Monday, October 3, 2011

IT's REally HaPPenING!!!

I know I haven't been writing as much as I want myself to... sorry about that, self.  I did just want to take this opportunity to say that I AM REALLY EXCITED.

A).  New, renewed passport arrived last month
B).  Diploma is notarized, soon to be apostilled
C).  Plane ticket is purchased
D). Rad boots have been acquired
E). Car has been SOLD!
F).  I have more money in my bank account than I have ever had in my life
G). I have a growing stockpile of cute, professional-ish attire which I am forcing myself to not wear (yet)                     
H). I have a really nice laptop (thanks, big brother!)
I).  My birthday is in two days
J).  My sister is coming this weekend, and I'll get to see my baby niece, Emma Jean. I can't wait.

I feel super blessed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Ceramic Frame Pendant Set!

As promised, here are a few pictures of the first set I made using one of the ceramic frames I made a couple of weeks ago. The necklace is knotted on silk cord with peridot, beautiful purple-blue freshwater pearls, and hill tribe silver beads:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Used Cars and Terrorism with a side of Chutney

The biggest mistake I made last week was deciding to list my car on Craigslist when I had so much other stuff happening. I don’t even want to get into the details, but I listed it Sunday night and by Tuesday morning I had taken it down after being emailed, texted and called by about twenty people wanting to see it/haggle/ask a million questions. Monday was a terrible day, I was completely exhausted and felt hopeless by the end of it. It was really overwhelming, and I really had no idea what I was doing. I decided to wait until my dad was back from vacation so I could have him help me.

Tuesday morning I was still stressed out and exhausted about all the car stuff, but I was cheered up by going into Blue Shoe. Like I’ve said before, it really helps me with my perspective when I spend time there. Courtney, one of the artists, had a birthday coming up on the 15th, so we ate at the little diner across the street as an early birthday celebration. The staff there is really nice. They put a candle into her double cheeseburger when they brought it out. I spent most of the lunch being distracted by a good looking fellow at the booth across the room. He had a European accent (I wasn’t close enough to distinguish it), and he was eating across from two middle-aged women who I assume were work colleagues. Not the type of person you expect to see in a greasy spoon diner in Lancaster, Ohio. It made me even more excited about being in Europe soon.

After the artists went home at 3, I was loaded up with artwork and sent to the State Farm Insurance headquarters in Newark. They have a long corridor they’ve turned into an art gallery, and I helped hang a section with art from Blue Shoe. The Fire Claims department opened out from a doorway about midway down the corridor. I couldn’t help thinking about how State Farm was the insurance company my parents had used all through my childhood, up until the point when our house burned down in 2006. After the fire, State Farm dropped my parents like a hot potato. I really hate insurance companies.

When I got home Tuesday night, I started cooking and cleaning for a dinner party I had planned for the following evening. I have a couple of friends who recently moved to Lancaster and are expecting their first baby (a girl), and I thought they might like to meet a couple of my other friends who live around here and have two lovely little girls of their own. I have been craving good Indian food for a while, so I decided to try cooking an Indian meal. It ended up turning out really well and was a lot of fun, but Indian food is very labor intensive! I’m so glad that Nick and Tonya came over early and helped me cook; all three of us were cooking different things at the same time, while their daughters Chloe and Stella “helped” me with the Naan. Chris brought a pineapple and ginger banana bread which the kids really liked. The evening was really nice. I don’t usually have parties. I think one of the reasons is that I’ve always been sort of irrationally afraid that nobody will come. Apparently, this fear has been with me since  childhood...

This is a drawing I made when I was little. My grandmother kept it and put it into an album which she gave to me for Christmas a few years back (thanks for being awesome, Grandma!). As far as I know, this never actually happened.

The Indian recipes I chose called for lots of ingredients that can’t be found at any local grocery stores, so I had made a trip up to an international market in Columbus the weekend before. It was really fun going there, I was the only white person in the store. That doesn’t happen very often in Ohio. I overheard two of the young men that worked at the store talking about life in their respective countries (one was Middle Eastern while the other was from Africa). There was a really cute little boy running around by himself with a cart, very polite and bright-eyed. When I was leaving, I got to meet his little sisters. They were sitting in the car next to mine, and they waved and said hello to me, smiling. They were darling, with shimmery hijab in bright colors framing their little faces. 

I did a lot of driving that weekend, and consequently listened to a lot of NPR. Most of the coverage was about 9/11, and what people remembered from that day ten years earlier. It always makes me sad thinking about 9/11. It’s sad because people were killed in the attacks, but it’s also sad because I remember what I was thinking when the attacks happened. I was a senior in high school, and I was in post-secondary, so I was taking courses at OU. One of the courses I had enrolled in that quarter was a Political Science class called Current World Problems. It was a very interesting class to be taking in light of the events that happened. The class covered terrorism and U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, so we learned a lot about the background and history of the issues.

