December 5, 2013

Reading, Beading, and Bouncing

My online beading group has a bi-monthly challenge called "Bead, Book, & Bounce." Not sure why they call it that, but the idea is to read a beading book and create one or more of the projects in it. This is the first one I've had a chance to participate in. This month's book is "I Can Herringbone" by the very talented Melissa Grakowsky. (Crazy title, I know, but I think it's part of an "I Can" series.)

Herringbone has become a very popular beading stitch in the last few years. It is basically the traditional African Ndbele stitch, which has a lovely intuitive logic to it, and creates a great texture even in flat items. Modern western artists have come up with all sorts of permutations on it, and it seems there's no limit to what you can do once you go down that road.

The book is like a master class in Herringbone beadwork. It has 26 projects, ranging in difficulty from beginner-level to quite advanced. So there's something for everyone. Many of the projects can also be used as a starting point for your own wild imaginings. Doing a few projects from this book will definitely boost a beader's confidence.

I didn't originally plan to participate in this challenge, because the due date conflicted with too many other obligations. But when the deadline was extended, I figured I had six days to work with, so I could probably manage one of the simpler projects in the book. Now that I've done it, I very much want to do a couple of the other, more involved pieces, "when I have time."

I chose to do "Poseidon's Gem," a bracelet with 6 colors in graduated sizes. I was limited by whatever few colors of 4mm fire-polish beads I had on hand, so they determined the color palette.

As I mused on Facebook, I'm not entirely happy with the color scheme. Too glitzy, too many transparent colors, the two reds are too similar, and the whole thing doesn't look good on my pasty white Oregonian skin. But I have to admit it's growing on me, and would probably look fabulous on someone with a tan.

I did have to make two modifications:

1. The author wrote that each section was about 1 1/2 inches long, so her diagram with 8 sections should be more than long enough.  But when I had finished 8 sections, the whole thing was only 6 inches long. So I added a 9th section, but that made the ends face each other in the wrong way, so the closure was very awkward. I solved the problem by making a half-section at each end, instead of a whole section added to one end.

2. The way she had the pearl attached did not leave room for the loop to grasp it properly, especially since I used a smaller pearl. I re-did the pearl attachment, adding a size 8 bead between the pearl and the bracelet body. This made all the difference I needed.

These are minor things that inevitably come up as a result of the differences between beaders. All-in-all, it's an excellent beading book, and I will use it again.

December 3, 2013

Of Dads and Candles

I'm not a very organized person. So, when we brought home our photos of our dearly departed dads from Yom Kippur services, they kind of never got put away.  So every Friday night when we light the Shabbat candles, there they are, hangin' out on the sideboard!  We've gotten used to having them there, and they've come to belong there.

A few days ago, we brought out the Hanukkah menorahs and candles, found space for them on the sideboard, and positioned the Dad photos to be part of the festivities. By this time, we don't even consider putting the pictures away. They're too precious!

Why do we have two menorot? The brass one on the right is what we bought when we got married. It was the best we could afford.  The green one on the left is the one I grew up with in my father's house. Many years after he passed away, when my mom finally sold the house, it was the one thing I chose to take. I cannot even express how strongly it brings back childhood memories, and how much it reminds me of my dad.

 As a child, I loved gazing at that green menorah from Israel, nearly as long as the candles burned.  The shape of it seems beautifully graceful to me, and iconic of 1950's Israel. The bottom is weighted to avoid tipping over.  The candle holders each have a lovely rounded bronze edge on the their tops, which for some reason pleases me enormously.

I'm not sure what will be my children's favorite memories of Hanukkah... maybe the cheap brass menorah? Or that crazy blue dreidel that spins endlessly.  But for me, it's the green menorah from Israel, my father, and as an adult, my father-in-law. Our dads have passed on, but they're still always with us.


December 2, 2013

Beading Challenges

Recently I've completed a few more beading challenges for two of my online beading groups. This has really motivated me to do more beading!

Most recently, we were challenged to create something inspired by a movie. It had to be done in the month of November, which we all know was a crazy month for me.  I started out thinking I would do a project which has been in my mind for a couple of years, because it would tie in beautifully with "The Ten Commandments."  But there was no time for such an ambitious project, so after my last show I came up with a quick idea.  

Based on one of my favorite movies, "Local Hero," this pendant celebrates the Aurora Borealis which captivated the movie's visitors to Scotland.  

