Sunday, August 12, 2018

There and briefly back again

So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

In the blink of an eye, Alaska is two weeks behind us.

And talk of eyes, we took a red eye home. Not the reddest eye, that left two hours later. There are three non-stops a day from Seattle to Charlotte. At 6 am, before our ship docked, at 10 pm, and at midnight. We chose the 10 pm and rented a car for the day.

We said goodbye to the kids at our last on-board breakfast. After we debarked, I stayed with the bags and Neil walked a few blocks to pick up our rental car. He circled back and picked me up near the pier. We opted to head for the Tacoma Museum of Glass. On arrival we found that a craft show had broken out. Any purchase from the show included museum admission, so of course I had to find two things to buy.

I love how the two new mini vases match my Bombay closeout pieces.
I bought the fish on the Biltmore trip & Chelsea gave me the flower.

The museum wasn't anything special but the hot shop is its real claim to fame, and it was going full blast - pun intended. We watched a team of five glassblowers finish an art glass piece that was sketched on the floor. I bought some earrings in the gift shop with the money I saved on admission. Of course I did.

I wanted to go to Pikes Place Market but Neil thought it didn't make sense to drive back past the airport, so we settled for seafood in a little town between Tacoma and Sea-Tac. We walked around a bit, it was quite hot, and we still had time to kill. I looked on a map for parks, and found one close to the airport. We saw the sign for the park but missed the entrance, so we drove in circles for a while. We finally found the parking lot which was roadblocked because it was full.

So, with five hours left before our flight, since we were literally at the airport entrance, Neil persuaded me to drop off the rental car and get rid of our checked luggage. After dropping the car, we got to the American counter and had to wait 20 minutes, since they wouldn't check our bags more than four hours before boarding.

After we located our gate at one end of the airport, we decided to hike to the other end and use our United Club passes. United has a tiny club at Sea-Tac. The coffee was cold, but the water was too. The cookies were OK, but the snack mix was past its best, giving a true meaning to the adage, these free peanuts are stale.

In hindsight, I'd have stayed another night in Seattle and had another day to sight-see. And shop for glass, since there are three distributors in the Seattle area. Hmm, maybe just as well that we didn't.

So yeah, the red-eye experience was, um, interesting. We took off on time, 10 pm, it's a 6 hour flight, but we had to return the 3 hours we got back on the front end of the trip. So we landed about 7 am North Carolina time. On the plane, I read for a while, then turned off light and tried to sleep. I really did, for 20 minutes at least. I wasn't sleepy though, so I turned on the light again, and read for the rest of the flight.

The book I was reading was Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden. I've been re-reading the Godden novels that I first read as a young adult, including Breakfast with the Nikolides, The River, A Breath of Air, Kingfishers Catch Fire, An Episode of Sparrows, China Court, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, In This House of Brede, and The Peacock Spring. I also read some for the first time, Black Narcissus, The Greengage Summer, and, on the plane, Coromandel Sea Change.

I think part of the reason I didn't get sleepy was that the story drew me in. The turbulent sea, the sharks, the mystical, charismatic, god-like Krishnan, the Indian political campaign, the British guests at Patna Hall, its goodhearted proprietress Auntie Sanni, the ill-fated donkey, the nubile, restless Kuku Vikram, and Mary Browne at the center of it all, with her sweet stubbornness and starstruck passion. I was reading the last few pages while we were waiting for our checked bags, and saved the epilogue for home.

At home I wasn't sure what to do next - have coffee and start the day, or go to bed. I wound up putting on my night clothes and taking a 2 hour nap on the sofa with Loki. After that I made coffee, got dressed, and made it through the rest of the day until bedtime.

Luckily there was little on our calendar for the first week at home. A quiet week was needed, not to recover from the cruise as much as to reset our body clocks. Normally I change time zones well and don't suffer from jet lag. I just immediately get on the new time and deliberately don't think about what time it would be at home. Losing a whole night threw me off. I've done that before, when we traveled to England and to France, because instead of sleeping on the flight, I watched free in-flight movies back-to-back.

(Which is why we fell asleep in the Paris airport and missed our connecting flight to Newcastle, the only connecting flight of the day. That's part of a longer story, but the long and short of it was that we flew to Amsterdam and I slept in a rocking chair in the Schiphol airport for 5 blessed hours before we caught another flight that got us in to Newcastle at midnight, instead of noon as we had planned, And then someone with a similar bag had taken my bag. Another time.)

Anyway, it's always good to be home, even if we are leaving again shortly for our PA-NJ-NY trip.

And I did something that I can't remember ever doing before. I finished Coromandel Sea Change and I immediately re-read it. I realize that when I was reading Rumer Godden in my youth, she hadn't yet written many of the novels I'm just now discovering. I've ordered three more from Amazon, Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy, Pippa Passes, and Cromartie vs. the God Shiva. And I'm happy to note there are others to look forward to.

I'm trying to mix up my reading a bit. Right now I'm reading The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh, who completed the last Peter Wimsey novel and then wrote three more, loosely based on notes left by Dorothy Sayers. I'm hoping she writes another, but I'll probably read the other Imogen Quy novels in the meantime.

I'm also working my way through the Deborah Knott mystery series by Margaret Maron, which are set in North Carolina. Maron has another detective series set in New York City and I'd like to read those too, although the books are harder to find. I'm determined though, especially since Deborah meets the other heroine, Sigrid Harald, in one of the stories. But that's still about nine books away.

Beads. What can I say? After ten or so days off, it felt good to light the torch and melt some glass. I even came up with a new design that I'm excited about. But some days I struggle, both with the selling side and with the glass. Sales have been slow but that's nothing new, and I'm not alone, although there are still enough artists who sell out all the time. By which I mean they sell everything they list. At least I'm selling some things. A few things.

The struggle with the glass is different. At this stage, I don't want to waste glass, I feel like, if I dip 30 mandrels and make 30 beads, they should all be decent, if not brilliant. At one point, my philosophy was that glass was rarely wasted because everything was a learning experience. Now I'm less forgiving of myself. For example, I was making the second bead of a pair and I got sloppy with one of the dots. I tried to spot heat it and pick it off, even though that never works, so I wound up melting all the dots in and adding more dots, until it was something else entirely.

OK, that's not the end of the world. I tried again to make the second bead of the pair. To do that, I picked up tiny fragments of one color from my table to pull a stringer. So far, so good. I got to the final layer of dots, and I picked up a pink stringer instead of a gray one. So now I have three single beads. Maybe if they're pretty I'll go back and make them mates next time I torch. But history tells me to move on. I can keep a color combination in my head long enough to make a pair. I'm almost sure to get a color wrong if I try again later.

Oh well. They can go in my Beads of Courage bowl, or I can use them in one of my crazy quilt necklaces, or my customer Diane might like them since she uses singles, or I can put them up on eBay in an orphan set. Few beads are ever really wasted. If they crack, which is infrequent, or if they are truly hideous, they may get pitched into the fishing pond. Everything else eventually finds a home. Usually. I do have some focals that have been with me for a long time (think years), but I am planning to use them in some sort of large project. I have a notional idea of stringing them in stands across a large frame of some sort and making a hanging.

Speaking of frames, we framed the artwork I bought in Ketchikan. It's laying on the floor for it's photo op, but I'm hoping Neil will hang them this week,


I'll leave you here with a couple of photos of my new design. I've made more, but they've yet to be cleaned and strung. And these sets sold, so maybe I'm onto something. Or not. I never know.

Old man rhythm is in my shoes
It's no use to sittin' and a-singin' the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Feel like jumpin' baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees
I got to get to rockin', get my hat off the rack
I got to boogie-woogie like a knife in the back
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

I got to get to movin', baby I ain't lyin'
My heart is beatin' rhythm and it's right on time
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?
Feel like jumpin', baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

(Huey Smith © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

No road leads to Juneau

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

Our trip to Alaska was wonderful ...

