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Pie and bicycles.

I made a pie last night.  I’m “giving up” sugar, by which I mean I’m doing my best to not eat quite so many pastries, candies, and sweets.  This is a little about my weight, and mostly about avoiding dire health consequences that my folks are currently scrambling to mitigate.  But sometimes “doing my best” means that I make pie because it’s less bad for me than the ice cream sandwich the size of my hand.  If you haven’t had them yet (and you like such things) CoolHaus ice cream sandwiches are fantastic.  But so is pie.

Last night, I made the best pie crust I’ve ever made.  And it’s all because we got lost on  bike tour.

My family has pie at Thanksgiving, and maybe Christmas, and that’s about it.  Mom isn’t a fan of making pie crust if she can avoid it; she actually threatened to buy it last year, but I offered to make the crust instead.  Occasionally, we’d have apple pie, and there’s that infamous Peach Pie Incident… Suffice to say that I was never really into pie as a kid, and I was especially not into pie crust.  I mean, ew.  It’s bland and boring and kind of tough.  What’s to like?  So I just never bothered with pie.

Three?-ish? years ago, I went on my first ever bike tour.  A couple of my friends and I packed up camping gear and food and lots of water and sunscreen and rode our bikes up over the California coastal hills into the Central Valley.  It was a long climb, followed by 18 miles of downhill; smooth sailing!  Then we road through the Central Valley; it’s flat as a pancake, but it’s pretty, and we camped at Caswell Memorial State Park, which sits on the banks of the Stanislaus River.  It was stunningly pretty, though it was pretty evident from the look the Ranger gave us that they didn’t get many cyclists camping there.  We got the same look from a different Ranger in the morning when we left.

And then we got chased by Chihuahuas.  Before breakfast.  They run surprisingly fast, and they actually were gaining on us by the time we noticed them; it took us a good half mile of sprinting to ditch them.  Finally safe from the resident mini-wolves, we cruised into town to grab a solid breakfast before we headed back over the hills to home.  We eventually found the restaurant we’d planned on, but it took us a while because street names can be kind of stupid, especially when you’ve never been to the town before.

After breakfast, during which I introduced my friend who grew up in Israel to Pigs in a Blanket (he was mildly horrified), we headed out of town… and found out that since our map had been printed, there’d been a huge construction boom.  We got thoroughly lost and had to backtrack several times.  It was frustrating, and especially demoralizing because we ended up on busy streets and highways when we had been planning to avoid them.  Finally we ended upon back on track.  10 miles along our route, we saw a sign that said “Road Closed”.  Next to it was a produce stand advertising ludicrously cheap avocados and other delights, including Apricot Pie.  Pie sounded better than backtracking another 10 miles, and I love apricots, and had never had them in pie, and one of my friends is very much into pie, so we were seriously considering stopping.  Sure there were only three of us to eat a whole pie, but honestly?  That would be ok.  But then, in a shocking twist of fate, the Israeli friend checked his phone and actually had reception!  So he checked Google Maps for an alternate route; none of us wanted to backtrack.  I was busy staring at that Apricot Pie sign and dreaming.  Sure, I’m not that into pie, but it still sounded pretty amazing.

Technology came through for us, not with an alternate route, exactly, but with the suggestion that our route might not actually be closed… A thin grey line marked as a bike route ran where our road was supposed to have.  We decided to skip the pie and go find out if the grey line actually was a bike route, or if we were going to be backtracking after all.  It was decided that if we did end up having to backtrack, we’d stop and have pie, because, well… pie.  And more food while cycling basically always sounds like a great idea.  And then we could also tell ourselves that backtracking didn’t suck so much; at least we were getting pie out of it…

But we didn’t end up getting pie.  Instead, we passed the “Road Closed” sign, and rode our bikes on an actual road for another quarter mile before we found a badly paved not-even-one-lane-road that looked like it might actually take us where we wanted to go.  So onward we went.  That weird little path, as it turned out, was kept paved and maintained by a local bicycle group.  We wrote them a thank-you note, because, seriously, backtracking sucks.  I was so happy to be back on route that I hardly even mourned the lack of pie.  The rest of the ride went without incident, and we returned triumphant, and exhausted, and desperately in need of a shower.

But the apricot pie that I didn’t get to try kept coming back to me.  I could not get it out of my head, and I do like a challenge, and pie crust is supposedly quite the challenge.  So I started looking at pie recipes.  I made dozens of pies; apple, peach, strawberry (not my favorite), chocolate, and finally apricot.  I’m a pie convert now.  I adore pie.  And I love the crust, when it’s done right.  Pie recipes, though, are kind of weird.

Fruit pie filling is pretty much a method rather than an actual recipe, a lot of the time.  Chop up enough fruit of your choice to fill your crust, and then a bit more because it cooks down.  Toss it with sweetener and thickener of your choice, toss it in your crust and bake.  I tried cornstarch, I tried tapioca (turns out, I find it incredibly bitter), I tried doing without, I tried flour, rice flour… you name it.  But I like corn-starch the best; the tapioca was pretty, it turns clear when you bake it, but the corn tasted better.  Rice flour works about the same as corn-starch, and I was unimpressed with regular flour.  I found that mixing my sugar and starch together and then sprinkling it over the fruit gave me the most even coating, so that’s usually how I do it these days.

Pie crust isn’t really a recipe, either.  Pie crust is flour (of some kind), solid fat of some kind, and liquid of some kind, combined with technique.  The flour is usually white all-purpose flour; I personally like using about 2/3 AP flour and 1/3 Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.  Your liquid is usually water with occasional additives; apple cider vinegar and vodka are popular, the cider vinegar gives the crust a pleasant, subtle flavor.  Often, recipes add a bit of sugar or salt to the crust for flavor, but be wary of recipes that call for much more than a Tablespoon of sugar; it will make your crust tough.

The fat in pie crust is something people get really really vehement about.  Some people swear by lard, some by butter.  Nobody recommends margarine.  I prefer the flavor of butter, but texture-wise, I get good results with butter or shortening, and with Earth Balance.  Earth Balance is a vegan butter substitute that I started using because several of my friends are vegan.  I keep using it because hot damn does it make the crust easy to work with!  For whatever reason, Earth Balance makes the un-cooked crust so much easier to handle; it doesn’t stick as much, it doesn’t tear when you transfer it to your pie pan.  It makes a more tender and less flaky crust than butter, but technique can help with that, and honestly, it’s a reasonable trade off in my book.  I think it smells funny, but it tastes fine to me, and I often use it in my crusts even when I’m not planning to feed vegans.  Make no mistake, though.  Margarine, Imperial Butter Substitute, and the like are not to be trusted.  They’ll give you icky, chewy results that just taste off.  Liquid fats will also not work; the fat needs to be solid in order to make the crust flaky.

You can get away with screwing around with your ingredients if your technique is good, but if your technique is bad, no amount of perfectionism in the ingredients stage will save you.  I tried many many different pie crust recipes, and I think they failed to adequately emphasize the importance of technique.  Of course, nobody wants to tell you that the first six times you make their recipe, it’s probably not going to be that good.  I really like this recipe from Smitten Kitchen: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Crust.  She offers some really solid advice for technique, and the ingredients work well for me.  I also incorporate some technique from an Indian cookbook I have, written by a gentleman named Raghavan Iyer.  He suggests that, when making Samosa dough (which is basically pie dough) you knead the dough with your hands two or three times to smooth it out.  I now often leave my water/flour mixture a little dryer than the recipe calls for, and turn it over itself a few times with my hand.  I also incorporated my experience making laminated dough (this is a pain in the ass, but fun), and I leave large chunks of butter in my crust, about the size of the end of my finger so that when I fold the dough over, the butter flattens out and folds over itself to make even more glorious flakes.  I also tend to bake my pies a little extra; I like it when the crust is on the darker side of golden brown because it tends to be more crisp and flavorful.  Crust that still tastes like uncooked flour makes me sad.  To that end, I’ve started experimenting with different baking techniques.  The pie I made last night went into a metal pan, and that gave me the best result yet.

There’s a lot to love about pie.  You can stuff with basically anything; fruit fresh or raw, custards, mousse, stew, veggies… roasted beets and feta is an excellent combination.  Once you’ve got some practice, pie comes together very very quickly so you can look like a rockstar when you get unexpected guests.  Whole uncooked pies freeze well, so you can save some of the summer bounty for the middle of winter to remind you that the sun still exists.  Pie dough keeps well in the fridge for days, so you can make it ahead of time and serve fancy quiche for breakfast with basically no effort, and you’ll still have some dough left to make tarlets for a weekend dessert.  It’s super easy to make vegan, so you can look courteous and thoughtful at your next office potluck.

I’m really into pie, these days.  It has become one of my go-to desserts.  It’s especially nice now, in Summer and in conjunction with my sugar ban because fresh fruits hardly need any sweetener to be a delicious dessert.  It’s an excellent harm-reduction option for me, because it’s something I love even when I’m not trying to give up sugar.   It’s been a delightful challenge, and I expect I’ll keep practicing the art; one can always be better and it’s not like anyone minds helping me eat the experiments.

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Spinning and meditation

Russian style supported spindle
Russian style supported spindle


I started learning to spin yarn because I thought it might be meditative, and pleasant, and I’d had no success learning to meditate in the other ways I’d tried.  I picked up a drop spindle and some beautiful red wool from a lovely woman at the NorCal Ren Faire, and she was kind enough to gift me with some of her time and a bit of instruction.  She told me what a “leader” was and how to get started spinning.  She warned me to not drop the spindle if I could avoid it (I couldn’t, as it turns out) because it could knock it off balance or loosen the whorl.  She told me about plying.  I spent a lovely hour or so with her, talking and learning, and if I was a terrible student, she didn’t seem to mind.  Eventually, I needed to head off, and I said my goodbyes.

You know how, when you’re learning something new and you’re working with your teacher, everything can seem clear and understandable and simple, and then you get home and you can’t imagine how on earth you ever thought you understood any of it?  That was sort of how I felt about the drop spindle.  The spindle is a ridiculously simple tool.  You literally just spin the damn thing and let wool out between your fingers and it makes yarn.   It should not be difficult, damn it!  But ooooh my it was.

Upon arriving home, I had a couple of really major problems that I hadn’t had while sitting at Faire with my kind instructor.  One was named Ed, and one was named Mo; my adorable kittens thought the drop spindle was a fantastic toy, and were completely delighted that I’d brought it home for them.  I also could not for the life of me get my loose wool to attach to my leader, and my yarn kept breaking because I couldn’t keep the fiber even and thick enough, and it was slow, and frustrating and horrible.  I tried for HOURS, and was so frustrated with it that I put it aside and didn’t pick it up again for months.

Sometimes when I’m learning something new, I need time to let the knowledge sink in, like lotion on skin.  I learn the thing, I try the thing, it goes horribly.  I stop doing the thing for a few weeks, and then try again, and it inexplicably makes much more sense and is totally doable.  When I picked up my drop spindle, I had some hope that it would be like that.  That my abject failure a few months earlier would have given way to at least a little bit of the needed muscle memory and that I could maybe possibly spin a piece of yarn long enough to actually need to wind it back onto my spindle.  Or at least be less horrible at the whole thing.  I did shut my cats out of the room, and that at least made things less distracting.  That was about the only thing that had improved, though.  I tried for a couple more weeks with the drop spindle, and then I decided it wasn’t for me after all, and gave it away to a friend of mine.

I didn’t think anymore about it until several years later when one of my partners mentioned to me that he’d seen someone making yarn while sitting on a bench in San Francisco.  We chatted a bit about how one would do that, and he mentioned that the person had been using a knothole in the wood of the parklet to keep the point of the spindle from moving around.  Wait, what?  I had never heard of such a thing.  I pestered my partner until he gave me all the details he had; I hadn’t misunderstood, the person spinning had been keeping the spindle stationary, resting on the ground and spinning from it.  How weird!  I immediately went looking for what could have been going on there.

