Thursday, October 22, 2015

The highs of Texas

"The eyes of Texas, the hearts and the hands
Say, welcome stranger, you know Texas means friend."

I've been buying a lot of beads again and selling very few beads again.

That really needs to turn around and fast.

I can stop buying beads but how to sell more beads remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Furthermore that enigma resides within a paradox, shrouded in a conundrum, surrounded by a quandary. And therein lies the rub.

Some of the time I think my beads are phenomenal and I can't understand why they are being passed over. The rest of the time, I think that after 7 going on 8 years of practice, I'm as good as I'm going to get and that isn't good enough.

I try new things, I return to the tried and true, but I haven't had a creative breakthrough in ages and I'm doubtful that I will again.

My skills are what they are. I'm good at some things. But I'm not patient and my hand is not reliably steady. So my beads lack masterful precision. And I tell myself, that is OK. They are handmade. Machine-like precision while admirable isn't necessary. Little quirks are evidence that a bead is one-of-a-kind. I'm not talking about fatal flaws, just that one annoying dot in 12 that is slightly off-center.

Yet I'm relentlessly self-critical. I know that I see imperfections in my beads that no one else sees. The camera also magnifies every blemish, including those not visible with the naked eye. Yesterday I sold a set that I didn't think I'd sell. I probably shouldn't have listed it, but it had surface metals and so was unsuitable for Beads of Courage. I just wanted it gone.

What is the message though? Am I such a bad judge of my own work that the ugliest set I listed was one of my few recent sales?

I troll through the listings by other beadmakers. As usual it makes me angry. While I'm not alone by far in having bidless listings, buyers are buying beads. It's not the economy. It's not the time of year. But the anger comes from seeing beads with much higher prices than mine that are getting bids and buy-it-nows. Some are beautiful, yes, but some ... I have no words. It's not that they aren't pretty, it's just that I don't understand how a nice but unremarkable bead will sell for $60. Just like that.

Other facts I ponder. I've been selling steadily on Facebook for almost two years. Am I overexposed? Are people just tired of my beads, or complacent that if they pass on them today I'll be listing more tomorrow? There's some truth to that as far as my regular customers go, but new members join all the time and I don't recognize the names of many of the buyers.

Or is it the first rule of bead selling: there are no rules. What sells really well at one bead show tanks completely at the next bead show. So there is no explanation. I'm not hot today, doesn't mean I won't be hot again tomorrow.

Last weekend I took a few days off. Monday was the first time in three days that I had any beads listed for sale. And guess what. No bids. Some likes and one comment. And on Monday I also bought another bead set. I'm failing at both ends of the rope.

The beads I had listed were all relistings. I have new beads ready to photograph. Although nothing is radically different, just more variations on my repertoire of themes. I have more beads in the kiln right now but nothing extraordinary or unique for me. Going forward I'm going to try to stretch a bit more. How I will do that I don't know yet.

If I can stop putting dots on practically everything, that would be a start.

The main reason that I took off a couple of days is that Neil and I took a short trip to the hill country to look at houses. We're going back to North Carolina in a couple of weeks. I'm still very conflicted about moving so far away.

The Austin area would be a compromise. It's just as hot or hotter there, but dryer, further from the coast, about 450 feet higher in altitude. Neil is adamant about getting away from the threat of hurricanes. If we stay in Texas, Austin makes sense. I'd be 200 miles from my grandson and his mama instead of 300.

Neil's brother and sister-in-law live in Austin. So does my younger daughter, but she and her boyfriend plan to move to California within the year. I'm not sure if they'll strike it rich and stay there. I do know that if I'm in the Austin area and California doesn't work out, they'd be more likely to come back there.

So we looked at five different communities in two days. The first two were near Georgetown, which is a quaint, appealing little hamlet with a good bakery and local coffee joints. The first community was large and master-planned, but it was hard to get a good sense of it. It was typically devoid of trees and the green spaces were not yet cultivated in the areas where new construction was underway.

The second development was more built out but small and without amenities, by which I mean walking trails and a community center, for example. There was a pool so small that I thought, why bother. The subdivision backed against a fence and wooded land but there was no information about what the future plans were for that tract.

In both cases, the person manning the model home was a "greeter" and not the actual salesperson, who would perhaps been able to answer some of our many questions.

After that we were off to meet our family members for dinner. Neil wanted to stop at the hotel to check in and wash up. I was worried it would make us late. We argued about it a little. I said, one of us is going to be unhappy, it might as well be you. I also said, this whole house-hunting junket is stressful and we might as well face it up front that at some point we are going to come to blows.

I'm funny like that.

We visited three more subdivisions the following day. Two were in Lakeway and the first was mostly complete, while the second had barely broken ground. The second had promising wooded lots, but again no amenities and also the highest priced homes for the square footage by far.

