Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wedding Day!

Dream.  Love.                                

I've been hiding a pretty big project for a while, but now I can finally share it!

My sister-in-law got engaged last July.  The wedding was set for 7/7/14 (love the date!) in Greece and my family was looking forward to an amazing trip.  Especially Big and Little, who had fancy new dresses for their roles as flower girls.

As if that wasn't all exciting enough, back around Easter, my sister-in-law and her fiance asked me to make charms that could be attached to their wedding favors.  I was incredibly honored, and thrilled to do it.  They had great ideas about what they wanted, so between that and a few suggestions from me I was off and running!

It started with 100 circles, each 7/8" diameter, in copper and aluminum.  Here they are after I've removed the protective coating and counted them (more than once) to be sure I had enough!


First, I hammered each one with at texturing hammer.  Then the aluminum ones were stamped "DREAM" with a swirl design, and the copper blanks said "LOVE" with a heart.  Fortunately for my sanity, the bride and groom wanted things a bit whimsical so the design stamps didn't need to be perfectly aligned and exactly the same from one charm to another!


No matter how often I washed my hands after adding color to the words and designs for depth/contrast, they still looked like this for about a week.  Well worth it, though!


Finally, I punched a hole in each charm, curved it, and added a jump ring and channel round Swarovski crystal (blue for the aluminum, red for the copper).


The final result -


All that was left was for me to get them safely to the wedding, which was being held in Greece.  I had many a nightmare about being stopped at security with a box full of metal in my carry on, let me tell you!  The wedding invitation was packed in there right along with the charms, just in case, but I made it through security in three different countries/airports without getting flagged.  Not sure if that's a good thing or not...on one hand, I got them there without a hitch but on the other, yeah...I just carried a whole lot of metal on two international and one domestic flight with no questions asked.  Apparently a whole lot of tissue paper can confuse the x-ray machine, in case you're wondering.

It was a huge relief to hand them over to my sister-in-law so she could take them to the florist.  Next time I saw them, they were at each place setting at the reception attached to bouboniera (traditional Greek favors given at celebrations like weddings and christenings, filled with koufeta - Jordan almonds).



Congratulations to my sister-in-law and her new husband!  Wishing them a lifetime of happy dreams and much love.  And of course I have to add a shout out to their gorgeous flower girls for doing such a great job.  Mommy is very proud of you!



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...

Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything.    - John Grossman

I'm beyond impressed at the ability so many bloggers have to put something out there, sometimes as regularly as every.single.day.  And it's stuff people enjoy reading, they aren't just typing out the phone book or sharing obscure poetry (although I'm sure, somewhere in the world, there's an audience for even that).

I haven't posted in almost a month.  Obviously, I am not one of those people.  But if the quote I cited above is true, then I'm very present, right?  That's got to be worth something.

I find blogging to be something of a challenge.  It feels strange to write about myself, and the things I'm doing.  Why would anyone who doesn't know me want to read about it?  Does the fact that Little is finally getting the hang of spelling, or that Big has started her state standardized testing and, for the first year, isn't stressed to the point of tears, mean anything to anyone outside of my family?  Confidence has always been a sticking point for me.  I'm not especially interesting or worthy in my opinion; I'm just a wife and a mom who does what has to be done.  To me, the fact that my house is clean and my kids are, too, along with them being healthy, well-fed, and reasonably decent human beings, is just every day kind of stuff that anyone could do if she wanted to.

Which, I suppose, brings me back to why I blog even though I don't love it.  I started designing jewelry so that my girls grow up realizing that who and what they are is good enough.  That they have the ability to do anything and everything they want in life if only they're willing.  That you don't need to wear a tiara or a cape (or both, if you'd like!) to have super powers.  And the blog is an extension of that, where I get to explain some of the behind-the-scenes stuff and keep a record of the process.

The hope is that they grow up with a quiet, strong confidence in themselves.  I want them to have what I still struggle to find on a daily basis.  I'm getting there, with their help, and this is my way of returning the favor.

