Metalsmithing class: Lizzy’s necklace and my ring

A few weeks ago I started a metalsmithing class one night a week, taught by Jen from Jen Moss Jewelry. She’s set up the class in a unique way that works great for me. She doesn’t give you specific assignments, because then you end up learning techniques that you might never use, and making a bunch of pieces that may not be your style (and thus never worn). Instead, she lets you choose what you want to make, and then she teaches you how to build that piece from start to finish. It was exactly what I needed.

My first project was a ring for myself:

I should remember the name of the stone, but I don’t…..gotta write that stuff down…..

Here’s a few photos of the process of making it:


A pendant for Lizzy

Our son Miles has been dating his terrific girlfriend Lizzy for a year and a half now, and I wanted to make her something as a little token of affection from the family. I also wanted to learn how to cut and polish stone, so I combined the two.

First, I picked out a piece of rhodonite, and Jen taught me how to cut and polish it. Cutting it involved putting your hand right up against the rock and this giant saw, which I had mixed emotions about. Part of me was like, “OOoOOOOOO!! We’re gonna CUT ROCKS! This is AWESOME!!” Another part of me was making this mental list of all my hobbies that emphasize the having of fingers: knitting, sewing, American Sign Language, playing ukulele, holding books up in bed at 2am, the list goes on. I almost leaned over and asked Jen, “You have insurance, right?”

In practice, the stone cutting portion of the evening required more care and concentration than the excited part of me thought, but way less fear of lost digits than the nervous part of me thought. It was pretty fun, although very loud.

And then I got to use this thing to sand and polish the pieces I’d cut, and that part was the most fun:


After a couple hours I had these. The triangle on the left is a raw piece of rhodonite
I started with.

At this point I had the great idea to make something for Lizzy, and I decided on a pendant.

First rule of metalsmithing: nothing ever looks that spectacular at the beginning.

It was fun to stamp the back. Miles ❤ Lizzy.

Allllllmost done…..


Here’s the finished pendant, all oxidized and lovely!

My next project is a ring. I read Contact by Carl Sagan when I was a kid, and have loved it ever since. I also loved the movie with Jodie Foster (oh, the ham radio stuff was so great!), and I really loved how she wears her Dad’s ring after he passes away. I’m trying to make a rough facsimile of that lapis ring. I found a good stone at the Eugene Gem Faire, so all I have to do is make the ring. Easy. Maybe. We’ll see.

Fibromyalgia/CFS notes:

This class is fun, but it wrecks me every time. The night I polished stones, I went home and slept and was barely functional the next day. I had gone into this thinking I might want to set up my own studio someday, and I was buoyed by the realization that I seem to be pretty good at it. With practice, I could probably get really good at it, and wouldn’t that be fun? But the toll on my bod is pretty high. All the small, tight movements and the constant bracing of oneself against tables to saw or polish a piece is incredibly exhausting.

When the class is over I’ll probably take a break before I take another round, if I take another round (a lot of people take the class over and over, she’s had folks who have been there for years). I’m frustrated that this is so hard on my body, because it’s a blast. How often do you get to make something that you could drop in the mud, and a thousand years from now, someone could pull out, shine up, and pop on their finger/neck/wherever-they-wear-jewelry-in-a-thousand-years?

Getting back into houseplants

For most of my twenties and thirties, I took on houseplants as if I ran an orphanage for wayward green children. Everyone was welcome, although not everyone thrived. Despite how easy they’re supposed to be, I managed to kill THREE jade plants, oh it hurts to even think about it. One of them came to me so big and beautiful and luscious, a regal beauty in a shining brass pot. Perched on a tall iron stand near the window, she was the Queen of the House Garden for as long as she lasted. It still breaks my heart to remember how she rotted. I didn’t see it, she looked completely normal (or so I thought, but I was still learning). I remember the horror I felt when I tried to poke at the base and the whole thing just fell apart in moist, fetid chunks. What a day.

And then we moved into our most recent Seattle house, and for those eight years I didn’t have enough light to grow anything. The house had two great windows for plants, one was over a stairwell and the other was in my son’s room. He wasn’t really keen on the whole, “You can live in here but can I visit your room all the time to grow a garden?” plan. My collection slowly died off or was given away. My chronic illness got worse and worse, and I became unable to sail with regularity, and visiting parks in Seattle was difficult because of crowds, parking, and traffic. This all added up to my “contact with nature” life column becoming pitifully low. Part of that was why we moved back to Oregon, but I didn’t realize how powerful it really was until we got here.

