Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ta-daaaa!

I'm guessing that will be the title of many blog posts today as we reveal our Bead Soup Blog Party pieces. I'm actually writing this on Monday, February 21, days before the party itself because tomorrow is my back surgery, and I don't know if I'll be able to sit up and type come the end of the week. I figure I'll get the post ready now and set it to upload later. That's the plan anyway. (If you're reading this on Saturday, February 26, 2011, you'll know my plan worked!)

My date for this event was Jenni C of Jenni's Beads, and she sent me the most amazing collection of beads all the way from Australia. I know many readers and Flickr viewers were envious. I surely would have been if they had gone to someone else. (Hop over to her blog and leave a comment begging her to sell her glass beads. She doesn't now, so the only way to get them is how I did -- from the goodness of her very big heart!)


I will admit up front that I kept those glowing pinky-purple glass beads and the chunky mookaite in the back for myself. They are not part of my Bead Soup set, which I've already donated to a charity auction for this group. Nearly all the other beads that Jenni provided went into the two pieces that follow, however -- (1) a long, long funky necklace with lots of moving parts that can be worn at various lengths or even doubled, and (2) a chunky bracelet, also with motion, composed of many of the same beads but a regular pattern. To Jenni's fabulous selection, I added only a few lampwork rondelles from Beadabundant and Firelily on Etsy, some tiny faceted tundra sapphires that I wired into some of the links, and dull plum and cranberry freshwater pearls, since I've hardly made any jewelry in the past 10 years that didn't have a pearl somewhere or other.

I loved what Jenni sent me because they were the sort of muted palette that I'm most comfortable with, plus some of my favorite stones (citrine and smoky quartz), PLUS that focal was just killer. I'm not one of those enviable people who sees a great bead and knows exactly what they're going to do with it; never have been. I tend to play around and see what happens. But as soon as I held that focal tab -- a perfect mix of colorful foreground and crackled background, of modern and old-looking -- I knew that I wanted it to slide on some chain. It needed to be something you could play with as you were wearing the piece. I took four pieces of one of my favorite chains -- which is very fine and loves to tangle, so you have to use multiple strands for presence but only short lengths -- and placed them through the focal and then added one free-swinging freshwater pearl to each chain. Both the pearls and the focal move up and down the chain, and the focal can get stopped mid-slide when it "runs over" a pearl. You can see this best in the second photo below, but I'd need a video to really show you.

I made an unusual clasping system by wire wrapping a longish thin but strong piece of chain to the handmade clasp and feeding the chain through a ring to act as a sort of pulley, so that the hook could be doubled back and attached to any of a number of large rings to vary the length of the piece. The necklace could even be worn as a single strand at several very long lengths or doubled at several more different lengths using this system (and not change lengths itself), which becomes obvious when you play with it but is hard to explain.

I had a devil of a time getting a decent picture of the necklace, but here are some individual shots and then a collage-style collection, showing some details and the piece clasped at various lengths.



Some of the variety of beads used in the piece.
Handmade clasp and two of the several possible closure points (rings).
Sliding focal "caught" on sliding pearl.
Tundra sapphires wired into chain links.
The large bronze pearls are static, the smaller purplish pearls move.

Some of the various lengths that are possible.


It's a fun and funky piece with lots of movement and doodads to fiddle with (a few other pieces beside Jenni's beautiful spotty focal tab slide along a short length of chain), but I think the focal lost its "focality" (?) because of all the other stuff going on. That's a drawback and something I'd do differently if I were starting over.

Here's the bracelet, which features the fantastic sterling box clasp Jenni sent and which is considerably more straightforward.


I had to provide values and minimum opening bids for both pieces for the charity auction. I valued the necklace at $240 with a minimum bid of $50, and the bracelet at $80 with a minimum bid of $20. Given the value of the semiprecious stones, pearls, wire, and chain, the work that Jenni put into the glass beads, and the work I put into construction, I figure even if they auction off at full retail value, the buyers are getting a pretty good deal and can feel like it's money well spent.

Meeting Jenni and participating in the Bead Soup Blog Party was my absolute pleasure. Thanks again, Lori Anderson, for all you do for the beading community. And thanks, Jenni, for a soup that will be very hard to follow!

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's a Blur

This teaser photo of my finished Bead Soup Blog party piece, that is!




