Happy Medium

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My first attempt at making a braided cord necklace (waxed nylon jewelry cord with Czech glass and metal beads) . The leather monogram pendant was made by my good friend, Laura Hansen.

Every artist has a preferred medium—the go-to material that provides the foundation of their work. My favorite material is metal, and I’m not very particular about the type or alloy. I’ve worked with lead, copper, silver, bronze, gold, aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, iron and brass. Each one has unique characteristics and even a personality of its own, but something all metals have in common is that they are predictable.

Being a bit (okay, maybe a lot) of a control freak, I like the precision I can achieve with metal. I’ve dabbled with other media—wood, for instance—but I inevitably migrate back to metal when I can’t achieve the level of precision and the clean lines that sooth my inner perfectionist.

Early in 2013 when I started dating my husband, I was happily making chain mail and wire-wrapped jewelry, and I was starting to explore increasingly more intricate styles of wire wrapping. I discovered amazing artists like Nicole Hanna, Ivona Posavi Pšak, Sarah Thompson, Kornelia Kubinowska, and Iza Malczyk. I dove into learning new techniques through Nicole’s and Kornelia’s tutorials, and I was immediately hooked.

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This is my first attempt at the macrame bracelet technique taught by Sandra Younger, creator of the Knotty Do-It-All. See theknottydoitall.com for more info.

I spent every spare minute working with wire, and then life got in the way. I started spending more of my spare time with my husband and less learning new wire-wrapping techniques. Pretty soon, I stopped making jewelry altogether because it wasn’t long after we started dating that we decided to get married. The next several months were a whirlwind of packing, moving, getting married, unpacking, merging two households, purging excess belongings, and adjusting to being a full-time stepmom.

Now that life is finally settling down into what has become my new normal, I’ve tried to pick up where I left off on wire-wrapping, and I’ve been horrified to discover that I apparently lost my edge. The precision that once came so easily seems unattainable now. I’ve started countless projects only to toss them into my scrap bin in disgust when it became painfully clear that the finished piece wouldn’t meet my expectations.

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This is a simple copper wire monogram I created out of scrap wire so I could experiment more with this macrame technique. I kinda like the way it turned out!

At some point amid all that frustration it finally occurred to me to try redirecting my creative energy down a new path. I wrote about that insight here, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see forward progress with something as simple as a change in medium.

Unlike metal, cord is not a material with which I can achieve perfection. In fact it’s infuriatingly prone to imperfection in certain ways, but that imperfection has proved to be surprisingly liberating for this (formerly?) Type-A personality.

The past two years have softened me in ways I never would have imagined possible. I’m more flexible and less attached to perfection. I’m more open to allowing a piece to evolve organically and less determined to adhere to my original vision of the finished piece. I’m less attached to outcomes and more curious about the creative process.

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Another quick and dirty wire focal piece that I made so I could master this cord technique. I’m a Leo, and I’ve always wanted to create an astrology collection. This concept has potential, I think.

This is uncharted territory for me. Historically, I’ve been a pretty driven and results-oriented individual, and those qualities are clearly reflected in my work. As I’ve explored various cord and macramé techniques, however, I’ve been surprised to discover that imperfection can be beautiful, too. I’ve included a few photos of my most recent experiments with cord techniques. Cord is still new to me, so these pieces aren’t quite as refined as I’d like them to be. I’m very pleased with my early attempts, though. Perhaps I’ve finally found a happy medium.

Life is short. Don’t waste time and energy pursuing perfection if it keeps you from loving what you do.

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Thank You

I’ve picked up several followers recently, and I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and share my posts. I truly appreciate your following, and I look forward to getting to know you better.

As I mentioned in my initial post, this blog was originally intended to be a place where I share my thoughts about life, love and art with my own handcrafted jewelry providing a foundation for those discussions. I haven’t had an opportunity to make much jewelry lately, but here are a few photos of some of my favorite pieces.

Blue Moon Rising – Blue Lapis in copper wire-wrapped frames with handwoven copper chain

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Colorado Sunset – Carnelian, amethyst, and turquoise in copper wire-wrapped frames with handwoven copper chain

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One of my favorite everyday pieces (unnamed) – wire-wrapped arrowhead in copper horseshoe frame with handwoven copper spiral chain

These pieces are indicative of my work. I grew up in the southwest, and I think that influence shows clearly in the style of jewelry that I make and wear. I’m working hard to carve some studio space out of our small 2-bedroom apartment so I can get back to making jewelry full time, and I look forward to having some new ideas to share soon.

