Monday, December 28, 2020

12.28.20 2020 Hindsight

I am an optimist...sometimes to the point that it annoys my family...but this year has really tested my ability to see the glass as half full. 

As we approach the end of this year, I suspect I am not alone in saying I will be glad to see 2020 been a year marked by cancellations, disappointments and stress...and yet, when I look back, I see it was not all bad.

I know by now we all have a love-hate relationship with Zoom (side note - I used an earlier version about five years ago, when I worked remotely on a project in Pennsylvania - trust me, it's much better now)...without it, and the ability to stay connected to my community, this year would have been so much worse.

There was no family vacation this summer, or Thanksgiving gathering at my mother-in-law's, but we've had a family Zoom every week since spring...and catching up with my kids each Saturday has been a joy!

This was supposed to be the year of my 35th college reunion...and when it didn't happen, my roommate (who you will remember from previous posts about my visit to Wisconsin and her son's fabulous wedding) suggested we have a mini-reunion with our dormmates...on Zoom...we did! It was really fun.

There have been no trips to the studio - of any kind - jewelry or yoga.  I haven't been making pendants at home, but I have been able to practice yoga with some of my favorite teachers - including two who have moved away from Austin and now live in LA and NYC.

Spending a few hours each week on my mat with these fabulous women - even virtually - has gone a long way towards keeping my body and my spirit healthly.  I don't know what I would have done without them.

Even though I haven't been at the bench - I have stayed very connected to the jewelry community through the Ladysmiths of ATX.

Joining them as a core team member and seeing them every week has been one of the things truly keeping me going.

The group made the difficult decision not to renew the lease on the Canopy space, and close the physical shop...not knowing how long the shut down would go on.  As a result there was no longer a physical space for our community to come together.

Since I signed up for a paid Zoom account (for other reasons...mostly weekly chats with my kids in the beginning), I started hosting a monthly online Ladysmiths social event - Sip & Smith - to connect with and support other makers in a virtual space, at least for now.

In June, in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, our community of women makers came together in just a couple of weeks to hold an online auction that raised over $11,600 to support organizations committed to justice for women and LBGQTI+ individuals in the Black community...

and just this month we hosted a virtual market - the Maker Magic Holiday Show - on Instagram.

The one place I have been able to go safely - every week - is the Texas Farmers' Market at Mueller. Never have I looked forward to grocery shopping as much as I do now.  I've been meeting a friend (masked and socially distanced, of course), we park and visit while we take a Sunday stroll the few blocks to the market and back again.  

I'm so thankful for my community - they have made me happier, healthier and kept me sane - through this very challenging year. I'm also grateful to those of you who continue to follow along on the blog.  To be honest, it's been hard to write this part because I haven't had anything to say about jewelry...but writing helps me to process the things going on in my life, and in the world around me.

I hope you are staying home, staying safe (wearing a mask) and that you, too, can look back on 2020 and find some small amont of good...and of course, that we can all begin to return to the people and places we miss in 2021.

Until next year. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

12.14.20 Home for the Holidays - Part 2

Just before Thanksgiving, I wrote about going to Ballet Austin to record the descriptive audio narration for the feature length film of the Nutcracker that is now available for home viewing.  On Saturday, the Home for the Holidays package was released, and I felt a not so small swell of pride when I opened the page and saw this:

It was a little weird to hit play and hear my own voice coming through the speakers on my computer...but it was exciting, too.

For two decades, Nutcracker has been a part of our lives...

as soon as our daughter began taking classes at Ballet Austin Academy, her dream was to have a role in the performance.  Once she was old enough - she did - every year for a decade.  From her first year as an angel, to her last as a rat...when she was part of the "new" (now seven years old) production with updated battle scene choreography and costumes.

My involvement paralleled hers - not onstage, but behind the scenes. I drove carpool, wrangled angels and mice backstage and began voluntering as a docent...first at her elementary school, then at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impared, and finally (the year she went away to college - and Nutcracker no longer started in September for us), taking on descriptive narration for the school performances.

When the Ballet Austin staff reached out during the summer, and asked if I would come into the studio and record the description for Act I (which would be sent to schools all over Central Texas so third graders would not miss their Nutcracker opportunity) I said, of course!