It turns out, there’s two major kinds of hand spindles: Drop Spindles, which was what I’d used before, and Supported Spindles, which are spun like a top resting on the ground or in a bowl and one moves one’s hand instead of the spindle to draw out one’s yarn.  It makes sense, of course, that if you call a thing specifically Drop Spindle, then there’s probably other kinds of Spindle out there, but it had never occurred to me.  It turns out that supported spindles are used with shorter length fibers because the weight of the spindle doesn’t need to be supported on the yarn… and I could get into the technicalities of it, but ultimately, I found several different styles of support spindle, and the Russian style were completely beautiful, and also inexpensive, so I bought one.

I turned to YouTube to learn how to use the thing, and it turns out there’s some excellent videos out there explaining how to use a supported spindle.  A woman with the user-name Fleegle offers some beautiful videos that I found particularly useful.  In very short order, I started spinning real usable yarn.  I learned the appropriate flick to make my spindle spin for ages, and it was beautifully weighted and beautifully straight, and a joy to use.

I spin regularly now.  It’s getting to the point that I need to figure out what the hell to do with all the yarn; I don’t knit or crochet, and I can only foist so much yarn off onto my sister.  I’m considering picking up a loom, because clearly I need more hobbies.  I’ve started dabbling in the dying of yarn.  I seriously considered dying some of my yarn with the blue hair-dye I was using for a while; the thought of a scarf matching my hair delights me.

It turns out that now, finally, spinning is quite meditative.  I was right, after all.  I can let my mind wander or go blank while I spin in ways that I never could when I tried more deliberate meditation techniques.  I also started practicing mindfulness meditation, and the spinning is interesting there, too.  I can lose myself in the feel of the fiber twisting and extending under my finger-tips, and the way my arms move to draw the fibers out, and the gentle tug of the spindle as it wraps the yarn around itself on its spin.

I have lost myself in spinning for so long that my hand has cramped from flicking the spindle and the muscles of my thumb were sore for days.  Spinning has become a refuge for me.  I can do it while I talk, while I watch TV, on the bus, in the car.  I can take it with me almost everywhere.  It helps me to think, or to stop thinking.  It helps me find clarity.

Spinning yarn from loose fiber is a kind of magic.  It is very nearly making something from nothing; straw into gold.  I feel as if I can spin off my troubles into my fiber and bind them into my yarn to let me get a good look at them.  Or, in cases where I can’t do anything about them, I can just spin my worries into yarn and let them become something useful, even beautiful.  I will be eternally grateful to that lovely woman who taught me to use the drop spindle.  I still can’t spin on one, but without her, I never would have looked into supported spindles, and I never would have found this peace.

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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.


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.



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



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:

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.



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.





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.



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.




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.

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.




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.



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



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



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.



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.



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.



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!



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

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What is the nature of success?

How do you know if you’ve “made it”? What even is “it”?

Do you have to have a traditional career to be successful? If so, you need to know what that career is pretty early on, and even then, unless your family can afford to send you to college, you’re shit out of luck. Once you’re out of college, it’s a complete crap-shoot about getting a job that can lead into a career, unless you win the Major choice lottery. Many jobs aren’t even structured to let you work your way up anymore; you can’t get into a good company and just work there for your entire career the way our grandparents (let’s face it, actually our grandfathers) did, or even like our parents did, to a lesser extent. So if you have to have a traditional career to be successful… well, the odds are not good.

But don’t lose hope! Why should success be tied to a thing, anyway? A career is just another way of saying that you’ve lived your life by “the rules” and have reaped the benefit of that. But there’s not a lot of benefit there now, so why even bother? I say that is not success.

Do you have to make a ton of money to be successful? If you’re the next Bill Gates, does that mean you’re successful? If so, not many people are allowed to be successful. There’s not much room for Bill Gateses. It feels a little like the Mormon version of heaven: if you win the heaven lottery, you get in, otherwise, no matter what you do, you’re doomed. I don’t think success is such a limited thing. Maybe you just need to be well off? Own a house? um… what *is* well off, anyway? Maybe it’s being able to live on one parent’s income? But what about single people or people who don’t have/want kids? What if both partners would rather not work full time? Maybe success isn’t about money? We can always do with more money, basically until we’re Mr. Gates and I already decided that I refuse to believe that I must be him to be successful, so… let’s say it’s not money. Or, at any rate, it’s not about having LOTS of money.

Ok, so it’s not a career, or lots of money. Maybe it’s not job related at all! Maybe it’s about finding your One True Love! Weeellll… Hold on a second. I married a wonderful man, and I’m very happy in my marriage, but he’s not my OTL. I don’t actually believe in OTLs. I believe we can and do love many people over the course of our lives, and I believe that we can love multiple people at the same time, and that we can act on that love ethically and have multiple relationships at once. So, while I married a wonderful man, I am also seeing a sweet, darling man who has very little in common with my husband, and a tall adorable man who has the unfortunate property of living on another continent. Since I do love more than one person at a time, and I don’t believe there is such a thing as OTL, then finding your One True isn’t success. Especially since some people don’t WANT to get married, or have a live in partner. And, really, we don’t tend to do well with only our spouse around. We need friends and other social contact, too. So, not that, then.

I think we’re on to something with the “not job related” thing, though. And I think it might still be related to relationships. I wonder… everything we’ve talked about so far is probably *somebody’s* definition of success. My mother feels that she was successful in her life because she was able to be a stay at home mom and she raised her kids right (she feels a little like I’m stopping her from total success, though, because I don’t want to give her grandbabies). I think my sister is successful because she has a career she likes (mostly) and it pays her well, and she’s just bought a house. My mom thinks she’s not successful because she’s not married. Mom thinks *I’m* not successful, despite my marriage, because I don’t have kids. I definitely know people who feel that they must be wildly rich to be successful.

So if there are all these different things, then what if everybody’s wrong? Not everybody can be right, right? Well, sort of. I think that behind everyone’s definition of success is another layer, and I believe that layer is the same. I think that we all want to be happy, and our definition of success is the thing we think will make us happy. For me, being happy looks like… what? What does it look like for you? Do you know? Give it some thought, and let me know what your definition of success might be.

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I really like the concept of being an explorer, but what does that mean, these days?

I went hiking this weekend with a group of self-proclaimed explorers; to them, it meant venturing into the unknown in good spirits and taking whatever was thrown at them in equally good spirits.  Unknown wasn’t quite literal, of course.  We were on a well used trail and encountered a lot of other people on our hike.  But very few of this group are experienced hikers, and nobody had ever done this particular hike before, and so nobody quite knew what we were getting into.  I at least knew some folks who’d done the trail before, so I brought extra food and water and was assuming we’d be out for quite some time.

The trail is a loop that took us a good 7 hours.  I think most of the party would have been glad to be done at around the halfway point; certainly that’s when people started running out of water.  We are apparently all foodies, though, because almost everyone brought extra food to share with the group, which I thought was rather cool.  Also, nobody shied away from trying my weird pickled cherries.  Explorers indeed!

When folks started running out of water, I was pretty sure the hike was going to become a lot less fun.  Miserable people are miserable to hike with, after all, and the trail was pretty strenuous.  I do hike pretty regularly, and go backpacking several times a year, and the trail was kicking my ass pretty hard; we hiked on Saturday and now, on Monday, my legs are still so sore that it hurts to move, and I think I was probably one of the more out-doorsey people in the group, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if morale had tanked and people had been unhappy and grouchy.  But nobody was.  We got quieter, but everyone seemed to remain in good spirits, and certainly nobody was overtly grouchy.  Most people seemed to be making an effort to be cheerful and encouraging, and there was much talk of explorers not really knowing what they were in for, but making a solid go of it anyway.

I have been on hikes that were not nearly so strenuous where people got grouchy, and it was extremely unpleasant.  I was expecting some people to get grumpy, because it would have been completely justified, and because our group was so large it was basically inevitable.  I was all set to be encouraging and helpful and cheerful and do my best to keep morale high.  Evidently, so was everyone else.  I don’t think I’ve ever done a hike with people who were in such universally good spirits, and I know I’ve never been on such a strenuous hike with people who were in such universally good spirits.  It was an entirely lovely experience.  I am so impressed with the group.  The hike was longer than advertised, hotter and much more steep than expected, and yet, everyone seemed determined to have fun, and that made all the difference.