And ... a little disappointing.

Everything came together without a hitch. Months of planning, anticipation, and anxiety finally found the seven of us safely in Seattle on July 21.

Chelsea and Robert had a dawn flight and arrived before Neil and I had even left home. Kandace, Ryland, and Chris had landed before we boarded.

We had a 4 pm flight that landed at 10 pm, but we got 3 hours back. We hailed our first Uber ride ever to the hotel. Wait, do you hail an Uber? Or summon one?

At the hotel we had time to say hello to the kids - the ones staying there at least - have a snack, and hit the sack. After a nice breakfast, we shared another Uber ride with Kandace and crew to Pier 66.

Chelsea and Rob lodged elsewhere and we didn’t see them until we were on board.

We cruised on the Norwegian Pearl. We enjoyed our Norwegian cruise to Hawaii in 2014 on the Pride of America. The ships are almost twins, except the Pearl has a casino. We set sail on Sunday afternoon, in balmy weather.

Monday was a sea day. It was also overcast, windy, and hazy. There wasn’t much scenery to distract us, so we spent time exploring the ship, relaxing, and reading. Chris and I played bingo. We didn’t win. Neil and I went to a show in the theater about Alaska. The kids sampled the drinks menu.

On Tuesday we docked in Juneau. We had sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. All the kids went whale watching.

Neil and I took the Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Hike. We took a minibus ride to the trailhead. Our guide, Mathew, told interesting stories about Juneau.

There are no roads to Juneau. You can only get there by air or sea. Unless you are born there, like Mathew, who said that he arrived by canal. Hey, he said it. The biggest industry in Alaska is government, followed by tourism.

The hike was in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest, and while it boasted some nice views of the glacier, we weren’t really close to it. I suppose I should have known we wouldn’t be hiking on ice or even getting close enough to touch any, but I didn’t expect to be sweating.

I struggled a bit with the hike, which had some fairly steep climbs. I may have been the slowest hiker, but I was also probably the oldest. Two kids on the hike scrambled up like mountain goats. I stopped to rest a few times. Oh well. You can only do what you can do. And I did it, it just took a little longer.

It was fun. The Tongass covers most of southeast Alaska, surrounding the Inside Passage. We saw no bears. We did see eagles, a baby porcupine, salmon in the streams, a perfect mirror lake. We had plenty of water and granola bars. But we could have been anywhere. It didn’t feel like we were in Alaska. I’m not sure exactly how I thought Alaska would feel. Colder? Wilder? More glacial? Less rainforesty?

Back in town, we had the option to get off the bus, but after the hike, a mile walk back to the ship wasn’t appealing. Even the souvenir shops weren’t enough to tempt me. And I have a rule about not paying for any meals when I’m on a cruise with 24/7 dining included.

Besides, there really wasn’t a lot of time to spare, although the kids don’t have the same rule, and Chelsea and Rob stopped for crab legs after their whale-sighting excursion.

Wednesday found us in Skagway, a tiny burb about 1/10 the size of Juneau. Skagway is, however, accessible by rail. Along with Kandace, Ryland, and Chris, we took a bus tour into Canada’s Yukon Territory via a slice of British Columbia. We made numerous brief stops at scenic outposts, winding our way to Caribou Crossing and its namesake, Car Cross.

When we assembled for the excursion, our guide, Morgan, said there was good news and bad news. The good news was we had another bright, clear, dry, warm summer day. The bad news was, the sled dog ride part of our excursion was cancelled. It was too hot for the furry huskies to exert themselves. Instead we got to see a few bored, disinterested puppies.

After lunch (included) we went on to Emerald Lake, then headed back toward Alaska and the White Cross Railroad. I slept on the bus. We boarded the train for the last 30 miles or so, a two hour ride with some pretty scenery and points of interest as pointed out by a train tour guide.

We decided to walk back to the ship from the train station. It was hot, Ryland was dragging, so we bypassed the gift shops and made a beeline for the boat, followed by a pre-dinner soak in one of the hot tubs. That was the only time my swimsuit saw daylight on the trip.

On Thursday - could it possibly already be Thursday? - we toured Glacier Bay National Park. The only way to Glacier Bay is by sea. It is nonetheless a bonafide National Park, one of 10 in Alaska. There’s a ranger station there, and at 8 am, 3 rangers boarded the cruise liner to talk us through the history and wonders of the park.

I would have to describe the views as impressive, remarkable, spectacular even, yet somehow not breathtaking. The first time I saw a glacier, in the Canadian Rockies, when I was 20, I was shocked by how gray and dirty it looked. My vision had been of majestic pristine giant icicles, frozen cloudless rivers. Glaciers I’ve seen look more like snow. In Manhattan. A few days after the snow fell.

The geology of glaciers is amazing, thought-provoking, and troubling, thanks to changes in earth’s atmosphere that are causing our glaciers to disappear. Seeing the glaciers calving is both wondrous and ominous. I’m a fatalist though. While I’m not happy about damage caused by humankind’s carbon footprint, I think cosmic evolution is inevitable. If the thunder don’t get us then the lightning will.

OK, enough with the deep thoughts, this is summer vacation. The rangers departed by mid-afternoon. The ship sailed on south to our next port, Ketchikan, where we woke up on Friday.

I can’t think of much to say about Ketchikan. We were only in port for 7 hours or so. As a group of 7, we strolled into town and wandered in and out of the shops. I bought a couple of small prints from an Alaskan artist who signed them for me. Chelsea bought one too, Kandace bought some sparkly glass earrings.

We were back on board for lunch and a 1 pm departure for the long haul to our final port, Victoria, on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. We said goodbye to Alaska before I felt like I’d really absorbed it, left any trace of my soul there. Of course, in a remote state approximately as large as 1/3 of the entire lower 48, you can’t hope to do more than scratch the surface on a weeklong cruise. And that’s what we did along the south-easternmost sliver of number 49.

We pulled in to Victoria about 6 pm on Saturday. Again we had all of 6 hours or so to spend there. Kandace and Ryland stayed on board, the rest of us headed to Butchart Gardens, a glorious oasis of flowers conceived and seeded more than 100 years ago on the grounds of a played out limestone quarry.

Among the madding crowd we wended our way through a fantastic fiesta of flora, a glorious explosion of colors and scents, and a little fauna in the shape of a small rabbit. Far too quickly twilight fell. At dark there was a light show and fireworks display, after which we rushed back to our busses to return to the Pearl. If it’s Saturday, this must be Canada.

And if it’s Sunday, it’s debarkation day back in Seattle.

We said goodbye to my family at breakfast, our last one in my favorite outdoor buffet spot at the bow of the ship. It amazes me how the ship’s crew serves breakfast, then moves right on to lunch, without a pause, just like every other day, except in this day they’d be feeding a whole new crowd of cruisers. Staterooms are turned over in a small matter of hours, and by that night Dennis, our cabin staffer, was turning down beds for our replacements.

This goes on nonstop throughout May through September, when the ships move to balmier climbs for the winter trade, rinse and repeat.

Everyone I know who has cruised to Alaska has loved it. I liked it. Would I do it again? Probably not, although I’d definitely take another cruise to Hawaii one day. If I go back to Alaska though, I’ll do it differently. I might fly there directly and spend time at a national park or two. I have some interest in seeing the southwestern coast, which might be by boat, but I’d try to avoid the long sea days if I could.

All in all, I’m happy I went, happier still that my kids were able to go, happiest of all that everyone had fun and we got to spend a very rare week with each other. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

My absolute favorite photo from the trip
Neil, me, Ryland, Chris, Kandace, Chelsea, Robert

Photos in this post taken by me, Neil, Kandace, Chris, Robert,
a tour guide and a kind stranger.

Up next: the red-eye home, the books I read, and our first week back.

