Monday, 30 December 2013

Monday, 23 December 2013


I like so many things about the Christmas season; the lights and pretty trees, a special happy day with my family; a sense of unity and peace; seasonal foods; going to Christmas Eve mass at the UU church and singing Silent Night with all the congregation, everyone holding a lit candle; the memories of Christmases past.  I like the Christmas spirit, the ambience and foundational intent of the holiday.

I do, though, find the pressure and expectation to show my love for other people through gifts and the spending of money to be genuinely and sometimes even intensely painful.  I love and care for so many people and I want them to know how much I love and care for them, I want my people to feel my affection for them, to feel happiness, yet I think I prefer showing those feelings through words, actions, little gestures, and I wish it were enough, for all of us.  It is difficult, stressful, to be expected to try to find objects every year that convey our feelings.  It leaves one vulnerable to feeling anxious that they did not adequately display their care.  I hate knowing that other people feel that same painful pressure to do the same for me.  It is not necessary to give me items; I know that they love me, because they show me that they love me all the rest of the year.

I wish we could somehow break this particular expectation of Christmas.  To change the tradition from, "let us display our love for each other through items" to "let us enjoy each other's company, the spirit of unity and peace and Christmas together, and perform small gestures of affection to each other" on this day.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis and Hormonal Birth Control (HKPP and The Pill)

My HKPP has always significantly worsened in the two weeks before my period (during PMS; the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle).  HKPP is clearly mediated in some ways by hormonal changes as symptoms typically appear at puberty, and typically worsen premenstrually for (many) women.

I'm in my 30's now and thus I've had the problem of premenstrual flareups for nearly 20 years; however, it was increasing in severity as I aged, along with other PMS symptoms that many women experience, particularly moodiness that was becoming bothersome.  Essentially half of my life, two weeks every month, was very unpleasant because of my own hormonal fluctuations.  My ability to function was so compromised that I finally decided to consider oral contraceptives to try to control both problems.  I had avoided them for all my life out of fear that the hormones in the pill would make me very ill for four weeks of the month instead of two.

Because one of the premiere HKPP researchers, Dr. Lehmann-Horne, suggests that estrogen may be a trigger for women with HKPP, but because I also didn't want a progestin-only method (I'm hoping for acne and mood control), my doctor prescribed a low dose combination triphasic pill - Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo.  The low estrogen level remains the same for 3 weeks whereas the progestin level increases 3 times (to more closely mimic a woman's natural hormonal fluctuations).  After 3 weeks, 7 hormone free days allow for a period.

I have finished my first pack of the pill and it has almost completely eliminated the premenstrual increase in PP attacks, and most of my other PMS symptoms.  It's been fantastic to get through a month with so much less angst than usual, for the first time ever.  I mean, fantastic.  I wish I'd been brave enough to try this years ago.  If I continue to react as I have, this pill will have changed my life.

It's possible that women with HKPP might do best on a monophasic low-estrogen pill.  Monophasic pills contain the same hormone levels for the entire month eliminating all fluctuations. This might take care of the mild but residual remaining (but still fairly mild) flareup I experienced the last week of the month when progestin levels were highest.

2015 Update: I have experimented with several pills over the last two years and my most favorable experience has been on Alesse, a monophasic low dose pill.  I still feel far better and more stable on artificial hormones and intend to take them as long as possible.

Friday, 11 October 2013


My latest metalsmithing obsession.
(Turquoise, rose quartz, unidentified blue stone with black lace agate; sterling silver and 14k yellow gold.)
All photographed on petrified wood given to my husband by his geologist grandfather.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

And yet, you're only as real as any other thought.

Sometime when I was a young teenager, I began to write a novel, a story, that existed only in my imagination.  Characters sprang into existence and I gave them detailed histories and complex lives, a world, sent them through experiences both beautiful and painful. And, they live on.

For nearly 2 decades their world has been a place of comfort and escape for me.  Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nights, in the dark in bed, I have retreated to that place where I am both maker and watcher.  The characters and their histories are so familiar to me now that they are like old friends.

They are not hallucinations or spectres or even imaginary friends; as JRR Tolkein or George RR Martin have created rich and vast and expansive worlds and the tales of the beings within them, I imagine - write - these people and their lives too, but without putting pen to paper.  I turn and change, test and replay scenes until they feel as if they are as they should be.  And yet, in a sense, I still feel sometimes as if I watch their lives unfold, unseen, as from the eye of some deity.

They age with me.  I recognized many years ago that each one is, of course, in their own way a facet of myself.  Like dreams, I don't think the story is just a fantastical narrative, but also a way of making sense of myself and my journey; of turning thoughts and experiences over and examining them in some safely removed way.

This world sprang into existence, I am sure, as a way for an awkward and very withdrawn teenager to privately let her imagination run away and thrive.  And as a way for her to find escape from an out of control life and into a place whose flaws and painful moments were only those she controlled.  It continued to exist after I fell in love with the people within it, they became familiar, interesting, and I became curious about where I would take them over the years, something I cannot predict, since their story unfolds year by year, as my own does (Will they grow old?  Die?  Will I lose interest in or no longer need them one day?).  And it comforts me to know that as long as I have a semblance of control over my own consciousness, even as I slip from life, they will continue to be there if I want them to be.  There will be an untouchable place, inhabited with the familiar and the beautiful, where I can feel as if I am not alone, or even, if I need to, as if I do not exist at all.

I once posted anonymously on a message board about the existence of my decades-long incorporeal novel, and many people encouraged me to write it down, to publish it.  "If you already have the plot, why not write it down and share it?"

But I won't.  I don't think that I ever will, even if I was convinced that it would be poignantly meaningful or interesting to anyone but myself.  Or, at least, I won't until our lights are fading, theirs and mine; maybe then, when we are old, slipping from this world, I will release them so that in some small way I can feel that they will exist beyond me.  Until then, they are mine; my characters, my escape, my private land that is safe from outside touch, that none of the traumas of life have ever been able to take from me.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Dream Come True

A few weeks ago I dreamt that we'd purchased a new house not far from our current home, but the previous owners hadn't cleaned out their things before leaving.  Every room and cupboard was still full.  And all of the things were old.  I cleared out cupboard after cupboard of 70's style dishes and mugs and old appliances.  There were walls with faded wallpaper that I stripped for painting.  Floors with scuffed linoleum that I tore up.  No matter how much I threw away and no matter how many rooms I painted and updated, there were other rooms that needed to be cleaned, with closets full of things that needed to be sorted and thrown out, walls that needed to be painted.  I woke up before I got to experience the relief of seeing it finished.  That is the theme of so many of my dreams.

Tonight, in real life, we went to a housewarming party at the new home of my husband's colleague and his wife, both very lovely people.  Very soon after coming into their house and starting to learn its story I began to feel the uncanny sense that I was in a dream.

The house was built by a botany professor who stayed for 50 years until forced by age to be moved to a retirement home.  Everything in the house was outdated and ragged, from the carpets that was worn in paths that he'd walked thousands of times, to the mold on the old kitchen walls and rusted metal cabinets and peeling window frames.  He had added greenhouses and workshops to the house over the years: A pottery studio, still filled with stacks of notebooks with entries dated from the '70s and handwritten notes tacked to the walls and piles of frail yellow catalogs; an attached greenhouse entirely for growing orchids, with pots strewn around half filled with dirt, and the leftover brown stems of plants still curling up the mesh on the wall; an outdoor greenhouse with broken cinderblocks left broken and half buried in the earth.  And his workroom in the basement was lined with benches and shelves piled with quirky, odd, old things and tools and appliances, partly finished projects. Two enormous scythes hung from the wall.  The yard outside was wild with bounty and history; between every flagstone was some herb growing now out of control; around every corner some enormous tree was growing, planted by his own hands decades ago; fruit trees spilling their fruit into the lawn.  The garden overflowed with years of carefully prepared harvests that had begun to go untended.  I have never been in a home that so much seemed like the physical manifestation of a self and a life.

And I knew that a person could live there for years, and work on it for years and still round new corners to find new objects to be turned in their hand and sorted through; more windowsills needing to be stripped and painted; more notes tacked in hidden places scrawled with faded pencil memories.

