Thursday, December 29, 2016

In the midst of life

"Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why."

There's no good way to die.

The closest thing would be to go to sleep one night (in your very old age of course) feeling fine, and just not wake up in the morning.

That's hard on the next of kin though.

Like the time my Uncle Howard (cousin once removed really, but I called him Uncle) at the age of 88 keeled over on 3rd Avenue and expired. He was on his way to a Saturday matinee with his wife, my 84-year-old Aunt Helen. He'd never retired, he'd worked as a CPA right up through the day before that calamitous Saturday.

I said to my aunt later, it was fortunate that he didn't suffer. My aunt said, it may have been fortunate for him but not so much for me.

There is something to be said for having time to process an upcoming loss, to line up your ducks, to say any things that need to be said. To make peace with the universe for the dying and for the left-behind.

Yet there also is something to be said for not suffering, for going out like a snuffed candle, for feeling no pain or fear or guilt or remorse or sorrow.

One of the worst ways to die that I can think of is the way that one of my glass tribe lost her husband on Christmas Eve. Short story long, Jill buried her husband of 34 years on March 2, 2008. Coincidentally, if you believe in coincidence, that was the date I took my first lampwork lesson. I didn't know Jill until sometime later and didn't know her story until much later. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer, went through treatment, remission, recurrence, more treatment, the cancer spreading, hospice, and eventually the inevitable.

About five years ago, she met a man, fell in love and married him. Six months ago he was diagnosed with leukemia. He went through hellish chemotherapy, brief remission, relapse, a stroke, transitory vision loss, partial recovery, a potential stem cell donor match, hope, a decline, palliative care, hospice and, once more, the inevitable.

It's impossible for me to imagine going through that once, let alone twice. Jill, I mean.

That has to be one of the crappiest ways for a life to end. Hospitals, chemicals, nausea, pain, hope and then hopelessness, morphine, stupor and the letting go.

I think I'd rather be hit by a train than to spend my last six months sick as a dog, hurting, scared, guilty, helpless and then, poof, gone.

If I think about what would be worse, watching someone you love go through it, or going through it yourself, I always conclude that I'd rather live it than watch it. Let it be me, if someon who I love greatly has to be sick.

That's saying something, since I am terrified of being ill. I've been so lucky to be robustly healthy. I rarely get so much as a head cold. Illness and depression are a bonded pair for me. The minute my system is weakened or my resistance is low, my neurotransmitters go haywire.

That's OK, there are drugs for that, just please, universe, don't let me bear witness to anyone in my family suffering under threat of terminal illness.

I'm sorry to be so uncheery during this season of good cheer. Here is what I want the takeaway message to be. Love fiercely. Treasure each day. Be kind. Dwell on all that is good. Take nothing for granted, especially time. Make the most of whatever you have. Be good to yourself, take care of yourself, respect yourself. Respect others. Practice active gratitude.

And it's OK to talk about it, to acknowledge death as part of life, to have a plan, to make a will, to make your wishes known. It's OK to consider risk and contemplate mortality. Talking about it won't make it happen, not talking about it won't prevent it.

Neil and I were walking and Neil was saying that it's above freezing at the North Pole, and talking about how the ozone layer that protects us from solar radiation is thinning, and how species are going extinct and people are overpopulating the planet. He talked about Stephen Hawking's proclamation that if we don't find a way to leave Earth, the human race will perish.

I'm trying to decide how much I care if mankind doesn't continue to exist. I think that colonizing Mars is a lunatic's fantasy. We'll never surmount the obstacles when we can't even take measures to save this planet, a much lower bar to conquer. I probably won't be around when Earth becomes uninhabitable one thousand years hence, give or take. How essential is it to preserve homo sapiens or specimens of humanity? Your mileage may vary, but I honestly don't think we're that special. Some of us downright suck.

Even taken as a whole, humankind with its good and its bad is not all that. Species come, species go, new species evolve. If we're gone, we're gone. I feel a tiny bit sorry for my great great great (etc.) grandchildren, if I have any, but I don't know them personally and there's not much I can do. As I told Neil, I will recycle, I will try to reduce my carbon footprint to the extent it's within my comfort zone, I will be the change to the degree I am able, but that's all I can do and I can't grieve over consequences I have no control over.

Speaking of not grieving, social media is exploding with outrage over the number of celebrity deaths in 2016. People are saying, buh-bye 2016, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Statistically, I doubt this year was any different in the number of celebrity deaths than any other. And it's unlikely to be any different in 2017 or in any year after. In fact, as we age, more of the idols of our childhoods and young adulthoods will be going to that great celebrity playground in the sky. Wait, what? Do celebrities get their own special playground in the sky? I doubt that.

Here are some of the notable deaths for me during this past year.

David Bowie, age 69, Alan Rickman, age 69, Glen Frey, age 67, Harper Lee, age 89, Nancy Reagan, age 94, Keith Emerson, age 71, Prince, age 57, Morley Safer, age 84, Patty Duke, age 69, Muhammad Ali, age 74, Elie Wiesel, age 87, Gene Wilder, age 83, Leonard Cohen, age 82, Robert Vaughn, age 83, Leon Russell, Mage 74, Greg Lake, age 69, Zsa Zsa Gabor, age 99, George Michael, age 53, Carrie Fisher, age 60, Debbie Reynolds, age 84.

Notice that I said notable. Not tragic. Not grievous. Not outrageous. Sure it's sad that Prince, George and Carrie were so young, but drugs were involved so I can't mourn overly much.

Besides, I didn't know them. I knew who they were. But they didn't know me. So how sad should I feel? About 55.3 million people die each year. That's 151,600 deaths per day, 6,316 people dying per hour. Some of them are children, teenagers, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Do we each of us mourn for all of them? Should we?

We don't. We shouldn't.

I will mourn for those I know, I will grieve for those I know who suffered personal losses.

As I think about it, I apprehend that when we mourn celebrity deaths, we are really mourning for ourselves, for the passage of time, for the transitory nature of life, for the evidence of our own mortality.

And that's understandable, as long as we recognize that that's what we're doing.

Or not. Who am I to tell you who to mourn for, to judge you for who you mourn for? No one, that's who. You choose who you will mourn for and I'll choose who I won't mourn for.

There may be some overlap.

I can live with that.

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, set to music by Natalie Merchant)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The ghost of Christmas presents

"I hear babies cry I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

On December 21, which would have been my dad's 96th birthday, our newest grandson was born, weighing in at an impressive 8 lbs. 13 oz.

Mama Laurie, Dad Luke, and Baby Blake all are doing just fine. As is Riggs the dog.

Laurie's mom, Luke's mom, Luke's dad, and various and sundry siblings and friends are on hand this week, so Neil and I won't see him until next weekend. I tried to convince Neil to drive over today, just for one day, and make a surprise appearance. He remained stoutly unconvinced.

And I do understand, it makes sense to wait until we can have some quieter time with the new family.

But last night, as we got ready for bed, Neil was grousing about the cost of this, that, and the other thing, and it struck me. I said, you don't want to go to Lake Charles because you don't want to get stuck picking up the tab for Christmas Eve dinner for twentysomething people. He said something to the effect of, damn skippy! And I said, I get that, it totally makes sense to me. And it does, in a way that his other reasons don't.

Sometimes I think that he wants to move to North Carolina so he doesn't have to buy everyone's dinner all the time. I do pay when it is my kids and their crew, but we've had a lot more dinners with Neil's kids, especially before they moved to Lake Charles, but even since then, because they come to Houston regularly.

The baby will change that for a while, but Laurie's master plan is to be moved back to Texas by the end of next summer so Luke can have a teaching job here for the 2017-18 school year. Chris will be in Lake Charles through the end of 2017, finishing his graduate program, and then he'll go where he gets a job. Braunsdorfs have a strong homing instinct so I predict it will be in Texas. Anything is possible though. His girlfriend is Louisianan. I think I just made that word up.

So today it's just me and Neil for Christmas Eve. We'll cook up some Omaha steaks, thanks to my mother-in-law, and open what Neil calls pjösk - which he says means gift of small value in Norwegian or Swedish, but I couldn't find it with Google. In fact, the closest slang word I could find was sercy, which is used in the Southern USA to describe a small, possibly unexpected gift.

In my mind, pjösk meant junk gifts, the kind you might buy at the dollar store. Certain of Neil's relatives seem to believe it's the number of wrapped gifts, not the content that counts, and in fact have taken it to a new level. They must start shopping the day after Christmas, because sometime around October we get several huge shopping bags full of wrapped gifts. All this is not meant to look a gift horse in the mouth, since the gifts are worth their weight in entertainement value alone.

To make it more unusual, store tags always are cut off the items, which frequently come in department store gift boxes. Early in my relationship with Neil, I tried to exchange a shirt that didn't fit, only to learn that it wasn't purchased at that store. Random sizes are a hallmark of these gifts, so when all the kids would come over, there was a lot of laughter and trading. I got a couple of my favorite sweatshirts because they didn't fit Laurie.

One sad thing is, Neil always puts a lot of thought into getting these relatives a meaningful gift. One year we bought them a Keurig, which we later learned (covertly) that they'd returned. I'm mean enough that I'd be giving them a case of K-cups every damn following Christmas. Neil is nice. Now he gets them gift cards.

Another year he gave them a gift card to a restaurant they like in their locale. They went there and ate up and when the waiter ran the card there was no money on it. They made such a huge fuss that their meal was comped, but they didn't tell us until much later, long after Neil might have tried to sort it out.

This gave me another idea, even meaner that the K-cups. We'd pick up gift cards from the racks you see at stores, not put any money on them, and send them as gifts. I laughed just typing that. Of course that's just me, Neil would never contemplate anything like that. He hasn't a single mean bone.

Can you tell that I lack Christmas spirit? I thought so.

I don't care whether (or not) someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to me.

I do mind that every public place has a Christmas tree and Santa Claus and carols playing.

I'd spend every December feeling disenfranchised and marginalized if I let myself dwell on it, which I try not to do. Overly. Much.

Anyway. So, since today was a low-impact day, we decided to tackle a cleaning project. We have these crazy arched windows in the living room. The blinds only go up to the bottom of the arch. There are three windows and when we moved in, nine years ago, I bought large colored vases to set on the shelves in the arches, to partically block the sun. There they have been collecting dust ever since, and we decided to take them down and wash them.

I don't know about other dust but Texas dust is wicked. It's tacky, sticky. You can't easily remove it, say, with a feather duster or a swipe with a damp cloth. No, you have to wash it off with soap and water. So I started scrubbing away the dust and this is what I found out. Bad things can happen to large vases that have sat in full sunlight for nine years. Some of the bottles had been coated with color (as opposed to being made out of glass in that color) and as I scrubbed away, the sun-baked color flaked right off.

Out of 18 bottles, five cleaned up nicely. The others are all in some state of partially flaked off color and scrub-resistant grime. We put them back up temporarily for sun blockage, but I will be replacing them. If today wasn't Christmas Eve, I'd have gone right out to buy new ones. At least it solved one disagreement for us. All along I've said that the vases stay with the house. Neil was all for taking them, or selling them, or donating them. Today he was ready to recycle the lot of them.

I know that new ones, especially nicer ones, will reopen the decision, and maybe our future buyers won't even want them. I just know I want to replace them. What should have been a project with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment wound up being irritating and adding to my to-do list.

Assuming I had a to-do list. Which I do not.

Bead sales have been slow-ish but existent, a couple of sales a day or so. I made some more dream beads for Beads of Courage.

For Anderson, age 5 (picture attached)
" My dream bead would be a big robot. It would be colorful and have bumpy gears and robot buttons on his body."

For Emma, age 16
"I would love a bumpy bead with some correlation to flowers or trees. Deep, vibrant colors are my favorite."

For Kristina, age 16
"I would love to have a bead of the Tardis from Doctor Who. It is a time travel machine disguised as a British police phone box. It is blue."

For all its flaws, I'm really proud of that Tardis.

Beads of Courage invited me to participate in the 2017 Beads of the Month Program. For a total of 100 beads about 1.5 inches in size, BOC is offering to compensate the artist the amount of $5 per bead. Postage is at the artist's expense.

OK, it's a noble cause, beads for kids with cancer or in this case, beads for fund raising to buy program beads for kids with cancer. At first I agreed I would do it for the month of May. But the more I think about it, the more anxious I feel about making 100 identical beads in that size. Even identical in the artisan bead context of same color, size and design, its beyond my comfort zone. I think I am going to withdraw from that program. As much as I like making beads and as willing as I'd be to make 100 $5 beads of some kind for BOC, having to make 100 of the same bead of that size would be nothing but stressful.

I'll let them know next week.

In the meantime, I made a little slideshow of some of my recent beads. Be kind.

And oh, all right, a smidge of Christmas spirit.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, how do you do?
They're really saying
I love you

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Oh yeah.

(Bob Thiele [as George Douglas] and George David Weiss, first recorded by Louis Armstrong)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Retirement, moving, optimism and the man in the moon

"I may have to beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
So I can have some feelings too."

Day sixteen of Neil's retirement. We're doing OK.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind. We spent two days in Austin, followed by two days in Lake Charles last week. It went something like this.

Wednesday, feed the cats, drive to Austin, dinner with Chelsea and Rob, Chelsea's improv show at ColdTowne Theater, sleep at La Quinta.

Thursday, lunch with Chelsea, visit two bead stores, Bath & Body Works, coffee and cupcakes at Quacks, Chelsea's comedy sketch show at Spider House Ballroom. Drive home, stop at Buc-ee's, feed the cats, sleep at home.

Friday, feed the cats, drive to Lake Charles, lunch at Pronia's Deli and Bakery, Bath & Body Works (yes, again), chill at Laurie's, dinner at Cracker Barrel, sleep at Hampton Inn.

Saturday, Luke's graduation from McNeese State University, lunch at 121 Artisan Bistro, drive home, feed the cats, sleep at home, done.

On Sunday we went to the Houston Society of Glass Beadmaker's holiday party at Berry Hill in the Heights. And on Monday, finally, it was back to business as usual, more or less, beads and treadmill. Rinse and repeat.

My mom used to say that when you retire you have lots of good intentions, yet somehow, five years later, you still haven't organized that junk drawer. I suppose that's because you can always do it tomorrow.

Not Neil. He's been an absolute whirlwind of fixing things, sorting through things, rearranging things, and yes, even filling up the recycling bin.

Naturally things get worse before they get better, so there are boxes and stacks of books and things, like obsolete electronics, staged everywhere.

Not only that, but he had lunch dates with former workmates on every day of this week.

I'm sure the frenzy will slow down as he crosses things off his pages of lists, as it sinks in that not everything must be done yesterday, if not sooner.

And I'm not complaining. Anything is better than Star Trek reruns all day every day. He does take TV breaks while he consults his lists and drinks his milk with Nesquik.

Our next trip is at the end of the month. Laurie now is scheduled for baby induction on December 21, my dad's birthday. Her mom will be with her for the first week or so, maybe Luke's mom too. So we've made our plan to go after the first tranche of helpful relatives departs.

We'll stay for a couple of days, come home for a couple of days, and then it's North Carolina again, for a pre-build meeting with the designer and builder and to stake our lot. We're also going to try Airbnb for the first time. I like the idea of establishing a base that we can return to that's more personal and less pricey than a hotel.

I'm actually not sure how manyy trips there I will be making while the house is being built. I know at some point Neil wants to meet with the landscaper. I may or may not go for that. Moving there stills feels more like a bad dream than a dream come true.

I can't talk to Neil about my feelings at all. He has no doubts, no fears, no misgivings. In spite of the fact that he's clearly the more social one of the two of us, he's fully on board with moving to a place where we know no one.

Then again, right now I'm not really feeling my feelings. In my head, I know that I don't want to move. It's the last thing I think about at night, as I sink into my bed that I love in my bedroom that I love and feel held, by the mattress and sheets and blankets. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. How many more mornings will I wake up in my room here? I don't have the number, I just know it won't be enough.

Today was warm, in a gray and humid way, much too warm for mid-December, and Neil noted that. He longs for seasons, for winter, for cold weather. I don't. But I wouldn't say I'm sad. I'm moving through the days, I'm eating and laughing and watching TV. I'm not tearful or morose or angry.

I'm in denial. That's the only explanation I can think of for my dearth of feeling.

I imagine it will come. One way or another.

I did feel very moved by the finale of Rectify, one of the best television dramas you've probably never heard of. If spoilers bother you and you think you might watch it one day, read on at your own peril.

In a nutshell, the show is the story of Daniel Holden who spent 19 years on death row for the murder of his high school girlfriend, a murder he may or may not have committed but one he confessed to, under duress. High on mushrooms at the time, Daniel has no memories of what happened on the night Hanna was gang-raped and strangled.

Fast forward almost 20 years to the day the show begins, when Daniel is released because forensics have progressed to the point that DNA has exonerated him of guilt for the rape. For four seasons, the story follows Daniel and his family and the ways that his imprisonment has affected and continues to affect every aspect of their lives.

While the show never definitively answers the question of who killed Hanna Dean, it is with Daniel who our sympathies lie from the get-go. Because how could this sensitive, thoughtful, guileless and adorable guy be guilty? We assume Daniel is innocent because we want him to be, because of how he suffered in prison, and because who wants to watch a show about a guy who was guilty and really just got what he deserved?

In prison Daniel was raped by a group of prisoners. He spent his days in a windowless box of a cell. He bonded with a fellow prisoner and then endured the friend's execution, his grief for that lost relationship barely muted by the fact that Kerwin did commit the crime he was hanged for.

I binge watched the first three seasons of the show, which also chronicles the story of sister Amantha, who never doubted Daniel's innocence or stopped fighting for his acquittal. It's the story of Daniel's mom Janet, her second husband Ted, Ted's son Teddy and Teddy's wife Tawney. Daniel makes mistakes, lost in a brave new world of freedom, bias and recrimination. He chokes out Teddy in a provoked rage. He is beaten severely by Hanna's brother Bobby. Trey, a creepy suspect in Hanna's rape does his best to implicate Daniel in the death of George, another suspect.

A bright light in the ensuing darknesss and confusion is Daniel's relationship with Tawney. As Tawney becomes aware that her marriage to Teddy is failing, she and Daniel form a bond that is complex and compelling, a bond born of need and compassion and innocence. At the end of the third season, after Daniel avoids a retrial by plea bargaining a confession to Hanna's murder in exhange for time served and banishment from the state, there is a brilliant scene on a beach where Daniel (we think) is imagining himself being visited by Tawney in prison.

Tawney is lost, she says, Daniel says he'll find her, she says she must find herself. Daniel puts his hand against the glass, but there is no glass. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't, she says. As they are about to kiss, the scene cuts to Tawney, alone in her bedroom, and now it appears that it's actually Tawney's fantasy (we think).

I watched the fourth and final season as it unfolded over seven weeks and eight episodes. Daniel is in Tennessee, trying to learn to live, trying to come to grips with whether or not he wants or deserves a life. Tawney and Teddy have separated and are trying to sort out what it is that they really want. Daniel meets Chloe, a free spirit who is better at leaving than at saying goodbye. She's also pregnant. She and Daniel are, as she says, temporarily perfect for each other.

Everyone has grown over the course of four seasons that depict something like a year of their lives. Even Teddy has matured, made progress toward dealing with his anger, which is exemplified by his ultimate sacrifice in letting Tawney go, granting her both support and freedom to find her own way in life.

I have to admit, I was holding my breath, willing Teddy and Tawney not to reconcile, which for a time seemed possible. I think that would have diminished the message of growth, not to mention the profound impact of the Daniel-Tawney relationship. Through the final eight episodes I waited for some closure to that story arc.

I knew it was coming at the beginning of the finale, when a scene with Tawney was included as part of the intro, i.e., "previously on Rectify ..." Near the end of the episode, after the DA makes a press statement that the Hanna Dean case is being reopened, Daniel speaks to family members by phone. Teddy asks to speak to Daniel and apologies are exchanged, then Teddy gives the phone to Tawney, who is waiting for her turn to speak. Perhaps more than anything else, Teddy's redemption is validated when he ungrudgingly hands the phone to Tawney.

Daniel and Tawney each are standing at the precipice of their unique hopeful futures. Tawney has found a purpose for her life. Daniel has opened the door to hope by accepting a willingness to risk disappointment. Tawney wishes him a life filled with wonder.

Amantha sums up the bittersweetness of the story. Nothing will rectify what happened. Convicting the guilty won't bring back Hanna, nor her father, nor all the lost years of Daniel's incarceration.

But as Daniel says, so many more people helped him than harmed him along the way, and even if he doesn't know the reason that he is where he is now, that doesn't mean there isn't one. He's doing the work, he's getting therapy for trauma, we believe that he will be vindicated of wrongdoing and be able to move forward without the baggage of doubt about his own innocence. He feels a responsibility not to let everyone who helped him down, not to let himself down.

The show ends with another brilliant sequence. Daniel is in his room and then he is in a field full of light. Chloe is there too, and her baby, who smiles at Daniel. Daniel takes the baby and it is a moment of pure joy and grace.

Of course we don't know if it's a dream, a vision, a flash forward or a premonition. The takeaway I think is that Daniel is open to hope, to the possibility of a future filled with beauty and love and wonder.

And what, you ask, does this have to do with retirement, moving, beads or the man in the moon?

I think it comes down to optimism.

To prevailing against odds.

To staying open and hopeful.

To embracing a life filled with wonder.

I read an interview with show creator and writer Ray McKinnon, and was struck by this quote.
But back to your question on the redemption, or perhaps the optimism, of this season. As I got deeper into the characters and into the show and to the philosophy of life, even though we all know, or most of us do, undeniably, that we're going to die, we're going to cease to exist in this realm, we continue to live in this realm with some optimism and that's part of our human nature.
So there's that.

Maybe it's OK to move forward without sadness, without questions, without answers, simply with optimism. For today, I'm going with that.

Even if I can't completely feel it.

I'm numb as a statue
I may have to beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
So I can have some feelings too

I'm pale as a ghost
You know what I love about you
That's what I need the most

I'm gonna beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
I'm gonna beg, borrow or steal
So I can have some feelings too

I don't care if it's superficial
You don't have to dig down deep
Just bring enough for the ritual
Get here before I fall asleep

Ain't nothing special
When the present meets the past
I've always taken care of business
I've paid my first and last
Now can I get a witness?

(Warren Zevon)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Not your regularly scheduled programming

"Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down."

Day three of Neil's retirement.

It's weird because suddenly I can't remember what it is that I usually do all day.

It's like I am looking at myself under a microscope, i.e., through Neil's eyes.

I decided to take off the first four days of his retirement, Thursday through Sunday. On Monday I will go back to my regularly scheduled programming. Which is anchored by beads in the morning and treadmill in the afternoon. With interruptions for bead business activities - cleaning beads, stringing beads, taking photos of beads, listing beads, invoicing for beads sold, packing beads for shippping, followed most days by a trip to the post office.

Sales have been super slow anyway. I'm still recovering from the humiliation of my last round of Bargain Box auctions. Bargain Box is the site where all listings must start at $1, and destash items may not have a buy-it-now option.

A month ago or so, I listed on Bargain Box for the first time and had a feeding frenzy of bids and buy-it-nows. Multiple people made multiple purchases, including one lady who racked up more than $300 of purchases. I also cleared a lot of older inventory, including beads I didn't love but was willing to list at a starting bid of $1 and let the chips fall wherever chips do.

Then, during election week, the site had a one-time "end-of-the-world" sale (is that an oxymoron?) and allowed sellers to set the start bids without restriction, including destash items. I did well during this sale too.

After a week off for the holidays, I started another round of listings on Bargain Box at $1. The worst case scenario materialized. Some listings sold for $1. Many listings sold for $5 or less. Nothing sold for more than $10. Worse yet, there were a lot of different buyers. I kept it going for a couple of days, hoping for a comeback, hoping for repeat business from customers who wanted to leverage shipping.

That little experiment compounded injury with insult. In the end I mailed at least 10 packages with one item that came to less than $10 including shipping. Before PayPal fees. Not counting the cost of bubble mailers, tissue paper, bubble bags, stickers, mailing labels and printer ink. Let's not even think about the cost of the trips to the post office.

One lady won three listings for $1 each. I shipped her 8 beads for $3 plus $3.50 shipping. Oh well. I made someone's day anyway. That's something.

But right now I've sworn off Bargain Box listings. I've restrung individual pairs into samplers of pairs and I've made up more sets. I've gone back to my old pricing benchmark of $3 and up per earring-size bead. Focals are back to the $20 range and up. Sales are limping but existant. I'll just keep trying because if I stop I sure won't sell anything.

Of course if there's another "end-of-the-world" sale I might list at Bargain Box again.

So, as you know, there's always more to the story, or another story. I was low on bubble mailers so I re-orded a box of 100 on Nov. 20. They were shipping Nov. 21. The expected delivery date was Dec. 1.

And because I blew through so many mailers shipping small potatoes, I used my last mailer on Nov. 30. On Dec. 1, Amazon tracking showed that "Your package was delivered. The delivery was signed by: U.S. Postal Service. Delivered 5:27 PM Sugar Land, TX, US."

Excpet I didn't have it. So yesterday, Dec. 2, I had a couple of ridiculously unsatisfying phone calls with Amazon, where I tried to make a person whose native language wasn't English understand that a refund or replacement from the third party vendor would not resolve my problem, which could only be solved if Amazon could ensure that I'd receive a replacement within no more than two days.

I even found a comparable product sold by Amazon, for a mere additional $9 plus tax. I could not persuade Amazon to price match. Amazon did email the original vendor on my behalf, but my copy via email was immediately followed by an email to the effect that "Your e-mail to [vendor] ( cannot be delivered because there was a problem with the recipient's email system."

That prompted my second ridiculously unsatisfying phone call with Amazon, which wound up with Amazon giving me a $5 credit for reasons unknown but I suspect probably just to make me go away and not call again. Amazon also agreed to initiate an investigation as to why the email to the vendor failed.

You may notice that I'm not naming the vendor. It's not the vendor I have a quarrel with. I've used this vendor before, they have a good product at the best pric. Delivery has never been an issue before and the problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the good old US Postal Service, God bless America.

So I hatched a new plan. I ordered the same albeit overpriced product from Amazon, with two-day Prime delivery on Sunday and the full intent to return it unopened if by chance the original order showed up by Monday. Intuition suggested it might. Once before a product designated as delivered (but not recieved) was brought over by a neighbor a day or two later.

Today, Saturday, just a little while ago, the doorbell rang. An individual from a neighboring subdivision had taken the trouble to drive over with my box. Not a neighbor living in Telfair but a person living in an adjacent subdivision called New Territory. So the expensive replacement bubble mailers will be going back. Because, beyond the righteous reasons, as slow as sales have been, I'm not sure I will need 200 bubble mailers in the upcoming months.

If I do, I'll be ordering from the same vendor. In fact, I'm half inclined to place another order now to make up for any trouble I may have caused them by complaining to Amazon.

And what do you know, in the meantime, my Amazon Prime order of Blue Buffalo cat food that was supposed to be here yesterday, is now estimated to be delivered by Dec. 6, with this little gem tagline. "We’re sorry your package is late. If it hasn’t arrived by Wednesday, Dec 7, please come back for more options."

Yeah, great. I only opted for two-day delivery in lieu of my usual choice, free no-rush delivery with a $1 credit toward digital media, because we are getting low and planning to be away overnight later in the week. But I don't have the stuffing for another call to Amazon. I'll wait and see if it actually shows up today, tomorrow or Monday.

Intuition tells me it will.

And Neil was afraid we'd run out of things to talk about once he retired. Hah!

In the meantime, he's parked in front of the television, doing paperwork.

I knew this was going to be one of the hardest things for me to adjust to - the boob tube being on all the time.

I never watch TV during the day. I do watch something on my iPad for 45 minutes to an hour while I'm walking on the treadmill. Sometimes I even finish an episode after I get off the treadmill. But that's it.

I'm not sure why it bothers me so much. Probably because I didn't grow up with a TV on all the time, as I've discovered so many people have.

No, for a long time we had one TV and it was in the basement. I think my mom would sometimes iron down there while we were at school, but if you don't count me and Dark Shadows, no one in our family ever watched the soaps. Or sitcoms. Or pretty much anything that wasn't educational or classic or the nightly news.

Later I got a little black and white TV for my room. After school I'd watch Dark Shadows at 4 pm and sometimes whatever movie came on from 4:30 to 6 pm, which was dinner time, without deviation, without fail. My dad prided himself on virtually never watching TV. He read the paper in the evenings.

Later in life, after he retired and my parents moved to a condo in Florida, he did start watching sports. There was a TV in the bedroom and in the study-guest room, but never one in the living room.

And the way we watched TV was different too. We looked at the equivalent of TV guide, which was the newspaper listings for the evening. If there was something of interest on we watched. If not, the TV stayed off.

And to this day, I will look at the on-screen guide and if there is nothing on that interests me I turn off the TV and do something else. Often I only check PBS.

Neil on the other hand is a typical channel surfer. He find something, anything to watch, often toggling between old movies, Star Trek re-runs and sports. Sometimes he will find a show that I might like, such as Buying Hawaii or a documentary on Nat Geo Wild about space exploration or the origins of the universe, and he'll TiVo it so we can watch it together and fast-forward through the commercials.

Mostly though we watch DVDs or Netflix or Amazon video. We'll alternate between several series. Right now on the menu we have Murdoch Mysteries, Rosemary and Thyme, and The Dresden Files. There are umpteen seasons of Murdoch so that will be a staple for a long time. Next up in the rotation are Life on Mars (I finally dropped the dime on the DVDs) and The Crown.

I'm going to have to reign in my judgment of Neil for turning on the TV during daylight hours. Especially on a cool, damp, gray day like today, when he'd planned to do some work in the yard. I'm sure he can - and well may - judge me for many things, including the days I don't leave the house, the time I spend on the computer (even if I am writing) and who knows what other things that make up my daily routine will annoy him. I suspect he'll do better than I will with regard to tolerance.

After all, I do have seniority on this retirement thing, while he's just a rank amateur.

And I do need to give him a lot more than three days to figure it out.

What do you think, does a month sound about right?

Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster falling down in pieces by the couch of pain

Disorder in the house
Time to duck and cover
Helicopters hover over rough terrain

Disorder in the house
Reptile wisdom
Zombies on the lawn staggering around

Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down

The floodgates are open
We've let the demons loose
The big guns have spoken
And we've fallen for the ruse

Disorder in the house
It's a fate worse than fame
Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed

Disorder in the house
The doors are coming off the hinges
The earth will open and swallow up the real estate

I just got my paycheck
I'm gonna paint the whole town grey
Whether it's a night in Paris or a Fresno matinee

It's the home of the brave and the land of the free
Where the less you know the better off you'll be

Disorder in the house
All bets are off
I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair

Disorder in the house
I'll live with the losses
And watch the sundown through the portiere.

(Warren Zevon)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Being thankful for all the fish

"Let's sit in here, honey, this is your chair
No, kitty's afraid when you shout
Oh, it's okay, it was old anyway
And the other one washes right out."

Well, that went by fast.

Thanksgiving came and went.

My kids were here and now they're gone again. Gone home to their own homes and lives.

I've run the dishwasher more times in five days than I usually do in a month. Laundry is cycling. I've reclaimed my room, where Ryland slept on the pull-out sofa, in soft pink sheets and his mom's old dance team blanket.

The house is quiet. Neil is cheerful again.

This house really wasn't built for six adults and a toddler.

Neil was tense, as he always is when we have people at the house, and behaved a bit oddly, which I tried mostly to ignore.

Still, we had an amazing time. All the kids pitched in to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was helpful with the cleanup, although obviously a lot fell to me because it's my house and I have my way that I want things done.

Later on I'll start to reclaim my refrigerator, although the kids made serious inroads on the leftovers, thank goodness.

I gave my housekeeper 3/4 of our chocolate cream pie from Goode Company. I'm the only one who liked it but I still didn't want to eat all the rest of it, especially since we still have pumpkin and pecan to finish.

My grandson was nothing but joy and light and laughter. We took him to the Houston Museum of Natural Science Sugar Land, which is in walking distance from our house, but we drove anyway. We took him on long walks, to the playground, to feed the ducks.

We took him to Bahama Bucks and the grocery store and the bagel place. We took him out to eat at Sweet Tomatoes and Guru and Goode Company Taqueria. We took him to The Chocolate Bar - and even timed it right for 50 percent off chocolate covered fruit after 8 pm.

There's a banana, orange and strawberry with my name on them in the fridge right now.

We could have done more, but coordinating seven people for any activity is like herding cats. We think we're ready but then someone has to go to the bathroom and by the time they are out we've lost two others. I didn't mind the down time. I was exhausted enough by bedtime every night.

We watched all eight episodes of Stranger Things even though four of us already had seen it. You do notice more details the second time you watch it.

I gave away seven pairs of brand new shoes that I'll never wear. My daughter said if they don't work for her she will sell them online. The handoff of possessions has begun.

I also handed off $200 to my other daughter who had last minute car trouble and had to rent a car to get here safely.

We bored everyone with the floorplan of our new house and photos of our lot and pictures of our cabinets and light fixtures and backsplashes.

And then whiz, bang, boom, it was over and now it's just Neil and me, with just a few days left until Neil retires.

Neil read a little to me in the book series we're slogging though now, The Once and Future King. We took another walk around the pond. Neil watched some football, I listed some beads on Facebook.

I imagine it will take me a day or two to get back into anything resembling a routine.

I loved having both my kids and partners here and of course my grandson, but there was a bittersweetness to it. It's so rare that our calendars align, and I don't have to share them with their dad, who was away visiting stepkids and step-grandkids for once. I tried very hard to soak it in and feel the gratitude, to be in the moment and appreciate the here and now. I tried not to think about what the future might lack.

This time next year I assume I will be living in North Carolina.

Notice that I still leave it indefinite. The final papers have been signed, yet I'm still in denial to a degree. Right now I'm not feeling much emotion about it one way or the other. I'm waiting for some feelings to hit me again, sadness, joy, excitement, anxiety. Apparently it's far enough in the future that I can postpone feeling anything for now.

Hello, come in, great to see you again
Been such a long drive, guess you're beat
Heavens what's that? It's a dwarf in a hat
Oh, no, you've brought the children, how sweet
I'm sure you mentioned it when we'd last spoken
Let me just move these so they don't get broken
He's such a delight and you're staying the night
You know I just love little kids

Little kids are sticky and cute
Little kids have mud on their boots
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

Let's sit in here, honey, this is your chair
No, kitty's afraid when you shout
Oh, it's okay, it was old anyway
And the other one washes right out
Don't touch the parrot, that's right, it's a mean one
How do they do it? I'd need a machine gun
She's patient and kind, I'd be out of my mind
You know I just love little kids

Little kids will cry anywhere
Little kids have food in their hair
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

No, don't pull their tails, no, they're not mean
Yes, if they bite you it hurts
It's just a Sears coffee machine
Nobody knows how it works

The company's gone and I'm sitting alone.
Away from the noise and the fuss
The pets have returned and this weekend I've learned
Little children are nothing like us
They put their food in ridiculous places
They leave their fingerprints on their own faces
Oh how could you say we all started this way
You know I just love little kids

Little kids get up way before me
Little kids leave a trail of debris
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

(Cheryl Wheeler)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Our new interim normal

"But I will raise up my voice into the void
You have left me nowhere to go
I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche."

Life shifts.

I feel like I am standing on the fault line just as the tectonic plates beneath begin to tremble and rumble and threaten to slip.

At the end of this month, Neil is going to retire from a 34-year career with RDS. On Thursday, December 1, he will wake up when he wakes up and start living some new and improved version of his life.

On Thursday, December 1, I also will begin living a new version of my life.

Somehow, life already has begun shaping this metamorphosis for me.

The things that have kept me so busy, making beads and selling beads, are falling by the wayside, more and more with every passing day.

I'm feeling mostly OK about that. What I'm not yet clear about is what is waiting around the riverbend, what my new normal day-to-day life will be like.

Of course, I'm begging the issue that the next nine months will be spent getting ready to move 1,100 miles across the country. So it won't really be our new normal. That won't happen until we are settled in our new digs, which realistically won't happen immediately on the day we move in. We could be talking about quite a while.

There are lots of things that are going to happen while we are embarking on this life shift that I shall perhaps call our new interim normal.

My children, their partners, and my grandson will all be here for Thanksgiving, a very bright spot on the near horizon.

We will welcome another grandson in December when Neil's daughter Laurie has her baby.

We have a trip to Austin on the books to see Chelsea in back-to-back shows, her weekly Loverboy improv troupe show and Doper than Dope 2, a comedy sketch ensemble show.

We'll go directly from Austin to Lake Charles for Laurie's husband Luke's graduation from McNeese State University.

The Christmas holiday is a big question mark right now. Kandace and Chris are going to Minnesota. Chelsea and Rob are going to Michigan. Baby Blake's due date is December 24. So we won't make a plan quite yet.

Sometime in there we might sandwich another trip to North Carolina. We're still waiting for some details and updates to the design documentation, which we may be able to finalize this week. After that, while the mortgage company has the appraisal done, we are supposed to have a preconstruction meeting with the builder and the design consultant. This could be done via Facetime, but we have the option to meet onsite to stake the lot and I want to be there.

I know. I surprise myself. I don't want to move. But I've somehow gotten invested in building this house. I'm the one poring over the 19-pages of design selections, pondering our paint decisions, rethinking drawer pulls versus knobs.

Once the appraisal is complete, we will close on the construction loan. And that's when construction would begin. Weather permitting of course.

I can't say that I'm sorry that the timing puts this around the first day of winter. I'm in no rush to get there. I wouldn't mind if it takes more than 9 months to complete the house.

Many things could happen in that much time. Neil might even fall in love with the new grandchild. Although honestly, his desire to leave Texas for a climb with four seasons seems to so far override all other considerations that the most I can hope for is delay.

And at some point, delay will become limbo, and we all know how little I love limbo. At some point I will want to just do it already. Start living there, start working toward our true new normal, so we can actually find out how much we really like it.

What will it be like, a day in our new house? Will Neil be in the basement, watching Star Trek re-runs while I am up on the second floor binge-watching something on Netflix? Or will Neil be out planting raddishes while I fire up my natural gas-fueled torch and crank out a few beads?

Will we take a walk into Birkdale Village, stop at Kilwin's for ice cream or Starbucks for lattes or Fat Daddy's for burgers? Will we take in a movie at the Regal Birkdale Stadium 16? Will we go grocery shopping at Harris Teeter and grill salmon steaks on our natural gas grill? Will we take a yoga class or visit the Cornelius branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library? Will I volunteer at the Cornelius Animal Shelter?

I don't know. At least I am thinking about it, when I'm not playing emu or Scarlet O'Hara.

First though we have to figure out what our days will be like when Neil isn't working 13 days out of 14. When he isn't so stressed and mentally exhausted that he falls asleep on the sofa watching Texas hold'em or women's softball or movies where most of the cast has long since shuffled off this mortal coil.

I hope we have fun. I hope it's a joy. I hope the freedom will give us permission to be creative and impulsive and unstructured and evolving and civic-minded and expansive.

Oh yes, this week I made dream beads for Beads of Courage.

For Nathaniel, age 4. "Red, yellow and black, with ears like Mickey Mouse. Nathanial is finally healthy enough to go on his Make-A-Wish trip to Disney world. He is absolutely beside himself. He had worked so hard and been through so much. This is a huge milestone!"

For Benjamin, age 7. "Captain America bead Like Captain America's shield, red, white and blue with a star in the middle."

For Bentley, age 6 "Bentley's bead would be Wonder Women or the Wonder Women "W" and would be sparkly and have lots of glitter! She has always been our Wonder Women and she loves all things glittery! She also loves princess crowns so it would be awesome to have a crown incorporated into her Wonder Women bead."

For Jocelyn, age 18. "I would like black boxing gloves with a cancer ribbon holding them together one so de of the ribbon purple and the other side of the ribbon green! Maybe some bumpy dots on the gloves. I would like a J on the one glove and a N on the other (those are my initials) if you could add maybe a music note dangling off the bottom! I would like it to be a decent size I hope you can make this and I get chosen for the dream bead!"

I have to say, I love doing them. I like the challenge. I like the idea that I am doing something philanthropic. I like using my skill for something that is more than one more bauble, however pretty.

I love the idea of my bead being a little light in the dark uncertainty of childhood cancer for a child and his or her family.

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche
Tumbling and falling down the avalanche

So be quiet tonight the stars shine bright
On this mountain of new fallen snow
But I will raise up my voice into the void
You have left me nowhere to go

I love you so much and it's so bizarre
A mystery that goes on and on and on
This is the best thing and the very most hard
And we don't get along

After countless appeals we keep spinning our wheels
On this mountain of new fallen snow
So I let go the catch and we are over the edge
You have left me nowhere to go

Sometimes you make me lose my will to live
And just become a beacon for your soul
But the past is stronger than my will to forgive
Forgive you or myself, I don't know

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche
Tumbling and falling down the avalanche

So be quiet tonight be sure to step lightly
On this mountain of new fallen snow
But I will raise up my voice into the void
You have left me nowhere to go

I'm riding shotgun down the avalanche.

(Shawn Colvin, John Leventhal)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post-election blues and reds

'There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah."

So, I had my little flutter with the $1 starting bid auctions. In about 3 days, I moved a lot of older stock and racked up about one grand in sales. Not bad at all. Then we left for North Carolina so I had a forced week off from selling on Facebook.

When we got home, I picked up where I left off and had another flurry of buy-it-nows. I cut apart a lot of sets and sold the beads in pairs, pair duos and small sets. At first it was great but after a few days, the BINs slowly ground to a halt and I was getting more bids of $1, $2, $3, etc. Many listings eventually sold for what I wanted or close, but it took the full 24 hours and I lost my turnover leverage.

Then it got worse. A few acutions closed at $3, including 3 focals. Face palm. That was an experiment. I wouldn't say they were my best work, nor my worst, but they were worth more than $3. I could have donated them to Beads of Courage and taken a charitable tax deduction and felt better about that. Then some pair duos sold for only $4-$6 and I decided it was time to stop selling on the bargain site. At least for now.

Not that I'm selling much on the usual sites. One long-time customer, who won two of the $3 focals, did buy some of my beads at regular prices, out of guilt I think.

In the meantime I strung up and took pictures of a lot more pairs and small sets. Maybe I'll try again on the bargain site in a week or so, maybe I'll try them at low start bids - but not $1 - on the other selling sites.

Once again I am rethinking everything, from the reasons I make beads, to what I want to make, to where - if anywhere - I want to take my art.

I finished my article for Glass Line magazine and Neil took photos of the bead I made for my tutorial. I submitted all of it, received and looked over the first draft, made corrections, and sent some more photos as requested. It mostly feels like a relief to have it off my plate, and it also feels a bit dreamlike. This should feel like a big honor and an ego boost and I should really care about it, but honestly? I'm phoning it in. It's good enough and that's good enough.

Being featured in a print magazine, being sought out no less, should feel something like I've arrived, no? Like I'm a real, respected, legitimate artist. And it's coming at a time when I've lost or misplaced my joy in making beads.

In related irony, we are trying to finalize the design on our new house and one of the last outstanding issues are the studio specs. I still want to err on the safe side and have a suitable studio to make beads in. But I can imagine a future without beads too.

Neil wants to lock in the mortgage interest rate, but everything is contingent on signing off on the design, so the pressure is on to get this sorted out. I've been talking and emailing with the builder and have come up with a rough plan that he now has to take to the HVAC contractor and chief mechanical engineer.

More likely than not I'll still have to use propane because having both a ventilation hood and a natural gas hookup might be construed as a second cook space which triggers a lot of building code ramifications. I'm still hoping that if I can't have a gas connection in the studio, I can tap into the one we are putting in for a gas grill and pipe it in the same way I'd pipe in propane.

It's astonishing to me that Neil is going along with whatever modifications are necessary and whatever additional costs might be incurred. I know he is doing whatever is in his power to influence my happiness in our future home. I also think he likes it that I make beads, which is tenably an idiosyncratic and hip type of art to make.

Whatever happens, I'll do some sort of arts or crafts and it won't hurt to have a nice tile-floored studio space. Maybe I'll finally get a lapidary wheel. Maybe I'll explore electroplating. Maybe I'll try my hand at enameling again.

Or maybe I'll take up knitting and crocheting and work out of bedroom two instead. I won't be the first person to have wasted a boatload of money on an art or craft they failed to pursue. Hell, it won't be the first time I've done it myself. I have the camera and lenses to bear witness.

Would I be remiss if I didn't mention the presidential election that happened this week? What I deemed an unthinkable outcome happened. Now all Americas must live with the consequences of half of America's choice, but as the other candidate said, let's keep an open mind, give him a chance to lead and see what happens.

Watching the returns was like watching the final game of the world series that went into overtime tied. The visiting team was the one I was rooting for, but knowing the home team could end the game with a walkoff made it too stressful to watch. I left Neil to sweat it out and went to bed. My team did win in the 10th.

I also went to bed with the election hanging in the balance, but my team did not win.

It was all the more shocking because it contradicted all the early polls, all the reliable prognostications. My favored candidate started the day with an 85 percent chance of winning.

And yet, at one point on the news, some commentator stated that the chances of the other candidate winning were about the same as a professional football player missing a 37-yard field goal. That gave me an eerie feeling. I've seen that happen multiple times. And I don't watch much football.

So the other candidate missed the field goal but took home the ring.

Yesterday for the first time in a long time, I felt blue about something that wasn't myself. A dreary day matched my mood.

But the earth continuued to spin. The market bounced back from free-fall to a near-record high. Today dawned sunny and clear. People continued to buy beads.

I know we're in a little bubble now, a tepid zone between election and inauguration. A time when it's possible to think that the wheels of government move slowly and maybe not too many bad things will happen in the next four years. Maybe even some good things will happen.

I do realize that I'm in a privileged class, even though I am a woman. I'm white. I'm not poor. I'm not young, which in this context is a good thing. I'm an American already. I have health insurance that doesn't rely on the Affordable Care Act. I'm married - and straight. I can continue to be non-racist, non-sexist, pro-choice, anti-death penalty.

In fact I can continue to be what we it would behoove all of us who are demoralized by the results of this election to be. And that is the change we want to see in the world.

Or to more properly quote Mahatma Gandhi.
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

This week we also said goodbye to the brillian songwriter and musician Leonard Cohen, who went to stand before the Lord of Song on the night before the great election debacle of 2016.

It may have all gone wrong, but it's not over for us, not yet. It is what it is, and it's what we do with it that's important now. I for one will be doing my best. I hope you will too, whichever way you voted.

Well I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did well, really what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Now maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not someone who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

But baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew you
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Well there was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah Hallelujah, Hallelujah

(Leonard Cohen, 9/21/74-11/7/2016)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Designing Carolina

"Sometimes the stakes are bogus, sometimes the fast lane hits a fork
Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York."

Sometimes Sugar Land, Texas wants to be Cornelius, North Carolina. Or have I got that backwards? Sometimes Cornelius, North Carolina wants to be Sugar Land, Texas.

We just got back from our six-day trip to design our new house. We built this house we live in too, but we probably only had to make one-tenth of the decisions. We literally picked not only every cabinet, but every cabinet knob, every faucet, every light fixture including where we wanted to place the 50 recessed cans. Neil LOVES cans. We picked the type and location of electric switches, outlets, cable and data lines, speakers, glass break detectors, fire communications. We picked out brick, roof shingles, garage doors, trim paint, door paint, door glass, room colors, hardwoods, carpet, tile, grout. We selected front door hardware, entire household door hardware.

My philosophy, contrary to what we did here, was to keep it simple, find something we liked and stay with a uniform theme. No need for 15 kinds of knobs and tile and grout. We did go with brushed nickle on the main floor ,,and chrome in the basement and upstairs to keep costs down. We picked the same cool penny-round tile for four bathrooms but in different colors. I got push-back on using the same grout color everywhere (Delorean Gray) but I only made a few exceptions where it didn't complement the tile and on the two fireplace tile surrounds where it didn't matter.

Yes, you heard that right, two fireplaces. Two greatrooms. A bonus room, a card room, a game room, a media room, a hobby room, study, kitchen, dining room, screened outdoor living area, master bedroom, master bath, four secondary bedrooms with in-suite baths, powder room, home management area, laundry room, covered patio. I'm glad I don't have to pay the bills. Oh, wait, I do.

We spent the better part of five of the six days on this design chimera, with a break on Sunday to go to the Carolina Renaissance Festival. I think I am just over Renfests. See my post on Disney.

Another break was the Dar Williams concert on Friday night at The Evening Muse. I picked the dates for this trip so we could catch her Mortal City tour. She did not disappoint. She performed the entire album in song order, and she talked between songs about her inspiration for each one, which was pretty cool. I already knew she was someone I'd love to hang out with, no surprises there. A highlight was the encore, I won't be your Yoko Ono, one of my favorites of her songs, but not one of her more mainstream hits, if she can be said to have mainstream hits. What do you hear in these sounds?

Better yet, she made eye contact with me and smiled at the beginning of the song Iowa. Neil said maybe she recognized me from the music video. It's a theory. One I like very much.

Anyway, back to the design gig. We had some predictable frustrations. We couldn't have the color Moody Blue that we picked for our front door and shutters because it was too bright (wait, what?). Well, we could have had it if we'd picked a duller brick. I don't want a dull brick. I love the brick we have now, of course I picked the closest brick color to it, which wasn't all that close, but still a pretty peachy one. At least we got our next paint color choice, Slate Tile. And out of about one thousand light fixtures I couldn't find one that I loved for the dining room. We put in a placeholder, but I'll be looking for something else. When you are spending hundreds on a light fixture you really should love it.

The funny thing is, we sweated decisions that seemed important, like the hardware on the kitchen cabinets, but honestly, I couldn't have told you what hardware we have on the cabinets we had at home, the ones I've lived with for more than nine years. And after we got home, I changed all the cabinet hardware to something close to what we have now, because I love it, even if I had distraction blindness to it for so long.

We opted for miles of hardwoods instead of carpet because cats. We choose a rustic distressed charcoal hickory, althought I'd have loved a whitewashed gray, if not for feline hairball considerations. Carpet will only go in bedrooms where the doors can be kept closed. And closets. And Neil's study. But not the hobby room. Or the home management center, where I'll probably have my computer and set up my shipping area.

My studio still is an outstanding issue. We've asked for help from the builder on a possible natural gas hookup, ventilation, return air and electric load requirements, ideally in the basement bedroom where I'd love to have it. The room has a box bay window that overlooks the rain garden and tree stand behind our property. It has access to a bathroom which is helpful since I use water for diluting bead release and for cleaning beads. I might turn my old-fashioned oak teacher's desk into a workstation for dipping mandrels and cleaning beads. Or I might use it to set up my torch and kiln. So many possibilities. So little time.

Well, actually there's a lot of time. They won't close on the construction loan until we finalize the design, and they won't start building until we close on the loan, and no one is pressuring us and we still need to sort the studio specs. I have some concern that they'll tell me I can't have it in the house. If they do, I'm inclined to acquiesce and then do it anyway. We can figure out ventilation somehow and I can have my propane outside and use quick connects to torch. To be on the safe side, we will tile the room and I've already picked out some awesome tile.

Once we close, I can't imagine the house will take less than nine months to build and probably closer to a year, considering my good weather luck, which works both ways, i.e. bad weather can be part of my good weather luck when needs be. And we need all the time we can get to figure out all the logistics, such as how to move three cats, incuding two neurotic ones.

It's fortunate that Neil will be retired on December 1 and can put his mind to the task. Because this is his party (and I'll cry if I want to, which I admit that I often do).

Besides I'm much too busy, selling beads at $6 a pair. People who won't pay $15 for three pairs will snap up $6 pairs. Go figure.

So, funny story, we went by our lot on the last day, before we flew home, and there was all this earth-moving equipment out there, moving earth and gravel. They were working on the rain garden, which is a fancy name for drainage catch basin, behind our house. It will be landscaped with sod and natural grasses, so I expect it to be pretty.

On our first day we visited the lot and there was some water in the depression and a blue heron at the edge. If I believed in signs, I'd take that as a good one.

There's a part of the country could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake
Yeah, it's out there on the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks shake
And there's another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free-standing tubs
They're in houses that are haunted, with the kids who lie awake and think
About all the generations past who used to use that dripping sink

Sometimes one place wants to slip into the other just to see
What it's like to trade its demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress the Sunday pork
Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools
And it wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids
And it's embarrassed, but it's lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair
Who is taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear

And Southern California says to save a place, I'll meet you there
And it tried to pack up its Miata, all it could fit was a prayer
Sometimes the stakes are bogus, sometimes the fast lane hits a fork
Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York

Tempe, Arizona thinks the Everglades are greener and wetter
And Washington, D.C. thinks that Atlanta integrated better
But I think that Southern California has more pain that we can say
'Cause it wants to travel back in time but it just can't leave LA

But now I hear they've got a theme park planned, designed to make you gasp and say
Oh, I bet that crumbling mill town was a booming mill town in its day
And the old investors scoff at this, but the young ones hope they'll take a chance
And they promise it will make more dough than Mickey Mouse in Northern France
And the planners got an opening day, a town historian will host
And the waitresses look like waitresses who want to leave for the West Coast

And they'll have puttering on rainy weekends, autumn days that make you feel sad
They'll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never had
And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a bundle-bearing stork
And I hear they've got a menu planned, it's trés Western New York.

(Dar Williams)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Flogging the sunk-cost pony

"In a heart there are windows and doors
You can let the light in, you can feel the wind blow
When there's nothing to lose and nothing to gain, grab a hold of that fistful of rain."

I did something new this week and it was fun.

I posted some of my beads for sale in a Facebook group called Bargain Box Beads. I've avoided it until now because all auctions have to start at one dollar. Not one dollar per bead in a set. One dollar is the start bid for any listing.

You can also have a buy-it-now option which can be any amount.

It was a learning experience. I started with auctions without buy-it-now prices. I got bids I was satisfied with because I'm considering this a clear-out, but I had to wait the 24 hour time period until the auction was over.

After than I included buy-it-now options and went for leveraging turnover. I have to say it was fun, hearing people bid, well, hearing the chiming sound Facebook makes when people comment or bid on my posts of any kind.

A lot of listings went like this. Person One would bid one dollar. Person Two would bid two or three or four dollars. Person One would then call buy it now.

I'd send them the listing info and photos and list another item.

I sold a lot of beads.

What else did I learn. People seem a bit reluctant to bid $12 for an 8 bead set. But they won't think too hard before bidding $8 on a 4 bead set. I wound up cutting apart a lot of my 8 bead sets. People will think even less hard about bidding $4 for a pair. Or $5 for a pair. I actually made a mistake and listed a pair for $8 and it sold. It was a nice pair. Haha. Mental note, next time more nice pairs with higher buy-it-now prices

It's more work for me of course. More stringing, more photography. More photo editing. More invoice updates to make, more beads to keep track of. Or should I say more piles of beads to keep track of.

I really sold a lot of beads.

Better yet, I sold a lot of beads that I'd had for a long time. I sold quite a few mismatched pairs (with full disclosure, naturally). I sold a few orphan strands of one-offs.

I also learned that focals don't do as well as sets and pairs. I want to push that envelope more. I have a lot of focals that I'd be happy to get $5 for, so if I get $7 to $10, I'll be even happier to see the back of them.

You don't have to tell me. I know. It's a slippery slope. The more of my beads that people stock up on at bargain prices, the fewer they are likely to want to buy later at my regular prices. One the other hand, I had a few purchases by former customers but most of these buyers were new to me. For the most part, I think a different crowd trolls the bargain basement group.

I have to be practical. For weeks now, I've sold very few beads at my regular prices.

People keep telling me it's slow for everyone right now.

I see that things are slow, but I also see people buying. Some people may be looking for bargains, but many people are looking for beads that they love. Mine obviously aren't tripping their switches. Maybe they will again. Maybe I'll find a style, a stride, a design that is mine and that sells. I'm a terrible judge and I have a lounge of lizards to prove that.

People keep telling me my beads are beautiful, my quality is first rate and my work is lovely. People keep telling me not to second guess myself, not to doubt myself.

And yet, I have all these beads just sitting here, and I keep thinking about sunk costs.

I took a class at work once about risk analysis or something like that, and this example was given. Let's say you spend $100,000 on drilling a well (I know they cost a lot more than that but set that thought aside for this example). You don't produce any oil. Your expert tells you that if you invest another $50,000 you are guaranteed a return of $100,000. Should you do it?

Most people said no. Their impulse was to think, it's not a good deal to spend $150,000 to make $100,000. I got it right away though. You start where you are. That first 100,000 is spent, gone goodbye. It's a sunk cost. By spending another $50,000 to gain $100,000, you are cutting your total loss from $100,000 down to $50,000.

So in bead terms, if I was now setting out to make these beads I want to sell today, I know it would not be profitable to make and sell them for the prices I'm letting them go for. But since they are already made, the cost of making them is sunk. Anything I get for them cuts my losses.

It also gets them out of my care and feeding, it gives me the ephemeral sense of earning some bucks and, the cherry on the sundae, it makes others happy to get my beautiful beads at a steal of a deal.

Yes, it's a little embarrassing to be a beadmaker with more than eight years of experience reduced to selling in the bargain basement, but I did notice that I'm not the only one. I see several familiar sellers who have been making beads for as long as I have. So it is what it is. And one purchase morphed into a nice custom order for more beads in Christmas colors.

I have to admit, it was a little addictive to post and sell, post and sell. Clearly I am a buy-it-now junkie.

Because we're leaving on another trip on Thursday, I had to put a hard stop on my listings last night. The last few end tonight if no one calls BIN. That gives me tomorrow to coax everyone to pay their tab and get the beads wrapped up for shipping and dropped off at the post office.

I've already restrung a lot more of my bead sets into single pairs, double pairs, and sets of four. I've picked out a bunch of focals that I will experiment with to see what buy-it-now prices the market will bear. I'm feeling pretty pumped about this. As many beads as I sold, I have three times more in inventory.

If I have to restring everything into pairs to move them, I will, with a smile on my face.

Who knows what will happen. Doubtlessy this new market isn't infinite. Maybe I'll saturate it with a few weeks of bargain buy it nows.

But until I do, I'm riding that pony as far as its little legs will carry me.

Just some of the beads I sold in three days.

You can dream the American Dream
But you sleep with the lights on
And wake up with a scream
You can hope against hope
That nothing will change
Grab a hold of that fistful of rain

When your grasp has exceeded your reach
And you put all your faith
In a figure of speech
You've heard all the answers
But the questions remain
Grab a hold of that fistful of rain

And when diamonds turn back into coal
Grab a hold, children, grab a hold
When the mountains crumble
And you're ready to rumble
And roll like a runaway train

In a heart there are windows and doors
You can let the light in
You can feel the wind blow
When there's nothing to lose
And nothing to gain
Grab a hold of that fistful of rain

Grab a hold, grab a hold, grab a hold
Grab a hold, grab a hold, grab a hold of that fistful of rain."

(Warren Zevon & Jorge Calderón)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Doing what you need to do

"With the past not far behind, and the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time, we'll be howling at the moon, and holding on."

Saturday night was the memorial gathering for my friend Tom. It was held in his home, the house where we gathered so many times for Halloween parties in our crazy younger years and for Christmas parties in our more sedate adult years.

It may have been the best attended party there ever. All five of his younger siblings, with some of their spouses and kids, came from the east coast and midwest. Work colleagues young and old were there, a few neighbors and random friends stopped in and a fair contingent of our Colgate classmates, significant others and children filled the space.

There were digital slide shows with photos of Tom over the years, as well as posterboards and albums of printed photos. I kept thinking that Tom would have enjoyed the party. I kept thinking, why do wait until someone is dead to celebrate their life.

It's just the way of things, I suppose. All that unconditional love, all those accolades, might be a bit abashing or awkward if you were alive and in the building.

I talked quite a bit to one of Tom's sisters, who was there for his last days, those few days between the time he thought he was going to have another procedure and recouperate and get on with living, but instead had the plug pulled and was sent home with hospice care because his organs were failing. His sister asked him what it felt like to know you were at the end of life, and Tom said that he had no regrets.

I wonder if that is something you might say on you deathbed to comfort your soon-to be-bereaved loved ones.

Tom was a friend and a good person, very bright, clearly respected as a mentor by his coworkers, clearly loved by his siblings, but his life was not the ice cream sundae that his obituary described. I think his marriage was in grave trouble before his diagnosis. Fences may have been mended with a death sentence on menu, and I have no doubt that his wife is grieving, but we all have a lot of questions about what will happen next. Will she stay in the house? Will she be able to cope with it on her own? Will she want to?

I have a theory or philosophy that for the most part people do what they need to do. I remember when my women friends who stayed home with their kids while I worked full time would say to me, I don't know how you do it, or, I couldn't do it. And I would say, you do what you have to do. I had no choice so I worked and tried to be as good a parent as I could anyway. Later, as a single mom, battling severe depression, I still got dressed every day and went to work and paid the bills and kept our lives going.

So I think Tom's wife will figure it out somehow. She may tread water for a while. With the party guests gone and the leftovers put away and the trash taken out, she will have to learn how to live her life, one day at a time. She has some special challenges. English is not her native language. She has an older daughter with serious mental problems and a younger daughter with juvenile diabetes. And I don't think her finances are in the best state, although there should be a pension and life insurance coming.

What have I learned? That Tom was in denial about dying, that he didn't get his affairs in order as he should have, probably believing he had more time. It always shocks me when I hear that people don't make contingeny plans, don't talk about things like money and death. I'm cut from different cloth. Neil and I talk quite dispassionately about various mortality scenarios, and neither one of us has been diagnosed with anything worse that high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Especially now that Neil is retiring and we are buliding a new house and moving, we have decisions to make about his pension and our life insurance. We do a lot of scenario modeling. What happens financially if I die in a year? If he dies in a year? We're not expecting either of those things to happen, they are just worst case scenarios. Talking about them doesn't make them any more likely to happen. It's just important to both of us ensure that our figurative fortunes are not left to fate.

I think we'll be talking a lot about it over this next year, as we take on a new mortgage and go through all the expenses of moving. I've decided that, other than to toss and donate some of the most obvious things, I'm not going to think about packing until after New Year's. Neil's last day of work is November 30, a Wednesday. With a graduation and a grandbaby due in December it will be a busy month. In between the busyness, Neil deserves some down time to rest after almost 34 years of work. And I'll need some time to adjust to having him home all day.

But at some point we will have to decide how much packing and moving we are going to do ourselves and how much it is worth to pay someone to do it for us and make the pain go away. We'll probably do some combination of both. There will be decisions to make about what furniture is worth paying to move, since we do have some very sad hand-me-down sofas, furniture that was inexpensive when I bought it 25 years ago, and some garden variety junk, like this Ikea desk I'm typing at. Even our bed mattress, which I love, is more than 20 years old and I think seven to ten years is the typical life of a mattress.

Of course, whatever we don't pay to move it, we will have replace at the other end. Since I have yet to bring myself to believe this move is going to be permanent (by which I mean more than five years or so), I'm not sure how much good furniture I want to invest in for the new house.

Neil is funny. He suggested we each put some money into an account which we can then use to deck out our new digs. He suggested $50,000. I said, if by that you mean that you put in $40,000 and I put in $10,000, I can be with that. Naturallt that wasn't what he had in mind. We haven't resolved this yet. I can see us living out of boxes and having lots of empty rooms for a while.

Like I said, lots to think about, lots to talk about, lots to decide, lots of money to say bye-bye to.

Speaking of which, I almost forgot, I did it - I got a new iPad! I took myself over to the Apple Store, where I backed up my old iPad to my MacBook Pro (which finally was useful for something) and I bought a Space Gray 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The Apple people talked me into getting a Logitech case with a keyboard, but I took it back the next day because I love my new on-screen keyboard. It is a virtual real keyboard, with numbers and characters, so you don't have to toggle. I ordered a case from Amazon and it was delivered on Monday, because Amazon Prime doesn't recognize postal holidays.

I'm pretty pleased with myself. The tipping point was that Apple stopped supporting the iPad 2. No IOS 10 made my decision easier. I don't regret waiting this long though.

Here's a look at my new beauties.

Now I think I will sell my MacBook Pro. I'm watching some auctions on eBay to see what they are selling for. While I'm at it I should sell the macro lens and adapter I bought for my Nikon 1. You know, the camera I never use. I use my point and shoot for bead photos and my iPhone camera for everything else. I don't mind keeping the camera. It's red and it was a good deal. The adapter and macro lens cost more than the camera, which came with two lenses and a nice red leather case.

But that opens the door to all the collectibles I should think about selling on eBay before we move. And that's a door I'm not ready to open.

I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

And what's that someone said
Of a closed and open door?
Brighter days ahead
Look that way while you're
Holding on

Holding on, holding on

And when some lonesome wind
Has hemmed you in
Don't you believe that sound
You will surely rise
Above these tides
To higher ground

With the past not far behind
And the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time
We'll be howling at the moon
And holding on

I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

Holding on, holding on.

(Cheryl Wheeler)