North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

Big Sam left Seattle in the year of '92
With George Pratt his partner and brother Billy too
They crossed the Yukon river and they found the bonanza gold
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Sam crossed the Majestic mountains to the valleys far below
He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow
With the northen lights a-runnin' wild, in the land of the midnight sun
Yes Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of '91

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

George turns to Sam with his gold in his hand
Said Sam you're lookin' at a lonely lonely man
I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land
For one small band of gold to place on sweet little Jenny's hand

'Cause a man needs a woman to love him all the time
Remember Sam a true love is so hard to find
I'd build for my Jenny a honeymoon home
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

(Mike Phillips © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Desperately seeking something

"Oh that boy of mine by my side, the silver moon and the evening tide
Oh some sweet day gonna take away this hurting inside
Well I'll never be blue, my dreams come true, on Blue Bayou."

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

I forgot to mention that we saw the film, Won’t you be my Neighbor.

As a movie, it seemed more like a PBS documentary that a feature film, but since I enjoy PBS documentaries, I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t know very much about Fred Rogers. As a rule, we never watched much TV at home when I was a kid, but I was in high school when the schow began to air nationally. it was aimed at preschoolers and it had a morning time slot in the era before VCR, DvR, and TIVO.

Like every American, I caught clips of the show here and there, but I had only the most vague awareness of the content, format, etc. I didn’t even know that Daniel Tiger, who my grandson loves, was a spin-off, albeit a much more sophisticated high tech one.

So the movie was educational and I love to learn. Afterwards, Neil kept commenting about what an odd sort of man Rogers was. I came away with a different impression. I think he was a perfectly normal man, in the best possible way, as well as a privileged man who had the family resources to pursue his very valid dreams.

I’m a little more mystified about why the show wasn’t part of my children’s television repertoire, now that I read that it reached peak popularity in 1985 and ran until 2000. Maybe they watched it when I was at work and they were home with babysitters. I’ll have to ask them.

I was likewise unaware of Rogers’ activism in support of public television, video recording technology, and the LGBTQ community. I didn’t even know that he’d died in 2003, just shy of his 75th birthday, and only months after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Easily the most touching moment in the film was Rogers’ appearance with 10-year-old quadriplegic Jeffrey Erlanger. Together they sang, It’s you I like, really quite beautifully. Eighteen years later, Erlanger was a guest at Rogers’ induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. When he appeared on stage, Rogers jumped out of his seat to embrace him.

Let’s just say that tears were shed. in 2018, I mean.

I've been thinking a bit lately about how my life has become mostly about pleasure-seeking. This is something my mom used to talk about, which is ironic considering that she did a lot of volunteer work for the National Council of Jewish Women, and was always busy doing things for others. Whether it was lending a sympathetic ear and really listening and caring and remembering, or baking something, or writing letters, my mom was very generous and giving.

Me, I wake up in the morning, and the day stretches before me and all I have to think about is how I want to spend the time. I have my routine, as you know, if you've read any of my past ramblings, and I stick to it because structure has always been one of the ways I stave off gaping into the unknown and unknowable, from where it is a straight line to anxiety and melancholia.

Maybe most of us use busyness as a drug of sorts. I'm trying to lean in to the quiet spaces, instead of filling every moment with activity, even if that activity is watching TV or reading. I'm trying to just breathe and to deeply appreciate the peace and serenity that life is offering me just now. I'm trying to teach myself that it is OK to sit on the sofa petting my cat and doing nothing else because that is enough.

For now, it is enough. For the long run I want to do more. Just today I decided to look up the Charlotte Humane Society. I want to start working with adoptable cats again. I loved the work so much and I miss it. Cornelius has a tiny animal shelter. We visited it once before we moved here. There were about 6 adult cat residents. It's too small to have a formal volunteer program. Recently we drove by it again. It's in an older area with a lot of run-down homes.

OK, I admit it, I'm intimidated by the idea of volunteering there. The web page says, "There is a constant need for active kennel attendants and administrative volunteers." I definitely want to work with the cats but kennel attendant sounds more like cleaning cages. While that is important work, what I found most rewarding when I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and Sugar Land Animal Services was getting to know the cats, interacting with prospective adopters, and helping them find the right cat for them.

The Humane Society seems to have an organized volunteer program and I suspect I'd fit in better there. One of the shelter assignments is "Basic Feline Socialization," which sounds perfect for me. There's an online volunteer questionnaire and bi-monthly volunteer orientation sessions. The downside is the 17 mile drive, but I commented to Neil just a day or so ago that I'll get the oil changed in my car before the year is over, whether I need it or not. I bought my car in January, and I've yet to put 2,000 miles on it. I might as well have a reason to drive it somewhere, sometimes.

So I'm thinking about that.

Maybe after we get back from our Alaska trip and our New Jersey trip I'll give it a whirl.

In the meantime, I cooked. That is a noteworthy event. I accidentally made Shrimp Creole. It was accidental because I was trying to make Shrimp Gumbo. I actually blanched and peeled tomatoes. Neil helped a lot by dicing onion, celery, and okra. I made a roux but I probably didn't brown it enough. Also, the gumbo filé powder that I ordered online hadn't come yet and I couldn't find it at Publix. So I improvised with the seasonings, including a Creole spice mix, turmeric, and mild yellow curry powder.

It turned out all right but there's room for improvement, and since the garden keeps pumping out tomatoes and okra (and did I mention cantaloupe?), I plan to try again, maybe in between our trips.

I feel so bad I got a worried mind
I'm so lonesome all the time
Since I left my baby behind
On Blue Bayou

Saving nickles, saving dimes
Working til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou

I'm going back someday
Come what may
To Blue Bayou
Where the folks are fun
And the world is mine
On Blue Bayou
Where those fishing boats
With their sails afloat
If I could only see
That familiar sunrise
Through sleepy eyes
How happy I'd be

Gonna see my baby again
Gonna be with some of my friends
Maybe I'll feel better again
On Blue Bayou

Saving nickles saving dimes
Working til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou

Oh that boy of mine
By my side
The silver moon
And the evening tide
Oh some sweet day
Gonna take away
This hurting inside
Well I'll never be blue
My dreams come true
On Blue Bayou

(Joe Melson, Roy Orbison, © Barbara Orbison Music Company, Orbi-Lee Music, R-Key Darkus, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Days of summer passed

"Gazing on the gift we're given
A mystery from a magic storm
Turning to a secret rhythm
Nestled in the spiral arm."



No excuse really. I'd say, I've been busy, but if you asked me what I've been busy with, I'd be hard pressed to tell you.

I'm doing the usual things. Making beads about 5 times a week. Cleaning beads, stringing beads, photographing beads, editing photos of beads, listing beads for sale, sending invoices if beads sell, shipping beads. Chatting with customers on Facebook.

What else? Walking on the treadmill 4 times a week. Going out for custard and smoothies. Cooking a little. Neil has had bumper crops of tomatoes, potatoes, and okra in his garden. We've made tomato soup twice. I made chicken stock from a roaster (when I read the label at Publix, I first misread it as rooster). I've cooked up okra and tomatoes, okra with other veggies, made a potato & egg salad, and Neil made a huge pot of potato & mushroom soup.

We have a lot of tomatoes in the freezer, and a lot of potatoes and okra still to use. I ordered some filé and plan to try making a seafood gumbo. Neil is fussy about veggies. He won't eat tomatoes with skin and seeds, but he will eat tomato soup that has been put through a food mill. For the gumbo, I will have to blanch, skin and seed the tomatoes. I'll also have to cook the okra down a lot. He doesn't like vegetables with texture. We all have our things. There are many vegetables I won't eat unless they are cooked until all the crunch has gone out of them.

