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Then and Now

It was a Summer to remember, and I have a ridiculous amount of pictures that I could show you, but I won’t. I’m easing back into this space, so for now, just a few words, a few pictures, and a little good news at the end.

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~A break in the crowd at the water park~

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~the summer track season~

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~surfing~

…a blur of sand and water, with a few fun adventures in between pretty much sums up the summer.

Now, for Fall. I know it’s not quite Fall yet, but with the girls back at school and soccer in full swing again, it sure feels like it. I have a robust schedule of shows over the next few months, but the one I’m most excited about is the Squam Art Fair. Yep! The Fall retreat this year is the Taproot Gathering, so I’ll be rubbing elbows with some of my gardening/writing heroes, and the makers and contributors of Taproot Magazine. Adding to the excitement, I found the latest issue in my mailbox today. Yessss.

amazonite solitaire ring

I have some new designs to share with you, like the Amazonite Solitaire ring (above), among others, as well as some other things I’ve added to my plate during my busiest time of year. Perhaps you’ll bear witness to a frazzled holiday-season breakdown, but maybe — just maybe– I’ll do it all.

A Revolution in Casting

Up until a few months ago, every piece of jewelry that came off of my jeweler’s bench was fabricated by yours truly. Fabrication is the traditional type of metalsmithing that manipulates metal through bending, cutting, and shaping it. It’s the technique I learned first, and it is what made me fall head-over-heels in love with the craft. It’s all hands-on, all the time. But there are so many different skills involved in jewelry making, and I so badly want to know how to do everything. I’ve got a long way to go, but I can now cross another technique off my list: casting.

ripple necklace casting

Casting had been on my mind for some time. I had long admired jewelry that has that sculptural quality, and I had lots of ideas for cast pieces in my head. But I had my hesitations about it, too. My main concern was whether or not would it take away from the hand made quality of my work. I wondered: if I have the pieces cast in silver, then are they hand made? I also presumed that I would not enjoy the process as much, because I would feel too removed from the pieces.

But there has been a bit of a revolution in my studio, and it is part sculpture, part metalsmithing, part ready-made, and yes, handmade, too.

For a bit of background knowledge, the casting process involves having a mold made from a model piece. That model piece can be made out of metal or wax. I make both kinds of models, depending on the nature of the piece. Molten metal (sterling silver, in my case) is then poured into the mold and cooled, and bam! a silver casting–or a dozen– is made. And that, my friends, is the beauty of this process. I can request any amount of pieces I desire.

cast sterling silver ring

The pieces I receive back from the casting company (family owned, located an hour from my house) are no where near ready to sell. They are gnarly, dudes. At this point, the work is only just beginning.

Much time is spent grinding, filing, and refining the castings before they can be worked into a design. After that, the traditional fabricating begins, and I drill, bend, hammer and solder until the piece is complete.

cast sterling silver ring design
Discovering the joys of casting has allowed me to take my jewelry in directions I might not have gone otherwise. Previously, I fabricated the tiny dome/ball pieces pictured above, a tedious process that involved many steps just to make one cluster. Now I have them cast, and in doing so, I have been able to expand my designs to include that cluster multitudes, which is something I may have never done if I was making each piece from scratch.

I still make many pieces in their entirety, because I still love fabrication. BUT I have come to see the creative benefits of having a pile of pieces in front of me, ready be made into beautiful things. Those little piles of potential have opened up new ideas, more interesting designs, and plenty of possibility.

The next step? To invest in casting equipment of my own, and learn how to cast the pieces right in my studio. That means more tools and equipment added to my ever growing collection. (And it gets me excited just thinking about it.)

A Creative Slump (and How I Un-Slumped Myself)

Maybe you noticed my bloggy absence, maybe you didn’t. But the fact of the matter is, in the past year I have been a total blog slacker, and I have no reasonable explanation. I just…left my mojo somewhere and forgot where it was.

I distanced myself from the blog partly because I was having trouble managing my time, partly because I was suffering from an utter lack of words, and partly because things were beginning to feel old and boring to me. I was disinterested, and not just where the blog is concerned. Everything felt dull and flat. The house, the grind, the dinners I cooked, my appearance–even my garden–were all wearing thin on me.

