting it clean again.

But not without aches and pains. I've been working out for over a year, and I thought I was in pretty good shape; scrubbing walls, appliances, and floors for hours on end every day has shown me that there are muscles I wasn't using. I'm actually too sore to bead today; my hands won't hold the needle without complaining bitterly.

I wanted to have a tantrum; really and truly, I did. I wanted to lie down on the floor, pound my fists on the carpet and start kicking and screaming; but I'm too sore to do that, so I just moaned a bit and felt very sorry for myself. And then, I got to thinking.

This is a very temporary condition; it's one day out of ten in my life. The other nine, I'm strong and healthy and I don't have major aches and pains. This is the day that pays for what I love; this is the day that allows me to be an artist the other nine. For this one day, I can work in spite of the aches and pains. For this one day, I can let go of my complaints; I can be grateful that days like these buy me the time to create and do what I love.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

ch-ch-ch-changes . . . .

I'm rearranging my studio, and changing the way I've taken my photographs for many years. I've been using an improvised set-up for a long time now; I built a very small light tent out of an old pop-up clothes hamper and some worn sheets, and I've used a combination of sunlight from the breakfast table window, my Ott light, daylight bulbs in the ceiling fixtures, and a halogen shop lamp. I have to set it all up when I want to take pictures, and I have to break it all down before we can eat our next meal.

In this photo, you are looking at the future home of my dedicated photography station; I am officially taking the plunge. Last night, I ordered lights and a new tent; a new, larger, non-improvised tent, and a set of four very bright, daylight lights, that move around on a frame that goes up the sides and over the top of the tent, so that I can adjust them to get the exact lighting effects I want.

I also ordered two gradient backdrops, and this morning I picked up a nice table to bring it all up to a comfortable height. I briefly considered putting it all on the floor and taking pictures lying down, but then I thought not. If I'm going to increase my level of professionalism, I can't do it  while crawling around my belly. Of course, only the table and my camera are here right now; I had to mail order the rest of it. I am hoping that it will all arrive sometime next week.

I'e always started my photo shoots by taking a dozen (or more!) trial shots with my best guesses as to what today's light temperature and exposure might be; then I compare the results, choose the best ones, and shoot quickly, hoping that I can finish before the light changes. I haven't succeeded in that yet; light changes very quickly when one side is coming through an east window. It also makes it challenging to get a balanced photograph; no matter what I do, my photos are never evenly lit.

Once I've chosen the photos I like, I Photoshop like crazy to fix the color temperature and the exposure, as it has invariably changed while I was shooting. My new station is away form the window; and with all daylight bulbs and no direct light form the window, I should be able to set the light temperature and exposure and have them stay consistent for the entire shoot. Actually, I'm even hoping they'll stay consistent from one day to the next. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

I know, I know - I'm picky about my photos. But I'm not the only one who wants me to take better photos; lately, it seems, no one wants a Photoshopped photo. I'm better at Photoshop than I am at photography, and that needs to change. I need photos that come out of the camera with true colors, bright whites, proper exposure and sharp focus. And I want those dandy grey graduated backgrounds, without resorting to Photoshop, too.

Just as soon as the rest of the pieces have been delivered and are in place, I'm going to start changing. This is just the first step, but it's a big one for me!

Monday, August 20, 2012

With a little help

The bracelet is nice, but the pendant - even though it's not finished - is going to be better, and I have my friends to thank for that.

As I was working on the bracelet, I remembered Marcia turning one of my bracelets around, masking off part of it with her hand, and impishly saying, "pendant."

She was right, and I'd never thought of doing that. Now I do; and while I was making the bracelet, I was constantly turning it and looking for the pendant.

I found it.

And once I found it, I started thinking of other friends. I imagined Peter telling me to add a Navrette, and I told him to sod off, as I remember how how many needles he broke beading around them, and I'm not going there. I compromised on a rivoli, and promised to hang it from a St. Petersburg chain.

Nancy has seen the bracelet in all stages, and has been my sounding board and best friend every inch of the way for well over a year now.  It doesn't matter that we live on opposite sides of the country and may never meet in person; she knows me through and through and loves me anyway. The pendant has dark green in her honor; and pink because I'm a stinker.

Linda is always a voice in my mind - reminding me to keep playing with beads, to push past my fears, to take risks and be authentic. And I love her because she's a stinker sometimes, too.

Cath has the best profile picture ever; her positive outlook and daily messages of hope and joy make me glad to be alive. She's a rainbow of beads even on the cloudiest of days.

And Steve and Bonnie? They bring the music. What would life be without music?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The traveling bracelet has a fun day out

The traveling bracelet and I had a lovely day out today.  First, we met up with Marcia DeCoster, her husband, and her adorable dog, Maya, for lunch at Giovanni's in Morro Bay. Of course, Marcia got to try on Memories of Istanbul; doesn't it look great on her?

I was a bad, bad, girl at lunch; I had my favorite fried oysters and garlic fries. Marcia was much more restrained and had grilled fish; I really should have followed her example, but I could not resist. I will eat lightly tonight - and the rest of the week - I promise!

I got to see Marcia's project for Beading by the Bay, and it is even more gorgeous in person than in the photographs. The clasp is so clever; I've never seen anything like it before. I am going to be waiting by the computer, my finger on the mouse when it's time to sign up; I do not want to miss it this year!

After lunch, Dan and I drove up the coast to Cambria and took a walk around town; there was a small crafts fair in the center of town today, and we enjoyed looking at all the booths.

After the fair, we decided to stop into some of the shops: here's a picture of the traveling bracelet watching artist Patricia Griffin work on her pottery.

Her studio gallery is in a converted one hundred year old one-room schoolhouse in the heart of Cambria; the bracelet and I enjoyed watching her work and looking at the beautiful, detailed pieces of pottery that she has for sale.

I was sorely tempted by several pieces, but since I'm saving my pennies for Beading by the Bay, I decided not to make a purchase today.

Dan took this picture of me on the way home; we live "over the hill" from the beach communities, and I love this view from the road we take to go back home. You can see a little bit of the ocean behind me, the blue, blue sky, and the brown California hillsides.

The traveling bracelet enjoyed the spectacular view, too; it is my wish that it brings California sunshine and wide-open views to everyone who wears it after me.