The last location was in Driftwood and offered the best value, larger lots and houses in a more comfortable price range. It was more remote but that concerns me less than it once would have. As long as we have a good internet connection and Amazon Prime, I'm fine. I think the infrastructure will materialize as the community matures.

But of course, it was still Texas and the grasses and foliages are what you'd expect in a desert-like climb. No getting away from that. Unless you move to someplace like North Carolina.

So what do we gain by moving to North Carolina? Milder summers, colder winters. Real seasons. Here in Sugar Land we go from way-too-hot to way-too-cold with about one nice week in between. True we have a long leisurely spring, with nice days starting in January and continuing through April.

What do we lose? Simpler access to kids and grandkid and grandkids to come. Friends such as we have. I think Neil underestimates how isolated we will be in a place where we know no one but each other. A network of providers - doctors, dentists, hairdressers, our biweekly housekeeper. Familiarity.

Security versus freedom?

North Carolina has the trees and grasses that Neil loves. He relishes the idea of crisp days and the smell of snow in the air. For him, North Carolina is an adventure, a promise to himself kept that he'd leave Texas one day. The excitement of embracing a new place, but also a place more akin to the place he grew up. The houses we are looking at have screened-in porches and the climate to enjoy them. Screened porches evoke happy childhood memories for Neil.

I don't have the heart to stand in his way. It's not irrevocable. If we don't like it we can move again, but it's hard to imagine moving back to Texas. And if we don't do it, we'll always wonder if we should have. In life, for the most part, you regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did.

Last week I saw a beautiful set of beads for sale at a very good price. While I was mulling it over, someone else bought them. That made me feel really angry. I was talking about my feelings and a friend commented, non-buyers' remorse is so much worse than buyers' remorse. If you buy it and change your mind, you can always sell it or donate it or gift it. But if you don't buy it and change your mind, you are shit out of luck.

Unless you contact the beadmaker as I did, and she offers to make you a similar set.

"Travelin' Texas
Been ridin' for days
Travelin' Texas
Is an old cowboy’s dream

Headin' south to the valley
In that old Spanish rain
Travelin' Texas
There’s an old cowboy saying

In the heart of a mustang
That can never be tamed
Or an old blue Norther
Cross the panhandle plain

Travelin' Texas
'Neath the moon and the sun
Travelin' Texas
These highways roll on

The tale of a maverick
In an old hurricane
Southbound by Houston
Moving out into space

The eyes of Texas
The hearts and the hands
Say, welcome stranger
You know Texas means friend

Where cotton is king
Cattle is king
Oil is king
Land of blue water
Lakes of gold

Travelin' Texas."

(Shake Russell)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bovine cat-naps

"Tonight unless you take some kind of chances dear
Tomorrow morning you'll wake up with the white noise."

The sleeping cash cow opened its eyes, lifted its head, looked around, yawned, and went back to sleep.

I'm not complaining. Sales are sales, I had a flurry, and I'm OK taking a breather. As long as Bossie stays alive and wakes up semi-regularly, I've still got it going on.

I've spent this week on the torch playing with a limited range of colors, trying to get a certain reaction that I've accidentally gotten before. I've heard it called the angel effect because where two particular colors meet a halo forms. By which I mean you get a double lined outline on dots and lines are double lines.

It's supposed to work with two certain silver glass colors, Black Nebula and Black Pearl, when you use them on a color called Opal Yellow. Batches vary and I wasn't having any luck. I tried it with Silver Pink and Tongue Pink but I finally nailed it using an odd lot of Pale Ivory.

Then I experimented with Silver Brown and Ocean Green on various shades of light and dark ivory, opal yellow, silver pink and tongue pink, which have interesting reaction lines. I also played with Copper Green and Cocoa which have a cool reaction line too.

So now I have a dozen more sets of 3 pairs strung and ready for some shutter-buggery. In the meantime, I'm relisting some older sets, hopefully at attractive prices. I've decided that at the end of October I will do a big inventory clearout and send a box of beads to Beads of Courage.

The only reason not to do it sooner is that I'm still toying with the idea of doing the Houston Bead Society show, Bayou City Bead Works. It's been moved back to its original location at the Houston Heights Fire Station. That puts it a longer drive away for me, and I feel very ambivalent about making a three-day commitment. I was never a vendor at that location but I did go as a customer and I remember the room as being small and the street parking inconvenient. The director has been calling me, wheedling me to vend, even offereing me a discount of the fee, and that makes me think it must be a very small show.

I don't think a lot of street traffic is likely and if there is any, those customers are more likely to want to buy something ready to wear than loose beads. I wonder if bead shows are becoming a dinosaur. I stuck my head in at the Stafford Bead Market last weekend and found it dismally small and ill-attended. Granted it was one of the first nice-weather Saturdays we've had so far this fall. But I strongly felt that I made the right decision to pass on having a table. I might just go by the HBS show and if it's a-hopping, well, there's always next year.