I made these for them today -

Sculpey clay hearts, with the handwritten word Love and a crystal.  I'm going to add a cord so that they can wear them as necklaces.  The plan was to try something new that I could possibly add to my jewelry designs, only to realize that while I'd bought the clay, I had no tools to use with it!  So I did the best I could, just to see how I felt about the process.  Props to people who do this a lot.  I'm going to have some serious muscles in my arms from conditioning this stuff!  It was sort of fun to play with, but I'm not sure I want to invest in the items I'd need to really make an attempt at a marketable product.  Regardless, the kids will be excited.

They'll be home any minute.  Can't wait to see their smiling faces!  Unless, of course, somebody got hit, kicked, yelled at or stepped on during the bus ride, or has too much homework.  In which case I'll be seriously tempted to chase down the driver and ask if he'll take them back now, instead of waiting for morning.  :-)  Just kidding, but I will be locking myself in a bathroom in that case, for a little Mommy Time Out.

Have a wonderful day!


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
- Ansel Adams

I've learned lately that there is definitely a difference between "taking" a photograph and "making" one.  The latter requires a lot more work than I ever dreamed.  I've never been a great photographer.  Oh, I've read books like Digital Photograph for Dummies, and even took a half-day hands-on course.  It all went right over my head...terms like depth of focus and white balance and shutter speed went in one ear and out the other.  Things got much better once I embraced my camera-illiteracy.  Compensation comes in the form of a fancy-shmancy DSLR that is decidedly smarter than I am, and on which I rely to make up for my many shortcomings.  For a long time, things were good in picture-land.

That's because with kids, the combo of ignorance and good equipment works pretty well for me.  Big and Little never stand still for pictures anyway.  So the fact that I didn't know an f-stop from a truck stop was never a big problem until I realized that a jewelry business wasn't going to work out too well if I couldn't show my pieces to potential customers.


This was one of my original attempts.  I was all about the backgrounds, and props.  Notice the pinkish white blob in the upper right hand corner - that's the petal of a fairly ugly silk rose.  And the lovely, crinkly purple paper I let Big and Little talk me into (in their defense, it didn't take much convincing...I was thinking my business color scheme, sparkly like fairies, all that jazz).  Would you buy this piece?  I wouldn't, and I 1) made it, and 2) consider it one of my favorites!  But this was the look of my entire Etsy shop when I opened it and I thought I'd done this amazing thing, finally getting everything photographed and cohesive.

After a couple of weeks, during which time I actually managed to sell a couple of items in spite of the photographs, I realized I needed to step up my game.  A lot of Googling tips and tricks helped me decide to simplify things.

Round two turned my dining room table into a photography studio. Immediately I noticed one thing...the background made a difference. Without the deep purple and the sparkly glare, my pieces stood out more.  I still couldn't let go of my prop obsession, which had me painting twigs I scavenged in the yard and using them.   You know, because of that princess in the woods thing (I mean, the company is called Fairietale Designs, after all).  Sleeping Beauty lived in a cottage in the woods, Snow White escaped to them, Merida followed the will o' the wisps through woods, Rapunzel's tower was hidden in the forest.



Well, it sort of made sense and seemed appropriate at the time.  The shop still didn't have that clean, as-close-to-professional as I was going to get look that I wanted, that I saw in so many other shops.  I decided to try again.  This time I used a new approach...clean, simple, outdoors in natural light.  Nothing fancy, just me, my camera, and the jewelry.  What I didn't realize was just how much went into this "simple looking" way of making a picture...the right time of day, knowing where the light was coming from, the dreaded "white balance" (which I'm honestly still faking any true knowledge of!).



This is where I am now.  Perfect? Far from it.  But light years from those original photos!  When I look at my shop, I'm happy with what I see.  It's cohesive.  It's clean.  What jumps out at you is the jewelry, not the colors or the staging or the props.

I'll still never be a pro.  I trash far more pictures then I keep, and I'm grateful if an hour's work yields one or two decent pictures.  But I'm learning.  And as I try to teach my girls, that's what life is all about.  You can teach an old dog new tricks (or, more accurately, the new dog can teach herself as long as she wants to learn).  I hope that Big and Little eventually understand and embrace that idea for themselves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

There's no place like home!

Home is where the heart is.

As well as my very own bed, and the washer and dryer, and an empty refrigerator that left me grateful my mother-in-law sent us home with lots of delicious leftovers to get us through until I could hit the grocery store this morning.  Now I'm into load #2 of laundry and have a fully restocked fridge, so I can start to relax a bit.

I need to...that this morning was a rough one!  First day in a while we were on the clock.  With Spring Break last week, including the long, fun, tiring weekend traveling to visit all of the grandparents, we'd been pretty low key in the AM.  Having to get up by a certain time, eat and dress pretty much right away, and be out the door on schedule did not make for happy campers.  I did attempt to ease the transition out of their holiday-induced sugar coma by whipping up a batch of chocolate babka french toast for breakfast, but from here on out it's detox time!  At least until I break down and we start raiding the huge stash of bunnies and jelly beans I stashed out of sight yesterday hoping for a little candy break.  That whole out of mind part, though, doesn't seem to be happening yet so the raid may not be as far off as I'd planned.

As always, our visit north was a busy one.  Both sides of the family live close enough to one another that a single trip can usually cover everybody, but far enough apart that doing so takes extremely careful time management, a lot of energy, and a dash of luck to get the stars (and schedules) in perfect alignment.  We managed it this time, though!

Arrival was as scheduled, late Thursday afternoon after an uneventful and traffic-free drive.  That night, Big and Little helped dye and decorate eggs at my in-law's house.



Friday included a trip to Carlo's Bakery's new Morristown location.  All of the yummies I remember from my visits to the Hoboken flagship store, but a much more manageable crowd.  I recommend it if you're ever in the area.  In fact, the whole area makes for a nice visit since it's very walkable with lots of cute gift shops, specialty stores, and various choices for a quick snack or full meal depending on your preference.

On Saturday, we spent the day with my family.  Tops on the agenda was a trip to the baseball field where arrived in time to catch my youngest nephew in his first at-bat of the season.  Check out that swing!  


Back at my sister's house, we hung out for a while so the adults could chat and the cousins could play.  Then it was time for my sister's family to head back to the field for round 2 (both of my nephews play so they have multiple games each weekend), so my parents, the girls, and I said goodbye and started back to Mom and Dad's house.  On the way we made a stop for dinner at a diner we all love.  I think my veggie omelet was the biggest one I've ever seen!  Big and Little, of course, had pancakes.  Any excuse to eat breakfast for dinner, and where better than a New Jersey diner?  One of the many things I miss about not living there any more.

We spent the night at my parents' so that we could head back to my in-laws house well rested and ready for the Easter festivities on Sunday.  There's always a huge crowd, amazing food, and the guest of honor -




Yep, a lamb on a spit right there in the yard. You get used to seeing it as the years pass and I do have to admit that it's tasty.  But it's sort of like the dentist...once (or twice) a year because it's the thing to do, and that's enough for me.  While it was cooking, I spent some time chatting with my sister-in-law about my next major jewelry project.  I'm making charms that will be part of her wedding favors.  Specific details are, of course, hush-hush right now, but I can say that I'm excited about it!  I'll be sure to share pictures after the wedding.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Well, that's another great Easter/Passover finished (or will be come sundown).  Hope you enjoyed whatever you celebrated!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Break

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go...

I woke up at 6:15 this morning.  On the first school day of Spring Break, when hopefully Big and Little will sleep in.  What was I thinking?  Obviously, I *wasn't* thinking.  Or maybe I was thinking too much since my to-do-list for today is way too long and seems to keep growing every minute.  Writing this blog post wasn't on that list, by the way.

Something that is high on the list is packing for a short visit to the grandparents'.  Fortunately, both sets live within 90 minutes of each other so knocking them both off with a single trip North is totally doable.  Big and Little are excited.  Little already started the process, as you can see -


We drive a minivan, but let's be realistic.  I managed to help her whittle things down to what she can fit in the backpack, plus the pillow pet in the bottom right hand corner (the purple blob...if you turn it over, it's actually a light up unicorn, a must have for any over night trip!).  She was surprisingly agreeable about it.  Oh, did you notice that there aren't actually any clothes in that pile?  At least not for a human-sized child, since there are a couple of cute doll outfits included.  My kids have their priorities.  Clothes, toiletries, basically useful stuff, are Mom's problem.

I'm ready on that front, though.  In anticipation of the trip, I spent a good part of the weekend hauling up the boxes of spring/summer clothes from the basement closet, unpacking them, and sorting the stuff into the girls' dresser drawers and closets.  You know this means we'll have snow next week.  That's ok, since  I left the boxes that I repacked with the fall/winter stuff upstairs for easy access.  I'll wait until July to bring them down two flights and force them into the closet.  And all the while I'll remind myself that's not laziness, it's being prepared.

Speaking of weather related things, did you have a lot of snow days in your school district?  We missed 11 this year.  Just found out last Friday that the school board has voted to extend the year one more day to account for all of them.  We now get out of school on Wednesday, June 25.  Crazy, if you ask me.  Since the original school calendar had the final day as Friday 6/20, everybody has vacation and camp and other plans that next week.  School is going to be a ghost town.  Big and Little can be the Sheriff and Deputy, because we're here so they're going.  Another entry on my long list of "Mother of the Year" qualities.

It's going to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood today.  I plan to try and spend some of it outdoors, exhausting...I mean entertaining!...the kids.  Maybe knock a few things off my to-do-list in the process since a big one is all new photographs of the jewelry and I'm doing that outside.  Big was an amazing photographers helper yesterday when I got started.  Here's a sample, using the pendant she designed for me -



But if I don't get much done, though, that's ok, too.  It'll all still be there later but Big and Little won't always be home for Spring Break wanting to hang out with me.  I'm going to grab onto that while I still can.

Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cinderella

Proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life.

I took my life in my hands today.  Well, maybe not literally, but still...I braved the mall on a Sunday afternoon and that's pretty close.

Although, I must have earned some good behavior points because things went pretty smoothly.  The goal was new shoes for all of the ladies in the family.  I didn't end up getting anything because I know what I want, and the best store for buying them doesn't have a location in this particular mall.  The girls were successful and two out of three isn't bad.  Plus I'll probably enjoy shopping for my own shoes more when I don't have an entourage.  I got the part done that requires other bodies, since I can't take their feet shopping without having the rest of them along for the ride.

We walked right into the store, immediately found something both Big and Little agreed on (which is near to impossible most of the time), and barely had to wait for an associate to be available to help us.  Miracle of miracles, they had both girls' sizes in stock!  I am NEVER this lucky when shoe shopping with the Misses Picky.  Not ten minutes after arriving, we're out the door with these -



LOVE THEM and can't believe how easy and perfect that was!  Especially since there were requirements here...these sandals are for the girls to wear in their aunt's wedding this summer.  They have gorgeous flower girl dresses, ivory with a colored sash of their choice, pale blue for Little and pale pink for Big.  On a side note, it turned out to be very appropriate that Big gave herself and her sister stealth pedis this morning.  I only had to clean up one spot of polish off the floor once I found out about the goings on.

Shoes purchased, we stopped for sustenance in the form of a Mocha Frappuccino, then hit the Lego store where we'd agreed earlier to meet their dad. For reasons that boggle the mind, he chose to forgo the shoe buying experience and spend his time in the Tesla store ogling cars.  Anyway...whenever we go there we make a beeline directly to the back corner of the store where the Lego Friends are displayed.  If you aren't familiar with them, they're a line of Legos specifically for girls, basically a bunch of structures that together form a place called Heartlake City.  In another bonus for today, we entered the store to find out that if you bought any product in the Lego Friends line, you got a free product which turned out to be a small snack bar.  We bought.  Who can turn down free Legos?  I mean, I always need more small pieces buried in my carpets to step on, right?

This is Big once we arrived home, putting together the Turtle's Little Oasis set she chose -


Construction done, it was time to find a place for it in Heartlake City.  Did I forget to mention that we actually *have* a Heartlake City in our house (aka a corner of Big's bedroom...please forgive the unmade bed, that's a battle I've chosen not to fight on a regular basis)?





Yeah, you see correctly.  Those Lego Friends have their own private CRUISE SHIP, people.  With dolphins.  And a sundeck.  Plus a high school and riding camp.  And a house, camper, sports car, hedgehog hideaway, outdoor bakery, and various other places to visit.




And that's not all.  I have to share that we also have a Heartlake Town, which is our version of Heartlake City's younger, smaller, sister.  In this corner of Little's room you'll find the neighborhood pool, tree house, speed boat, bakery, pet salon, bunny hutch, roadside picnic area and there's a pony in there somewhere, too.