Aurora Borealis (or "AB") is also the name for a multi-colored coating featured on many beads, so it seemed fitting for a bead project.  I tried to use a lot of AB coated beads in this free-form pendant:

Also in November came the challenge to create a Christmas or Hanukkah "charm." Not an ornament, it was specified, but a small charm, suitable for a necklace or earring.  I used a pattern I had seen someone do, and made a "Hanukkah Snowflake":

October's challenge was to use Halloween-ish colors. Specifically, we had to use all four of these colors, and no others: black, orange, grey, and gold.  Frankly, I wasn't impressed with some of the early entries, and pretty much decided to sit this one out. But then one night as I was falling asleep, it hit me: that Monarch Butterfly I've been wanting to do, since I read "Flight Behavior," it's basically black and various shades of orange! And I could add little spots of gold and grey on the wings! But would I have time? With about 4 days left in the month, I scrambled to give it a go. I beaded night and day, and finished in time to submit it.  If I do say so myself, I'm pretty happy with it:

What's next?  In a few days, I'll reveal my latest challenge piece, and then it's time to work on the next Read & Bead, which is due January 31st. 

November 24, 2013

'Tis the Season

November is my big selling season. This year both of my big shows fell in November, and it's been a hectic month!

First came ORA's annual Celebration of Art. It's our 8th annual art show, and it continues to grow and evolve.  We held it again at Mittleman Jewish Community Center, in the beautiful Ballroom. The show is just beautiful, with about 25 artists showing and selling their artwork.

Everyone agrees that the room is beautiful, and the show is beautiful. But everyone also agrees that the attendance is a challenge, seemingly for a different reason each year. We continue to ponder that problem. But in the meantime, I had an enjoyable day, and my sales were good enough.

Two weeks later came Hadassah's Chanukah Gift Fair, which returned to MJCC this year after many years at Neveh Shalom.  I welcomed the change, because of the neutral location and the superior space and lighting in the MJCC ballroom. But to be frank, the sales were dismal.

I've done this show for 14 years now, and feel a great loyalty to it. But it has been suffering a downward spiral since the economic downturn. Less paying customers = less quality vendors, and less quality vendors = less paying customers. It's a terrible conundrum, and I personally have a difficult decision to make. My sales for the day were definitely not worth all the time and effort that goes into doing a show.

This month I also opened my Etsy store, with just a few items at first.  In December I hope to post more items for sale, and give this thing a go!

Selling any kind of art is a tricky business, and I continue to look for the right path for my business.

October 4, 2013

Pay It Forward... and Back!

A few months ago, I ordered coffee at a Starbucks drive-thru. When I got to the window to pay, the cashier informed me that my coffee had already been paid for by the driver ahead of me. How nice!  So I asked to pay for the driver behind me. The cashier said "their order is $11.50; is that okay?"

Yikes!  What could I say?  I would feel like a complete jerk if I said "never mind, that's too much." But I hadn't planned on spending so much money either. But I said okay, and someone got $11.50 of coffee for free. It makes for an amusing story to tell.

Well, today I went through another drive-through, and someone ahead of me paid for my coffee. When I asked to pay for the driver behind me, the cashier said "You don't have to. I wouldn't. It's a really big order." I asked if I could pay for part of the order, and he said no. So I didn't pay for their coffee, and now I feel REALLY strange about it. I've still paid out more than I've received, but that's not really the point, is it?

I think I'll go put some money in the Tzedakah box. Then I'll feel better.  Meanwhile, for my best pay-it-forward story EVER, read this blog entry from a few years ago.

Good Shabbes!

September 10, 2013

Reading and Beading

I've been working on a beading challenge for an online beading group, and I'm very happy to have finished it!

The challenge was to read a book and create something inspired by it. The book is "The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow" by Rita Leganski.  That was the easy part! This beautiful book takes place in New Orleans in the 1950's.  It centers on a child who never makes a sound, but has incredible (even magical) hearing.  His remarkable gift of listening promises redemption to those who love him: his young widowed mother, grandmothers, deceased father, and more. With the help of a Creole housekeeper with her own special gifts, the boy leads his loved ones to the key to long-buried mysteries and helps bring peace to their angst. 

I loved the book. I love magical realism, and I love Leganski's beautiful use of language. I love the layers of symbolism, and the interaction between different kinds of faith. The book was full of colors, symbols, and emotions, so the hardest part of the challenge was to narrow down my list of ideas to something concrete.

