Monday, March 6, 2023

03.06.23 A Covid Unicorn No More

February 28, 2020...

Dinner on the outdoor patio at Chuy's in North Austin - not to be safe, but because here in Texas we often have gorgeous weather in February (we also have terrible weather, but that was not the case three years ago) - with my niece, an emergency room medical professional who was at the time based in Seattle.  

She was for the weekend here on business. My husband and I took her to dinner on Friday evening before her meetings on Saturday and Sunday. As we caught up over chips, queso, and their famous jalapeño ranch dip, her phone blew up.  Her colleagues in the Pacific Northwest were seeing reports of a strange respiratory virus in the ER, and said she would need to come back to work pretty much the moment she landed.

Covid positive - February 23, 2023
That evening was the first time I ever heard about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.  Here we are, three years later - almost to the day - and I am no longer a Covid unicorn.

As I have previously noted, while this started as a jewelry blog it has evolved over the past eight years; because it's mine I can and will write about other things including policy and social issues if I want to...and that's what I'm doing here.

Before I launch into my tirade...

I want to express my gratitude to every single person working - now and from the beginning - in the fight to protect us from this disease, many of them before I ever heard of it.  

Thanks to those people I am vaccinated (a total of 5 doses, because I'm over 50), taking Paxlovid to shorten both the duration of the virus and - fingers crossed - prevent any long-term adverse effects.

For three years, I managed to avoid catching Covid.  I know this definitively because I participated in the Texas Cares antibody study, and as of my blood draw last October, my fourth, I had no infection antibodies.

We (my husband, immediate family, and close friends) have been careful - I mean VERY careful - from the beginning because I have some underlying health conditions (which are well controlled with diet, exercise, and medication) that put me at higher risk of long term disability or dying if I contract the virus.

Dec 1, 2021 - wearing my Livinguard mask -
waiting to board my flight to St. Thomas
When medical professionals advised wearing masks, I started wearing one...when they advised wearing better masks, I got some - and I'M STILL WEARING THEM.  When vaccines became available, I got one, then I made sure to get boosted (so did folks around me - I know because I asked before spending time with them). 

When our daughter came home from grad school during the first fall of the pandemic - before vaccines - she got a PCR test before she traveled, then waited five days before getting another one at a drive through testing site in Austin, to make sure she was negative. In between those tests we wore masks in the house, ate separately or outside, and kept our distance.

For my first foray back into the big wide world at the end of 2021, I got a PCR test before heading to St. Thomas with my girlfriends (because a negative test was required to enter the USVI). When I returned home, I followed the same protocol - despite being vaccinated and boosted - until I had a negative test.

As soon as they were available, we ordered our at home test kits - first from Amazon and then from the Post Office (thanks, Joe Biden), continued to wear our masks, and started get back out into the real world.  We had Thanksgiving with our kids, we went to DC to make wedding plans...and then later to celebrate, I went on another girls' trip, my husband returned to doing group bike rides and our daughter attended professional conferences and her (now) sister-in-law's bridal shower weekend.

The three of us were all Covid unicorns until December; our daughter got caught up in the Southwest snow storm debacle and was stranded in LA airports for two and a half days. Despite taking every precaution, she was around too many people in concentrated spaces for too long, and popped positive a few days after finally getting back to her home by train (she never did make it to our house over winter break).

Sad, but not surprising...she was around a lot of random people, and as we all know entirely too many Americans think the pandemic is over.  She took Paxlovid, slowly got back to living her normal life, and seems to have avoided any long term consequences.  We haven't seen her since Thanksgiving - which makes me mad, but not blog post mad - hopefully we'll be able to get her home to Austin for a few days soon.

Xiao Qi Ji in his yard, enjoying a treat,
on a particularly nice February day
Just last month, my husband and I went to DC again to see our other two children and attend a very special 4th birthday that has been on hold since our pre-Covid visit to DC in February of 2020.

As I said earlier, we've been careful since the pandemic began, but we made a point of being extra careful the couple of weeks before our trip.  We tested before we left, we masked in the airport, on the plane and metro, made a point of doing most of our sight seeing outside - we had a great day at the National Zoo - and an absolutely lovely long weekend.

