Sunday, June 24, 2012

Boutique Earrings

Boutique Earrings

More than two hundred boutiques and galleries as well as several high end Department Stores carried my jewelry line during my career. The biggest selling item ever for me was earrings. I created hundreds of styles such as the ones pictured here with clip backs and lots of dangles. Color was a selling point as well as design. I created styles in denim, animal print, lime green, and every color combination one  can think of. Customers still ask the boutiques for earrings in this style but they are very difficult to find now because designers create those little wire through the ear styles that look great on most younger women and not so great on most mature women.

If you decide to create these earrings, here are a few tips to remember. Clip backs with cushions are a must. Create an interesting button top with a filigree or other looped finding as a base. Add an uneven number of dangles which graduate from longest in the center to shortest on the outside. (I've added as many as eleven rows of dangles on one earring. They sold to the first person who saw them.) Always use small jump rings to attach dangles so that the strand has motion and will hang straight. Adding chain as part of a few of the strands keeps the design from becoming too bulky. Use long beads as well as the flatter spacer beads, rondelles and bi-cones to have variety and interest in the design. Pops of color can come from large seed beads.

Look at the color combinations in the stores you sell to. If there is a very popular jacket that combines silver and gray, make some earrings that would look great with that jacket.

Now that I am in my mid fifties I understand perfectly why women my age look for button earrings with or without dangles. We like to hide those earlobes that may be stretched a bit. It's always nice to find a dangle pair of earrings to wear with simple necklines. It draws attention away from a neck that may not be as smooth as it was a few years ago.

I was recently speaking with the owner of one of the boutiques that bought a lot of my work when I was still designing. The owner and staff told me that they have many customers who want this type of earring but they are rarely able to find them. The owner said she looks on Etsy for them! She sells the earrings in her shop for $75 and up.

Don't miss out on a great customer because you don't have any of these earrings to offer. Make a few and see what happens. The feedback you get will tell you if you are on the right track. Always watch for the body language as well as what people actually say as they are looking at your work. When someone smiles and picks up a piece to study it, make a mental note. Even though they may not buy the piece it brought a positive reaction.

Have a great summer!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

You Are Not Alone

One of the best things about turning fifty-five was finding the confidence to dress to please me again. My earlier corporate lifestyle wardrobe was influenced by my peers, meetings and the fashion industry I worked in until my early forties. Later in life experiences and being self-employed took its toll on my appearance. I had gained weight and lost social skills from spending many years working almost around the clock and being alone most of the time. I had become a sloppy dresser who tried to hide all the things I didn't like about my new body. While I knew a great deal about my industry, I had lost all touch with fashion trends and even what was right for my now not so great body. Many women have a similar experience when their children become adults and go out on their own. You've spent so many years devoted to them, you may have lost your "self" in the process. If you are also newly single during this time the journey becomes even more confusing and overwhelming. You are not alone! You will survive this and you will be stronger. 

Being able to get dressed without added stress might not seem very important at this time in your life but I know from experience it is. As someone who has stood in her closet in tears and exhausted from trying on clothes for a special event only to become more frustrated with every discarded piece, I can tell you it makes the difference in showing up and participating in life or staying home and eating ice cream alone.

Today's anything goes fashion trends don't even work for some young toned bodies so they aren't likely to flatter those of us who have had our fiftieth birthday party either.

Some of the hot trends we might not want to try are stacked platform high-heeled shoes with ankle bands. Honestly, I can't think of any reason for anyone to consider these but here is an extreme example for you. High skinny heels tend to make our calves look even thicker. Walking in high heels isn't easy. If you must wear them, be confident in your stride and wear cushioned insoles to help with the pain. When your feet hurt...everyone can tell at a glance.

Another trend that isn't right for most of us is the tiny top with skinny or no straps. Anything that shows too much of our upper arms and waistline may not be a good look for us. Tops are very important to your total look. Spend most of your clothing budget on nice blouses, jackets and lightweight cardigans worn open with a great fitting tank top to reveal only part of your body. I love the variety that comes from owning pieces that work together to create many looks rather than dresses. Prints and patterns are very limiting and memorable. Try solids in colors that flatter your skin tone and can be worn together.

Accessories will allow you to dress up or down that great white shirt and black pants for any occasion  in life. You really don't need to spend a lot of money on a lot of clothes.

Great for evenings!

Out to Lunch!

Strictly Business

Hear me Roar!

Be strong! Be beautiful! 

Be your best you everyday!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fashion tips for us!

If you are on the plus side of fifty you may feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to making new choices for your wardrobe. Many of the fashion news articles and store displays seem to be geared to the twenty somethings. Those styles may not be appropriate or comfortable for our bodies so we must make adjustments to create a style that is flattering and comfortable but keeps our look current. It's also a plus if we can use what we already have in our closet and update it with a few key fashion pieces.

I've named the photo set below "Street Style" because it represents my formula for getting dressed for daytime. Layers allow you to be prepared for cooler restaurant temps, a sudden Spring rain or a ride in a convertible. Push up the sleeves of a light weight cardigan in a color that is flattering for your skin tone and wear a body skimming tee underneath. This gives you a flattering deep V neck and pushing up your sleeves to show forearm always adds height and takes away pounds visually. Layering in light weight fabrics allows you to feel confident that you aren't showcasing those extra pounds around the middle that we find so very difficult to get rid of. 

I often wear a hat in summer for several reasons. My hair is not as full and thick as it once was but I also like covering my hair when it is likely going to be stuck to my head with perspiration. (Never a good look!) Some rules will always apply when wearing a hat. Your other accessories need to be less in number and scale when you wear a hat. I like to add a small clutch to my tote bag so that I am not carrying a big bag and wearing a hat at the same time but I still have all the things I need for a day in the country or shopping in a nearby village. The brim of your hat should never exceed the width of your shoulders. I like to add a flowing sheer scarf over the band to relate to another color I'm wearing. If the weather becomes too warm later in the day I can take off the cardigan and drape the scarf across my shoulders. Try on several styles of hats to find the one that is flattering to your face shape. Remember round plus round is never good when it comes to faces and accessories.

Sunglasses in shapes that flatter your face and protect your eyes are a wise investment for anyone. I have several styles and always make sure I have the correct sunglasses and shade of lip gloss before I leave for the day. Lip gloss or lip color of any type should blend with the color of your top. Image a beautiful red blouse with a lip color in the orange tones. (Clash!) I like to wear earrings and bangles in my accent color in hot summer weather. A necklace, earrings, sunglasses and a hat all at once are way too much going on in a small area.

Platform sandals are much more flattering with cropped pants or walking shorts because they visually add length to your lower leg to balance out the fact that cropped pants shorten the length of your leg.  A nude color leather with accents such as jute, straw or cork are great summer neutrals with white or khaki pants. 

I hope you have a happy, healthy, fashionable summer!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happier and Healthier

The person you see in the first photo is very unhealthy and unhappy with her body image on all levels. That's me in the Spring of 2011.

Spring 2011

Fast forward a year to the second photo. I lost more than forty pounds!

Spring 2012

I was about to outgrow size 12 pants in the first photo. In the second photo, I'm comfortably wearing size 4 pants. 

In 2010, I averaged two migraines per week. I rarely have even a headache now and the inflammation of joints that caused pain with every movement is gone. A backache that kept me from enjoying working in my flower gardens is gone. I no longer take medications of any kind. My lab test results are now perfect. 

Everyone who sees me for the first time in a few months is amazed at my transformation. The first question is "How did you lose so much weight so fast?" My answer is always "Read the book "Eat To Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman" to learn what to eat and why.


I am happy to report that I have continued to maintain my weight for more than seven years.


While doing research for the world's healthiest foods, I found that many of them were in what I have for breakfast every morning. This is a hot cereal breakfast that keeps me from thinking about food until late in the afternoon. I'm sharing the recipe along with my story in the hopes that I can inspire you to be a healthier happier more energetic person.

Susan's Power Porridge Breakfast

About 3 cups of unsweetened Almond Milk or Coconut Milk (add more if the mixture becomes too thick cook longer if it is too thin.)
2 Tablespoons of steel cut oats
1 Tablespoon lentils (I add a teaspoon each of three colors)
2 Tablespoons flax seeds (I grind them in a coffee grinder)
1 Tablespoon of amaranth
1 Tablespoon of millet
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds  
2 Tablespoons of old-fashioned rolled oats (Added near the end of cooking time. Needs about five minutes of cooking.)
Optional items to add near the end of cooking time:
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds and/or sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon of raw organic pepitas (no shell pumpkin seeds)
1 Tablespoon natural raw walnuts
1 Tablespoon natural raw pecans
1 Tablespoon Hemp Hearts (Sprinkle on top or add at the end of cooking.)
1/4 cup of cooked Teff and or Quiona
1 teaspoon of Red Star Nutritional Yeast (This is not brewers yeast.) It supplies B vitamins. 
3 Large dates (pits removed) cut in half
1 Banana or any fresh fruits you like.
Spices you might like to add, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg or ground cloves. 

 (You may find these items on or if they are not available in your area.)

Heat almond milk to a gentle boil as you add lentils and chia seeds, grains, seeds, and then the oats. Stir well and turn down the heat to medium, continue to stir occasionally. Cook for about fifteen minutes until the lentils are tender. You may need to add more or less almond milk to keep the consistency creamy, not watery.

Add the Nutritional Yeast, nuts and dried fruit, stir and cover to simmer only until the dried fruits have warmed. Cut fresh fruit to add on top. 

This recipe serves two or saves well to refrigerate for reheating. I reheat with more almond milk in a saucepan and add the cold porridge to simmer for a few minutes until it is warm.

Packed with high nutrition this breakfast will help you feel satisfied well into the afternoon.

It's been more than six years since I began this journey. I haven't had so much as a cold since I started eating this breakfast followed by a large vegetable loaded salad late in the day. I drink a lot of water and eat fresh in-season fruits and vegetables daily.

I still have desserts occasionally and I still have a glass of white wine with dinners out with Mr. Mickey a couple of times a week. 90% of the time I eat whole real foods that have not been processed in any way other than perhaps being steamed. Mostly I just wash, chop, and enjoy. 

Countless people have asked me how do you continue to keep the weight off? This is my secret!

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Start!

Starting over is always stressful but later in life it can be downright overwhelming. You might think that getting a whole new wardrobe would be great fun but I'm finding that not to be the case. 

During the past year I lost more than thirty-five pounds. That equates to size 12 pants that were too tight to size 6 pants that are too loose in the rear. None of the old familiar favorites that have carried me through in the past will work for me now. Thus begins the monumental task of rebuilding a wardrobe that took years to acquire.

The pieces I've chosen above can be mixed and matched to get the most out of my investment. The exception would be the lighter blue jacket. It is more dressy and would only be worn with the black pants or a black skirt for evenings.  

My goal is to build a core wardrobe of basic pieces which easily move from day to evening and for any event. These pieces can be updated with accessories and layered over tops with interesting details or pops of color to make them current. 

I look for shapes and details that are appropriate for my body type. My upper body is still too thick as compared to my lower half. Instead of boxy large collar jackets, I look for deep V, single breasted closures or no closure at all. Lapels are notched high and upward with smaller or best of all, no lapels. This draws the eye up to my face which is quite round. To balance the roundness I look for lower scoop neck or V-necks in a simple style and sleek material. Showing a bit of skin above the cleavage elongates the face. (At fifty-five, I don't show wrinkly cleavage on purpose.) 

The shape of a jacket or blouse should be nipped in a bit at the waist but loose enough so that the back is smooth. Boxy jackets or ones that are too long will overwhelm me and make me look older and shapeless. My waist has always been thick but wearing a shapeless high neck jacket with a round collar or a chunky knit cardigan makes me appear to have no neck at all as well as no waist and makes my chin appear to rest right on top of my bust.

