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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No pain, no gain, but pass the Advil anyway

"Come on baby, make it hurt so good."

My arm hurts.

Not that that is anything new. It has hurt now for at least two years and no amount of doctoring has helped it, more than temporarily.

Let's see, I have been to see a hand specialist, who diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome, even though the symptoms I have do not match up with CTS, at least not in the world according to Google. She referred me to a neurologist, where I underwent a series of nerve and muscle tests that attested to the robust health and well being of my nerves and muscles.

Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, the hand specialist stood by her CTS diagnosis and offered me a hand brace and a shot of corticosteroids. I asked how fast she could get that sucker ready and as it turns out, it was pretty fast. I remember her comment was that if nothing else, the shot was a diagnostic measure, and that if I got no relief, then we could rule out CTS. Then she jammed that needle into my wrist.

I got some relief, although I suspect there was a placebo effect in play. But since the next step would have been surgery and I remained stubbornly unconvinced about a CTS diagnosis, I didn't go back to the hand doc.

The next thing I tried was chiropracty. A girl chiro, possibly younger than my daughter, which is why I didn't call her a women chiro, "adjusted" my neck and prescribed electrical impulse and ultrasound therapy. I went for three treatments but that feeling of genuine voodoo hit me when they strapped electrodes across my shoulders to electrically stimulate my muscles. And it hit me again when a technician rubbed mentholyptus lotion on my forearm arm and rolled it in circles with an ultrasound device, ostensibly to micro-massage my soft tissues. Nice as that was, my natural skeptic cried foul. I went home none the worse for wear, but no better.

Acupuncture was my next resort. I actually stuck with it through half a dozen treatments, because I was told that it might take several sessions to buy relief. And OK, because my husband implied that I couldn't expect a remedy if I didn't stick with a treatment. The acupuncturist came recommended by Asian friends and turned out to be an Anglo woman, a former nurse licensed by a local academic institution of acupuncture and oriental medicine. I might have felt better with a wizened Chinese doctor who had studied in the old country, but I decided to give her a fair chance.

Years ago I sought acupuncture therapy for depression that was resistant to mainstream treatments. I saw a Chinese doctor then, one who, in an amazing instance of Jewish Geography, had studied in China with a Chinese doctor in Chicago who had been successfully treating an internet friend for depression with herbs. Dr. Xu, pronounced Shoe, told me depression was complex to treat with acupuncture, requiring many needles and multiple sessions. Since I was working for corporate America at the time, 3 sessions a week during business hours was essentially impossible, given that I was still in the closet with regard to my mood malady.

Interestingly, Dr. Xu told me that acupuncture treatment for quitting smoking was much simpler than for depression, 3 needles, 2 sessions, or something like that. Since I bagged the tar and nicotine bit cold turkey when I was 23, that was nice to know but of no clinical value to me. I did go for 3 sessions the first week and came home with a bag of herbs to mix with water and ingest. The herb-water combo went down like a coffee-ground water combo would and tasted possibly less good. I did try, really, but whether by chance or by connection, I was sick as a dog that weekend.

That was the end of my first acupuncture experiment. Acupuncture for my arm did not involve exotic herbs and lasted a bit longer. During this time, I began losing range of motion in my neck. Turning my head to look for vehicles in my blind spot was a losing game. I can describe the feeling best as a stiff neck, the kind you might get if you slept in a funny position. Except mine didn't go away.

The new acupuncturist practiced in a small home in an older neighborhood. Deed restrictions allowed her only a discreet sign in the front window. The bedrooms were the treatment rooms and at times I was not the only patient in the house. After the needles were inserted, I would rest for 30 minutes or so, during which time I typically dosed off. On my last appointment, I was lying face down, my head on a massage headrest, and I woke from a catnap to realize that my neck was torqued painfully backward. With needles in my body from scalp to instep, I was trapped and helpless. I tried calling out but I have no vocal power at the best of times. And this was not the best of times. I had to wait until the good doc came to check on me.

Nothing pisses me off like going for therapy and leaving in more unnecessary pain than I came with. I figured this time I had given acupuncture a fighting chance and it just wasn't going to be my drug of choice. I cancelled my next appointment. That was that.

In the meantime, my kids had given me a spa gift card for my birthday and in doing so created a monster. I used it for one massage and was so lucky to find a gem of a masseuse that I signed up for the program, the one where they automatically bill your credit card on the first of the month and your massages are about half price. Once a month, Teresa worked on the muscles in my upper back and upper front, and I have to say, my arm started feeling better. A massage with Teresa was no soothing relaxation job, it was a deep tissue massacre, and she hurt me really well.

That little honeymoon lasted a few months, until Teresa turned in her notice at the salon and moved out state thanks to her husband's job transfer. I tried a new massage therapist, but while her spirit is willing, her style is different and I'm just not reaping the same benefits. In fact, I'm not sure I'm reaping any benefits. And now I'm afraid that even if I find someone I like, they will leave me, just like Teresa. I cancelled my contract.