My daughter and grandson were here for an overnight visit, on their way to a beach house weekend with her dad, stepmom, stepbrothers and my grandson's stepcousins. My younger daughter and her boyfriend will be there too, and when Kandace posted a photo of the shore, I felt jelly. Neil had a long day today and went straight to softball and won't be home until 10:45 tonight. He's working tomorrow and quite likely both days this weekend. Hopefully we can have nice evenings, walks around the pond if the weather holds, and maybe we will finish the last book in the Harry Potter series and start the movies. We've been watching each movie as we finish each book.

Next up to read will be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. We've already seen that movie and I feel like we have to read the book to redeem the spirit of hiking the Appalachian trail that I feel sure the movie perverted. You can't have a 79 year old Robert Redford play a 40-something year old Bill Bryson without making a mockery of the subject. Not that I hesitated about seeing the moving. Any hiking movie beats no hiking movie.

We took Ryland to Build-a-Bear, something I was really excited about doing, but I think maybe he was a little too young. I'm not sure he even grasped the concept, although he was very decisive about making a monkey and naming it George. Kandace and I had fun dressing it. Camo boxers, a red t-shirt, overalls, black tennis shoes, and a banana. We gave it a giggle for a sound instead of a monkey sound. Ry was pretty indifferent about it when we got home, other than to keep wanting to untie its shoelaces. Maybe he'll grow to appreciate it more in time. Kandace took lots of photos and Ry loves looking at photos of himself.

And today they were gone, after we had a bite to eat at Panera. I came home and did 3 miles on the treadmill for the one and only time this week. Last Friday, for no obvious reason, I had some pretty severe sciatica. Each day since it's been a little better. Neil and I walked the lake loop 4 days straight, yesterday we skipped in favor of pizza at Grimaldi's, but today I was out of excuses. I watched the last episode of Season 4 of George Gently, thinking it was the last one, and discovered that there are two more seasons, eight more episodes, on Netflix (with another season in the wings). This is good. I'll probably watch something else in between. As good as they are, they are formulaic, much like the Morse and Lewis series.

I was amused to note that the actor who plays Inspector Gently is Martin Shaw. Inspector Morse was played by John Thaw. They actually killed Morse in the final episode of season eleven. Thaw lived a couple of years more, but it's my understanding that he knew he was terminally ill at the time the final season was filmed.

After enjoying The Fall, and especially Gillian Anderson's fine performance, I thought I'd watch the X-Files (a show I'd never seen before). I only made it five episodes in. It's seriously dated, considering that 1993-2002 really wasn't that long ago. But I couldn't connect American FBI Agent Dana Skully with British Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson. Anderson is bidialectal (shifting between accents, i.e., American and British) but apparnetly my brain isn't. Plus the show is seriously stupid. I like the supernatural, I liked watching Grimm (which could be silly at times), but X-Files completely missed the mark for me. Not to mention, I was distracted by Anderson's lips. She must have been doing something like botox in her X-Files days, because perky, pouty Skully and edgy, tight-lipped Gibson have totally different mouths.

Anyway, now I'm sitting here, obsessively checking Facebook for Buy-it-nows, which is not a good place to be. So I'll probably get a bit of supper and watch some flatscreen. I'm also thinking about what to make tomorrow. Some Christmas colored pairs I think. I'm waiting for a nice cool day to use some gold leaf again and some pixie powder. Maybe I'll pull out some powders and enamels tomorrow. And another set with fine silver and frit. I love making reactive dot beads but I'd better be sure I can sell them before I make more.

Recent reactive dot beads.

"I've been watching you waltz all night Diane
Nobody's found a way behind your defenses
They never notice the zap gun in your hand
Until you're pointing it and stunning their senses

All night long, all night long
You'll shoot 'em down because you're waiting for somebody good to come on
All night long
But you'll be sleeping with the television on

You say you're looking for someone solid here
You can't be bothered with those just for-the-night boys
Tonight unless you take some kind of chances dear
Tomorrow morning you'll wake up with the white noise

All night long, all night long
You're only standing there 'cause somebody once did somebody wrong
All night long
But you'll be sleeping with the television on

Your eyes are saying talk to me
But your attitude is, don't waste my time
Your eyes are saying talk to me
But you won't hear a word 'cause it just might be the same old line

This isn't easy for me to say Diane
I know you don't need anybody's protection
I really wish I was less of a thinking man
And more a fool who's not afraid of rejection

All night long, all night long
I'll just be standing here 'cause I know I don't have the guts to come on
All night long
And I'll be sleeping with the television on

Your eyes are saying talk to me
But my attitude is, boy, don't waste your time
Your eyes are saying talk to me
But I won't say a word 'cause it just might be somebody else's same old line

All night long, all night long
We're only standing here 'cause somebody might do somebody wrong
All night long
And we'll be sleeping with the television on."

(Billy Joel - again)