The Hole in My Heart …

I’ve been thinking about grief today. About how it is so strange and sometimes so unexpected. About how you think you are “over” something … or how the world around you thinks you should be “over” something … but how that something never truly seems to go away. Perhaps it will sink to the background for a while. It might even sink out of sight for a long while. But, eventually, it is going to jump up and take you by surprise. As I worked away today, these thoughts were in the back of my mind, humming away beneath the knowledge of all the things I needed to accomplish before my work day could be done.

And it all started with a dream that was so vivid and clear and unexpected. Have you ever had a dream like that? This was a dream of years and years ago, when I was younger and, in many ways, more free in my life and my choices. I wanted to stay in this dream so badly that waking up to my reality was a shock. I woke up in tears and feeling unsettled, and it took me a few moments to figure out why. And then, of course, I felt ashamed of my grief that should have passed long ago. I am left wondering why I can’t get over this. Why does this particular grief continue to creep up on me and steal my breath away even now, over a decade after I suffered this loss?

Because, you see, I have a hole in my heart. It is not a physical hole, but a spiritual one. And it is shaped like a dog. Not just any dog, but my soul-mate dog. I wonder if everyone has one of those. Honestly, I didn’t know they existed until my sweet Tex came into my life. He was my first Springer Spaniel. He was my first puppy that was all mine; my first dog that I was solely responsible for as an adult. He was my first dog to live inside, as my mother never allowed us to keep our pets indoors when I was growing up. And, for many, many hard years, Tex was Everything to me. That dog was my entire world. He went through law school with me, which was a horrible and miserable time in my life. He went through my first few jobs with me. These, by the way, were also horrible and miserable. He helped me survive a painfully long and difficult long-distance relationship. This, eventually, had a happy ending, but getting to “happily ever after” was a slog. He slept with me and comforted me when I was alone. He stayed by my side when I had pneumonia. He Velcroed himself to me in every aspect of my life. I took him everywhere with me. I know many people will roll their eyes as I type this, but you dog people out there will understand: He was my child before I had a human child. Tex was, and still is, THAT dog for me. If I could have had him for forever, even if it meant I would never have another dog, I would have been happy with that. It’s not that I don’t love my current dogs. I do. But I would have happily lived with Tex for the rest of forever.

And that brings me to my dream. It was such a simple dream: me, sitting under a tree reading a book … and I looked up to see Tex running toward me. I was overwhelmed with happiness, just seeing that silly dog grin on his face and his floppy ears flying. Just seeing him again. And then, of course, I woke up to the reality of a world without my beloved boy. Thoughts and memories of him have kept me unsettled all day today. It’s lucky for me I didn’t have to do any phone calls or video conferences for work.

And yet, I feel I must hide my grief. Tex has been gone for a LONG time. He left me when he was almost fifteen, and that was fourteen years ago. He’s been gone much longer than he could ever have lived. And yet, it feels like just yesterday when that bond was shattered. I feel … embarrassed … like there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I get over this? Why do I still cry when I dream about him? Why do I keep his baskets of toys packed away in my basement? None of my current dogs play with them. No dog will ever play with them. And yet, I keep them and move them from house to house. I just can’t let them go. I have to keep them hidden away. Just the sight of them is enough to break my heart and cause the tears to flow.

The world tells me he was “just a dog”. The world tells me my broken heart should heal. For that matter, the world tells me I shouldn’t even have a broken heart. And yet, I do. I think the world is wrong. Tex was never “just a dog”. No beloved pet is ever “just” a pet, like they are unimportant. They are our joy and our hope. When life is hard, they are our reason to keep going. They teach us to be better than we ever thought we could be. We love them. With great love comes great joy. Love creates a bond, and, when that bond is shattered, it HURTS. It hurts down to the very core of everything we are. I loved that dog. I loved him with all my heart, and I still do. So, maybe, I don’t need to be ashamed of my grief. Because it is honest and born of love, and because it fills the dog-shaped hole in my heart.

Summer Summer Summer

Summer is upon us in full force, it seems. I guess I should feel lucky that it is nearly the end of July, and I am only just now feeling the heat. But man! I am really feeling it over the last couple of weeks. We had a few days in the low 80s this past week, and I found myself reveling in how cool and refreshing it felt. How sad is that? I’ll tell you: S.A.D. Extremely so.

Remember how I talked at length a few years ago about not being a fan of Spring? Yep. You can lump Summer in there, too. I am not a Summer person. I never have been. I don’t enjoy the beach. I don’t love lounging by the pool. I don’t sunbathe. Not that anyone really can sunbathe any more, but I never did it even back when we still had ozone. I’m so pasty-white that I’m practically invisible. Seriously. I bet I could get sunburned from looking at a picture of the sun. I’ve never been a big fan of participating in Summer sports. When school was out for the Summer, I was that strange kid who was looking forward to reading all day long.

After becoming a Mom, I found myself looking forward to Summer more than ever, especially after my daughter started school. Summer was “Mommy time”, meaning it was my time to spend with my sweet little girl without the interruption of school or homework or projects or lessons or after school activities. It was a time to read stories together, take walks in the evening, and just generally slow down. During the school year, it was like my daughter belonged to the whole world. But she was all mine for the Summer.

Summer this year should have been more of the same, but doubled. My daughter is going into her senior year of high school, so this is pretty much my last chance at a “Mommy time” Summer. I should have been looking forward to walks and talks and going to movies together and all the things.

But, of course, this Summer is not at all like any Summer that has come before it. And y’all know why: The ‘Rona. It’s like my brain was so busy trying to catch up with the reality of life within the pandemic that I wasn’t mentally ready for Summer at all. It’s like I had no idea Summer even existed until it was upon us in all of its sweltering, sizzling glory. I know that sounds goofy. How could I not know Summer was coming? Of course, I knew it was out there. It’s just that everyday life has been physically and mentally exhausting since Spring. It’s almost like time stopped completely when we went into social-distance-at-home-quarantine back in March. I know the outside world has continued to turn. But the things that were touchstones for me have all stopped because we seldom leave our house. I feel like I went to sleep one night in the crisp Spring coolness of a March evening and woke up to find myself in the midst of a sizzling July day. It’s disconcerting.