We came home and tested negative (and as far as I know, so did everyone we were with over those five days...including at the 4 year old birthday party). Yay for being vaccinated and careful, and returning to a little bit of normal.

Here's why I'm blog post mad...

a week later, both my husband and I got sick, canceled plans and isolated...and I'm pissed as hell.  

We tested when we got home both because it's the responsible thing to do and because he had committed to making a trip to help a family member the weekend after our return.  

We failed to heed the wisdom (paraphrased here) of Thomas Aquinas that no good deed goes unpunished.

It was a very short trip...he was there less than 24 hours, and that was all it took for him to be exposed.

@NewYorkerCartoons on Instagram
We should have known.  The relatives in question live in a very red part of the state heavily populated by Covid deniers, and they have been incredibly careless about protecting themselves.  We're not sure which one of them got it first - not that it really matters - and we wouldn't have known except that one of them ended up in the ER.

We care about these people - they are our family; they both have autoimmune conditions and take immunosuppressing medications.  We have ordered tests for them from the post offices, and masks from the same place we ordered ours.  We have pleaded with them to be careful and protect themselves...and they did now, we have all been sick, and I am angry.

Fortunately we my husband and I were prescribed Paxlovid and have tested negative we wait to see if we have long Covid symptoms.

Covid doesn't care if you live in a nice house. Covid doesn't care if you believe in God. Covid doesn't care about your political views, what kind of car you drive, whether you have a college education, or anything else that makes you privileged. Covid is an equal opportunity virus...and it's not going away.

I still wear a mask when I go inside the Post Office or UPS store, to get a haircut or into the credit union - anyplace where someone I don't know might be standing next to me - I get a lot of side eye...and I don't give a you know what...(I'd swear, but this is a family blog).

I hope I make a full recovery, it's going to take a while to know..and I'll keep wearing my mask, getting my boosters, and writing about whatever I want.

Until next time.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

02.16.23 Forging Ahead

About those rings...

since we saw the kids in DC last weekend - our first trip back since the fall - I figured today would be a good time to post.

The wedding was absolutely the highlight - and in many ways the saving grace - of 2022.

Our son and daughter in law worked so hard to make sure everyone had a part - and by the end of the week we were all one big family - 
although most of us had never met before.

Not quite a year ago (March 2022), we went to DC to visit and start planning the big event; standing on the balcony of the wedding venue, they asked me to make their wedding rings.  

In hindsight I don't know why I hesitated - even for a moment - because it was so much fun; and now a piece of me (and my heart) is with them every day.

I reached out to my friend and teacher, De Pastel, and we set up a schedule to work together on the rings.  I also gave the kids some assignments...go try on some rings, see what they liked, and to get their ring sizes.

We were supposed to travel early in the summer, to meet our son's future in-laws and while we were there I was going to get an impression of the engagement ring to make sure that when I made my daughter in law's wedding band, it would be a perfect fit.  

The trip never happened, so I sent instructions and the thermoplastic to DC without me, and the US mail took care of getting it back and forth.

With the size information and their metal choices - 14 K gold, yellow for him, palladium white for her - De and I got to work.

The rings were made through a process called forging - basically beating the metal into submission. I started with ring stock - 2 mm half round for her ring, and 6 mm comfort fit for his - which, with De's guidance, I carefully measured and cut to the appropriate length.

We started with the smaller, easier ring - shaping it on a mandrel, heating it when it became work hardened, and hammering and heating again, until it began to form a circle.

The next step was to make the ends meet. The first one went pretty quickly, but I'll admit, that my arms were sore at the end of the day because it was a whole lot of work to bend a piece of solid gold 6 mm wire.

Despite being tired, I was very satisfied that after a few hours at De's bench. With her instruction and supervision, what I had in front of me was beginning to look a lot like a pair of wedding bands.

Clearly - they weren't finished - but there was no question left in my mind that I was going to have them done in plenty of time for the wedding.

Everything about making the rings brought me joy.  

Being back at a bench, with tools in my hands, time with De (including a couple of wonderful P. Terry's lunches during our sessions), and knowing that once they put them on, my kids would wear them out into the world as symbols of their love and commitment.

I went back to De's studio for a second day to finish the work.  At the end of the first day, the bands were round-ish...but "ish" was not what we were going for...the goal was perfection.  De's years of experience and eagle eye were invaluable as I continued to shape and size the rings before cleaning and polishing them.

