Sunday, December 24, 2017

A slice of heaven

"I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past we've been cast out of, oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight."

You knew this was coming.

Well, you might have known.

It was inevitable.

Now that I'm making beads again, I'm back to listing them online.

I opened my frit shop first - mainly because I got a convo from a customer last month saying she was running low and getting desperate. Something to that effect.

I'd just finished unboxing and reorganizing my frit supplies. so I went ahead and reopened my Etsy shop.

From there it was only a matter of time, relatively little time, before I reopened my Etsy bead shop.

And shortly after that, I dipped my toe back in the murky waters of selling beads on Facebook.

There was a little flurry of interest and encouragement, a handful of folks remarking that they were glad to see me listing again, a few sales.

I bit the bullet and ordered 200 more bubble mailers. To go with the ream of lime green tissue paper I bought before we moved but never had to open.

Within less than a week, bead sales have already stalled. Murky waters as I said.

Leave it to me to time my return the week before Christmas. I might have waited until January. It might not have mattered.

I'm seeing the usual only more so. Bead sales continue steady for a few artists and appear to be stagnant for many more. I'm still seeing some perfectly horrible beads get bids while my beauties sit. I'm also see other artists' beauties go unbid.

It's a little disappointing. I've followed the bead scene these months but not closely. What I hoped was that new buyers would have found the bead buying pages and would swoon over my wares, having not seen my work before.

What's actually happened is that all my sales so far have been to former customers.

It's OK. I'm not going to beat myself over this. I'll keep listing for a while. It keeps my busy and helps me structure my day. Even a few sales can add up and it was nice having a PayPal balance to transfer to my bank account again.

I've sold a few orders of frit. No bead sales on Etsy yet, but that may pick up as I build up my inventory. Some say the key to Etsy is listing often, so this months-long break won't have helped.

I'm not spending money on bead making supplies any more. I have enough raw materials to keep going for a long, long time. I have my torch running on household natural gas, so no more cans of propane to swap out. I'm stocked up on shipping supplies or will be when the mailers come, so any money I make now is gravy.

That's one way to look at it. It doesn't stop me from hopefulness every time I check Facebook to see if I have any bids.

I was never really in it for the money though. It was always about the validation. So, I'll have to watch it there. If I start feeling bad about lack of sales, I can always stop again. After my next 200 sales, I mean.

I'm still toying with the idea of doing a craft show but I'm not sure people will buy loose beads and I'm not sure I want to make a lot of spec jewelry, even if I can come up with some simple styles and keep down the cost of findings. I have a good stash of bead store beads, clasps, ear wires, headpins, etc., but I'd rather figure out a way to string my beads on some cord or chain and call it ready-to-wear.

The other aspect of shows that daunts me is having to lug all the cloths and displays and merchandise, set it all up, and invest a day or weekend sitting behind a table.

I used to enjoy the interaction with customers, but it's been a while since I did a show. Foot traffic had slowed a lot, sales had tapered dramatically, and I've heard things haven't gotten better, that the internet is killing off the live shows.

Then again, my new friend Leslie, who I met online and who lives not far from here, says she's done a few very successful local shows. So it might be worth giving it a try.

We'll see. Plenty of time to ponder it, no need to make any hasty decisions.

For now I'm getting enough of a charge from just creating. I've had a few fails but more successes, if success is measured by beads that I think turn out pretty. I was worried that I'd be rusty. I was concerned about the switch to natural gas. But there hasn't been much of a learning curve. My skills are pretty much what they were, maybe a bit better for the rest. My color sense has felt a bit off, but I can work with that.

Life in general has been smoother, as I've started to accept and even embrace my new home exit. Tensions have subsided and time has assumed a more natural rhythm. My bed feels almost friendly again.

Best of all, some of our new furniture has been delivered. We have comfortable sofas, a dining table and chairs, more storage pieces and the most beautiful desk I've ever dreamed of owning. Still to come are the bedroom set, the coffee table and end tables for the living room and a few other odds and ends.

Who knew that having furniture again would be a little slice of heaven?

The cats approved of everything.