Has this last Mommy Summer been a total bust? No. Not at all. Because, amid the anxiety and worry and mask wearing and cleaning off groceries and staying at home … In and around all of that, the little moments of life continue on. I’ve had evening walks with my daughter. We have binged anime together. We share popcorn every evening. We have hung out in her room and talked. There have been so many fabulous talks. I love hearing my daughter’s opinions and thoughts on things. I have learned a lot this Summer, and I have realized something pretty fantastic. There is an amazing, kind, and wise young woman standing where my little girl of yesterday used to be. And you know what? I think that might make this the best Summer yet.

Happy Belated …

This is my very late “happy birthday USA” post. I only missed the Fourth by 7 or 8 days, so I’m within the window of birthday-ness. Right? Eh. Considering the mess that is this year and the mess that is my country right now, I think 8 days late isn’t too bad.

I’ve thought about this post a lot. I’ve thought about a lot of posts a lot. Basically, COVID, self-isolating, and the ongoing racial injustice in the United States has led to lots and lots and lots of thinking. Along with some worrying and some crying and some feeling hopeless. It’s been sort of a cycle for me. Right up until the actual fourth of July, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. In all honesty, life in general and life in this country, in particular, has begun to bear down with all the weight of despair and hopelessness it could possibly possess.

It didn’t help my mood that everything was canceled. No public fireworks. No getting together with friends. I had hoped for my parents to come visit this Summer or to visit them, but that couldn’t happen, either. Of course, people in our neighborhood set off fireworks on their own. Until the extremely wee hours of the morning. I hate neighborhood fireworks. I know I sound like the grouchiest, grumpiest grump that ever grouched. But the noise scares my dogs and makes it impossible to sleep, especially when fireworks are going off until 2 or 3AM. And I always worry about my roof catching on fire. Anxiety is not your friend, folks!

So, by necessity, it was a quiet Fourth of July for me and my family. My daughter has a friend whose family has practiced the same level of self-isolation as us, and that friend came over to spend the night. My husband grilled. And we all watched Crazy Rich Asians together. Was it the type of Fourth I would have wanted? Probably not. But it wasn’t a bad holiday. The long weekend was peaceful. My family is all safe and, so far, healthy. We are really fortunate in many ways.

That evening, I sat on my computer and read through articles about the protests happening all over the United States. I read about statues coming down and about brands changing their names. And … I don’t know … somehow, my mood improved.

I love my country. I love it very much. But I do not love all the things about it. I do not love all the things that happen in this country. In particular, I don’t love the way so many of us in this country are complacent and casual about the racism that is bone-deep here. We grow up with it, and it permeates so much of our everyday life that we get to the point where we “just don’t see it”. As a country … as a people … we have lived with and profited from this callousness and cruelty for far too long. By “we”, I mean white people like me. “Just don’t see it” just doesn’t cut it any longer. And you know what? It never should have. “Just don’t see it” was NEVER good enough. We should have seen it, all along. We should have looked for it. We should have fought to root it out and expose it to the light of day.

But now, changes are happening. Black and POC voices are being heard more than ever before. It seems like more than ever before to me, a person looking from the outside. I hope this is the truth. Because these voices need to be heard. We need to listen to these stories and face the uncomfortable truths contained within them. Protests are in the news, people are talking, and people are listening. People are learning. I hope we are all learning.

I know the changes that have happened so far are small. In the grand scheme of things and to Black and POC people who have struggled their entire lives to feel valued and respected, I imagine these changes are minuscule. But they are changes and a sign that our future has a chance of looking different than our past. Each small change … each protest … each instance of a Black or POC person feeling empowered to tell their story and speak their truth … Every one of these things gives me hope that we, as a country, can be better and do better. I have hope that the momentum will keep going. I have hope that voices will continue being heard. I have hope that we will ferret out the stink and dirt of racism at every level in this country.

Because that’s what we have to do. We HAVE to be better than we have been. We HAVE to do better than we have ever done. This country is a dream. It is a dream of a place where all are equal, all have justice, and all can live without fear. I know this sounds naive and idealistic of me, but I love that dream. I want to live in that place, where Black and POC mothers can send their children to the store without being afraid for their lives. Where Black and POC people are respected for who they are, and where Black and POC achievements are celebrated by everyone. Where Black and POC people can find justice — not justice in name only, but real and true justice. I want this dream for myself because I am a selfish person. But mostly, I want it for my daughter and for all the children of every race who are coming behind us. We owe it to them. We owe them more than what we have given.

I often think there’s nothing I can do. I feel powerless in the face of the injustice and unfairness running rampant all around me. I feel sad and hopeless. I am just one voice, and I am not the kind of voice that should be heard right now — that NEEDS to be heard right now. So I fall into the trap of thinking I should stay out of it or just stay quiet or whatever. But you know what? That’s bullshit. It’s the same thing as living with all of this my whole life and “just not seeing it”. Because I was naive and stupid as a child and a teenager and, even, as a young adult. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know what to look for. And, much as I hate to admit it, I never even thought to look for it.

I know better now. I have seen it. I know it is out there. And I know I can do something. I can listen. I can continue to learn. I can think about my own thoughts, my own actions, and my own words, and I can take care that those things reflect the true feelings and beliefs in my heart. I can — and will! — continue to have hard and uncomfortable conversations with others I encounter. In many instances, I am sorry to say I have those conversations with my own family. In the past, I might have backed down or let it go. But no more. It’s a small thing, but I can stand up each and every day. I can do better. I can be better.

