Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Day Devoted to the Torch

Had a great day today with my sister. In the morning, we did an hour and a half of melting glass and making beads on the torch at Beadfx, and of course, did a little shopping while Rosemary was very kindly changing the oxygen tank for us, for some reason we both had to pick up some more beads for our stash - why is it that no matter how often I go there, I always find something I have to have? Often, it is something I haven't even seen on previous trips, which probably just means their inventory is just so vast and everchanging that one simply cannot keep up. I don't know how the people who work there earn a living, I know I'd be happy to trade my pay cheque for beads if I was employed there. (Oh wait a minute, I do that anyway!!)

After we grabbed some lunch, we headed over to the open house at Nortel Manufacturing, a.k.a. the place where they sell the glass and the torches and the flameworking supplies. We'd never been there before and it was a bit disconcerting to make our way behind the industrial buildings and through the mile high snowbanks to their office (it was hard to see the signs, they were almost hidden by snow) but it was well worth the effort, we were not disappointed!

They had several different types of torches set up and Dwyn Tomlinson and Amy Waldman-Smith were giving demonstrations. There were packages of glass everywhere in every colour of the rainbow and then some. The place is cluttered to the ceiling with stuff but has a really good feel to it and everything is very organized. Of course, we did not go away empty-handed, the sale prices were fabulous - many thanks to Jean and our buddy Lorri for helping us to make selections as well as for the free samples they added to our purchases.

Can't wait to get back to the torch next week to try out the new stuff!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Beaders Duel

It's not quite pistols at dawn, but as you may have read in The Dixon Chick's blog, Stephanie and I are now "duelling beaders" after going to open beading night at Beadfx last night.
It was a bit wet and slippery out on the roads so I wasn't too surprised to discover we were the only ones there to bead, although we did try to convince some of the shoppers to stay and join us, but we had a lot of fun hanging out with Jen, Dwyn and Marg (Marg is on her way to Tucson today for the bead shows and I was trying to convince her she needed to take me along to act as her assistant and/or to carry her suitcase but to no avail.)

As we were getting ready to leave, Dwyn was discussing the weekly inspiration section in their weekly newsletter that also appears on their website. Stephanie volunteered to provide "guest inspirations" and Dwyn quickly accepted and handed her the beads for this week's issue. Since I am not one to turn down free beads, I quickly jumped in and volunteered too! With that, the gauntlet was thrown down.

So now we are duelling beaders, each challenged to come up with something inspirational for the Beadfx readers. No pressure!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Coming to Canada

The news was announced yesterday and I must admit, I felt a bit giddy when I heard it. It's almost like someone told me Elvis was coming to visit. Okay, Elvis is widely believed to be dead, but you know what I mean...

(Have you seen this week's cover of People magazine? Don't Mr. and Mrs. Obama look glamourous?)

What is it about this man that creates such a fascination? Canadian politicians don't generate that much excitement, that's for sure. Oh yes, we had something called Trudeaumania up here once upon a time but that was what, forty years ago?

Unfortunately, it looks like he's only coming for one day and Parliament won't be in session at the time, so he won't be able to give a speech in the House of Commons. No news on exactly where Obama will be visiting when he crosses the 49th parallel - will it be Ottawa? (the snowbanks are probably above his head by now and their transit strike continues, so hopefully someone will pick him up at the airport) Vancouver? (they're probably too busy building infrastructure for next year's Olympics) Toronto???? (yes, let's hope so!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Snow Today

In fact, it has been snowing all day. Once again, I was very glad that I now live so close to work so my commute was not that bad but I did have to clear a whole lot of snow off the car before I could drive home and it took at least 10 minutes before I got the feeling back in my fingers afterwards. So you'll understand why I find myself wondering more and more these days, exactly why do I live in a cold climate? In the summer months, I would have no problem identifying what I love about Ontario, with cottage life being at the top of the list. But this time of year, I'm asking myself, what is the point of windchills, shovelling and putting on extra layers?

I'm remembering our days in Puerto Vallarta very fondly tonight. Missing my bead friends, wondering what they are doing right now (I know one is probably snowed in at her cottage and one is getting ready for the Tucson bead shows next week), recalling our stroll on the beach...I know, I know, if you really try, you can tell yourself that walking in snow is a little like walking in sand...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beads as Art

My friend and metalwork mentor Kate McKinnon is a very talented artist, of this there is no question, but what amazes me is her ability to make art without even trying.

I took this picture of the bead tray she was working from while we were in Mexico. By the end of the week, it was quite the mix of bit and pieces and components but to my mind, it makes a very cool piece of abstract art!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choy

It's the start of the new lunar year in the Chinese calendar, so Happy New Year, everyone!

2009 is the year of the Ox, which just happens to be my animal. Barack Obama was also born in an ox year, as was George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Bruce Springsteen. We are thought to be dependable, calm, modest, artistic, logical and stable, and if that all sounds too good to be true, can supposedly be stubborn, demanding and narrow-minded.

I didn't know before today that your animal zodiac sign is determined by what time of year you were born - if you were born between January 1st and early to mid February, you would have the sign of the year previous. If you want to look up what sign you fall under, you can look it up here:

According to Wikipedia, the Ox is "a sign of properity through fortitude and hard work." Apparently, it's a good time for the economy to have an ox year, as we could all benefit from a bull market in these challenging times. We just have to be willing to put in the hard work necessary to get there. I say, let's do it!! Who's with me??

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Slowly Getting Organized

I've been working on getting things sorted in my apartment this weekend. Having moved in at the beginning of December and dealt with the holiday rush, a Christmas trip to Calgary and a jewellery course trip to Puerto Vallarta 3 days after that (I know, it's a tough life but somebody's got to do it!), I am now back to my regular life, which involves spending more time at home. However, I'm finding it hard to fully enjoy being in my new home as things are still a little topsy turvy, with furniture not quite where it needs to be, boxes still to be unpacked and decisions to be made about where things belong. I'd rather be making jewellery but when I try to do so, my mind starts thinking about what needs to be done and it doesn't feel like I'm totally in the groove. It feels like the muddle in my apartment is being mirrored in my brain, if that makes any sense.

I realized yesterday that I need to get organized before I can get to work on the jewellery. My plan is to get things put away and tidied up, even if they are not in the spot where they stay permanently but at least things will be organized, clean and out of the way, and everything will be less jumbled, then I can focus on smaller areas in the days and weeks to come.

I started late in the afternoon yesterday with the bedroom and got a lot done in a short period of time. The closet is in much better shape, I'm caught up on the laundry and all my summer clothes are now neatly stored in boxes on a shelf as sadly, they won't be needed for a while (did I mention it's minus 25 with the windchill again today? Remind me why we live in a cold climate again?)

One of treasures I unearthed while I was untangling a shoebox full of necklaces was this beautiful gold pendant. To be honest, I had completely forgotten I had it and I couldn't tell you when was the last time I wore it. I love the look of it, it says medieval to me. I shall enjoy wearing it again.

Now it's time to get back to it, as I've procrastinated long enough for today. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ukrainian Beading

At the January meeting of the Toronto Bead Society, Maria Rypan treated us to a slide show and discussion of contemporary beadwork in the Ukraine. Her talk was based on her recent travels there and the artists she has met while visiting. I was quite interested to learn that beading is mostly found in the western part of the country and doesn't form part of the traditions for the eastern areas. It was no surprise to hear that the Soviet regime discouraged the bead artists from using certain colours, such as those for their national flag, in their designs and she showed us an example of how one artist had discreetly placed the banned colours in their work. She also showed us pictures of incredibly elaborate beaded necklaces made by the men and women she had met, many of whom sell their work at outdoor markets. I was quite impressed by the volume of pieces they had on hand in their stalls, dozens of pieces representing literally hundreds of hours of work. Another traditional form of beadwork for this country is beaded eggs, made using either wooden forms or actual eggs that have been emptied before being decorated - can you imagine working with something so fragile as the base for your beadwork? As well as the slide show photos, Maria also brought along examples of the jewellery, eggs and clothing she has picked up on her travels to include in her personal collection. The beaded clothing worn for holidays and ceremonial occasions was especially interesting to see and touch - as a result of the amount of beadwork added to fabric, the pieces are quite heavy. All in all, it was a very interesting presentation, thanks Maria!

You can check out Maria's website at

Friday, January 23, 2009

Geicos Too

Having read yesterday's post, I'm sure you're asking yourself, what possible connection could there be between iguanas and jewellery??? I assure you, there is one, I just thought I'd draw out the suspense a little bit.

Are you ready? Here it is: there is actually a company located in Cambridge, Ontario called Iguana Beads. I think they have a store in Cambridge but I haven't had a chance to check that out. I've seen them at the shows, like Bead Oasis and the Toronto Bead Society bead fairs, and I've bought some lovely things from them - I always make a point of checking out their booth as they have good selection and excellent prices. [I'll give you the link to their website but I have to tell you, there isn't anything much to see there, just their contact information and unfortunately, when I emailed them at the address posted, the message came back as "undeliverable" but if you ever meet them in person, you won't be disappointed.]

We also saw a couple of geicos in Mexico. Here's a picture I took of one that visited us in the studio one night, as he was approaching his dinner:

In case you haven't seen any of those insurance ads and would like to know what they look like up close, here's picture of one made out of wire by an unknown but very talented artist:

I believe the same person also created this lizard like creature out of beads and wire:

Isn't it amazing what imagination and a little bit of manual dexterity can create?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hacienda Wildlife

In addition to the incredibly adorable Stella (how cute is that Pebbles Flintstone pony tail???), one of the fun things we discovered about the Hacienda Mosaico was its iguana inhabitants. Every day around lunch time, an iguana would make it's way along the property wall and climb up to the highest vantage point on the neighbour's roof and keep an eye on us. I named him Chester, Kate called him Mr. Teeth. I'm not sure where he spent the rest of his time but I am convinced he came out just to have a look at us, and that he enjoyed basking in our admiration as we oohed and aahed over him and ran to get our cameras to take his photo. He seemed quite large to me but we were told he is rather small compared to some of the specimens they grow down there.

Here's a picture of him making his way across the wall, across the pieces of glass that are imbedded in the top of the wall (for show, rather than as a security measure):

A couple of days before the end of our stay, Lalo (the chef) informed me that there was a second iguana - I called him Charlie. He made fewer appearances and was harder to spot, as he was quite different in colour than Chester, a dark charcoal gray compared to Chester's golden hues, and he was much smaller in size. He also seemed to be a bit shy and not as willing to sit out in the open. I'm not sure if iguanas are territorial but clearly Chester was the headline performer for this particular duo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mexican Mosaics

The Hacienda Mosaico definitely lives up to its name. There are mosaic pieces all over the property, as a pretty fountain, as decoration in a walkway and as flower pots - although in more unconventional form than your standard clay pot! Can you guess which photo I mean? :) One of the tables by the pool even has flattened silverware embedded in the mosaic design, like a place setting, which I thought was a really inventive idea (designed by none other than our very talented hostess, Sam).

Sam drove us by the tile store on our first day in Puerto Vallarta then dropped us off a few blocks away so we could shop and after much searching on foot later in the day (turns out we were on the wrong block - oops!), Colleen and I located the store again and went in to take a look. I've never seen so many tile choices in my life. It's a bit daunting, actually, trying to choose which tiles to use, but the results are quite spectacular. You can either create a repeating pattern or just collect a bunch of individual tiles and put them all together - either way, the effect is quite lovely and so colourful.

On our last night in Puerto Vallarta, I found this beautiful wooden box with a butterfly on the top, covered with clear tiles that made it look like a mosaic. I just had to bring it home as a momento.

The mosaic idea has stayed in my head and I'm trying to translate it into something made out of beads. I'll keep you posted on how I make out. In the meantime, enjoy the photos. Notice how the checker board effect is like a mosaic? Who's a clever girl then?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day Has Come

Inauguration Day (or "Obama Day", as some of us in the North have been calling it) has finally arrived and what a day it has been. A bunch of us gathered together in the kitchen at work around 11:30 a.m. and watched the ceremony unfold. I don't recall ever being this interested in an inauguration before (although I do vaguely recollect Maya Angelou reading a poem at Clinton's swearing in, so I must have caught part of that one) and it was a lot of fun to watch it with my co-workers and share the excitement and hopefulness of this historic moment with them, and the rest of the world.

I certainly don't envy President Obama the daunting job he has begun today but I definitely admire him for taking on the task. As Chris Rock said, "If you're the president, you only have two jobs - peace and money. That's the gig." Not an easy gig these days, that's for darned sure.

Time will tell how this new president chooses to lead his country. As the US of A's nearest neighbour, we Canadians will be watching closely to see what he does. As one of our political pundits pointed out, "It's not like Obama will wake up every morning and say, what can I do for Canada today?" but I think he understands we share more than a common border and an affinity for hockey. Did you know we supply more oil and gas to the United States than Saudi Arabia? It's true. They consume a lot of our fresh water as well. They need us and we need them, and not just for their TV programming, so I'd rather we work together to find solutions that suit us both. Right now, it seems like this new administration is willing to do what it takes to help us fulfill the hope and promise that shine so brightly in all our hearts today and with hard work and open minds, achieve common goals that we and all our global partners can believe in.

I wish them well and I certainly pray that President Obama and his family will be safe from harm during his term of office. The man was hired to do a job, all y'all living out there in crazy land just let him get on with it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blue Monday?

According to the "experts" (whomever they might be), today is supposed to be Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Okay, I just Googled it and it turns out the "expert" is actually just one British scientist who came up with a formula based on the weather, our level of debt, the length of time after Christmas and failed New Year's resolutions all combining to make today the gloomiest of the year.

Well, I don't know about you but I'm feeling pretty darned cheerful today, in spite of the fact that I'm a little weary and I look like Rudolph, following a very busy day of sneezing and blowing my nose thanks to this cold. For some reason, I feel positive. I feel hopeful. I feel empowered.

I feel ready to welcome the next President of the United States.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back to Reality - Part 2

Somehow I haven't gotten very much accomplished from my to do list for this weekend. Truth be told, I haven't even looked at the list since Friday, how's that for avoidance?! I picked up a cold (probably my body's reaction to the shock of the 60 degree temperature change between sunny Puerto Vallarta and bitterly cold Toronto) and I've been sneezing and blowing my nose all weekend (although luckily, I'm not as sick as the Dixon Chick, the poor thing, who had to cancel her classes at Beadfx this past weekend because she was too sick to teach - hope you're feeling better soon, Steph!). Nevertheless, I still managed to get out to Beadfx yesterday to check out their sale (who me? miss a bead sale? never!), spend a couple of hours on the torch, which was great as I haven't melted any glass since October, and have lunch with my sister. But once I got home, I was feeling pretty achy and feverish, so I've been taking it easy ever since, indulging in a couple of naps as needed and spending time doing quiet things that didn't require too much physical exertion. Although I did still manage to get a couple of loads of laundry done, moved a couple of boxes and unpacked a few others, got my chequebook to balance and gave some thought to a budget for 2009 so as to get those credit cards paid off sooner than later, so I'm feeling rather virtuous in spite of myself. No doubt there will be a few more cold, wintery weekends in the months ahead to stay inside and get my apartment sorted out, so no pressure to get it done immediately. In the meantime, I'm still not quite caught up on the episodes of Coronation Street I taped while I was away, so if you'll excuse me...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Glorious Sunrise

Did anyone see that sunrise this morning? I know they say "red in the morning, sailor's warning" and the forecast says we are due for some snow overnight, but man, that was one beautiful awakening today. There are many things I love about my new apartment - watching the sun come up as I have breakfast is just one of them. My old place faced west and any view of the sky was blocked by the large old mansion next door - an architectural beauty, to be sure, but not so good for letting the sun shine in.

Here are two photos I took this morning, about 1 minute apart around 7:28 and 7:29 a.m. The colours just kept getting more and more intense. Just as quickly, it was all over. It was as if the sun was gathering energy as it rose and once it climbed above the horizon, it sucked back all the colour, went behind a cloud bank and all we've seen of it since is a faint yellow glow behind a grey haze. Thank goodness I was awake in time to see the show.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Hardware Store, PV Style

We had a number of excursions while on our jewellery workshop in Puerto Vallarta. It seems the regular tourists like to go whale watching or on a booze cruise on a pirate ship, but we wanted to do something a little different so we visited the local paper shop for art supplies, checked out the open air food market which included a quick peek at one of the local cemeteries and on one memorable occasion, took a stroll to the nearby hardware store.

Having come from the land of Home Hardware, Canadian Tire and Home Depot, the Puerto Vallarta hardware store was a bit different. For one thing, it was all outdoors with only the perimeter portions covered by a roof, more like a building supply yard back home than what we think of as a "store".

As well, there were no tidy aisles with product easily displayed for your viewing pleasure. Instead, there were various areas with collections of items a hardware store patron might require, such as rolls of wire and fencing supplies, stacks of wheelbarrows and various large storage containers for some unknown purpose. They also had beautiful painted mosaic sinks, which Kate and I both wanted to take home, except we didn't want to actually carry them on the plane. And apparently Puerto Vallartans are big fans of coloured toilets, who knew?

We were caught by surprise when a van from Alaska pulled in. The driver said he'd been in town since the beginning of October - smart guy, moving south as the cold weather arrived up north. Or maybe he was moving away from a certain vice presidential candidate?

We had fun poking through various bags of rusty bits and pieces, and each of us ended up buying a few things to take home and perhaps make into jewellery at a later date. We found some very cool metal maple leaves that were especially attractive to the Canadians in the group, and I brought home a pretty finial as a keepsake.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's in the Bag

Beaders, ready, set, go! The Bag of Beads were distributed last night at the January Toronto Bead Society meeting and we now have two months to make something - anything - out of the contents.

The colour scheme is an off-white/pearl/eggshell combination. There are 14 items all together - various seed beads (although I could have less by now, my cat Max seems to think the bag tastes good and is determined to have a chomp or two), some freshwater pearl mussel shapes, some yellow jade semi-precious chips and a few other bits and pieces. The unusual item is the river stones, which don't have holes in them, and we have to figure out how to add at least one of them to our design.
My subconscious must have been thinking of these beads while I was sleeping, as I woke up thinking of one or two other colours I could add to the mix to change things up a little bit (I'm not much of a monochromatic girl as a rule). I also made some lampwork beads in Haliburton last summer that I think would go nicely with these beads - I called them the Caramel Collection, so they should compliment the creamy pearl colours quite well.
I'll have to start experimenting and see what I can come up with!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bag of Beads Challenge

Every year at this time, the Toronto Bead Society offers its "Bag of Beads" challenge. For $10, every member that signs up receives the same assortment of beads - the challenge is to create something with whatever is included in the kit. The only rule is that you have to use at least one of every type of bead included. Apparently, there are always one or two unusual items that require a little more thought when considering how to incorporate them into your design. Last year, the "odd" item was tiny silk flowers with wire stems. TBS members have two months to finish their piece and at the March meeting, all are revealed.

The amazing part of the whole process is seeing what the various members create. Based on the 2008 entries, no two pieces are even close to being alike. I was still relatively new to beading at this time last year (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) and I was not excited by the colour palette of the kit (dark blue, dark green, coral and amber) nor impressed by the type of beads (mostly seed beads), so my finished result was totally uninspired, if I do say so myself. It was a good lesson for me though, to learn that you have to love the components you are working with in order to create a finished piece that you love and want to share with others. Although it seems the other members of the Society were not too bothered by these things as they created the most beautiful pieces in all manner of styles - necklaces, earrings, beaded purses, quilted pieces and even a decorative brassiere!

I'm feeling more positive about the whole experience this year and can't wait to see what we get to work with. Plus I'm hoping that I can use some of the techniques Kate taught us in Mexico to my advantage.

I'll let you know tomorrow what we find in the bag...

P.S. It's minus 30 Celsius here in Toronto today (that's minus 20 Fahrenheit - either way, it's too darned cold!). How I wish I was back in the pool at the Hacienda Mosaico with Stella!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Square Stitch

The next thing we learned in Mexico was the square stitch. We started out just making little bitty squares (I made this little one to give to Sam as a thank you but didn't think it was exciting enough to make it into a piece of jewellery and ended up pasting it in her guest book instead) and then graduated to bigger pieces to use as the base for bracelets. Once the bracelet is made, you can embellish the flat "fabric" as much as you want.

This turquoise bracelet is based on one of Kate's designs. As you make the base, you leave "windows" in the stitching and fill them in later with different beads (or, you could also leave them open and unadorned).

The look of her original piece was quite different than the way mine turned out - it was much more open, and the sections were more triangular shaped, with more obvious windows and a greater variety of colourful, funky beads for the embellishment. I was working with a very limited bead stash and in my piece, the added beads tend to fill in the window space as compared to Kate's original, in which the added beads were framed by the window portions to great effect. (Her bracelet can be found in her "Project Workbook", which is available for sale on her website).

Not that one way is better than the other. It's totally a matter of personal choice and one of the great things about beading - you can either copy someone else's design exactly or start with the same process and make it your own. There are any number of possible variations to be made. The look of the finished product depends on the size of the windows, the colour, type and size of both the beads you use for the base and those you add later, and the method of adding them.
Nevertheless, I'm quite pleased with the way mine turned out and the turquoise colours remind me of the ocean in the bay at Puerto Vallarta.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ndebele Herringbone

Our workshop in Mexico began with a lesson from Kate McKinnon regarding the Ndebele herringbone stitch. We were using seed beads, those little tiny beads that those of us with middle-aged eyes have trouble seeing without our bifocals. She taught us how to make little pieces that Colleen, Heather, Stephanie and I will all now forever after refer to as "chicken feet", even though the finished result is much prettier than the real thing:

The idea was that we would make several of these bits and pieces in different shapes, sizes and colours and use them in our finished pieces.

For example, Kate made some very funky earrings for Sam:

So far, all I've done is use one of my pieces to cover a wire wrap:

but it's a start. Baby steps! :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back to Reality

Now that I am home from my travels, I am realizing how much work needs to be done. Having moved apartments at the beginning of December, I unpacked everything I needed to get by for the couple of weeks before my trips to Calgary and Puerto Vallarta and it was all a bit of a mad scramble, what with getting things bought and wrapped for Christmas, etc. But now that I'm back to reality and work and "normal", I need to unpack for real and get everything sorted to where it belongs. The sight of the boxes and general clutter about the place was rather depressing when I arrived home from the airport. I am looking forward to spending the next few cold winter weekends snuggled up indoors, getting organized.

Plus I am full of ideas for new creations which means I need to get my bead stash organized sooner than later, so I can get to work making all the pieces that are now floating about in my head.

In the meantime, when the snow is piled too high and the temperature drops below minus 20 as it is forecasted to do later this week, I will close my eyes and imagine myself here:

P.S. Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Back from Mexico

Happy New Year, everyone! I've been on vacation in Puerto Vallarta for the past nine days and I have to tell you, it was fantastic with a capital "F"!!

I was taking a jewellery workshop with the oh so very talented Kate McKinnon, which took place at a wonderful B&B called the Hacienda Mosaico owned by the very fabulous Sandra Leonard, a.k.a. Sam, who is the nicest, most talented artist and generous hostess you would ever want to rent a room from. Over the next few days, I'll be blogging about our workshop experiences and posting lots of photos of what we made, saw and ate while we were there. Here's a little taste to start us off:

Here's a view of the pool to take your mind off that minus 16 degrees Celsius and little bitty snowstorm we've got going on here in Toronto tonight:

Just close your eyes and imagine taking a sip of this very tasty margarita:

and enjoy this photo of one of the baubles I made: