Back in the Creative Groove

The original intent of this blog was to share my jewelry, my creative process, and the ways in which my life influences my jewelry and vice versa. My plan at the beginning of 2013 was to step my life-long jewelry hobby up to a business, but I got married that year instead.

I thought I’d try again to launch the jewelry business in 2014, but instead I became a full-time mom when my stepdaughter came to live with her father and me. The first half of 2015 was an absolute whirlwind with job changes and lawyers and school and cello lessons and moving to a new city, but things are starting to settle down now, and I’m finally finding the time to get back to my personal goals.

Having been out of the daily habit of making jewelry for a very long time, I decided to get back into the groove by honing my metalworking skills and experimenting with some new wire-wrapping techniques. The following images are the results of some of my first focused attempts at wire work in… well… a very long time.

Nicole Hanna of Nicole Hanna Jewelry has long been an inspiration for me. Where she finds the time and energy to do all that she does is beyond me, but besides making gorgeous jewelry and writing fabulous tutorials for aspiring wire wrappers, she also runs a great page on Facebook that’s become a sort of gathering place where artists help artists by sharing tips, techniques, and tutorials. The page is relatively new, but I’m amazed by how quickly its membership has exploded, and that’s largely because Nicole has a huge following in the wire wrapped jewelry world. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of her, it must be because you’re not a wire worker. Or a hand crafted jewelry lover.

Anyway, long story short, Nicole has this way of getting people to step out of their comfort zone and create stuff they might not ordinarily attempt. This month she issued a challenge for group members to create something with a leaf theme using only wire, a single bead, and no tools besides wire cutters and a single pair of jewelry pliers.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not. Particularly if you’ve taken a couple of years away from wire work in order to focus one some huge life changes. Add to that the fact that I love tools. I generally work with a minimum of three different sets of pliers, so committing to using a single pair for this challenge was almost physically painful for me. This piece fought me every inch of the way. I scrapped my first attempt and restarted the design. I broke several wires. Nothing flowed properly or ended up looking quite the way I saw it in my mind, but I finally ended up with a piece I liked enough to submit for the contest. And then I broke the bead while I was doing the final polish. Ugh! Another repair (and more wire added to my scrap bin), another round of the whole clean/patina/clean/polish routine (my least favorite part of the whole process); and this is the result of all that wire and frustration (not to mention some pretty colorful language):

WP_20150923_017

Dew-laden Aspen Leaf – design inspired by Nicole Hanna of Nicole Hanna Jewelry.

It’s my interpretation of a dew-laden Aspen leaf in the fall. The colors are peaking here in Colorado this week, so it’s a timely tribute to my favorite season. The design is also a nod to Nicole Hanna’s style, which I adore even though I’ve never quite been able to do her designs justice.

As a jewelry artist, I don’t wear a lot of jewelry that I didn’t make myself, but I make an exception for Nicole’s work. I own three Nicole Hanna originals, and I gush about her work like a proud parent whenever someone compliments me on one of those pieces.

The second big challenge I took on this week was a pair of earrings designed by another jewelry rock star whose work I shamelessly worship. I mentioned Sarah Thompson in  a previous post after I’d taken her online course through Craftsy.com. I first discovered Sarah’s work a couple of years ago while I was looking for wire wrapped inspiration on Etsy. It was there that I first saw her Scorpio earrings, and I fell in love with her work the moment I laid eyes on them. As luck would have it, Sarah included that particular earring design in her new book, Fine Art Wire Weaving.

Here’s my first attempt at that design:

WP_20150923_022

Scorpio Earrings – Design by Sara Thompson

Fricken fabulous, aren’t they? I can’t begin to explain how inspiring her work is, so go check it our yourself at Sarah-n-Dippity! And tell her I said hello. Cuz that’s not creepy at all.

Now that I’m finally back to focusing on jewelry, this blog might start to have fewer words and more pictures. Probably not a bad thing, given my tendency to ramble.

Oh, one more thing… Welcome to all the new followers I’ve picked up over the past few weeks. Thank you for taking the time to read and share my blog.

Now, go make something beautiful!

Advertisements

Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.

What Makes a House a Home?

Have you ever walked into someone’s home and felt immediately at home? It’s as if the house itself embraces you in a warm hug when you walk in and says, “Welcome.”

What  about the houses that, although they’re decorated tastefully–even professionally and expensively–still seem to lack that sense of warmth and coziness? Personally, I always feel sort of sad for the occupants of a house that isn’t warm and welcoming. I imagine the lives of such a house’s occupants are missing something crucial for their personal well-being. Living in a house that is cold and lifeless is like being in a loveless marriage–you’ll survive and your basic needs are likely to be met, but you’ll never thrive there.