My one corner of the United States is small. My reach is small. But maybe — just maybe — I can change one heart. Maybe — just maybe — I can change one person’s way of thinking. Maybe I won’t change anything, but I don’t care. I am going to hold myself accountable to continue working in whatever small way I can. Because I owe it to every Black and POC person in this country who has ever felt fear because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever felt anger because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever been made to feel less than human because of the color of their skin … who has ever lost a beautiful son or daughter or mother or father or anyone to the systemic racism that pervades our country.

Character Study: An Old Man in Blue Clothes

Note: This is a merging of reality and fiction. I ran across the beginning notes for this character study in my writing book. I had jotted the beginning parts on a napkin from a favorite coffee shop in Virginia. And then … I never finished it. Womp-womp. I pulled it out the other day and finished it, so I thought I would share it here. It’s been a hot five or ten minutes since I shared any fiction in here.

There is an old man. I see him from the corner window of my favorite coffee shop every day. He is a creature of habit, I think. He wears the same clothes each day: blue shirt, dark blue pants, and sturdy shoes with a blue cap. If the weather is cold, he adds a jacket, also blue. I wonder if blue is his favorite color, or, maybe, it’s just easy. I see him with a paper every morning. He carries it carefully, unfolded and flat, his fingers almost reverent against the slippery ink on the page. He carries it as if he feels the weight of every word contained inside it. Resigned. As if he doesn’t want to read it. He doesn’t want to learn one more bad thing. And yet, it is his duty to read it and learn of the hate and anger in the world. I think, probably, he is not a person who shirks duty. He stands straight and proud, his posture unbent and unbeaten by time and the world he inhabits. I think he is someone who faces life head-on. Maybe he is afraid. After all, he is old. And we are all afraid these days. But he doesn’t let it show. He holds his head up high and gets on with life.

I watch, every day, as he waits at the corner outside my window, which is at the corner of the coffee shop, which is on the corner of the street the old man wants to cross. Sometimes, I feel like I lurk in the corners of my life, as if I am too scared to come out and live. And I wonder if the old man ever feels this way. Probably not, I think. He pauses at the corner only long enough to find a break in the traffic. And then, he moves forward in a straight line. Not slowly, but also not in a hurry. He walks at his own pace.

I wonder if he is alone. Maybe he lives a solitary life on the third floor of a building that houses a deli and a bakery. Maybe he raised three children there and made love to his wife and laughed and cried inside those rooms – walls and ceiling and floors that were an entire universe. Maybe his wife is gone now. But he still has her memory, and that is enough, along with visits from his children and grandchildren.

july2018-kerrville-bluechairs+sidewalk

Maybe his wife waits for him at home. Maybe she is in their kitchen now, lit by the morning sun and humming under her breath as she makes breakfast and waits for him to return home so they can split the paper between them. She will start with the sports pages, and he will begin with the comics. Maybe they live in a huge house with a dog. And a cat.

Maybe he doesn’t have a wife at all. Perhaps he has a loving husband waiting for him at the end of his daily journey. Maybe they have been together for dozens of years, but married for only a few. When the old man gets home, he and his husband will make breakfast together and brew coffee, their movements in the kitchen a delicate dance learned over years of laughter and love. Maybe they live in a cute little cottage with blue shutters on a quiet, tree-lined street, and they will sit at the table together in their sun-filled kitchen and read the paper as they eat breakfast. It will be quiet and peaceful, with only the sounds of cups clinking against saucers and the soft swish of turning pages to mark the passage of time.

I will never know. And yet, somehow, the old man and I are connected. I watch him living in the few moments he stands outside the window, and I think that, maybe, I can live in my moments, too. He doesn’t know me. He never looks at me. He doesn’t know I exist. He doesn’t feel me watching him. Or, if he does, he gives no sign of it. And yet, he speaks to me, all the same.

“Have courage,” he seems to say. “Have courage.”

A Custom Ring Journey: Here Be Dragons … part 4, Finished Ring Pictures

wedding-dress-2-500px

Aaaaah! Here we are once again: Two crazy kids madly in love. It was a great wedding with lots of beautiful memories. And the ensuing 20+ years have been the same: great with lots of beautiful memories.

Today, I want to finish up my series on the design and production of my 20th anniversary ring with the most fun (to me, anyhow!) part: Pictures of the finished piece! If you’re just now tuning in or stumbling across this post, here are the previous posts in the series:

Part 1: Ideas & Inspiration
Part 2: Selecting a Stone
Part 3: The Design

floraldragon-catstatue-macro3-sm

So here she is! I know this design and type of setting isn’t for everyone, but I am mad in love with it. I love the look of metal work, so I love settings that are detailed and metal-heavy. It took me a while and a fair bit of “living” to realize the things I love and the things that are pretty but are not for me. I suppose it works that way for most people.

When I think back on getting engaged and getting married, I realize I was majorly influenced by what other people wanted. To the extent that I couldn’t separate what others wanted and thought was “appropriate” or “pretty” or “correct” or … well, whatever you want to call it … from my own ideas of those things. This isn’t to say that I didn’t love my engagement ring. I did love it, and I still do love it! It’s beautiful, and I still wear it. But it is to say that I wouldn’t have had the courage to stand up and say, “Hey World! This is what I want, and I don’t care if you think it’s weird or different!”

And, if I had possessed the courage to stand up and shout those things to the world, I wouldn’t have known where to start on my hunt for a ring that fit my “crazy” criteria. I got engaged and married before the internet was a thing. In the town where I lived, I did not have access to jewelers who would do this type of custom work. It never occurred to me that I could have a ring custom made. It was something so far out of my own realm of experience that the option to do a custom ring basically didn’t exist for me back then.

floraldragon-top+side-macro2-sm

But that was then and this is now! I was lucky enough to stumble into the world of custom jewelry a few years ago. I started out with a simple project and a simple idea, and it was a great experience. And, suddenly, the floodgates were opened for me. Over the years, my ideas and projects have become increasingly crazy, detailed, and complex. I say “crazy” in the best of ways. I’m not bragging on myself or putting myself down by saying it. At least, that’s not my intention. I think of them as “crazy” because I know these are designs that most people would never want to wear.