Come back Saturday, when it'll all be much clearer. Now go see Jenni, my partner!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Last Summer, Part 3: The Worst of It

I sure didn't plan or expect to have two posts in one day, but this seems to be almost beyond my control. I titled this blog Suddenly Last Summer because over the course of several months in 2010 a number of things happened that affected me deeply, some probably permanently, and I needed a place to talk about those things and myself. Because of my interest in jewelry making, I'm trying to cover that aspect of my life too, so I apologize if you're only interested in that and I keep blathering on about other things in long, dense posts. But I need this. Feel free to skip what you're not interested in. I won't even know.

So, about last summer. I've already written about hurting my back, a problem I hope to correct with surgery early next week. (And the fallout of which -- the limited mobility, the weight gain, the bad moodiness -- I hope to give the boot to soon afterward too.) I've also addressed how an old friend of mine was arrested for sexually abusing minors. That event didn't affect me per se except that it was very upsetting, as I described in this post, and felt a bit like bad things piling on after the whole back thing. You may also have already figured out that I lost my job early last fall when the small company I worked for was closed by the larger corporation that owned it. That was pretty bad news for sure, but we'd been expecting it for a while and in some ways it couldn't have come at a better a time. I say that because when the news came I was already so deranged by something else that finding out my job was going away was minor in comparison. I've been putting off going into this here because it's a complicated matter likely to inspire complicated reactions. But I just came across a photo (as I was trying and failing to create a collage of my Bead Soup pieces) that flattened me, and I figured now was the time. This is the picture.



I'll make a complicated story as brief as I can. This photo is of my ex-boyfriend, who I will here call H, as I often did in real life. We were together for almost 13 years. I met him a few weeks before I turned 30 and left him for another man a few months before I turned 43. We had a house together, a dog, several cats, all the stuff you have when you're decently employed middle-aged professionals. We didn't have children and we never married. But for a long time both of us believed that we would always be together. Probably because of that belief combined with a lot of other things, we didn't tend our relationship the way we should have. We spent less and less time together in our large old home, as I made jewelry in my workroom and he watched TV or played computer games in another part of the house. We took less and less care to be kind to each other in little ways. We both seemed to assume that the other person was being critical when that most likely wasn't the case. We were impatient with each other. We just drifted along together without really paying attention to where we were going. We were not happy and we weren't talking about that. We certainly loved each other but we might have no longer been in love, as people so often say. We weren't acknowledging it and we weren't doing anything to improve the situation.

And then I met T. I wasn't looking for anyone else, but he came into my life in a dramatic way, and without meaning to be, I was in love with someone other than H. And for a year, a solid year, I saw T whenever I could without H's knowledge. This is the biggest shame of my life, and 5 years later it's nearly impossible for me to understand how I could do that, but I did, unflinchingly. I was evasive and conniving, and I flat out lied when I had to. I know that the sneaking around went on for so long because T and I were both trying to figure out what to do, to be sure that we had to be together (as we now in fact are) before we did anything irrevocable, but that's still no excuse. After almost exactly a year, as some of my friends were getting wise that something was up with me but H continued to trust me as he always had, I finally told him about T. I moved out of the house that afternoon, and that was effectively the end of H and me. That was January 2006.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010. I'm living with T on one side of town, while H is living with his new girlfriend on the other side of the same town (he kept the house we shared, having bought me out in what were very easy and fair negotiations for us both). Two years after we split, H -- who was a tall, handsome, athletic chemist -- had met a woman who made him very happy -- she was also very athletic and outdoorsy, also working in the sciences -- and she'd moved in and now they were planning an early August wedding at Lake Placid, where she owned a vacation home. In the intervening years, H had moved through his anger and hurt, we've split up everything (including sharing a dog by passing her back and forth every week or so for a couple of years), and he and I have become pretty comfortable with each other. He still loathed T, but T was okay with that and I was willing to let him take the fall if it meant I could have something of a relationship with H, about whom I cared deeply. I would often see H and his fiancĂ©e at the weekly farmers market or around our little town, and I was grateful beyond words that we'd reached a place where we could talk easily and share a laugh. We had so much history.

A few weeks before his wedding, H's family was much on my mind. They'd always been so kind to me, and I knew I had treated them as shabilly as I'd treated him, so I had not spoken to them since we split. I called him and asked if it would be okay if I sent notes to his family -- his parents, his brother and sister-in-law, and his sister and brother-in-law -- to let them know how happy I was for him, to say that this was what I had been hoping for. H said it would be fine to do that, and I did. It was the last time I talked with him.