We were lucky enough to get an apartment with a wide bay window in the kitchen, WHOO!

Here’s what it looked like the day we moved in (yes, that’s snow outside on March 1st!):

Awwww! Don’t they look lonely?

Don’t worry.

I took care of it.

This was taken today. My heart just fills with love, every morning, when I come out and see this little green (and red!) family greet me. I haven’t named them all, but they all have personalities. I can’t help it, their innate preferences, once learned, become a story that I start to tell myself about them whenever I care for them.

This angel wing begonia has a great story. My mom was given this plant way back in….oh gosh, it must’ve been 2004 or so? I think someone at work had this on their desk, and didn’t want it anymore. My mom (who has that same tendency to take in plants, animals, children) cheerfully took it off their hands. But then I think she was either swamped with a lot of other plants, or it wasn’t growing well, because at some point she said, “Do you want this?” and she hands me this pot with….a stick in it. That’s what it looked like, just a stick in a pot, like someone had been hiking through a forest and picked up some woody bit of forest detritus and thought, “‘l’ll stick this in a pot and call it a plant.” In fact I think I even joked to her something like, “Is that even….alive?” It might have had one tiny, spindly leaf.

I took it home, put it in a north-facing window, and basically said, “Okay, I’ll water you, but you’re going to have to muster some strength to come back from this.” For a long time nothing happened.  And then suddenly, it just burst forth, little baby-Groot arms shooting out a few gorgeous silvery spotted leaves that grew bigger and bigger until, there it was. A real plant. I’d never seen anything like it. I had to take a photo of it to a garden store before someone recognized it and said, “That’s an angel wing begonia”. Sure enough.

The picture above is the original plant. She and I have been through a lot. When my kids were toddlers, she bloomed for my birthday one year – I came downstairs and she had flung out this stem that was dripping with coral pink flowers. I think I cried. Overall though, she’s a bit fussy. We still aren’t quite sure how to make things work all the time – like I just realized when I took this photo that her leaves are turning brown, which means she needs to get out of the sun.

Her daughter, however, like most teenagers, can’t get out of the house and into the light fast enough:

I keep pulling this one back from the window and they keep growing out again, banging against the door.

Here are a few of the other plant family members:

I love this money plant. Anything that looks like a miniature tree is solid gold in my book. And yeah, I love bonsai, but I haven’t figure out how to care for them properly so I’m still holding back on one of those.

My favorite plant store in Eugene (okay admittedly the only one I’ve visited) is called Down to Earth, and their staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, I really enjoy hanging out there and asking questions. I’ve been afraid to get back into succulents again because of The Jade Debacles, and  one of the women there helped lure me back with a few of these little friends. She offered to plant them altogether in the pot I’d picked out, and then she added a rock and a little piece of driftwood. She’s like an interior designer for plant homes. I added the mushroom – that’s from a glass artisan here who has a booth at our Saturday Market. She explained how to care for them, recommended a great book (which I bought), and sent me on my way. Three months later, here we are. They’re doing very well!

I’ve gone from feeling like nature was slipping away from me, to getting to live with all this light and all these plants – which has become a huge boost to me on the days I’m sick enough that getting out is too tough. On the days I can get out, I’ve got the river right down the path, and doing that walk almost every day has become “like medicine”, as I keep saying. Nature is medicine, nature is medicine. I want a t-shirt that says that. A bumper sticker. A tattoo. (I’d love a President that said that.)

More plants coming….


Maybe I’ll do a little blogging (and sketching) again

A few weeks ago I turned off the blog – set it to private – because it felt like the only thing I had to talk about was chronic illness, and that gets pretty exhausting to live, let alone write about. I wonder sometimes if other chronic illness bloggers ever feel that way.

Then, a couple days ago, someone commented on a post! I heard the ding on my iPhone and thought, “Whaaaa? Didn’t I turn the blog off?” But maybe here’s where I talk about ADHD and feeling scatterbrained, because who knows, it’s possible I turned the blog back on without remembering, but there it was, not hidden and getting a comment. And it was nice, too, this note from someone about how my post about dyeing my Macabi skirts helped them out. Yay! I love that I got to be helpful.

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately: painting. Again. I have a watercolor sketchbook. Right now I’m using a Global Art Materials book sized 8.5″ by 5.5″, and it’s just the right size. The cover was an off-white linen, but in honor of my second-ever visit to the Oregon Country Fair recently, I made some adjustments to its cover:

I painted it with Dr. Ph. Martin’s watercolor ink. I love that stuff!