Our neighbors had a Fourth of July party, and we went over for an hour or so. I really didn't want to, for many reasons, the main one being that they are a generation younger, as are all their friends. But it was reasonably pleasant and I feel like it was the right thing to do, especially in retrospect. We don't want to be those weird old people who rarely have guests and don't socialize, even if there is some truth to that these days. We don't want to be Mr. and Mrs. Boo Radley.

On the media scene, I finished season two of 13 Reasons Why. I did get pulled into the story and will now have to wait a year for season three. I started season two of Marcella, which I liked last year but have since forgotten the details. Neil and I tried and aborted watching 800 Words. There are some well-rated shows that are just too caricatured for my taste. We're on to Fortitude, which is creepy and disturbing, and I don't recommend it, despite its cast of stellar actors, but I want to find out how it ends. Which will no doubt be a cliffhanger leading on to season two.

We're also watching season 5 of Endeavor and season 3 of The Tunnel on PBS. Happy that season 6 of Endeavor is confirmed, sad that this is the final season of The Tunnel. The story lines are confusing but I do so love the relationship between Elise and Karl.

So many shows, so little time. I'd really like to re-watch some, such as Rectify and the American version of The Killing, before they become too dated, but there are so many new and new/old shows on my watch lists that I'm not sure when they will bubble up to the top. I could watch them with Neil - it's much harder picking shows for the two of us than picking shows for me. But Neil has a habit of critiquing while we watch, pointing out continuity errors, judging characters, predicting plot lines, so much so that I tease him that I didn't realize we were watching the director's cut. But when it's a show that I really loved, I can't bear for it to be picked apart. I know Neil means no harm, he just can't help himself.

I'm also starting to feel excited and a bit anxious about our upcoming cruise to Alaska. I bought a new spinner roll-aboard that is between the sizes of the one I usually carry on and the really giant huge one that I used for Hawaii and also for our train trip to Glacier National Park. It's a bit too unwieldy for me to manage and takes up a lot of cruise cabin space. Typically, I pack two to three times as much as I actually wear. I'm going to try packing lighter this time.

This will be a challenge, with variable weather to contend with. It might be hot, it might be cold. I'm taking layers. I'm also taking hiking boots, athletic shoes, at least two pairs of sandals. Tank tops, short and long sleeved t-shirts, a hoodie, a hooded windbreaker, a couple of skirts and dresses, maybe one pair of dress shoes and tights or leggings. Jeans and shorts. Toiletries and jewelry. Swimsuit. Foundation wear (how's that for a euphemism?). Gloves, scarf, hat. I think I'm good, if I can cram it all in.

Oh, let's not forget books. I'm reading the Deborah Knott series by Margaret Maron, a mystery series set in North Carolina with a district court judge as the protagonist. I'm also re-reading all of the Rumer Godden novels that I loved as a child and appreciate so much more as an adult. Neil and I are reading together the Harriet Vane stories from the Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. I finished all the Jill Paton Walsh novels that continue the Wimsey-Vane story, hoping there will be more, and getting ready to start the Imogen Quy mystery series by Paton Walsh. So many books, so little time.

Back to packing, not to forget all my devices, chargers, and headphones. I don't expect there will be much time for movie watching on board the Pearl, but I'll download some just in case.

In bead news, I've had a mini bull market in sales, including 100 pairs for Beads of Courage, and a few older customers who re-materialized and each made some multiple purchases. My regular customer has been buying steadily. Another customer asked if she could send me a check because her husband cut off her bead-buying credit card privileges. I've wrestled with the ethics of encouraging bead-buying addictions, but as has been pointed out to me, if they don't buy from me, they'll go buy from someone else. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the check due to some varied health drama on the part of my customer, but I did get it and she even put an extra Jackson in the envelope, so I was finally able to mail those beads that I'd been holding aside.

It's nice having my inventory be low for a change.

I also put together some sets of orphans, mismatched pairs, experiments, and leftovers from sets, and jumped back on eBay. Week one, no sales, week two, two sales, week three, nothing, week four, two sales to one of the first two buyers. I have another set listed now and a couple more in the wings. The prices are deflated but these are beads that aren't suitable for Beads of Courage, they have silver glass which is verboten, or are just too dark and organic.

I'm just happy to see them go, happy to have a little money for them, happy that someone is going to like them and use them, or at least become responsible for their care and maintenance. I see them as loss leaders too, as a way to begin rebuilding an eBay customer base, a way to get noticed for my orphans and have someone look for my other items. I'm trying to list some of my regular sets along with the orphans. No bites yet, but it's early days.

Overall, I'm feeling more relaxed about things, but as we know, that can change in a New York minute. A day or two of no sales and I'm stressing again. But I'll try not to bring that here.

We've had some lovely weather, cool for July. We went to tour Latta Plantation and hiked a bit on the grounds. (From the website: Historic Latta Plantation is a circa-1800 cotton plantation and 52-acre living history farm located within the 1,343 acre Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in Huntersville, NC.) We're slowly exploring the area although we really haven't ventured too far afield, so far. I'm just happy to feel like I'm learning some of the shortcuts around the town, and by town I mean Cornelius, not Charlotte.

Cooler weather means open windows.
Nothing says togetherness like the bird channel.
Yes, that is Biscotti and Zamboni.

Orbiting Jupiter
With telescopic eyes
Floating in the wonder of the weightless world
Watching all the planets rise

Gazing through the asteroid belt
Out beyond night and day
Seeing with my own eyes
The cosmic ballet

Ganymede and Io rising
Talk about a haloed moon
I am drifting wide-eyed listening
To the static in the solar tune

There's comfort in starlight
In moonlight guiding my way home
I'm falling for midnight
For lovely worlds of ice and stone
And I am alone tonight

Orbiting Jupiter
Sailing on my own
Headed for the heavens of the blue green world
I'm dreaming of home

Witness to the miracle
I could testify all night
Rolling in the blue tide
Howling in the moonlight

Gazing on the gift we're given
A mystery from a magic storm
Turning to a secret rhythm
Nestled in the spiral arm

There's comfort in starlight
In moonlight guiding my way home
I'm falling for midnight
For lovely worlds of ice and stone
And I am alone tonight

I want to see the world through other eyes
Some electron in the Milky Way.
I want to meet a man Orion's size
I want to hear the giant lyre play
And Canis bay

There's comfort in starlight
In moonlight guiding my way home
I'm falling for midnight
For lovely worlds of ice and stone
And I am alone tonight.

(Cheryl Wheeler and Janis Ian)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A quiet place

"Ain't no reason to go up, ain't no reason to go down
Ain't no reason to go anywhere"

I've been a little lax about coming here and writing something, which may be a bad thing or a good thing, when you consider how obsessively I was writing and posting last month.

Not a lot is going on in my life right now, and yet the earth keeps spinning on its axis, as night follows day and day follows night, more quickly than I'd imagine possible.

Neil was away last weekend for another softball tournament. His routine is that he leaves late afternoon on Thursday and drives to wherever. Last time it was Knoxville, Tennessee, this time Roanoke, Virginia. Fridays are play-in days, where teams are seeded for the tournament based on wins and runs, etc. Starting on Saturday, it's double elimination. Teams play until they lose twice. As long as you keep winning you play fewer games and have longer breaks. Once you lose once, you are in the losers bracket and you play game after game.

Neil's team is good. They usually win. I'm glad about that. Fewer games mean less chance of injury. Neil is good too about texting me updates. It's my choice not to go with him.

I don't really mind some time alone, but I worry that's it's not good for me. At the same time I feel helpless about changing things, unable to figure out what I want to do about it. So I amuse myself for a few days until Neil get's home. I make beads, I shop, I watch shows on Prime, Acorn, and Netflix, I walk, I read, I make jewelry, I goof around on social media.

Even with Neil home, I feel like I am floating aimlessly on some days lately. Even though I might make beads for a couple of hours and walk on the treadmill for an hour, that leaves a lot of hours unaccounted for. I ponder my options for getting out in the world more. I drove by the local animal shelter recently. It's in a run-down part of town and is quite small, but I could at least go in and ask about volunteering. I could also investigate whether there is a larger shelter in Charlotte.

Taking a class is a possibility. The art center seems to have ceramics and painting classes. Not really my thing, but maybe worth doing anyway, to get out of the house and among other artistic people. I'm committed to doing it, but not sure when. Maybe in the fall. We have several trips coming up in the upcoming months. That's my excuse.

In case you're wondering, I'm still selling not selling beads on Facebook. I came up with a new design that was a change from stacked dots, and I did have a little flurry of interest at first, but not since. I have a few regular customers who keep buying and now and then a new one. It's just enough to keep me going. Every day I think, is this worth it, and I think I will take a break. But every day I also think, if you don't put it out there, it sure as hell won't sell, so I keep doing it. I'm just driven it seems, no way around that, so for now I just go with it.

Believe it or not, I've been having some big picture thoughts about the state of the union and the state of the planet. I want to talk about them, but I also want to post this before June ends, so I'll just throw some eye candy at you and promise to be back in July.

Some of my new style beads.

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slowly when you're lost in a dream

Once I had a sweetheart, she was fine and good-lookin'
We sat in her kitchen while her mama was cookin'
Starin' out the window to the stars high above
Time passes slowly when you're searchin' for love

Ain't no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain't no reason to go to the fair
Ain't no reason to go up, ain't no reason to go down
Ain't no reason to go anywhere

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away

(Bob Dylan © Audiam, Inc)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Where lies despair

"Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey."

Just a few days late and a few bucks shy, but I'll post my thoughts anyway.

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Seems like a good time to talk about suicide, no?

I admit I have conflicted feelings about the act of taking one's own life.

When Robin Williams died by his own hand, in 2014, I wrote a very angry post about how committing suicide is giving the ultimate finger to those who love you and are left behind.
I have compassion for his pain, but I feel angry about his action. He had kids. A wife. Friends. So many people who loved him. I can't help thinking that what he did was the ultimate eff-you to all of them.

I won't use labels like cowardice and selfishness, labels bandied about in the news stories about Williams' passing.

But in a way, what he did was akin to saying, my pain is greater than any pain I might cause you, my suffering is more untenable than any suffering my death might cause, my pain is the biggest, most important thing in the world.
I've softened in my views since then.

I think there are some exceptions to my rule.

The most understandable exception is the scenario where you have a debilitating illness, there is no possibility of cure, little quality of life, and only the certainty of decline, loss of control, loss of dignity. That is one circumstance where I can accept someone's choice to take the ending of their life into their own hands.

Having struggled with, and yes, suffered from depression at times in my life, in my estimation gives me some right to have an opinion on the topic at all.

It may also have made me less objective.

I mean, I toughed it out. I fought it with every weapon in my arsenal. I kept going, going to work, going to therapy, going through the motions.

Even at my most desperate points, I made the leap of faith that I would get better, that the black dog would stop dancing and sit pretty.

Ah faith. That's a hard one. How do you have faith when you simply don't? It's like believing in God. You believe or you don't and if you don't you can't just say you do and voila, instant faith.

Some would say that's all there is to it. Just do it, just believe. But it's not that simple. There were times I prayed for faith, but that didn't make me a believer.

Yet somehow I was able to believe that depression was a liar, that my life had worth, that given time life would feel good again.

I acknowledge that I am privileged. I had a job to go to. I had insurance to pay for therapy and medication, I had money to pay my bills, a roof over my head, family members who cared, people who loved me. I had kids who needed me, even if they didn't know it or show it all the time.

Not everyone has that, a network, a safety net. There really was no scenario that had me sleeping under a bridge.

I wonder though, how many people who commit suicide are truly bereft of resources to allow them to keep fighting for their own lives.

It's so sad really, when you think about all those people who died too soon, from illness or accident or in combat, people who wanted life but had it rudely ripped from them. It makes it the more tragic, the more sacrilegious, the more disrespectful, when someone chooses to give their life back.

Here's another name. Hannah Baker.

She's the fictional lead in the Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why and she's dead.

It's the story of a girl depicted as bullied by her high school classmates, and it's not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I started it and was drawn in.

It's the train wreck you can't look away from.

Hannah is a pretty girl. She's a bit stocky, but fat shaming isn't among the ways she was portrayed as bullied.

And she has a lot going for her. Happily married parents who love her. A good friend who's a bit on the fringe of things, like she is, but both appear to have plenty of confidence and poise.

So what happens to Hannah? She has her picture taken in a couple of awkward moments, and the pictures go viral (in the limited cosmos of Liberty High), earning her an undeserved reputation as a slut. A fellow student circulates a list in which Hannah holds the distinction of "hottest ass." She suffers typical high school ups and downs, friends who let you down, friends who make fucked-up mistakes with tragic consequences. A friend publishes in a school paper (anonymously, and without permission) a dark but heartfelt poem that Hannah wrote.

The worst things that happened to Hannah (who tells her story in a series of audiotapes, dramatized in flashbacks) are that she witnessed the rape of a former girlfriend who drank too much and passed out at a party, and then Hannah herself is later raped by the same person.

In both scenarios, she had an opportunity to make a difference. She is hiding in the room during the first rape, but does nothing to stop it. When she is raped, she says no but doesn't fight or call out for help or struggle to resist. At that point she is already worn down with guilt and maybe at some level she thinks she deserves it as a twisted kind of penance for not intervening in the rape of her friend.

OK, so the culture is painted as clearly hostile, the school is owned by the athletes and popular kids, and anyone outside the pale is mocked and marginalized. In other words, it's every high school.

Yet Hannah is clearly a bright girl, bright enough to see that it is just that, high school, and that there's a whole world out there, waiting. She's smart enough to know how her self-inflicted death will devastate her parents. Still, in a graphic scene that I could only watch between my fingers, she slits her wrists in the bathtub and bleeds to death.

And that in my opinion is a complete waste of a life full of potential, a stupid short-term decision with eternal consequences. She felt so powerless to right the injustices in her small sphere that she decided to make everyone sorry by dying and leaving an oral history that may or may not condemn the guilty, redress the wrongs, or redeem the harmed.

We'll know more after we watch season two. Because yes, they made another series.

I posted this on Facebook and got some push back.

It seems like a no brainer to me, but I had to elaborate for some of my friends.
When I was dancing with the black dog back in 2001-2002, going to a party and cleaning the bathroom were equal. I was just as weary of happy, fun things as I was of drudgery. When you are in the pit, you are weary of life, bad and good, or at least I was. What saved me was knowing that depression lies and believing that I'd get well again.
My friend Jen commented, "So basically, just being weary.... " I responded.
Yes, but more than that. If you know what is causing your suffering, there is a reason, something to blame, something to fight. In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath writes "If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."
My friend Wanda commented too.
Wow, it’s no wonder those who suffer from depression don’t share their stories. People can’t grasp the concept that it’s a chemical imbalance, the neurons are firing, but not connecting. It’s not about having no reason to be depressed. And it’s not about being selfish.
I responded again.
I'd never understand it if I hadn't been there. But even having been there, it's hard for me not to wonder why people give up. I try not to judge them, but part of me still sees it as selfish, especially when you have kids, or parents, or siblings, or even friends who love you.
Wanda then said this.
I’m no expert, but I would think that like any disease there’s a spectrum. The despondency Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain suffered must have been, well, obviously was, beyond my comprehension.
And finally, my daughter weighed in.
I have to agree with Wanda. We don't know what lies deeper in the woods until we ourselves go deeper in the woods. Though someone may try to describe it to you, and the descriptions become increasingly worse the deeper they've gone, it really is the most terrible example of having to "see for yourself" to fully understand. In that way, I don't view those who complete suicide as selfish, so much as I'm thankful that our journeys took us only so far into the woods that we were each able to find our ways back out again.
And that's where I left it, and that's where I am going to leave it now.

I concede that there is, indisputably, a level of despondency beyond my comprehension.

The fact that I'm still here makes that hypothesis undeniable.

It must be getting early, clocks are running late
Paint-by-number morning sky looks so phony
Dawn is breaking everywhere, light a candle, curse the glare
Draw the curtains, I don't care 'cause it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I see you've got your list out, say your piece and get out
Guess I get the gist of it, but it's alright
Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I know the rent is in arrears, the dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears, but it's alright
Cow is giving kerosene, kid can't read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene, but it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

The shoe is on the hand it fits, there's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit 'cause it's alright
Oh well, a touch of grey kinda suits you anyway
And that was all I had to say and it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

We will get by
We will get by
We will get by
We will survive.

(Jerome J. Garcia / Robert C. Hunter, © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Want not, waist not

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from.

I may have found something even more boring to talk about than selling/not selling my beads. My weight.

Well, really my shape, since I don't weigh myself.

I really miss my waist.

Except for the Freshman fifteen, I've been naturally slim for most of my life. Wait, I take that back. I got a little pudgy around second grade. Once my doctor pointed it out to my mom, she cut back on portions. One and a half sandwiches for lunch, not two. Dessert at dinner but not at lunch.

I was a skinny teenager. In college, dorm food and a fourth meal of pizza or subs late at night caused my weight to creep up. It took me until the end of the year to figure out that I wasn't shrinking my jeans every time I washed them.

I starved myself all summer and went back to college thin and anorexic. I continued to starve myself for a long time, with occasional binges. It took a few years for my relationship with food to normalize.

For many years after that, my size was not an issue. I gained about 25 pounds with each pregnancy, then lost them afterwards, fairly effortlessly.

I inherited my mom's healthy metabolism and also her discipline. My mom weighed herself every day and the minute she gained a few ounces, she dieted until she was back to her goal weight. Dieting for her meant a lot of cottage cheese and fruit, half portions, dessert only on weekends.

I know a lot about food, calories and carbs and fats and proteins, but I've never been on a diet, per se. My saving graces have been that I don't like to eat unless I'm hungry and, as a rule, I don't snack. I dislike feeling full and I prefer plain food to fancy. I eat very little meat, I avoid fried foods, I scrape butter on bread. I order salads with the dressing on the side instead of potatoes.

I love carbs. Whole grain breads, rice, pasta, bagels, tortillas, potatoes. Cake sure, cookies yes, pie, yum. I do have a sweet tooth and I crave sweets, especially in the evenings, but I'm reasonable about the portions I allow myself.

Lately lots of people tout some version of low-carb, gluten-free, and keto-type diets, and swear they have more energy, better complexions, fewer aches and pains. I just can't imagine life without breakfast cereal. And fruit. And ice cream.

For many years I went to some form of aerobics classes. I did Jazzercise in my 20s, until I had my first baby. Then for a long time I took lunchtime workout classes in my company's fitness center. When that fell by the wayside, I started walking on my lunch hour with work cohorts. It wasn't a real workout but it was something. It was enough to keep me fitting in my wardrobe at least.

After I retired and started spending my days making beads, my body mass started to expand. I still resisted the scale but I stopped fitting into my size 8s and 10s. Neil never criticized my appearance, but when I bewailed the fact that I felt as large as I was when I was 9 months pregnant, he made the comment that I was morbidly inactive.

And it was true. I had developed what is known in my field as "beadmakers' butt."

As I mentioned, I inherited my mom's discipline. And since I already ate a diet where there was little "fattening" food to cut out, for the first time in a long time, I undertook an exercise regime.

I started going to the community fitness center almost every day. I worked up to walking at least 3 miles on the treadmill at 3 degrees elevation. I did this religiously for at least a couple of years and I found myself buying pants in smaller sizes again. I'm sure I lost those 25 pounds of "baby weight" again.

A friend gave me a treadmill that she wasn't using and I continued to walk at home at least four times a week. I still do. One of my first purchases after we moved here was a new treadmill. I've increased the elevation to 3.5 degrees and I generally walk for 50 minutes at 2.7 miles. I'm tired when I'm done and I can't seem to step it up any more without feeling exhausted.

Yes I know exercise is supposed to increase endorphins and give us a sense of well being and more energy, but it's never worked that way for me. I've never had a "runners high." At best I feel a sense of relief from guilt when I'm done. Beyond that I just feel more tired.

I'm not saying it isn't worth doing and I don't plan to quit, but over time my body has rebounded to that pregnancy shape and I'm pretty sure that I've found those lost 25 pounds.

I wage an internal battle. I want to forgive myself for aging, for the effects of gravity. I've lost 2 inches of height too. Maybe it just got compressed around my midriff. I want to love myself as I am. I want to throw out the beauty-magazine model of emaciated models. I want to say, it's OK to be the size your body wants you to be, as long as you aren't being a ridiculous glutton living a morbidly inactive lifestyle.

But I realized this week that I'm not comfortable in my body. Even in my generous size 14 elastic-waist skirt and cute loose summery over blouse, I don't feel relaxed or at ease. I feel stuffed, yet at the very same time I feel hungry, because all I've eaten today is some blueberries, half a banana, and half a yogurt.

I feel like I've swallowed a basketball. I feel like there is a melon-sized tumor in my tummy. I feel like there is a steel band around my middle, approximately where my waistline would be if I still had one.

What I can do about it is the question. I hate feeling hungry. I get hangry. Hungry angry. Hunger messes with my neurotransmitters and feels a lot like depression.

We all know that diets fail, especially fad diets, because you don't change your eating habits. But what do you do when your eating habits are pretty good to start with?

Honestly, I'm not sure that I can lose the inches. Neil says it's all a matter of calorie intake and calories expended, but I'm not sure I could starve myself enough to make a difference without risking my emotional well being. I'm not sure I can drive myself to work out more, harder, longer, without risking my physical well being.

Still, I'm not going to give up and write it off as a lost cause. For now, I'm going to be more mindful about what I eat and try to figure out where I can improve. I'm going to give thought to how I can beef up my workouts without wearing myself out unduly.

And I'm going to scale back on the ice cream ritual.

Neil asked me if I wanted to go get frozen custard. I said, maybe not today. He said, I guess I'm on a diet too.

It was a low blow, but it worked, and to keep our happy marriage happy, I made the sacrifice.

One scoop of salted caramel custard in a cup, please.

I'll scale back another time.

Your love
Is better than ice cream.
Better than anything else that I've tried
And your love
Is better than ice cream
Everyone here knows how to cry

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from

Your love
Is better than chocolate
Better than anything else that I've tried
And oh love is better than chocolate.
Everyone here knows how to fight

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from.

(Timothy Watson,Timothy Wild, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I coulda been a contenda

But today I got work, and I like it that way
It's a case of a still life gone cinema verite
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

It’s a known fact that a lot of people struggle around holidays. This is especially true of the season from Thanksgiving through Christmas. People become stressed and overwhelmed, or disappointed when family gatherings are less than idyllic. There is so much pressure related to finding perfect gifts, sending too many cards, attending endless parties, eating too many calories, spending too much money, and for some, all the buildup before the big letdown.

Others feel marginalized by the mainstream festivities, the lights and music and trees and jolly Santas everywhere you turn, especially if Jesus isn’t the reason for the season in your frame of reference. Some people are sad because they are far from home, or they are home but loved ones are far flung, either physically or emotionally. Divorced families mean splitting holiday time with exes, or having to celebrate with up to four sets of parents, and lets not even get started on grandparents.

For me, though, it’s these summer holidays, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, that are the hardest. They aren’t important enough holidays that many people make travel plans to spend them with distant families. It’s summer and thoughts turn more to three-day weekend getaways, trips to the seashore or the mountains, than to home and hearth.

And yet, I have this pervasive idea that in every back yard there’s a Norman Rockwell picture perfect barbecue happening, gatherings of friends and relations, hot dogs and apple pie and ice cream, Mom and Pop. There are sprinklers and wading pools, toddlers and teens, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, neighbors and kids and puppies and kittens. I imagine deviled eggs, potato salad, chips and salsa, pickles, cases of beer and two liter bottles of soda, watermelon, popsicles, iced tea, and lemonade.

Neil and I will be grilling some chicken sausage and veggie burgers on our little electric grill. We’ll be having them on toasted sesame seed buns, with a side of mixed vegetables and rice. We’ll end with bowls of mint chocolate ice cream. On a typical Sunday, that would be a nice dinner. On Memorial Day, it feels oddly hollow and lonely.

Now I know that it’s not all happy families out there, and we’re not alone. Social media is a highlight reel, not the whole picture. It’s parties and travel and dining out with friends. It’s cute pet antics and adorable grandchildren. I suspect for every backyard barbecue there are just as many people spending the day at work or at home alone. There are people spending the day at hospital bedsides, or in their own beds, sleeping off the effects of chemo.

There are people grieving losses, deaths, broken relationships, people jonesing for a fix or white-knuckling through early days of sobriety. There are people strung out on drugs, doped up on opioids, battling chronic pain. There are people in jail, and people who miss them, people with mental illness, and people whose hearts break for them.

Someone had to say goodbye to a beloved pet today, someone is worrying about a beloved soldier deployed to a war zone. Someone lost their job last week, someone lost a limb, someone lost a friend. Someone is frantically worried about paying rent, or a car note, or a credit card bill, finding a place to live, feeding their family.

And all I have to feel bad about is not having a posse to party with on this one day, which really is just a day, and specifically a day to remember those who died defending our freedom to do whatever it is that we do on this day, and yesterday and tomorrow and any day. I don’t even have any special person to commemorate today, no close relative who died in service to our country.

That’s a good thing.

When I think about my life, it’s a study in contradiction. It’s most likely that I’m in the fourth quarter now, or close to that. Even so, there’s plenty of time left to do some amazing things. But it’s a fact that I will never be an Olympic medalist. I won’t be elected to high office. I won’t go to medical school, I won’t finish law school. I won’t run a large company, I won’t join the Peace Corps, I won’t travel all over the world. I won’t be a rock star, I won’t star in a major motion picture, I probably won’t write a best seller and be interviewed on network television. I won’t produce an award-winning documentary, I won’t pilot a jet plane, I won’t win a Nobel or Pulitzer prize.

I will never celebrate a golden wedding anniversary.

In other words, my life isn’t ahead of me and the world is no longer my oyster, if it ever was.

Part of me wishes there were do-overs. God gave me a brain and I failed to fully use it. I could have been a contender.

Another part of me says, no way would I want a clean slate and 40 or 50 years back. Without knowing what I know now, who’s to say things would have turned out differently. To know what I now know, I’d have to have lived through the lessons. Or I’d have to have been a different person. And if I wasn’t me, what difference would it make how successful I was. I would be someone else.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. I’m not a superstar but I’m not a failure.

I raised two lovely children. I spent 35 years in the workforce, including almost 30 with one company. I won't call it a career, because it was mostly a job, but still, I supported myself and my family. I stayed out of debt, I paid off the mortgage on my home of 19 years, I sent both kids to college, and because of me they graduated with no student debt. I contributed to a 401 K plan, and grew my retirement nest egg.

After I accepted a severance package in 2011, I was able to supplement my payout with bead sales, without having to dip into savings until we bought this house. And really, that was just exchanging one type of investment with another. I did withdraw a little more money to tide myself over to Social Security. I still owe some money on my car but I'm planning to pay that off this year. And since I estimate driving about 3,000 miles a year only, this car may well be my last car.

I learned from my failed first marriage and didn't compromise on my last marriage. So I'm married very happily, live in a beautiful home, don't have to go to work at a job I don't love.

Since 2002, I've known little heartache. That doesn't mean there was no sadness. I lost both parents, my dad in 2010, my mom in 2013, but my dad was 3 weeks shy of 90 years of age and my mom was 90 years and a few months old. I miss them but such is the circle of life. Losing some of my peers has been sadder.

I'm healthy. That's huge. I know so many women and men who have fought the grim battle with cancer. Those who survived have the battle scars, the experiences under their sword belts of surgery and chemo and radiation, the lingering after effects, such as neuropathy, metabolic changes, compromised immunity, the fear of recurrence.

I'm very lucky. I have a lovely life. There are things that aren't perfect, but as my mom used to say, when life is perfect, then you are dead.

And even the things that aren't perfect aren't necessarily inescapable or unalterable. There are things I can do, steps I can take to be less lonely, to have more interaction with my children, to give back more to society.

Those things still are my oysters.

Love took a long time, it followed me here
And it landed on light feet, and it whispered in my ear
Love spoke of my past as a valuable test
And smiled, and said she who loves last loves best
'Cause you know life is hard, but now you also know your mind,
So now you're going out to love, but on your own side this time
Where you still think of famine, and you still dig up train fare
And you won't mind the wrinkles, 'cause you know how they got there
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

Once for me love was the boat inside of a bottle,
It felt like a gondola ride,
When you float with the nicknacks, and you don't hear a sound
Where the fish never lived, and you don't miss the ground
And the moon hangs above like a Valium pill
And I say I'll be fine, but I don't think that I will
But today I got work, and I like it that way
It's a case of a still life gone cinema verite
In love but not at peace
In love but not at peace.

And I still need the beauty of words sung and spoken
And I live with the fear that my spirit will be broken
And that's the way I thought it would be
That's the way I always wanted it to be.

So I'll keep you wondering what time I'm arriving
And you'll drive me crazy with your backseat driving
And I'll talk in my sleep and you'll steal all the covers
We'll argue it out and we'll call ourselves lovers
And I'll stay in my body and you'll stay in your own
'Cause we know that we're born and we're dying alone.
So we turn out the light while the sirens are screaming
And we kiss for the waking, and then join the dreaming.
In love, but not at peace
In love, but not at peace.

(Dar Williams)

Monday, May 28, 2018

The point, if there is one

And then the darkness fell
And the moon's a harsh mistress
It's so hard to love her well

I can't seem to stfu.

And because I'm weary of shouting into the abyss, I posted my thoughts in the off-topic section of the forum, Lampwork Etc. (It's called the Bathroom and threads are read-only on the second day, at the end of which they are "flushed.")

Here's what I posted. The title was, I’ll probably regret posting this ...
Because it’s very much a first world problem.

I’ve been making beads for 10 years, full time for almost 7 years.

I’ve been selling them since when they were good enough to sell, sometime in the first year.

I started selling at trunk shows at bead stores with the local bead group, back when there still were actual bead stores.

I also had an Etsy shop and sold on eBay too.

About 4 years ago, the bead groups on Facebook took off and I did really well for a while.

I also did some production work for a couple of regular customers, and still do for one.

Artistically I’ve hit the wall. I’m not improving any more. I’ve taken classes, taken breaks, practiced and practiced, but I lack something, patience or vision or a steady enough hand.

I still love making beads. But I’m starting to drown in them.

I donate a lot of beads to Beads of Courage and also do some custom work for them.

When sales are so slow, I question everything. Why I’m doing this, what I’d do if I didn’t make beads, why my beads aren’t selling. Yes, it’s slow for a lot of people, not just me, but beads still are being sold and bought every day.

I don’t think my beads are ugly. They’re not brilliant but some are very nice, I think. I don’t have to sell beads to pay the rent. I can do it for love. But I can’t do it without validation. When no one even “likes” or comments on my beads it makes me feel bad. I try not to take it personally, but at times it gets to me.

I’m not like a lot of you with multiple talents. I don’t sew or quilt or paint or metal smith or have any other creative skills. I write a blog that no one reads.

We moved across the country 8 months ago, and it takes time to make friends. I’m also shy and very much of an introvert, so it’s easy to isolate. There’s no local Lampwork community that I’ve found here.

My husband doesn’t have much social need. He plays softball and that seems to be enough.

Back to beads though. There are days when I think about giving it up. I never thought I’d say that. I’ve stuck with Lampwork longer than I’ve ever stuck with anything, and I really do love it, but what’s the point?

What is the point? I’m not even sure what the point of this post is.

Oh well. It’ll be flushed in 2 days.
I got a lot of good feedback. One idea that I liked a lot is something that I've thought about before, "art abandonment." I could leave beads in various public places for people to find. I'd attach a tag to them. One side might say something like, "I'm yours" or "Adopt me" or "Finders keepers." The other side might explain that the bead is a handmade glass bead, also known as a lampwork bead. It might or might not have my contact information.

It's always interesting to hear other people's perspectives. Some admitted to struggling with similar issues. Others just offered encouragement. Here are some excerpts.
Pat: I would be completely unable to function creatively if I didn't do shows ... I *need* the validation ...

Phill: Maybe it's time to take a break or maybe its time to splurge and buy yourself some of those fancy glasses that are just too expensive to play with and go ahead and play with them like a newbie just starting out.

Kathy: I am the complete opposite. I have no urge to sell. I like to make what strikes my fancy for the day, not what I think will sell.
Lynn: I know exactly how you feel. I didn’t seem to have a natural talent for it like some people do. ... I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and gave it up to find something more productive to do with my time.
Liz R: I have found that my masked dot beads just sit and no one is interested in them. Now I seem to be doing a lot of frit beads and some sell, but are only selling for far lower price than I'd like, still I enjoy making them and that is my main focus. 
Queen: I love your beads. I hope the stress and adjustments of the move pass soon and you can find some happiness at your torch. 
Pat 2: Maybe it would help to purchase a new tutorial. 
Linda: That is really a hard issue.... Validation.... This is something I wonder about a lot... How much and what kind of personal validation should a person be seeking in life... Should validation be external, internal, some mix of the too? Has social media changed the face of the quest for validation? Do artists have a higher need for validation? ... Where did you move to? 
Eileen: Maybe consider offering lessons? You have a lot of skill and are generous with your knowledge of glass ... 
Sheri: I abandon stuff all over the place with a finders keepers tag. My info and why I’ve left it. One that was left in Iceland ended up in Dubai. She told me it was a good marketing strategy.  
Phill: I make lampwork beads because I like making them and playing with fire and molten glass. Some day a grand child will be cleaning out what is left of my "estate" and will find a trove of stuff. They get to figure out what to do with it then. For now I just do things to please myself.
Roberta: I’m glad you posted. I also think about validation a lot. ... I have never sold my beads, but I’ve spent many years wondering why I keep making them when I also crave simplicity. And I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, lol. For me, at this point, flameworking is gratifying because it’s meditative and a good escape from DH’s health issues. 
Nikki: If you have just lost your spark, then maybe try a new technique to get your interest flowing again? 
Kew: Try to remember the fun you had learning. It doesn't matter if the end result is brand new (is there anything in beadmaking that is truly 'brand new'? peeps have been making glass beads for centuries), it's the enjoyment of melting glass and producing a usable bead that is gratifying.
    All of this caused me to reflect further.
    It’s not so much that I’ve lost my spark. I don’t even know what “it” is.

    Maybe more of a feeling that I’ve lost my compass. I still like melting glass. I’m just not sure why I’m doing it.

    I don’t think the world needs more beads. I know I don’t. (Did I mention my collection of other artists beads?)

    So, it’s not really a lack of creativity or ideas or motivation. It’s not really about new glass or tutorials or techniques.

    Gah! I’m not explaining it very well. Validation is a big part of it. As long as my beads were selling I was happy. Not for the money, but because of the feedback, and because my beads were bringing joy to someone.

    Donating to Beads of Courage partly meets the need (to know that I’m doing something worthwhile) but it’s not as personal. I loved making BOC Dream Beads because they connected you to a specific child. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to make one.

    Linda - we moved to North Carolina. Neil retired and wanted a change and 4 seasons. We’re both from the east coast originally. I don’t miss Texas but I dearly miss my glass community friends there.

    The crazy thing is, I finally have a proper studio instead of garage space. I have to keep going for another 10 years at least.

    Roberta is right, it is meditative and for me, a good escape from overthinking everything.
    And finally, here are two of my favorite responses.
    Stephen: I hope you get your groove back. ... I became “work friends” (lol) with a young couple... a couple weeks ago he stopped me in front of their building to tell me they were moving out and to take care, and then she came outside and gave me a big hug (I’m NOT the hugging type ha ha) and I ended up giving her an off mandrel pendant thing I made (I don’t know why, but I always carry something I made with me, today it was a little zombie head) and she gushed over it, said she’d be making a necklace and we went our ways. It was nice. I guess I’m trying to speak to your “What’s the point?” There is no point, nothing matters. Sometimes. Other times there is a point, and even little things can matter big. I guess. Flush flush.
    Phill: I, for one, do not regret your having posted this. I got a good deal out of this conversation.
    So there you are. It felt good to have a dialog about this "thing" that continues to oppress and gnaw at me.

    I'm still not sure what I'm going to do going forward. Sitting here, looking at my trays of beads, I see a sea of dot beads. I might begin by spending a few days making anything but dot beads.

    Hmm, I can't quite do that, I'm still working on a 200-bead custom order for beads in Halloween and Christmas colors. They don't all have to be dot beads, but I know my customer really likes them.

    But except for custom work, I plan to see what else I feel like making besides dot beads.

    When I torch, it is a little like when I write. I might have an idea about what I want to say, but I don't make an outline, I just start typing and see where it goes.

    Likewise, torching, I'll select glass colors, whatever appeals to me at the moment, and lay them out on my bench. But I don't make a list or a game plan. One bead (or bead pair) at a time, I just pick up a mandrel and a color and start melting and winding.

    Usually, I dip 30 mandrels and make 30 beads. I started doing that to limit myself, to spare my right hand and arm which always hurt. There was a time when I'd just keep going, going, going, didn't know when to call it quits. For the beads I've been making lately, 30 is a reasonable number. But there's nothing that says I have to make 30 beads. I can make 10 more elaborate beads and call it a day.

    I'm also going to think some more about doing a larger project with my smaller beads.

    Despite all this, the good advice, the good intentions, the commitment to find my way, the love I still have for this art form, it didn't prevent me from saying this to Neil at breakfast: I've never felt so discouraged about bead sales.

    His response was, I've heard you say things like this many times.

    He's right, I've said things like this before. But not those precise words. I've reached a new low point.

    Does that mean there's no place to go but up? Damn, I hope so.

    There is one thing about this I can control - I can stop complaining about it.

    It is what it is. Either I find a way to live with it or I find a way to live without it.

    See her how she flies
    Golden sails across the sky
    Close enough to touch
    But careful if you try
    Though she looks as warm as gold
    The moon's a harsh mistress
    The moon can be so cold

    Once the sun did shine
    Lord, it felt so fine
    The moon a phantom rose
    Through the mountains and the pines
    And then the darkness fell
    And the moon's a harsh mistress
    It's so hard to love her well

    I fell out of her eyes
    I fell out of her heart
    I fell down on my face
    Yes, I did, and I, I tripped and I missed my star
    God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
    And the moon's a harsh mistress
    And the sky is made of stone
    The moon's a harsh mistress
    She's hard to call your own

    (Jimmy Webb, © Universal Music Publishing Group)