Friday, 28 June 2013


Lying in bed in the dark feeling alone as I often do, I got up and went out into the hallway where I knew my cat would be waiting for me near the door.  He waits there all night long.  He ran to me and I laid down on the carpet next to him.  He curled up as close to my chest as he could get, purring, nibbling my ear, rubbing his wet little nose against my earlobe and my face.  He pressed his forehead into my neck and rested it there.  And I knew that there, in the dark on the floor, no matter what has happened in our lives or what will happen next, he and I existed together, rested together in a moment of pure love and joy, untainted, undistracted.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Why do I have dreams about sorting tasks that cannot be completed?  Last night, we bought a farmhouse estate and found only afterwards that the previous owners had left behind room after room of dirty old belongings and tattered furnishings.  Dozens of outdated washing machines, old wood, cats, filth.  No matter how many rooms I cleaned out and refinished, there were still more.

Several months ago, helping my parents clean out and organize their attic but no matter how many boxes of nostalgic items and old memorabilia we opened and sorted through, there were more.

A kitchen whose cupboards needed to be de-cluttered but whose contents I could never reach the end of.

A closet whose shelf I had to help clean out but behind each item there was always another, always more.

Last night I half awoke from the farmhouse dream and forced my way back into it so that I could walk through the house after it had been cleaned and refinished, to feel the satisfaction of seeing the job finally done, but the mental power required to push out the clutter and disorganization was too weak. When I turned around, I saw that there were still piles of old things that hadn't been attended to in the corners, still linoleum floors left dirty and chipped.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Sometimes I think about what I will leave behind in this world.  It will be next to nothing, nearly meaningless, words weakly expressing thoughts that wiser, smarter people have already said.  Words that will be almost entirely lost as long as we last, and then eventually completely obliterated along with all that was us.  And yet to complete my journey I feel I need to purge them.  And what feels most pressing to me to reiterate in as many ways as I can, for as long as I can, is the indescribable virtue, importance and meaning of compassion; the journey of compassion, resisting the urge to be at worst cruel or at least unkind, unforgiving.  It is my life's ultimate work to try to embody that virtue though I am certain I will live it imperfectly til the end.  But I need to persevere.  At the end of my life I will not regret that.

I don't want to carry on a legacy of criticism, unforgiveness, or rejection.  I don't want to carry on that legacy, which I have been handed.  I want to be a force that removes at least a minute drop from the sea of suffering, and adds at least a minute drop to the sea of hope and beauty that can also exist.


Can one heal themselves by giving what they never had to another person?  If I give my niece the gift of unconditional compassion and acceptance, will it also ease the ache of inadequacy in myself, the feeling of being ultimately unable to be loved unconditionally?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The 5 Minute Book Club

To the women with whom I briefly share the waiting room once every week, and to whom I only half-jokingly suggested that we start a 5 minute book club (I chickened out).

The 5 Minute Book Club”

The New House
Maya Angelou

What words
have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
streamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder what among
these shades will be
left of me.

When I was 14, my mother was reading to me from a book of Angelou's poetry, and when I heard this poem I experienced for the first time the sense of writing “speaking” to me.  Angelou's words so precisely reflected then, and many times since, one of the recurring themes of thought that I have explored in my mind over and over throughout my life.

The utterly countless feelings and experiences of the billions of humans who live and have lived remain in shades and shadows around us, as my own journey likewise sprinkles its ghosts among them. I am so frequently curious about the depth of each mind, the enormity of experiences both individually and collectively.  I wish I could see into them all.  My physical home is one contained space in which this curiosity feels especially real. What words did smash against these walls?

For a long time, more than a decade, I considered the following to be my most cherished secret, although I have since shared it with several people: When I was 14, in 1996, I stood on a chair in my bedroom, facing backwards into my closet so that I could see and reach the high, back wall above the door. It is a small closet, and seeing or reaching this part of the wall is difficult and finding what I put there would take years to be discovered by accident.

I wrote the poem on that wall with a purple Sharpie. I used purple acrylic paint to stamp my handprints around it. I left the Sharpie on the little ledge of the door frame, and almost every January since, I have gone back to my parents' home and again stood awkwardly on the red rolling office chair I was given as a child, and I have signed the date, sometimes adding a small update about my life. I place my hands, only a little bigger now, against the prints of the real, breathing girl who once existed there, and I try to connect time.

It is my way of leaving behind a tangible shade of me, of my years there, of my growing up in that space. Of the hours spent immersed in creative tasks and incredible books, and of the terrible pain I suffered there, some of which has followed me to adulthood and led me to this room.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Bench Tip - Soldering Small Jobs - Creme Brulee Torch

I do most of my metalsmithing in a spare room in a house.  For obvious safety reasons, I don't keep my gas tank and torch in a living space and so my soldering station is in a separate room.  This, however, means that sometimes I have put off orders and projects because I don't want to or don't feel well enough to trek back and forth between my work spaces or, in winter, don't want to sit in the freezing cold to solder.  I get especially annoyed about having to leave my regular studio just for the 10 second job of soldering a jump ring closed before mailing a pendant.

It only took me five years - until this week - to realize that I could use the tiny creme brulee torch that's been sitting in my kitchen cupboard for these tiny jobs.  It is small, much safer than a tank of gas, and perfect for little tasks like closing jump rings.

I now keep a piece of wire solder, a leftover piece of solder block, and a little baby food jar of flux in my studio space.  Score 1 for circumventing procrastination :)

Sunday, 27 January 2013


I long for you always. You, a mythical place of ultimate safety and release and effortless understanding.  You, the thing that can only be the human soul we have imagined.

If We Could

I wonder, if we could view the entire stretch of humanity's future from a god's-eye view, all tens of thousands of human generations that might exist after we do, see them all - looking out across the long stretch of what is to come, seeing the people whose ancestors we will be - what we would do differently today.  If those people appeared real to us, as people who will suffer just as we do, die of hunger and exposure and illness as we do, would we try to allocate what we have more conservatively amongst ourselves so that the children of our children's children's children will have some of the basic comforts we have (and have created)?

When I picture our future in this way it seems so selfish, intensely shortsighted and cruel to waste oil and energy for keeping vinyl yard Santas inflated, to make novelty keychains and disposable diapers, to travel about in our cars so pettily and to maintain our giant homes.  It seems obvious that to be truly kind we would think of those people now and we would sacrifice for them.

But there are people alive now who are suffering their way through this, their only life.  They live now.  They feel pain now.  And still I sit and type on this computer that I don't truly need in the three bedroom house that just two of us live in, and tomorrow I will let a contractor come and install new kitchen flooring because the stuff that's there now is "outdated," and last week I had a new sink installed in the bathroom, though the water still ran freshly from the old sink's pipes.  I do these things even though I know that there are mothers crouching beside train tracks in Bangladesh, shelterless, cooking over open fires, and people in my own nation bankrupt for paying for chemo or a lung transplant, and people feeding their kids Lays and Pepsi for breakfast because it's what's affordable.  And still somehow I think it reasonable to consider myself to be empathetic and socially conscious and sensitive to excessive consumerism.

I wish that it were easier, for myself and all of us, to fully live the dreams of compassion that I have for myself, and for all of us.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Resizing A Silver Ring (Upsizing)

My customer received two lovely silver rings for Christmas, made by another Etsy metalsmith.  However, it turned out that they both needed to be half a size larger to fit her comfortably.

A half size is a relatively small amount, but I didn't want to try to upsize them by stretching them because the shanks were thin and delicate to begin with, and the design on the leaf shaped ring at least, would certainly have warped.

Instead, I cut open the shanks in the back with my saw. After checking a ring blank sizing chart I knew each ring needed to gain about one millimeter in circumference, plus what was lost when I cut open the backs. So I cut two small pieces of 16ga sheet and inserted them into the opened space:

Since I didn't know which type of solder the original metalsmith had used, to reduce the risk of un-soldering the ornamentation on the rings, I wrapped the fronts in pieces of wet tissue which I re-moistened with a spray bottle as needed. This kept the faces of the rings from getting hot enough to de-solder.

Then I fluxed, soldered the sizing stock into the shanks with medium solder (I generally like to use hard for everything possible, but again I wanted to reduce the risk of overheating the existing joins), and pickled:

I used a coarse half-round file to shape the added metal as closely as I could to the surrounding shanks, inside and out, leaving just a bit of extra metal to allow for sanding:

Finally, I sanded the shanks until smooth and blended, and polished with Zam: