Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Giant Bamboo Explosion

One day far into the future, archeologists and botanists will pinpoint the epicenter of the giant bamboo explosion that threatened to overrun Northern California as originating from the side of my house.

At my house, we love bamboo. We have about 5 different kinds, all of which are clumping, save one. If you didn’t know there’s a difference, according to Bamboo Garden,

“Clumping bamboos can be planted without fear of them spreading beyond their assigned territory. Their rhizomes, the underground stems, are quite different than than those of our timber and other non-clumping bamboos. Instead of a horizontal spreading rhizome, they are u-shaped making new culms next to the original plant, spreading only a few inches per year, hence the name clumping bamboo.”

Then there’s the other kind. Running bamboo. The kind that’s in a permanent marathon, 365 days a year.

When we bought our ‘runner’ -- to create a privacy wall on one side of our house -- we were told that its aggressive rhizome systems must be contained within a physical barrier, such as a brick or concrete planter or a specialized plastic rhizome barrier.

We went for the specialized barrier. With our black clay soil (hard as brick when dry) this was not a trivial job but we did it. It didn’t work. Our runner did an end run on us. Now we’re making bets on how long it will be before it snakes under street and sidewalk, appearing in our neighbor’s yard across the street.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Partners in Adventure

One of the things my husband and I pledged to each other when we married was to be “partners in adventure.” I think at the time we actually thought that this vow was about adventure – we both loved to travel and had each spent a fair portion of our lives having great adventures around the world. So we planned to be partners in, well, more adventure.

How little we knew that this vow would be one of the more practiced ones in our daily lives.

I’m a great fan of the concept and practice of positive ‘reframing’ and how it can empower one’s life. The central principle behind reframing is that there is no good or bad in life -- there is only our perception of it. So, reframing refers to our ability to take a negative situation, and make it positive in another context.

"The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way." -- Bernard Mayer, in The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, p.139

Every marriage, no matter how healthy, has its share of tense moments, impatience and frustration – that’s just modern life. But what my husband and I have found is that we can be in the hairiest of predicaments -- like nearly running out of gas in the middle of the Mohave Desert or having a flat tire on a narrow shouldered highway at the beginning of a 900 mile journey, or unplugging a backed up toilet – and then look at each other and say “Partners in adventure!” And suddenly, we are having an adventure, of our own making.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without One...

The island paradise of Bali – Island of the Gods -- is all it’s cracked up to be and so much more. The country is literally a big piece of art, made up of thousands of little pieces of art. A flower tucked here or there, a tranquil pond of lotuses, elaborated caved and painted double doors into private compounds, a patterned pavement of beautifully composed stones... Even the people move in a way so graceful it makes Westerners look like Clydesdales.

One of the more charming traditions my husband and I discovered as we stepped into our first Balinese car -- this includes airport taxis or the hotel shuttles -- is the custom of placing a fresh ‘offering’ on the dashboard of the vehicle as a prelude to any trip, thereby ensuring the Gods will provide a safe journey.

Bali’s transportation motto could be, “don’t leave home without one.”

The easiest way to get around Bali is to hire a driver – so inexpensive it’s cheaper than hiring a car and more convenient then trying to figure out the dizzying array of narrow unmarked roads. So before any trip, each driver would catch the attention of one of the many women walking the sidewalks and roads with a tray of offerings – small woven bamboo trays with some flowers, greenery, a few grains of rice and a stick or two of incense – and call her over. Chanting softly, she would gracefully sprinkle holy water on the offering after which the driver would carefully place it on the dashboard. Only then could we go.

We got so used to this custom in the month we spent there, that to this day neither of us gets into a vehicle without saying “offering on the dashboard.” Neither of us has been in an accident...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Unexamined Life

Never one to do something the ‘normal’ way – and because, like most kids, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do for a living -- I attended a number of colleges as I moved from one work opportunity to another. But it wasn’t until I was nearly 40 that I had the most rewarding college experience of my life and finally graduated.

What was different? One, I was older and working in high-tech marketing so nearly everything I studied was applicable. Two, my classmates were in the same situation – they were there to learn, not to just get another requirement out of the way. Third and most importantly, we attended the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school that required a tremendous amount of introspection in its coursework, it’s motto being “the unexamined life is not worth living.”*

When you set aside time to examine your life, you

  • choose your destination
  • set your goals
  • determine your path
  • decide how long it will take
  • determine whether you’re on the right path or the wrong path.

In other words, you begin to know your self and to take control of your life. You decide who you want to be and begin to become the person you want to be.

*Socrates said that at his trial for heresy. He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves.

'Behind the Scenes': The C2 Collection

(To the left: Impulse - a faceted, semi-transparent whisky quartz drop (59 cts) on 18K chain) In early 2008, focusing on the more casual laid-back California lifestyle, I introduced the C2 Collection – “C squared” standing for ‘California casual’ or ‘cool’ or ‘chic’ or ‘contemporary’ – take your pick. Although one of the hallmarks of my jewelry is that it can be ‘dressed up’ or ‘dressed down,” C2 is a more slimmed down version of my ‘conversation-starting’ jewelry, emphasizing a single stunning gem pendant or a sprinkling of smaller beads. My favorite look with C2?

“That’s easy. I love wearing a great pair of jeans, a favorite pair of stilettos and a tailored open-throated white shirt. I add a C2 piece, grab a hot handbag and I'm ready to go, California-style.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

'Behind the Scenes': The Silk Road Collection

(To the left: Moonlit Sky - roughly-faceted deep navy-hued afghani lapis lazuli briolettes with subtle splashes of golden pyrite in 18K gold) An admiration for some of the oldest jewelry related materials known on earth prompted my Silk Road Collection. More elemental than the Diva Collection, it showcases gems like carnelian, lapis, coral and turquoise.

“Still hugely popular today, these gems have been found among artifacts of the world‘s oldest cultures -- from the Indus River Valley to Mesopotamian Sumer to Egypt to the New World. The beauty of these highly regarded gems (usually the exclusive prerogative of royalty), represented great spiritual protection; thus the earliest jewelry was amuletic in nature. But of course, I‘m sure it didn‘t take long, historically-speaking, for ‘protection‘ to become the transparent excuse for wearing something that made the wearer feel beautiful and privileged -- just the way I want my customers to feel.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

'Behind the Scenes': The Diva Collection

(To the left: Glow - faceted cognac quartz pendant with 18K gold & diamond accents, on twisted strands of faceted salmonite drops)

My exposure to exceptional one-of-a-kind bead strands inspired the Diva Collection. Diva pieces are designed for the assertive, self-confident woman for whom jewelry is a passion, a fundamental expression of self and style. As I like to say,

“The Diva Collection is not for the timid. A Diva piece is a reward we’ve earned for getting to that place in life where we finally know who we are.

It takes a certain age and presence -- attributes often associated with an individual‘s level of self knowledge -- to be able to pull off a natural comfort with these bold pieces,” Elle asserts. “Diva women have grown into their authentic selves. They know every day is a gift, a reason to celebrate. And what better way to express the beauty of who we are within than to wear something outside that is unique, exceptional and gorgeous?”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

'Behind the Scenes': The Ancient Splendor Collection

(To the left: Joie de Vivre - antique 20K-22K jeweled mughul pendant in the shape of a 'dancing' peacock with feathers of carved ruby or spinel, a head of uncut diamonds and the body a large faceted emerald)

I describe my work as the light-hearted result of superb gems, striking color combinations and the warmth of high carat gold. However, my primary design inspiration comes from the gold-enriched splendor of ancient civilizations as well as more recent ones like Mughal India.

It’s this love of history that inspired my Ancient Splendor Collection. Working with antique 20K-22K Indian plaque amulets and jeweled Mughal pieces, I pairs each exceptional 'link to the past' with a variety of high quality gems. The result? An eclectic blend of opposites described by some as ethno contemporary, traditional Indian motifs presented with a unique, modern twist.

“Most obviously, Indian adornment is a form of beautification. But it also functions symbolically as a vital repository of shared meaning, a metaphorical language communicated from the wearer to the viewer that speaks of spiritual protection, prosperity, respect and social definition. Therefore each piece arouses my curiosity about the person for whom it was originally made and the history they lived. By the time I work with the pendants they’ve become so separated from their original context that the stories about what they meant to their wearers or said about them are long lost. So I like to think that each of my finished pieces begins to create a new story of meaning.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'Behind the Scenes': The Dreamtime Collection

(To the left: Neptune's Garden - Australian boulder opal on AAA amethysts and 18K gold)

I love color. The first thing visitors to my 85-year old red-tiled “Hollywood” bungalow notice are the bold jewel colors throughout the house and in the yard. And what could be more colorful than Australian boulder opal? A double Libra whose birthstone is opal, the moment I saw my first boulder opals in 2003 I began visualizing the result: the Elle Schroeder Dreamtime Collection, named in honor of opal’s origin as well as the infinite spiritual cycle Australia’s original inhabitants call “the dreaming.”

“Bolder opal is talismanic to me, more deeply ‘earth-connected’ than any other gem I work with, each is a piece of the oldest continent on earth. Opals speak to me of diversity and strength. Like opals we are each on the surface unique, but under a thin fa├žade of difference we are more alike than not, sharing the same basic fears, hopes and concerns. And, just as boulder opal’s natural ironstone backing makes it much more durable than its solid opal counterpart, so do we individually and collectively possess a powerful strength and durability.

Opals are so spectacular in their own right that my job is simply to enhance the natural beauty already present. Choosing the perfect gem colors and shapes to pair with each opal is a challenge that never tires me. Completing the mix is 18K gold whose rich earthy yellow complements boulder opal‘s organic look and feel, giving each piece a casual, yet luxurious air.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Procrastination

All my life I’ve been a world-class procrastinator, often flying by the seat of my pants…and getting by even if penalties ensue. I’ve come to believe there must be some strange sense of satisfaction in having a dark cloud hovering over my head, a perpetual sense of anxiety that feels bad -- but familiar.

For instance, there was the time I had a 500 word critical thinking essay due for my Lyrical Poetry class in college. I kept putting it off and putting it off. Finally I was down to Sunday – and it was due on Monday. That’s when some friends stopped by and said they were on their way to Seattle to see the Rolling Stones – and they had a ticket for me. And I couldn’t go because I had that dang paper due the next day. To top it off, I got a C in the class, the only one in my college career.

The word itself comes from the Latin word procrastinatus: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow). Wikipedia states:

“Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Psychology researchers also have three criteria they use to categorize procrastination. For a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.”

At the beginning of this year, my top resolution was to stop procrastinating and just do whatever needs to be done, as it needs to be done. I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful but I’ve made big strides. The biggest surprise for me has been how good it feels to not have that black cloud over my head; it’s so freeing, I feel almost buoyant, untethered. I like it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Celebrate!

Every day you're above ground is a reason to celebrate :-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Simply Smashing

Simply Smashing, Deb Rohzen’s absolutely fabulous downtown Campbell (CA) boutique, is simply my favorite clothing retailer in the Valley, hands down. So I’m very happy to announce that as of July 3, 2009, Simply Smashing is carrying a variety of Glimmerdream necklaces, bracelets and -- earrings, earrings, earrings – many of which are brand new designs not yet on the Glimmerdream web site.

A refreshing change from the big-retailer look and feel, Deb carries clothing lines one only used to see in Europe. I've never visited when I haven't found something fabulous and unique. Deb has smashing taste and she purchases in such small lots that chances are you'll never see what you're wearing from there on anyone else.

Stop by and take a look, meet Deb, have fun…

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself…

I have wanted to work on my metalworking skills, using a torch, for lo these many years. Why haven’t I?

Fear.

The other day I stopped to listen to what was going on in my head and I heard this mantra (literally from Sanskrit man = mind, tra = instrument):

"You’re too old to pick up these skills. The people who are successful with this have been doing it for years – you’ll never catch up. You probably don’t have the patience to be good at it anyway and you’ll never be good enough to sell this work. And you’ll just be wasting time you could be using to be more productive on the work you’re already good at doing. There just isn’t enough time…”

And then I realized that as long as I believe this -- as long as this thinking persists -- it’s a sure bet that I won’t be any good a metalsmithing. Because I’ll never do it.

Time for a new mind instrument.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quinn’s: It’s the Experience

One of our favorite watering holes when my husband and I visit Seattle is the one-of-a-kind gastropub, Quinn's, in the Capitol Hill area, which features an extensive selection of European wines, beers and whiskeys coupled with great out-of-the-ordinary European small plate pubfare.

We always sit at the bar and one of the most interesting things we discovered about Quinn's is that the bartenders there don’t just serve food and drink – they serve an experience.

A couple of weeks ago, we were fortunate to get Toshi who’s served us most times we’ve been there. Not only is he knowledgeable about everything on the menu, he has a deep understanding of how drink can enhance food.

For instance, when I ordered the Fromage de Terri, sugar snap peas, frise -- Toshi suggested a delightful Lebanese red wine (who knew Lebanon made wine?). My husband ordered the house ‘corndog’ – foie gras within a traditional corn batter (I call it ‘heart attack on a stick’) – and Toshi served him a superb Koningshoeven Trappist Ale.

For another small plate, Toshi brought out a sparkling rose that ‘usually isn’t available by the glass’ -- but he had an open bottle and said it would be perfect with what we were eating. And for a light desert of perfectly-not-too-sweet strawberry shortcake, he brought out a split sized Belgian cherry beer that we shared – so good we had the pairing again late the following night.

And last but not least, there’s the Belgian Unibroue. Yummy...beer AS food.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Day on the Lake

Costa Rica's largest lake (man-made), majestic Lake Arenal, is surrounded by rolling hills of pastured and forested land, the imposing cone of Volcan Arenal dominating its eastern view.

At 5,436 feet, the youngest and most active of all the volcanoes in Costa Rica, it put on quite a show for us the three days my husband and I stayed in the area in early Sept ‘08. We discovered that many tourists, including Costa Ricans, have visited the area more than once and still haven’t seen the top of Arenal -- usually obscured by clouds -- let alone eruptions.

We got the whole shebang: molten red lava bubbling up from the top and spilling down the southwestern side (spectacular at night, watching from the lanai of our aerie perch at the Lost Iguana, glass of Chilean wine in hand), as well as a couple of big reverberating explosions (one blowing out of the side of the volcano). And from the Arenal Observatory Lodge* we could see hot cinder blocks rolling down the mountain side as we had a beer and a hamburger.

The mostly dirt road around the northern side of the lake was a great example of -- as the locals say -- a “Costa Rican massage.” Full of deep potholes and, since it was the rainy season, nearly washed out in places, nonetheless the road afforded us lovely slow drive, time to take in many exotic flowers, critters and birds.

I had also been looking throughout Costa Rica for one of the elaborately carved balsa masks,** a specialty of one of Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes, the Baruca, to take home. At a tiny gift shop on the lake I found “the one,” now adorning our ‘barzebo.’ Then, towards the western end of the lake we enjoyed an unexpectedly fabulous lunch in a tiny restaurant with a nearly obscured view of the lake, melting into the mist.

* home to Smithsonian Institute and Earthwatch research teams

** The Boruca are an indigenous people of Costa Rica. Their masks are important in the annual ceremony of La Danza de los Diablitos, which has been celebrated every new year since colonial times. The dance depicts the fight between the Diablitos (the Boruca people) and the Spanish conquistadors – with an unusual twist…the Boruca win.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

ABCDEs of Skin Cancer

I recently had a mole on my knee biopsyed that turned out to be pre-cancerous. That and the fact that it's summer – coupled with an NPR Fresh Air segment with Dermatologist Darrell Rigel I heard last week -- compelled me to pass on what I learned about the A-B-C-D-Es of skin cancer which include any change or development in a mole or skin growth that should prompt you to see a doctor, including the characteristics listed below.

Generally look for the mole or pigmented lesion that stands out as looking different from your other moles.

  • A- Asymmetry: You should notice the general look of your moles or growths, for example, if one-half of the mole or growth does not match the other half.
  • B- Border Irregularity: Notice if the edges of the mole or growth are ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C- Color: The pigmentation of the growth is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Dashes of red, white and blue add to the mottled appearance.
  • D- Diameter: If the width is greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser), it could be an indicator of an abnormal skin growth. Generally, any new mole growth should be a concern.
  • E- Elevation:If a mole is elevated, or raised from of the skin, it should be considered suspicious.

Other Danger Signs of Malignant Melanoma

  • Change in color, especially multiple shades of dark brown or black; red, white and blue,
  • Change or spreading of color from the edge of the mole into surrounding skin.
  • Change in size, especially sudden or continuous enlargement.
  • Change in shape, especially development of irregular margins or border.
  • Change in elevation, especially sudden elevation of a previously flat mole.
  • Change in the surface texture of a mole, especially scaliness, erosion, oozing, crusting, ulceration, or bleeding.
  • Change in the the surrounding skin, especially redness, swelling, or new moles.
  • Change in sensation, especially itching, tenderness, or pain.

Basically, any mole or growth that is CHANGING needs to be checked by a doctor.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Life Changing Experience

Nearly every year, the week between Christmas and New Years sees me starting a knitting project. The kids are home for the holidays, we have a tiny house and it gets pretty chaotic. So I knit. For me, it’s rhythmic, manual mental therapy.

I was working with an assortment of Italian yarns called Dune that come in wild color combinations, often with a metallic thread coursing through– silver, gold or copper. As I created my beret/scarf sets, my thoughts turned to bead embellishments, something that would really add a custom touch. But I didn’t know anything about beads or beading

So I signed up for an introductory 2-hour Sunday beading class at a local bead store; there were 8 of us around the table. The first thing the instructor said is, “We’re going to make a bracelet and a necklace.” Mentally I groused, “I don’t want to make a necklace or a bracelet that I’ll just throw away – I want to know how to bead on yarn.” We were given 5 minutes to choose some findings and stones for the necklace.

Two hours later, everyone had completed their projects and left the store. Two hours after that I was still rearranging components on a bead board…and the shop was ready to close. I dumped everything in a bag and went home.

I played with the parts off and on for the next 10 days. On the tenth day, I completed my necklace design, held it up, and in that split second I knew my life had changed forever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

One of the conundrums I’ve encountered as a jewelry designer is ‘where do I fit in the retail world’?

My dad thought being ‘different’ was a good thing – so that’s the way he raised us. Let me tell you, as a kid that is not a good thing. However it does make for interesting adults sometimes.

I’ve always been a bit of a misfit in the bigger picture, not easily categorized, so I guess it’s no surprise that that paradigm extends to my jewelry and its fits in the retail market.

I’ve been told that I’m ‘too arty,’ not ‘fine jewelry’ enough, and that I’m ‘too fine jewelry’, not ‘arty’ enough and everything in between. But the most common comment from my customers is “ I’ve never seen anything like that before,” which, to me, tells me I’m in a good spot.

Interestingly, Nordstroms told me they loved my work but they “don’t do one-of-a-kinds because it wouldn’t be fair to their big vendors like John Hardy or David Yurman.” Not bad company to be in, eh? Even if you’re being turned down.

So, now what?