Friday, February 5, 2016


DOWN BY THE OLD MILLSTREAM: TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS: Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pear...


DOWN BY THE OLD MILLSTREAM: TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS: Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pear...


Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pearls, faceted ametrine and sterling silver findings.


Professional silversmiths wear aprons. They do it because it helps them gather silver fragments and dust that result from trimming and polishing. All that can be recycled, sold  or traded . Usually the apron is attached to the jeweler's bench. All the silversmith has to do once he sits down is to pull it over his knees where it will collect whatever he cares to keep.
"You'd be amazed how much silver dust you can accumulate in a month," said an artisan who trained at a prestigious design school. "You really should not waste it."

Mine is not a proper jeweler's  bench. It is a table made from an recycled grate and a metal stand. A local iron smith put it together for me.  It is serviceable, sturdy, stable,and it did not cost much. I have used it for over fifteen years and I am satisfied with it. If there is anything,  it lacks the apron that usually comes with a store boiught bench.  It would be difficult if not impossible to attache cloth to its sleek metal legs. That may not seem critical because since do not generate that much silver dust or clippings. But it would be useful to contain the shower of beads and finding that falls follows the gravity imperative. It isn't that I am particularly clumsy. It is that that my  beads and findings have an abnormal affinity for the floor of my my little studio.They fly from my hands at the oddest moments.They usually do so as I am about to finish assembling a pair of earrings or adding a clasp to a necklace. The more delicate the pieces are, the greater the propensity of their components  to end up in inaccessible places beneath the baseboard heater, the built-in bookcases, the old Kazakh carpet that covers the floor.

Fallen findings do not sound like the most serious problem in the world. It it isn't.  It is, however, a time consuming inconvenience. Metal  is not cheap. I pay my suppluer for every lost crimp tube, crimp cover, and bead cap. Hunting them up once they vanish costs me time and  money.A lost crimp  might stop me me from finishing a project until my supplier replaces it for me. If the puece has been commissioned, the client might not be happy with the delay. Even  though these days I think of jewelry making as a  self-indulgent hobby, it is not too late to to give up inefficient habits. I have not participated in a crafts show for several years and I should I do so, I would  no longer expect much of a financial reward.. That is one of the most important  lessons a crafts person can--don't do it for the money. Do it for love or not at all.That is exactly how most artisans  opperate.

In many cases, jewelry making is a fool's errand. At best, the artisan recovers the amount invested in each piece. Forget the cost of labor. American artisans compete with highly skilled Third World people who get next to nothing for their work. Most American  consumers are conditioned to judge the monetary value of a piece of jewelry by the price of what he sees in discount stores that feature the work Third World artisans and Chinese political prisoners.  Some of the best musueums in the United States stock their gift shops with jewelry, clothes, quilts, metal and woodwork from China and India.  Can American artisans hope to to become solvent solvent in face of global ecomic shenanigans. I don't don't know. WhatI do know is that he can take steps to make sure he does not go broke while he pursues his passion.I speak from experience and this is what I would tell myself if I could rewind the clock
1.Be sure that this is what you want to do. Know its risks and rewards.  If you want to be a full time crafts person, inform yourself about the economics of your region. Mine is not a rich part of the world. Many local people undervalue handicrafts as the kind of think theat granny did. Many find "store boughten," that is, mass produced stuff far more desirable that local handicrafts.  For one thing, mass produced stuff sold at discount store costs less than the work of American artisans.Be aware of this flaw in the system.  Talk to local craftspeople. Ask them about the pluses and minuses of being self-employed.Join online forum for artisans,   seek out people in your  field work.You don't have to despair. But don't be delusional about your market. If locals won't buy, think of other venues.

2. Educate yourself about your target market. Whom do you want to reach--college students, thirty-something professionals, senior citizens? Learn about the buying habits of those you  wish to attract as clients. Jewelry often is an impulse buy. Do you know what sort of design is most likely to sell to impulse buyers?Yes, I know know it seems sordid to think about profit when all you want to do is make pretty things, but face it, artisans have to be business people if they do not wish to go bankrupt.
3.Once you decide to take the first steps to set up your jewelry making operation, proceed with caution. Hurrying to set up your studio can lead you to buy cheap equipment you will have to replace. That is expensive.Of course there are Navajo silversmiths who have have no more than a handful of tools and a whole in the ground where they smelt their silver. Yet they make exquisite jewelry. If you come from generations of Navajo silversmiths who started training at age thre, by all means stick to six tools and hole in the the ground. Otherwise prepare to shell out equipment--the bench designed for professionals, the best torch, the best dapping tools, hammers, mandrels, pliers, best safety equipment and much, much more.

2.Once you set up your studio, see whether it included features that will allow you to work efficient. What have you done to .minimise waste, for example?Chances are you will be mail ordering some of your material. Factor in shipping costs.Can you afford to keep losing micro-sized findings and beads? They are the very devil to find once they slide from the bench. Treat them accordingly. Corral those crimps. Keep hold of those 3 mm ruby beads.Never understimate the power of a bench apron.I did and I am sorry.

3.Value your work, value your creativity, value your time.Keep track of how many hours you spend on a piece and see if you can be paid for some of it.  In most cases, you cannot, but adding them to the cost will give you a better sense of how much you you donate to the cause

4. Honor what you make. Display it attractively. Invest in jewelry cases that signal to your clients that you are a professional, not a hobbyist playing at jewelry making..If you want to be be taken seriously as a crafts person, begin by taking yourself seriously. That will mean spending money, initially. Decide whether you want to commit a significant part of your budget on a venture that might fail. Every business is a risk, but in a soft economy the business of adornment is one of the riskiest.

5. Be a show-off. Photograph your best piece of jewelry and have it printed on your business cards. photo. Open an online storefront. Use the social media--Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, to publicise your work. Making crafts is not for the timid. I found that out when I got invited to show my jewelry on a television show. Publicity is one of the side jobs of every artisan. Go bold or go go home. Encourage your clients to mention your work to their friends. The worst that they can do is say no, right?
6.Reassess your goals every trimester. Have you met some of them? All of them? None at all? Why?

7. Remind yourself of the primary reason to commit to the craft.Do not be afraid to play devil's advocate. Is jewelry making the only you can find to express yourself? Do you have a discretionary account in a Swiss bank, a rich aunt who will pay your bills?

8.Be realistic. Accept that the work is hard and the profit margin is slim. Can you live with that?

9.Given all the economic minuses of jewelry making, could you be just as happy clerking at a jewelry store? You'd be selling someone else's work, but you would not have to run financial risks.You'd get vactions and insurance.

!0. If jewelry making so enhances the quality of your life, you do not mind working for free, embrace it. But be sensible, Plan to earn enough  an income to buy more jewelry making supplies. Sorry to say it, but that might require a second job.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Chicken coops under snow.

Snow capped birdfeeder on the lower left.
Chicken coop that shelters two Australorps, a Speckled Sussex and a Wyandotte.  

Paperwhite narcissi and snowdrop on windowsill.
Most residents of the Greater Washington D..C. metropolitan area have little experience with harsh winters. Snow storms that would not faze midwesterners, paralyse the nation's capital. The very mention of a possible storm drives hordes of householders to supermarkets where they fall upon groceries like crazed locusts. Typically, they grab all paper products before they move on to canned goods and perishables. Once they have ended the grocery shopping frenzy, many head to the hardware where, typically, there are never enough snow shovels. Pity the fool who manages to buy and then leaves outside. Enthusiasts of free enterprise liberate it within minutes.

Having lived in the Dakotas during my first three years in the United States, I  tend to scoff at this winter madness. After all, hereabouts there is rarely a storm that qualifies as blizzard. I stock my pantry as a matter of course. I hate driving and when I do venture out to the little shopping mall nearby, I buy enough groceries for four or six weeks. If absolutely necessary I make a couple of extra runs for perishables. That is the extent of my hoarding.  My snow shovel is tucked safely in my mud room. I have no reason to panic even though Saturday brought a whopping forty inches of snow  instead of the predicted twenty-some. I am calm even though by Sunday mornings I was properly marooned. By then, traffic stopped, the university, elementary and high schools closed, and a great silence descended upon the town. Birds stopped singing, There was no sign of the ubiquitous crows that patrol my backyard  and the Canada geese that  fly by my window at least twice a day, apparently cancelled  trips to or from the Potomac river.

I am  calm. Prior to  Snowmaggedon 2016 a good friend  brought me milk, eggs--my chickens rarely lay eggs in winter--and the matches I need in order to start my woodstove.At the advice of my who grew up in  Montana,  I  piled up logs by the front door and covered them with a tarp. I  fed the chickens and filled up their water containers. I cooked a large batch of tyrkey-beef kofta and another of brown rice. I deployed  four Andrea Camilleri novels around the house. What else can one  I possibly need?

I need the internet. It allows me to read newspapers and to catch up with friends and family. I also need cell phone service for emergencies. Luckily, I have both. Better yet, I do not anticipate any emergenciesI ave a clear path to my sidewalk, courtsey of my lovely next door neighbor.. It is good to to know I can make a quick geaway although my major outing is limited to a visit to the chicken coops. . 

Now, day five of Snowmaggedon, there is still no traffic on my street. Snow removal crews have been at work since Saturday night ploughing and trucking snow to whatever it is that snow goes to die. Some householders have shovelled their sidewalks and parking spaces. My own sidewalk is impassable and  my car remains tucked under a  little igloo.  I am fine with that. I have been planning my garden, reading, and cooking.  A couple of days ago I finished Andrea Camilleri's THE AGE OF DOUBT--review at and I celebrated with a chicken coconut curry that did not fit in with the Sicilian background of the novel, but which was delicious all the same.

Tonight I will start another Camilleri novel, have some onion soup with homemade whole wheat bread, and dream of all the flowers and veggies I will be growing in spring. I have parperwhite narcissi blooming on my bedside table and an amaryllis growing in a pot on a windowsill. The snow is melting. The birds--wren and crows-- are back. The geese grumble mightily on the way to the river. My cat is snoring at mt feet. I am safe, I am calm, I am warm and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Recently, I embarked in a dubious  experiment--I signed up for an online dating service. Thing is, I am not looking for romance. Last year, I lost the love of my life and I think it would be unfair to expect to duplicate the kind of closeness we had.   Anything else in the romance department pales by comparison. Then there is the question of age. I am at the end of my sixth decade. At this stage, if one has not learnt to function as a single unit, one is in serious trouble. For the most part, I am OK being on my own. I have several interests that keep me entertained and when I occasionally need help,  a few good friends and neighbors come to the rescue. What I miss is the companionshiop of someone with whom I can share a good meal, a visit to the museum, a walk by the river. This does not seem too much to hope for, but  the sad reality is that in our society, most people socialise with their coevals. In my village, folks socialise with family embers, fellow church goers, colleagues from work, Rarely do circles of young couples, for example, merge with trhose of single Third Agers.One's companion does not have to be a man, but most of the women I know are too busy with their husbands, their families,  book clubs, Elderhostel and who knows what else to add anew  friend to their circle.

Many retired people who create opportunities for human contact by plunging  into volunteer work. Their primary motive might be altruism, but there is no question that  comraderie  is a strong incentive. I am not, by nature, a group person. I loved my work as a freelance writer for many reasons. Not  being confined to a newsroom, not being part of the politics of the workplace, not being expected to attend  the office party, were high on the list of pluses. I had the occasional lunch and dinner with a congenial editor and that was that.

Some retired people are joiners, just as they were when they were at work. No doubt many transition seemlessly from high activity levels to higher ones. Not so with me. I live quietly, I tend a flock of chickens, I write fiction,  do some gardening, read, bake all my own bread,  publish an occasional book reviews, dabble at watercolor painting, sketching and silversmithing. I like my life. I love my house and its location. Why bother with a largely discredited online dating service in order to find a a platonic companion? Simple, No companions appeared, unbidden, at my door. Some were bidden and tempted with organic fresh eggs, but alas, they had no free room in their agendas.

Hence the Golden Carrot Dating Services experiment. Is it going to work? I doubt it. A sample of my so-called matches is somewhat discouraging. There s a significant number of doctors and lawyers among the offerings proffered by Golden Carrot. Most live in large urban centers. Most claim to make 100k a year. Nearly all claim to be athletic. Most are looking for a twenty something partner " care for. " Many  demand an equally athletic partner. I am doomed. Walking the cat downstairs  is my idea of strenuous exercise.
Athletic or not, truth is that  hardly anyone seems to be looking for a friend unless it is a friend who is willing to be, shall we say, test driven. Why, I ask, at such advanced age, is sex a precondition for a trip to the National Art Gallery? At the moment,  only one of the men who looked at my profile has e-mailed me. He lives in the Southwest, he is ten years younger than I and he is   and eastern Europen looking for Romance. Methinks he wants to romance a sponsor for American citizenship. That is bad of me, but I know of such cases happening in real life. He sent me his phone number on his third e-mail and my reaction was, "Whoa there, cowboy! It is early days yet."

When I said that Golden Carrot was a dubious experiment I meant that it is a huge gambleto connect with strangers. As reader an writer of crime novels I immediately think of serial murderers lurking online. I think of the expense of checking people's criminal--a gamble in itself if they use a false name--and I wonder what in tarnation I am doing. Push comes to shove I know at least one guy who might go to the museum with me. He is looking for a decorative woman twenty years his junior to keep house, and cook for him, but he knows I know his proclivities. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Recently,  a newsletter I received from  Kitchen Gardeners International included a blog entry from a gardener who had requested and acquired  free seeds from GRIN, a section of the United States Department of Agriculture. When I used that information to ask for seeds, I got back a negative response couched in intolerably patronising bureaucratese. This is my message to GRIN. Stay tuned, taxpaying gardeners.

Sunday, June 30, 2013



My next door neighbour and I had one of our occasional chats yesterday.The air was balmy and we sat  in the garden, listening to the music from the local Streetfest, four blocks away. We talked of books. That is, I offered her copies of Vargas Llosas THE DREAM OF THE CELT, which I reviewed, recently, on my book blog,Rich Texts and Edna O'Brien's  COUNTRY GIRL, which I am about to review. I told her Llosa's book is fictionalized account of the life of Roger Casement's an Irishman who documented human rights abuses in the Congo and in Peru, in the early Twentieth century.  He was knighted for his his work, but when he dared to compare the behavior of the British in Ireland to that of the Belgian oppressors of  Congolese rubber workers, all hell broke loose.  The British government acted swiftly to discredit him. It hired  perfidious Norwegian, Adler Christensen to seduce him and it  leaked the the Casement's  private diary, which detailed homosexual encounters,  to the press. Vilified for his sexual preferences, stripped of his knighthood, Casement was jailed and eventually hanged, ostensibly  for bringing weapons  from Germany to be used in the Easter Uprising of 1916.

2MNYHBU6NFRY I told my neighbor, who is a great reader, that  COUNTRY GIRL ties in with DREAM OF THE CELT in that Casement's brother is one of the people O'Brien mentions in her memoirs. Her chapter on The Troubles  echoes with the dream Casement had for a free and peaceful Ireland. For Brazilian readers such as I am,  I added, both books, I added, are particularly relevant at a time when a protest takes place every hour in 375 Brazilian cities. Were he alive today, Casement, who was once the British Council at Sao Paulo, would  probably be interested in  investigating human rights abuses in Brazil. He would probably question  government-sanctioned actions of the Brazilian Military Police against protesters and the press. He would want to bring to light the reasons why  why the police attacked so  many journalists--a total of 54 in two weeks. Many of these journalists were wounded   by troopswho have a propensity to aim for eye when they shoot rubber bullets. Besides shooting reporters, during   the Fortaleza protests, this past week,  police used helicopters to bombard the press with tear gas.

Such violence usually outrages well-educated middle class Americans who have the leisure to reflect on   civil liberties around the globe.Why did she think, I asked my neighbor, that events of vital importance to Brazilian elicited so little interest from most Americans? She grew thoughtful and said, "Maybe because Brazil seems so remote."  My question about the best way to reach Americans hung in the air. My neighbor is a very kind, thoughtful person, but she has little free time. She has  job and  two children  she and her husband parent commendably. It was almost dinner when we talked. The kids were hungry and she had to leave.I thought of her counterpart in Brazil and asked myself how she would respond if the protests were taking place in Washington, DC, Boonsboro, Maryland, Aurora Maine? How would she respond when her own time is equally taken up  by her work and parental responsibilities?

How does each of  respond to social movements in far away places? What do we do when our government sends troops to Iraq and Afghanistan? How do we respond to abuses from local officials, for that matter? What do we know about our police force and how it acts? Maybe we close our eyes and ears to  bad news its onslaught is so intense that  to watch television, listen to the radio and read the newspapers can be a form of torture. I don't mean, by this comparison,  to trivialize the kind of suffering endured by those who undergo, say, waterboarding. But clearly, reading the news about Syria, Egypt, Turkey can be very painful. It can also induce such a feeling of helplessness we try to disconnect, to push the bad news away, to distance ourselves from madness  over which we have no control. Or do we? If we have no control of the madness that leads Brazilian police to exhaust its tear gas supply in less than two weeks, as they did in Rio, recently, why is the press a  target in every Brazilian protest? Is that not an indication that whoever yanks the chain of the Military Police--state governor, in this case--does not want bad publicity to mar events such as World Cup games, the Pope's visit and the Olympics?
Given that  a real effort is being made to suppress news of police brutality--futile effort, judging from the massive documentation in available in print and digital media--it seems to me that remote as Brazil is, Americans, Asians,  Europeans, Middle Easterners, citizens everywhere have the ability to influence events taking place in 375 Brazilian cities. Exactly how that is done, I am not sure. This past week, Amnesty International Brazil mounted an e-mail campaign to let elected officials know that the whole world is watching and that police brutality is unacceptable. Writing an e-mail may seem too simple a gesture to make. But millions of e-mail messages can influence events. What do you say, can you e-mail the governor of Rio, for example? His name is Sergio Cabral and his e-mail address is Sergio Cabral, Governor of Rio