Which leaves me living on Advil, hot baths and a suck-it-up attitude toward my arm agony. No doubt the ergonomics of bead making play a part in this pity party, but I'm pretty sure there is no acupuncture treatment for quitting lampwork. Until there is, I'll keep adjusting my torch position, keep reminding myself to hold my neck straight while twirling glass, keep downing the ibuprofen and keep soaking in those cheap Ulta bath salts.

And keep whining. But you already knew that.

"Hurt so good, come on baby, make it hurt so good,
Sometimes love don't feel like it should, you make it hurt so good."
John Mellencamp

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Art schools out for the summer

"When I first saw your gallery I liked the ones of ladies."

Today was my second to last summer art class and I never have been more relieved that a class I am taking for fun is almost over.

I came home today and painted three paintings, one was the homework from the class I missed last week, and two were today's homework. They aren't great but the great thing is that I am calling them done. So unless I get some unanticipated artistic energy tomorrow and re-do a couple of assignments to improve my grades, I am done done done with acrylics!

To be honest, if I'd read the fine print, I might not have taken this class, but I was so starstruck by the name of the class, "Color," that I must have glossed right over the description:
Projects in this class are designed to address the relativity and interaction of color in the visual arts. Emphasis is on learning by direct perception of color phenomena, with studies on juxtaposition, harmony, and quantity, executed in paint and colored papers. Studies in hue, value, and intensity are followed by studies in color composition and harmony. This course will help both beginning and advanced students take color to the next step.
Color was listed separately from the painting classes, and somehow I missed those three little telling words, "executed in paint." In my mind, I was taking a color theory class, where we would study the works of the masters and I could wear nice clothes because it wasn't a lab class. I was excited about how I might be able to apply what I learned to my glass frit blending endeavors. Instead, I got to wear one of Neil's old shirts as a smock and have paint embedded in my fingernails for seven straight weeks.

That alone might not have daunted me. Dabbling in paint wearing a smock has its own sex appeal and once in the game I was willing to give it my best. Two things derailed me.

The first was that I underestimated the impact of becoming a grandmother while taking a Tuesday Thursday class. In the year since I became a student again, I had not missed a single class. My grandson considerately made his appearance on a Sunday and came home from the hospital on Tuesday. So I left for Keller directly from my class on that Tuesday and stayed until Sunday. One class missed, one assignment to make up. Totally manageable, at least until my daughter had a meltdown a week later.

My daughter who has never been depressed for one day of her life, and who I thought had dodged that hereditary bullet, had full-blown postpartum depression. She didn't think she was doing anything right, didn't feel like she was bonding with the baby, basically just "didn't want to do it anymore." I know it is an illness and no one is immune, but it was especially shocking since she has wanted to have a baby forever. And now she was telling me that she didn't want to hold him, didn't know if she loved him.

So on his one-month birthday, I once again left directly after my Tuesday class to spend a few more days with my grandson and his mama. Maybe because first, she knew I was coming, and then, because I was there, she started feeling better. The baby was up from his 6 lb. 3 oz. birth weight to a whopping 8 lbs. 6 oz. so there was undeniable proof that she was doing everything right. And she is so good with him, she really seems to have the mom thing down, at least to outward appearances.

I stayed until Friday, and then she had her husband home for the weekend. Things are still a bit dodgy, the baby hasn't settled into any sort of sleep schedule yet, but she has meds to take now if she feels she really needs them. I hope she hangs on a bit longer and turns a corner, because while I am the poster girl for better living through medicine, I don't like the idea of medicating what might be a transitory problem. It's a slippery slope and I'm hoping she can stay off it because not all meds work for all people and some can make you feel a whole lot worse, based on my personal and problematic experience.

The second thing that derailed me in my painterly aspirations is my teacher. I like her, but she takes the class way too seriously. I mean, the beauty of art is that it is in the eye of the beholder. So if I painstakingly complete an assignment and if the shade of blue I mixed isn't a ringer for the shade I am trying to mimic, do I really deserve a failing grade? Really, a 58? On a project that took me hours. And while I know I missed more than I hit on that particular exercise, I think a C would have sent the same message, and a B would have been justified for effort.

So I have slogged through the assignments, with grades from As and Bs to a C and that 58. I planned and meant to redo the latter two assignments to raise my grade, but somehow I just haven't felt like pulling out the paints when I get home. Today I absolutely made myself do it, I pushed my way through the last three assignments. I'm happy with one and satisfied with two but most of all I am finished. Done. Complete.

I know I will pass the course and even without re-doing those two evil assignments, I might even pull a B, but right now I just don't need the pressure. Although part of me wants to eradicate that C and that 58 as a matter of pride. It would be another few hours of paint and it would have to be done tomorrow to turn in on Thursday.

But you know, tomorrow, I feel like making some beads. I have new frit blends to test. Pictures soon.

"When I first saw your gallery, I liked the ones of ladies
But now their faces follow me, and all their eyes look shady"
Joni Mitchell (again)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The bead soup blog hop begins

"Who let the greedy in, who left the needy out, who made this salty soup?"

I have a new challenge. I signed up for the 6th bead soup blog party. You may be familiar with the bead soup blog parties, or it may be as foreign a concept to you as it was to me when I first heard of it. A bead soup exchange happens when you are partnered with someone and you send each other beads and components to make something. Or things.