I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of my work - there were no uneven edges, no seams or even tiny specks of solder visible - just continuous, shiny, gold rings.

I sent pictures, but the kids didn't actually see the rings until just a couple of days before the wedding.  Fortunately, they had been very good about getting their hands sized properly, and we were very careful in our measurement.

The result - perfect fits on both bands!

While the rings were for them, the process was a gift for me.  Time at the bench and with De reminded me how much joy there is in making things...

...especially when those things are special, one of a kind pieces of jewelry (inspired by the one of a kind people they were made for).

The only thing better than visits with my seeing the rings on their hands when I do.

Until next time.

Monday, January 9, 2023

01.09.23 Now where were we?

When I made my last post almost exactly 7 months ago - and I had really high hopes for 2022 - but the universe decided otherwise.

Less than a week after that post, my husband had a horrible bike crash (from which, I am very happy to say, he is fully recovered) - everything on the calendar for the next few months was canceled and replaced with doctors visits, surgery and physical therapy.

Instead of the things we had planned on, I spent the summer trying to stay as productive and positive as possible.  

I took a lot of yoga - I mean a whole lot.  Over and over, my yoga instructors reminded me that it is important to let go of things that are not serving me...negative thoughts, unreasonable expectations, and I took the opportunity because I had the time, to carry that over into my physical life. 

After 25 years in the same house, we had too much the backs of closets, cabinets, drawers...and it was time to let a lot of it go.

I discovered The Real Real - and they were all too happy to take the embarrassingly large cache of high end bags, shoes and clothing that had been languishing in my closets.

Not only did these things go to new homes, but I was able to make some nice donations to organizations I support with the proceeds.

Other things went to the local assistance league, and to a wonderful place called Austin Creative Reuse; happily, very little actually went into the trash.  Not surprisingly, I began to feel lighter - emotionally - with each carload I took away.

Things began to return to a semblance of normal in September when our son and his longtime partner got married - yes, I did make the rings - and I promise to post about the process soon.

We had a wonderful week in DC - eating, drinking and celebrating with our now combined families.  

In October, my group of high school girlfriends (the "Ciao Bellas") got together again in Charlottesville for another fabulous long weekend.  

The only way to describe it is to say - it restored my soul.  We ate and drank, laughed and cried, read Tarot cards and set a date for 2023.

The rings were the only jewelry I made in 2022 (an improvement, since I spent no time at a bench in 2021), but I did acquire a couple of special pieces - souvenirs - for my two fall trips.

The first was a pair of earrings from Berkeley jewelry artist Corey Egan.  I discovered her work when our daughter headed to the Bay Area, and I've wanted one of her pieces ever since.  I bought the earrings to wear to the wedding, and have been enjoying them for several months now.

I  also added another charm from Bamboo Studio - a compass rose, one of my favorite symbols - to my Ciao Bella necklace in advance of my October trip.  I bought it to celebrate both a return to traveling (despite some of the canceled plans) and as a reminder to embrace the journey, even when the road is bumpy.

We continued making up for cancelations and lost time in November.  We rented a beach house in Galveston for Thanksgiving - and spent it with all our kids, and my mother in law - making it the third time in 2022 that we were all together.  

The only thing we brought home from this trip was leftover brisket and smoked turkey from Goode Co BBQ, where we picked up Thanksgiving dinner.  It's long gone now - but it sure was tasty.

So, here we are at the start of a new year. As much as I'm ready to put last year behind me...I'm in no rush to make lots of immediate plans for this year...because man plans, and God laughs.  

I am though, setting some goals - and one of this is to return to this blog for my own benefit as much as anyone else's - at least once a month.  

I'm not sure what I'll write about...but I'm determined to come up with something.

Until next time...

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

05.09.22 I said yes...

This post is very short...because there is a whole lot going on in our lives right now...including, 

just before the new year, our son and his longtime partner became engaged...and we are thrilled!

Earlier this spring, we went to visit them in Washington DC (where they make their home) and had an absolutely wonderful time seeing the venue, helping them with invitations, and just generally making plans.

As we were walking around the beautiful historic park where they will have their ceremony and reception, they popped the question...