Thanks again for stopping by!

The First Year of the Rest of Our Lives

My husband and I have been celebrating our marriage in small ways pretty much daily since we tied the knot at the Jefferson County Courthouse on a cold, rainy October day last year. I’d only been living in our shared Denver apartment full time for a few days at that point, having severed my employment in Trinidad just a few days earlier. It was a tremendous relief for me to finally arrive home for good when I left my office after my last day at work and drove three hours north to Denver.

We didn’t plan to get married the following week, but it worked out that way because the county clerk’s office was empty when we arrived. No lines. No waiting. We were in and out in less than thirty minutes. We arrived as two single people looking forward to getting married within the next thirty days. We left as husband and wife, a little stunned by how quickly and easily we’d tied the knot, but thrilled nonetheless.

I hear all the time that marriage is difficult. That it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, next to parenting; and I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me or my husband or our marriage because our union has been easy from the start. I think we’d both fully committed to spending the rest of our lives together before we ever talked about marriage. When we did have that conversation, the issue was settled in a matter of minutes.

Neither of us is particularly romantic. We’re both more practical, yet there’s something sort of romantic and magical about a union, such as ours, that works so smoothly and effortlessly. That’s not to say that we don’t put any effort into our marriage because we do. I’m prone to some pretty strong mood swings, and with our daughter now living with us full time, there are three of us crammed into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment. I occasionally feel fenced in, and when I need to withdraw and recharge (introvert that I am) there’s simply nowhere to go. Those days are pretty challenging, but my husband and I are unshakably united, so we know we’ll get through them.

All my life I’ve been accused of not being a team player, but what this past year has taught me is that I am absolutely a team player when I’m on the right team. This lesson is huge for me because I believed, like most people, that life would always be a struggle. That wherever I go, there would be strife and conflict, so I’d just have to learn to deal with it. We’re told from an early age that we need to grow a thick skin and learn to tolerate being treated poorly by others, and we’re supposed to silently endure the incompetence, ignorance, or inappropriate behavior of those closest to us for the sake of “getting along”.

All of that is nonsense, of course. Those are the lies people tell themselves in order to justify staying in bad marriages, toxic friendships, and unrewarding jobs. There’s a better way. It’s entirely possible to have relationships that are based on mutual respect and appreciation. It’s equally possible to find highly evolved, competent, and intelligent people with whom we’ll resonate. We can either find or build high-functioning teams where we’ll achieve more working together than we could possibly achieve alone. The key is that we have to learn to be a lot more discerning about the people we’re willing to allow into our lives. And we need to learn to say no to those who are unwilling or unable to rise to higher standards of conduct.

I’m not sure I can convince anyone that there really is a better way to live, but I’d like to. Had anyone told me I’d eventually find a man who is a perfect match for me, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet I intuitively understood that the combative and dysfunctional relationships I’ve had with certain relatives, friends, and coworkers through the years may have been completely “normal” according to current social standards, but they certainly weren’t healthy. I secretly hoped to find better ways to relate with people, and I found glimpses of those better ways through a few rare individuals—an old boss, a handful of friends and even a couple of old boyfriends. It wasn’t until my husband and I started dating, though, that I fully understood that virtually all of the obstacles to lasting, happy, and healthy relationships would be obliterated if people would only choose their mates, friends, and business associates more carefully.

My husband and I are similar in many ways, but we’re also quite different in other ways. His strengths balance my weaknesses, yet we share the same core values. As a result, it is remarkably easy for us to map a course for our future and work together to achieve our long-term goals. While dividing the work of running our household, we take into consideration our individual preferences and strengths so neither of us gets stuck doing the things that we dislike most.

We argue infrequently, we rarely bicker, and the closest thing to nagging that happens in our household is that we occasionally have to remind our daughter to do her chores. The result is an overwhelmingly happy and almost effortless marriage and home life. My wish is that you, too, will find the sort of well-balanced relationship that my husband and I enjoy. Can you imagine what we could achieve as a society if we all held ourselves and those closest to us to higher standards of conduct, and if we were far more discerning when choosing those we allow into our inner circles?