So, that leads me to my 20th anniversary ring. It is a 14K rose gold setting and contains almost 13 grams of gold. The stone, as we talked about in the second part of this series, is a purple-pink Spinel. It is a little over 2 carats equivalent weight, and it has the prettiest shade of purple. I love the way it looks like a rich and deep wine color in some lights and more pink-toned in others. I chose this stone because Spinel is a nice stone for everyday wear and the color came close to the purple tone of Amethyst, which is my husband’s birthstone. This is my first set Spinel, and I was happily surprised at the sparkle factor. This stone catches the light and plays it back to me through every facet. I think people often don’t expect sparkle from a colored stone, but this one has it. And rainbows, too!

floraldragon-mirror-sideview-macro2-sm

As you may recall from the CAD images in post 3, I have larger roses on either side of the setting, just underneath the stone. I wanted roses because they are my favorite flower. My husband gives me roses every year on my birthday and for our anniversary. My wedding bouquet was made entirely of roses. It is such a special flower for me.

As we talked about the setting, David Klass and I decided to add a little “oomph” of color. He mentioned enameling, and I was all over that idea. It took me some time to figure out the color for the enameling. Originally, I was going to do a purple to match or coordinate with the stone. But then, I started thinking about what might happen if I had to replace the stone down the line. I’m not planning on this, mind you. But I know Spinel isn’t as hard as Diamond or Sapphire. If the worst happens and I manage to crack the stone, that will mean a replacement. No matter how much I love my purple stone, I am incredibly likely to go with a blue gemstone because blue is my favorite color. So, I decided to go with a soft, robin’s egg sort of blue on the enameling. I like how this color coordinates with the purple stone, and it will work well if I end up switching colors in the future.

dk-floraldragon-hand-macro6-sm

And my dragons!! It always comes back to these little beauties. I love how they are fierce and a little savage looking as they come up on either side of the stone. I love all the detail in their faces, manes, antlers, and scales. You can even see their little teeth! Along with all of that, you have scales and spines and the most adorable little feet ever. Ever!

Each little dragon seems to glide and undulate up the ring toward the center stone. I love how their bodies have so much motion and life to them, and the tails go all the way down to meet under the bottom of the ring.

dk-floraldragon-sidedragon-macro1-sm

So why the whole dragon thing? It’s a fair question. It’s a question my mother has asked me many, many times. She asks it every time she sees this ring, in fact! The first time I showed it to her, she shook her head and said, “I always thought you would outgrow this dragon thing. But I guess you won’t.” Needless to say, she is not a fan. Also, my parents never — not even once! — tried to get me the pet dragon that I asked for every Christmas and birthday when I was a kid. I mean, isn’t it fair to say this whole obsession is my mom’s fault? If they had gotten me that pet dragon … Well, maybe — just maybe — we wouldn’t be here right now.

Of course, I’m joking.

Dragons have always been a “thing” for me. I love their mystery and wildness and savagery. For me, they represent many things I want to have in my life. They are a reminder to have courage and strength in the bad times. They make me think about how I can be wise when I need to be and how I can remember to find the beauty in life’s chaos and unexpectedness.

dk-floraldragon-tails-macro1-sm

But, for this ring, it was even more than all of those things. There are always my own, personal feelings about and affinity for these mythical beasts. But dragons were a recurring motif in our wedding, too. My husband is Vietnamese, and, as with most (perhaps all?) Asian cultures, dragons are an important symbol of prosperity, luck, life, and growth.

My bridesmaids’ dresses were made from a beautiful golden silk, embroidered through with dragons and phoenixes in brown thread. The material, like the material for my wedding dress, was a gift from my mother-in-law. At the time we got married, my husband and I had been together for around 8 years. We dated for two years before getting engaged, and we were engaged for 6 years before getting married. My mother-in-law was pretty vehemently and vocally against me for about 7 of those 8 years. As you can imagine, having her gift me the material for the dresses in our wedding was a wonderful and sweet surprise. It made me feel like my husband and I would be starting our marriage out with the support of both of our families.

Our cake topper was a combination of homemade and store bought. Early on in our engagement, a sweet friend gifted me with a statue of a bride and groom. It was made of plain white porcelain, and my friend said something about the faces of the couple reminded her of my husband and me. I knew I wanted to use them for our topper, but I wanted to set them off a little bit more. I asked my Dad to build a little gazebo for me out of light wood. He is a master at building and creating, and this gazebo was a masterpiece in a small scale. I painted it gold and added dragon designs on the front sides.  Red dragons, of course! Because red is lucky.

And, finally, our cake was beautifully draconic in design. It was a gorgeous creation. I went to a bakery that was local to us and told them I wanted an unusual design. I had drawn out a Vietnamese style dragon, and I showed them the picture. I was expecting to be turned away immediately with a laugh for my silly idea. Instead, the baker was all for it. They were excited to create something new and different. And it turned out beautifully!

So you see, when it was time for a ring to celebrate 20  years of love, laughter, and happiness, nothing but dragons would do!

 

 

A Custom Ring Journey: Here Be Dragons … part 3, We Design!

wedding-dress-2-500px

Remember these young and crazy kids? I know it’s a cliché, but I’m going to say it, anyhow: Time flies when you’re having fun. Maybe it’s a cliché because it’s true! Whatever the case, it doesn’t seem like over twenty years have passed since the day we said “I Do”. The crazy thing is that I certainly haven’t aged a single day since then. (I wish! Ha!)

This is a little series of posts following the creation of my 20th anniversary ring from the initial idea all the way through to the finished piece. So far, we have looked at inspiration and decided on an idea. And we have looked at different gemstones, finally settling on a particular one. If you are only catching up to this series now, there are two previous posts, located here:

Here Be Dragons, Part 1: Inspiration
Here Be Dragons, Part 2: Selecting a Stone

In this third post, I want to delve into the design process. As I mentioned previously, I worked with David Klass Jewelry on this project. I knew, going into it, that it was going to be a rather bumpy ride. I had a good idea of what I wanted, but I can’t draw to save my life. I think I managed to sketch a couple of very rough “stick figure” types of drawings. Other than that, I had to rely on my words. If you’ve been in this blog for any length of time, you already know I have a LOT of words at my disposal. Still, it felt like a daunting task. It helped that I’ve worked with David Klass’s team several times, so they more or less “get me”.

klass-dragonfloral-cad1-sm

So, here is how our routine went: I emailed David to describe basically what I wanted in terms of the ring design. I included my inspiration pictures, my own pitiful “stick figure” drawings, and lots of words. I knew I wanted dragons coming up the band on either side of my center stone. I wanted Asian style dragons, as opposed to a European or Western style. I knew I wanted them to have antler-like horns and a long, lean body. And I knew I wanted the dragons to look graceful and fluid. I wanted them to be mystical and strong, but also organic. And I wanted a floral detail on the ring, In particular, I wanted to do roses. My stone is an oval shape, and I initially wanted to set it east to west, so that the longer part of the shape spanned my finger.

David and his team took all my information and pictures and words, and they somehow meshed them all together to create Computer-Aided Designs (CADs) of potential settings. The above image is the first CAD David sent.  You can imagine how excited and thrilled I was at getting these first images! It was like a little dream come true seeing this idea of mine begin to come to life. Once I had the images, I would take a day or two to look over them and think about potential changes. I made notes, both in email form and via PhotoShop on the actual CAD images.

I loved a lot of things about this first image. In particular, I loved the look of the dragons. They are so curvy and graceful, and they look fierce on either side of the stone. I loved the detail in the metal work, but I decided I did not like the width of setting the stone east-west. Given the heavy metal work in the setting, I was afraid the ring would be too wide across the top of my finger. Additionally, I wanted to look into other options for the gallery, which is the space underneath and around the stone on the profile. I love a basket to hold the stone, so I sent a few options of inspiration pictures for David to consider.

DK-floraldragon-CAD2-sm

This is the second set of CADs David sent, after I requested my changes. This set looks a little bit different because he included a closeup of one dragon head, as well as a closeup of the new basket/gallery design. Nothing changed with regard to the dragon design as they curved and curled around the band of the ring.

Again, I liked many things on this design. In particular, I continued to love the curvy, organic look to the dragon bodies on the sides of the ring. I also loved how the dragons came up on each side of the stone so that their mouths seem to barely “kiss” each side of the stone. I also loved the way my center stone looked set north-south, so that the long sides of the oval would lay along the top of my finger, instead of spanning it side-to-side. Sadly, I did not like the new gallery design at all. So, I again sent back a few notes and changes, as well as some more gallery ideas.

dk-floraldragon-CAD3-sm

Here is the third CAD. As with numbers 1 and 2, the dragons are mostly the same. At this point, we are mostly playing around with the basket or gallery design. I found a really beautiful basket where there was a “lotus” sort of design cut out of the side of the gallery, and I thought maybe we could use something similar in this design. Also, I wanted to add more roses to the gallery. Here, we tried it with three larger, central leaves and smaller roses scattered around them. It’s pretty, but I didn’t feel it had the same impact as having the leaf shapes actually cut out of metal. After I thought about it, I realized I would not be able to get that “cut out” look without putting a bezel around the stone, which I did not want to do. Additionally, I didn’t feel there was room for a cut out and the roses all on the gallery, especially since I turned the stone from an east-west to a north-south orientation.

Oddly enough, I felt like my dragons looked different on this design. I kept looking at them and thinking they looked skinnier than before, which I didn’t necessarily want. David and I had talked about taking them down a little bit to save bulk between my fingers. But this looked like a little too much to me. Now, looking back on it, I wonder if my eyes were playing tricks on me. It is entirely possible the dragons stayed the same and I spent too much time staring at these designs!

dk-floraldragon-CAD4-sm

Enter CAD number 4! There were only minor changes on this set of images. As with the previous couple of CADs, we were mostly tweaking the gallery design. I decided to go back to the larger central rose under the north and south sides of the stone. I was still trying to get more of a “bouquet of roses” look or feeling on the gallery or shoulders of the ring at this point, so David added a couple of smaller roses underneath the bigger middle one.

I still felt like my dragons were too skinny in these images. And there was something about the way the heads and necks lifted up off the band that I didn’t like. I wasn’t sure how to explain exactly what, although I did my best. And, I decided I did not like the smaller roses underneath the larger center one.

dk-floraldragon-cad5-sm

Now, we come to CAD number 5. That’s right, guys! This is the fifth image David created for this project. The poor man. I must have been driving him absolutely batty with my indecision and my minor changes. And my whittering on and on about how my dragons were too skinny. I’m surprised he didn’t throw up his hands in frustration and tell me to get lost!!

But, luckily, this CAD was perfect to me. I asked David to make sure we went back to the dragon design from CAD 1. We kept the larger central rose, and David added some leaves and vine detailing underneath it. To save bulk between my fingers, David flattened the dragons slightly. And he tilted them  just a little bit so I could have the slightly bulkier look I liked without extra width between my fingers. This image doesn’t show claw prongs, but David already knew, throughout the whole project, that I wanted claws. Those get carved at the end of the process.

And so, at last, we had a design!! Through every refinement, every little tweak, and every adjustment, this ring started to feel more and more real to me. I was almost beside myself with excitement. I could hardly believe this was really real. Now that the design was done and dusted, the hardest part began: waiting for the final ring. It was torture, but a wonderful kind of torture.