Would I make their wedding rings?

It took me by surprise - especially since it's been two years since I sat down at a bench - but after consulting one of my jewelry teachers, who is also a dear friend, I said yes.

We'll be visiting them again soon, and I'll have some tools and thermoplastic with me so that I can take measurements and an impression of my soon to be daughter-in-law's engagement ring to bring back with me.

I'm so honored to have been asked, and excited to be fabricating these very special and important rings.

Progress pictures to stay tuned!

Until next time!

Monday, April 4, 2022

04.04.22 Everybody Needs A Spoonula

My GIR collection and USVI tea towel
Two years ago, when Covid took me away from the jewelry bench, I refocused my creative energy in the kitchen...

this time last year, I went through cabinets and drawers, cleaned out the cheap stuff I'd had since grad school, and found myself in need of I went to Wirecutter (if you are unaware of this resource, I highly recommend you subscribe to their newsletters) for their reviews of kitchen utensils.  

The top rated choices included several from a brand I'd never heard of - GIR - which stands for "Get It Right" I clicked through and discovered not only did they have a great selection of tools, but they came in BRIGHT COLORS!

I started searching for them and discovered that Nordstrom had the full set in a rainbow of colors on sale - which (of course) I took as a sign that I had to have them!

I don't regret for a minute purchasing all 10 pieces, but there was one - the spoonula - that I found myself reaching for over and over (and often finding it in the dishwasher), so I bought two more of those.

This shouldn't come as surprise to anyone who has read the blog for a while - I love a good tool!

As spring started to roll around things were looking up outside the confines of my four walls.  I was vaccinated, and so were many of my family and friends, which meant we could see each other again.

As it warmed up, I started making in person, outdoor, plans with people I hadn't seen - and whose birthdays I'd missed - for a whole year.  It was at this point it occurred to me - EVERYBODY needs a spoonula!

Honey + Hank towels to send to the Ciao Bellas
So, over the course of 2021 - and now well into 2022 - I have gifted a couple dozen, along with coordinating tea towels for pretty much every occasion you can imagine.

Dallas-based and woman owned Honey + Hank became one of my very favorite sources for towels. Her designs are, as the creator puts it, "designed with a wink ;)". The visual play with the shapes of states and hobbies definitely appeals to my love of puns!

I'd much rather create gifts than receive them (although I am always appreciative), and perhaps the best part about these was soon after I started sending them out...I started getting pictures and messages from folks about how much they loved them!

Obviously, it's not the same as being able to make someone a piece of custom jewelry, but I had so much fun finding just the right tea towel for every person, and then picking a spoonula color to match. 

Turns out, my friends and family think they make pretty good gifts, too - and have reported buying them for other folks, and maybe adding a second one for themselves.
Spoonulas (and other GIR items)
at Berkeley Bowl
I sent our daughter back to California (after her visit here in December) with a few more of my favorite items, including a mini spoonula, plus large and mini spoons.  Not too long after that, she sent me a picture when she was grocery shopping - a whole wall full of bright colored spoonulas! She said she didn't any more utensils, but they made her think of me.

It's warming up here, and we're getting out a little more, but I think I'll continue cooking and baking for most of our I'm glad to have all my colorful utensils, and I'll keep sharing them with my friends.

Until next time.

Monday, March 7, 2022

03.07.22 Anatevka

The Fiddler, Marc Chagall (1912)
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
In January, I said I was going to post once a month, even if I'm not back in the studio or if I don't have anything jewelry related to write about.

My plan for March had been to put up a fun post about kitchen stuff - but given the turn of world events in the past two weeks - it doesn't seem like the time.  Instead, I want to tell you a little about my not so distant connection to Ukraine.

Anatevka is a fictional town in the Russian Pale (which includes what is now Ukraine) where Jews were "allowed" (read restricted) to reside in Czarist Russia.  

The town and its inhabitants lived in the mind of Shalom Aleichem, a Yiddish storyteller. One of the townspeople was Tevye, the milkman.  Shalom Aleichem's stories about Tevye and his community were written in the late 19th century as Jews (including my great grandparents) fled the Czar's pogroms, and in the mid 20th century, they became the basis for the musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

My great grandparents
Emanuel and Cyril ~ 1930
Like Tevye and Golda - my maternal great grandparents, Emanuel and Cyril - had an arranged marriage.  Unlike Tevye and Golda - who questions whether there is any love in the house - there was no doubt in my great grandparent's case.  As my mother told their story, their relationship was filled with tenderness and mutual respect.  