Personally, I’ve lived in every sort of house you can imagine: old/new, modest/extravagant, house/apartment/mobile home. My first place in Alaska was a sorely neglected little one-bedroom mobile home that had mushrooms growing in the hallway. I was flat broke and starting from scratch to rebuild my life after leaving everything I ever knew behind in Colorado a few months prior. The rent was $300/month, and the owner was willing to let me clean the place up and make repairs in lieu of the first month’s rent. I’m pretty handy, and the one thing I did have the sense to bring with me to Alaska was my (rather large) collection of tools, so it was a really good deal for me. Within a couple of weeks, that neglected little singlewide was clean, dry, warm, and cozy. I only lived there for six months, but it was my first real home in Alaska, and I adored it.

About three years later, I’d managed to get back on my feet financially, and I bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Anchorage. It was an eighties tract home that had been built during the tail end of the Alaska Pipeline boom, so it wasn’t built well, and it was one of those houses that lacked any hint of warmth when we first met. Still, that house spoke to me. It wasn’t the nicest house I looked at, and it was in desperate need of TLC and some expensive repairs. It needed a new roof, and it had some serious drainage issues. It had been neglected for a long time, and its most recent residents were heavy smokers, so the entire house needed to be deep cleaned and repainted. Yet, there was something about it that compelled me to make an offer on it anyway. I felt the strangest sense of camaraderie with that sad, neglected house. It was as if we were long-lost friends.

A couple of months later when I moved in and started working on the place, it slowly revealed its secrets to me. That house, much like my childhood home, had witnessed terrible acts of violence and substance abuse. As I stripped the walls in the bedrooms and living area, I discovered dozens of fist-sized holes that had been patched over. When I tore out the drywall in the second bath, I found piles of dirty hypodermic needles that had been stuffed through one of those holes. When I finally stripped the walls in the room I chose to use as my home office to the original wall covering, I discovered pale blue walls that made me think it must have been a little boy’s bedroom originally. That room, too, was scarred with fist-sized holes, and even a few boot-sized holes above the base board. I cried for that little boy one night while I worked to smooth over the poorly patched holes, and I cried for the little girl that I once was.

That house, much like me, had an awful lot of healing to do. We sort of healed one another as I worked, room by room, to infuse it with the warmth and love that was missing when I bought it. I sold that house in 2006 just before I moved back to Colorado, and I’ve often wondered if the house retained its warmth. I hope it did.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we recently moved to Colorado Springs. We’re living in an apartment for now. The complex is brand new, and it seems to appeal primarily to young, single professionals, though there are several families living here as well. I look forward to owning another house soon because I miss having a dog, and I’m anxious to grow a garden. Our apartment will be our home for at least the next eleven months, though, and now that all of our furniture is in place and our artwork is on the walls, it’s starting to feel like the sort of warm, cozy sanctuary that every home is meant to be.

Simple Pleasures

At what point do newlyweds stop being newly wed?

My husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary soon. We tied the knot on October 29th, 2013 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. It was a cool, rainy morning, which must have kept everyone else at home because we were the only two customers in the County Clerk’s office that morning. We didn’t plan to get married on the spot, but we did. No lines. No waiting. No drama. Why wait?

Matt and I are big fans of simplicity, a fact that’s plainly evident by the title of his blog, Simplify. We’ve been a low-key, easy-going couple from the start. And one of the ways we maintain that ease is that we appreciate the little things, like simply spending time together.

In the first year of our marriage, one of the most simple pleasures we shared was a standing lunch date on Mondays. I’d drive to his office to pick him up, and we’d go out for lunch together. It became something we both looked forward to because it was a pleasant diversion from the inevitable Monday madness.

We came to appreciate our Monday lunches all the more when our daughter came to live with us full time in July 2014 and our former couple time turned into family time. Then last November Matt took a short-term gig in downtown Denver. I love my husband dearly, and there’s not much I won’t do for him. But driving into the bowels of downtown Denver at lunch time on a weekday? Um, no.

Such was the end of our standing weekly lunch date. For the next nine months, we didn’t get to see each other at all during the day. Until we left Denver, that is. Matt’s current office is just a 10-minute drive from our new apartment in Colorado Springs. Not only have we been able to resume our regular Monday lunch dates, but he’s also able to come home for lunch most days.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about living in Colorado Springs so far is getting to spend quality time with my husband again. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences in our lives.