When they called again, just before Thanksgiving, to ask if I would be willing to return to do Act II, so they could include the narration with the full length film, I was honored.

It really wouldn't be the holidays around here with the Nutcracker - so we were delighted to be able to watch it at home (I now know how to cast from my phone to the television through the Roku).  It was different from other years, too be sure, we were in our sweats on the sofa...but they were great seats...and we loved seeing our friends - many of whom are my daughter's former teachers - perform.

Not only is the film beautiful but Ballet Austin is offering extra digital content each day...including a hilarious bit where the rats run around the empty building wreaking havoc.

Just click on the Home for the Holidays link at the top of the post, and you, too can sit back and watch sugarplums dance across your screen.
Here's hoping that next year, we'll be back in our seats watching the Silberhaus family live and onstage again.

Until next time.

Monday, November 30, 2020

11.30.20 Retail Therapy

At the Ladysmiths of ATX
gallery at Canopy Austin

Last year, I had a great holiday selling season, with pop up markets at Pottery Barn and Creative Side, and my work shown in the Ladysmiths of ATX gallery at Canopy Austin.

This year will be very different, I imagine the only sales I will make will be through online events and my Etsy shop - but my jewelry doesn't represent my livelihood - for many other artists I know (and plenty I don't), holiday shopping makes or breaks their annual income.

It would be hard to overstate the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on artists and businesses...including, or maybe especially, makers.

My work in the Canopy Austin gallery 

Never has the concept of "Shop Small" been more important.  Buying work directly from a maker, or through a local gallery does more than just give you warm fuzzies as a shopper, it can have both an emotional and financial impact on the person who crafted the items you buy.

Buying from a maker results in a more personal and thoughtful gift.  It will be one of a few or one of a kind, hand crafted rather than made through production (and maybe even out of the country).

Buying from a maker supports them as an artist.  It demonstrates your commitment to craftsmanship and creativity.  The creation of the item is personal, which makes it a more meaningful gift.

Buying from a maker has a positive financial impact, not just for the artist, but for the local economy.

The Local Multiplier Effect (LME) - and economic concept that looks at money spent small and local, versus in a large national retailer or online - means that dollars spent with a local artist or vendor stay in the local community.  Those dollars continue to circulate locally, supporting other businesses, rather than leaving the community.  The impact of a dollar spent locally can be several times greater than a dollar spent in a big box store or online. 

While there is no physical retail space this year, the Ladysmiths of  ATX are working hard to create a virtual space for women jewelry makers. 

Starting this week, November 28, through December 6, they will be hosting an online holiday market on their Instagram feed and stories. They will be highlighting nearly two dozen jewelry artists using the hashtags:

#makermagic2020 and #LSATXMM20.

These are just a few of the faces behind the social media posts and accounts you will see over the next couple of weeks at the Ladysmiths of ATX Maker Magic Holiday Show...

not only are these talented women crafting beautiful jewelry, they all need to buy groceries and pay bills - and I guarantee that they will be more excited about and grateful for your purchase than a big box store or major online retailer.

Some of the Ladysmiths of ATX on Zoom

I understand that handcrafted, artisan gifts may be harder to find this year because there are almost no in person markets, and these items can be more expensive - so not everyone can afford to purchase them - but I encourage you to look online for virtual markets, or seek out small shops in your area.  These folks are your neighbors, they make up your community, and they deserve your support.

Until next time.

Monday, November 23, 2020

11.23.20 Home for the Holidays

Under ordinary circumstances, I would say that when it's still 100+ outside, it's too early to be talking about Nutcracker...but a few weeks ago, that's exactly what I did...and it was great.

For the last decade or so, I have been giving Nutcracker Docent presentations on behalf of Ballet Austin at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and more recently, I have been providing descriptive audio narration for students and other visually impaired patrons at performances.

Like everything else about 2020, Nutcracker presentations are going to be different this year...but I was thrilled when I got a request to go to the Ballet Austin studios and record both a video piece for the docent presentation that will go out to third graders across central Texas, and make an audio recording of my descriptive narration.

I was so excited to be going somewhere and doing something - in person, with people - safely, of course.  I got dressed, put on make up and jewelry, donned my mask and drove downtown.