In this particular bead soup blog party, you keep what you make and you reveal it on your blog on your assigned reveal date. Mine is August 25, so I have some time. And that is a very good thing, because in the interim I am going back to see my grandson, and taking two vacation trips, including one that includes the ISGB annual gathering of lampworkers.

Back to the bead soup for the moment. There are 400 people signed up and they have been paired up by Lori Anderson, who writes a blog called Pretty Things. My partner is Margot Potter, who is "is an internationally celebrated designer, author, mixed media artist, trash to treasure trover, freelance writer, consultant, public speaker, actor and vocalist and TV personality who creates innovative designs for manufacturers, books and magazines and teaches popular seminars and classes at craft and major jewelry industry events."

Margot's bead jewelry tastes run to vintage, or faux vintage and interesting funky assemblages of what she calls "your grandmother's crafts." So I hope she will be as inspired by the lampwork focal, spacers and coordinating pearls and glass beads I sent her as I am by the assortment of cool things she sent me. (In this exchange we are only required to use the focal and clasp. Using other items sent is encouraged but optional.)

Margot actually sent me 3 clasps, plus a pendant focal that is something like a locket with a picture (not a photo) in a frame. I also got a length of chain, some blue stars and orange florets that I think are lucite, 6 dangling charms, some artistic wire that looks very appealing, and a couple of handfuls of large round sparkly beads in orange and shiny metallic. I apologize for hosing up the description and hope the pictures below will be more illuminating.

I hope I am up to the challenge because I admit to feeling a bit out of my element here. I'm a bead maker. I'm not a jewelry maker. I string beads, sometimes. But the bead soup blog hop exchange is open to all levels of experience and it's good to stretch yourself. Right? I did find some comfort (and inspiration) in one of Margot's own designs, a necklace called Drop Dead Gorgeous. I think I can work some of the beads she sent me into a design like that and maybe sneak in a lampwork bead or two.

Here is what Margot sent me, which takes 3 pictures to capture, and what I sent her, just one photo. I've also included the (much better) photo Margot took of my beads, plus her cool campy necklace.

Stay tuned for what I come up with. And remember, it's about the journey.

Who let the greedy in, who left the needy out, who made this salty soup?
Tell him we're very hungry now for a sweeter fare.
In the cookie I read, "Some get the gravy, and some get the gristle, some get the marrow bone, and some get nothing, though there's plenty to spare"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The naming of a glass frit blend

"I want to feel what the wind feels like, I want to go that high."

Today is July 1 and I've been working feverishly (which isn't hard when the temperature hits triple digits) to have my new frit blend, Spumoni, ready to roll out. I thought I was ready, but I made a tweak to the recipe and that meant shooting new pictures. I'm quite happy with it. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and pistachio, as delicious to look at the colors as to savor the ice cream confection.

Spumoni will be my 10th blend, and my goal is to launch a new one every month, and to have the next one ready for the ISGB Gathering at the end of July. I can really get lost in the world of frit colors. I've spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at Reichenbach, Kugler and Gaffer colors online and just placed an order for 28 colors, 14 kilos of frit. Six colors to restock my Boysenberry blend and the rest new ones to play with. I have at least half a dozen ideas for new color combinations.

I thought about launching two blends tomorrow. I have several blends in the test phase, Beachcomber, Snapdragon, Camouflage, Empire State, Island Meadow and last night I impulsively decided to make a blend called MacGuffin. A MacGuffin in fiction and film, is generally an object, a Maltese Falcon for example, of which the characters in the story are in hot pursuit, despite the lack of any obvious reason why the MacGuffin is so desirable. I really like both the concept and the word. I'm not sure yet what the colors will be, but I immediately though of black and goldstone. Maybe along with some jewel-toned transparents.

I think that's my favorite way to develop a frit blend, to name it first and design it afterwards. It's much harder for me to come up with a color combination and then name it. I've spent hours thinking about what to call the hot red, orange and yellow blend that I have in production. Snapdragon is the front runner, but I've considered many names, Electricity, Supernova, Wildfire, Sun Shower, Star Burst. I've been trying to stick with one word names, but since I am going to design a blend called Island Meadow, one of the meanings of Ryland, my baby grandson's name, I might as well consider two word names for my other blends.

Meantime, in the name of research and development, or possibly because I am a hopeless color junkie, I've been making a list of another vendor's blends to buy during her 4th of July sale. There's a big price break at 16 jars, so there you go, it only makes sense to choose 16 blends. I love my own blends but face it, a girl can get bored with just 10 blends to play with. I'm shooting for 30 of my own blends but I'm taking my time to make them right. One a month feels right to me right now, although if I get a lot of inspiration along with the 14 kilo order, who knows. The sky probably isn't the limit, but if two blends fall into place in a month, so be it.

Here is a photo of Spumoni, some beads made with it, and a egg-shaped bead sampler of all ten of my blends.

"I want to feel what the wind feels like, I want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here, holding up the sky."
Mary Chapin Carpenter