Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Pain...and Thankfulness

Another year, another November...another time for thankfulness. Which is a good thing, right? Though it would be better if many of us could practice gratitude all year's not always that easy. Life is full of struggles, frustrations, and heartbreaks. It's the resilient soul who's in it for the long haul, picking 'em up and laying 'em down day after day after day. Sometimes what we have doesn't seem like much to be grateful for, but it always is; isn't there? No matter what circumstance brings...

I will be 47 next year. And that means it has been nearly twenty years since I was first diagnosed with a chronic disease. I don't talk about it much, though those who are close to me know about it, because it typically doesn't add anything positive to anyone's experience...and I like to focus on the positive. But it has led me to a lot of positive places, so I thought I'd share about that a little.

- It's taught me how to learn to say no more often, because declining some opportunities has been necessary. Missing out on the fun? Yeah, probably some. But taking care of my body so I can function regularly (and by function, I mean, Get out of bed. Brush my teeth. Move around)? Well worth missing out on some opportunities, no? Saying no is a skill that most of us could stand to work on. I was fortunate to learn the necessity of it at a fairly young age.

- It's taught me to be grateful. For what? Daily pain? Sometimes unmanageable pain? Well, no...but grateful for the times when I can manage it, when it recedes to barely noticeable instead of I can barely move this hurts so effing much. Whether that management is through pain meds, diet, exercise, or just blind luck (and many times, it's just blind luck), I'm grateful for the times when my body works with me, rather than against me. I'm grateful for what it can do, and I try not to focus on what it can't.

- It's taught me to be choosier. Because I have a limited amount of time and energy to devote to my career, my relationships, my exercise, my energy is fragile and I have to be very careful of overdoing physically. Even some simple household tasks are pretty much verboten now, or the consequences will be severe. And I have to watch my emotional energy as well, so I am careful to direct the greatest amounts of it to my close peeps. My girls who have been on the ropes with me. My endlessly patient husband. I'd love to know more people better, but it's hard - it's hard for anyone, as the world seems to whirl faster and faster for us all, but I find that sometimes I have to choose not to reach out and try to get to know people better because sometimes I don't have enough to give. And that's taught me the perils of dwelling in the negative, of dealing with the narcissists, the toxic people, the passive-aggressives. I avoid negative people like my life (or at least my physical and emotional well-being) depends on it. And I feel no remorse whatsoever about that.  :)

- It's taught me to cherish the moments. Because I don't know when I'll have another good stretch...or more accurately, I don't know when a manageable stretch will end. And when a manageable stretch ends, it's like running head first into a wall - WHAM! - and allofasudden the pain is unbearable. But in the times when it's somewhat under control, I cherish whatever space of time that might be. The only tricky part is to not get excited and do too much while I'm feeling relatively well. Because usually I'll pay for that later. Knowing how much is too much? That's the hard part. I could do the same exact things twice and have no pain one time, lots of pain another. Unpredictability is my disease's middle name. So when those moments of respite occur, I want to be very present, appreciating the smallest details.

Yeah, it sucks. Sometimes it really sucks. But it's taught me resiliency, gratitude, how to play the long game, it's taught me when showing up is - and isn't - important, it's taught me that you've got to at least get up in the morning. Every day. No matter how shitty you might feel. And if that proves to be too much, then by all means, go back to bed if necessary. But on a lot of days, getting up, moving around, loosening up the muscles and joints will get you at least part of the way there. Sometimes your positive attitude will get you a good bit further...and sometimes, every so often, the universe grants you a boon - a close-to-pain-free day. And that...that is AWESOME. Awesomeness should always be appreciated.  :)

So this Thanksgiving, as always, I am grateful. Grateful for the understanding of friends and family, especially my husband. Thankful for my abilities. For being able to live and work my creative passion. For the people who teach me lessons, every day. Who tell me the "ouchie" things that make me examine, or re-examine, myself. For those who "don't tell me what I want to hear". For the people who don't know it, or don't know it often enough, but they're my heroes. Sometimes, my saviors. The good hearts. The strong souls. The many of you have been my lights over the years and I can never thank you enough.