When I got there, I was so glad to see the staff from the Community Education and Production departments...but I couldn't hug them, in fact, we all stayed six feet apart as they set up the camera and microphone for me to record my video segment.

I was a little nervous - it's one thing to make a presentation in front of a group of third graders, they love having "guests" in the classroom, but doing it on camera is a little more daunting.

For many students, Nutcracker is their introduction to live performing arts, especially dance, and I wanted to appear as enthusiastic on camera as I try to be in person.

The good news is - it went quite well - in no small part due to the work done for me by the Ballet Austin staff. They had the script on a teleprompter, and adjusted the scroll rate to a speed that worked well for me.

After the video taping was finished, I was ready to do my descriptive narration audio recording...but rather than being in the sound booth at the Long Center, with a live performance on stage, I was in an office watching video on a small screen.

Still, I was glad to be asked, and happy to be doing it.

I'll miss being able to see the students - and the performances - in person this year, but I'm glad to be able to help the folks at Ballet Austin, who are working so hard to make sure that Central Texans - including thousands of school children - can still experience the Nutcracker this year.

Covid has hit arts organizations and individual artists especially hard.  If you are able - please support them - by maintaining your season subscriptions, following the on platforms like Patreon, and as always, shopping small from artists for yourself or as gifts.

You can help support Ballet Austin, and enjoy the holiday tradition by bringing the Nutcracker Home for the Holidays.  Just follow the link to make a tax deductible donation to Ballet Austin and get digital access to the performance and related events.

I hope you have a small, safe and socially distanced Thanksgiving this week.

Until next time.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

09.14.20 It's Been Six Months...

Brunch with the family
My, how things have changed...

my last pre-Covid post was March 6...we had just returned from a weekend trip to DC full of family celebrations and a quick trip to the museums.

A week later, my husband was working from home, events - including SXSW, here in Austin - were cancelled and we were headed into an unknown future for an indeterminate time...

I suspended the blog for a while, because I wasn't going to be in the jewelry studio, and frankly, I wasn't sure what to say.

More recently, I've accepted that it is the "new normal" for the foreseeable future.  I'm still not back in the studio...

but I keep hoping that people will wear masks and the transmission rate will come down to a level where I feel safe returning.  

Source: Austin Public Health

After peaking at more than 70 new hospital admissions per day in mid-July, the curve is trending down again...but last Monday was Labor Day, some schools have started and not only have University of Texas students returned to campus, there were roughly 18,000 fans in the stadium at a football game over the we watch and wait.

My collection of masks continues to grow, along with my vintage earrings...

I keep picking up shiny things on Etsy and eBay, even though I really have no place to I've been coordinating them...vintage opals, for example, with my Irene Neuwirth mask...

I'm not posting them on Instagram with #todaysearrings every day, but I love earrings, and missed wearing them...

even if I'm only going to pick up curbside groceries or drop things at the post they are popping up again on a more regular basis.

It may sound silly, but putting on earrings makes me feel does polish on my fingers and toes.

Through the wonders of Zoom, I'm able to take regular yoga classes with some of my favorite instructors (even though one lives in Los Angeles, and another in Manhattan)...

the first couple of time I got back on the mat, I noticed that it really bothered me to look down at my unpainted toes.

So, I plunked down $80 for an Olive & June Everything Box (there are less expensive sets, too) because I knew that it was going to be a looong time before I visited the nail salon again...ever?

For what it's worth - the hype is true...their polish is great, it lasts, and their "Poppy" attachment for painting with your non-dominant hand really makes works! Definitely worth it, as I am no longer vexed by my naked nails...on my hands or feet. 

What I'm really saying here is...this is what life is going to be like for a while...maybe a long while, and we are all going to have to adapt.

I would love to be in the jewelry studio, or the yoga studio.
I would love to get a mani-pedi, or a facial or massage.
I would love to have dinner with friends at a favorite restaurant...

but right now, we can't.  

What we can do is try our best to take care of ourselves and each other...

We can stay home.
We can wear a mask when we go out.
We can shop small and local.
We can Zoom with our friends and family to stay connected.

If everyone will do these things, then we just might be able to go back to doing the things we all miss...but we have to be in this together.

Until next time.