He was married the first weekend in August in what by all accounts was a beautiful ceremony that capped off a multiday celebration in Lake Placid. A mutual friend posted a photo on Facebook that both surprised me (I just wasn't expecting to see photos) and brought a lump of emotion to my throat. I was so glad, so very glad, for him.

Then, three weeks later, I was leaving a party when a friend approached my car and asked me to pull over for a minute. I was confused but I did it. The friend told me that H had collapsed while exercising that evening and though paramedics had worked on him for a long time, they had not been able to resuscitate him, and he had died. He was 49 years old, in what seemed to be perfect shape, and he'd been married 20 days. I'm still trying to get my head around that.

So the gist of this post is that a man I had loved and left for someone else found happiness and then died suddenly and much too young, and I feel devastated by that. As I've told T many times through my tears since it happened, I don't wish I were still with him, I just wish he were still alive. I've left out a great deal about how H and I worked through some things after we split -- about how consumed with guilt I was, how apologetic even when there was no going back for either of us -- and about how he said that he knew it hadn't been all me, that it was both of us (H and I). It was a great comfort to me that he decided to keep the house and stay in the same town as I. It was an even greater comfort a few months later when I asked him "how we were doing," and he said that he had realized that he missed me even as a friend when he didn't see me, so he thought we were going to be okay. And we were. Despite some friends who turned on me with a vitriol that I understood but still thought extreme, after the initial hurt passed, H opted to still love me, just in a different way, as I loved him. I felt it, and I'm sure he did too.

And now I miss him. It's been nearly 5 months, and I'm still blown apart. But my position is rather awkward as the-ex-who-left-him-for-someone-else, and there are those who clearly think I have no right. I go to see a grief counselor when I'm feeling really low. I cry in the shower. I avoid driving past his house. I talk with T about it. I'll be fine for a while and then I'll stumble across a photo like the one above and I'm done for. I feel tremendous sympathy for his widow, who should have had so much future with him and who was robbed of that, and for his parents, who are in their 80s and who have outlived their youngest child, which has devastated them. I feel for the friends he left, who had not finished celebrating his marriage when they had to gather for his memorial service, and even for his cats, who were farmed out to new homes (including mine) when he was no longer there to provide lap space and supportive petting.

But I'm human and selfish, and mostly I feel for me right now. Even though I set this part of my life up to be mostly without him, I literally don't know what to do completely without him, as that didn't seem to be part of the deal. I'm flailing.

Ready as I'll Ever Be

Mostly by neglecting the earns-real-money work I should be doing, I've managed to finish both of my Bead Soup Blog Party pieces a full week before the reveal. I say "both" because the focal went on a necklace and the clasp when on a bracelet, and even though each is chockful of beads sent to me by my soup partner, Jenni C, I still have beads left over, so generous was that sweet Aussie. I've even taken the photos because tomorrow I'll be donating them to an upcoming charitable auction to benefit a local organization that prevents and treats sexual abuse of children. That's a pretty easy and safe cause to get behind (reminds me of celebrities' standing up in opposition to land mines; is anyone really in favor of land mines?), so I don't think I'm going out on a limb here with this donation, especially because I got Jenni's blessing. (I didn't want to sell these pieces since all the best beads were freebies Jenni sent me, and believe it or not, I wear very little jewelry myself, so donation to a good cause seemed the way to go.) I'm not at all happy with the photos I took, but they'll have to do. I'm out of time and patience (blast you, photography!!!).

The only other news is that I go for my back surgery on Tuesday. I selected from the ala carte menu -- I'll have the laminotomy and diskectomy, please, hold the spinal fusion -- which means the surgeon will make a small incision in the skin of my back, then another small incision in the lamina around my spine (the -otomy) to cut out and remove
(-ectomize) the piece or pieces of disk that are bulging between my L4 and L5 vertebrae, hopefully bringing relief to the nerve that has been compromised for nearly a year. (The sad thing is that I was able to type that sentence without looking a thing up. I'm a medical editor, so that's the sort of dry, prefix- and suffix-heavy language I deal with all day. Pity me for more than my hurt back!) The procedure is both common and not high risk, so I should be home the next day. The CT scan I had the other week unfortunately confirmed that I have stress fractures on both sides in exactly the same spot as my herniation, so it's possible that the fractures are what's bothering the nerve rather than the ruptured disk. Hence the option of a spinal fusion. However, the doc can tell that I've had the stress fractures for decades, so I'm assuming that they're old friends who wouldn't stoop to hurt me in this way, and I'm going to leave them alone (and keep my fingers crossed). It helped my decision to know that recovery from a spinal fusion is 3 to 6 months as opposed to 2 to 4 weeks for a diskectomy. Easy choice, huh? Being operated on and then being "postsurgical" was another reason I needed to finish up my Bead Soup pieces a bit earlier than I typically would have.

Hmm, wish I had some fun photos for this post. How about this mental image instead? Two days ago as I was leaving the post office, I trotted down the three steps that precede the exit door and somehow caught the toe of my shoe in the rubber mat at the bottom, leading me to pitch forward with no hands to break my fall (since I was holding the package I'd just picked up), which bashed my head into the glass on the lower portion of the door with such force that the door swung open. So for a moment I was sprawled just inside the post office with my head basically outside, holding open the door. Can you envision it? A couple of fellows who'd just passed me on their way in heard the crash and came hurrying back to check on me. I had to sit on the floor for about 30 seconds gathering myself before I was able to move up and sit on a step for a few more minutes to make sure I was all in one piece. I was, though bruised and sore and even a little skinned up on my left side from what really was a fairly spectacular T&F, as my lawyer friend tells me trip-and-falls are known in the business (the business of suing when one has hurt oneself, that is). I'm still a bit tender on that side and am sporting some vivid blue-green patches, but I'm okay, and there will certainly be no lawsuits related to my inability to navigate three steps, a landing, and a door like a normal person. I'm only glad this happened the week before my surgery and not the week after. For once, I had excellent timing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Get It to the Church on Time!

Well, I'm surely overdue for a blog post as well as way behind in reading blogs. My brother got married in Puerto Rico on Valentine's Day, so my beau and I spent several days with family on that sunny island of the very tasty food. Had I not had an unexpected allergy attack (note to self: you're allergic to blooming things, not just things that bloom where you live; take your Allegra when you travel), which gave me a seriously runny nose, it would have been a nearly perfect vacation for the middle of a long, cold winter. I mean, it's not every day here in Pennsylvania that I see something like this literally in my backyard:


Getting ready to leave the States for nearly a week was a bit stressful though because I'm now self-employed, meaning that there's no one here to pick up the slack when I'm away. Moreover, two days before I left, I found out my back surgery had been scheduled for February 22, a week after I returned from Puerto Rico, which added even more pressure to getting things done ASAP, plus I had to run have a blood test. (The surgery is now only 5 days away, and I just had a call from the hospital that involved a nurse reading off a long list of ailments and asking if I'd ever had any of them. After a few minutes of my saying "No" to everything, I said, "Aside from the herniated disk, I'm completely healthy. There's nothing else wrong with me." I guess they're required to just follow the script though, as she went on to ask me whether I was on dialysis, had a pacemaker, or had AIDS, among other things. Oh well, I tried to make her job easier.)

A week before we left, as I was in the midst of trying to get my ducks on a row so I'd be ready to fly out on Thursday the 11th, my beau's brother called and announced that he and his girlfriend were going to come stay with us the Thursday to Sunday before we left, even though my beau was working all day Friday to Sunday (he's a nurse who works 12-hour shifts). Talk about an inconvenient time for someone else to take their vacation at our not-at-all-vacation-worthy house. The day they left, I actually started a rather unkind blog post about their visit -- in truth it was a rant -- but I deleted it because, though it was true that they were rather inconsiderate, possibly even rude guests, detailing their transgressions here would have been equally inconsiderate. I think it helped me recover just to type out the story even though I ultimately scrapped it. So they came and made a mess, and I had to deal with unexpected guests when I thought I could be powering through work, but we made it through and they finally left. Whew.

Then, on the Monday before we left for Puerto Rico, I got The Call. If you're reading this blog because you're a beader, I'm sure you've gotten The Call yourself. It's that last-minute plea for the perfect piece of jewelry that comes from someone you cannot refuse -- your mother, your boss, that gal you just met but think would be a great pal and would like to impress, or, in this case, the bride-to-be. Yes, one week before the wedding itself and only three days before my flight (two before hers), my future sister-in-law called me for the first time ever to explain that though she'd been looking for some time, she'd had no luck finding just the right necklace for with her ivory dress and she wondered if maybe I might have something she could buy. Or borrow. . . .  She's thinking pearls . . . She's thinking very thin chain .  . . She's thinking a pendant for the V neck of the dress . . . Cleavage length . . . Not too white . . . Hold on, honey, I have that right here! Not really. I don't make bridal jewelry to just have around, so I knew there was no way I had what she was looking for. It would have to be made. Okay, I have three days, I can do it. So I start writing notes: pearls, cleavage, ivory, pendant, antiqued, 18-20 inches, maybe adjustable. And as soon as I get done with my notes and confirm that I'll do my best in the short time I have, she adds in a request for a bracelet and some earrings. Right. Of course. Really, what else can you say? (Have you ever been able to refuse The Call? If you have, for goodness sake, leave a comment and tell me how it's done.) I won't even go into how she went on to describe the dress she was wearing for the party the night before the wedding and how she needed a necklace for that too, since the selection of jewelry I took for that I got from my stash and she didn't wear any of it (though it did mean schlepping over $500 worth of jewelry to Puerto Rico and back for no good reason). Suffice it to say that when I hung up the phone, I was wishing I'd never answered it.

The task: one perfect bridal necklace, one perfect bridal bracelet, and one perfect pair of bridal earrings. The timeline: two and a half days. The mental trauma: immeasurable.

Although she had said that she thought a pendant-type necklace would be best because the dress had a low V neck, she said to do whatever I thought was best. So I did. I was thinking about the potential for all that boring empty chain leading down to a low pendant and how I wanted to avoid that. So I constructed a necklace that had a grape-like cluster of very small, slightly off-white freshwater pearls hanging at the lowest point with individual pearls spaced farther and farther apart along the chain as they moved away from the pendant. It was the first idea (and only) I had, and I loved the necklace the minute it was done. I put it on and took a crappy cell phone photo of it that I sent off to her for approval. She also loved it immediately. Okay, one down.

For the bracelet, I fell back on an old design of mine that involves three rows of beads connected along two strands of chain. (I say "design of mine" because I honestly had never seen anything like it before when I made my first piece like this, and I'm not sure I've seen anything constructed similarly since. It's definitely not something I learned from a magazine or tutorial, so for the extent of this post, I'm claiming this design even if you know it as "belonging" to someone else.) I used the same pearls and the same chain as for the necklace but to completely different effect. My favorite part of the bracelet was the closure, for which I used an old off-white MOP button, around which a loop of chain fit, and from which dangled two more short pieces of chain, each ending with a pearl. It's a simple design but elegant and very bridal feeling when made with white pearls. When I showed the bride-to-be this piece (not until I got to Puerto Rico), she dropped her head back, closed her eyes, and said it was exactly -- exactly -- what she'd been thinking of. Two down.

The earring story isn't very interesting. I just put together three pairs of earrings from off-white pearls and let her pick. She went with the simplest drops. They looked great on her.

In fact, it all looked great on her. And when I saw her in her dress and in my jewelry, all my stress and annoyance at having had to do something so unexpected but in some ways really important in such a rush at the last minute just fell away. She looked gorgeous and the jewelry was just perfect. Perfect. That was the word I heard time and again the rest of the evening as people complimented her on how lovely she looked and she told them I'd made the jewelry. They came to tell me how perfect it was. And it was. Here's documentation.




(Did I fail to mention they were married on a beach just before sunset? They were, the crazy romantics.)

It really didn't hurt my pieces that my new sister-in-law is a knockout with the best set of teeth I've ever seen. I was really proud of what I'd made for her, and I wished that I had done it a bit more uncomplainingly (though I never complained to her, of course, I mentioned my stress to everyone I talked to while I was working on the pieces and I'm still whining about it here obviously). When she returns the pieces, I'll try to take better photos, at least of the bracelet so you can see my clasp, since I think it's worth sharing (so you can do it too!).

The part of the story I left out until now: I was in a mild panic that my off-white pearls were not off-white enough to go with a dress she described as ivory. So when a run to my favorite bead shop did not produce, um, offer-white pearls (but did lead to more than $200 in other purchases), I went to a closer, smaller bead store to see if they had anything better. The didn't, but I still spent $28 on other stuff. Plus, and this is the best part, I got a $25 ticket for parking in a driveway even though there was nothing to indicate it was a driveway (no sign, no big X in the spot) except a lack of parking meter and some garage doors on a building that was on the other side of a two-foot bank of snow, meaning that the garage and driveway are in fact unused except as a means of generating parking fines by this neighboring borough. (My own sweet borough would never resort to such underhandedness.) So, final cost for me to make these loaner pieces: just over $260, not including any of the supplies I used or my time. Value to the bride: you got it -- priceless.