"Every day we are given stones. But what do we build? Is it a bridge, or is it a wall?' - proverb, author unknown

Happy, happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Eat well, hug it out, find peace. It's a good day to be present and enjoy the moments...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


“Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.” 
― Chris BradfordThe Way of the Sword

I needed this quote recently, after a rough day (well, rough several days) of feeling like I cannot reach any of the goals I'm striving for. All of the positives this year seem suddenly outweighed by the failures (or lack of successes?). I try very hard to not fall into those pits of despair that seem to litter the path...but occasionally it's like one just opens up beneath my feet and I can't avoid it.

So here I am, reminding myself of the stories of other people I consider successful, and how they've shared about their own struggles. Which is comforting. But only to a degree. I tell myself that I'm persistent, not a quitter, doggedly determined. And so I am...but maybe, just not right now. Right NOW I want to stamp my feet and throw something through the window. The sound of glass breaking can be very soul-satisfying...

We all need outlets for when we feel a bit sucker-punched, a bit like we've gone ten rounds and Do.Not.Want. to get back up off the mat. The outlet that has served me best in my life, ever since I was a teenager, is to write. I wrote poetry on a regular basis for twenty years, and then I made some changes in my life and didn't need the poetry outlet as much, so I've written sporadically in more recent years. Though I realize that some of my writing outlet has been channeled into my jewelry descriptions. I guess they're my way of sharing, of connecting with others. I look at at the stone and think about what it evokes for me, and then I try to elaborate on that. Often these relate to things I consider paramount in my own life, like nurturing the self, the soul, loving with a full heart, making changes and learning and growing spiritually, etc.

The tricky part is to not write descriptions when you're feeling like I have been feeling lately...or at least, try very hard to not let your anger or frustration seep into your writing...

"The hardest blows are the unexpected ones. When the person you shared a friendship with turns on you, the door you thought was open is not just closed but bolted shut, the blue skies you saw in the distance have turned stormy. That's when it's time to reach deep within and grasp some tenacity. No one ever said that the climb would be easy or that the rewards would come when you've earned them, or even that the prize would ever be yours. Some days it's painful just to put one foot in front of the other, but eventually the light will brighten, a window gets cracked open, the water oasis appears just when you most need a drink. And you reach, again, for that dream. That battered, trampled, stubborn dream. You hold it close, you believe, and you begin again."

I wrote the description above for the final bit of Royston turquoise (in the photo) I had in my gem stash. I'd set it recently but no evocative descriptions were coming to mind...I guess it needed a different perspective.  ~wry smile~ 

All that mix of browns and patterns evoking the dry, dusty desert, and then these brilliantly blue spots showing the oasis appearing just when you really, really need it...sometimes life is handing you a rough road. And sometimes you get stuck. But eventually you get up.You carry on. And you get back to a place of light again.

So maybe that description was as much for me as for anyone browsing my web site...we all struggle, and we all rise. Anyway, I felt better after writing it. So I'm picking up. Carrying on. And minding the broken glass as I move forward.  :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Big Changes, Big Rewards

I feel like I've spent the better part of this year moving toward the big picture. Not known for my ability to strategize (but if you want someone detail oriented, I'm your girl!), I spent the first several months of 2013 focusing on honing my making skills. Lots of time spent at the work table, with the torch, joining things together.

And in April, all that work sort of metamorphosed into a collection. Not that it was really a collection at the time....more like seven pieces of jewelry that had, at least, a cohesiveness (something my designs have been sorely lacking since I began fabricating). And they sold...not like crazy - I don't know if any handmade art jewelry sells like crazy in this economy or environment - but I sold several at my first three festivals of the year. A month later, I had two other festivals. And I sold several there. And so on, all year long. I sold several online, too. They seemed to be well-received everywhere I displayed them.

So I continued to refine, practice, design, create - in this same vein. But the whole time, I'd been making one piece. Soldering it. Making another. Soldering it. (ad nauseum). Which was fine...until I enlisted my husband's help in rearranging my studio recently (big project, still not done, but some major changes were made).  And WOW, what a difference! Last week, I made earrings. Twelve gemstone settings (six pairs). In the same painful (I now realize) manner as before.

This week, I made ten pendants. In a quite less painful manner. And I am amazed at what happened!