In the end, I made a twisted base of purple, green, and gold to represent the New Orleans locale and flavor of the story. Upon that base, I created a body of branch-fringe to represent the Hoo-Doo "root work" done by the Creole woman. The roots are studded with leaves, hearts, pearls, 7 tears, and a loving hand working its magic. 


I always like to name my creations, so this one is called "Root Work."

September 5, 2013

Gifts of Gold

I'm sitting in the Synagogue, and the Rabbi is talking about taking care of your God-given body, and I look down at mine. Not too far down, because... well, you know... that gets depressing.  But as I look, I notice something very interesting (to me at least).

I am adorned today with gifts of gold from many people who have loved me.  I didn't intend this, but every piece of jewelry was a gift from someone special.  Not one thing was made or purchased by me.  My earrings are from my mother, my bracelet is from her beloved aunt, my necklace an amazing story from my mother-in-law, on one hand my wedding ring from my husband (and indirectly a gift from my father), on the other hand my grandmother's wedding band.  Each piece is made of gold, and each has a distinct and memorable "story."

It's as if these loving family members have dressed me, and ushered me into the Days of Awe. It feels a little like a bride being dressed by her inner circle.  On Yom Kippur I will go it alone, with no jewelry at all, but today 3 generations of family members have surrounded me with love and memories and fortitude.

August 28, 2013

Hitting The Books

I have a LOT of cookbooks. I love them!  But although I leaf through them in awe, I often fail to actually make a single dish from many of them. Still, the collection looks really impressive in my kitchen !

And then there are my beading books... a very similar story. I buy a beautiful book, try to decide which projects I will attempt, and end up making none of them. But they look great in my studio!  Well, after awhile I felt guilty, so I decided not to buy any more cookbooks OR beading books. Until this year.

This year I got more involved in the beading world on Facebook, and saw things that people were creating from recently published beading books. Also, Jill Wiseman published an awesome book of beading projects, and I allowed myself to buy it.  The day that "Beautiful Beaded Ropes" arrived, we were leaving for a weekend at the beach. So I grabbed it and took it with us. All weekend, I browsed the book lovingly, careful not to let the drool fall on the pages!  I thought about which project(s) I would try first, and committed to actually MAKING some of them.

And guess what?  I actually did!  So far, I've made two things, and both are beautiful.  The first one is the "Forever Tango" bracelet, which is a clever herringbone project.  It seemed to take FOREVER (hence the name?), but in the end it was worth it.  Just look at this!

Next, I decided to take on Jill's "Dew Drop Spiral Necklace."  This one went a little bit faster.  It's very hard to photograph well, but in real life, it looks VERY cool!


Recently, I also bought Sabine Lippert's "Beaded Fantasies."  I haven't created any of her projects yet, but I promise I will soon!

I'm also thinking of challenging myself to make at least one project from each beading book that I own. Maybe one day I'll do that with my cookbooks too.  Okay, it's not really likely, but it could happen....

August 15, 2013

The Dream Dissolves

Here are two dogs who don't like each other. I got them to sit together for a moment for the photo, but the body language says it all.
           We don't know exactly what happened in Georgie's past, but we KNOW it wasn't good. So, despite her cuddliness with people, she was definitely not comfortable around Nacho.  Very quickly, this became a problem. She seemed to go into some sort of "zone" and would then creep up behind him and attack.

We learned to build barricades between them, and to close one of them into the kitchen if I had to leave the house, or even leave the room.  Sometimes 4 or 5 days would pass without an event, and we would get encouraged. Maybe things would eventually be okay?  But as soon as we let down our guard, she would attack again. Poor Nacho was scared and terribly depressed. I was a nervous wreck, and felt like a prisoner of war.

It was becoming clear that this adoption was a mistake. Georgie needed to be in a one-dog house. I began to reflect on things the foster family had said and done, and I realized that they knew about this situation, and probably had experienced the same problem between Georgie and their pugs. But none of us wanted to put Georgie back into the system. And nobody really wanted to report her behavior, for fear of the possible consequences. What a dilemma!

Well, in May I needed to travel, and needed an appropriate sitter for Georgie. I turned to the foster family, and they agreed to take her for 4 days. As we were planning the details, the foster mother was making jokes about "I don't know if we'll give her back..." I knew she still loved Georgie a lot. So I called her bluff, and asked if she would really be willing to take her back and keep her.