Life is too short for all the drama and nonsense that most of us resignedly tolerate daily in our personal relationships and in the workplace. Choose your mate, friends, and coworkers more carefully so you can look forward, as I do, to a bright future beside someone you trust absolutely to have your back.

Thank you, Matt, for a wonderful first year of what I’m certain will be a very long and happy marriage. I love you.

It’s All Connected

DSCN0425For as long as I can remember, I’ve been more fascinated by the connections between things—people, places, events, thoughts, emotions, etc.—than by the things themselves. For me, it’s always been about the journey between points A and B. As a result of my fascination (okay, to be honest it’s more of an obsession) with connecting paths, I immediately start looking for the next path—the next connection—as soon as I’ve arrived at some destination or another.

It’s not surprising then that connections are at the heart of virtually all of my creative interests. Chain mail, wire-wrapping, stained glass, needlepoint: these are all art forms that are based on connections. When I weave chain, I strive to close each individual ring perfectly so the connections appear seamless. When wire wrapping, I strive for tight, even wraps that look as beautiful as they are strong. The key to a structurally sound and visually striking stained glass panel is all in the solder joints; and needlework is essentially painting a picture with colored thread, one stitch at a time. Even my interest in dressage, which requires a finely tuned physical, mental, and emotional connection between horse and rider, is more about the connection between horse and rider for me than winning ribbons. Professionally as a project manager, I rely heavily on connections and dependencies to create order out of chaos and to keep forward momentum going even while connections are missed or broken.

Some people call it wanderlust. Many have accused me of being flaky. When I was younger, I used to think of it as a thirst for adventure and knowledge. Today I realized that all I’ve ever sought was to make sense of a seemingly chaotic world, and the best way I’ve found to do that is through understanding the ties that bind one thing to another. One heart to another. One event to an emotion. One planet to a solar system. It’s always the connection between two points that make any point relevant, and the answers that we seek are almost always found in the space between the mile markers of our lives.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m in the process of purging several boxes of old paperwork that date back to the years I lived in Alaska. It was in the eleven years I lived in that wild and beautiful state that I grew up. Sure, I was raised in a small town in southeastern Colorado, but I left that town with a childish and immature head filled with theoretical answers to questions I didn’t fully understand—questions that couldn’t be answered through any means but practical life experience. It was during those critical years in my 20s and 30s that I was free to truly explore who I am and how I fit into this strange world in which I live—a world I never truly felt connected to until I stripped away everything I thought I knew and threw myself into a completely foreign and unknown environment.

I moved to Alaska on a whim when I was just 24 years old. Today, some twenty years later, I realize that my journey to Alaska was inevitable; but at the time it seemed crazy and impulsive and wildly irresponsible. I quit a steady job, listed my house (which I’d just recently purchased) for sale, and moved 3,000 miles northwest to Seward, Alaska where I planned to marry a man I barely knew. We met while I was on vacation that spring, and after a whirlwind romance and two months of long distance phone calls, I found myself driving the Al-Can Highway, bound for Alaska where I didn’t know a soul except for the man I’d agreed to marry. Before we made it half way through Canada, I realized I didn’t even know him.

That romance didn’t work out, but it was the catalyst for an eleven-year love affair with nature and the most intense period of personal growth I’ve experienced until recently. If I could give one piece of advice to young people today, I would recommend that they do exactly what I did—take a wild leap into a strange environment where nothing and no one is familiar, and learn how to interact with that strange new environment.

As I’ve unpacked those boxes of old paperwork, I’ve rediscovered pieces of my past that I haven’t thought about in a long time. I’ve found old journals, letters, and emails that have reminded me of some of the amazing connective discoveries I made during those years. I’ve gotten back in touch with the adventurous young woman I once was. I’ve marveled at the tremendous strength and fortitude it took for me to get back on my feet after a devastating loss, and I’ve been both surprised and amused by the turbulence of my emotions through those years.

One significant advantage of being single through that period of my life is that I was free to indulge in some incredibly intense self-examination, and I think I came out of those years with a far better understanding of myself than most people achieve by their mid-30s because of that freedom. What’s most fascinating to me about those years, though, is how simply and elegantly I traced connections between certain formative people and experiences from my childhood and the new people and experiences I had in Alaska. Reading through those old journals and letters reminded me of one of my favorite Confucius quotes:

And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

We rarely recognize without the benefit of hindsight that the places we go and the people we meet are all part of a much bigger picture. We tend to believe—especially in those critical formative years of our 20s and 30s—that we’re alone in a chaotic world and that we’re subject to seemingly random events that shake us to the core. As someone obsessed with connections, however, I can assure you that there is far more order than chaos in this world and that very little that happens to you is truly random. It’s important  to be goal oriented, but don’t forget to pay attention to the space between your goals, for there along the paths that connect one goal to the next is where you will truly discover who you are and what you’re made of.

Life is short. Do what you love. Celebrate your achievements, but don’t forget to simply enjoy the journey.

Merging, Purging, and Making Space to Create

I’m a procrastinator of the highest order. I don’t think I ever fully realized how much I procrastinate when it comes to doing things I don’t particularly enjoy, but my husband pointed it out to me early into our marriage. It took me forever to unpack and set up our new apartment when he and I merged two separate households into a single space. The thing that finally motivated me to get our house in order was the fact that my husband’s grandmother would be staying with us over the holidays. The apartment was pretty much a disaster until the day she was scheduled to arrive, and then I pulled it all together. My husband was stunned when he walked in the door that day after work. The place was barely recognizable as the same apartment he’d left that morning.

At the time, many of my things were still contained in a storage locker 150 miles away. Shortly after Grandma returned home to California, I emptied that locker and lugged dozens more boxes to our apartment where they’ve sat, largely untouched, in a large pile in a corner of our bedroom. I’d planned to use our spare bedroom as a staging area to go through those boxes and determine what to keep and what to purge. As fate would have it, however, our spare bedroom became my stepdaughter’s full-time bedroom when she moved in with us in July.

Staging space? Gone. This complicates the process considerably because I’ve no choice but to make a colossal mess of our living space while I rearrange furniture, unpack boxes, merge what I plan to keep into our household, and purge the rest. I’m more motivated to tackle the twenty boxes or so that remain with each passing day, though. The holidays are fast approaching, and we’ll be having more overnight guests again soon. We’re also planning to add another feline member to our family in the near future, and I’m dying to set up a more functional creative space where I can work on jewelry comfortably.

I have a crystal clear vision of what it will all look like when it’s done. My desk will be moved from our main living area to a quiet, brightly lit corner of our bedroom, which is currently occupied by the dreaded mountain of boxes. I can already picture myself working on jewelry in that great light (the best in the apartment) while Rose is curled up on her perch beneath the window, napping in the sun.

Today is a dull gray day. There’s rain in the forecast, and dinner is already simmering in the Crock Pot. I suppose there’s no better time than the present to tackle those boxes.

Life is short. Stop procrastinating, and do what needs to be done to create the time and space to do what you love.

When Did “I Disagree with You” Become “I Hate You”?

Am I the only one who wonders how something as common and simple as disagreement devolved into this grossly exaggerated idea that those who disagree with us must hate us, too?

My older sister and I rarely communicate. Not for any reason in particular, so far as I know. For me it tends to be an out of sight, out of mind sort of situation. I moved to Alaska in 1995 and lived there for eleven years. I had very little contact with any of my relatives during those years. This wasn’t because I didn’t care to see my family in Colorado, but because it took a monumental effort (and no small sum of money) to see them. I returned to Colorado once a year (twice, at most), and I made my best effort to get around to see everyone. It wasn’t always possible, however, so I prioritized my relations. I made sure I saw my parents and my brother (we’ve always been close), and I squeezed other family and friends in as time and circumstances allowed.

Not once in those eleven years did any of my relatives visit me in Alaska. I don’t fault them for that because I understand the logistics, but relationships are two-way streets. The burden of sustaining relationships over that distance should never have been solely my own to carry. My sister is six years older than me, so we were never really close while we were growing up. By the time I returned from Alaska, we might as well have been complete strangers.

Fast forward to yesterday. Out of the blue I get a long, rambling private Facebook message from my sister suggesting that our maternal grandfather was an illegal alien when he arrived in the U.S. some 100 years ago. She has no evidence to support her theory – only an anecdotal story from an alcoholic uncle (hardly a reliable source, in my opinion). She then demanded that I tell her how I “feel” about this anecdotal story. Since her insistence came on the heels of me ‘liking’ a political opinion that opposes making welfare benefits available to illegal aliens, I can only guess that my position on immigration is what prompted her to demand that I declare my “feelings” about our grandfather’s legal status.

Here’s my reply:

So, you asked what I think about Papa Joe. Truthfully, I don’t think anything about it. You haven’t given me any facts yet – only a lot of speculation and some thinly veiled scorn for me and my personal values. But even if it is a fact that he was an illegal alien, that changes nothing about my feelings for him. Or my feelings about myself or Mom or anyone else in our family, for that matter. It makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever if he came here legally or illegally because it was 100 years ago. This country was a vastly different place back then.

If you’re comparing Grandpa to the illegals you see at work, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Grandpa worked for his living. The people you encounter at work are looking for handouts. Big difference.

Parenthetically, my sister works for Denver County in (I presume) some sort of social services capacity since she stated earlier in our PM thread, “In my work, I see lots of denials due to failure to prove legal status, just FYI.” I see those denials as a system that is functioning properly, or at least sufficiently. My sister evidently sees them as failures. In any case, her response to my reply was that I “seem full of hatred for [her] and [her daughters]”. To emphasize her point, she promptly ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook.

So… let me get this straight… I state very clearly that my grandfather’s ambiguous legal status when he arrived in the U.S. doesn’t change the way I feel about him (or anyone else in our family), and she interprets my response as “you seem full of hatred for me and my girls”.

I see this wild leap of anti-reason from “I disagree with you” to “you hate me” almost daily. It’s most prevalent in discussions that involve the faintest whiff of disagreement about gay marriage, immigration, abortion, or any other emotionally or politically charged topic.

How have these conversations devolved to this childish reductionism? It’s the intellectual equivalent of the sort of verbal exchange you’re likely to hear between two preschoolers fighting over toys in a sandbox. Another reply to “I disagree with you” that I hear frequently is “your opinion doesn’t count because you’re not gay [or a minority or a woman]”.

Seriously?

It’s time to grow up, people. If you can’t handle something as simple as being confronted with an alternate view that challenges your personal view, I suggest you check your premises. And grow a thicker skin, for Pete’s sake, because conflict and struggle are crucial stimuli for growth. We may achieve world peace and learn to coexist someday, but we’ll never live in a world that is completely free of conflict. And thank goodness because such a world would be incredibly static and boring.

“I disagree with you” does not mean “I hate you”. It means I. Do. Not. Agree. Period.

Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the actual definition of ‘disagree’ from the unabridged home dictionary that my husband and I picked up at an estate sale recently (Webster’s New Third International Dictionary, 1961):

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Incidentally my grandfather, a coal miner, died about sixteen years ago. What I remember most about him is that he was a quiet, hard-working man who provided for five kids by working long hours in a deep, dark hole in the ground. He grew a lush vegetable garden every summer and kept a perfectly manicured lawn. When he wasn’t gardening, he loved to fish. He taught all of his grand-kids to fish and was there to celebrate our first catches. He also looked forward to shoveling snow every winter. He would spend hours clearing freshly fallen snow from the sidewalks and driveways of his own house and ours, which was just next door.

He confided in me once that he enjoyed shoveling snow because it looks and smells fresh and clean – qualities I’m sure he appreciated profoundly after decades of chipping away at coal seams deep underground. In the years since my grandfather passed away, I’ve always felt closest to him when I see and smell freshly fallen snow.

Some Much Needed Time to Reconnect

My husband and I had a few precious hours of quality time together today. We dropped our daughter off at her mom’s house for a visit this morning and drove to Estes Park. I haven’t been there in years, so it was fun for me to see how much the town has changed.

Matt, a photography buff, had never been there before, so it was all new to him. I love looking at the world through my husband’s photos. It helps me see things from his perspective, which isn’t very different from my own, but I have noticed that Matt is more a “big picture” kind of guy while I’m more inclined to focus on details.

Here are a few highlights from today’s trip into the mountains (all photos by Matt Reamy):

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The famous Stanley Hotel. I love this old building, which is well known for its appearance in the movie The Shining.

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Once we left Estes Park, we took a short detour through Masonville, which is a place I remember fondly from my years in Fort Collins. I used to drive through this gorgeous valley frequently when I lived in that area. It’s still as quirky and beautiful as I remember. We found this gorgeous view,

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and this quirky vintage styled sign.