 

COVID-19 Dreams & Elusive Ideas …

I know, I know. My post title is weird. And guess what that means? Yep: My post is probably going to be weird, too. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Really, what I want to talk about in this post is dreams, in general. Over the past couple of days, I have had two dreams that really stand out to me. One of them because it continues to feel so fresh and vivid in my brain. The other one because it is humming away in the back of my brain, but I can’t recall any of the details. And, of course, the dream I don’t want to remember is the one that continues to stand out to me, while the dream I very much want to hang on to slips and slides away from my memory. Isn’t it crazy how that works? Like … why, Universe? Why???

A couple of days ago, a story idea came to me in a dream. It actually came to me in that twilight time when I was suspended between being fully asleep and fully awake. Y’all! This was the greatest, most amazing, most awesome story idea ever. Ever! Even as I was sleeping, I remember thinking to myself, “Self! This is a fabulous idea! We need to write this!” This idea had everything: great characters, action, a little bit of drama, and even some funny parts. As my alarm went off to tell me it was time to get up, I felt so exhilarated and excited about this idea.

bloomington-july42019-fireworks3-sm

The moment I woke up, I rushed to my office space, intending to write this idea down. And when I say “the moment”, I mean it. I didn’t even pause to do my morning stretches or use the facilities. I know, I know. That’s TMI. But it’s important that you get the idea here. This is how excited I was. This is how awesome this story idea was!

And guess what? As soon as my butt hit the chair in front of my computer … *poof*. My fabulous idea was gone. Well, it’s not completely and totally gone. It’s still in there, hanging around on the edges of my memory and taunting me with its awesomeness. But I can’t remember any of the details from it. None. I am left with this fabulous-shaped hole and nothing with which to fill it. It’s so frustrating. Frustrating beyond measure.

And then, last night, I had a completely different type of dream. We are living through such a stressful time right now. I feel like I do a pretty good job of maintaining — or attempting to maintain — my usual optimism. I’ve been trying hard to “just keep swimming”, as Dory would say. But it’s stressful! Sometimes it hits me just how much things are out of control. How much I don’t have control over anything in my life or anything around me. I realize control is nothing more than an illusion at the best of times. But, at the best of times, it’s easier to believe in the magic. When times are tough, it seems like you can see the magician pulling every wire behind the curtain.

roadtohana7-chickens2-sm

Last night, I guess the stress built up to a boiling point for me. It manifested in a stress dream. It was a ridiculous stress dream that made me laugh in the light of day. And yet, it was no less stressful for all of its ridiculousness. Even as I told my husband about it and laughed at how silly it was, I felt the uneasiness and stress of it gathering inside my mind and body. And you know what? I can recall every single detail of the upsetting dream. The colors around me, the sounds, and even the smells all come back to me in vivid detail. I don’t even have to try and recall it. It’s just there, lurking under the surface of my subconscious.

Why is it that I can vividly recall the dream I would rather forget, but I can’t remember anything about the dream I want to hold onto? It seems like this is always the way of things, isn’t it? We let go of things we should cling to and cling to things we should let go. I’m sure I don’t have the answer to why this is, and I’m not going to figure it out in the space of one (or a gazillion) blog entries. But I guess it is something to think about, in our spare time — you know, when we aren’t foraging for toilet paper or disinfecting our groceries or washing our hands.

Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here in the corner, trying to remember the things I should and forget the things I shouldn’t. Or … something like that.

 

A Pandemic Birthday …

It was my birthday last Friday (April 10, not April 17). Honestly, I’m not much for birthdays, in general. I love to remember and celebrate my husband’s birthday and my daughter’s birthday. But I have never gotten all that excited about my own birthday. I believe I have mentioned this before. I have probably mentioned it once a year in here — you know, in connection with other birthdays. I didn’t go back to check, but it seems like the kind of thing I would say. It seems like the kind of thing I would feel obligated to say, in a way. I mean, most people love their birthdays. I’ve always felt kind of weird and out of step in this regard.

This year, it was a strange birthday. Even for me. I always like a quiet celebration with just my little family. And, of course, we had a very quiet celebration this year, since we are all still social isolating. Or quarantining. Or social distancing. Or … whatever you want to call it. My husband sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses. We took a walk together as a family. I FaceTimed with my parents, who were supposed to be visiting us for my birthday but, of course, couldn’t. My daughter waited on me hand and foot for the entire day. We had ice cream sundaes and take-out from a couple of places I particularly like in our new town. And we watched two movies together. All in all, it was a lovely, sweet day. In so many ways, it was perfect. I think I will have warm memories from it for many years to come.

april2020-birthdayroses1-sm

As I went to bed that night, it hit me that the day had felt entirely normal. For once, I didn’t think about COVID-19. We didn’t watch the news or read reports about new cases in our county and state. We didn’t scour the internet in search of toilet paper and paper towels. My husband and I didn’t talk about how likely it would be that this virus would come back with a vengeance once we all start socializing again. I didn’t sit and think about how weird and different and uncertain everything feels. We laughed and ate and enjoyed ourselves. We told silly stories and jokes. My daughter and I sang along to all the songs in Moana.

Now that I think back on it, I feel it might have been the very best of birthdays. Over the last few months, life has devolved into something I don’t quite recognize and don’t quite understand. Or, maybe it’s more that I don’t want to understand it. Or, let’s be honest: it’s probably that I want to deny any of it is happening. Even as I wear a mask and gloves on my infrequent trips to the grocery store and disinfect every item that comes into my house and studiously maintain at least 6 feet of distance between myself and others when out in public and avoid walking on favorite paths and trails for fear they will be too crowded and wash all my clothing in hot water — just in case … And on and on. Even as I obsessively perform these new and slightly exhausting daily behaviors, there is a part of my brain that wants to sing, “Lalalalala … None of this is real!”

april2020-birthdayroses2-sm

And yet, it is real. And it grows more terrifying by the day. I am afraid for my husband, who is high risk. I am afraid for my daughter, who still has her life in front of her. I am afraid for my elderly parents. I am afraid for friends that I love and who live in areas with a greater number of cases than my own town and county. I pray for strength and faith. But, inside, I am still afraid.

And so, a day of “normal”, even if it feels somewhat bittersweet in retrospect, was exactly what I needed. It was a day to pause and take a deep breath. It was a day to remember how lovely life is. It was a day to remember in the best of ways.

It was a good birthday.

A Custom Ring Journey: Here Be Dragons … part 2, Selecting a Stone

In thinking about what I wanted to blog about this week, my mind (of course) immediately turned toward the weirdness that is our world right now. And all the shelter-in-place or lockdown or stay-at-home or whatever-you-want-to-call it craziness. It makes sense, because this is our life right now. And it will be our life for the foreseeable future. None of us knows what the coming months are going to bring, and we all feel uncertain and uncomfortable right now. But then I realized I didn’t want to talk about any of that.

And so, I found myself be-bopping through older blog posts in a quest to jog my brain onto some other topic that might be more fun or more light-hearted. It’s not that I don’t take our current situation seriously. It’s not that I’m not scared about it. Or that I’m not tired of what life has become. It’s more that I need to talk about something else to take my mind off of all this, if only for a little while.

That’s when I stumbled across my first post about my dragon ring. (It’s here, by the way, in case you want to refresh your memory: Here Be Dragons, part 1) I realized I never followed up or finished out this little series of posts. Bad blogger, bad!! You can’t see me, but I am swatting my own nose with a rolled up newspaper. This is something I would never do to my dogs. Because, ouch!

In my previous post, I talked about how I decided on a general idea for my anniversary ring.  I had brought my favorite custom jeweler, David Klass, on board, and I sent him some suitably draconic inspiration images. In today’s post, I want to talk a little bit about the stone choice for this ring.

wedding-dress-2-500px

Awwww. Look how young we were! This was twenty-two years ago, folks! I confess I have not aged even one bit — ha, ha! I thought it would be fun to include this photo as a little chain of continuity from one post to the next in this series. If you recall from the previous post, this ring was to be for our 20th anniversary.

Once I gathered the courage to go against the norm and try a dragon-themed design, I had to figure out what type of stone I would use. I love diamonds, but I knew this would not be a diamond project. For one thing, it just wasn’t in the budget for this ring at this point in time. I knew I wanted a somewhat larger stone. For another thing, I managed to fall down the colored gemstones rabbit hole pretty hard over the last couple of years. I’ve come to appreciate all the beautiful colors and options out there. I even have a small and slowly growing collection of loose gems.

My first thought was Amethyst, because that is my husband’s birthstone. Back when we were dating, my husband gave me an amethyst promise ring, and he has gifted me different amethyst pieces over the years that we have been together. It would have been a good and sentimental choice, and I think that is part of the beauty of using colored gemstones. You can pick a stone that holds a lot of sentimental or special meaning for you and your relationship, and it will give your whole piece another layer of meaning.

mcg-tourmaline1-2.40ct-oval-macro1-sm

Almost as soon as I thought of it, I knew I had to dismiss Amethyst from the list of contenders. I wasn’t positive about all the fine details of the setting yet, but I knew I was not going to bezel set the stone. I thought Amethyst might be a little too soft for everyday wear.

My mind was still thinking of birthstones, though. So I turned to Tourmaline. This is one of the birthstones for October, and October is our anniversary month. It seemed like a good match. I have a tourmaline in my collection that I love, which is pictured above. It’s an orange-peach-pink color tone, which seemed fitting for Fall and for dragons. You know — kind of like fire. I started looking into Tourmaline a little more, and I discovered it is slightly harder than Amethyst. It’s not in the same realm of hardness as diamond or sapphire, but I thought it would survive in a solitaire setting such as I wanted to design. But then, I started thinking about the setting itself. I knew I wanted to have it cast in rose gold. I was afraid this orangey-peach-pink Tourmaline would make my ring look too one-toned in color.

bluezircon2-sm

Once I moved on from Amethyst and Tourmaline, I knew I had to consider Zircon. Zircon isn’t a particularly sentimental stone for me, my husband, or our relationship, but it is a favorite gemstone of mine. I particularly love the vibrant blue stones, such as the one pictured above. Blue is my favorite color, and I felt Zircon was hard enough to wear well in a solitaire setting. I love the look of blue Zircon in rose gold, and it’s a combination I don’t see often in my internet wanderings. I look at a lot of jewelry online, y’all!! In the end, I decided against Zircon because I already had a beautiful blue Zircon set in a ring I wear frequently on my right hand. (It’s also a dragon setting.) I decided I wanted something completely different and new.

mcgems-montanasapphire1-macro1-sm

I had to consider Sapphire, too. I have this lovely, lovely Montana Sapphire in my collection. I love this stone. It’s a nice size, and it is unheated. It also has a beautiful cut on it. I very briefly thought about using this stone, but I wasn’t sure how it would look in rose gold. It is a pale stone — a pale, pale blue that tends toward gray with a little touch of lavender. I previously had this stone in another setting, made of white gold, and I always felt disappointed with how this beautiful stone seemed to disappear completely in the setting. I was afraid of that happening again, and I didn’t want to chance any disappointment with my 20th anniversary ring. Now, in looking at this picture of the stone, I think it might have been okay in a rose gold setting. But who knows? In the end, I decided to keep looking.

mcgems-spinel2-2-sm

Enter Spinel! At the time I was thinking about this ring, I had been on the hunt for a Spinel to add to my collection. I was looking at a lot of Spinel jewelry online — not to buy, but just to enjoy the eye-candy. As soon as I started considering it for my anniversary setting, I felt like I was on the right track. It’s a stone with a decent hardness. It has a nice amount of sparkle if it is cut well. And it is possible to get a nice-sized stone without breaking the bank. Huzzah!!

