Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer in Florida

Here we are in the "Dog Days" of August again.   Just finished revamping my website ( and looking forward to making some jewelry again.  Summer is the time I get to work on the "tedious" stuff, like websites, my etsy store, photographing new works, and cleaning up the studio.  In the winter I'm too busy with teaching and custom work to do much else.  Summer in Florida is the "off " season, so art centers close and even some galleries and shops go on vacation for a month or more.  When it's in the mid 90's and high humidity you just don't want to go outside much.  Except to go to the beach.  The ocean feels like a bath tub this time of year, you can float for hours. The garden is lush and green, the moonflowers are opening by the front door at night and smell divine.  It's a kinda of sleepy time when you gather your energy and plan for the coming Fall tourist season.  (I think we are the only "civilized" tropical country that ignores "siesta" - go figure, are we workaholics?)  But it also gives me time to experiment with new materials and techniques, and maybe even build something for myself!

 My Fall classes are booked and on my website with links to locations.  I'm not teaching anywhere near the load I used to, just a few a week due to my back not being what it used to be.  But I still do individual instructions and workshops here at my home studio so if you'd like to learn silversmithing, stone cutting, enamels or any of the skills I offer in my group classes, drop me an email.  I finally got my neck surgery done 2 weeks ago and can turn my head again so it did help. Now to test it out with some serious work on the jeweler's bench!   

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Recovering and Remembering the Jersey Shore

Happy New Year!  And it's looking to be a better one than 2012, which is happily gone for good.  I haven't been posting as in early Nov. I finally had shoulder surgery - a simple arthoscopic procedure turned into a complex open shoulder surgery that left me in a sling for 6 weeks.  I'm still in therapy,  am regaining range of motion and in another week or so they will let me start lifting a one pound weight! YAY! It doesn't seem like much, but it's great to be on the upswing finally.  I taught my first class at Art Center Manatee yesterday, have a lot more classes starting up over the next 2 weeks, including Bronze Metal Clay, Beading, Kumihimo and Bronze Bead Making at three more locations - just check my website if you want to join in, all the info & signup links are there on the "Classes and Workshops" page. 

     It was a rough couple of months - I never realized how many things I do with my right hand before. First few weeks I couldn't shower, dress, brush my hair or put on makeup by myself - thank God I have a wonderful husband who saw me thru this.  It was hard to even feed myself - if you're right handed try feeding yourself left handed - it's not as easy as it sounds!  And not being able to drive for almost 2 months gave me some serious cabin fever.  It wouldn't have mattered to me at all if I could have spent that time in the studio creating, but without that outlet, it was making me crazy.  Only time I went out was to the doctor or therapy. The first 6 weeks are critical - if you throw the arm out ( like if you tripped over something) the muscle detaches from the bone again and you have to go back into surgery and start all over again - definitely NOT on my "to-do" list. The way people let their kids run wild these days, going out into public was just too scary. (Anyone else noticed that at public places like stores there are kids running up and down the aisles now with parents ignoring them? I'm not an old fogey, but c'mon people, control those monsters!)   It's still pretty sore as the therapist is working me hard 3 days a week to stretch out the scar tissue and get everything working again.  But every day now I see some progress.

     Needless to say, jewelry making stopped altogether.  I still can't hold  steady enough to draw a straight line, but it's coming along.  On the upside, I have NEVER had fingernails - I usually grind the off cutting stone or break them using them as pliers for wire - but now they are longer than I have every had in my entire life.  Even painted them bright red a few times for fun.  I look at my nails and go "Are those MY hands??"  It will be another couple of months before I can get back to silversmithing and stone cutting, and hammering is 3-6 months away yet. But the worst is over, and I found a wonderful pain management doctor that uses homeopathics as well as conventional drugs who is working on my low back and neck issues. It's going to be a bit of a haul, but I'm determined to get myself functioning better this year. I turn 60 this year, and look at that milestone as a determining point for my future - do I want to spend it as an invalid? NO WAY!  You ever see those 90 lb. 20-somethings bouncing around the gym saying " Oh, I just live to exercise!"?  I exercise to live - a whole different story.  Anyone out there who has ever had to recover from a serious orthopedic injury knows exactly what I am talking about.

    So it's a new year, and it's got to be better than 2012, which can go down in history as one of the worst.  Topping off the year was being drugged out with pain meds, turning on the computer, and seeing my hometown wiped off the map.  You know that now famous picture from Sandy of the rollercoaster in the ocean? It's about 1/2 mile south of my childhood home.   Day after day as this disaster unfolded I started hearing of old friends who had lost everything to the storm.  I finally found a picture of my street - and the house my late Dad had built right on the beach was still standing!  The houses two deep behind it had washed away, but my house was there - you could have ridden out the storm on the third floor ( where we lived, the bottom two were apartments for Dad's beach resort) and had one heck of a view.  If  Dad was still alive and up there, I know that's what he would have done, too.  Yeah, I come by it genetically, we have always been a pretty crazy adventurous bunch, going back to my ancestors who came over in the Mayflower.  Everything around it is gone, and there was water up to the second floor, but it stood, a testament to  Dad and his old buddy who designed it - an all wood house, built with 2' x 12" beams, bolted together and made to give in the wind - I remember Dad putting a huge driftwood mobile up in the living room which would swing on windy days. Scared the heck out of visitors, but we were used to Dad's crazy projects. I slept in the loft overlooking the mobile and on windy nights would get rocked to sleep.  It also had a fireplace he built that was a big copper ball - a fuel tank from some sort of rocket - hanging from chains, filled with firebrick. A tiny fire would cause the whole thing to glow and warm the whole room in the dead of NJ winters to the point we would have to open the sliding bay windows to cool it off.  Sadly, I believe the damage to the lower floors is so extensive that it will likely be torn down, but it was amazing that it withstood Sandy sitting right on the beach.  The Surf Club next door is a pile of rubble.

     There are a lot of great memories from that house, and the beach parties were legendary, some with hundreds of people showing up.  Every September the Red Cross ( Dad was a director) would throw a fundraiser, where Budweiser would set up tents with kegs on the beach.  A sign on the road onto the island touted all you could eat & drink for $5. and this would go on day and night for 2 days or until the food and beer ran out. There would be huge pit bonfires with boards running across them that drunken patrons would dance across. One old lady showed up every year, got drunk and did a strip tease on the picnic table. The huge old wood surfboards that Granddad built were used as serving tables when they weren't in the ocean with numerous kids and people piled on.  We would surf from daylight til moonlight if the waves were good, and Mom always had food waiting for us when we all dragged in. My Dad is in the Surfing Hall of Fame, there is even a Youtube video done by the Surfing Heritage Foundation interviewing him about the early days of east coast surfing.  (There is an excerpt of the hour long interview at Granddad built the first boards for Dad in the 30's and it just kinda snowballed from there into an obsession.  If it floated, we would ride waves with it - boards, mats, canoes, catamarans, lifeboats - made for some spectacular wipeouts too.  Dad built an "aquaplane" out of a piece of plywood that he would  tow behind his old WW2 Willy Jeep on the beach for us kids to ride, and thru the surf break for the older more insane sports freaks that hung out with us. Now I look back and wonder how we all survived.  One time Dad and his buddies decided to build a parasail from an old parachute - one of them had  seen a picture of one and they decided to spend a night drinking and sewing up the extra openings in a big supply chute.  Next morning they sent my brother up as s test pilot - it collapsed in a crosswind, he hit the beach, bounced up about 15 feet and dropped out like a rag doll.  Had a few frantic minutes as we waited for Mick to regain consciousness while Dad wondered if he'd killed his only son. He got a pretty good concussion but survived to try it again with a REAL parasail a few months later that some pro's showed up at the beach with that winter.  Yeah, it was great growing up at the Jersey Shore, especially with Dad and his crazy friends. Our house was party central all the time it seemed, but summers were the best. This is what is left of "The Golden Gull", the new owners changed the outside to hide the big beams and just ruined the lines of the building. There are 30ft. of piling into the sand underneath, which likely helped save it.  Before Sandy it sat right on the sand, and you could walk under it now so much beach washed away. But the Gull still stands!