I was totally uninspired. I stopped composing posts in my head when I had an interesting thought or story (though admittedly, those thoughts and stories were popping up less and less). I hadn’t done much making, other than my jewelry orders. I couldn’t remember when the last time the girls and I sketched together. The only thing I canned this Fall was grape jelly, and when it came to cooking for my family, I grossly wore out the usual menu rotation. I was out if ideas.

It’s safe to say I was officially in a creative slump. And you know, it’s true what Dr. Seuss says:

creative slump

Indeed. I yearned for new. And not the kind of new that can be remedied with a trip to the mall. I needed re energization, and not the kind you get from a smoothie.

So what did I do? Well, it started with getting bangs. (No seriously, never underestimate the power of a new ‘do. The haircut is what began the un-slumping process.) From there I hauled out 6 bags of clutter from my home (full disclosure: those bags now reside in my front porch. Baby steps?). I managed through a demanding-but-profitable holiday work season, which gave me a little boost. I went back and revisited posts and videos from some sources that motivated me once upon a time, like Blacksburg Belle and Mayi Carles. I listened to Blogcast FM podcasts. I redesigned the website home page (with a blog redesign in the near future), wrote a new about page, and renovated the tutorials page, too. I cracked open my dusty art history books. I tried taking a different perspective than the usual. I spent quality time with creative friends, and had long and candid business conversations with the resident carpenter.

I was reminded of the importance of doing what you say you are going to do.

And quite simply, I finally started doing. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. This concept is nothing new. It’s a well known fact that you need to exercise your creative muscle, and stay “in shape” so to speak. I knew that all along. It’s just that doing the work–or getting back to the work–is the hard part. Once I started, momentum took over.

print by The Motivated Type

The time away from blogging made room for more books, more hanging out with my baby girls, more space in my head. It was necessary, in order to stay real. Had I forced post after post, I probably would have bored both you and me to death. But now? I feel refreshed. I actually have ideas! I have something say, things to show you, and opinions to ask of you. I have tutorials planned. I have my creativity back, and it feels good.

As a curious aside, at the same time my general creativity was hiding in a muddy ditch, I was taking my jewelry in a completely new direction. That was totally exciting and fulfilling in it’s own way, but for some reason my work creativity seemed compartmentalized. I kept it separate from living creatively. That probably sounds crazy, and it just might be. Anyway, I’ll tell you more about the new work soon. Promise.

Oh, And! I’m celebrating my un-slumpification with a tutorial in the Spring edition of Rhythm of the Home, coming tomorrow.

Loving, Doing, Eating

In case you were wondering what I’ve been up to over the past couple of months, here’s a list: loving, doing, and eating.

Loving:

The Ruth Heller coloring books my girls got for Christmas.

This post by Liz Smith (a fellow maker and friend) about the price of handmade.

We Three Illustration. Love her doodle-y style.

Bad Lip Reading, NFL. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must. Pure hysterics.

Handmade Charlotte. I had forgotten how great this blog is.

Doing:

Shoveling. And sledding.

I’ve been following along with Jessica Swift’s #coloring me happy prompt. See her latest roundup, where one of my pictures is featured.

Working on a collaboration with Meera Lee Patel. I’ll share more on this as we progress, but in the mean time, check out her illustrations here.

Helping my small girl make “Squishy Buttons,” which she recently invented and is now gifting to everybody she knows.

Searching for fabric to make new dining room roman shades with. This one (red, on the right) is my absolute favorite, but it’s not exactly in my price range. Wouldn’t it make some amazing shades?

Making another Remembery Capsule. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love making these.

Eating:

The Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon bun recipe. The best part is that the recipe makes an insane amount of buns, so you can gift them. Or in our case, so you can eat them nonstop for days on end.

This carne asada and salsa recipe. Since we moved from San Diego, we have been on a mission to find authentic Mexican food, with no luck. This recipe nails it.

This make-ahead ranch veggie dip recipe. So easy.

Thinking I’ll try this sandwich bread recipe, for something new.