Having the space to design them all together made them sort of blossom. They got more complex. They got more showy. They really started to take on a life of their own...I'm thrilled. And it's funny, since I batch nearly everything I can (soldering, cleanup, polishing), that I didn't think to batch my designing...or maybe I just haven't had the time, in addtion to not having set up the space to do it. I'm so thrilled with the results! These creations started out as some very simple metal embellishments to accent my ever-constant love of beautiful gems. And now they still do that, but they're so much more than just the second fiddle to the colored stones. They're part of a more "whole" design scenario:

Looking at them all as more of a whole than as one design, another design, then another design...has really helped me focus on what I'm doing with EACH design. And designing them as series-es, which I plan to do even more going forward, has influenced how each design turns out. Some have more "choppy" or spiky ends on the textured parts, some have more loops, some have more curves and waves and circles. In this series there was only one (2nd up from bottom, center) that had spiky embellishments. The rest are quite wavy and flowing.

AND, because the metalwork has started to come into its own, per se, I am thinking about my gem buying  plans for next year. I had shied away from larger stones, buying in a certain size (which means, usually, a certain price point) to keep costs down. And I'm still concerned about that, of course, but now I'm feeling (again, I know I've mentioned this before) like I want to go bigger and bolder with the gem size and the metal design.

I think a few things have contributed to this:

1. The Sedona Arts Festival. Just over a year ago, I was in Sedona, not selling a whole lot, and hearing, "I wish it was a little bigger", fairly regularly. And the jewelry the women were wearing! Bold. Color. Heavy silver. Gorgeous! I vowed then to go larger. But I sort of chickened out on my next buying's easier to say you're going to do something, but without an established way to do it...harder to follow through.

2. The Ruidoso Arts Festival. This past July, I went to Ruidoso, NM. And tanked. I've posted about it...lots of women from Texas. Who kept wanting things bigger and blingy-er. I'm not jumping into bling, but bigger color and stone size? I can do that. And the jewelry they were wearing! (see a theme, here?). Sometimes I think I've lived in the Southeast for too long, where the women tend to like small. Dainty. Pretty. Not-statement-y. But I grew up in the West and I LOVE bold. So why not design bold?

3. My own confidence in my skills. The first year I showed any fabricated jewelry at festivals, I told people I was a "baby metalsmith". I was a beginner...totally unsure of myself. Didn't want any custom orders (which of course, didn't mean I didn't take them...a girl's gotta push herself). Felt like an impostor. Oh, it was UGLY. I hadn't set any stones at that point (well, outside of classes. Nothing I would dare to sell). I was lost and looking for myself but I wasn't ready.

This year, the payoff for persisting has been HUGE. I've been practicing nonstop for the last two years and things I used to struggle with are now coming much more easily, which frees up my concentration for designing, rather than being so intensely focused on the physicality of making. And *that's* the happiest place to be.  :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Natural Wonders: Willow Creek Jasper

I was unfamiliar with Willow Creek Jasper until recently. Found only in Idaho, it's part of a family of porcelain jaspers (including Bruneau, Carrasite, Deschutes, Hart Mountain., Morrisonite, Imperial, Succor Creek, and Mookaite, just to name a few).

Here's a particularly stellar example:

The moniker refer sto the way these gems take a very high-gloss finish or polish, and can be mistaken for porcelain ceramics. Willow Creek, in particular, is known for its range of soft colorings, browns, grays, greens, yellows, pinks. Sometimes it's a little *too* subtle for me. I actually don't like a lot of Willow Creek jasper...but as usual, when I do like it, I like the best (and often expensive), the unusual, the dramatic.

Here's one of my Willow Creeks:

It's hard to see the glossy shine  from this angle but you certainly can see the colors!

I tried another angle, but the shine is hard to pick up on camera.

I've been holding on to my 2012 purchases. Not for any special reason, but the colors are a bit different than what I usually use, and some gems just need to sit with me for a while before I have a plan for them. I did set one recently:

With wire embellishments that echo the patterns in the stone. This is one of the most amazing examples I've seen in person and I had to take it home. :)

This jasper is found inside Thunder Eggs. What?? Thunder Eggs, usually baseball-sized, form in layers of volcanic ash. Like a geode, but not geodes (geodes have hollows within them and often crystals), they must be cut open to (hopefully) reveal their treasures: deposits of jasper, agate, or opal, which can then be cut into cabochons.

Why Willow Creek? That I don't know. Many jaspers are named after the area where they're found...I guess it was more descriptive than "Idaho jasper".  :)

The pendant above sold almost immediately and I guess I'll keep my eyes open for some more on my next gem shopping trip!