Memories of Istanbul was made by Sig Wynne-Evans, and imbued with positive thoughts and good, healing wishes. You can learn more about the project, and see the adventures that this bracelet has had, on her blog:  The Amazing Traveling Bracelets of Positive Energy and Good Karma.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sometimes dreams are not subtle

I had a dream the other night that was so direct and startling; it didn't leave much to interpretation, so I figure it's a message I need to consider.

In my dream, our whole family was outside King's Cross station in London. There was a very large pile of bundles on the ground in front of us, all done up neatly in string market bags.

The kids ran off without picking up any of them, disappeared into the darkness of the station, and were gone. My husband picked up a reasonable amount of them, and walked briskly into the station.

I was left, struggling to pick up the rest of the bags, knowing that there were far too many for me to carry, but determined to carry them anyway. I draped them over my shoulders, slung them around my neck, tied them to my belt, and wore them cascading down my back. I covered myself completely with those bags.

Before I could pick them all up, my husband returned, and he picked up another reasonable load. We headed off into the station together, leaving no bags on the ground. Before we got to our train, a horn sounded three times, and he turned to me and said, "The train will be leaving in a few minutes, we need to run." He set off at a brisk jog, then slipped down an incline and almost fell. He dropped his bags and continued jogging towards the train.

I tried to run, but could only stagger. I tried to pick up the bags he'd dropped, knowing that what I should be doing was dropping my own bags and running for the train. I wanted to drop them, but suddenly realized that although I'd been fully clothed when I picked them up, now I was naked under them. These bags I was carrying were the only things covering me.

I woke up, knowing that if I don't manage to drop the excess burdens I'm carrying, I won't make it onto the next stage of my life's journey. How's that for a wake-up call?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Traveling bracelet takes a detour

My son popped into my studio for a chat this morning, and picked up the traveling bracelet. I dared him to put it on and let me take a photo; and being a good-natured sort of guy, he said sure. I think it looks great on him - and the color of his shirt co-ordinates with it beautifully.

He said that it gave him a very peaceful feeling, and he certainly looks like he's contemplating something in this photo!

So far, the bracelet hasn't made it out of my studio, but that will change. We've got the rest of the week for more adventures.

Memories of Istanbul was made by Sig Wynne-Evans, and imbued with positive thoughts and good, healing wishes. You can learn more about the project, and see the adventures that this bracelet has had, on her blog:  The Amazing Traveling Bracelets of Positive Energy and Good Karma.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The amazing traveling bracelets of positive energy and good karma

A few days ago, a Facebook friend asked me if I would like to be part of The Amazing Traveling Bracelets of Positive Energy and Good Karma Project, and, of course, I said, "YES!"

In a beader's cross between Flat Stanley and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, each of the bracelets was made by Sig Wynne-Evans, and imbued with positive thoughts and good, healing wishes. You can learn more about the project, and see the adventures that the bracelets have had, on her blog:  The Amazing Traveling Bracelets of Positive Energy and Good Karma.

Memories of Istanbul landed in my mailbox this morning, and (of course!) the first place I had to take her was into my studio. I think her good energy arrived even before I saw her; this morning, a task I had been dreading turned out to be a lot easier than I had any right to expect. It's still an unpleasant task, and one which will absorb a lot of my time over the next week or two, but it could have been a whole lot worse. I'm thanking good karma and positive energy on this one!

So, over the next week, I will take this bracelet on pleasant adventures. I will wear her with a happy heart and a smile. And I will take the good karma and positive energy she has collected with me, even when my adventures are not so pleasant. I'm so glad I was asked to be a part of this project!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

where do we go from here?

The universe has been sending challenges our way this month; that's my view of it, anyway. I like to see things that way; it keeps me feeling as if there is something I can do. Doing something is very important to me; I like to act. I don't like it when I think that there's nothing I can do in a given situation. Doing something makes me feel that I can change the things I don't like. And so I act. I try to fix things.

But maybe the universe isn't just sending a message to those in danger; maybe it's sending a message to me, too. Maybe there isn't anything I can do; maybe I can't make things change, and maybe I can't make change a requirement of my happiness and peace of mind.

That's my lesson, and it's a hard one. It's one I don't want to learn; it's one I don't even want to consider learning. But I can't go around saying that the universe is telling us stuff and not listen to what it is telling me.

Even though it is true that someone I love is in danger unless changes are made, I can't make those changes happen. That's not a new revelation; the danger has been present for years, and my inability to change things has been shown to me over and over again. But it escalated this month; and I desperately want to be able to make those changes happen. The danger is so real, so present, and so visible to me; I can't believe that there is any other way of looking at it.

And that's when my reality clock started ticking . . . I've been on the other side of righteousness.

Nearly a year ago, a friend of mine needed me to change. She very clearly stated her terms, and I couldn't (wouldn't) make the changes she wanted me to make. These changes were very important to her; she did not want to remain friends with me unless I made them. I accepted her decision, and we parted ways. I don't regret not making those changes; she was asking me to be someone I didn't want to be. I thought her conditions were unfair, and I was hurt and angry that she didn't want me in her life unless I would be the person she wanted me to be. Why couldn't she just accept me the way I am? What's so terrible about me the way I am? Why should I have to be what she wanted me to be in order to be friends?

And now I must ask those questions of myself.

There aren't any guarantees, are there? While a dangerous lifestyle certainly increases the risk of getting hurt - or dead - pain, death, and disaster can also be random events, impacting even the most careful of us. No matter how well we arrange our world - no matter how much we do - things happen. I can't keep the people I love safe, I can't make them change, even when the changes I want are probably good ones. And I can't not love them, even when I don't like the choices they are making.

Open arms. Today, I will live with open arms.




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Waiting for the cows to come home

Our town has a rich agricultural heritage; farming and ranching are big here, and have been since the town's beginnings.

We're surrounded by cattle ranches; cattle graze on the hillsides year-round, and once a year, a few of them get to come into town for a symbolic cattle drive from the highway to the fairgrounds. We live along their route; it's a short walk down the street, and how could I be this close and not go take a look?

The cattle drive was scheduled to start at 10:00 am, so I set out a few minutes early to make sure I wouldn't miss it. It's not a very big cattle drive, I knew it would go by quickly; it's symbolic, remember?