The above pile of rubble is the Surf Club - or what is left of it.  You can just see the top of my house on the far right behind it. Quite a difference in construction, don't you think?
         It is the passing of an era, and I'm kinda glad Dad didn't see this destruction.  We lost 8 houses on the beachfront in the storm of '62 and thought that was bad. But Sandy was unimaginable.  I remember being 9 years old and walking thru the second floor of my house, which had washed back onto the beach intact. If you looked up, everything was normal - curtains hanging, pictures on the wall - from the windows down it looked like an eggbeater had gone thru it shredding everything. It made quite an impression on me.  But Dad rebuilt, the beach came back, and it will again - the Jersey Shore breeds some tough people.  When we lived out there in the 60's only about a dozen families stayed on the island in the winter, even the grocery store closed and the drug/department store closed everything but the pharmacy window. School meant a bus ride of over an hour to the mainland - it was pretty isolated, not like it is today.  Power outages were normal in every winter storm and Dad got his own snowplow for the front of his Bronco to clear his way to pick up his friends and bring them to our house because we had a gas stove, fireplace,  and oil furnace. There would be people camped out all over the living room for days sometimes, partying until the power came back.  It would take days for the city snowplows to reach the beach back then. I could go on for hours about all the wacky stuff we would do, from shooting the Casino Pier in canoes at night to tales of lifeguarding in Lavalette  and "hunchpunch" parties on the beach ( everyone brought a bottle, all was all poured into a big trash can and dipped out from there - some potent stuff!) but needless to say, although I left in '73 for warmer climes in Florida, the Shore will rise again!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I HATE getting older................

    I know I haven't posted since the beginning of the year, but it has been a difficult one for me.   Rather than write in this blog, I've spent the time I could sit up and use the keyboard working on my website and Etsy shop.

   For those of you who have been my students, you will have watched me struggling thru classes this past season as old injuries to my back and shoulder came back to haunt me.   A bad fall I took last winter really aggravated things, and I've never fully recovered. At classes I hide behind a smile and enthusiastic attitude, then crash as I walk out the door.  Some days I could not even carry my work tote and my beloved husband David was there to haul things for me and help me set up and knock down after class. I've even taught classes wearing a TENS unit to be able to stay upright. It's been difficult to admit to myself that age and past injuries are catching up with me, although I should have realized it much sooner.  I've just always been really stubborn that way - my late Mom always said don't EVER tell me I CAN'T do something, it's the sure way to make me try to do it.  Back in the 80's when I was recovering from a bad auto accident, the doctors told me I'd likely be in a wheelchair by 50 ( after 3 left leg surgeries, 2 back surgeries, shoulder surgery,  fractured vertebrae, severe closed head injury and blown disks in my neck and low back).  I turn 59 next month, and I'm still on my feet - well, I am most of the time, anyway.  To some extent.   By the way - I HATE red light runners - believe me, it just isn't worth the damage you may do to someone else's life to save those three minutes waiting for the next green.  Think about it - PLEASE.

     Now my right shoulder has  deteriorated to the point where it needs surgery.  Ever try to build jewelry one handed? Especially when it's your dominant hand?  My sessions at the jewelry bench have been getting shorter and shorter as it's just too painful to work the hours I used to.  Hammering? Forget it! Like a lightening bolt shoots from my hand to my shoulder.  Holding tools for long periods? Hand starts to shake and cramp.  Now I'm not saying you can't get some interesting texture effects with an added shake to the flexshaft, but sometimes it's not exactly what I had in mind.  Kumihimo? I love it - it calms me down, like a moving meditation.  But my hands start to cramp and the shoulder screams. It gets pretty frustrating at times.

    When my doctor suggested I go on disability, I thought, "No way" - until it was pointed out to me that things just haven't been getting any better.  The independent review Social Security sent me to was enlightening - after the exam, the doctor looked me in the eye and said,  "You need to be on stronger drugs!" I thought I was doing pretty good staying off strong drugs unless I was totally flattened, and using a TENS unit to help pull me through the worst days. It's amazing how much you can learn to tolerate.  But not being able to sleep more than a few hours at a time and waking up with numb arms and hands made me realize things just aren't quite going well.   Also needing my cane again to walk a block and back has been a bit of a wake up call.  I can't imagine what a pain free life is like anymore - yet I hate being drugged out, especially if you play with torches and flexshafts - it's simply not a good idea safety wise. 

     Strangely, I had become so accustomed to being in pain every day that I didn't even think of it as not being "normal".  My life's kinda like that old Paul Simon song, "Slip Slidin' Away" - "On a good day, I feel no pain, on a bad day I just lie in bed and think of things that might have been."  I spent a lot of days this year flat on my back in bed, wanting to be on my jeweler's bench, and unable to sit up, let alone dress myself - what would I do without my darling husband?  He takes care of me without a complaint.  And now follows me around saying - "Don't pick that up! Don't lean over! Give me that grocery bag! Don't______."  You can fill in the blanks.  I think he figured out it was easier to keep me from doing something that will make me hurt more than it is to be waiting on me hand and foot when I'm flat on my back.   I have spent a good part of the last few months in a haze of misery, forcing myself through the few classes I could manage, and coming home to the heating pad, feet up on a wedge pillow, and a muscle relaxer just so I could drag myself up the next day.   After a while my mind started wandering from depressed to frantic - as I became less able to deal with the pain and function.  Some days it feels like it just isn't worth going on anymore.  I get so tired of being miserable there seems no point in it.  Any activity gets viewed as - how much pain will I have to pay for this?  It is worth it? REALLY worth it?  I have found myself withdrawing from life more and more as the stakes become higher.  So to all those old friends who haven't been seeing or hearing much from me lately - sorry.  I'll try to do better.

    Now I am on disability and will be cutting back on my classes this season.  As much as I LOVE teaching, I just can't keep up the schedule I used to.  I'll still do a couple of classes each session in the winter, and gladly give private lessons at my home. Not having to haul stuff around is a BIG plus for my back.  With disability came Medicaid, so sometime soon I hope to have this shoulder taken care of - which will keep me off the jewelry bench and out of classes for a couple of months.  (Hint: If you want a custom piece for Christmas, get it now, later you may have a long wait!) 

     So if you're looking for a particular class, check my website, and if it's not scheduled, email me and we'll try to work something out. I am  getting my winter schedule confirmed now and will post classes to my website within a few weeks, as soon as the contracts are in.  To my local fans, yes, I will be doing the Atomic Holiday Bazaar in Sarasota on Dec.8th ( Saturday) ONLY.  It's the only show I will be doing, because it was booked last Spring and I adore Adrien Lucas and the wonderful show she puts on every year. So I will see you all there in December, along with my husband David who will be doing the setup for me.  My jewelry is also on display in the Dancing Crane Gallery on 10th Avenue in Bradenton's Village of the Arts.  I'll be there on the monthly Art Walks, first Fridays of each month. Except in December, as it's the night before Atomic.

I'm actually taking a bit of time for myself these days - one of my latest creations? A steel boned corset - yep, you heard right.  Why?  It's a fashionable way to wear a back brace. You ever SEE a back brace? They are just plain UGLY! A steel boned corset is more support than any back brace I have tried - and I've gone through quite a few. I made a couple of corsets years back when I was doing Renfairs, and realized how much the support helps.  If I have to use a brace, even though I feel bad at least I'm gonna be looking good! And after all, looking good is half the battle - right?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All Things Considered...