 

 

 

 

The BEST News

It really is the best news. I’m bursting.

Two and a half years ago, my sister and her husband began their journey as foster parents. Well today I am over-the-moon excited to tell you that, on Saturday, they legally adopted their foster daughters!

I have two new nieces, my girls have more cousins, our family is a little bigger, and my sister’s dream of being a mother is finally a solid reality. Make no mistake, she has been their mom for over two years, but now it’s official. Those girls aren’t going anywhere and that feels so good.

You’ve seen this picture before but I just had to post it again. It’s my nieces (the two in front) with my sister’s nieces (Lu and Ru!).

And did anyone see this picture I posted on social media a couple of weeks ago? (sorry about the quality, it was a tiny pic off my phone.) I described these as the most important and special pieces I had ever made. They were commissioned by my sister, one for each girl, bearing their new initials. The girls decided they wanted to take my sister and brother-in-law’s last name and of course they were going to need new initial charm necklaces to shout it out to the world.

New initials, new clan, and rosy new future full of happiness and love for those two little hot tickets our family now calls nieces, daughters, grand daughters, and cousins.

Congrats to them!

From Casting to Shanking: Books I’m Reading. Or Not.

Sometimes, books with titles like “Making the Most of Your Flex-shaft” are just what I’m in the mood for (Um, a flex-shaft is a jeweler’s tool. Get your mind out of the gutter). Often they aren’t. So when the likes of “Practical Casting,” and “Chasing and Repoussé” aren’t quite doing it for me, I refer to my handy, non-jewelry-related to-read list.

Here’s a sampling of books from that list. Some I have read, others I haven’t gotten to yet, and one, well, I’ll either have to win the lottery or go to prison before I can get my hands on it.

A few years ago I went on a classics kick, but it had been a while since I’d picked up a proven title, so I read The Call of the Wild last month. Now I feel like I really do understand my cat’s needs whenever he insists on staying out all night. It’s just the (suburban) wild, calling him from deep within. Calling him to literally “kill the wabbit” and then to leave it, dismembered, in my front porch. I get it–it’s innate. But it’s also very yucky, kitty.

Before that, I read The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Now that’s a title. It’s a great book, and it totally lit a fire in me that, frankly, has since gone out. (Until I come up with an idea — that one thing. Muah ha ha! Then I’ll read it again and actually do what the book motivates it’s readers to do.)

Also on the list are: The Exquisite Risk , and Fed Up with Frenzy, which both seem to implore a deliberate, slow lifestyle, which I am all for. The only thing is, we have that whole soccer thing going on, and I might feel a little bit like a poser reading those right now. I think I’ll just finish Living the Good Life, which I am currently reading, and continue fantasizing about a simple, farmy life in the woods.

I’m curious about The Book Thief, because it seems like everyone is reading it, but I wonder if it’s too similar in topic to Sarah’s Key, which I recently cruised through and would highly recommend. If I do continue to read more on the same subject (Jewish persecution during WWII. Never fun, often inspiring in surprising ways), then In the Garden of Beasts will be in my lap soon, too.

I’d like to read through The Backyard Naturalist,  and turn my backyard into a bird and butterfly haven. But I just know that the squirrels will infiltrate any special accommodations I make for the sweet birdies, and ruin all the fun. Maybe I need to get Put Em Up, Take Em Out!: Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison, and use my new skills to shank those greedy rodents. (That is an actual book, that came up randomly in an Amazon search. Apparently, it’s rare, and goes for $100-$200, which makes me really, really want it now.)

What are you reading or planning to read? I think I need to add a few more to the list, just in case “The Complete Metalsmith” isn’t cutting it.

Hangin’ in Parking Lots (or, Soccer Revelations)

I spend much of my time hanging out in parking lots. Parking lots and soccer fields. Parking lots, soccer fields, and the roads in between my home and those places.

We made a bit of a leap this year, and signed the girls up for a club soccer team. For those not familiar with the concept of club soccer, (which was me, not long ago) here’s the gist: It’s super competitive. It’s a year-long “season”. They have very high expectation of their players. It’s expensive. It’s a huge time commitment. A HUGE. time. commitment.