There were lots of people walking down the street; most of them had kids with them. Thre were a few school-age kids, but mostly, they were toddlers. My kids are fully grown now, so I was kidless; at moments like these, I can't help thinking that I need grandkids. Not to rush my own kids, I had fun chatting with other peoples' kids, but it would have been fun to have a cute little grand baby or two in tow.

The cows were late; around 11:30 they finally came into view. Bored, whiny kids who were missing their naps suddenly snapped to attention: Cows! Horses! Cowboys! Cowgirls! 

It was big excitement for about 10 minutes, and then it was over. But it was worth it. I had a great time, and the looks on the kid's faces were priceless. 

I figure a new generation of cowboys and cowgirls were created this morning; I fully expect to see some of the toddlers in attendance driving cattle in 15-20 years.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Iron Irises

A couple of years ago, my sister gave me a box containing a couple of dozen iris corms from her garden. We were still working on our garden and I didn't know where I really wanted them to go, so I planted them in a corner that wasn't yet occupied and forgot about them.

They thrived, and outgrew their corner.

I was advised to divide them; just dig up the clumps, cut off the "daughter plants" from the "mother plants" (what a thing to tell a mom who is this close to having an empty nest) and plant the daughters in their new location.

Sadly, the mother plants were to be thrown away; my iris mentor said I should toss them in the compost heap and congratulate them on job well done. I wasn't totally comfortable with that idea, but I promised to follow her instructions and be a good iris grower.

Little did I know how promiscuous those iris mothers had been. Or how ruthlessly I would deal with them after carefully digging up and dividing the first few clumps.

Each and every one of those original irises had managed to produce a bumper crop of daughters; 15-25 each would be my conservative estimate. After carefully separating and trimming the first 25 daughters from their mothers, I realized (with a certain amount of horror) that I was now looking at a pile about the size of that original box of iris corms. If I were to continue dividing and planting, I would have enough irises to plant our entire yard, which is already pretty well planted, thank you very much. I had prepared two small sections of the hill for these irises; sure, there's more hill that I could prepare, but I was beginning to see myself in a bizarre version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice if I didn't do something drastic.

And then I thought of the ditch.

We have a good-sized ditch running across the back of our yard; last spring, I cleared the weeds from it, but we hadn't planted anything there, because there really isn't any way to irrigate it, and California gardens thrive on irrigation.

My iris mentor had told me that there was a chance that irises could survive without irrigation in my yard; this year, we will find out. I stopped dividing and begun digging up great clumps, which I wheel-barrowed over to the ditch and planted, more or less. Let's just draw a curtain over that scene and say that they were not coddled.

So, I say, "Let the Iron Iris Contest Begin!"

If these don't survive, I have no doubt that there will be many new contenders in a couple of years.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week Six


My sixth week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few thoughts and musings from the sixth week:

I've finished my piece. It's been photographed and emailed; now I'm just hunkering down, waiting for the big reveal and the jousting to begin.

I was surprised when I realized it was done; until the very last minute, I didn't know how it would turn out. I ran with my gut on this one; I did what felt right. I'm happy with it; it was an emotional piece for me and it brought up a lot of strong feelings. When I started it, I wanted it to be a healing piece, and it was.  The stones I used were purchased in a time of loss, with the hope of healing. They sat in a drawer for a long time; I know now that I wasn't quite ready to heal.

There was more loss while I worked on this piece, and with it, came healing. I let go of some things that had been keeping me from healing; I found peace in spite of sadness. This piece embodies my strength, my stubbornness, my joy, my sorrow. It has all of my fight in it. No matter what happens in the battle to come, it's the best I have to offer.

It's not what I expected to bead. It's not a showpiece; it's my heart. I didn't know I could do that.



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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beading Babes: Nefertiti Goes Bollywood


I've joined a really fun group of beaders called The Beading Babes, and here is the result of my first project with them. It's a variation of a pattern that was published in the June issue of Bead & Button by the fabulously talented Helena Tang-Lim. Her original necklace is titled Echoes of Nefertiti; I'm calling my set Nefertiti Goes Bollywood.

Lucky for me, the Beading Babes and Helena Tang-Lim have been very understanding of my near inability to follow directions. You'd think a pattern designer would have more respect for other people's designs, wouldn't you? You'd think I'd appreciate the hours and hours that someone put into designing a piece and writing up the directions; you'd think I'd follow those painstakingly drawn diagrams right down to the last bead.

But you'd be wrong.

When I see a design that I love, it always sends my thoughts off in a dozen different directions. I immediately start with the "what-ifs;" I want to turn necklaces into bracelets and earrings, and earrings into chokers. I want to take bits of the design and rearrange them; add new bits, and swap out beads. A good design fires up my creative juices and inspires me to play with it; the best designs take me places I never would have gone on my own.

It's like taking a vacation for me. With other people's patterns, I get the chance to go to new places and see new things and get all excited about my own craft again; and, just like when I'm on vacation, I can't resist slipping away from the group and wandering down that enticing little alley. I love to get lost in new places; this time, with Nefertiti as my guide, I found an alley in Egypt that took me to India.

Thank you, Beading Babes and Helena Tang-Lim!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thank my lucky stars

This morning, while I was picking berries, I had a little chat with a young man who was very upset about an unfair situation. As described, the situation was unfair; but I have to admit, I wasn't very sympathetic. I told him that he would be happier if he stopped worrying about things being fair, and just got on with it. He wasn't very happy with my advice, and left rather quickly.

Then, as I always do, I turned my own advice on myself. I've been stewing over an unfair situation myself, lately. I won't go into details, but suffice to say that there is something I want that I can't have right now; and, to make it worse, the people who have it don't appreciate it. That has made me unhappy; I would take care of it much better than they do, and it seems unfair that they have it and I don't.

Of course, there's more to the story than that, but you get the idea.

As I picked, I had a good long time to ponder fairness. Of course, there are two sides to it; sometimes when things are not fair, we lose out - but, other times, we get things unfairly, and someone else loses out. Yet, when we're on the winning side, we don't ever call out, "Unfair!" Nope, we just accept the goodies that come our way and feel lucky. And if they keep coming, sometimes we forget to feel lucky and start feeling entitled.

And then, we feel that it is unfair if we lose the things that we got unfairly in the first place.

So today I'm thanking my lucky stars for the good things that have come my way, and I'm letting the bad things go. None of it is fair, but I've resolved not to just look at the unfair things that hurt me; there are plenty of good things in my life that I don't deserve.

I think I'll do better if I focus on those.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week Five


My fifth week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few thoughts and musings from the fifth week:

Five weeks work done already? How can that be? Only three more weeks to go? It doesn't seem possible. I'm making good time; I still have to finish embellishing it, make a final decision on the clasp and bead it; but, other than marveling at how quickly the time has passed, I'm feeling pretty good about my progress.

I met my goal from last week; I've added more color, and more darker beads. It's not as light as it was a week ago, but it still has a lightness about it. It's very densely woven; not entirely solid, but definitely not airy. It's the sort of piece that settles onto me. 

I have had so many second thoughts and panics about it; it's not a typical "contest" piece, and that's a bit scary for me. For all it's weight, it's not what I would call a big piece, and there's no bling. Not a crystal or rivoli or chaton; the closest thing to bling are accents of gold. There had to be gold beads in it; this has been my year of using gold, and I couldn't leave gold out of this one.

It's earthy. And, even though it doesn't use traditional beading, I was heavily influenced by Sioux beading - and, of course, by everything that is Sedona. This piece is a tribute to my circle of friends; to the peace and joy that you bring to my life every day, in person, and over the Internet. It's one of the most grounded pieces I've ever made; it has a calm presence, which is something I need in my life right now.

Beading is a touchstone for me; I can use it to create whatever I need. Right now I need to plant my feet firmly on the earth and know that despite everything, I am still standing strong. Another time I will fly; another time, I will soar. This piece belongs to the earth, and so do I.


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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week Four


My fourth week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few thoughts and musings from the fourth week:

Beading was my refuge this past week; I needed to lose myself in the weaving, and I did. It's turning out to be a methodical, symmetrical piece; it's in exact opposition to the way my week went. I got a lot more done than I had any right to expect; the more things fell apart around me, the steadier my beadwork became. As it stands right now, it's probably the most even, symmetrical piece I've ever made.

It needs more work, of course; right now, there are too many light beads and not enough dark ones to balance the design. But I really wanted to work with light beads; I needed them this week. I ended up using them in a very repetitive design that will probably become the background for some beadweaving with darker beads; at least that's my best guess as to what will happen to it next week.

As of right now, I've reached a set-it-down-and-think-about-it point. I'm done with the light beads, I think; no guarantees, of course, but that's my feeling right now. Perhaps I will put them back in their tubes tonight and let the darker colors out. I'm feeling the need to wake up to a fresh bead board on Monday morning.

It's time to put this week behind me.



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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Berries for nothing and your kicks for free


As you probably already know, we grow a lot of food in our backyard. I'm often told how lucky I am to have so much good fresh fruit and vegetables for free, and I have to agree with the first part of that statement. 

I'm very, very lucky to live in a town where we can afford to have such a large yard; lucky to live in a place where the sun shines almost non-stop and things grow so well; lucky to have fresh, organic fruit and vegetables on my table.

But it isn't free. Not even close! 

It's not a large monetary investment; even the trees weren't really that expensive. Seed packets are cheap, and whenever I can, I save seed and plant them the next year. Berries love to reproduce; our initial investment in twelve strawberry plants has multiplied exponentially. And the blackberries come up all over the place; I've gotten to the point where I have to pull up the volunteers and toss them on the compost heap. I just don't have any more room for more plants.

It's an investment in time; I spend hours picking and processing every day. And it takes a lot of energy, too; gardening is hot, and occasionally heavy, work. And sometimes, like today, it requires a big investment in adrenaline.

There have been a lot more rattlesnakes in these parts than usual; not in my neighborhood, thank goodness, but out in the hills that surround our town. My sister, who lives in the hills, has seen quite a few, and two of her dogs have been bit by rattlers. Luckily, both survived; but it's made her - and all of us - a lot more wary when we're out in the garden. 

Rattlesnakes don't always follow the rules; they don't always stay where they belong.

My sister has reluctantly decided not to pick most of her blackberries; she's only picking the ones on the outside, and she's wearing boots and chaps while she's doing it. I'm keeping my eyes open while I pick, but, since there haven't been any snakes sighted in our area, I'm picking without leathers. It's hot out there.

Well, today, I had a scare. Usually, when I hear a rustling in the berries, it's a small lizard. I like lizards, and I say hello to them as they scurry off. But today, just as I was reaching for a nice plump berry, I heard a strange whirring sound and felt something strike my hand. After tasting that jolt of adrenaline, I remembered that rattlesnakes rattle, they don't whir, and rattlesnake bites hurt. I wasn't hurt, there wasn't a mark on me, so it must have been something else. All that in the space of a second or two. And then I saw a very large grasshopper fly out of the berries. 

I've got a big bowl of blackberries for my breakfast tomorrow, but it wasn't free. Nope, not free at all.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week Three


My third week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few of my thoughts and musings from the third week:

This next week will see the half-way point come and go; time flies. Of course, there is nothing quite as cliche as that particular statement, but the older I get, the faster it flies.

This week has left me thinking about time, and about the threads that join us. Early in the week, I finished the components that will make up this piece - the friends, if you will - and I began to weave them together into a tightly-knit circle. As I was doing that, the news came that one of my friends will be leaving the circle sooner than expected; his cancer has returned aggressively, and there is nothing more that can be done.

There is no way to hold him here physically, but the work he has done, and the friends he has made, will keep him alive in spirit for a good while longer. He has added so much beauty to the world; I am thankful that I had the chance to know him; and this week, I did what I could to reinforce the stitches of our friendship.

It's a precarious existence, a fragile balance. In beadweaving, as in life, threads break; they can unravel so quickly, and beads will suddenly begin to fall off. Sometimes, they are found again; sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are woven back more firmly and stay; sometimes the thread continues to break at the exact same point and the whole thing must be re-thought.

I've never worked this way before; I'm beading my life into this piece. 


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Monday, May 28, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week Two

My second week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few random thoughts and musings from the second week:

Okay, first off, I didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted to this week. I'd hoped to be done with all the components, and I'm not. I'm close, but not quite there. I have one more large one and at least two more small ones to make; maybe more, by the time the design is finalized; but for now, that's the count.

To keep things light, Steven Weiss, of the Beadsmith, has been busy making digital badges for the contestants; here's one that he made for me. I love the bright colors! One of these days, I have to use this color palette for a piece of beadwork; it just screams summer to me.

Back to the Battle: by the end of this week, I'd like to have all the components made, and a good start on putting them together. That's going to be the tricky bit; I've got several ideas on how to do that, but nothing firm yet. I suspect figuring that out will take up a few more rungs on the design disaster ladder. So maybe I ought to revise that goal: By next week, I'd like to have finished the components and figured out how I'm going to join them together. The amount of said joining doesn't have to be a lot - it just has to be known.

See you next week with a report on how I've done!


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wandering

I've always loved the concept of taking a walkabout; just pick up, head out, and find myself along the way. No itinerary, no plans, no rules. One foot in front of the other for as long as it takes; let the journey tell me what I need to know.

I like to wander.

Yesterday, we wandered up the coast; we took roads at random and saw what was on them. When we came to this pier, we got out of the car and walked it. I think it's the longest pier I've ever seen; I can't remember seeing a longer one. This picture was taken part-way down; I didn't think to take a photo at the beginning and I didn't like the photo I took on the way back. So, here we are, somewhere in the middle.

That's sort of a metaphor for life, anyway; none of us remember the beginning, we start remembering things somewhere along the way, and that's what is real to us. Just like this picture, we can't quite see the end, and we can't remember the beginning.

I took this photo near the end of the pier; not at the very end, however, because, just like the beginning, I forgot.

There were some people fishing at the end of the pier; they were catching kelp. Not on purpose, of course, but that's all that was biting.

Some days are like that. You cast for fish, but you hook kelp.

This day was clear, the sun was shining, and there was a stiff breeze that kept us cool as we walked. This spot was a great find; someday we will come back with our beach mats and bathing suits.

Or not.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Report from the Trenches: Week One

My first week of work on my "Battle of the Beadsmith" piece is over; and I'm going to to do my best to give you a report without giving away any top-secret information. I can't release any photos, or give you any specifics of the design until the battle has actually begun and my photos are turned loose to joust in their first round. But, until then, here are a few random thoughts and musings from the first week:

I've pulled out some stones that I bought on a trip to Sedona about a year and a half ago. These stones have a special meaning to me; that trip was taken at a time of coming to terms with loss, and the beautiful vistas and time spent hiking in the hills of Sedona helped me find new hope for the future at that point in my life. These stones sum up that trip to Sedona for me; I've been saving them for just the right project. This is it.

The first design disaster is already behind me; that's a good thing. Now there will be one less to worry about. I like the new direction I'm taking much better. I want this piece to be meaningful; I want to let go of the side of me that screams, "Bling! Spectacular! Big! Bigger!" because the theme of this contest is creating for the love of beads and beading. I want to make something that comes from my heart, not my head; something that says love, not ego. I want to make a piece that reminds me of my on-line friends every time I wear it.

The on-line beading community has been very important in my life; I've made friends whom I treasure. This contest is a celebration of those friendships, a celebration of the work we do, and I want to be mindful of that over the next few weeks. Can I create a piece that goes from loss, through healing, to joy? I don't know. But regardless of what it says to anyone else, that's what it will mean to me.

This week, I've focused on making the smallest elements of the design; the baby steps that will become the foundation of whatever I end up creating. It's not an exciting process; it can be rather tedious, as I'm not fond of repeating myself, and repeat myself I must. It's a necessary part of the process, however; both in life, and in beading. Bit by bit, I'm building the foundation for this piece, just as I have built the foundation for this new stage of my life.

Peace and joy be with you.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wine Festival: One winery at a time

Castoro Cellars
This weekend is our town's annual big wine festival; for one weekend a year, our town doubles in size. Every hotel room is booked, and every restaurant is packed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wine lovers descend like friendly locusts; we tend to avoid going downtown for the duration.

However, one of the advantages of living here is that we don't have to try to do everything in one weekend; we can build our own wine festival all year long, one winery at a time.

So, instead of joining 20,000 of our soon-to-be closest friends in the park for the grand tasting event this afternoon, we headed west and went to Castoro Cellars Vineyard to see what they were up to for Wine Festival Weekend. Many of the wineries have special festival events; we try to hit a few of them every year.

We discovered that Castoro had set up barrels for tasting in the courtyard; getting a sample direct from the barrel is a fun way to feel like a wine insider.Yeah, the wine is cloudy, and no, it's not exactly finished aging yet; but you can get a good idea of where it's going, and you know what to look forward to.

The Belmores
And, if you know about wine, you can comment knowledgeably with the vintner while you are tasting; I kept my mouth shut when I wasn't actually engaged in sipping.

While we enjoyed our wine samples, we were treated to music from the Belmores, a local band. Their music ranged from old standards to their own compositions; we sat in the shade of the old oak trees, sipping wine and enjoying the music.

Welcome to the Paso Robles Wine Festival, our way.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Books, books, books: Metal Madness

Books can be so tempting; they take me to another world, a world where I can learn anything, be anything, do anything. Pure fantasy? No, not really - not when the authors of these books give such wonderful directions and encouragement.

First up is Gordon K. Uyehara's Metal Clay Fusion. I've dabbled in Metal Clay, and I've watched Gordon soar with it for many years. I've always wanted to look over his shoulder and learn from him; now I can. This book truly is a master class in metal clay; there is enough here to keep me busy for years.

Gordon has an incredible sense of design, his attention to detail is amazing, and his craftsmanship is inspiring. What he does with metal clay is art - and, in this book, he generously shares his secrets.

The techniques and projects presented are not for beginners; but even the rankest beginner will want this book. After all, no one stays a beginner forever, and you'll want this book within reach the moment you're ready for it.

Color, Texture & Casting for Jewelers by Carles Codina contains more information than I will probably ever need; it's a metal working course in and of itself. But, even if I never do try all of the techniques presented here, I have to admit that learning about them is fascinating. I came away from this book with a much greater sense of how metal has been worked through the centuries.

The aesthetic in this book is modern, but the processes are often based on ancient techniques. Keum Boo, Granulation, Mokume Gane, stamping, and various methods of casting are all covered in enough detail for the reader to jump right in and begin working with them.

I'm planning to keep this one on my shelf just in case. You never know, right?

And last, but definitely not least, Mary Hettmansperger's Heat, Color, Set & Fire, Surface Effects for Metal Jewelry, is a book that everyone who works with metal will find useful.

Color and texture add interest to even simple projects; this is a book that can be used by beginning and intermediate metal workers to take their work to the next level. Even advanced metal workers may find a few new tricks here.

Mary uses unusual materials - like grout! - to achieve some of her most interesting results; the designs presented range from tribal to very modern.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fearless

Let me be brave and admit that I've never been fearless.

However, I'm good at brave. I'm brave nearly all of the time. You see, brave is going forward in the face of fear; brave is doing things even when you're terrified. Brave is living tense, squaring my shoulders, sticking out my jaw, and moving forward.

But brave isn't going to work this time. I want to sing. I want to sing as well as I possibly can, and that means being relaxed. It means letting go of my fears; it means being fearless while doing something that terrifies me.

I don't know how to do that.

I'm not just saying that; I really don't know what it feels like to be fearless. I've always lived in varying states of fear; I've always been brave to some extent or the other. It's not as grim as it sounds; it's the way I've always been, so I know how to deal with it. I'm actually reasonably comfortable with fear; I've grown very used to being brave, and being brave doesn't scare me.

Being fearless does frighten me, however.  It's not something I have any experience with, it's not something I know how to do. It's uncharted territory for me; it's a new experience. I'm afraid of trying it, but I will be brave and do my best to sing without fear.

I just wish that wasn't such a contradiction of terms.

Monday, May 14, 2012

And so it begins:


PRESS RELEASE 5/14/2012 Carteret, NJ USA 


THE BEADSMITH ANNOUNCES 1st ROUND PAIRINGS FOR “BATTLE OF THE BEADSMITH”


80 Artists, 21 Countries. A Celebration of Bead Artistry around the World




A brief ceremony at Beadsmith headquarters in Cartert, NJ took place Monday, the 14th of May, officially launching the inaugural “Battle Of The Beadsmith”. Steven Weiss, of the family Weiss, addressed the competitors in attendance with some emotional words of encouragement, (transcript seen below), before officially announcing the 40 1st round pairings.

“My fellow beaders. You have been charged with the monumental task of taking your designs to places never thought possible before. Your journey will strain the very limits of your beading abilities… (Pause)......Do not entertain failure! Do not allow uncertainty, and the fear of defeat, to extinguish the fires that burn within your creative souls….. (Pause)…. Though some of you will fall in battle, history will speak well of the 80…. The 80 who beaded steadfast and true…. The 80 that beaded on, when their needles snapped, and their threads frayed… (Pause)...The 80 that beaded until they could bead no more."



The 40 first round pairings for “The Battle Of The Beadsmith can be found by clicking on the link below:




Please contact Steven Weiss for more information: steven@beadsmith.com

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Meeting a good friend for the first time

Marcia De Coster on the right, and me on the left.
It's an odd fact of this modern world: we have good friends whom we've never met. Good friends with whom we share our work, our feelings, our joys and our fears.

I'm talking about Internet friends, of course.

I've been an online person for more than 20 years now; I started with CompuServe in the bad old days of "dial-up and get off quick 'cause this thing is costing us by the minute," and it amazes me to realize that I am now connected all day, every day, to friends all over the world. Some of my very best friends are people I've never met; these people know me as well, or better, than people who see me every day. I turn to them without reserve when I need help; we celebrate the good things that happen together, and we comfort each other in sorrow.

Without Facebook, Marcia DeCoster would have remained only a photo and a name on several cherished books on my shelf. Thanks to Facebook, she's a real live person; warm, loving and funny. I've gotten to know her through photographs and the written word; I've admired her work, enjoyed watching her granddaughter grow, and had my coffee while chatting asynchronously on various topics on our Facebook pages. Across the miles, we've both felt the joys and sadnesses that come and go in our beady worlds.

But, when it comes right down to it, nothing beats getting that hug. Or seeing Marcia's beautiful beadwork up close and in person. I can tell you that those earrings she is wearing are amazing - they sparkle and dance. Pure poetry in motion, they are. Pictures do not capture them; they need to be seen dancing from her earlobes.

And that's what is on my mind this morning. Motion. Everything moves so quickly now; I don't know if it's just because I'm getting older, or if the world really is moving faster. I certainly know that the online world moves very quickly; I miss far more than I see on Facebook. It's nice to slow down for a day; to meet a friend for the first time, to share our joys and sorrows with a look and a hug instead of a word and a photo.

I live a lot of my life in the virtual space of the Internet, and I'm grateful for it. I've worked from home for nearly 25 years, and I love popping into the "virtual water cooler" on my breaks. I've gotten to know people from every corner of the world, and my life is richer for it. But there is still something very special about being close enough to touch.

Nothing beats getting that hug. Nothing.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Garden Notes

It's spring in the garden, and I'd like to take you on a little tour.

The strawberries are starting to ripen; the first strawberries are always the most delicious, I think. I've been having them with my yogurt for breakfast; they are so sweet and juicy.

So far, I'm keeping up with them; I've been picking every day. I'm sure they will get ahead of me at some point, but right now, there isn't a lot else to harvest, and I can devote the time to searching under the leaves and finding each and every ripe morsel.

Or at least the ones that the blue jays don't find first!

The artichokes get ahead of me very fast; although I love them, they are great producers, and they're so much better fresh than frozen. I've learned to pig out on them in their season, and let my anticipation for them build when they're not in season.

I'm always happy when an artichoke lover comes to visit; today I sent some home with a visitor and we were both happy about it. I'm just hoping that there weren't any bugs hitchhiking along! That's one of the problems with organic gardening - bugs happen. I'm used to them now, but I do worry when I send stuff home with people. I probably overdo it with the bug warnings; it's not like they're covered with bugs, but my produce isn't pristine like their supermarket cousins.