All things considered, it has been a hectic beginning to the new year.   Between my winter classes starting up, my husband getting a huge book illustration job and helping him on a furniture faux finishing job (huge 3 part entertainment unit)  that our fave interior designer came up with a less than a week deadline, the jewelry making has been relegated to class demo projects.  STILL have jewelry to be repacked from my Christmas shows, and dozens of new ideas running around in my head. With 2 special order designs to do this week, my workbenches are covered with "stuff" - jewelry to be packed, paperwork for different classes,  boxes of supplies and toolkits for classes, and just anything else that got set aside this week while I was too busy to bother putting it back in it's proper place.  So today I start to clean and organize again.

   Do the rest of you sometimes get to the point where your studio becomes such chaos that you have to step back, take a day or so, and re-evaluate you use of space?  Especially when you are sharing that space with another artist ( my husband, an illustrator)?  Looking back, I would have taken half of what is on one side of the room and put it on the other, but now it will be a MAJOR moving project to accomplish this.  Starting without planning, our shared studio has evolved over the past 10 years, as different pieces were added in.  My 6' metal work desk we found on the side of the road, a vintage glass front kitchen cabinent from a yard sale that became the base for a 6' workbench,  antique oak washstand that makes the perfect printer stand and stores all the paper & office supplies, flat file full of artwork supporting shelving full of books - why does it all have to be so heavy? 

     When laying out your studio, here's a hint I learned from my late father - using graph paper as a base for your design ( 1 sq to each ft), cut out paper shapes to the proper ratio of the furniture in your shop, and play with them, moving them around on the graph paper until you find a layout that maximizes your space, keeps everything handy, and saves your back!  That old adage, "measure twice, cut once" becomes "move paper - then furniture".  It's really a simple way to help you organize your workspace with a minimum of physical effort, as then you KNOW that you will only be moving the heavy stuff once.  Every time my late Dad moved his shop, he'd sit and do this for hours until he got the perfect layout before he moved anything - and when you figure the weight of showcases, specimens, and stones, he had a lot of weight to move!  So that's my New Year's resolution - rearrange the studio to make it work better for us both, and give usthe room to have workshops and classes here again. 

 So here's to a new year in a redesigned studio - I wouldn't even THINK of showing a picture of what it's like now, but once it's done ( it may take a few weeks - or more) you may get a glimpse.  Lucky me my sister in law moved here a few months ago and has two teen age boys we can call on if we need some muscle.  A few years ago I would have thought nothing of doing it myself, but the closer I get to 60 the more I realize that kind of work is best done by younger backs!

     But here's a pic from when I had my workbench set up in my old gallery shop - I could literally eat my lunch on the table when I wasn't working it was so clean!  Now if I can just get the home studio looking so husband remarked it "looks like a jewelry store exploded in here."  Yep, it's time to reorganize!!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Years Day 2012

So here we are at the dawn of a new year.  Last night we watched the last sunset of 2011 with our feet in the ocean, breezes blowing through our hair, and seabirds flying overhead.  There is something about the last night of the year that urges me to return to the ocean and get "grounded" to Mother Earth.  Having spent most of my life living on one island or another, the beach is where I can best connect to the energy of the planet and it's elements.  I love the forests, but the open vista of water always draws me home to the sea, washing away all the cares if the past year and leaving a clean slate for the new.  I've set foot in most of the seven seas now, Atlantic, Pacific, Carribean, Gulf,  Indian Ocean - passing on the Arctic & Antarctic, too cold.  Each has it's own energy, warm or cold, smooth or rough - much like the stones I work with.  I am hoping through this exercise in writing to enlighten you, my readers, to the energy around us, in the materials we work with, the environment we exist in, the relationships we participate in.  All these factor into what we create and how we envision our lives.  Here's to a year of expanding the possibilities, creating beauty in all that is around us, and living in harmony with Gaia.