Crazy thing is, joining up was my idea. Yes, the woman whose mission in life was keep her kids from being over scheduled. The one who spends money on nothing extraneous. The mother who has placed priority on quality home “together” time since she’s had kids, went and signed her girls right up for this team, enthusiastically.

My girls eat, sleep, and breathe soccer. They don’t aspire to be Girl Scouts, or to join cheering or chorus, or to play softball or hockey. No. They want to play only soccer, all the time, so joining a club team seemed like a no brainer. Although we registered the girls with excited anticipation, I have to admit to privately mourning the demise of our slow lifestyle. No longer would we have our afternoons and evenings together, or our long, lazy Sundays. I worried it would be too much for them. I imagined hurrying them through homework, shoving a sandwich in their hands for dinner, and dragging them to their many practices.

But, you see, once again I have been surprised by my girls, and by life itself. It seems that all my agonizing about what it would be like with club soccer in our lives was totally unwarranted. In fact, we have actually found pockets of quality time and unexpected delights where I never thought these things would exist. Like, in parking lots. And on soccer field side lines, and long (long!) drives to games.

Homework and reading time, done while waiting in the car, seems easier than ever, without all the distractions of home. We’ve seen the most gorgeous sunsets, in the big skies of soccer field complexes. I’ve carved out a little more time do some things I haven’t made time for lately, like knitting (two pairs of fingerless gloves, perfect for cold practices, comin’ up!) and reading.

We’ve made new friends, and enjoyed time outdoors that we might not have made for ourselves otherwise. Precious face-to-face conversation time with one child occurs regularly now, where we rarely had the opportunity before. My mum gifted me a slow cooker, and I’m appreciating the genius of making dinner in the morning, so that it’s ready for whoever needs dinner at whatever time that night. The girls are flourishing with their new coaches and teammates. In other words, it’s all good.

Indeed, our lives are a little more disjointed time-wise, but I feel just the opposite has happened for our family, relationship-wise. I am savoring this time with my girls, knowing that one day soon they’ll be driving themselves here, there and everywhere, and doing their best to avoid dear old mom. Until then, you can find me on the field, in the lot, or on the road.

Custom Review

Just a quiet little post, to show you some of the custom pieces I made over the past few months.

from top left, clockwise: carved-and-cast money clip, mother of pearl cocktail ring, carved-and-cast wedding bands, chunky stacking rings

Fizzy Fun And A Special Book

If you were to make a list of the most beloved children’s novels, I’d be willing to bet Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would be one of them. There’s just so much to the story that captures young readers. It’s the perfect combination of child-like adults, naughty kids, magic, outrageous fun, and junk food.

When I think back to when I read the book as a kid, I remember the junk food the most. I so badly wanted to get my hands on the everlasting gobstoppers, the lickable wallpaper, rainbow drops, fizzy lifting drinks, candy plants, and chocolate waterfalls. Oh, how I dreamed of finding a golden ticket.

I had to wait a few decades, but I finally got one! It’s The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Audrey Press’s newest publication that brings Roald Dahl’s imagination to life. Packed with recipes, activities, and crafts, it’s everything you need to recreate that wonderful world of Willy Wonka.

Simply put, the book is full of  Wonka-style fun. Find recipes to make your own swudge and gum, and instructions to host your own golden ticket treasure hunt. Read fun facts about how chocolate and gobstoppers are made, have a crazy Oompa Loompa race, and make your own Willy Wonka hats. The book also includes free printables to go with many of the activities, like an invitation to the factory, golden tickets, and maze templates.

I told my girls to browse through it and pick out what they wanted to do first, and they choose the Fizzy Lifting Drinks. I could see the mad scientist looks in their eyes, and knew we were in for some messy fun.

We started with the basics, mixing citric acid, baking soda, and water to make a bubbly potion. Then we added vanilla and sugar to make cream soda. After that, I decided to let the girls go at it alone, and that’s when the real concocting began.

Before I knew it, orange juice, raspberries, vanilla, mint, lemon juice, and honey were out, and bubbly creations were overflowing all around.