Yikes!  The discussion got really serious real fast. They asked me to sign papers to relinquish her, and said they would take her back and decide if they would adopt her. I came over to sign the papers, return some of her things, and say goodbye to Georgie. It was gut-wrenching. She was so happy to see me, and jumping all over me, and I felt just awful to be leaving her. And the foster family was clearly not happy. What a mess.

I've been very broken-up about this whole thing. I cried a lot for several months. I really felt the need to love and protect Georgie, but it was completely unfair to Nacho. And since she had not stopped the behavior even after 7 months with the foster family, it was clear that she wouldn't stop it with us either. In the end, I think we did the right thing, but I still feel terrible. And a little angry at not having been given the complete information about this dog.

As of our last contact, the foster family has kept Georgie. I really hope it works out for them.

I still want to give a home to an elderly Pug, but now it will have to wait until next year. And when we  try again, I hope we'll really be able to know what we're taking on.

June 4, 2013

Old Dogs and New Tricks

We set out to do all we could for Georgie. We took her to a new vet and got some things sorted out there. Then came the ophthalmologist, which was promising.

And we took her to training class at PetSmart.  This was fascinating. Georgie's had a pretty limited life, and really had no idea of the concept of commands. But of course there's NO truth to the adage that you "can't teach an old dog new tricks." She quickly learned the idea of complying with a spoken command. And she began to learn specific commands as soon as we started to teach her. At home she learned "sit," "come," "up," and "kitchen." She learned to get up and down steps and stairs.  (In time, she also learned to eat more slowly, as she got used to the idea that there would always be enough food, and nobody else allowed near it.)   In class, she also learned "let's go," "leave it," and "park it."

The other dogs in the class were puppies, and the hardest thing to teach them is loose-leash walking. They always want to tug on the leash and run ahead. With Georgie, the opposite was true, and it was pretty funny. The challenge was to get her to come along, without ME tugging the leash!  But by the end of the class she was getting pretty good at "let's go." We were all very proud when she "graduated" from puppy training class.

But there was one thing we couldn't teach her, and it broke my heart....

May 19, 2013

Easy Come, Easy Go?

Sometimes projects happen easily!  I thought to myself that pink, purple, and gold look nice together.  And then I decided it needed a little green. It went quickly, and looked great! The only conflict was which button to use as a clasp.  Even the name came easily: Summer Love.

But when Eddy texted to tell me that this bracelet was sold during our Jewish Arts Month (JAM) exhibit, for some reason I was really surprised. Delighted, but surprised.

It came to me easily, and it left me easily. I'm still sort of stunned.

(Oh, and that "peachy" pendant?  It sold too!)

April 15, 2013

Just Peachy

Sitting around my Mother-in-Law's house, helping out after her surgery, there was a fair amount of down-time. Fortunately i had brought my beads along!

I started a free-form thingie, not knowing how it would come out. It looks pretty simple, but it really took a LOT of time until I got it into a form I liked.  I hung it on a SilverSilk chain, and discovered that it worked really well in my wardrobe. I get a LOT of compliments.

We've got a sale/exhibit coming up in May, and I'm not sure if I want to keep it or sell it.  I suppose I should make another one, but I can't really begin to replicate it. I'll have to decide soon.

March 30, 2013

The Joy of Learning

It's been a long time since I took a class, but the opportunity arose, and I jumped at it! For several years I've wanted to take a Bead Embroidery class with one of the Big Four names in the field, but that's a tall order. Then one day it showed up on Facebook: Sherry Serafini (!!) was coming to teach here in Portland!!  I went through the necessary hoops, and got myself into one of the classes.

And ohhhh, it was worth it!  Taking a class just stimulates that part of the brain that loves new things. And it gets the creative juices flowing.  Plus, I'm a person who needs to learn from a teacher; books and manuals don't do it for me.  So, although I have Sherry's book, and I completely understood the process in theory, my few previous attempts have been laughable at best.  But now, with the expert guiding me, and giving us lots of tips and hints along the way, I got into the rhythm of it, and now I feel much more capable of actually DOING this stuff!  As I race to finish the project from the class, my mind is already racing with possibilities for future projects.

I really need to take classes more often. I love this feeling. I love feeling so driven to finish the project, that I can barely tear myself away from it.  It's kind of like when I was a new beader, and everything was new and exciting, and full of potential.  Learning is joyful!

Here's the project as designed for the class (but in a different color palette than my kit).