Monday, August 31, 2020

08.31.20 The Older, the Better

My Mom (L), Dad (R) and my Grandmother - 1957
My parents would have been married 62 this month
Last time, I wrote about all the new stuff in my kitchen...this time, I want to write about some things that are very old, very special and only get better with age: my maternal Grandmother's cast iron skillets. (I also have her wedding ring, which I've written about can go back and read that story here.)

She had three - a 7", an 8" and a 10" - I have them all. 

My grandparents were married in 1935, so I imagine (because I don't know for sure) that she acquired these skillets around that time...which makes them about 85 years old. I treasure them, because they represent some of my earliest, and fondest memories of time spent with my grandmother in her kitchen.

My grandmother learned to cook, both from her own mother, and from the woman who cooked and kept house for her family when she was growing up in Alabama.

She made wonderful chicken soup and matzo balls, but she also made incredible fried chicken.

She used her cast iron every day - she cooked my grandfather's breakfast, toast, coffee and  - three eggs, sunny side up in one of her skillets...but my favorite use for them was baking cornbread.  

She would make it often, and if there were leftovers from the day before, she would dip it into buttermilk as a bedtime snack.  

I wanted mine warm, with lots of butter...and there weren't many leftovers when we were visiting.

When my brother and I were young, we would regularly spend the night with my grandparents. I didn't appreciate then (as I did later when I had my own children), that it wasn't just a treat for was a huge break for my parents.

I loved staying with my grandparents, and I especially enjoyed cooking with my grandmother.  I always asked if we could make cornbread to have with breakfast.  She always said yes.

We would measure and sift the dry ingredients the night before, then add the egg, buttermilk and melted butter in the morning.  I have the recipe written on a card in her handwriting, and I still bake it in her  skillet.

The cornbread is in regular rotation as part of my pandemic menus, usually served alongside quick tenderloin beer stew from Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way cookbook.  I've shared both recipies at the end of this post.

I'm using the skillets for a lot of other meals, too...

One of our favorite local restaurants, Dai Due, makes the only fried chicken I've ever had that's as good as my grandmother's.  They only serve it on Sunday, and we get an order of it every week.  They've also started selling their hamburger patties and wonderful sausages to cook at home.

There's really nothing like a good burger, and honestly - they don't travel well - so it's been wonderful to be able to get them ground that day, along with fabulous brioche buns...and cook them at home.

Another great recipe - for lamb chops (which I am buying at the farmers market) - came from one of my jeweler friends. You sear the marinated chops on top of the stove, then finish them in the oven.

Not only are these well worn, deeply seasoned pans fabulous for cooking...they bring back wonderful memories of my Grandmother everytime I use them.

The world is a pretty dark place right now, and I'm working to find hope and light where I can...pulling out these skillets, that fed my family for generations before me, and cooking with them regularly brings me joy.  That probably wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been forced to change what and where we eat - among other things.

Until next time.

Jacques Pepin's Instant Tenderloin Beef Stew
From “Fast Food My Way”

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced (1/2-inch) potato, rinsed under cold running water
1 cup baby carrots (about 4 ounces)
1 cup small white button mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup baby peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided use
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound beef tenderloin (filet mignon), trimmed of all fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and lightly browned.

Add the onion and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Add the garlic, peas, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 1 minute. Set aside, covered, while you cook the steak.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in another skillet over medium-high heat until it is very hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper on the filet pieces and add the meat to the skillet in one layer. Saute, turning, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the meat is browned on all sides. Transfer to a platter.

Add the wine and stock to the skillet and boil for about 10 seconds.  Pour over the meat and vegetables, and serve.

Gertrude's White Meal Cornbread

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Place 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the oven while it heats. Remove when the butter is melted.

Sift together dry ingredients:
1.5 cups white corn meal
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Add to the dry mixture and whisk until there are no lumps
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Remove the skillet from the oven, pour the melted butter into the batter and whisk in.

Pour the batter into the hot skillet, return to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick or knife comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool briefly - 5 or 10 minutes - before cutting.


Last week I put up a couple of posts on Instagram and Facebook about tea towels...and that I often pick them up as souvenirs...well, turns out my grandmother did that, too.

My mother's first cousin (who was really more like a sister, as they were both only children) responded to my post, writing:

This is so amazing because both my mother & your grandmother always sent tea towels as gifts & souvenirs of their travels!! 