There were mmmmms  when they succeeded with a new yummy soda,  and squeals and funny faces when they made something too sour (which happened a lot), and a few beverages that were utterly undrinkable.

I printed out a couple of tasting sheets, so they could jot down their favorite recipes and an unexpected second phase of fun began when they were thinking up names for their original sodas. Hysterical laughter erupted at one point and when I ask to be let in on the joke, they both zipped their lips and tried their hardest no to burst out again. I can only image.

The Overflowy was their all around favorite, which included lemonade, mint and raspberries. The French Burst was also a hit, though I’m not exactly sure what’s French about it, since it was orange juice, honey, and vanilla. And then there was the Orange Straw Popper, which sent us all running to the sink to spit it out.

Making the Fizzy Lifting Drinks was a huge hit. It was equal amounts science, hands-on fun, and silly experimentation. I think Willy Wonka would be thrilled with the goofy antics that went on at our dining room table.

We have already tried a few of the other activities, too, with Gobstopper Dobblers being their favorite game (although I suspect it had something to do with their eating lots of gobstoppers).

There is so much fun to be had. You can find out more about The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here, continue the adventures on the book’s facebook page, check out a free lite version on iTunes here, and purchase the full guide on iTunes here.

But there’s more!

Audrey Press is hosting a Golden Ticket Giveaway and a chance to win an iPad loaded with the Ultimate Guide to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and several other KiteReaders books, starting on September 13. Visit the Ultimate Guide’s blog for more information on how to participate.

Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! –Willy Wonka

Food Discovery

I have recently made some great food discoveries. Not ground-breaking discoveries, just everyday-thrill kind of kitchen discoveries. Sometimes it’s the little things. Or maybe it’s always just the little things?

Do you know the website 100 Days of Real Food? I stumbled upon that last month and find it to be a great resource. I’m loving the school lunch round up posts, as well as the 100 Days on a Budget series, but the greatest discovery was “the popcorn trick.” My god. I’ve been going about it all wrong. I have always made my popcorn “from scratch,” meaning, I cook the kernels in a pot with oil, just like my father always did growing up. But this. Well, this changes everything. The easiest, most obvious microwave popcorn evah. Check it out.

Another discovery? Rubbing garlic on toast. I may be pushing the definition of the word discovery here, but it has changed my breakfast life. I am not a fan of typical breakfast foods, and usually prefer dinner leftovers in the morning. I’ll take savory over sweet even at 6am. The fact that I have 30 garden-grown garlic bulbs drying in the basement makes this all the more perfect.

garlic rubbed toast

Speaking of the garden, I put in 4 broccoli plants and 4 cauliflower plants this spring only to discover that, in fact, that are all broccoli. Hmm. I guess the labels at the garden store must have gotten switched up. I was looking forward to having home-grown cauliflower for the first time, but an abundance of broccoli is never a bad thing.

And driving home the point that I am not an expert in the gardening department, is my bright idea to grow my string beans up the lattice at the edge of the garden, so they wouldn’t use up so much space. Those vines grew up and up, and now that the beans are ready to be picked, they are too high to reach. It’s nothing a girl on her dad’s shoulders can’t handle, but there is a cluster of gigantic beans on the garage roof that must be dealt with soon. Those things are starting to look more like cucumbers.

string beans, garden

We also discovered concord grapes growing outside of the library, and earlier in the summer, we found blackberries at the soccer field, blueberries at a local hiking spot, and wild garlic at the bank. Hurray for foraged goodies.

For my birthday (way back in June) I received Joy the Baker’s cookbook from my mother. Holy indulgence! The front cover says it’s a “celebration in butter and sugar,” and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. But Joy does include a few healthy recipes, like the kale, spinach, banana, peanut butter smoothie. It’s so good, my girls will even drink it. (To be fair, they will drink green smoothies, but never with gusto, like they did this one.)

There’s nothing like a new food discovery–a recipe, a gadget, a new method of cooking, a new ingredient–to renew my enthusiasm in the kitchen. Now that we’re back in the routine of school, homework, and soccer practice, I have a few new tricks up my sleeve to keep things from getting bland too soon.

Have you made any food discoveries lately?

 

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