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Grace

In case you were worried that I had forgotten about the Nature of Success, I haven’t.  I’ve been ill, and sleeping 20 hours a day, so posting here kinda dropped off my radar for a few days.  I’m feeling much much better now, thankfully, so I want to talk about the concept of Grace.

If you just search for a definition of the word, you get back “simple elegance or refinement of movement” as well as “(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” and finally “to do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.”  Wikipedia has an entire article on the Christian concept of Grace; the first line is “In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as ‘the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.'”

I’m not really Christian, for all I was raised Catholic.  I’m not sure if Grace is given by God, or by Gods, or by the Universe, or maybe it’s just another term for dumb luck.  It is the beautiful things in life that happen to us, not because we earned them, but just … because.  It is being struck by the random beauty of the world, or by the goodness of people.  It’s the red shoes given to me as a gift, out of the blue, by some friends.  It’s waking up to my cat purring next to me.  It’s sunrise through the canyons of my city.  It is the really awe-inspiring moments that we have done nothing to earn; we may or may not deserve them, maybe we were just lucky.

These moments are important to me, not just because they are beautiful.  They are the moments in my life that I look at and find it difficult to believe the Universe is anything other than benevolent.  It is these moments that feel most real and honest to me.  I see the sunlight just peeking over the horizon, straight through the buildings to my eyes, and I feel like someone has offered me a hand up, before I had even realized I’d fallen.  The warmth of the sun on my face, the smell of early morning; I close my eyes and see the light through my eyelids, and for just a moment, all is right with the world.  In that moment, I see what the world can become, and I believe that my actions can help it get there, and I am filled with hope.

For me, Grace is integral to success, because it is the thing that reminds me what I’m working towards.  It gives me hope, and direction.  I will not be successful without Grace; any true success will support an increase of Grace.  Not for me, necessarily, but a net gain in the world.  I have been literally gifted with Grace by my friends; those red shoes I mentioned?  I went to dinner at some of my friends’ house, and was given a pair of beautiful red shoes.  Three friends had gotten together and bought them for me, because they thought that I would like them.  I love them, and I wear them often, they’re comfortable and lovely and having them on reminds me that there are people in the world who love me and think of me.  Those shoes are a constant “just because” hug, a reminder that whether I feel like I deserve it or not, someone thinks I’m worth caring about.

One of the measures of my success will be if the people my work touches can offer such gifts to their loved ones.  Maybe it’ll be a purchased gift, maybe I will teach someone to spin and they’ll make a scarf as a gift, or maybe we will have a conversation and they will realize someone in their life could use a physical reminder of their love.  Maybe you’ll read this, and take more notice of Grace in your own life.

Cataract Trail, April 2015
Cataract Trail, April 2015
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Morse Code Necklace tutorial

This took me rather longer than I was expecting; photographing your own hands without getting in your own way is really challenging.

It’s important to note that, while wire wrapped chains like this are a fairly simple thing to make, they do take a good deal of practice to be *easy*.  My wire wraps are tiny; these days I work with 30 gauge wire, rather than the 24 gauge shown here.  I’ve been making necklaces like this for 15 years (!!!), so if you have trouble or your’s isn’t as neat, don’t worry.  Also, the materials for this necklace can be quite inexpensive.  A five foot length of jewelry wire and some pliers and seed beads will run you around $10 and will give you plenty to practice with.

I chose to make each link one character of the code, either a dot or a dash, and I’m using spacer beads to separate my letters and make the code understandable.  This means that your letters will often be made up of more than one link, because most letters in Morse Code are more than one character.  Some letters, like J and Q can be quite long, so keep that in mind when you design your necklace.  Draw it out on paper and make sure you like the way the word looks before you start to save yourself some grief later.

First, gather your materials.  You’ll need a small quantity of seed beads (the black beads in the bowl), larger spacer beads (the red hearts) and some jewelry wire (the spool, you don’t need nearly this much, 5 to 10 feet should do, depending on your word).  You will also need some jewelry chain, unless your word is particularly long.  Your chain should have links large enough that your wire will go through them easily.  You will also need a clasp; you can either make one, or buy one, your choice.  If you buy one, be sure to buy two jump rings to go with it.  The jump rings will also need to be able to connect to your chain.

Materials: Seed beads, spacer beads, and wire
Materials: Seed beads, spacer beads, and wire

Next, gather your tools.  I use round nose jewelry pliers; they’re around $5 at a bead store, and well worth it if you’re going to do this more than once.  I did actually start out using a toothpick, though, which is what I’ve shown here, so if you don’t want to spend the money, use a toothpick or other small cylinder to shape your rings.  I use nail clippers to cut my wire.  These are childrens’ clippers that were $1 at a beauty supply place, and I’ve been using them for years.  For smaller wire, they’re perfect, and cut closer and more neatly than most tools I’ve used.

Tools of the trade: Round nose pliers, a toothpick, and nailclippers
Tools of the trade: Round nose pliers, a toothpick, and nailclippers

Finally, decide on your word and translate it into Morse Code.  I just googled for a chart, and found the one above.  The word you choose and the letters it contains will decide how many beads and how much wire you will use.  You’ll need 3 seed beads per dash, and 1 per dot.  You’ll need a spacer bead for each letter of your word, plus one extra.  Write out your code on paper to see how things will look and make sure you have enough beads.  I use the backslashes to separate my letters; they’ll be replaced with the red heart beads on the actual necklace.

 

Translate your word into Morse Code on paper ahead of time to save yourself some trouble.
Translate your word into Morse Code on paper ahead of time to save yourself some trouble.

Now that you’ve got everything together, you’re ready to begin.  Cut a length of wire that’s easy to manage, but not too short; I like about 12 inches, but you’ll need to experiment to see what works for you.  Place your toothpick or pliers about an inch from one end of the wire, perpendicular to the wire.  Bend the wire around the cylinder to form a circle with a short tail that runs back along your cylinder.

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I’m switching here to using a bungee cord and large knitting needle so that it’s easier to see what I’m doing.  You should continue with your wire and cylinder.IMG_8558

 

Bring the short tail of wire around behind the long tail, and wrap it around a few times.  It should look a little bit like a noose.  In fact, if you know how to tie a Fisherman’s Knot, or Noose, this is very very similar.

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Once you’ve done that, your wire should look like this:

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Use your nail clippers to trim the short tail as close to the loop as you can.  Be careful not to cut the loop or your longer tail.  If you can’t trim it flush, use your pliers or the handle of the nail clippers to smash it up against the longer tail.  It should now look like this:

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Nice and smooth; this way it won’t catch in your hair or clothes.

You’re going to start with your first letter; your word will be bracketed with spacer beads when we finish, but hold off on that just yet.  Add your beads according to your Morse Code word; each dash or dot will be its own link in the chain.  My first letter is D, which begins with a dash, so I’ll add 3 seed beads and then close off this link.  You may notice that my seed beads look really small; it’s because they are.  I actually didn’t have any standard seed beads around, so these are the micro-beads that I work with; normal seed beads are a bit larger.

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Once you’ve added your beads, it’s time to close the link.  It’s just like starting the link, except you need to leave some space between the beads and your circle so you have a place to wrap the tail.

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Now trim your tail as close as you can, and you’ve got your first link!  If the tail isn’t sitting flush, you can smash it down, but be careful not to catch your beads.  They’re glass, and they will break on you if you smash them with your pliers.  I do this on a pretty regular basis; it’s not scary, just irritating.  They usually snap in half rather than breaking into bunches of little bits, but it’s a good idea to be working over a tabletop or something easy to clean up.

Once your first link is off your cylinder, you can set it aside (don’t lose it!  They tend to roll) and form your second link.  Begin as before, forming a circle with a short tail going back along your cylinder.  This time, stop here, and pull the circle gently off your cylinder, being careful to not deform it.  Now slide your first link onto the short tail, and into the new circle.

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Once your first link is on the new circle, wrap the short tail around the long tail to close your link, just like before.  If you forget to add your links together, don’t worry, you can just do it on the second circle of your link, instead of the first.  Add your next character; in D, it’s a dot, and close your link and trim it as before.

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Keep going until you’ve got your first letter done, then begin a new link and add your spacer bead; in my case, my first letter, D is three characters: dash dot dot, and is followed by a little red heart.

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D <3

Keep going until you finish your word.  _../../…/_._./._././_/../_ _ _/_.

Decide on how long you want your finished necklace; if your word is short enough a bracelet works, as well.  Measure out a length of chain that is the length you want your finished necklace, minus 2 inches (ish).  Now, hold up your finished word, and subtract that length from your chain.  You should now have a length of chain that, once connected to your word, makes your necklace the length you want, minus 2 inches.  Cut your chain; if you’re unsure, cut it a little bit longer than you think you want, you can always make it shorter later.  Cut your chain in half.  Now, make a new link and connect it to your first character.  Close the loop and add a spacer bead.  Before you close the link, slide one end of a piece of chain onto it to make an extension.  Do the same with your last character.  You can see the chain going away from the silver spacer bead on the left of the blue necklace here.

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Check the length of your necklace.  If you’re adding a purchased clasp, simply attach it to your chain with one of the jump rings, and then put the second jump ring on the other chain end as a catch.  Make sure that your clasp is easy to open and close when your word is facing the right way.  For example, I’m right handed, so I want my clasp to go on the right hand side when my word is readable to others; this means the clasp will go on the same side as my first letter.  If you’re left handed, reverse that.

If you’re making your clasp, fold your wire back on itself about two inches from one end.

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About halfway down, fold the short tail at right angles to the rest of the wire.

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Use the tail now sticking up to wrap around the long tail of the wire, leaving a slender closed loop.  Trim your tail flush.

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Fold the slender loop in half over your cylinder to form a hook; you can tweak the end of it upwards if you want to make your new clasp easier to catch.

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Add a bead onto the tail, and form the other end of your clasp just like the rest of your links.  Be sure to add your chain before you close the link.

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On the other end of your necklace, make a regular link; one circle, one bead, one more circle.  Before you close the final end of your link, make sure its big enough that your hook slips into it easily.

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Congratulations!  You’re done!  Wear your new necklace with pride.

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Being a “morning person”

I get accused of being a morning person on a pretty regular basis.  This seems to be based mostly on the fact that I can wake up and be out of the house in under 5 minutes, even at 6am.  Also, once I’m moving, I’m reasonably cheerful and actually functional.  This most definitely didn’t used to be true.

The secret?  Plan your day and lay everything out before you go to bed.  That way, you don’t have to try to make your brain work right after your alarm goes off.  You can just let your body carry you through the morning and out the door and all you have to concentrate on is how pretty early morning light is.

When I was younger, I was constantly at war with my mother regarding the time I was supposed to get up.  My sister and I both played musical instruments, and for a while, Mom felt that we needed to practice in the mornings, before doing anything else, including go to school.  I recall thinking that it was miserably cold, dark and unreasonable to get up so early… I’m pretty sure we were getting up at 6?  Maybe 6:30.  I HATED getting up so early.  It didn’t last long; we started driving ourselves to school which required leaving absurdly early, I think around 7am, because we were picking up a friend and also parking was definitely a *thing* at our school, and if we weren’t stupidly early, there wouldn’t be any.  I hated this, too, and I got good at doing the bare minimum before leaving the house, and doing the rest in the car; I got very good at extremely quick showers and then braiding my hair in the car.  I never bothered with makeup, because seriously, I do not care enough to get up any earlier.  I wore jeans and a t-shirt every day, so wardrobe planning was minimal.

When I got to college, I intentionally chose classes in the afternoons, because screw mornings.  This left me little option, though, when I decided I wanted a job; all my classes were in the afternoon, so I needed to work in the morning.  I ended up in a coffee shop, opening.  This meant I was at work at or slightly before 6:30am every morning.  I was still a college student, so I was routinely going to sleep around 3am every night.  Since I was going to sleep so late, and I was getting so little sleep and I usually was going straight from work to class, it was really important to have all my ducks in a row before I left each morning.  Doing it in the morning failed miserably, every time.  So I started getting my things together each night before I went to bed.

I put my bag and keys in the same place when I came home each night.  I pulled my outfit for the next day and laid it out in the order I would put it on (not kidding, I even laid out my underwear and socks).  I put out any jewelry or accessories that I wanted.  I’d do a mental inventory of my classes for the next day and make sure the books and homework I needed were in my bag.  My shoes lived next to the front door, and I’d pull the pair I was going to wear and put it with my bag.  Anything that could be done ahead of time, I did.  I’d write down the most efficient way I could think of to do all the activities required to get myself out the door, and I’d do them in that order until I thought of a more efficient way, then I’d revamp it.  Yeah, I was kind of weird.  I was also extremely sleep deprived, and I would definitely have failed all of my classes if not for the stupid amounts of planning.

When I left college, I ended up working at yet another coffee shop; this one opened even earlier.  My pre-going-to-bed ritual started to include things like setting the heater and defrost to full blast when I got out for the last time of the day.  My hair regime boiled down to “throw it in a ponytail” while I walked from my car to the shop.  I started writing down the efficient way to open the shop, too, and optimizing it.  I even tried pre-tooth-pasting my toothbrush a few times.  I don’t recommend it.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could get out of the house for work in under 15 minutes, including a shower and cooking breakfast.  If I skipped the shower and breakfast, it was more like 3 minutes from bedroom to starting the car.

I still hate having to be somewhere before 10am.  I still hate setting my alarm.  But if I need to?  I make my own life as easy as possible by planning what I’m going to need with me, and then laying it all out before I go to bed so that I don’t have to worry about it right after my alarm goes off while I’m still super groggy.  I can just head out the door knowing that I have everything I need, and I can enjoy the quietness of early morning.  Morning is truly beautiful if you’re not panicking.  I really love riding my bike early in the morning, or going for a walk.  Even if I’m not keen on getting up, some pre-planning means that I can enjoy the beauty around me instead of frantically trying to make my brain work to get me somewhere on time.

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I’m ok with being disliked.

I used to want everyone to like me.  I used to want, at bare minimum, to be inoffensive.  I wanted to fit in with “normal” people.  But you can’t actually please everybody, and in trying, you’ll end up pleasing nobody, including yourself.  This becomes especially pertinent in my case regarding my shop.

I sell through Etsy, in large part because they’ve solved a lot of the annoying programming and logistical issues that I just don’t have the knowledge and wherewithal to deal with.  Etsy has this particular aesthetic to it.  It’s not unanimous, but it’s certainly prevalent, especially for jewelry.  White backgrounds, short depth-of-field, extreme closeups… sometimes you’ll see a table or a window being used as a background, but those are uncommon.  The photos are very clean, very sanitary.  They remind me of those annoyingly faux “Zen” modern houses where none of the cupboards have knobs and all the towels are white.  They’re very pretty in their uncluttered, streamlined way, but they get old pretty fast.  But, when in Rome… and so I started taking a lot of pictures on a white background in a light box.

There’s a couple of things about this particular photography style that actually make it terrible for shop photos, instead of just kind of dull.  For one thing, a pure white featureless background doesn’t give you a sense of scale.  At all.  And for much of my work, scale is really really important.  It also makes it difficult to engage your customer.  No matter how brilliantly you photograph that bracelet, row upon row of white backgrounds make it easy to overlook your bracelet in search results.  Finally, much like trying to be an innocuous person, if there’s nothing that stands out about your (white background) photo, then there’s nothing for people to latch on to and actually like.

Yes, my personal aesthetic won’t suit everyone.  Yes, I’ll probably have people who hate it.  I’m sure I’m going to hear about a few elements of this latest shoot; I used a fake cigarette, and a flask, and booze.  I’m a terrible person!  Unless you like that sort of thing.  In which case, you’re among friends.

I hope you enjoy the photos.  Look for more of them in the Curiosity Shop; I’ll be updating existing listings and adding new ones soon.

 

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What is the nature of success, pt. II

I was recently gifted an experience that turned out to be a Jungian exercise.  Jung was the guy who came up with the collective unconscious.  Somewhat indirectly, you can thank him for Luke being a whiner and Han being overly clever.  Mostly, though, Jung was one of the founders of modern psychology.  He believed that it was possible to tap into your subconscious using different techniques, and I was able to experience one of them.  It wasn’t as mystical as it sounds, but it was fun.

You are probably not super shocked to learn that the question I was contemplating was “What is the nature of success?”  This is a question that’s been on my mind for some time, because I realized a while ago that I was never going to be filthy rich, so that form of success was pretty much out.  It occurred to me somewhat later that I could actually just choose a different definition for success, and I’ve been pondering that ever since.  I feel almost like I’m cheating; changing the win condition because you don’t think you’re ever going to achieve the original one seems… disingenuous?  Except that success is a game you play against yourself.  We think of it as a giant socially constructed game where everyone agrees upon the win condition, but it’s not.  Most people have answer if you ask them what success is, but they have probably not considered whether achieving that would actually make them happy.  And, really, if “success” doesn’t make you happy, is it really success?  So it becomes a game for and with yourself.  You get to set the win condition to whatever you’d like, because you’re the only person it matters to.

I understood the activity that I took part in as a sort of guided meditation.  After contemplating it for a while, I think I have more information on what success is, for me.  It is less of a state to be achieved and more of a process to be experienced.  I want this experience to include Beauty, Mystery, Grace, and Difficulties.   Isn’t that last one odd?  I *want* my life to include difficulty.  Well, to be honest, it would be boring if everything were easy.  Eating lunch with friends, I commented that I enjoy olives with pits more than olives without.  One of my friends looked at me, and told me “That’s because you like things to be difficult.”  Well, she’s not wrong.

I’ll be back to look a little more closely at what I mean by Beauty, Mystery, Grace and Difficulties.

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Learning curve

You’re going to help me learn a thing today.  Let’s see how this goes.  In theory, if we click that link, it should take us to the Etsy shop.  Let’s find out!

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Hell yeah!  It totally does!  Thanks for your help!