Friday, December 14, 2012

Unfriendly fire - the apocalypse at Sandy Hook

"If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns."

This morning 27 people including 20 children were killed when a gunman armed with a Glock and a Sig Sauer -- both semi-automatic pistols -- opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

And in the immediate aftermath of this gut-wrenching tragedy, the internet predictably has been flooded with vitriolic debate by individuals on both sides of the issue of gun control versus the inalienable right to bear firearms.

It's no secret where I stand on this controversy.

When the framers of the Second Amendment wrote that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" I'm quite certain that they didn't envision semi-automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens.

Arguably, giving logical grammatical meaning to the preamble of the Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms exists only for individuals for the purpose of serving in the militia.

Notwithstanding logic and grammar, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Which begs the question, are semi-automatic weapons -- which load a new round from a magazine into a gun's chamber allowing another shot to be fired as soon as the trigger is pulled again -- necessary or appropriate for self-defense within the home or for other traditionally lawful purposes. And even assuming they are, what controls, if any, should be in place to prevent the use of firearms for traditionally unlawful purposes.

It is fact that 11 of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States. Of the 11, five have happened between 2007 and today. The United States also is among the top three countries (along with Mexico and Estonia) in assault deaths per capita -- by a large margin.

Moreover, since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the USA. In the interest of fairness, in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally. But it is also fact that more guns means more murders. Across the United States, wherever there are more guns, people are at higher risk for firearm homicides. Among developed countries, wherever guns are more available there are more homicides.

Conversely, firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.

We've heard the arguments. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. In 2011 there were 34,485 motor vehicle traffic deaths and 31,347 firearm deaths, should we restrict car ownership? Well yes, we should and do, and furthermore, what are the statistics on car ownership as compared to gun ownership? At least car ownership numbers can be quantified, gun ownership statistics not so much.

What has been quantified is that a gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, 7 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault or homicide, and 4 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than to be used in a self-defense shooting.

Would banning assault weapons, requiring trigger locks, and mandating safe storage requirements for guns prevent tragedies like today's massacre at Sandy Hook? Would it have stopped Adam Lanza -- who suffered from a personality disorder -- from opening fire on a bunch of kids age 10 and under?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Guns can be sold in the United States without a background check to screen out criminals or the mentally ill. Although sales from federal firearm licensees require a background check, sales between individuals, under federal law, do not.

I don't know about you, but I for one would rather err on the safe side.

While our hearts go out to the families of the victims in Newton today, we should take a moment to consider the eight children and teenage casualties of gunfire every single day in America.

Need more sobering facts?

More than one million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

Among 23 high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States.

And perhaps the saddest fact of all: Mass shootings historically have not affected public opinion about the right to of citizens to bear arms, which remains slightly skewed in favor of gun rights as opposed to gun control.

Don't shoot me. I'm only the messenger.

"Maybe it's the movies, maybe it's the books
Maybe it's the bullets, maybe it's the real crooks
Maybe it's the drugs, maybe it's the parents
Maybe it's the colors everybody's wearin
Maybe it's the President, maybe it's the last one
Maybe it's the one before that, what he done
Maybe it's the high schools, maybe it's the teachers
Maybe it's the tattooed children in the bleachers
Maybe it's the Bible, maybe it's the lack
Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the crack
Maybe it's the hairdos, maybe it's the TV
Maybe it's the cigarettes, maybe it's the family
Maybe it's the fast food, maybe it's the news
Maybe it's divorce, maybe it's abuse
Maybe it's the lawyers, maybe it's the prisons
Maybe it's the Senators, maybe it's the system
Maybe it's the fathers, maybe it's the sons
Maybe it's the sisters, maybe it's the moms
Maybe it's the radio, maybe it's road rage
Maybe El Nino, or UV rays
Maybe it's the army, maybe it's the liquor
Maybe it's the papers, maybe the militia
Maybe it's the athletes, maybe it's the ads
Maybe it's the sports fans, maybe it's a fad
Maybe it's the magazines, maybe it's the internet
Maybe it's the lottery, maybe it's the immigrants
Maybe it's taxes, big business
Maybe it's the KKK and the skinheads
Maybe it's the communists, maybe it's the Catholics
Maybe it's the hippies, maybe it's the addicts
Maybe it's the art, maybe it's the sex
Maybe it's the homeless, maybe it's the banks
Maybe it's the clearcut, maybe it's the ozone
Maybe it's the chemicals, maybe it's the car phones
Maybe it's the fertilizer, maybe it's the nose rings
Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing
If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns
I'd take away the guns, I'd take away the guns."

Cheryl Wheeler, If It Were Up to Me, 1997

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The house of cards gets shuffled

"As far from this place as a girl gets to run, when her reasons to stay have worn thin."

So, yeah. I was going to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging, starting with the bead that went missing. And the sequel, the other bead that went missing.

And once again, life got in the way, and not in a good way again. In mid-November I had a lampwork class to attend at the Dallas Craft Guild (an awesome venue if you have a chance to take a lampwork class there). The added attraction was getting to see my grandson again.

I drove up on a Friday, timed to arrive about the time my daughter gets home from work and from picking up the baby from the babysitter. That night, I babysat so that my daughter and her husband could have a date night. I fed and bathed the baby and had some bonding time. The next day I headed to my class, 30 miles away.

Class was great and after we finished up for the day I went out for sushi with the teacher and a few of my classmates. On the way back to my daughter's house, I picked up her and the baby from a party place where they were celebrating her husband's sister's husband's birthday. We went home, leaving her husband to party on as they say.

Sunday it was back to class, with the intention of making the four hour drive home directly after the class ended. We took a break for a seafood lunch and went back for the last afternoon. We had just finished the first after-lunch bead demo and practice when I heard my cell phone jamming.

It's funny how you can tell instantly from a voice when something is very wrong (and I hadn't even noticed the 15 missed calls). "Mom" was all I heard when I said, "what's wrong, is the baby OK?" I wasn't prepared for what came next.

"Jason is leaving me," my daughter said.

"Jason's not leaving you," was what I said. "Did you have a fight? Let me speak to him."

"No, he's leaving, he's packing his clothes and he's leaving," she said. "Can you come?"

"What happened?" I said, bewildered.

"I can't tell you on the phone. Can you come? Please?"

So I gathered my stuff, paid the teacher for a bead I'd put on hold and some glass, made some dazed attempt at explanation, and drove the 30 miles back to my daughter's house. Where I found her curled on the couch. The baby was sleeping. He had turned five months old the day before.

"He doesn't love me," my daughter said. "He cheated on me."

I was clueless. I thought they were happy. In retrospect, I knew there had been changes in her husband's overall demeanor toward me. But they had a new baby. My daughter had a bad case of postpartum depression. The baby had a milk and soy intolerance that had just recently been diagnosed and he must have felt miserable because he had been so fussy and such a poor sleeper.

I had chalked up Jason's lack of usual warmth to all that. New baby, not getting enough sleep, coping with the postpartum depression.

This gets bad and hard to write about. He cheated on her while she was pregnant. With two different women. A fling followed by a two-month affair. She found out, he broke it off, she forgave him. She told no one. Because she didn't want us to think badly of him. Or to judge her for not kicking him to the curb.

But she was pregnant and it is totally understandable that she wouldn't want to end a marriage with childbirth just three months away. Not to mention that she loved him. And truly believed that someone could make a mistake and repent and mend fences.

She caught him again on that day, at least she found "inappropriate" instant messages with one of the women. She confronted him, asked him if he was "in or out" of the marriage. He said, "I guess I'm out." She told him to leave (thinking I imagine that he would grovel and beg to stay). He packed some things and left.

When I say the pain was crushing, it is not just a cliche. I have had my heart pummeled and I have endured the suffering. And it's also not just a cliche that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

My daughter has always been in love with love, and I say that in the most positive and proud way. She would never have stopped loving Jason, no matter how much he failed her in the way of romance, in the way of being a good provider, of being her emotional or intellectual equal. And I honestly thought that out of all of us, among all the failed marriages and remarriages, she would be the one to celebrate a golden wedding anniversary. And whatever comes after that.

Even now, she doesn't want me to think ill of Jason, her baby's father. And all I can think is, what a loser he is, with a crap job and no ambition and nothing to recommend him except what I had thought to be the truth, that he loved my daughter. Who is beautiful and smart and the best thing he had going for him, and he wasn't even smart enough to know that.

So there it is. It was horrible at first. I stayed the night and listened to her cry herself to sleep. But she got up the next morning and we took the baby to the pediatric gastroenterologist. And then we went back to her house and she changed clothes and took the baby to the babysitter and went to work. And I drove the 285 miles home.

The next week there were lots of heart-wrenching phone conversations, lots of tears, so much pain. But she is strong and strength returned, slowly, tenuously, and with lots of steps forward, backward, forward again. She didn't know how she was going to do this. But other people have done it and she would too. One day at a time. She didn't want to keep the house, their house. But then she thought about the baby's nursery and the yard for the dogs, and she did.

So now there is a lawyer and they have separated their bank accounts and talked through dividing up their worldly goods. They really have nothing. A home with no equity, car notes, some credit card debt. No savings. An IRA that I have funded for my daughter, arguably her separate property, legally probably not, but if he has a shred of moral fiber left, he won't fight her for any of it. He will walk away with nothing (save some furniture, a computer, his clothes, some kitchenware maybe) and he will pay her child support. Although 20% of very little income is very, very little child support.

But we will make it work. She isn't alone, she has me. I'll buy the damn house if I have to, if she wants to keep it, at least for now. She doesn't need to worry about moving right now. Jason temporarily moved back (into the spare bedroom) and has been sharing nightly parenting responsibilities. But she is ready to move forward. As she said to me yesterday, she wants him out, so that she can figure out her "new normal."

And I'm back to making beads and more or less my old normal. Including selling another bead that I just couldn't find. Even though I keep my online inventory separate from my show inventory and beads don't usually self-destruct. So I probably have a tray or dish of beads stashed somewhere and if I can find the energy I should cross check what I can put my hands on with what I have listed for sale.

The buyer was understanding, and selected an alternate bead at a discounted price. Not really a very interesting story after all.

I'm at another creative crossroads. After sixteen months of full time beadmaking, the well isn't exactly dry, but there are more days when I don't feel inspired or excited about what I'm doing. Shows this year were disappointing compared to past years, online sales were OK due mostly to a handful of devoted customers, what the future holds is uncertain.

But today was a good day. And I have some ideas for tomorrow.

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, right? One day at a time.

"One day it dawned I had run out of road
And out of reasons to run
Like a horse to the barn I was hell bent to go
As fast going back as I’d come

"Home, home was the song that I sang
As I pulled in just before dark
There was only a hook where your coat used to hang
That’s where I hung up my heart."

Mary Chapin Carpenter, "I Tried Going West" from the CD "Ashes and Roses"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The truth about cats and kittens

"If it takes my whole life, I won't break, I won't bend, it will all be worth it, worth it in the end."

We have a new kitten. Losing Puck so suddenly was a shocking, sad and grievous thing. Neil put it well when he said he felt gypped. Puck was only somewhere between 8 and 9 years old and we just assumed we'd have him another good 10 years at least.

The grief was bad, but not as bad as when I lost my cat Gris. We found Gris when he was about a month old, covered with grime, on the medium of Jones Road, a busy 6 lane thoroughfare. We stopped and scooped him up, took him home, and I said those infamous last words, "don't get attached to him, he's not staying." My 11 year old looked at me with tears in her big blue eyes and said, "but I'm already attached to him."

We'd been catless for 8 years at that time, and had an 8 month old puppy (who thought Gris was the best squeak toy ever). We gave Gris a bath under the kitchen faucet tap, to wash off the city street dirt and, well, grease. I thought he was going to be long haired, he was such a little frizz ball. OK, I admit it, I was already attached too, Gris stayed and we never regretted it for one minute.

Gris and the pup, Buffy, bonded and could often be found sleeping together in the recliner. I was never sure if Gris thought he was a dog or Buffy thought she was a cat, but I am sure that Gris knew I was his mother. I loved that beautiful Russian blue cat so much. He slept with me, or more accurately, on me. If I pushed him off to roll over during the night, he just got right back on.

We had that sweet boy for almost 5 years. He was an indoor cat but sometimes on a nice weekend day, I let him go out in the yard. He never strayed and I believe it's a myth that happy well fed well loved cats stray or get lost. He came when I called. And then one nice Sunday afternoon I forgot he was outside and went to the grocery store. I came home and made dinner and cleaned up and it only occurred to me as night fell that Gris hadn't come in. It was January 30, 2005.

He hadn't come home by bedtime, and I tossed and turned and waited for morning, hoping he'd come home. And then hoping all day that I'd come home from work and he'd be home, that he'd gotten stuck in someone's garage and had to wait until they went out again. I could imagine no other scenario that would legitimately have held up my cat. He was wearing a collar and tags with his name and phone number. But he didn't come home.

I was distraught. I called animal control and every vet in the area. I put ads in the local papers. I walked the neighborhood and put out 200 flyers. I made the rounds of all the city shelters, repeatedly. I "replied all" to an email sent out to all high school parents asking if anyone had seen a missing gray cat (and got some sympathy and some surprisingly hostile replies and a reprimand from the school secretary). And I grieved. I spent hours on Pet Loss dot com, where I first heard about the Rainbow Bridge.

It took me months to give up hope and accept that some terrible permanent fate had befallen Gris. I think the most probable answer is that, since he had no fear of dogs, a dog in a neighboring yard killed him, and the owners where too chickenshite to tell me. I have no evidence and all I can hope is that the end was swift and he didn't suffer. Because there are some darker possibilities and if I write about them I will cry, now, 8 years later.

The ray of sun in that miserable winter was Puck. I saw him one of my shelter visits, the shelter with the highest kill statistics in the area, a place where there were cages out front for people to leave unwanted animals 24/7. A beautiful white cat, with one blue eye and one amber, cowering in a cage. I decided if I could handle him, I wanted him. He was scared but he let me hold him and I knew I could work with him. Puck was the one thing that helped me cope with the loss of Gris. If Gris had to die, at least he saved Puck's life. And if Gris came home, we'd just have two cats.

I know many people don't get another pet right away when one goes away. They feel a sense of disrespect toward the loved lost one, as if they were replacing him. I wrestled with this when I lost Gris and again last month when I lost Puck, and here is where I landed. Gris and Puck would not want me to be so sad. If a new kitty could assuage some of my sorrow, they would have wanted me to have one.

I knew we would get another cat eventually so why wait for the sake of waiting. I knew that I would think and obsess and dream about finding a new cat and chase that dream all over creation until I adopted again. And most of all, I wanted my 5 year old cat Loki to have a companion.

I'm not sure Loki sees eye to eye with me on this matter. I know he misses Puck in his own cat way, and I totally underestimated how a kitten might make him more unhappy in the short term. But they're working it out and I'm cautiously optimistic that one day they will be good friends.

After making 5 trips to 2 shelters in as many days, one of my friends suggested Petfinder, and from there it was a fairly short ride to finding our new baby. On a Friday night I sorted through the 400 some male kittens within 100 miles of my zip code. At nearly midnight I sent e-mail to 4 different rescue groups about the kitties that appealed to me. By morning two groups responded that the cat I wanted already had been adopted. The third group said the same thing, but his brother was still available and would be at out local Petco at noon. So Neil and I headed over. By the time the fourth rescue group got back to me, we had our boy picked out.

Meet Zamboni.

He's almost 5 months old, full of curiosity and playfulness, not much of a lap cat, already adoring of Loki (who isn't quite having it yet) and very much his own cat person.

I don't miss Puck a white less, but I'm glad to have given a forever home to one more homeless kitteh.

"'Cause I can only tell you what I know, that I need you in my life,
When the stars have all burned out, you'll still be burning so bright ...
Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind."
The Divine Sarah Mclachan

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The sudden shocking sad death of a cat

"There's a land beyond the river, that they call the sweet forever."

I was going to write about the bead that went missing. And then Amanda Todd died and I was going to write about the sad teenager who posted a YouTube video about how she was bullied, online and in real life, by a man who took a screen grab of her chest when (as a seventh grader, i.e. 12 years old) she flashed him on a web cam. And apparently by everyone else she encountered after he made the photo public.

And then my cat Puck got really sick, really suddenly, and on October 16 we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to spare him prolonged pain and suffering and to tell him goodbye.

Neil and I are shattered by this unanticipated loss, the more so because until the day before, he had seemed like his ordinary healthy self. In the morning he sat on my lap and purred and I gave his ears and chin a good scratching and he smiled his cat smile and appeared to enjoy it.

He didn't come to eat his teaspoon of wet food that I give my cats mid-afternoon and call "cat dinner". Puck was always more motivated by affection than food, and when he jumped up on the ironing board where we feed him and Loki, he was more interested in first being petted than in getting right down to his chow. In retrospect I can't remember him ever not coming for cat dinner, but sometimes he took his time and I assumed he would come when he was ready. And if he didn't, then Loki would eat it.

Except for cat dinner, Neil is in charge of feeding the cats, so I wasn't paying a lot of attention to who was eating what. Puck was Neil's baby, although it was I who adopted him from BARC, the animal shelter on the other side of the proverbial tracks. Neil really bonded with Puck, and they watched TV together every night. Puck would sit under Neil's knees (Neil being stretched out on the sofa) and we had a standing joke that Neil was "pooping him out."

Neil also picked Puck up and held him upside down like a baby and Puck totally trusted Neil. I rarely pick up the cats, but Puck sat on my lap every day, almost always when I was having my morning coffee. I sit in the same spot always, the corner of the living room sofa, and there is a bolster pillow to my right that Puck put half his weight on. So I didn't notice that he was losing weight.

Last Tuesday morning Neil woke me up sometime after 5 am to tell me I had to come and see Puck. Puck was lying limply on the floor in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Neil said it was the first time ever that Puck hadn't come down to breakfast. Puck was responsive to his name, so Neil brought him downstairs and laid him on the sofa while I staggered around making coffee. I wasn't worried yet. I thought he might have eaten something that disagreed with him

Once, not long after I adopted him, and not long after he recovered from a severe respiratory infection that he came home with from the shelter, he ate something that made him get very sick. It was in the house so I thought it might have been a gecko or small frog or some sort of bug. Our vet gave him IV fluids and probably medicine, although 8 years later the details in my mind are sketchy. He got well and stayed well then.

So I thought this was a similar episode, the more so when he got down off the sofa and made some horrible yakking noises. Nothing came up though. After that he walked around the kitchen island into the laundry room and the litter box. I watched and waited. I thought he might be getting something out of his system that way. I gave him 5 minutes, then went to see. He was lying down in the litter box. When I came in he got out, walked a few feet into the dining room and lay down again.

That's when I called the vet. The receptionist said the cat specialist didn't have an appointment until 2:30 but I could bring him in and she might be able to see him between patients. I vacillated for a little while and then for selfish reasons decided to take him over to the vet's office. I wanted to get on with my day but didn't feel comfortable going out to the studio where I couldn't keep my eye on him.

I dropped him off, came home, ramped up the kiln and started making beads. I was in the middle of a focal when the vet called. And it was all bad. Bad bad bad. Very bad. I had a hard time absorbing what the vet was telling me, about his red and white blood cells, platelets and proteins. She said he'd lost one and a half pounds since she'd seen him last winter, and that he was going downhill very fast, even since he had come in.

She explained that further testing would require a bone marrow sample, which would be done under anesthesia. But she also said, I'm not going to kid you, the things we would be looking for, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, would be essentially untreatable, given the state of his blood, which she had tested twice to be certain. She spoke of euthenasia as my tears came. She said that the only other potential cause of his blood anomalies would be a toxin, but his liver and kidney functions contraindicated that possibility.

I said I would have to talk to my husband. I asked her to give Puck fluids and to make him comfortable, and she said, we'll do that right away.

Neil is hard to reach at work. He'd already called once to check how Puck was doing and told me to call him, not to email him, when I heard from the vet. I left a message on his voice mail. Then I sat in my spot on the sofa and waited for Neil to call back. The vet called me again before Neil did, to let me know that Puck was sinking and might rob us of the decision to end his life.

I said I could not do anything without talking to Neil. The vet said she was stepping out for lunch and would call me with an update when she came back. Neil called then, and I babbled, trying to explain the bigger picture but telling him he needed to hear the specifics from the vet. So he called her and of course she was still at lunch. So he went to his next meeting and got back to have a long voice mail message from the vet. After that he came home.

The vet called again, encouraging me to come see Puck while there was time, but as I said to Neil, I wanted to go right away to see him, but I also knew that the sooner we got there, the sooner his life would be over. But we had to go.

We were taken into a conference room that I never knew existed, and our vet brought Puck in to us. He was on his side, on a pink cat bed, and he was almost lifeless already. The vet said he'd started crying and she'd given him a sedative. We talked, she explained things again and nothing had changed. We could not bear to have Puck suffer. She said we were doing the right thing. She left us to have some time with him and to get the sleep meds.

We talked to him. I told him what a great cat he was and how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. Neil talked to him too. And all of a sudden Puck purred. Just once. And whether or not you believe in signs, I think Puck was telling us that he knew we were there, and that it was OK.

It was very fast, He already had an IV in his leg. He got two shots. One to make him sleep and the second one to stop his pain for good. For ever. I cry as I type this.

What do you do? You kiss your cat for the last time. You go home, cuddle your other cat, make some soup, watch a little TV. And you grieve.

Puck was only 8 years old, maybe 9, we were not sure how young he was when I got him.

He was beautiful, sweet and really everything you could want in a cat.

Safe journey Puck. I love you.

"Nevermore with anguish laden
We shall reach that lovely Eden
When they ring the golden bells for you and me"
Hymn written by Daniel de Marbelle and sung by Natalie Merchant

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The secret life of bacon

"Oh but you know me better than that, you know the me that gets lazy and fat."

Bacon. It's what's for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And now, apparently, dessert.

On Friday we had a late lunch at the Messina Hof Winery in Bryan. Neil and I were visiting his daughter who is in grad school at A&M. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm but without the scorching heat of summer.

We literally had the place to ourselves. Well, the restaurant anyway. The winery itself, with its tours and wine bar, was doing a respectable business. We were seated at a table for three, overlooking a grape arbor with parched skeletons of grapevines from harvests past.

Despite being the only diners, service was a little rusty too. Our waiter never asked if we wanted anything to drink, once we declined to look at the wine list. He also never removed the 4th place setting, and my pasta dish, which according to the menu would be prepared tableside, arrived fully drenched with Sauvignon Blanc pesto sauce.

After clearing our plates, our waiter rattled off the dessert list, which included multiple types of cheesecake, tres leches cake, tiramisu, chocolate cake and a brownie sundae. My stepdaughter asked if the chocolate cake was dark chocolate. Our waiter didn't know, so off he went to consult the cook, who, he volunteered, was new. In fact this was her second day.

He returned to report that the cake was indeed dark chocolate, which my stepdaughter vetoed. Pity. So we wound up with the brownie sundae and three spoons. Presently the waiter appeared with the confection, which he proudly presented. And there it was. A chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge sauce, whipped cream and bacon.

I am not making this up. The sundae was lavishly garnished with pieces of bacon.

I'm not sure why, but of late the world seems obsessed with bacon. I swear there are more posts on my Facebook page about bacon than there are about Obama and Romney. Pictures of bacon, rhapsodies about bacon, jokes about bacon, poems about bacon. Songs about bacon. There are at least 15 songs on YouTube about bacon. I know, I googled. Can you feel the lard tonight?

I have nothing personal against bacon. I just don't eat it. I don't eat pork at all. No chops, no sausage, no ham. No bacon. It's not because I am Jewish. Well I am Jewish, although I'm not sure exactly what that means since I don't practice the faith or observe its traditions. And that is a whole 'nother post anyway.

However I was raised by Jewish parents who did celebrate the major Jewish holidays. My mom is a Holocaust survivor and an atheist as a result, because as she said, no god would have allowed such atrocities to happen. My dad's family was religious but my dad, when pressed about his beliefs, would only say, there are no athiests in foxholes. Since my dad was never in a foxhole as far as I know, his position was theoretical but allowed him to beg the question of whether he believed in Yahweh.

So we lit the Hanukkah candles and sang the Purim songs and ate Matzoh during Passover and fasted on Yom Kippur. And we ate BLTs the rest of the year. Yes, bacon was served in my home and I remember my mom frying it up in a pan and soaking up the grease with paper towels. I can't say we ever had pork for dinner (just corned beef and tongue sometimes) or ham for lunch, but we definitely had bacon.

Mom stopped short of one of the customs of my first husband's family, who saved the bacon grease to cook with later. Jon kept a can on the stove and added bacon drippings whenever he fried bacon. He'd use the bacon fat to make a roue for gumbo, cooking it with flour until it turned dark brown and smelled burnt. I don't eat gumbo anymore either.

I stopped eating bacon at some point along the way when I learned about the evils of saturated fats. Pretty soon the idea of consuming something that was more or less fried fat turned my stomach. Sausage was not far behind, nor a big sacrifice, since I never liked it much. I didn't fully draw the line in the pantry and declare myself a pork-free zone until my younger daughter became interested in Judaism, traveled to Israel twice, and renounced all pork products.

It's just pork though. It's not shellfish or separating milk and meat or any of the other regulations of Halakhic law. My daughter eschews pork because it is one of the four animals declared unclean in the Torah, the others being hare, hyrax and camel, which are not commonly found in your local grocery store or on your typical restaurant menu. And I gave up pork entirely in deference to my daughter. Which essentially meant giving up ham, the last pork standing in my diet.

I'm afraid my reaction to bacon-sprinkled brownie sundaes was not the most tactful. Sometimes my mouth is a lot faster than my brain and frankly I was astonished. No, I was dumbfounded. And disbelieving.

I said, bacon? You are kidding right? Please tell me there isn't bacon on a brownie sundae.

And simultaneously, my stepdaughter said, bacon? Yippee! Or something to that effect.

Our waiter was somewhat flustered and basically pointed the finger at the new chef who allegedly insisted that bacon was an essential dessert topper.

Well, yes, and Denny's offers maple-bacon milkshakes. I knew that.

Neil and Laurie shared the bacon-brownie sundae. I had a spoonful of the ice cream, after inspecting it to be sure it was unadulterated ice cream.

I apologized to the waiter for my reaction but went on to give him a lecture anyway. I suggested he mention the bacon component of any desserts because even in Bryan, Texas, there must be people who don't eat pork for religious reasons. OK, so maybe they are vegetarians. Or vegans. Or ridiculous health conscious tree hugging purists like me.

He brought me a to-go bag with a plain vanilla, I mean chocolate brownie. Which I'm sure my stepdaughter enjoyed later. I was already stuffed.

In fact, put a fork in me. I'm done.