But not a shoe store to be found in either location.  Somebody needs to write to those Lego people and get that situation rectified.  :-)

Hope you enjoyed whatever it is you did today!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Three R's

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Millions of people switched off their lights on Saturday night (3/29) between 8:30 and 9:30 PM, local time in celebration of Earth Hour.  Organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour is a grassroots movement to raise awareness about protecting our planet that started as a small-scale lights out in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and has now grown to include over 150 countries on all seven continents.

While we didn't participate this year, Big and I did take part in Earth Hour 2013.  It was an amazing experience to experience life without electricity, and to sit in the quiet darkness with my daughter.  At first we never thought we'd make it an entire hour, but within just a few minutes we were playing word games and sharing stories, and the time went by so fast she didn't want to turn the lights back on when it was over.  I'm sorry to have been otherwise occupied this year and can't wait until March 28, 2015 to try it again...mark your calendars!

Things like that tend to be Big's idea.  This is a kid I have to hold back from collecting garbage along the side of the road.  On one hand, I so admire her dedication to the planet, but on the other there's the whole germ factor when your 10 year old tries to pick up used cigarette butts.  It's so different from when I was Big and Little's ages, when the three r's were reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.  Now it's all about sustainability and the environment (and Big isn't complaining...she's much more interested in the damage we're doing to our planet than she is in long division or parts of speech that don't involve Mad Libs).

My two most recent projects would make her proud, because both involve recycled/upcycled material.  I'd like to take credit for being green, but let's be honest here.  It's as much about my fledgling business' budget constraints as it is about being kind to Mother Earth.  I can't afford to waste so much as a jump ring if I can help it!

The first project was inspired by a conversation on a Facebook group for jewelry artists that I follow.  There was some talk about good sources for wire, and someone mentioned that they get theirs from, of all places, the hardware store.  Forget craft shops, jewelry-oriented on line sites...who knew that there's treasure to be had in the aisles of Home Depot?  Or, if you're married to my husband (oh, wait, I am...yay!), in the corner of the garage where he collects scrap metal left over from his many projects requiring a "Home Depot run" until there's enough to take to the recycling facility.  He did all of the electrical work for our home addition/renovation himself which means there's lots of odds and ends lying around.

So I scavenged a bit, dug into my stash of blanks for some things to go with it, and this is the end result -



The infinity symbols are made from the upcycled copper, which I formed, hammered, and added patina to for a rustic look.  Did you know you can do that using a hard boiled egg?  I didn't, either, until I started looking on line for ways other than the toxic, icky smelling chemicals I didn't own anyway.  And the sources I found weren't kidding.  A hard boiled egg, a zippered baggie, and voila!


It was quick, easy, inexpensive, non-toxic, and actually sort of therapeutic when I smashed the egg.  Plus I made some extra eggs at the same time for Big and her dad to snack on.  A win all around, I'd say.  I put the antiqued pieces on some copper chain, with hand stamped brass tags for "mother" and "daughter".  

Those were finished and posted to the shop just the other day so it was time to move on.  On Saturday morning, I was itching to start a new project but couldn't get outside to my work bench...I had to drop Big off at her Tae Kwon Do class, then come home to take Little to her Girl Scout activity.  Something I could do at the kitchen table in a narrow window of time was called for.  Then I remembered that I had pieces lying around from a steampunk-inspired necklace I'd made.  The customer who ultimately bought it asked me to re-tool the pendant into something appropriate for a man.  Not my typical target audience, but girls on a budget can't be choosy, right?  A few tweaks here and there, and it transformed from a necklace fit for a modern-day princess to a keychain.


That had left me with the "imagine" plaque lying around (and I won't tell you how many tries it took me to get it right in the first place so I was determined not to waste it!) plus some extra gear pieces from the original package.  A little brainstorming (and a major need to use my riveter!) left me here -



Brass cogs, with recycled copper swirls.  The Swarovski crystal is purple, the color of imagination.  Needs a few tweaks, I think.  I might redo the copper swirls attaching the imagine plaque since the one on the left in the picture shows a tool mark, but that's also part of the charm.  It's perfectly imperfect, all done by hand, and still has possibilities.  What do you think?