As the Jews of Anatevka did, Emanuel and Cyril fled Ukraine with their young children and made their way to America.  They settled in Little Rock, Arkansas - where my grandfather, the youngest of five - was born.

Because of them, I am a third generation American, something I do not take for granted.  It is highly likely that I have cousins I do not know in Ukraine - provided they survived the pogroms, the Holocaust, and previous Russian occupations - again fighting for their lives.

My grandfather, Julius, 1965
My grandfather had only a high school education, but he had an incredible work ethic, and truly saw America as a land of opportunity.  He and my grandmother ran a series of successful shoe stores and saw to it that my mother, their only child, did go to college.

It is because of them, I live a life of privilege in America today.  Not because I have done anything special or heroic - but because they did.

I am grateful to them, and to everyone who has made my comfortable, upper middle class life possible. I also realize that I have an obligation, WE ALL DO, to help those who are not yet safe, secure and free.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King said:   

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 

This is true at home and abroad - regardless of our ancestry - either we all survive, or none of us do.

Photo Credit: World Central Kitchen Instagram
I am constantly impressed by the work of Chef José Andrés, and have donated directly to his organization World Central Kitchen.  WCK in partnership with chefs throughout eastern Europe are providing thousands of meals every day to Ukrainians.

The New York Times and the Obama Foundation both have lists of vetted organizations providing support for Ukraine.

I urge to do what you can (as no one of us alone can do it all) to promote justice and peace in your home and your community.

Until next time.

Monday, February 7, 2022

02.07.22 Time in a bottle...or a jar

My Giant Microbes Covid, February 2022
Do you remember when and where you were when you first heard about Covid?

I do.  

I was at Chuy's - sitting outside because the weather was nice 

not because being outside was safer

on the last Friday in February of 2020.  My husband and I were having dinner with my niece (an emergency room PA in Seattle) who was in town for a professional training.  We were talking about cases of a weird virus that was showing up in the Pacific northwest...

...we now know that was the beginning of what has become two very long years of dealing with this pandemic.

All the ingredients for morning glory muffins
Time has been very strange during Covid - and I'm marking it in ways that would never have occurred to me before - in particular, the consumption of baking supplies.

I've always cooked, but until the pandemic, I've never been much of a baker...the occassional batch of chocolate chip cookies, brownies from a box, and challah (but I made the dough in a breadmaker).  Like so many other things, that's changed.

There were two baking camps in the beginning - sourdough and banana bread.  I was definitely in the latter group.  

Samin Nosrat's focaccia with salt and rosemary

Like most folks, I started by using up the bananas I had in the freezer. Then I moved to muffins - and began adapting recipes - changing up the fruit, and adjusting the flour mix...flour that I started getting mail order, ten pounds at a time (remember there was a flour shortage!?) and have been ordering ever since.

But, what struck me the most, was the rate at which I was going through spices!  

I looked back over two years of Penzey's orders - I've used 4 cups of cinnamon and over 3 pints of vanilla - and have acquired bottles of numerous other spices, the most exotic of which is probably cardamom seeds.

I'm also going through dozens of eggs, and pounds of pecans - because in addition to a couple dozen muffins every three weeks or so...

Niloufer Ichaporia King's cardamon cake
I'm baking Samin Nosrat's focaccia with wheat flour,  a cake that Food 52 touted as Alice Water's favorite dessert...and next month for my husband's birthday...a German Chocolate cake. 

Turns out baking really is theraputic...

it's hard to be in a bad mood when the kitchen smells like butter, sugar and spice...

or when you turn the cake out of the pan and it looks just like the photo with the recipe.

January was a rough month for me, and I definitely responded to the stress by pulling out the mixing bowls and turning on the oven...which is just fine as long as I balance all the sweets with healthy meals, sourced largely from the farmers market.

Honestly, February hasn't been much better so's still cold, and we've had an ice storm (although not like last year)...but we are headed towards spring, and hopefully to the end of this Covid wave.

Until next time.