I decided to see if I could make daily sketching and painting a habit, specifically to help with stress, to get into flow on a regular basis, and to just get better at drawing and painting.

I had to get a good basic palette going, so I checked in with the three watercolor painters I like the most, Liz Steel, Kateri Ewing, and Jane Blundell, and I got their lists of basic starter colors. Kateri’s list is just the colors she recommends for her Bluprint class on basic watercolor technique.

I had many of these colors, but I got a few more and created my own palette:

Creating palettes is so much fun, I could do that for hours. If I could, I’d just sit in the Daniel Smith factory all day and create palettes for every purpose. Underwater palettes, forest palettes, desert palettes, sunset palettes, painting dogs palettes, on and on.

My sketchbook is slowly filling up. I have been painting every day, like I planned. I don’t know how long this streak will last and I put zero pressure on myself, because pressure or beating myself up doesn’t help me (does it help anyone?). What helps is gentle reminders, and noticing how happy I feel when I return to the book every day. I usually start in the morning with tea and painting, and end every day with a little more tea and painting. It’s calming, I highly recommend it. I always say that watercolor is like ukulele – you can be a beginner and still make beautiful things happen. No one would mistake my work for a professional’s, but that doesn’t matter. Just putting lovely colors together is a delight, and it lightens the heart and mind. Art is powerful stuff!

Stuck on the Flax sweater (but at least I have tea and sweet potatoes)

I made it through the collar. Ribbing isn’t difficult. And then I had an increase round. That was also easy. I got it up to the correct number: 144 stitches. The pattern is free, you can check it out here if you want.

At that point, I read the pattern while simultaneously trying to watch a movie. Jay had left, so Clarica took the pattern out of my hand, and gave me verbal instructions on what to do next. I went along, getting the yoke all set up, and then she told me what to do, and apparently what happened is that I promptly forgot half of it.

Which is why, about 12 rows later, I realized that something was wrong. I was increasing correctly on only half of each garter panel. Wellll, crap. I’d been having this niggling feeling, as I went along, that I was missing an increase on either side, but there was a war between “what I think Claire told me to do,” and what “seemed right”. I should have listened to what Claire told me to do (she will joke that of course this should always be my guiding principle). When I saw how off the shape was, I knew I had to pull it out, or frog it, as they say.

I considered just ripping it down to nothing because I couldn’t figure out how I’d be able to magically stop right after the ribbing, and then pick up all those stitches. I knew it’s possible, but I didn’t feel like that was quite in my skill set yet. Oh, sometimes it’s magic to be wrong – I pulled those suckers out, and then I took my circulars, and I picked up exactly 144 stitches – the row right after the initial increase. I squealed, then cheered! My family, who were all trying to watch a show, gave me quizzical looks.

“I have 144 stitches! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?”

They were not as impressed as they should have been.

Here’s where I got stuck again:

The next round is the marker set up.

P17, PM, K55, PM, twice.

Purl 17 stitches. Place a marker. Knit 55 stitches. Place a marker.

Purl the next 17. Place a marker. Knit 55. Place a marker.

At this point I should be right back at that first purl stitch. I’ve cycled around all 144 stitches. My next stitch is a purl.

And yet here’s the next instruction. It’s to do Setup round 1. First step? KFB, knit to 2 stitches before raglan marker, KFB, K1.

So I’m supposed to KFB into the first purl stitch? What? But then later, I’m supposed to be preserving those 17 purl stitches, they constitute the garter strip that goes down the sleeves.


It’s 11pm, and everyone here is heading off to bed. Which is fine because none of them knows how to knit, anyway. Claire will be here tomorrow and I’ll ask her what the heck I’m not seeing. Obviously, she knew how to read the pattern correctly, she had me set it all up right the first time.

Time to make some tea, and eat my nightly sweet potato*.

*Explanation of nightly sweet potato: two things.

1) I’m trying to eat more vegetables. I hear people who live a long time eat a lot of vegetables, and I’d really like to be a healthy, vibrant old lady (with long white braids wrapped around her head, maybe some flowers worked in there).

2) The functional medicine psych I’m seeing for the anxiety and fibromyalgia has been urging me to work at changing my gut microbiome, and apparently sweet potatoes (among other veggies) have a good starch that is beneficial to the gut bugs.

My new nightly routine is to cut up a sweet potato into wedges, toss it in a little olive oil, and lay it out on a pan, put some Sandwich Sprinkle over it (that stuff is great on everything), and then bake it at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure if my gut biome is changing, but I’m liking the new habit.