I always search for pants and skirts with a plain flat front and ideally a side zipper. Even though I don't have much of a behind, I don't want to draw attention to it with flap pockets or embellished details. I still want smooth very simple pockets on my slacks. Skinny jeans are for the very young and very skinny. I put those acid washed, weirdly faded, embellished jeans in that same pile. I look for dark blue jeans, white jeans and khaki pants with a slightly flared hem and smooth simple natural waistline. 

I prefer blouses with the same waist tailoring and a crisp collar that can be turned up for an extra lift to the eye. I really like three quarter length sleeves and always look for those in blouses, summer weight knit cardigans and crossover detailed tops. Showing a bit of skin at the neck and forearm gives you visual lift and makes you look taller and thinner. 

My calves are thick and short so crop pants are always worn with wedge heel sandals (never...ever high skinny heels). I need the added length to keep my legs from looking shorter and fatter. I have not worn shorts for twenty years and don't intend to start now. 

Wish me luck as I continue my search! I hope sharing this with you has helped you in your search for updates as well. Try writing down what you are looking for and why. It helps narrow the overwhelming choices when it comes to choosing what is right for you. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Grand Petite Possibilities

She is five feet two inches tall and carries a few extra pounds. Her bottom half is a bit rounder and fuller than her top half. This is the silhouette of many women. If this description fits you, then you already know those runway models who look like twelve year old boys in a growth spurt have little in common with you.

The styles shown as the example we should emulate for this season often will make you look even more round and short.

This image shows you some of the styles that might not be the best choice for your body type.

Shapeless cardigan sweaters in a dull color really don't flatter anyone. This one appears to stop at the widest part of your hips. That's something you should always avoid.

Bulky sweaters in bold color combinations with horizontal patterns or strips will break your body into even smaller wider portions.  The same rule applies to bulky stiff jackets and fluffy faux fur, as well as quilted parka type jackets. You should look for sleek, supple textures in colors that complement your skin tone and blend with the other colors in your closet. One color in different hues will literally add the illusion of height and less volume to your shape.

A dress with too many patterns, layers or details can add pounds and make you look even shorter. Look instead for a simple sleek line of one color in a fit that flatters your shape and wear it with accessories that lift the eyes to your face. The hem should be at the smallest part of your leg. In most cases the most flattering hemline will be just below your knee.

Your shoes and boots should also be sleek and simple with a low heel. Chunky shoes and boots will always add pounds. On the other end of the mistake scale is the too slender high heel worn with thick calves. Always consider proportion and fit when investing in new footwear. If they only look good when you are sitting down with your legs crossed, they might not be a good investment.

Wearing socks with a dress and heels is not flattering on anyone.

Shown below are some selections that will more likely flatter your petite frame. The lines are simple and classic. The accessories are scaled in proportion to your body. The pieces can be mixed and matched to get more from your wardrobe. Good things do come in small packages!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Never Give Up!

At a time when my personal life was starting to fall apart, making jewelry became my passion. At first, it was a hobby. My mind overflowed with ideas and techniques I just couldn't wait to try. After a few months, people would stop me in the mall wanting to know where I got my earrings, so I started to do small craft shows. Within a year I was selling to several boutiques in my area, creating styles geared to the clients of that particular shop. I did trunk shows at Nordstrom and in beautiful galleries on the grounds of world-famous resorts.

Creating even simple designs still brings me joy.

For several years I produced collections which included more than one hundred items. Seven sales reps carried storyboards of product and a framed color board with examples of the colors the products available. The line was shown in five major apparel markets and sold in more than two hundred boutiques and galleries, but success came at a price. 

There were times I drove three hundred miles to do a presentation to a boutique owner, who didn't even show up for the appointment. I've sold thousands of dollars worth of inventory to boutiques only for their check to bounce. It wasn't an easy path to keep trying to follow.

My health and creativity suffered from the grueling schedule and mundane act of recreating the same products again and again, so I switched gears.

Ten years into my career I hired a well-known sales rep who specialized in high end one of a kind fashion items in her beautifully appointed showrooms. I was thrilled to be making wearable works of one of a kind art once again. A significant market date was approaching, so I worked day and night to ensure the showroom was well stocked with a vast selection of products for my potential clients. Past show history suggested this would be a very successful show. Days after the show, no payment had arrived. Phone calls were not answered in the showroom or the home of my sales rep. Other artists who exhibited with her also started to call me. We discovered that this woman had taken all of our remaining product and all of our revenue from the show and left the country. The showroom was cleared out overnight. The devastation from this loss was a massive blow to my business and my spirit.

Time passed, and I continued to create. I slowly rebuilt my business, but my faith in humankind was forever changed.

I share these stories from my past with you in hopes that you will be inspired to keep following your dreams, even when the path you've chosen threatens to swallow you up into a black hole. Each of the negative things you experience along your journey will teach you to prepare for the next event in your life. Perhaps someday you will share your story, and it will, in turn, help others.

A few years ago, my hands became so weak from all those years of overuse; I can barely hold a bead cap to thread it onto a head pin. That's just part of the reason I'm so grateful for a chance to share what I've learned with others. I can still be a small part of the design process even if I'm only your supplier. I enjoy seeing what you've created and hearing about your success. 

Never give up!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Fantastic Czech Jewelry

In 1922 Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, and his team were the first to open King Tut’s Tomb. They searched for it for more than seven long years in the blazing heat of the desert. The final resting place of the “boy king” was unknown for more than 3,000 years. The Valley of the Kings has many tombs where kings of ancient Egypt were buried. Almost all of which were discovered and plundered, but the tomb of Kind Tutankhamen continued to elude the treasure-seekers.

King Tut was embalmed in a coffin of pure gold, with one of the world's most famous images on top. The coffin was in the fourth chamber that had been hidden by a sealed door, and Carter's crew took months to break through it. Eventually, all of the treasures in King Tut's tomb would be removed. Many are in the hands of the Egyptian government. Many have been part of traveling exhibits that make their way to museums around the world. Many are in the hands of private collectors. I was privileged to see the exhibit while in Cairo in the 1980's.

The influence of this discovery changed fashion, architecture and the morals of all civilization. The prim and proper Victorian age had come to an end. The layers of clothes and painted lady mansions suddenly seemed so out of style as women bobbed their hair and bound their chests to fit the style of the roaring 20’s.

Czechoslovakian artisans became very popular during this time. They were using techniques developed in the 13th century for glass-making. Gem cutters adapted the technique of gem engraving with copper and bronze wheels to their glass technique.

Bohemia was a part of the former Czechoslovakia, now part of the Czech Republic, and was famous for its beautiful and colorful glass. The history of Bohemian glass started with the abundant natural resources found in the countryside.

Bohemian glass-workers discovered potash combined with chalk created a clear colorless glass that was more stable than glass from Italy. It was at that time when the term Bohemian crystal emerged for the first time in history to distinguish its qualities from the glass coming from other places. As opposed to usual perception this was non-lead. This Czech glass could be cut with a wheel. In addition, resources such as wood for firing the kilns and for burning down to ashes were used to create potash. There were also copious amounts of limestone and silica.

During World War II the production of the fabulous works of art ceased. We may never experience this freedom of design and quality of old world workmanship again in human history.

More information about this jewelry can be found in the book "Baubles, Buttons and Beads The Heritage of Bohemia". It is my hope that seeing these beautiful pieces will inspire you and make you smile.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Sweet Summer Day

One sunny day many summers before Alzheimer's ultimately took away her memories, my sister and I visited with our beloved paternal grandmother.

She showed us countless pictures, cards and letters from family members we had not seen in many years. It seemed to me on that day that she already had a premonition of what was to come. She was holding on so tightly to anything that would preserve her precious memories of the family she treasured above all else.

She seemed to know long before she was diagnosed with this illness, what her destiny would be. Her life was entirely devoted to giving her all to her husband and nine children. Her pride and joy were her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. An inner voice was telling her to enjoy those memories and share them with those she loved so that they would not be lost forever.

I've often thought back to that day. It was just the three of us, so our visit was quite and unhurried. We listened as she talked about ironing stacks of blue jeans for her boys. She told us about getting up early in the morning and starting the fire in the stove in the kitchen so that when everyone got up, the kitchen would be warm for them and breakfast would almost be ready.

I'm so glad I thought to ask her where we came from. She looked at me as if no one had ever asked that of her before. "Where did our people come from? Do you know which country?" She smiled and shared the story of how her grandfather stowed away on a ship with only a few coins in his pocket and no knowledge of English. He was only fourteen years old when he and a sixteen-year-old uncle set off on the greatest adventure of their lives aboard a ship bound for the new world. They left behind their whole family in Norway, knowing they might never see them again, to find a better life in America.

Many years have passed since that day and our sweet visit with our grandmother. She just turned ninety-six years old a few days ago. She no longer knows who we are or even who she is. My sister and I are getting older too. I wanted to share this story with all those who descended from this wonderful lady so that you may share it with your children someday.

Rest in peace dear sweet lady.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pendant Lesson Using Raw Brass

Functional elements such as bails and clasps are required in every project in order to make the piece wearable. Consider a pendant without a bail for example. The pendant would not face forward if you simply threaded a ribbon or chain through its loop. Standard loops are attached to the top of the setting with the hole facing the same way as the setting, so a bail is needed to join the chain to the pendant loop. A bail is often the least attractive component in an otherwise fabulous design. A pretty pendant is missing something if only a simple large rather ugly jump ring is used as a bail.

Failing to consider the style of these elements can ruin the balance of an otherwise beautiful piece of jewelry. I believe that every part should complement the main focal point. As in architecture and interior design there are periods that blend well and those which simply do not.

In this lesson I've included some of the new raw brass pieces which just arrived. Raw brass is a great base metal which allows you to experiment with design elements, patinas and even soldering if you wish.

The items pictured above were joined to form the base for a dramatic pendant. The long narrow embossed piece was formed into the shape of a bail and joined to the triangle with a loop and the openwork oval. I trimmed away some of the wide flat end so that it wouldn't interfere with the lie of the next piece.

I added a smaller oval filigree to the back to both cover the glue and reinforce the point where the pieces were joined. Remember to make the back of your piece as pretty as the front.

When you are happy with the basic shape of the pendant you have created, let the glue set for a full 24 hours. If you will be adding stones to your pendant you should add settings or bezels to hold the stones. Proper mounts or settings not only protect the stones, they add a finished more professional look to your work.

Ensure the settings have a level place to rest. You may have to add a few more elements to the base for stability. The openwork square was the right shape to give the setting a more solid fit.

The next step will include adding patina so the glue must have enough time to completely cure. I used E6000 glue so I allowed the project to air dry for a full day before proceeding.

In this case the aged patina is achieved by using flat black craft paint. You can experiment with numerous colors of paint but I like the look of aged gilt. I applied paint to the whole piece and right away used an old cloth to wipe away most of the paint. The next step is to use a soft toothbrush to remove even more of the paint.

When you have achieved the level of antiquing you desire, you must seal the brass to preserve the finish. There are several products you can use for this, but our Renaissance wax polish is among the best for this purpose. Raw brass is great for manipulating and adding your own patinas but if you fail to seal the piece it will eventually turn to colors you may not like.

Now that you have assembled, antiqued and sealed your pendant you may add the beading, stones and chain. Your work of art is ready to enjoy.

(List of materials by item number used in this project from


Click on image to enlarge.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What Villa?

My classmates and I were in a social science class in seventh grade. We were having a discussion about what our lives might be like at the turn of the century. That fateful day was about thirty years away. My little girl dreams came from the only small town life I had ever known. I envisioned a life with a loving husband in a white two-story house in the suburbs of a large city far away. Our children, a boy, and a girl were playing with a golden retriever underneath the oak trees at the edge of our lawn. Simple, sweet, secure was how I saw my destiny.

When the waning years of the last century finally arrived, they found me not in a happy home but in the middle of an agonizing divorce from the man I loved so much my heart felt as if it would implode. I loved him even after more than thirteen years of emotional abuse that often left me crying in a heap on the floor. As he drove off into the sunset with his new girlfriend, I stood at the jagged edge of the end of my world.

I had invested everything I could borrow and every ounce of energy I possessed into our home and my jewelry design business. When our marriage ended, I had no reliable income to speak of yet. I had just begun to show at the Fashion Markets, and the boutiques were finally starting to buy my work. I had no savings, insurmountable debt and no refuge from this storm. When we sold our home and almost everything we owned, there still wasn't enough to pay all that we owed.

 At forty-five years old I was in deeply in debt, homeless and emotionally destroyed. When an old friend offered me a place to live in exchange for caring for him during his last years of life, I felt as if an angel had offered me his hand.

 Many years have passed since that ultimate sadness.

My villa in the snow.
At last, I have a home of my own. It's only a few miles away from that classroom where I dreamed of a happy life so long ago. There are no children, and there is no dog. There isn't even an oak tree. Those dreams of a family of my own never came true, but I do own two businesses, and I am happy spending time with my dear Mr. Mickey. I am very grateful for this part of my life, but it is so different from the one I imagined in the restless dreams of my youth. 

C'est la vie. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

It's only string!

The cost of the materials used to create the work of art has no bearing on the cost of the finished piece. Consider the fact that a Rembrandt is just oil paint on canvas.

I've been trying to convey this message to the budding designers who buy their supplies from my company for many years. Artists create a tangible work born from their unique vision. The cost of that finished work of art has no correlation to the cost of the raw materials. This is so difficult for new artists to grasp. If you are paying yourself only to assemble pieces of metal or stone or wire.... you are nothing more than a machine.

This is a story I read many years ago but it has remained relevant throughout my life.

Thousands of years ago in a medieval village in a far away land a merchant was selling beautiful rugs he had woven with his own hands from humble materials. The rugs were unique in their design because the weaver had been taught the technique by his grandfather.

He had been practicing this craft since he was a young boy. His work was flawless and intricate, always a thing of beauty to behold and a treasure to pass on to your children.

One morning an arrogant old woman approached his stall in the marketplace. After silently studying his rugs for a long moment, she asked the price of one particularly beautiful rug. When he unapologetically told her the price for the elegant rug, she spat back at him, "What? It's only string!" 

He took the rug from her hands, untying strategic knots and unraveling the whole thing before her horrified gaze. "No madame... now it is only string."

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Toddy-time Daddo!

Returning from my morning walk, I would often see him sitting alone on the little porch of his apartment. He would sometimes wave and smile as I passed. One brisk day in September, dark rain clouds were gathering, so I called out to him that I thought it might rain today. He cupped his hand to his ear to let me know he could no longer make out words from that distance, so I moved closer to his chair and repeated myself. His happy smile and sparkling eyes told me that he was grateful that I had taken a moment to speak with him. Thereafter, I often stopped to chat with him.
Christmas at Jane's
This elderly man with his gnarled hands and silver gray hair sitting on his porch watching the world go by, was often my only contact with another person. I had recently moved back to my hometown after living in a large city in another state for more than twenty-five years. The new business I brought with me was operated from my home, so my workdays began before dawn and ended only when I became exhausted.  Socializing was not on my list of priorities. After more than ten years of making many sacrifices and working two jobs, I was newly divorced and grieving over the loss of the life I had worked so hard to achieve.  I poured my shattered heart and broken spirit into my work. It was my sanctuary.
I had no way of knowing that the man with whom I sometimes stopped to visit had owned many successful businesses including the 7-up Bottling Company in his younger days. Those facts were only revealed to me over the course of many visits as he recounted his favorite memories of his long life. He loved to tell me about his children and grandchildren who called him "Daddo". He would often tell me about his elegant mother whom he adored. He was born in 1909 in a house only blocks from his apartment. During the course of the next five years, I became an honorary member of his family. We spent many holidays and birthdays together.

When he was feeling up to the journey we would have a lunch date. I would often walk over with a glass of wine to sit with him on the porch and listen to him share his memories as twilight descended. He enjoyed telling me of the cocktail hours at the Country Club and the Hurstleigh Club in days gone by.  

Guy S. Carr driving with his father. circa 1924
When the sun was shining and the air was sweet with spring flowers, I would sometimes take him for a ride in the countryside. As I followed his lead turning down this road or that, he would share his memories as we drove along. "See those stone steps leading to nothing but a yard? There used to be a grand hotel there called the 'Austin Springs'. My parents stayed there on their honeymoon in 1904. It burned to the ground a long time ago." As we were driving across a small bridge one day, he told me "We used to ford this stream in a surrey when my Mother and a servant would take us for a picnic and we would spend the whole day beside the lake." On another trip he told me "This is the same path the wagon trail followed. I remember playing in the ruts it left when my brothers and I were little boys. The pony express came through here too." He remembered the first car that anyone in our town owned. He shared his memories of the lumber yard his family owned and of caring for their mules that delivered ice and coal to homes. As we drove through some of the older parts of our town, he pointed to what is now a garage. "That was a stable. When people didn't have cars, there was a stable near the house where they kept their horse."
A few times he called me to come to help him. Older people often fall because their sense of balance and legs don't work the way they once did. When he fell, his delicate skin would tear so easily. I would bandage his wounds, which sometimes required an emergency room visit. Through these events, he became more determined than ever that no one should know how fragile he had become. He always asked me not to tell anyone. That's why he would often wear a long sleeved shirt in July. He desperately wanted to maintain his independence and remain in his home.

In the hours before his death, I was there with his daughter at his bedside. Our last goodbyes were like all the others. He shared his wisdom and gave his love unconditionally. A relationship that began with what I thought was a good deed on my part, rewarded me with a dear friend whom I will never forget and a borrowed family that I respect and admire so much. My dear friend taught me many life lessons and about running a business. He shared his firsthand account of the history of our area like no other could for he had lived here for a century. I was truly blessed to have his friendship.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Treasures in the Attic

Children growing up in the middle of the twentieth century didn't have lots of toys and games like the children of today. My sister and I had bikes, a tiny record player, puzzles, coloring books and a swing set in the yard.

My parents are hard-working, very conservative, reserved people who do not believe fun is a priority. It was unlikely, given this type of environment, that my sister and I would ever be exposed to any cultural activities such as ballet classes or music lessons.

The course of our lives changed dramatically when I was in sixth grade. We moved into a large three-story house which once belonged to a professor at the local college. It was on a tree-lined street with lots of other kids our age to play with. The yard was large with rolling hills and lots of trees to climb. It was often the meeting place for kids and dogs of all sizes and shapes.

We loved our new house with its hardwood floors and happy kitchen with lots of windows. Our new bedroom was on the third floor with an adjacent large playroom, which remained mostly empty.

In the bedroom we shared, there was a small hidden door. The door opened into a large dark, dusty attic where the previous owners had left behind old books and records which became our favorite toys. The records were the thick 33 1/3 gramophone RPM type from the 1930s and early 1940s. To my sister and I, these records and books were amazing treasures which carried our young imaginations far away.

We soon made friends with a girl in the neighborhood who had taken ballet classes. She taught us a few ballet steps and allowed us to dress up in her old dance costumes. We thought we were so beautiful as we were gliding across the floor of our empty playroom to the music of Swan Lake and Autumn Leaves.

I've always been grateful for those childhood experiences which opened new doors for me and allowed me to appreciate classical music and ballet. I also developed a great love for classic literature while reading those left behind stacks of books such as "Gone with the Wind" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" over and over again. Those forgotten treasures in the attic revealed a world I might never have discovered if we had not moved into that interesting old house.