I remember, though, that on the day of September 11, as surreal as everything was, I had this feeling that none of it was a surprise. I had this feeling that maybe, just maybe, this could be an opportunity for us to take a serious look at our foreign policy, maybe consider some of the reasons why there are so many people out there who hate the United States enough to do something like this. It’s not that there’s anything we could do that would make everyone in the world love us, that there will ever be a time when nobody out there feels they have been wronged by us. Of course we can’t go back in time and change anything that has already been done. There will always be religious fanatics and nut cases who want to blow themselves and others up to prove a point. But I thought that at least we might consider the possibility that there are many people across the world who have perfectly legitimate reasons for disliking our government, that maybe we could look at the causes for this and think about how we could become more of a diplomatic, benevolent presence on the world stage.

Of course, that isn’t what happened. I think that, as is so often the case in world politics, the fear of the people was manipulated. It was used to justify everything from the invasion of Iraq to the invasion of our own civil liberties. It makes me think of F.D.R.’s first inaugural address, the line “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”... it’s a very potent idea for our current situation. A nation full of people living in fear can be so easily manipulated into agreeing to things that are antithetical to their own best interests, into giving up their rights and freedoms. When we turn on the news, all we hear about is how bad the economy is, how it’s not going to get any better, how there’s no way Republicans will ever pass Obama’s jobs bill, how our average household income has fallen... basically, it’s all about how scary things are, how afraid we should be. The only thing I can be sure of when I turn on the news is that it will be scary and depressing.

I think that perhaps the most revolutionary thing we can do as individuals is to refuse to be afraid. Or, more importantly, to refuse to let our fear be used to justify hate, war and destruction; to not allow ourselves to be scared into agreeing to sacrifice our rights or privacy. I think that the world would be a better place if we could all stand up and say, “No, you can’t scare me into giving this up or doing what you say”. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Benjamin Franklin also said “to lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals” which I think is very sage advice for the people of the United States.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back in the Swing

I've been mad at myself because I haven't been writing more on here, especially since I haven't been writing in my journal, either. It's easy to get caught up in everything else going on and not make time for little things that are important to me. I've been busy since I returned to Ohio. I've been making (and selling!) jewelry, working at the store, fixing up my car in preparation for selling it, researching plane tickets (hoping prices will fall a bit), volunteering at the studio, and doing some painting as a side job. I've also been trying to do things with my friends. I want to spend as much time with people as I can before I leave in January.

One of the painting side jobs...
An old cigarette machine Cindy is turning into an "Art Machine"

I volunteer at an art studio called Blue Shoe Arts, working with adult artists with disabilities. Today I helped load up for and set up a booth to represent Blue Shoe at a local festival called Honeyfest. My grandma had sent me a Blue Shoe pamphlet when I was still living in Athens, and when I moved back to Lancaster a year and a half ago, I contacted them and started working there. It's been one of the most rewarding things I've been involved with. The artists are really great, they have such amazing senses of humor. Working with them always reminds me how much our ability to enjoy life and appreciate what we have is about our attitude.

A few months into my time with Blue Shoe, the board of developmental disabilities purchased Art & Clay on Main, a paint-your-own pottery studio. Blue Shoe now shares a building with Art & Clay, although they are separate entities. It's been nice being at Art & Clay in many ways... it's right downtown, half a block from Ava's, so I can run back and forth between them. I was able to teach some kids' art classes over the summer through Art & Clay, which was really fun. It's also nice because it made it easier to test out a new jewelry idea - ceramic frame pendants! I bought some clay, ordered some nichrome (high-temp) wire, and made little frames, which I then fired once, glazed, and fired again. I picked up the final product today, and I think they'll be really cute. For my jewelry, I take little images and seal them under resin. I typically use little metal plates or antique keytags for this, but I thought it would be fun to do some with ceramic frames for a change. I'll post pictures of finished jewelry once I get that far.

Frames, prior to first firing

All glazed and fired

It is pretty amazing to me how the jewelry thing has been working out. It all just sort of happened. I had never heard of Ava Jeweler's (the store where I have been working for the past year) when I moved back to Lancaster. I was riding my bike around town one day when I recognized some of my friend Cindy Yeager's stained glass stars hanging in the window of the shop. Shortly after that I was almost ready to look for a job, but I hadn't actually started looking yet (I was dreading it). I was meeting Cindy for lunch one day, and she was dropping some of her work off at Ava's, and said I should come down there because they were looking for help. It was perfect. I didn't have to do the dreaded job hunt, and I found a place where I fit right in. I absolutely love Ava, her family and the other girls that work there, and I've learned a ton.

Although jewelry making had been a hobby of mine in the past, I hadn't made much for a long time. Of course I couldn't be around all the beautiful jewelry, materials, and tools without catching the bug again, and earlier this year I started making my own line of jewelry. A friend told me about the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, where they have an awesome jewelry studio and affordable college level metalworking classes, and I started going there. The first time I displayed my jewelry was for Lancaster's ArtWalk in July. During the week of ArtWalk, I sold just shy of $800 of my work. I also won the People's Choice Award for favorite artist, and received another $500. Last month, I made $400 from sales, even though business at the store was rather slow. My goal is to make all the money I need for my TESL program fee in Prague (1500 Euro, about $2,050) from jewelry sales, but the way things have been going I think I can add in first month's rent in Prague as well. Christmas sales account for a large portion of the whole year's business at the store, so I can expect to sell a lot leading up to that.

Another interesting thing about the jewelry is that when I started making it earlier this year, I had no clue I would be going to Prague. I was still throwing around ideas of farming in France or volunteering in India. The very first things I made though, were pendants with Alphonse Mucha's Four Seasons on them. I ended up making a lot of things with Mucha, and I've sold more of those things than anything else. It's interesting because Mucha was a Czech artist, and I am excited to visit the Mucha museum when I go to Prague. Ava says that things like that are always happening when you're in line with your destiny. I think she's right. It does seem like we get little signs from the universe when we're on the right track.

A couple of the Mucha pieces I've sold

Friday, August 19, 2011

What does "This is water" mean?

I've had several people ask me about the significance of "This is water", so here's the story...

I have a very dear friend Cindy who is fond of buying multiple copies of books and giving them to her friends. The first book she ever gave me was This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. This is the text of a speech that was given at the 2005 Kenyon College commencement by David Foster Wallace, published as a book. 

Here is a link to the full text of the speech: This is water.

Cindy gave me this book at a very important turning point in my life, when I was consciously working on changing my own ways of thinking and living. This text has come to define for me the importance of taking an active, conscious approach to how I see the world. It puts into words my realization about how much my beliefs and views are a matter of choice. I am able to choose what I pay attention to and what I see as significant in my life.

David Foster Wallace articulates the importance of this realization in his speech, but nothing could illustrate more the seriousness of what is at stake than his 2008 suicide. Obviously, it's not that he didn't grasp these concepts on an intellectual level. As someone who has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts in the past, I understand how easily my own thinking can start slipping back to its default setting. The choice of what to think about and what to believe is a choice that has to be made on a daily basis. I have to keep reminding myself, just like at the end of the speech.

"This is water."

"This is water"

This blog is a way of reminding myself of the beauty and significance of what's around me. It's about awareness. It's about noticing the water and choosing to believe in things. It's about learning how to be happy, and sharing that with people I love.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Midwest-ward Bound

A wet, moody mountain morning

Birch forest

Sunday was a lazy last day in Durango. We woke up to an overcast sky spitting rain, so we nixed our original plan to float the Animas one more time. We headed from our campsite outside Silverton to the Durango Diner, where all the food is greasy, ENORMOUS, and cooked right in front of you. The boys spent the day playing pool and watching the new Harry Potter movie while I hung out at a local coffee shop and did some writing and photo editing.  We had dinner at Durango Brewing Company and then went back to Jared's house where I got to meet some more of the housemates. It was sad to leave Jared the next morning, but I feel better knowing he's met a bunch of really awesome people and is in such a beautiful place.

Jared chows down some green chili breakfast burrito

Pike's Peak is in here somewhere

I was even more sad to leave the mountains behind. Before we left the Rockies completely, though, we made one more stop. Outside Colorado Springs, there's an area where the Great Unconformity is exposed. Shan had gotten a tip on the location from a geologist friend. My brother has been talking our ears off about the Great Unconformity lately, which is known as the GUn to geo-nerds. I tried to find a nice link with a simple and interesting explanation of what exactly the GUn is, but failed. I did, however, discover that the Great Unconformity has a facebook page: Like the "GUn" on Facebook! It was extremely amusing to witness Shan's reaction to these rocks, which was similar to that of a small child on Christmas morning. Even more amusing was the fact that Shan's rock hammer had been misplaced on another road trip two weeks before. He attempted to collect samples by chopping off pieces of rock with other pieces of rock, all the while chastising himself for being a rock hammer-less geologist. We stayed at the GUn site for a couple of hours, then commenced our retreat to the breadbasket. It was raining in the mountains as we drove out, headed for the endless flatness of the Great Plains. We stopped for one last view. As we looked back across a field lined with sunflowers, the sun was streaming through the parting storm clouds over the Rockies. It was perfect.

Shan Geo-nerding it up

Last view of the Rockies

We drove late into the night Sunday and slept at a rest stop in Kansas, leaving about 8 hours of driving for the next day. Although we took a rural highway instead of the interstate, the scenery still seemed bland after driving around Colorado. Also, I mentioned in one of my last posts that I had started reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs again, after having started it several times and never finishing. While I'm on the subject of things that are bland...I got almost halfway through Missouri, and halfway through the book again before I realized why I had never finished. The first couple of essays are vaguely interesting, but as the book goes on I start realizing that I really don't care about any of the stuff he's writing about, like professional sports, Pamela Anderson, and the Left Behind series. And I care even less about what Chuck Klosterman thinks about any of the stuff I don't care about. Basically, it's boring. I'm all about giving things a chance (obviously, since I've given this book at least four chances) but I officially give up on this one.

While the end of a trip is often sad, I had a bright star waiting for me in Terre Haute, Indiana. I got to spend some time with my niece, Emma Jean. She turned one month old this past Sunday. Being one of the younger kids in my family, I've not spent much time around babies, so it's really awesome to watch how quickly they change. She'd learned so much in the ten days since I'd last seen her. She can focus on our faces now, and she's started smiling and (more frequently) sticking out her tongue. My sister and I talked about how strange it is that we all went through this stage, but none of us remember it. We all start out as these little creatures that don't do much except eat, pee, poop, and cry. The people around us teach us what it means to be human, how to smile, laugh, and talk. We grow up to be these creatures that are so complex we barely understand ourselves. It's hard to imagine trying to teach someone else how to be good at being a human when I feel like I've only just started figuring that out for myself. Maybe that's the point, though. Maybe through the experience of teaching this tiny creature, you more fully realize what it is to be a human yourself. 

Getting burped by mommy while daddy kisses the tootsies

Shelley and Emma

She looks at me now!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Colorado, Part 3

Colorado part 3

Night in the mountains

Morning in the mountains

We woke up at 7 am to the sound of a group of chatty women beating the trail to the peak. It was another clear day, perfect for a hike. After eating a breakfast of seven differently-flavored oatmeal packets all mixed together, we filled Jared's daypack with water and headed up the trail. I let the boys go ahead at their own pace, which is fast, while I took my good old time, making frequent stops to take pictures or catch my breath. There was a time in my life when I would have insisted on keeping pace with the guys, just to make the point that I could. Those days are gone. I'd rather enjoy myself; I've got nothing to prove.

The boys up ahead

The first thing I realized about this mountain when we got up past the grass line is that, while from far away it appears to be one massive piece of rock, it is in fact just a massive pile of rocks, with maybe a big piece somewhere underneath. "Climbing the mountain" was really just scrambling up a really big, steep rock pile. It reminded me of climbing the huge pile of limestone gravel by the soccer fields in Lancaster as a kid, which I remember seemed like a mountain at the time. Obviously the scale is a bit different.

There were tons of great photo-ops, seeing as how the view in every direction was like a postcard picture. The sky was clear and blue and the air was still. We passed the group of women on their way down, so we were the only people at the peak, which was really nice. We hung out up there for a while before heading back down, which was actually more difficult than going up in some ways. When I was a kid I would slide down the gravel pile on my butt, getting limestone dust all over my pants, but that strategy was definitely NOT going to work for this rock pile. I took my time getting back down, definitely sliding and falling on my butt plenty of times in spite of myself.

Around the time I got back to the camp, I started experiencing what I would eventually determine to be a light case of altitude sickness. I had a splitting headache. "Drink more water!" Shan commanded. I knew I wasn't dehydrated. I am constantly drinking water, high altitude hike or no. I thought it might be my sunglasses pinching me behind the ears. When we got to Silverton that afternoon, I thought maybe caffeine would help. It didn't. In Ouray I broke down and bought a bottle of Excedrin Migraine, which seemed to take the edge off a little, but the headache persisted. We were, of course, hiking and driving all over the place that day, going from almost 13,000 ft. at the peak of Mt. Engineer to 9,300 in Silverton to 7,800 in Ouray. I felt like I had a horrible hangover, and it didn't let up until we got to our campsite that evening and I took a short nap at a steady elevation. Later, I looked up elevation sickness, and found that it is often described as similar to a bad hangover.

Between Durango and Silverton

Between Silverton and Ouray

Despite my headache, I enjoyed the drive. The highway twists around the mountains in hairpin turns, and there are remnants of old mining buildings clinging to cliffs and spilling down hillsides. Ouray is called "the Switzerland of America" and it is definitely picturesque settled among enormous peaks. We wanted to camp somewhere really awesome, but all the usual places were packed because it was a Saturday during peak tourist season. We ended up going back to a place where we had randomly pulled off the road between Silverton and Ouray which turned out to be the site of an old mining town that was mostly destroyed by fires in the late 1800s. It was perfect, really quiet and secluded. No bears, but when I got up to pee sometime in the early morning I could hear a pack of coyotes howling somewhere not too far away. It sounded as if they were singing.

We camped at the site of this old mining town