Next time, back to our regularly scheduled programming, with the story of the bead that went missing.

"Oh she tells her friends I'm perfect and that I love her cat,
But you know me better than that."
George Strait

Sunday, September 30, 2012

On being easily amused

"Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store."

I took the day off from beadmaking. Imagine that. My workaholic husband took his first day off after something like 18 days straight working or maybe it was 21. Of course he is in his home office answering work emails as we speak, or as I type, as the case may be.

I can't really complain because I got him this way, although I think he has gotten worse. When we met he always worked at least one day every weekend, usually Sunday. Now he usually works both days, and when I say work, I mean he goes to his office and puts in 8 hours. The only time he ever really permits himself to enjoy is his 9/80 every-other Friday off.

He explained it to me once, that those Fridays were different than weekends because they were given to him, whereas working weekends was a choice or something like that made no sense to me. When I was working, by which I mean a paycheck driven day job, it made me sad that he would take those Fridays off and work all weekend. Now it's better because I can take those Fridays off too. Because while I may not be punching the proverbial time clock, I am busting my butt trying to make my bead and frit businesses float.

As I said, since he worked like a lunatic from the time I met him, I have to accept him the way he is. And if it bothers me, it is more from the perspective that I worry he will work himself into the ground, by which I mean 6 feet under. He doesn't just work, he carries the geophysical weight of the world around the clock.

He's a numbers guy, as I've mentioned before. He tells me he has 135 emails in his inbox. I suspect some of them are reminders about the safety fair or people wanting to go out to lunch, but he insists each one of them requires him to read it, think about it, take action on it. He walks around the house saying, "so much to do, so much to do." And I give my standard answer, "sorry sweetie."

He freely admits that he fantasizes about retirement. He has a candy jar into which he has counted a certain number of tic-tacs in red, orange, yellow and green and he eats one for every paycheck. Well, originally they were skittles, but my daughter's boyfriend ate some. A candy jar of skittles in the TV room looked just like a traditional candy jar of skittles in a TV room, there for the traditional reason of enjoying some sweets with your tube. (And yes, ours still is a tube.)

Neil of course was horrified, so now the replacement tic-tacs are in a jar that I made a label for. It says "Property of Neil. Do not eat. Unless you are Neil."

I think the green ones are the last to go and run out when he turns 60. But he says he won't make it that long. And I say, he will never retire. He may get to the point where he can relax a bit, knowing that he could walk out the door if he wanted to. But I just can't visualize him actually giving notice. His father retired at the age of 60, and was immediately courted and lured back to work by a competitor, after which he worked until he was 69. He woke up one January day in New Jersey and faced with the prospect of another cold commute to New York City, he said, I'm done.

Neil's career finale may take a different tack, especially since we live in Texas where there are few sub-freezing days. There are some obstacles to overcome first. For one thing, when you have been a workaholic for 30 some years, you don't have much time to develop hobbies and interests. Strictly speaking, that isn't true, Neil has hobbies and interests. Such as his interest in sports. And his hobby of collecting toys for boys. Which in itself is an obstacle because after you retire you may not be able to blow $3,000 on some piece of precious folderol without a second thought.

Honestly, Neil is easily amused, and I say that to him regularly. He will sit at a college graduation and read the program of 700 names and analyze the diversity of the demographic, or count the number of people named Neil, or people whose names begin with an N. He will research the entire cast of a movie we've watched with especial interest in how many of the cast members are still alive. OK, so we watch a fair number of vintage classics.

Tonight we watched just a few minutes of a 1948 movie called The Fallen Idol, a story told through the eyes of a young boy played by actor Bobby Henrey. Neil calculated how old the actor would be today. If he still is alive. Turns out he is 73 and very much alive. He became an accountant and retired in 1997. I love Google and Wikipedia. So I'm a lot like Neil in that respect.

Anyway, today was a nice day, a bit overcast, a bit of rain. I cleaned yesterday's beads and took pictures but didn't get as far as editing them or listing anything new. I renewed some expired listings and added another bead to my clearance section. My big goal for tomorrow is to launch my two newest frit blends. One is already available in my shop and the other will be tomorrow. They are called Afterglow and Chelsea Garden.

Afterglow is a tribute to my father, whose favorite color was "sky blue pink," the color of one of those salmon pink and denim blue glorious sunsets. Chelsea Garden is named partly for my daughter, Chelsea Leigh, and partly for the china pattern that got me interested in lampwork in the first place. I had a saved search on ebay for "Chelsea Garden" that started when I bought a Spode sugar bowl and creamer at an antique show. There are several fine china patterns by various manufacturers, and I was collecting them. A lampwork artist from New England listed a set of beads that she named Chelsea Garden.

I didn't buy that set but I did start watching her auctions and eventually bid on and won two of her sets. When I opened the package, the beads literally took my breath away. My immediate thought was, all I had to do was string them, nothing more was needed, they were so beautiful they stood alone. I have them in a box, in the tissue paper they came wrapped in, and occasionally I take them out and look at them. I still think they are pretty, but I've come a long way baby and my lampwork bead tastes have matured.

I have a collection of other artists' beads now and I'm drawn to focals, although I have some sets in my collection. I buy some with the full intent of making earrings or gifts, but I rarely do. Tonight I did restring a couple of necklaces with my own beads. I'm not sure why. I'm not really a jewelry maker. And my bead jewelry has never sold well. Even at the one "craft show" I did that wasn't a bead show, I sold more loose beads than sets. So maybe I'll give them as gifts, or maybe I'll donate them to a charity. It's just something I like to do sometimes.

What I really want to do is make some enamel pieces for mixed media designs with my beads. I have some ideas, but always the call of the torch wins the competition for my time and creative energy. But it's definitely on my list, Number Five with a Bullet. Which coincidentally is the name of a song by Taking Back Sunday, a rock band from Rockville Centre, NY.

I bought Neil a T-shirt with their logo. But it ain't happening tomorrow.

The upside is guilt-free torch time. And I won't ever complain about that.

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store."
Merle Travis or possibly George Davis, recorded most famously by Tennesee Ernie Ford.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The talker and the silent type

"Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today."

My mom was a talker. My dad was the silent type.

I said my mom was a talker, as if she isn't here any more, which in a way is true. Dementia is a little bit like death. The person you knew is gone. Mom doesn't have much to say any more. She still knows who I am but that's about it. Our conversations are about 45 seconds long, and replayed on an endless loop. I'm fine, she's fine, there's nothing much to say. Her days are all the same now. She sleeps a lot. She eats her 3 meals. She sits. She naps.

But back to the talking. Mom abhorred silence like nature abhors a vacuum. She talked about her day, people she knew, current events, cultural events. She told stories from the past, and it didn't matter that you'd heard the story a hundred times before.

My dad was quiet by nature and ill at ease in social situations. So, he found a coping technique. He told jokes. He told them well, articulated them clearly, paused properly before the punch line. Everyone loved his jokes. Everyone but me. My standard reaction to one of his jokes was to say, did you make that up, knowing full well that he didn't. I don't know where he got them but he always told them and it didn't matter that you'd heard the joke a hundred times before.

At home though, he mostly held his peace and listened. Half listened. My mom would be going on and on about some event or about people she knew, who did what to whom, and I could tell my dad had tuned out. I asked him about it once, and I'll never forget his answer. He said, is it more important that she talk or that I listen?

My dad was a smart man, and I miss him, although in some ways I still have him. I can hear the sound of his voice in my head, anticipate what he'd say in some situation or another. I feel like I could pick up the phone and call him, never mind that he hated the phone and would never answer it. He and my mom had a signal. If she needed to reach him, she'd let the phone ring twice, hang up and call back. Then he'd answer.

When my brother and I were searching my parents' apartment for the title to his car, I kept catching myself starting to say, let's just call Dad and ask him where it is.

For a quiet man, with solitary pursuits, like reading and working on his stamp collection, my dad was a strong presence in his life and in some ways stronger since his death. I actually find myself listening to his advice now and following it.

Tonight I asked myself, for the umpty-umph time, is it more important that he talk or that I listen.

My husband is a talker. He abhors silence like nature abhors a vacuum. He'd probably be surprised to hear that, I'm sure he thinks of himself as the pensive introvert, just as I think of myself as an average conversationalist and I'm surprised to hear that people think of me as very quiet. But when it comes to the two of us, even my husband would agree that he talks circles around me.

And what does he talk about? Well, of course we have the typical conversations, how did our days go, what the kids are up to, what we should have for dinner, where should we go on our next vacation. He shows me the latest coins he's purchased and I show him any cool new beads I've made. We talk about the cats and the house and the yard and the cars, the books we are reading and the movies we watch together.

That leaves a lot of room for the vacuum effect. So he fills it. He talks about sports. Baseball mostly, He gives me the latest statistics on the Yankees and daily updates on various individual players. He analyses the chances of which teams will be going to the playoffs. He was obsessed with Lance Berkman for the longest time, until Lance had the good grace to go on the disabled list and sit out the rest of the season.

Of course I hear all about Jeter and A-rod and Mariano, and his idol of idols, Mel Stotlemeyer, who at least had the decency to retire in 2005. And Ichiro. And Hunter Pence. And Roger Clemens, who hasn't played in the majors since 2007, but recently, at the age of 50, resurrected his career with a minor league team.

And if it sounds like I care, who am I and what did I do with Liz? I know all of these things because I am under continual assault with a barrage of information of no earthly interest to me. And it's hard sometimes. I once said, if I give you a million dollars will you promise never to tell me what Lance did at bat ever again. But mostly I listen.

The ironic thing is, I loved baseball as a kid. It was one of the strongest bonds between me and my dad. We couldn't talk to each other. My dad couldn't or wouldn't engage in any discussion about life and the things that make it challenging and real, But he took me to dozens of Mets games, explained all the trivia and ritual that make baseball an intrinsically fascinating sport, taught me his unorthodox method of keeping score, and shared peanuts and popcorn and crackerjacks with me.

It was a very healing thing, because once my dad and I went a whole year without speaking to each other. I was about 14 and very hormonal and I honestly don't have any recollection of what ticked off the year of silence. I'm pretty sure we said things like, please pass the salt, but I'm not even positive about that. My dad had a stubborn streak so I got mine honestly but we were two mules in a stalemate.

As an adult now, I think my dad should have put an end to it. As an adult in that situation, I would have hashed it out with my kid. We'd have come to some resolution or agreed to disagree, but it would have ended with my telling my kid I loved her and moving forward. I think how horrible it would have been if something had happened to one of us and we'd never made our peace.

But my dad couldn't do it. He wasn't able to articulate feelings or verbally work through an issue, at least with me. In the end I was the one who held out the proverbial olive branch. We never did talk about it though. We began awkwardly to make the small talk of life again. And then there was baseball. Thank heaven for that.

Sometime after the Mets won the series in '69 and I went off to college, my interest in baseball waned. It flickered again in the '80s when Mike Scott briefly made the Astros look like a real ball team. But while I never regained the passionate interest I had as a teenager, I never forgot most of the rules (although they changed some on me) and the trivia. Like the fact that in 1927 there were two unassisted triple plays on consecutive days after which none occurred for 40 seasons.

I guess you could call me a fair weather fan. If the Astros ever got competitive, I might even bother to learn the names of the players on the starting roster.

In the meantime, I'm just phoning it in. I take a deep breath and try to let my husband's unremitting play-by-play roll off me like water off a ducks back.

And I ask myself, is it more important that he talk or that I listen?

"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today,
Look at me, I can be centerfield"
John Fogerty

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The eleventh anniversary of nine eleven.

"If I needed you, would you come to me, would you come to me for to ease my pain."

I'm procrastinating. What I should be doing is taking pictures of my beads and editing them, writing listings for my Etsy bead shop, and maybe posting them on Facebook and Lampwork Etc. to extend my potential market reach. Making the beads is so much more fun than taking care of the business end of things.

I've been having to much fun making beads again, thanks to a slight dip in the temperature which may have kick-started the muse into inspiration mode again. I'm making a lot of sets and beaded keys right now, thanks to a particular customer who has been buying them almost as fast as I can make them and list them.

It's wonderful and gratifying to have someone love your beads so much. It's a curious thing though, because at some point I think this customer may have more of my beads than I have. I'm sincerely hoping she has a thriving jewelry business and is selling necklaces, bracelets and earrings made with my beads to trendy boutiques, high end box stores and/or a cotillion of wealthy California ladies who lunch. Alternatively, I'm avidly hoping never to see my beads make an appearance on an episode of Hoarders. (Just don't look too closely at my dining room table. And the kitchen counter. And my desk. And the coffee table ...)

I find myself making beads specifically for this customer, thinking about what her tastes are and predicting what colors and styles are likely to appeal to her. So I'm making more of the same colors and styles and at the same time diversifying in an attempt to tempt with novelty and variety. And to some extent to stem my own potential boredom or burnout from making the same things over and over.

Still, I find sets relaxing and in some ways mindless. Round beads are simple and relatively fail safe. I trip myself up because I make things in pairs and nailing the size in one try isn't a given, although I'm pretty good at eyeballing almost perfect matches. Graduated sets are even easier. I make seven or nine beads in the size ballpark and arrange them from largest in the center down to smallest on the ends.

Most of my sets have coordinating accent beads in foursomes. Usually one foursome will be pastel or opal and the other will be transparent or veiled. I have no idea really if my customers like this combination or would prefer smaller sets without accent beads or larger sets without accent beads. But at the end of the day, it usually comes down to making what I want to make, what I love.

Of course, I'm practical, I look at what sells in my shop and I make more of that. Rainbow sets have been hugely popular this year, and the nice thing about that is there are dozens of colors on my rainbow spectrum. So no two rainbow sets are ever identical. I have favorite reds and purples especially, and my rainbows have more than seven colors, usually nine and sometimes ten. I'm especially fond of infra-red and ultra-violet, but red-orange and yellow-green work for me too. And some sets are opal and some are transparent and I've even done a pastel rainbow spin.

Also popular have been my Pantone sets. I'm about ready to switch from the Fall 2012 palette to the Spring 2013 palette. Yummy colors.

Before I say goodnight, I'd like to acknowledge the eleventh anniversary of nine eleven, two thousand and one, today. Like everyone, I remember exactly where I was at the time the news broke. I was in my office at work. My friend Robin in North Carolina instant messaged me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, the north tower. As the tragic drama played out, my personal grief had a macabre twist. That day I was sad. That day I would have traded my life with someone in the WTC who wanted one.

No, of course I wouldn't really, I had kids, I had parents, I had a brother, I had people who cared if I lived or died. What I also had was terrible guilt, guilt that I was suffering because a man I loved (a man I had known for less than 4 months, a man who had told me he loved me and wanted to be with me forever) had a change of heart. If he had a heart. People who lost friends and lovers in the disaster, those people had reason for suffering. I had a tempest in a very small teacup.

But it was my teacup. You feel the way you feel, and I was grieving, and in the days that followed the terrorist disaster, at least I wasn't the only one crying at work, the only one with red eyes and a heavy heart. Because the very fact that something so evil could happen in the world and yet this man (who I loved still) didn't come to me underscored, like nothing else, how inexorable the end of our relationship really was. And that was a bitter pill.

On September 14 I did get a letter from this man (one he sent to all of his mailing list) and what he had to say hit home. I'd like to share it.

This man (who I loved, had loved, still loved) said this:

"Perhaps whoever did this despicable act has their own set of sad stories - senseless deaths of friends or family, lingering anger fanned into murderous flames... Anger breeds anger, death breeds death. Pray for them all, and pray that we break this vicious cycle."

And I responded:

Your letter brought me to tears - but something brings me to tears on a hourly basis since Tuesday morning.

New York City is the city of my birth. I attended high school on Lexington Avenue and 46th Street. I was married in the World Trade Center. But sentimentality pales in the face of this monstrous, incomprehensible horror and the sorrow-laden aftermath.

I am so stirred by your beautiful words:

"Perhaps whoever did this despicable act has their own set of sad stories - senseless deaths of friends or family, lingering anger fanned into murderous flames. Anger breeds anger, death breeds death. Pray for them all, and pray that we break this vicious cycle."

I have printed them out and hung them on my wall.

You get it. It is as Gandhi said, "Human kind has to get out of violence only through nonviolence. Counter-hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred. Hatred can be overcome only by love." And it is as Francis Bacon said, "In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy."

As moved as I am by the stories of people bonding together and showing solidarity and wanting to give in whatever ways they can, I'm profoundly saddened by the vitriolic rage against the spiritually ill perpetrators, the blind passion for retribution and the prospect of more bloodshed, of war.

I have never believed in an eye for an eye. It's a sentiment I have been trying to share, but it's not one that is generally well received. People say we can't lie down and play dead. I don't know what is right.

Maybe, like Hemingway, I need to make a separate peace. Like the old spiritual, "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, I ain't gonna study war no more."

Powerful words, powerful then, powerful now.

"In the night forlorn the morning's born
And the morning shines with the lights of love"
Townes Van Zandt

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Warring States bead and me

"Think I'll go out to Alberta, weather's good there in the fall."

I did it! I visited all the blogs in the last reveal of the 6th Bead Soup Blog Party and commented on most of them. The creativity and skill demonstrated in the finished pieces was just amazing. I was on inspiration overload by the time I was finished, but I'm glad I participated.

I mentioned that Lori, the Bead Soup organizer, was going to be advertising some sales and promotions on her blog Pretty Things, but life interrupted and I got an email apologizing that she wasn't able to make it happen right now. So here's the deal -- I'm offering 20 percent off on my premium frit blends and my handmade lampwork beads in my Etsy shops until September 15. Just use the coupon code 20PERCENT in both shops when you check out.

I've been pretty excited about the new Warring States beads I've been making. Beads of this design are traced back to beads made in ancient China during the Warring States period of history (early 5th century BC).

As usual when I get obsessed with a bead style though, I can't seem to stop making them. So I make them ad infinitum, until I get totally sick of them and never want to make another. Sometimes I do go back after time passes and revisit a design, such as my giant plunged florals, so I won't say that I'll never make another goddess or another fish. But I might not.

In the meantime, after some beginners luck with a simple Warring States, don't you know I just had to make them more elaborate, with more dots and more opportunities for frustration when I am almost done with a bead and I get two neighboring dots married to each other. That is never a good thing. Sometimes I can save the bead by picking the dots off with a tweezer and placing new ones. Sometimes I just wind up with a hosed up bead with the dot from outer space. The up side is the bead goes into the Beads of Courage bowl. Kids don't mind if there is an alien dot or a pair of married dots on a bead.

As long as I'm in dot mode I've also been making big round beads with rows of offset stacked dots. They don't have a sexy name like Warring States, so I just call them big round beads with rows of alternating dots. I could call them Brad Pearson style beads because I have to admit they are derivative. The big bad juju that haunts contemporary beadmakers, everything has been done before by someone, there's nothing new under the sun. The best we can do is try to put our own spin on things and give credit where credit is due.

In other news, I am ready ready ready for cooler weather. Heat doesn't bother me (much). Humidity doesn't bother me (good for my complexion, hair and nails). The sun, at least being out in it, bothers the bejesus out of me. If I am inside and the house is cool, then the sun doesn't bother me. In fact, I prefer it to overcast skies. But since my studio work space is in the garage, and as the sun starts to encroach in the afternoon hours, it is stinking hot. I manage with a fan and it's OK until 3 pm or so. I am longing, however, for pleasant temperatures, temperate breathable air.

I have a feeling my muse is ready for some crisp days too. Even I can understand that she doesn't want to be out sweating between a torch and a kiln, god love her. Neil's theory is that summer in Sugar Land starts on May 10 and ends on October 10. So, another month and change. Bring it.

"Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high,
All these things that won't change, come what may."
Johnny Cash

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The inconsolable babykins

"Here we go again, another round of blues."

I've been busy blog hopping and I'm still only halfway through the last reveal. There are so many imaginative bead jewelry designs to admire and comment upon. I'm determined to finish visiting all the blogs by the end of this coming holiday weekend. If I don't leave a comment, its either because I couldn't get the letters and numbers in the captcha right, or the blog was in another language and I couldn't figure out the instructions for comments.

In the meantime, I've been away visiting my baby grandson who is almost 12 weeks old. He's smiling now and is the most adorable little flirt, with his blond hair and big baby blues. Good thing he is such a cutie because he's also a little rascal.

I would say that I never had an "easy" baby. My oldest, Ryland's momma, was a busy bee. She took 30 minute naps and was happy all the time, as long as you interacted with her. She liked to be walked, to play peekaboo, to go for a ride in the stroller. She did not, as some of my friends' kids did, like to sit contentedly in her baby seat, watching the world around her. She could be counted on to fall asleep in the car or in her baby swing.

Ryland is completely unpredictable, and the first baby I've been utterly unable to console. When he's happy, he is a bundle of smiles and cute baby noises. The other 80 percent of the time he is fussing if not out and out bawling. He's awake every couple of hours during the night, which is not exactly my problem, but still a worry, because I love my daughter and she has to go back to work next week and I don't know how you do that when you're up and down with a baby all night.

I try very hard to practice what I preach. As my mom liked to say, I don't try to live other peoples' lives, I have enough trouble living my own. But it's hard when I think my daughter is making things harder on herself than they need to be. She is dead set on giving Ryland nothing but breast milk and unwilling to consider the possibility that he might be less miserable on something like soy formula. Or that he might sleep longer at night with one formula feeding at bedtime.

I went with her this morning to her weekly breast feeding support group, and I had to wonder what kind of koop-aid these women were drinking. The lactation consultant talked about studies showing that breastfed babies tested higher in intelligence at 6 months. I sat there getting madder and madder. I breastfed my girls at first but despite my efforts to build up my milk supply I had to supplement with formula early on. My girls spit up a lot, and soy formula agreed with them better than milk formula. I pumped for a while after going back to work, but my meager supply dwindled further and continuing to breastfeed seemed more trouble than it was worth.

But I resented the implication that I had shortchanged my children by bottle feeding, and at the same time I disagreed with the premise. My girls are plenty smart and you have to consider all the variables. Such as the probability that the same moms who are hell bent on breast feeding are also more likely to be providing stimulation of all types to their kids, probably reading to them more and spending more time catering to their baby intellectual development.

Whatever. The bottom line though is that it isn't my decision. If I truly believe, and I do, that what other people think about me is none of my business, it stands to reason that what I think about my daughter is none of her business. And that includes the sleep issue. The one where my daughter rocks the baby to sleep each and every time, when I would bite the bullet and let him learn to fall asleep on his own

Both my girls slept through the night by the age of two months. Whether or not it was because cows have 4 stomachs so cows milk formula takes 4 times as long to digest, at least according to the lactation consultant, who can say. Whether or not it was because we learned from our mistakes with Baby One, who had to learn how to fall asleep on her own at 15 months, and put Baby Two in her crib, wide awake, much sooner, is anyone's guess.

This morning my daughter woke me at 7:30 and asked me to take the baby, so she could go back to bed for 2 hours. I said, sure, just let me brush my teeth and put on some coffee. Ryland was a joy for about 5 minutes and then the wailing started. I walked him. I rocked him. I put him on his tummy and patted his back. I repeatedly offered him his pacifier, which bought me 30 seconds of peace at a time. I took him into his room and shut the door so his mom wouldn't hear him and think I was beating her child.

Nothing worked. Ryland cried. He didn't pull up his legs as if he had tummyache, he didn't have gas. He wasn't wet or hot or cold or in any obvious physical pain. He was throwing a baby tantrum. And the funniest part was that every so often he would stop crying, smile at me, and then immediately resume crying. When he did finally cry himself down, I put him in his crib, covered him with a light blanket and left the room. Five minutes later, yes, you guessed right, he was ready for another round of blues.

At 9:30 I gave him back to his mom. I felt defeated. I had some belated insight into her postpartum depression that I had largely chalked up to hormones and the aftermath of anesthesia and childbirth itself. Add to that the experience with the breast feeding group and top it off with a 5 hour drive home. I feel so done.

But it didn't rain. And I was able to appreciate the beauty of the late summer countryside once I escaped the evil traffic that relentlessly blankets Fort Worth. Best of all, I'm home. I sleep in my own bed tonight. In my book, heaven is in the details.

"Here we go again, another round of blues
Several miles ago I set down my angel shoes ...

"So wherever you go, you better take care of me
This time, if you're gonna go, remember me and all this time"
Shawn Colvin

Friday, August 24, 2012

The bead soup blog hop big reveal

"Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!"

It's (almost) August 25 and the reveal date for my first Bead Soup Blog Party!

First a big thank you to Lori Anderson who writes the Pretty Things blog and organizes the Blog Hops. With some 400 participants that is a really big feat. Check out Lori's blog this weekend for some amazing deals, including discount codes for my beads and frit blends.

Second, a shout out to my Bead Soup Partner, Margot Potter, whose blog is Make it with Madge. Margot sent me an inspiring mix of beads that challenged me and I hope I pulled it off OK. On a side note, Margot was a recent contestant on Craft Wars and you can download the episode (A Christmas Craft-Tastrophe) from iTunes for $1.99. Fun to watch!

Next, another look at the Bead Soup Margot sent me.

The pendant is a collage Margot created from a fashion illustration in a 1930s magazine that she found at a flea market in Paris. The crystals are Swarovski Elements ("the sparkliest of the sparkly") and the little orange flowers are Lucite.

Margot also sent another pretty clasp that I used in this necklace made with my beads. The beads are all made with my frit blends and wasn't it the perfect accessory for a bead bazaar where I had my blends for sale.

So this is what I made with the pendant, the chain, the bird toggle closures, the crystals and the lucite flowers.

I'm personally tickled with the asymmetry of the beaded part of the necklace, the length and the way my lampwork floral blended in perfectly.

I had enough beads left for a pair of earrings to match my necklace.

I used the rest of the chain to make a little jingly jangly bracelet with the charms.

Those of you with eagle eyes may notice that I didn't use the wire mesh (yet) or the blue stars. The mesh is so pretty and I have a great idea about how I want to use it. I just have to make some big-holed beads, which I plan to string with knots in between. I'm still thinking about how to do the closure/clasp. I promise a picture when it is done. I'm still pondering the blue stars. I'm sure the perfect application will come along. It usually does.

I'm looking forward to blog hopping tomorrow (and probably the day after and the day after that). I looked at every post from the first and second reveal dates. I'm hoping to have time to make more comments on this reveal. I tried to paste the list at the end of this post but I kept hosing up the html, so you will have to go to Lori's blog, Pretty Things, and scroll down to Reveal #3,

And of course I am bursting with curiosity to see what beautiful concoction Madge whipped up with the Bead Soup I sent to her.

"Beautiful soup, who cares for fish, game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?"
From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by the inimitable Charles Lutwidge Dodgson perhaps better known as Lewis Carrol

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The train ride derails

"Trouble ahead, trouble behind, and you know that notion just crossed my mind."

On our last day at Glacier National Park, our plan was to take the 10 am train heading east to Chicago via North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Train novices that we are, we booked our flight home 4 hours after our scheduled arrival in Chi-town.

Only there was a little hitch, that turned into a big honking hitch, by degree. Our train was delayed. Ultimately by 8 hours.

Normally, having an extra day at a national park would be like cake and ice cream when it isn't even your birthday. Unfortunately the good folks at Amtrak gradually ratcheted our departure time hour by hour. So we were captives at the lodge until we could hear that metaphorical train whistle blowing. The lodge would only extend checkout time by one hour, until noon. I used that hour to take a nice nap.

The one redeeming thing about being stuck at the lodge all day is that the day was overcast and cool, cool enough for a blazing fire in the huge great room fireplace. It rained lightly and would not have been a particularly pleasant day for hiking. Or for a Red Bus tour, for that matter. We had glorious sunshine and comfortable temperatures for our tour. I've said it before, I'll say it again, I'm lucky with weather.

By the time our train was four hours late it didn't take a math genius (not to say Neil isn't one) to predict that making our air connection in Chicago would be highly unlikely. Despite talk of making up time, we thought of a brilliant solution. Debark the train in Minneapolis and fly home from there. God bless America and frequent flyer miles. A call to United let us know that we could change our itinerary for a $50 per person fee.

I walked over to the Amtrak station, a stone's throw from the lodge, and changed our tickets. Getting a $225 refund for cutting 7 hours out of our train ride was the candle on that unbirthday cake. Our train rolled into East Glacier at 6 pm and rolled out soon after.

We got the back story on the delay. The original train derailed before departing Seattle. Passengers were bused to Spokane where a substitute train was put into service. Passengers and employees spent part of the night in a train station in Spokane instead of their (relatively) comfortable roomettes. Our car attendant assured us that no further delays were likely, so we pulled the trigger and changed our plane reservations.

Dinner was served in the dining car and the big disappointment was that there was only vanilla ice cream for dessert. Things went downhill from there. We had the beds made up in our roomette but it was a long night. The car was stuffy and I kept waking up and noticing that the train was moving very slowly or not at all. By morning we had lost more time and the chances of catching our flight home that night were slim to none.

The day was more of the same. At breakfast we were seated with a veteran train traveler who explained that as long as Amtrak ran on time it was king of the rails. Once a train got behind schedule, it had to yield to every freight train along the way. So we made tedious progress across North Dakota. The one bright spot was stepping off the train in Minot and snapping a photo of Neil touching down in State 48.

Breakfast was totally fine. We weren't hungry when lunch rolled around but I have anxiety about getting hungry and the prospect of no dinner. Lunch was a mistake though. The dining car was out of almost everything. Even vanilla ice cream. We had salad and lukewarm soup and I had an orange that was the most delicious thing I ate all day. I wish I had asked for two.

At some point we called United again and the agent was compassionate enough to change our flight to the following morning without charging a second change fee.

I'll skim over the rest of the trip. We were 13 hours behind schedule when we detrained in Minneapolis. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong Hampton Inn. Who knew there were two Hampton Inns close to the airport. I saw the Mall of America on the cab ride. The hotel airport shuttle driver took us to the right Hampton with ill grace. We had a perfectly nice room, a lovely Hampton breakfast and an uneventful flight home. I slept through most of it.

I woke up the next morning, Sunday, with a raging sore throat and body aches. Because I am a lunatic, I made beads in the hot garage. My baby came home for her birthday and got her new wheels from her dad, which was possibly the most significant financial contribution he has ever made to our children's health and welfare. We had a $40 cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes and a nice time considering I was battling the URI from hell.

I have no idea where I got the bright idea to let my immune system fight this one out, but when we got back on an airplane on Friday to Philly for a coin show and a baseball game and on to New Jersey for a visit with Neil's mom and Neil's dad (respectively) I was coughing and generally miserable. I slept in the hotel while Neil went to the coin show. I struggled though 8 and a half innings at Citizen's Bank Park, a shame because it was a lovely night for a ballgame.

I slept at Neil's mom's house while he visited with her. I dragged myself around to visit with Neil's dad and sister and nephews and niece. I spent a lot of time on the sofa and the ipad. I seriously considered going home early. I alternately ran a low fever and no fever. I welcomed any fever as an ally in my fight against the alien strain resolutely stationed in my respiratory system.

The saddest part is, I tried and failed to use the time to dream about new bead designs. I always amuse myself when away from the torch by making beads in my mind. Except this time. My creativity was as useless as my immune system. We got home on Thursday night and on Friday I went to the doctor and got a scrip for Amoxycillin. I bow to the gods of antibiotics. Within 24 hours I felt human again. I was born at the right time. I have no doubts that I'd have had a much shorter lifespan without bacteriolytics.

Plus, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, better than sleeping in my own bed.

Creativity returned with health. Ideas began to flow again. I'm working on a new design and I'm excited about it.

"I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains,
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains,
There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in crooked line,
And the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."
(Amy Ray, Emily Saliers)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The train to Glacier

"Sometimes the light's all shining on me, other times I can barely see."

A long, strange trip it's been, indeed, and it ain't over yet.

This is the last stop between me and my own bed at least. I love my bed. I love my house. I used to think I could never live anywhere more rural than suburbia. With the advent of the Internet and cell phone technology, now I think I could be perfectly happy without ever leaving home. I can buy anything I want and have it delivered to my door. I can chat with people all over the globe. I can get a daily picture of my grandson in a text message. I can get a video too and hear him make his baby noises.

Nonetheless, on July 27, Neil and caught an early flight to Seattle. In the next 8 days we covered 5 states, although admittedly we slept through all of Idaho and much of North Dakota. Most of the trip was spent in Seattle at the annual ISGB bead makers conference, and in Montana, at Glacier National Park.

As an adult, I've been visiting America's National Parks and in a way I feel about America like I do about my home. I never want to leave. There is so much beauty to see here that it takes a lot to tempt me to leave U.S. borders. I loved my trip to England and visiting my French cousins will always feel like the adventure of a lifetime. But traveling long distances to places with unfamiliar languages and currency and transit systems introduces more stress than my ideal vacation needs.

At the age of 20 I hiked in the Canadian Rockies with my best friend from college and another friend. We had an awesome time, traveling from Montreal to Vancouver on the Trans-Canadian Railway, stopping in Banff and Lake Louise, where I earned my first hiking blisters. We were so young and fearless, hitchhiking from station to campground to trailhead and seeing the most magnificent vistas I'd seen in my short life.

I knew I wanted to see more, to return one day to what I was sure was the most beautiful place on earth, but it took another score of years until I hiked again seriously. In the interim there were camping trips with girl scout troops and some lovely visits to Vermont's Green Mountains, but it wasn't until my early 40s that I got refitted with hiking boots and tackled the trails of the Smokies.

One of the joys of my life with Neil has been our yearly visits to National Parks and State Parks, from the Grand Canyon, to the Painted Desert to the Petried Forest. From Larsen to Zion, Sequoia and Kings Canyon to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, from the Great Sand Dunes to Mesa Verde, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulfstream Waters. I cant speak for you, but this land really was made for me.

We try to combine business trips, coin shows and bead conferences with a visit to whatever park is in a reasonable vicinity. Many are repeats for Neil, and I finally did get back to the Canadian Rockies, although we chose different hikes. In April we visited Yosemite. Yellowstone hovers near the top of the list, along with a return to the Great Smoky Mountains.

I don't remember how or when Glacier got onto the list. It may have been after I read Blood Lure, an Anna Pigeon mystery by Nevada Barr. I discovered the series starring the fictional park ranger in 2010 from a reference in National Parks magazine to Winter Study, the 14th book in the series. From there I went back to the first book and read them in sequence through the 17th, although technically the last is set in time before the first.

Glacier National Park, the U.S. part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, also known as the Crown of the Continent, is quite a way off the beaten path, unless your beaten path includes a road trip across Montana. Montana is a freaking big state.

There is a train called the Empire Builder that runs between Seattle and Chicago, six trains actually, with one leaving every day from both cities. Number 8 runs east and number 7 runs west. Taking the train with a stop in Glacier seemed like an awesome way to visit a remote park and allow Neil to tick off the last of the 48 continental states that he has now visited. We have photographic evidence from the train platform in Minot.

Despite its intriguing name, Empire Builder, the Amtrak experience had little in common with the Orient Express, as depicted in film and print. We did travel by sleeper car, in a roomette, and the first leg of the route between Seattle and Glacier, was reasonably enjoyable. Our attendant was attentive, dinner and breakfast in the dining car were perfectly fine, and we both slept better than I expected.

We left Seattle and arrived at East Glacier about 2 hours late. East Glacier the town is barely more than a whistlestop, composed of the grand and historic Glacier Park Lodge where we stayed and a handful of eateries and souvenir shops. The lodge is located outside the park boundaries on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On the first afternoon we drove up to the park and hiked around Upper Two Meddicine Lake. I wish Neil hadn't spooked me with bear fear, or I'd have enjoyed it more. We climbed enough to see some amazing views and then enjoyed huckleberry soft serve ice cream in perfect temperatures by the beautiful lake.

Neil will be the first to admit he was born without the spontenaity gene. In all fairness he disclosed this in our earliest correspondence. I like not having a plan and wandering where the spirit moves me. Neil likes scedules, lists and agendas. He was sweet enough to arrange the trip, so it would be uncharitable to say I would not have spent our one full day in Glacier on a 9 to 5 Red Bus tour. Even though the very same red buses, refurbished in 2001 (see photo below), have carried visitors through the park since the 1930s. Even though we did learn a lot about park history, as we, along with our 11 bus mates and driver, rode the entire Going to the Sun Road, with periodic stops to stretch our legs and buy refreshment.

Losing a favorite work shirt that I was wearing as a jacket and having to get back on the bus without a proper chance to look for it reinforced the fact that I'm just not tour bus material. I tried to be a good sport though, and the many beauties of the park were not a wasted on me. The day ended with burgers back in town and our last night at the lodge, which also brings me to the end of the most fun part of this leg of the odyssey.

The less fun part of our travels, including the proverbial train wreck, to follow soon.

"Lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been."
Garcia, Hunter, Lesh, Weir

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

First boyfriend redux

"You know I've been to sea before, crown and anchor me, or let me sail away."

This wasn’t the post I intended to write. I got sidetracked. (Having recently spent 24 hours on a train that was running 13 hours late, that word has special meaning for me and I’ll get back to it one day soon.)

My small liberal arts college class has a Facebook page and I've been a member from the beginning. Yesterday the class pres welcomed two new members. My first serious boyfriend (and his wife, also an alum).

Things didn't end well between us. I was pretty immature then. I wanted too much too soon from the relationship. Instead of giving it time, I broke up with him to date someone who "needed me" more. I was stunned when P went to pieces because I never felt like I was that important to him. He even dropped out of school for a semester.

When he came back he started dating a transfer student. That was our junior year. I was still dating G and we stayed together until after graduation. I broke up with him too, hurt him too, and he later married another classmate.

Both P and G had kids, 4 and 2 respectively, stayed married respectively, and from all I know, which is not a lot, are happy, respectively. I married someone else and we were just wrong for each other from the get go. The marriage lasted 16 turbulent years, but I have my two beautiful kids, so no regrets. A couple of years after my ex and I went our separate ways, I met my amazing future husband. We have been seriously happily together for ten years now.

Seeing P’s name and picture on Facebook stirred up some nostalgic feeling and provoked some strange dreams. I fleetingly toyed with the idea of adding him as a Facebook friend, but why? What could I possibly have to say to him? That I'm happy that he is happy, that things worked out for him, and that I'm sorry I hurt him. But 30 years is a day late, right? Why poke at old wounds?

And what if he isn't really happy, do I even want to know that? He would think I had a hidden agenda and I don't. Or is it that I want him to know I am happy? Admittedly there were some very rough years for me between then and now. Between my marriages a man I loved very much threw me over for the woman before me. If you believe that karma is a boomerang, then I paid for any and all hearts I hurt and my slate is squeaky clean.

I know I need to back away and do nothing and that is what I will do. It's temporarily out of perspective, I dreamed about it once, but it will morph into background noise soon enough. I'm not contacting him.

A friend told me that she looked up an ex who had hurt her and was happy to see that he had lost his hair. P did keep his hair. If he didn't I wouldn’t have been happy about it, but I might have moved on in a split second or ten. I'm that superficial! Not only that, his wife stayed slim and trim. Like me. In my dreams. OK, so maybe this will motivate me to work out and lose that extra 20. Why? I don’t know, I’m not planning to go to any reunions, I’m comfortable in my body, but hell, if she can stay slim, I can be slim too. It’s healthier, OK?

So I broke hearts and I had mine broken. Payback is hell. As I said, I was pretty immature when I was 20. And pretty vulnerable when I was single again at 40.

When I first got on Facebook, M, the man who broke my heart in 2001, sent me a friend request. I thought he might have something he wanted to say to me, so I accepted it, impulsively, curiously, (stupidly?). But then he never said one word to me. And so, a couple of weeks later, I de-friended him. After he had ample chance to see how well and happy I am. And beautiful because, above all, happiness is what makes a person beautiful.

Ah, that was satisfying. Hearts make miraculous recoveries.

I have absolutely no reason to contact P. It's way too late to say I'm sorry I hurt him, and I'm pretty sure I told him so way back when anyway. It was just the tiniest of jolts to see his picture appear, out of the blue, so to speak.

There's an Alanis Morissette song called Unsent in which she reflects on her old boyfriends.

The last line goes "I will always have your back and be curious about you, about your career about your whereabouts."

I sent that quote to M in an email once, about 6 months after the terrible, horrible end of our relationship. (We both said regrettable things and he basically told me to "have a nice life.")

I meant it too. Then. I never thought I'd stop loving him. But I did. And frankly, my dear, today I really don't give a damn about his career or his whereabouts.

I didn't go looking for P. His picture got posted on my FB wall. I'm over it already.

Even if at some point in history I would have given a lot for a second chance to get it right the first time, even if we had stayed together, who can say what would have happened, if we'd have been happy and stayed happy. I've changed, I'm sure he has changed too.

That's life.

"Blue, here is a shell for you, inside you'll hear a sigh, a foggy lullaby,
There is your song from me."
The ever brilliant inimitable Joni Mitchell

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What I'm doing on my summer vacation

"One more for the road (ro-oh-oh-oh-oad)."

At some point I must have thought it was a good idea to append two vacation trips of entirely different natures. And to that I can only say, what was I thinking?!

Tomorrow morning early we leave for the annual international conference of glass bead makers. Known as the Gathering, it takes place in cities around the country each year, the main criteria apparently being that the city has a Hyatt hotel. Because I can't think of another reason for two conferences in Rochester, NY, just three years apart.

We aren't going to Rochester though, we are going to Seattle. I've only been to one Gathering before, Miami 2009, when I had been making beads for just a little more than a year. Not only did I win a scholarship for that one, but both my parents were alive and living an hour's drive north of Miami. Attendance was reportedly down that year, with just 300 attendees.

Seattle is expected to have at least twice that number, the Pacific Northwest being the bosom of glass art culture, or at least one breast, the other being Corning, NY. Which, come to think of it, is about 100 miles from Rochester, a geographic combination worth considering. But the Seattle area is home to many of the largest glass importers, distributors and even manufacturers, although Portland, Oregon boasts the most American companies that actually make glass cane for lampworkers. Sheet glass for stained glass workers and batch for glassblowers is made from the Midwest to the Carolinas and probably other places I don't even know about because if it's not made for torching, it's just not my passion,

So, Summer Vacation Part 1 is 4 days in Bellevue, with events from Silent Auction to Open Torch to Silly Hat Contest to Bead Bazaar. Most folks have already arrived for the official opening reception tonight, and many convened as early as last weekend, for pre-conference classes. The technical vendor area opened at 10 am today, and some glass no doubt already has sold out, but a good friend is holding aside some special silver glass test batches for me. I'm going to try not to be ridiculous about buying glass this year, especially considering the logistics involved with Summer Vacation Part 2.

Because from Seattle we are taking an Amtrak train called the Empire Builder to Glacier National Park, where we will stay for a couple of days before getting back on the train and embarking for Chicago, in the process fulfilling my husbands wish to visit all 48 continental states. He will get to tick off the last one, North Dakota, probably as we hurtle through it at high speeds in the dead of night.

I've just spent the better part of the last 48 hours packing for both a glass bead conference and a hiking trip and man, that has been a beach and a half. I'm selling beads and frit at the Bazaar, and since I am unable to do things other than excessively, I kept adding more beads to my baggage. For a bead show one must have business cards, bags for merchandise, sales receipts, credit card gizmos, and even with a minimalist approach to a display, tablecloths and trays. I jarred and bubble wrapped at least 100 jars of frit and I lost count of how many beads but I'm estimating a couple of hundred at least.

There's a Bead Swap on Sunday too, and just in case I sell out at the Bazaar (one can dream), I packed trade beads too. I also have a bag of 50 beads for Beads of Courage. And jewelry, including a necklace of beads with all of my frit blends, lots of earrings and pendants, because this is the place where the people who share your passion will notice these things. And I figure, the more jewelry I wear, the more I can get away without makeup, because I've come to regard makeup as an enemy. Eye shadow does not look good on older eyes, I am hopeless with eyeliner and mascara, lipstick has never been my thing, so I'm down to SPF 15 face powder and a little blush.

And now my bags are packed, I'm ready to go, the hiking boots are jammed in with the bead trays, the beads pretty much fill my carry on, and the extra large spinner I just bought at TJ Maxx even accommodates my hiking poles. Less than six hours from now the alarm clock will set this adventure in motion. United willing, we will be in Seattle by lunchtime. Let the party begin. Sing it with me.

"One more job oughta get it, one last shot, and we quit it, one more for the ro-oh-oh-oh-oad."
Boz Scaggs