I posted these pix on Facebook. They got a lot more likes than my beads. Oh well. They also got comments, mostly about charcoal couches and white cat fur. Hey, I don't mind a little lint-rolling. I'll be happy if they don't shred the fabric or yak up hairballs on the upholstery.

For the first month. Week. A couple of days.

I ordered some throws to cover up the couches, just in case.

We still need to buy rugs and some side pieces for the first floor fireplace, and then I think we are done.

The next baby steps will be taking the cats to a new vet, picking a new dentist, finding a new GP, and buying a new car.

We have one more quiet week ahead. We're picking up Christmas dinner from Fresh Market. I'm hoping to get a few things done this upcoming week, like my nails and a massage and maybe some post-Christmas sales shopping.

One New Year's Eve, Neil's clan descends. His father, son, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. They'll be here until January 4. It should be interesting. We bought Blake a hammering toy. We've saved some big boxes for him to play in. It will be an adventure.

Yeah, I keep telling myself that.

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past
We've been cast out of, oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight

We're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

A circumstance beyond our control, oh oh oh oh
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When I see what they've done to you

But I'll die as I stand here today
Knowing that deep in my heart
They'll fall to ruin one day
For making us part

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle was your part, oh oh oh oh
In the wretched life of a lonely heart
Now we're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang.

(Christine Hynde)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Home is where the cats are

"It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed."

We're back from our trip to Texas.

We've been back since Monday but I've had to take some time to process my feelings about it.

Plus, my torch is running quite fine on natural gas. I'm getting happily re-addicted to melting glass.

On the whole, the trip was a mixed bag, but I suppose that's true about most trips, at least most of my trips.

Arrival day was fine. The flight seemed endless but we got an hour back. The weather was gray, drizzly and cold. In other words, perfect.

Perfect as a sign that moving was the right thing and that the grass is a lot browner in reality than memory dictates.

We went to the bank so Neil could close his safe deposit boxes, and then Neil wanted a mocha and I wanted a sweet. We were surrounded by Starbucks but I'm always interested in alternatives, so when Siri offered up a "desserts and drinks" place, we drove in a circle to find it.

"It" was Bambu, a small but growing chain specializing in Chè -- Vietnamese homemade beverages, dessert drinks and puddings. Chè is made with coconut water or coconut milk combined with "exotic, healthy and delicious" ingredients.

It wasn't the cobbler with ice cream, or cupcake or pie or cake, that I was craving, but we were there at my instigation, and I decided, why not. I figured it was only 50/50 that I'd like it. Shave ice is not my favorite thing and on a cold day it was less appealing, but I bravely ordered the Taro Lover, featuring Taro, pandan jelly, and coconut milk. Taro is my favorite color, although I wouldn't have expected pandan jelly to be more like soft, bland, green gummy worms than fruit jam. Neil played it safe with a hot coconut milk mocha.

It was interesting. I liked it enough to eat it. I probably wouldn't rush out to have it again, but I'd not say never.

From there we went to Laurie's house in Fulshear, where we were staying. She'd left a key under the mat for us. Neil's first wife Joann showed up just as we did, toting baby Blake. Blake wasn't interested in letting go of Grandma Joann, even when Luke got home. We had to distract him so she could leave. He was fine after that, and warmed up to us fairly quickly.

Let me skip some of the boring parts. Laurie picked up Italian food on her way home. My order was wrong as is par for the course. Neil was exhausted, we went to bed early.

Thursday was an odd day for me. Everyone was up and out by the time I came up for coffee at 8 am. Neil had a dentist appointment followed by a trip to Lowes and lunch with a friend. I chilled, literally, in the heatless house, reading and amusing myself until he got home. Luke got home next with baby in tow and we had a little Blake time, which Blake used to bang on the coffee table with decorative gourds from a bowl, and to pull every DVD out of the entertainment center.

Blake is just now standing and cruising furniture and crawling like a speed demon and he's all boy, if that means he wants to pound on everything all the time. Neil and I commented that we'd have to do some childproofing before his planned visit next month.

Thursday night was dinner with some of Neil's former workmates. I enjoy seeing them but the conversation went on for a long time about people I didn't know and company gossip that means little to me. On the way home it was snowing, but not sticking. By morning though, we had a couple of inches on the ground. Naturally. I come to Texas and it snows.

Still life with baby in snow. In Texas.
Friday morning we visited our financial advisor then headed for Lake Charles. We stopped at Buccee's, had breakfast at Cracker Barrel (because anything trumps Waffle House for me) and checked in to our hotel. We met up with everyone for hot dogs at Botsky's, everyone being Laurie, Luke, Blake, Joann and her husband Mike, Chris and his Lake Charles housemates Jaime, Amy and Eric. It was still icy cold.

Saturday morning was Chris's graduation ceremony, followed by lunch with the same cast of characters. My calzone came with sausage instead of olives. At least the sun came out and started warming things up. After lunch we helped Chris load up the last of his gear and made the trafficky drive back to Fulshear. Dinner was pizza for some, M&Ms for me.

Sunday was my favorite part of the trip, brunch at Hugo's with my oldest friends in Texas. The weather continued to smile. Neil dropped me back at Laurie's and took off to do more errands. Joann was at the house again with Blake, the adult kids were out for fried chicken. I played with Blake and chatted with Joann. The kids got home and we took a walk with Blake. Neil got back and the next topic was dinner.

Neil and I were still full and we had my replacement calzone in the fridge, but the kids wanted sushi, so we buckled up and went out again. There's a reason I mention all the meals out, and I'll get to that. On Monday we got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed ... home. I wasn't sad. I was glad to be returning to North Carolina. It turns out that home is where the cats are.

I'd like to say that I've been nothing but happy since we got here. That wouldn't be true but it's not for the reasons you'd think. I'm not homesick for Texas any more. In fact, I have brand new reasons to be happy to be here in NC.

At some point during the trip, Laurie threw out the idea that instead of bringing Blake when they visit us next month, they'd leave him with Joann. This upset Neil a lot.

It boils down to this. Our reactions to Blake's typical baby behavior, i.e., hammering on things and emptying cabinets, made Laurie decide it would be more stressful for everyone if he came.

Now if Laurie is doing this because she wouldn't mind a break from baby-minding and thinks she'd have more fun without Blake, that's one thing. But she couched it more like she wasn't going to bring him because we didn't want him. And we couldn't persuade her otherwise. Because she saw (or Luke told her) how we reacted to Blake being baby Blake, how we made comments about needing to baby proof.

And of course we would baby proof. We'd put breakables away and cover good wood furniture and have plenty of soft toys and dedicate a play space and keep an eagle eye on him in case he got into something we'd rather he left alone.

It's also true that we'd be looking to Laurie and Luke to jump in and stop him from emptying any cabinets or playing drums on anything besides toy drums. We'd deal with the drooling and the runny nose and the food on the floor and the sticky fingers and all the little things that go with one-year-old people.

Honestly, while I'd never considered not having Blake come, having him not come has some appeal. We'd need less paraphernalia certainly, such as car seat, stroller, portacrib, high chair. Neil could pick up everyone from the airport in one car. Activities would open up wide if we weren't working around two naps a day and an early bedtime, nighttime fusses and overtired parents.

Neil's dad is coming at the same time and it's been hard to think of things that are suitable for both the 88-year-old and the one-year-old contingent. The rub there is that this whole visit is the brainchild born of Laurie wanting to have Neil go with her to take the baby to visit his great-grandpa. Neil suggested we convene here instead, since we have the space. If Blake doesn't come, great grandpa Bob won't get to see him.

I suspect that Bob would take the disappointment in stride and Blake won't remember the meeting anyway. Bob did get to see Blake when he was about a month old. It's all still up in the air and at this point I have bigger issues to sort than whether or not Blake comes this time or some other time.

I'm getting to the meat of the story now. But first, a little background.

When Neil and I started dating in 2002, I'd been unmarried for four years, Neil for one year. Laurie took her parents' divorce very hard and their dating even harder. I suppose her mom and her dad dating others was the nail in her bubble, her dream of a reconciliation. But by then, as Neil said, that train had left the station.

Ironically, her mom met her future-husband-to-be exactly one day before Neil and I met.

Laurie refused to meet me for something like an entire year. She behaved hatefully toward me and toward my children, who sincerely wanted to be friends. True, my kids had more time to accept my divorce, to realize even that Jon and I were happier apart than together. Not so Laurie. I suspect to this day she daydreams about getting her nuclear family back together.

Over time she matured enough to behave politely toward me. For a time she even made an effort to be friendly, baking me cookies for my birthday and coming by to meet my parents once. I gave her credit for trying but like my mom used to say, I forgive -- but I don't forget.

Flash forward 15 years, give or take. I know that I've said things that rankled with Laurie. Most were well meant and guileless, only a few were on the line, such as when she was dictating what restaurant she wanted to eat at, and I said, when you make the money, you get to make the decision.

That may be true, and I could have said it to my kids, but discretion being the better part of valour, I should have kept my mouth shut and let Neil handle it with Laurie. Even if that meant going to the restaurant of her choice rather than mine. So I apologized. I can own my mistakes and admit to being wrong when needs must.

But for a while now she has been watching my every move with a stink eye, looking for slights, looking for criticism, looking for judgment. The baby thing has escalated the situation. I can't so much as tell a story about my own kids as babies without her seeing it as a comparison in which she and Blake come out badly. Lord forbid I mention something meant to be helpful, for example, wondering if she knew that putting a baby to bed with a bottle of formula is not a wise thing.

OK, so Blake has only two teeth and he'll be weaned off the bottle soon. And I apologized for saying anything about it. But I can't win. Anything at all that I say will be scrutinized and found judgmental.

Neil agrees, he says, you can't win. He says we can both be ridiculous (like me being mad that she bought us the Christmas decoration and demanded that we display it) but that Laurie is much worse.

He tries to talk her down. He tries to put it in perspective, he tries to tell her that my intentions are good. Really, what I'd prefer he tell her is that he won't discuss me with her. I mean, Jesus, my kids have never said a negative word about Neil to me and if they tried to, I'd push back. But Neil thinks he can do better by playing referee, by trying to reason with her, by working to keep the peace.

Still, as I told Neil, if Laurie has an issue with me, I wish she'd just address it with me.

Another fault that I've been broad-brushed with. I don't play with Blake. Never mind the games of pat-a-cake, never mind the times I carried him around and showed him things, never mind that I sung to him.

It's frustrating. I feel like I felt when I had a review at work that was completely detached from reality, when all my good work was overlooked but I was hammered with some perceived but untrue fault. And when I tried to set the record straight I was told that I was in denial and that if I didn't take the review seriously and mend my wicked ways things would go ill for me.

It's maddening to be unfairly accused, tried and found guilty -- with no just cause.

I can't win, that's a given. And that being a given, I am not going to play. I can't cut Laurie out of my life, she's Neil's daughter and we're stuck with each other. But I can drop the pretense of being friends. I don't have to engage her. If I must talk to her, then I will talk about the weather. Or the food. Because there's always food, way too much food, whenever we are with the kids. But I'll try not to initiate any meaningful dialog. I will respond when spoken to.

I like Blake. I even love Blake because he'd Neil's grandson and I love Neil. But I'm afraid to become too attached. Because under the circumstances, I don't know if I'd ever see Blake again if something happened to Neil. I know that's not a reason to distance myself from the baby, and I won't, but I'm suddenly reluctant to create a personal bond with him.

I'll be nice to him of course, as I am to all babies. I'll take my turn holding him. Maybe when he's older, if he comes to visit us by himself, like Ryland has, I'll have a chance to become friends with him.

But until Laurie grows up and stops looking for reasons to feel slighted or judged or harmed, if she does, I'm keeping my emotional distance.

And truly appreciating our physical distance.

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling
Don't you cry
Quiet, angel
Forget their lies

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed.

(Jane Wiedlin, Terry Hall)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lighting up

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

It's a new month, the last month of a year of sea change, and time I think for me to accept what I can't change.

If I love Neil, which I do, and I want him to be happy, which I do, then I have to do everything I can to embrace the changes and reinvent my life.

Willy nilly, I've done damage to our relationship in these last months, with my bouts of homesickness, or whatever name you want to give this malady.

Granted, we're both a bit over-sensitive these days, a bit quick to misinterpret something the other said. We're both adapting to a huge change and no matter how often Neil says how lovely it is here, I suspect at some level he is feeling the loss of his old life.

By nature, we are two independent people, two people who enjoy a certain amount of solitude, two people who are rarely bored, two people who thrive on having their own space. By the nature of the situation, we are unnaturally dependant on each other at the moment.

By turns, we have both been more needy than comes naturally to us.

At times I've resisted Neil's suggestions for activities that would disrupt the routines I've so desperately been trying to re-establish for myself. If I don't want to walk to the little village that abuts our community for a coffee in favor of walking on the treadmill, I feel guilty when he doesn't go for that walk on his own.

At other times, I feel his frustration when he does something with me that winds up gobbling up too much time and interfering with whatever other activities he had wanted to do that day. For example, if he goes to Ikea with me for just one thing, and then to the craft store for one thing, but I want to look around a bit, and then we pass a furniture store and I want to go in there too. By the time we get home the day is pretty much shot, especially if we stop for frozen custard on the way back.

Well, he didn't have to suggest the frozen custard, did he?

Yet, on the bright side, we can still share a good belly laugh, such as when one of the cats does something hilarious. Such as when Neil got down on the floor with a cat teaser stick to fish Zamboni's toy mouse out from under the refrigerator, and Zamboni instantly batted the mouse right back under the fridge.

Sometimes something like that will strike us both as just so funny, and we will laugh and laugh.

At those times, I wonder, I marvel at myself. How in hell can I be so easily amused on the very same day that earlier I felt as though my heart had a cold band around it?

Thank god I can.

And now I have more reason to be happy. I have my torch hooked up and I can make beads.

Hooked up to the gas stub
My new little Bethlehem Alpha.
In fact, I've now made beads twice, yesterday and today. I'm getting used to a new torch and working with natural gas. The flame chemistry is different, but so far it is hot enough to make the small dotted earring-size beads that are my favorites, and I've gone as big as 25 mm or so a couple of times without issue.

Muscle memory hasn't been a problem, as I feared. Right now I'm just playing, still haven't decided when or whether I will sell beads again, but I have to admit it feels good to be melting glass. I wake up in the morning and I have a purpose, a reason to get out of bed.

I've been getting out of bed all along, because coffee. And if I'm up by 8 am at the latest, I can go to bed at midnight and not have trouble falling asleep, nor feel as if I am sleeping my life away. We don't count those catnaps that seem to happen regularly, even though I've never been a napper.

So of course, now that I'm finally torching again and feeling a wee bit better I think, we're off on our first trip since we arrived here September 21. It's been so long since it's been this long between trips that my packing brain is addled. It doesn't help that our itinerary includes a dinner out with friends, a graduation and a brunch with other friends. I'm wondering if I can get away with one nice outfit for all three events.

In fact, it's been a while since I've worn anything but soft pants, leggings with casual skirts, sneakers and boots, that I can't remember what to wear around people I actually know. I've stuffed a variety of duds in my roll-aboard and hoping I have my butt covered. Literally.

I know this is going to sound weird but I am actually going to miss being here. Being home. Mostly the cats. But also being home.

I did say weird.
Beads in the box.

I found myself between two places
Neither of them home
I could not recognize the faces
I've never felt so alone
So alone

I found myself between two choices
To settle or to run
All my life I've heard the voices
This time mine's the only one
The only one

I want to feel what the wind feels like
I want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky

Life astounds us in an instant
Changing all we know
Blink just once and then you've missed it
All that you can do is watch it go
Watch it go

You want to feel what the wind feels like
You want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky

I found myself between two lifetimes
A sunset and a dawn
I reached out and took the lifeline
Offered up between here and gone
Here and gone

We want to feel what the wind feels like
We want to go that high
And feel no fear instead of being down here
Holding up the sky
Holding up the sky.

(Mary Chaplin Carpenter)