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I didn’t realize how badly Matt and I needed some time alone to rest, recharge, and reconnect until we hit the road together today. I arrived home feeling happier and more secure in my relationship with my amazing husband. I also picked up a few stone cabochons at The Ore Cart Rock Shop in Estes Park. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can create with those this week.

Life is short. Do what you love, but don’t forget to take some time away from your craft to reconnect with those you love.

Breaking Through Resistance

I grew up with horses and dogs, and the best technique I’ve found for breaking through resistance from either species is redirection. Pulling back on the reins is unlikely to stop a bolting horse; but redirect all of that forward momentum into a tight circle, and you’ll stop your mount safely. Likewise, punishing a bored and frustrated dog by confining him to a kennel after he shreds your favorite shoes will only amplify the boredom and frustration that drove him to gnaw on shoes in the first place. A better, more productive approach is to redirect all that pent up energy into some sort of physical activity. Teach your dog to catch a Frisbee, run an obstacle course, or track a scent; and he’ll be too physically and mentally exhausted to destroy your things while home alone.

I’ve experienced resistance of my own in the form of a massive and seemingly unmovable creative block this past year. My life changed dramatically and irrevocably last October when I got married. Merging two separate households and lives was surprisingly easy for my husband and me, but the one thing I’ve struggled to integrate into my married life is my jewelry craft. I’ve made countless starts on jewelry projects over this past year, and most of them ended up in my scrap bin. I’ve finished a few pairs of earrings, but none to my satisfaction. And then I had an epiphany while thumbing through the summer 2014 edition of Jewelry Affaire. It was there that I first discovered Sandra Younger’s cord jewelry, and the brilliant jig she created, the Knotty Do-It-All. As soon as I saw her work, I realized that I just needed to redirect my creative energy with some new media and techniques.

I’ve dabbled with cord and macrame techniques in the past, but it’s been years since I’ve worked with jewelry cords. It turns out that the range of jewelry cord on the market today has come a long way in those years. It has a much more pleasing aesthetic that is a far cry from the cheesy macrame styles of the 70s and 80s. Sandra Younger’s cord jewelry is just similar enough to my own rustic wire-wrapped jewelry style to be a complimentary addition to my design toolbox, and the thrill of learning some new techniques along with the excitement of using a new tool has reignited my creative urge.

My husband got me a Knotty Do-It-All for my birthday in August (am I the only one who reads that as Naughty Do-It-All in my head?), and I’ve been having a blast learning to use the tool to its full potential. I still have much to learn, but I’m enjoying the heck out of the learning process.

My best friend, Jenn, gave me some stone beads and a sterling silver medallion that has a great deal of sentimental value last year and asked me to make her a multi-strand necklace with them. After experimenting with my Knotty Do-It-All for a bit, this is what I came up with:

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It’s not perfect, and please excuse the poor photo quality–I snapped these quickly with my cell phone before gift wrapping the necklace. A trained eye will notice a couple of mistakes, and there are several things I’ll do differently as I begin to integrate cord with my usual chain mail and wire wrapping techniques. But I think this necklace, which Jenn loves, is a pretty good starting point for some fabulous new jewelry designs that are now simmering in my brain.

Thank you, Sandra Younger, for helping me redirect and refocus my creative energy with your fabulous tool and gorgeous jewelry!

Step-Parenting: It’s Not for Sissies

The first nine months of our marriage were blissfully happy. We took long drives, long walks, and we talked for hours. We talked about our future. We laughed a lot. We dreamed of the places we would go and the things we would see and do. And suddenly, everything changed.

When I married my husband, I did so with my eyes wide open. I knew he had a daughter, and I knew his relationship with The Ex was… well… strained, to say the least. Truthfully, when he and I reconnected in January 2013 after a two-year hiatus, I was hesitant to get seriously involved with him because of that fact. I learned long before I met my husband that I am not mentally or emotionally suited to deal with a bitter ex-wife who uses her child as a pawn in her quest to make her ex-husband miserable.

My husband was royally screwed by the court system during his divorce, as fathers so often are. The Ex was awarded residential custody of his daughter, and he was granted visitation just every other weekend and alternating holidays. How that actually played out in reality is that The Ex would “let” him have his daughter whenever it suited her. It wasn’t long into our engagement that I learned her MO. She dictates the terms, and my husband complies, mostly because it isn’t worth the trouble to argue with her. It made me angry that The Ex lords his daughter over him like a weapon, but I let it go because I agreed it wasn’t worth fighting over a few hours here and there on the visit schedule. Shortly after we married, I began to notice that The Ex seemed to be trying to make visits particularly inconvenient for us by arranging inconsistent pick-up times. Sometimes she’d demand that we return our daughter early. Other times, she’d insist she couldn’t pick her up until Monday morning, which meant the poor kid had to get up at the crack of dawn and endure a 60-minute commute to school. This sort of passive-aggressive behavior is typical of many divorced parents, I think. It seems to be particularly evident among divorced mothers, but I’ve often wondered to what end.

Is this really the sort of interpersonal behavior we want to model for the generation that will be responsible for taking care of us in our final years?

I think not, but what do I know? I’m not a parent. I’m a step-parent, which I’ve discovered over these past several weeks is a lot like being a project manager in that you own all of the responsibility, but you have no real authority. I was a PM for most of my professional career, and that imbalance of power is the only aspect of the job that I never liked. And now that imbalance between responsibility and authority has infiltrated my personal life in ways I never imagined possible.

My step-daughter has been with us continually since July 11, 2014. She was scheduled to be with us from July 11th through the 27th, and then she was to return to her mother’s house. Since school would start shortly thereafter, we expected to resume the usual schedule of visits every other weekend following that two-week stay. Midway into the second week of that visit, however, my husband received an urgent phone call from The Ex’s sister. The Ex had been admitted to the hospital after a trip to the emergency room and was scheduled to have surgery the following day to remove a massive brain tumor. The Ex’s sister called to ask if she could take our daughter to see her mom before the surgery. We agreed, naturally. With a hasty introduction in the lobby at my husband’s workplace, I met my daughter’s aunt for the first time and reluctantly handed a scared little girl over to her care, wondering all the while what sort of terrifying hospital scene was waiting for her.

When we picked her up that evening, she was clearly shaken, but she insisted she was okay. Later, my husband pointed out to The Ex’s family that school was scheduled to start in less than three weeks while The Ex was likely to be hospitalized for a month or more. It was plainly evident that the timing of these two events hadn’t occurred to The Ex or her family amidst the chaos between the ER visit and a highly invasive medical procedure.

We offered to keep our daughter for the school year, and The Ex’s family reluctantly agreed that was the best course of action. And with that agreement, three lives were irrevocably changed. The weeks that followed the decision to move our daughter into our home for the 2014/15 school year were a blur of activity. There was paperwork to be gathered and multiple road trips to withdraw her from her old school so we could transfer her to a school in our local district. Our apartment had to be rearranged to turn what was previously a guest room into her private bedroom, and there were mountains of school clothes and supplies to be purchased. The poor kid had very little at her mom’s house that she felt she needed to bring to our house. When we took her there to gather her things, she came out with her backpack, lunchbox, her favorite fleece jacket, and a couple of Barbie dolls.

The first week of school was tough on her. It’s never fun to be the new kid, and it took her a while to make new friends. Fortunately, we were able to obtain the address of her best friend from her old school so the two of them could keep in touch. Those first few days of school, she lived for the moment she could check the mail to see if she received a letter. As the weeks marched on, however, she began to take root and thrive in her new school. She made friends. We enrolled her in dance, choir, and orchestra; and she joined the school’s news team as a camera operator. Her teacher raves about what a great student she is; and we’re finally able to spend the time needed to get her caught up in math, which has been a constant source of frustration for all three of us over this past year.

Now when I listen to her practicing the cello or singing to herself as she’s doing the dinner dishes, I worry that this new life is going to be ripped out from under her when The Ex demands that we send her back at the end of this school year. No more dance, orchestra, or news team. Another new school—this one the dreaded middle school. And no more carefully structured life that revolves wholly around her.

It’ll be back to the chaos that was her life prior to living with us. She’ll be spending most of her evenings alone at a dreary daycare facility. No one will check her homework or help her with her math homework. She’ll be eating more junk food and fewer home cooked meals. Because The Ex is likely to require regular medical observation for the rest of her life, there will be even more running from here to there, and a lot less time to simply be a kid. And I’ll have no choice but to let her go because I have no parental rights where this child of mine is concerned.

I miss the life that my husband and I enjoyed prior to July. It seems that most of the conversations we have now are about our daughter and her school. I miss the conversations about our future, but I’ll miss my daughter even more if I have to let her go back to live with The Ex next year.