I didn't want the face, so I substituted my own red cabochon, and created a different pendant shape.
Here's the start in class.

After manic work on it, and with a few serious missteps along the way, the main beadwork is finished, the fabric trimmed, and the backing applied.

Edging is done, now working on the fringe.  I realize I haven't done anything with fringe in a very long time!  This also brings me back to my early days of beading. Fond memories....

Final steps: create the bail, construct "crowns," and add crystal accents.
It feels SO good to finish a project!

March 4, 2013

Prayer Beads

Back in October, after nearly 6 months of disability, I made a tentative return to beadwork. I had a big show coming up, and didn't have a lot of merchandise, so it was "go-time." One day I just sat down and made a necklace. Just grabbed the first beads that caught my fancy, and fiddled with them.  It was such a great feeling, like returning to the living. And when the necklace was done, I realized it was totally symbolic.

The beads were Tibetan prayer beads, accented with Bali silver bead-caps.  Prayer was certainly appropriate in my situation.  (And of course the word "bead" comes from the Latin word for prayer.) And, in order to keep them from wobbling on the thin wire (big holes in the  beads, small holes in the silver), there was an inside spine of smaller beads holding them steady. Just like in real life - you can't see what's inside, but it makes all the difference!

Well, I felt great coming back to life, and soon made a bunch of other necklaces. I didn't want to do much work with my usual tiny beads because (a) my hands weren't ready, and (b) I didn't have time before the show. So I just went ahead and made easy necklaces with large beads, and no regrets at all.

The show went well, I had fairly good sales, and mainly..... I'm back, baby!!!!

All Beginnings Are Hard

Years ago we considered adopting a second Pug as a companion for Nacho. Eventually we chickened out, but not before looking through a LOT of pet adoption sites.  During that process, I noticed there were so many elderly pugs who needed homes for their final years.  I told myself that when Nacho got old, we would adopt one of those older pugs.

So when I saw this picture on Facebook in January, I decided that it was time, now that Nacho is ten years old.  I contacted the Rescue organization, filled out forms, met the dog and her foster family, tried to get a feel for what this little girl was really like, and we took the leap.

I guess it should go without saying that nothing is ever exactly what you think it will be. Although the Rescue people and the foster family did their best to give us all the information they could, things were not as expected when Georgie moved in with us.  She's had a tough life, mostly spent in a cage, and mostly breeding. Her poor little body has a number of problems, and we were ready for that. But what couldn't be anticipated was her nervous reaction to Nacho, who is much bigger than she is.

The first few weeks were heart-wrenching, really not knowing if we could make this work. She's such a sweet little peanut, you just want to hold her and protect her.  But then, in an instant, she would attack Nacho, and it seemed grossly unfair to him. It broke my heart seeing him so sad and frightened, but at the same time I didn't want to give up on this poor little waif who needs a home.  We went through a roller-coaster of emotion, one day thinking it will work, and the next day certain that we'd made a terrible mistake.  A lot of soul-searching went on.

After 5 weeks we're still working on it, but things appear to be calming down. For one thing, we three humans have gotten better at preventing trouble between the two dogs. Georgie is getting used to the routines of our home.  And the two of them seem to be getting used to each other. This week Georgie will start a training class, which I think will really help her confidence.  Once she knows some of the commands that Nacho knows, we can play some games with them together; maybe they will bond. It will be a long time until I feel confident enough to leave them alone together, but for now we've worked out systems that allow me to leave the house safely without too much stress on them.

I think we're doing a good thing, and I wish I could explain it to Nacho.  I fervently hope this will grow to be a positive experience for him too.

March 3, 2013

Dog's Intuition

Jan 25, 2013  Portland, OR

I was at someone's home today with several friends. When the talk turned to an old acquaintance who is mortally ill, I got teary-eyed, and our host's dog instantly ran to me, demanding to be picked up! He barely knows me, but knew I needed a hug... incredible!

Spontaneous Camaraderie

Jan 19, 2013    Lexington, MA

Tonight was one of those unplanned delights. Three of us went down to hang out in the hotel lobby. As other guests who attended today's Bar Mitzvah came and went, they saw us and joined. Then Gershon's sister brought over some leftover food from the party, and someone ordered out pizza. The group got bigger and louder, several of us broke out the beads, while others played chess, and we all played Jewish Geography. We stayed till after midnight - talking, laughing, eating, drinking, sharing FB pages... what a blast!