It's still several weeks off, but the blackberry harvest looks very promising this year.

We planted an additional row last year, and they will be fruiting this summer; we're expecting about twice as much fruit as we harvested last year.

Last year, I froze a lot of berries, and we've enjoyed them all winter. This year, I want to make more juice, and perhaps some fruit leathers.

Based on what is already developing, I think there will be more than enough fruit for my experiments. Of course, I have to leave enough for Dan to make his famous blackberry pies and cobblers!

But there's even more, waiting around the corner:  In this bed, you can see cantaloupe at the bottom, then several rows of popcorn, onions, and the asparagus, whose harvest is already over, at the top of the photo.

Cantaloupe is another thing that I only eat in season now; fresh vine ripened cantaloupe is like nothing else. My mouth is watering at the thought of it; when it starts ripening, we will eat it every day.

We had so much fun making and eating our popcorn last winter; we're already looking forward to doing it again. In a few weeks, these little shoots will be over six feet high.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review: Making Wire & Bead Jewelry

Making Wire & Bead Jewelry
Artful Wirework Techniques
It's been a long time since I've done any wirework, but that may change very soon. This book is tempting my to get back to my bench, to take my wire and my pliers out of the drawer where they've been hiding, and start playing.

I've always loved Lark books, and when they asked for volunteers to review their books, I jumped on it. And when this book landed on my doorstep, I opened it immediately and didn't put it down until I'd had a good look at every project.

Janice Berkebile and Tracy Stanley have put together twenty-four projects, ranging from beginner to advanced, and each one is neatly explained and illustrated with clear, close-up photographs. Each of these projects uses techniques than can be adapted to other designs; my "what if" response has been working overtime!

Wire Pod
by Janice Berkebile
Some of the projects are very basic and didn't really interest me, but they would be excellent for beginning wire workers. Others, like the Wire Pod necklace by Janice Berkebile, pictured at right, are more complex. This is the one that's tempting me; I'm imagining it as the focal of a bead woven necklace. Can't you just see it with some leaves and flowers, and perhaps a bit of fringe?

See what I mean about inspiration?

And that's only one of the projects in this book. If you'd like to take a closer look at this book, visit the Lark Crafts site, where, coincidentally, you can also download a preview of the book and two free projects - one of which is the project that inspires me so much.

If you make it, I hope you'll share a picture of it with me on Facebook.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Releasing

It's a word with many connotations. Releasing a new song, or a movie, or a book is an exciting, happy culmination of many, many hours, days, weeks, months or even years of work; it is a happy celebration of a job that was done as well as it could be done; a letting go of a project that has consumed everyone who worked on it. There is the hope that others will like it; the need that they will buy it, and the fear that they won't.

Releasing a child into adulthood, or an injured animal that one has nursed back to health into the wild, is also a letting go; an expression of trust, of hope, of anticipation that the child or the animal will do well in its own life. One hopes that the child or animal won't disappear entirely; that it will come back to visit, to share its new life with you; but it's uncertain at the moment of releasing. You don't know what will happen next.

And then, there's death. Releasing a loved one into death is terrifying. It's such a final thing; there aren't any second chances. You don't get to come back and say, I don't like the way I handled that, I'd like to give it another go, please. It's a one shot deal.

I've realized recently that I've subscribed to a rather odd myth about death; I call it odd, because there is evidence all around me that it isn't true, yet it's very strong within me. Here it is: Death won't come if we still have things to do; Death waits for us to finish our unfinished business. It doesn't, of course; people don't always finish things up before they die, and I can't keep death away by not finishing things. My list of things to do, my stash of materials to do them with, my unfinished business, will all outlive me. But hard as that is to accept, it's harder still to accept that being busy, that having things I must do, will not keep those I love from dying.

I've just released a song that has been waiting around, unfinished, for quite some time now. It's not a big song, it's a silly little song, but it's special to me. It started as a challenge to myself. I had been in a rut, writing very sad songs, and I wanted to write something that wasn't quite so miserable. I hadn't a clue what to write about, so I asked my friends for ideas. Several were given, but my favorite came in the form of a blog post from my friend, Linda.

Linda has cancer. A particularly aggressive form that will take her life, sooner rather than later. And yet, I held onto that song, dithering about the music, not finishing it, as if that would keep her alive. As if holding onto that song and not releasing it was holding onto Linda and not releasing her. That won't work, of course. Not releasing the song only means that Linda won't hear it. It's not perfect; it's not even as good as I would like it to be. But it's out there.

Linda, I'm following your inspiration: I'm living in the moment, I'm living in this moment. I'm releasing this song.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Those things I used to do

It's been over a year since I started my healthy living campaign, and, by now, I really thought that the cravings would be gone. They're not. Even though sweet things don't taste the way I remember, I still want them.

I've been battling the urge to "go back to living normally" now that I am so close to meeting the goal that even I didn't really think was possible. I'm nearly at my best weight; not my lowest weight, not my "supermodel" weight, but the weight where I am healthy and look good; the number on the scale that I haven't seen since my mid-thirties.

Back then, and before, I was thin even though I ate very badly. I ate whatever I wanted to eat, and I ate lots of it. I had a killer metabolism fueled by youth, years of ballet classes, and a lifestyle that kept me on my feet most of the time.

I don't have those anymore; my lifestyle changed in my 30s and 40s. The years between 23 and 53 were a gradual slowing down for me; I became much less active, I put on 70 pounds (I needed 30 of them!), and I still ate like I was in my 20s most of the time. I didn't like what was happening to my body after the first 30 pounds; I tried every diet that came out, but nothing worked. The best I could do was stay even during the diet du jour; the longest I lasted was three months before giving up and going back to eating the way I wanted to eat. It was too frustrating to deprive myself and have no real results.

But then I got The Official News from my doctor: Lose the weight, get more active, or run the risk of developing diabetes and/or having a stroke. Suddenly, it wasn't just about fitting into a pretty dress for a party; it was about not being there for the party. I knew I didn't feel good; I knew I needed to do something drastic and permanent. Weight lifting and a diet based on fruit, vegetables and dried beans wasn't exactly my idea of fun, but I figured it was worth a try. If it didn't work, I could at least say I'd given it my best shot and go back to killing myself with cookies.

Well, it worked. Who knew?

And you'd think I'd be so happy with being healthy that I'd shun the evil sisters of sloth, sugars, and saturated fats; you'd think that I'd want nothing to do with them forevermore, and that I'd be doing 5K runs in my spare time, just for the fun of it. You'd be wrong, of course. Despite feeling better than I've felt in nearly 20 years, I am still drawn to curling up on the couch for an afternoon of cookies, hot chocolate, and a book. Even though I feel fabulous after my workout, I still have to force myself to get out there and get started. Sometimes I miss double creme cheeses so much that it hurts. I can't imagine giving them up forever.

And then I realized that I feel the same way about cheese that I felt about dancing when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Back then, I was taking a three-hour class five days a week, teaching dance the rest of the time, going out to dance all night long, and I couldn't imagine not dancing.

Remember those old discussions we used to have back in those days about which body part we could get along without, and which we couldn't? Most people picked eyes or ears as their most important, but for me, it was my legs. I just knew back then that if anything ever happened to me and I couldn't dance, I would just die. I really believed that I couldn't live without dancing.

So, what happened?

I got married; my subsistence pay as a dancer/instructor wasn't enough any more, and I got a "better" job. I didn't have the time for ballet lessons, and, since I wasn't dancing anymore, it went from a necessity to a luxury. For years, I still had a ballet barre at home, but gradually, gradually, it became a place to drape clothes. I don't know when I stopped using it; I don't even know when I got rid of it. All I know is that dance left my life, and other things filled it. I didn't die. Dancing became one of those things I used to do.

So now, I'm not going to eat cheese and cookies every day; that's become another thing that I used to do. I guess I'll live through that, too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Life's a Beach

We decided to take the afternoon off today; we hopped in the car and drove down to the beach.

We can do that here.

It's February, and it's 70° degrees out. It's the perfect afternoon for a walk on the beach. We walked along the boardwalk for awhile, but the lure of the waves is strong. We scrambled down the hill, climbed over some driftwood, and flirted with the tide. After awhile we found the stairs we were supposed to take; we just looked at each other and laughed. Climbing down the hill is more fun than taking the stairs.

Good news: there are still moonstones laying around on the sand in Moonstone Bay.

In the interest of full disclosure, they're really feldspar, and they're not gem quality. They're also very tiny. But they're definitely there, and I collected a nice handful.

After our walk, we decided that we weren't quite ready to call it a day, so we stopped at a beachfront cafe for dinner. This was the view from our table on the patio; yes, it was still warm enough to eat outside.

Life is very, very good.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Year one

I've finished one year of my healthy living experiment.

One year ago today, I decided to put my focus on my health; to give up eating badly, start exercising, and see what would happen. I didn't like the way I felt; I was tired all the time, I was overweight, and, worst of all, I felt as if there was nothing I could do to change that.

I'd always heard that after menopause, women just had to deal with energy loss and weight gain; it was our lot in life. "Scale back your expectations," I was advised; "You're not a kid anymore. Deal with it. You'll never be a size six again; you're too old to worry about your figure."

I figured I just had to accept my body the way it was.

In truth, I was feigning acceptance by ignoring it. I didn't look in mirrors, and I didn't step on scales. I avoided anything that made me sweat; I pretended that gardening was enough exercise. I ate whatever I wanted, because it tasted good, and I deserved it. My kids are grown, and this is supposed to be my time, right?

But reality eventually intruded into my fantasy life; at my doctor's visit a year ago, my doctor pointed out that although I was still in the overweight category, the next step was definitely obesity. He told me that if I continued to gain weight at the rate I was gaining it, I'd be there sooner rather than later. Even worse, my blood pressure and blood sugar levels were starting to creep up; if that trend continued, I'd be at risk for stroke and diabetes.

So I weighed my options.

On one side: eating lots of fat and sugar-filled foods was comforting; it made me feel loved to indulge myself. I like to eat. I love creamy, rich food; the richer and creamier the better. On the other side: I was making myself sick. A big box of antacids had somehow taken up permanent residence on my bedside table; and, every morning, I woke up coughing, with a very sour stomach. It was getting harder and harder for me to bend over; I was out of breath and exhausted doing things that I used to do easily. And I was fat. No getting around it. My face was so round, my eyes looked like little slits, and my neck disappeared behind a couple of extra chins. My belly was a giant muffin top, and my bras were industrial-strength. And now, my health was at stake. I'd seen firsthand what stroke and diabetes can do to people, and I didn't want to go there if I could help it.

Not even I could rationalize choosing a daily regimen of creamy cheeses, chocolate and cookies over all those negatives. My doctor swore that it was all reversible; he promised me that eating properly and exercising would change my life. I was less sure, but I knew I had to do something. I couldn't just keep getting sicker and fatter if there was a way out of it; I had to try.

And so I began. I committed myself to four months of healthy eating; no more processed foods, no refined sugars, lots more fruit and veggies, and start every day with a good breakfast. That was the hardest part for me; I have never been a breakfast eater. I had always started my day with several cups of coffee (okay, maybe a muffin or a couple of doughnuts after being up for a few hours) and that was that. But my doctor was insistent: if I did nothing else, I must have a good breakfast first thing in the morning in order to jump start my metabolism and even out my blood sugar levels. I reluctantly complied.

After four months, I was seeing results. I had lost weight, and I felt better. I'd started lifting weights, and I was feeling stronger. I had more endurance, and I was able to do things I hadn't done in years. The antacids went back into the medicine cabinet; I didn't need them anymore. I woke up feeling good; I was sleeping better, and I wasn't sick in the morning. I also, inexplicably, started waking up extremely hungry; breakfast is a treat now. I committed to four more months. And then, four more.

And now, I'm committing to another year. I still want to lose about 5-10 lbs; but I'm not going to stress over it. If I don't lose them, I'm happy with my weight as it is now. I'm healthy again. I'm within the normal weight range for my height and frame size. I won't say that I don't miss the foods I've given up; I do. I crave them still. But as strong as the cravings are, I don't want to go back. I don't want to be sick, fat and tired again. Once in awhile, I do indulge. But only a little bit. And not every day, or even every week. Only when it's something really special.

This is a life choice; I remind myself every day that I'm choosing health today.