I looked at several different loose spinels online. I even purchased a couple, but none of them immediately jumped out at me as being the right choice for my ring. After a little more searching, coinciding with a sale from my favorite gemstone cutter, I found the stone pictured above. I knew, right away, that it was the stone for my ring. I love how it has a pink-purple color in some types of lighting, but that it looks like a deeper purple in others. And, sometimes, it even has a beautiful, rich wine color. In particular, the medium purple tone of this stone looks like Amethyst. Which, if you will recall, is my husband’s birth stone. Is that perfect or what?

I’ll just tell you, so you don’t have to guess: Yes! It is perfect! I was able to secure this stone during the sale, and I remember anxiously awaiting its arrival. I wouldn’t know if it was The One until I saw it in person. I wasn’t sure if the coloring in the seller’s photos was going to be the same color I saw in person. Also, it’s an oval stone. I had never had an oval in a setting before, and I wasn’t sure if I would like the look of it. It was an exciting but also an anxious time. It seems silly to be that invested in something like this, doesn’t it? And yet, I was so absolutely invested in it.

I bet you can already guess how it turned out. The stone arrived, and I loved it immediately. The color, most of the time in indoor lighting, resembled Amethyst. This was perfect for me, as this would be the color I would see most often and, of course, Amethyst was my initial choice for the ring. That part almost felt like coming full circle on this project. I loved the cut. The stone sparkled like crazy. Basically, it was love at first sight for me and this stone. At this point, the project was starting to feel real. From here, the real fun of the design process began. And let me tell you: it was a long process with a lot of ups and downs. But, as this is already a fairly long post of many words, I think that will be another post for another day. Perhaps next week, even.

In the meantime, I hope you are all continuing to do well. And I hope you are all staying safe in this crazy world!

 

A Week of “Meh” …

Last week was a week of “Meh”. Remember how I mentioned I was doing some contract work for a local nonprofit organization? And remember how I mentioned that I was enjoying the work? And remember how I mentioned that I was starting to feel more alive and better about myself than I had in years?

Yeah. Well … that’s all gone. Thank you, COVID-19. I found out last week that I won’t be getting any more contract work for now. Luckily, the company feels it’s a temporary pause. They didn’t cancel my contract, and they told me they are looking forward to having me back on the team when things go back to normal — whenever that might be.

I’m not mad about getting shut down. I totally get it, and, honestly, I was not surprised. I felt really fortunate to be getting work as this pandemic started rolling across the U.S., but, in the back of my mind, there was that feeling of dread. You know the one I mean: that nervous, sinking feeling that tells you things are going too well, and that you are soon in for some disappointment.

april2019-dandelion-macro2-sm

It sucks. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that. The people I was working with were very apologetic. I know they feel terrible about it. But, really, they have no reason to. It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s just the way things are for right now. Times are uncertain. We have no idea how long we might have to huddle in our houses. Maybe only until the end of April. But maybe all the way to June. Or maybe even longer. Everything feels uncertain and scary now. Businesses have to cut expenses. And, of course, an independent contractor is the first expense to go. I’m not angry about it. I’m just … sad.

So, my contract work dried up last Monday. Before the pandemic happened, I had applied for a job with a company in our town. Last Tuesday, I got a call from the hiring manager for that job. He wanted to let me know they are dropping me from consideration, although he appreciated my interest in the job, and he said he wants to introduce me to other people in the company’s legal department once we can all leave our houses. I came into the hiring process late, and they already had people lined up for second interviews, so I didn’t have much of a chance, from the start. The hiring manager told me this, up front. I appreciate his candor and his willingness to continue offering me some of his time and assistance. It was incredibly kind of him to make the effort to call me in person, instead of letting the form rejection letter speak for itself. But … getting rejected sucks, too. Even if you weren’t totally sold on the job (which I wasn’t), getting rejected is a blow to the ego. Last week felt like a combination knock-out punch!

summer2018-maui-mamasfishhouse-sunset1-sm

And so, I have been feeling bad about myself. No matter how much I tell myself none of this has anything to do with my skills or qualifications … No matter how much I remind myself no one could foresee how everything has had to shut down due to COVID-19 … No matter how much I remind myself that this is all a matter of bad timing and nothing more … I feel like a big, fat, ridiculous, stupid LOSER.

Depression has joined the party in my head, whispering that I am worthless and making it hard to do anything I want or need to do. It’s hard to get up in the mornings. It’s hard to work up the energy to do even the simplest household tasks. Luckily, I can’t avoid cooking, as my family still needs to eat. And the dogs still need to be fed and loved on. These have been saving graces for me. Even so, I can feel it pushing down on me — that black cloud of self-hate, tinged at the edges with feelings of failure and worthlessness.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my shizzle together and stop whining over what I have lost. Today, I sat down and thought about all the good things in my life: my family loves me, my parents are still in good health, my dogs are a constant delight, and so on. Yes, I may have lost out on something that made me feel good about myself, but my family is still okay. My husband’s job seems stable, and we are (so far) weathering this crisis pretty well. I don’t hate staying at home, which is a huge positive right now. I can still enjoy nail polish and reading and all the little things I love on a daily basis. No one I know is sick with this horrible virus. I am so fortunate in many ways, and I don’t even realize it.

tx-hwy1-IG-sm

No, I think it’s not quite that I don’t realize it. I think it’s more that Depression has a way of hiding these things from me. At times when I start feeling down on myself, I have to remember to go looking for them. This isn’t to say that feeling sad over getting rejected or losing work is wrong or anything like that. On the contrary, it’s a valid feeling, and I need to let myself grieve over the things I lost. But I need to remember I haven’t lost everything. I need to remember I have also gained. And I need to remember that this loss, no matter how awful it feels, isn’t the end of the world.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine. I felt the wind against my skin. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I raised my arms toward the blue sky above, and it was Good.