It's not just jewelry that tells stories...cast iron and tea towels do, too.

A few of my souvenirs, clockwise from the top:
Berkeley, Napa, Madison, Boston and Hawaii

Monday, August 17, 2020

08.17.20 The Right Stuff

Everything is better - and easier - when you have the right tools.

I've written about this before in the context of jewelry - and the same is true in the kitchen...where I am spending a whole lotta time right now!

I've had a well equipped kitchen for most of my adult life, but until a few months ago I had pretty much stopped cooking on a regular basis.  Since I've started up again, I've added a few things that have made me really happy.

I always start my day with coffee, and last fall we bought an espresso machine (to replace the tiny, manual one we got as a wedding gift going on 30 years ago)...and boy, are we glad to have it.

Part of the thinking, when we bought it (well in advance of the pandemic) is that it would pay for itself over time as I stopped getting my coffee on the go everyday.  At one cup a day for me, it was going to take a husband's office had big, fancy machines, so he was making his espressos there (several times a day) during the week, and at home on the weekends...but now that we're both home 24/7 we feel like geniuses!

Since he has been working from home (for going on 5 months)...and we are going through a pound of beans a week!  Fortunately, our favorite local coffee roaster started shipping at the start of the lockdown. Now we get a big box once a month so we can stay caffeinated.

While I love my cup of hot coffee in the morning, during the summer I want cold brew in the afternoon.  Like so many grocery items, my favorite cold brew was hard to get curbside in the beginning, so I decided to investigate options to make it at home.
Photo credit: County Line Kitchen

I settled on a mason jar filter system from County Line Kitchen - and it works like a champ!  I had been drinking a pecan flavored cold brew, and discovered that HEB (the world's best grocery store - don't believe me, just ask Business Insider or Food and Wine) has a Texas Pecan coffee! I buy it ground, follow the instructions and it makes a delicious cold brew.

Unlike the espresso machine, the mason jar and filter were only $25, so the return on investment was big and fast!

Next up was a new toaster oven.  Seems like a small thing...but the previous one was clearly at the end of its life. Sometimes it would come on when you pushed the start button, other times you had to toggle the start and stop ones - and maybe it would stay on until the bagel was toasted, maybe not.

I use it a lot for baking, too.  My muffin and banana bread recipes all call for toasted nuts (I like pecans in my coffee and my baked goods - so that's what I use), and with the old toaster I had to stand watch...otherwise I would end up not with enhanced flavor - but with charred bits that needed to go straight to the compost.

After the last burned batch of pecans, it was time.

Through the wonders of the internet, I was able to read reviews, comparison shop, and have a brand new one delivered to my doorstep.  

I looked at some really expensive ones - but the previous one had been a Black and Decker...and given how long it lasted, that's what we bought again.

We are now happily toasting bagels, reheating pizza, and prepping pecans for baking once again.

Even older than the toaster, was the muffin tin I dated back to college.  Over the years it made a lot of muffins and birthday cupcakes to take to school and scout events...but when I pulled it out a recently I noticed it was in really bad shape; a little dented and rusted on the I decided to look for a new one of those, too.

In my search, I landed on the Williams-Sonoma page and discovered (ON SALE) the most wonderful measuring cups and spoons - they are odd sized!  This may not seem like a big deal to you - but I was smitten and had to have them!

The cups come in 2/3, 3/4 and 1.5 cup sizes; the spoons are 2 teaspoons, 1.5 Tablespoons and 2 Tablespoons...and I use them every time I make blueberry muffins (pretty much every other week).

...and finally (just a few days before this post - so I've added it) a new hand mixer. The one I've had since college stopped turning halfway through mixing a pound cake (baked it was a little, uh, dense).

As with the pound cake, it seems wrong to write about the muffins, and not share the you can see, the measurements for the first 3 ingredients all utilize my new odd sized cups and spoons.

Until next time.

Blueberry Pecan Muffins 
(adapted from

1½ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk, or more as needed
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.

Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and add enough milk to reach the 1-cup mark.

Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries and pecans.

Fill muffin cups add top each muffin with a sprinkle of Turbinado sugar (about a teaspoon per muffin)

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.