Sunny Lemon Bars

To most people, the holidays mean pumpkin pie and gingerbread, much enjoyed with a dollop of sweet cream. But this year, our daughter Dani, who gets to choose our Christmas menu by virtue of the fact that she missed Thanksgiving, has requested tangy lemon bars. It might just be nostalgia for one of the comfort foods of her childhood, or maybe there’s a clue in her remark that she’s ready to be back home in warm Atlanta – since her move to Pittsburgh, she’s had enough of gray skies and snow.

On Christmas Eve, I'll be making this recipe, published several years ago in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I’ve occasionally experimented with other versions, but these Sunny Lemon Bars are the best I’ve found. The fruit layer, more of a lemon curd than a custard, is intense and contrasts perfectly with the crisp, sweet, shortbread crust.

Hope Dani enjoys them. If the weather forecast proves true, I’ll be serving them up on Christmas Day with – what else – gray skies and rain….turning to snow!


Back Home

Time spent with family is the best part of the holidays, and I got to do a lot of that on last week’s trip to Louisville for my first trunk show with my sister. I stayed at my daughter’s house, and my 3-year-old grandson, Nate, got caught up in all the holiday excitement, especially the dinner table with the special touches the holidays brought – the cheerful holly and berry tablecloth, set with red and green plates and Christmas salt and pepper shakers.

When Nate wanted the pepper, he would use his best manners and ask for "the Santa," and when he needed a bit of salt, I was bemused to hear him ask for someone to pass “the Grandma.” I could only hope that the portly, bespectacled shaker called to mind an image from a Disney movie, and not the flesh and blood relative who sat across from him at the table!

The day of our sale arrived with a surprise snow storm, keeping some of our expected shoppers at home, but we had a great time visiting with those who ventured out. Granddaughter Abi tagged along, and spent the afternoon admiring the glittering jewelry piece by piece, testing each of my sister’s scarves for the instant style and coziness they brought, encouraging shoppers, and planning a few purchases of her own!

As we packed everything back into the car, she was heard to say that this was the best day ever- and how awesome it was to have a grandmother and an aunt who made such cool things. Making my first sale was exhilarating. Hearing that I was definitely not a salt shaker grandma - priceless!


And they’re off…

The flyers and postcards for our December trunk show went out today. I was able to scratch those and several other items off my to-do list. This seems to be one of those times when more gets added to the list each day than gets marked off! I’m just hoping there are lots of people out there who have building up their jewelry collection on their to-do lists!!

I have six necklaces and 4 bracelets I must finish before leaving in ten days – I just realized that’s one a day. Now I just have to work them in around pricing my pieces, printing my business cards, designing a 12-page newsletter for my daughter’s middle- and high-school classes, and, oh yes, there’s the turkey in the refrigerator waiting to be brined!

But still – our first show – exciting times!


Same Stitch, New Slant

I love cool variations of herringbone, and Tina Koyama offers a great one in her design, Beautiful Bargello, also from the pages of Beadwork's Favorite Stitches. (I’m definitely getting my money’s worth from this magazine.)

I had just finished this first version when I downloaded Margie Deeb’s Instant Holiday Glam: Color Palettes of Splendor, the first line of which reads, “Kiss bright red and green good-bye.” Oh well, I wasn’t really going for glamour with this sterling silver seed bead and flame red bugle bracelet. It’s a grab your bag and head to the mall to start Christmas shopping kind of accessory.

My second version does have some hallmarks of glamour with its gunmetal and starshine seed beads and jet crystal button. I’ll pair it with the short rivoli earrings when I want an elegant, sophisticated look, and with the aptly named paradise earrings when the occasion calls for true sparkle and glitz!


Sparkling Waves

Yearning for a little peyote, I chose this Shelley Nybakke design from the current edition of Beadwork. Last year was all about peyote, but this year I’ve gravitated toward herringbone and netting. Also, I’d never worked with memory wire and was curious.

The base row is made with size 6 silver metal seed beads, followed by three-cut size 8’s in a warm bronze and topped with a 3mm fire-polished bead in luminous blue/honey. Silver, bronze and gold in one bracelet? On your arm, its five turns are shiny, highly reflective, just dazzling. Shelley’s designs are always brilliant!


Squaring the Circle

I picked up Beadwork’s Favorite Bead Stitches because I wanted to master a new technique – square stitch – and the cover featured Kate McKinnon’s fabulous Modern Art Cuff, which employs both square and RAW. Flipping through the square stitch projects, I decided to start with Jamie Hogsett’s Starry, Starry Night necklace because if you’re going to learn something square, why not attempt it in the round? And also because I was looking for a project to use a newly acquired glass pendant in lush plums and corals.

The beaded links work up just like flat square stitch, with the addition of occasional increases to adjust for the larger circumference in each successive round. I used lots of thread passes to give the round links some stiffness. I didn’t want any distortion, anticipating that they would be pulled a bit by the heft of the pendant.

I like the airy feel of this winter necklace, and would use this technique again if I needed a custom closure for a bracelet and couldn’t find a button in the exact color scheme I needed. Love these examples I found by Dustin Wedekind.


The Nest Empties...

Our daughter, Dani, recent Tech graduate, is starting her first job next week. 800 miles away in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh!

We have spent this week preparing for the Big Move, and will be on the road tomorrow morning. It's a twelve-hour drive, but we're expecting to be treated to lots of fall color as we travel through the Carolinas and Virginias.

Speaking of color, I’ve mixed up a bead soup of browns, plums and corals and tested the mix by stitching a sample round.

The focal pendant had just a faint highlight of blue, so that went into the bead soup as well. I’m tossing the mix in my suitcase and hope to finish a necklace on the road!

We're not quite empty nesters yet. Son, Chase, graduates in December, and will be looking for a job in art education. We lose one, and we gain one back!


Inspiration in My Own Backyard

I love these trees that dot the woods at the back of our property, so I took my seed bead stash with me on my morning walk and found a good match to the colors, which are more muted than the typical autumn reds and golds.

The four leaf dangles on the necklace were an absolute steal at a trunk show last summer, and the center focal, with the merest suggestion of a leaf, was a lucky find at my neighborhood Michael’s. It took a lot of experimenting to find a way to attach the side-drilled leaves to the webs in the netting so they lay just right at the collarbone, but I learned a lot in the process.

For the all important earrings, the intricate bead caps on this Faerietale earring design by The Beading Butterfly caught my eye and were quick to stitch. The pattern is available on her website.


If Winter Ever Comes

Despite the calendar, it’s headed for 90 degrees this afternoon, and we still have plenty of daylight hours to absorb the sun’s energy. But the days are getting shorter, signaling that winter is on its way. And that put me in the mood to take advantage of some local bead store sales and begin designing some pieces for the colder (or at least cooler) days ahead.

The beauty and unexpected color of this leaf pendant made it irresistible. The perfect focal for a crisp winter necklace.

I made a simple netted neck strap with hematite and nickel seed beads, embellished with metallic blue and aquamarine crystals that mimicked the silvers and blues in the leaf. Since the focal is large (24x75 cm), I made it to fall between princess and matinee lengths. It has a sinuous feel, and the metal seed beads give it a wonderful drape.

I used some additional blue and silver tones in the crystals for the earrings.

I made these for a friend who suffers from SAD (seasonal affective disorder.) Reaching for these mood-lifting accessories should keep her positively serene when the winter blahs come.


Birthday, Beads, and Bracelets

There’s something about having your sisters around you (and daughters, too) that manages to take the sting out of turning sixty. A couple of years ago, six of us (sisters and sisters-in-law) decided that we would drop everything and gather together for a Sisters Week-end to celebrate the day each of us reached sixty, a threshold that seemed to command special attention. (If you’re a baby boomer and you’re reading this, that number is looming in your near-future, too!)

Sisters-in-law Kathy, Jenny, Beth, and Judy; sister Janet; me; daughters Dani and Heather at Callaway, October 2, 2010

They came from Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina and we all took up residence in a mountain villa at Callaway Gardens, an hour south of Atlanta, where we were treated to the first colors of Fall.

Four days of feasting, toasting and laughing till we cried.

Of course I brought my beads and everyone tried their hand at brick stitch (which gave us all fits!) and herringbone (which was mastered handily.) 

All returned home sporting a bit of sparkle on their wrists.

From organic greens to patriotic school colors and sophisticated black and gold, there was plenty of oohing and aahing over each beader's color choice.
A week-end that will be remembered as my best birthday ever! If one must turn 60, this is the way to do it! Special thanks to sister-in-law Marcia (seen toasting with Jenny above) for documenting our week-end so magnificiently!


Adventure in Herringbone

My daughter Dani happened to be with me when I stopped into my local bead shop last week. While I looked for a few finishing touches for my kumihimo designs, Dani noticed a bracelet on the counter that went perfectly with her outfit. The colors were intriguing and the project was a simple design that could easily be finished in a single class, perfect for a beginner. When Amy, the shop owner, mentioned she was teaching that piece this week, we told her to sign us up.

Dani chose the same colors as the sample, and I pulled some blue and raspberry beads from the shelf. Soon Dani was breezing along on hers, the herringbone design working up quickly in the size 8 seed beads. Customers coming in and out of the store invariably pegged us as a mother-daughter team, some questioning the wisdom of my exposing Dani to the lure and sparkle of molten, polished glass. Could a single household actually support more than one beadaholic?

We spent a fun afternoon, and picked up the perfect buttons to finish off our bracelets at Jo-Ann’s on our way home. Dani reworked her design today, preferring a more delicate mix of Swarovski crystals to the all-turquoise strip in the original. I think it was a good design call - but is a bead obsession developing? Not too worried - when I invited her to come along to the Down the Street Bead Show this afternoon, she politely declined.


Carnelian and Silver

A Labor Day slip on a small puddle of water left me with a mild back sprain, and in a horizontal position for an entire week. My doctor allowed me to sit or stand for 15 minutes each morning and evening! Of course, I dedicated those precious vertical moments each day to literally inch along on my silver and golden raspberry herringbone rope.

Finally on my feet again, I finished embellishing the necklace this afternoon.  The accent strips are done in right angle weave and filled with pearls, crystals, amethyst and carnelian rounds, and matte metallic fire polished beads. Beautiful fall colors to complement the carnelian and sterling silver focal. The herringbone rope design is Maggie Roschyk’s cover piece from June’s Bead and Button magazine.


Labor Day Week-End Project

Fiery reds and brilliant oranges drew me to this carnelian and silver pendant several months ago, and after considering and rejecting at least a dozen ideas on how to incorporate it into a necklace, I finally found what I think will be the right design.

I began working on it over this long week-end, but can it really be considered labor when a herringbone rope with hex-cut delicas and sterling-silver-plated seed beads is involved? These Toho size 11’s are beautiful to work with, and I have been amazed at the quality – I’m on my third bag, and haven’t culled out one bead that was misshapened or poorly coated!

Hope to be able to show you the finished work – in the perfect colors for autumn - by the end of this week.


Beads and Braids

Last week I took a beginning Kumihimo class with Becky Patellis. While most beading classes end up being social gatherings to get to know like-minded students and swap ideas, this class was a little different. We were all so intent on repeating the mantra: right down, left up, turn while moving the cords across our kumihimo discs, that I don’t think I even remember anyone else’s name! Still, a fun afternoon learning a lovely and fast technique – all of us finished our bracelets in the three-hour class.

My bracelet colors were inspired by the liriope that bloom all over Atlanta this time of year.


One Fine Afternoon

This turned out to be a great afternoon. I just finished edging my first beaded cuff, wandered down to the mailbox to stretch a bit, and reached in to find the new issue of Bead and Button magazine. Perfect timing!

This was my second bead embroidered piece, and my first attempt at a cuff. I loved working with the blues, greens and all manner of golden taupe beads to give the bracelet a very textured look.

I'm counting on it to give fresh pizzazz to my plain white shirts and denim this fall.


Stepping Off the Path

Another thing that I loved to do when I was ten was embroider. I learned the essentials as a Girl Scout, under the careful eye of my Mom and my aunt, who were our troop leaders, and Diane Sawyer (yes, that Diane Sawyer), who served for a time as our junior leader. After whiling away many, many hours back-stitching a half-dozen pillow cases, I set my needle and thread aside, neglecting the art of hand stitching until this spring, when I took a class in bead embroidery.

While I was away, the artform has changed. What an exciting array of materials! Beads, of course, have entered the mix, along with silk, leather, lace, metals, mesh and more! Up until now, my beading projects have begun by finding a pattern and rounding up beads. With this cuff, I stepped off that path and started with a cabachon and let the beads tell me where they wanted to go!

It's a beginning...check back in a bit to see how it turns out!


Finding More Fun

Gretchen Rubin, in her excellent book, The Happiness Project Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, encourages us to Be Serious about Play. Don’t know how to tap into your inner child? Rubin was having the same problem, until a friend asked her this question: “What did you like to do when you were a child? What you enjoyed as a ten-year-old is probably something you’d enjoy now.”

I recall with relish playing marbles with my little brother. Although I enjoyed the actual game of marbles and capturing all of James’ alleys (he was 5 years younger, and we never played for keeps!), what I really liked was rolling those cat’s eyes in my hands and examining the swirling colored glass that was injected inside.

So I set off to replicate that experience this weekend. The marbles were jasper, the swirls of color were on the outside, and I captured them with seed beads. A great week-end of work, but work that was fun!

The necklace is Carole Ohl's Earthly Hues design from the current issue of Beadwork magazine.

When’s the last time you knuckled down to a day at play?


The Good Sister

Growing up, my sister was a near-perfect child. Blonde, poised, smart, accomplished. An overachiever, appearing at the dinner table with face shining, hair brushed, and perfect grammar. I was, well, none of those things. Our mother and the bevy of nuns at St. Barnabas School who watched us grow up would have concurred that, of the O’Connor girls, Janet was the good sister and I was…a challenge. Today is her birthday, and I wanted to make something really special to celebrate it, especially given the fantastic scarf she has already gifted to me.

I knew I wanted to use this delicious color palette from Margie Deeb’s Fall Color Report. After collecting delicas and seed beads in the rich chocolate browns and slightly pink, slightly orange coral tones, I found the perfect necklace on Atlanta Bead Market’s class schedule: Jimmie Boatright’s Links, Rings and Things. There are not many things that I would spend 90 minutes in drive-time traffic for, but taking a class from Jimmie is at the top of that list!

My first stop was at Rodney Andrew’s Art Glass studio for these focal beads which worked perfectly with my browns and corals. The pointed oval links are from Diane Fitzgerald’s Shaped Beadwork. The chocolate truffle-toned delicas were so creamy I felt like I was weaving an elegant confection! They were so much fun to stitch and zip up that I’ll definitely be trying out more of Diane’s geometric shapes. The two-layered rings and bezeled discs brought lots of color and texture to the necklace. A bit of fringe completed the design. (I’m lucky to have learned this design directly from Jimmie. If you don’t live in the Atlanta area, look for the necklace to appear in a future issue of Bead and Button magazine.)

Estheticians say that the color coral is a veritable fountain of youth, and when worn on or near the face, brightens and rejuvenates.

A gift that’s both chocolaty and age-defying? Who’s the good sister now?


A Little Patch of Cool

Yesterday was loaded with activity – all those last-minute errands when one child is graduating from and the other is returning to college. Late in the 100° afternoon, I turned the car toward my favorite tomato stand. As I rounded the curve, I didn’t see the wooden chair that signaled the small stand was open. But, no, there it was, tucked a little further back into the surrounding trees. As I got out to buy one of the two remaining baskets, I noticed it was at least 20° cooler here in the shade. And quiet, almost serene. Birds were chirping (chirping!) and through the trees, I saw a woman in a housedress soundlessly shaking out a rag from a corner of her porch. I felt like I’d been transported back to the 1950’s! For a moment, the galloping concerns of the day stood still. I turned back to the road and blinked. The bank with its crowded ATM’s was still on the corner. The four lanes of traffic were still whizzing by. The tomato seller smiled as if he’d seen this reaction before and told me I’d just stepped into his “little patch of cool.” It was a moment that stayed with me the rest of the day.

This afternoon, when I finally got a chance to sit down at my bead tray, I realized I’d just entered my own little patch of cool. Where’s yours? Visited lately?


Mad Men tonight

I’m in a pearl state of mind as I wait for the season premiere of Mad Men tonight. I found these classic earrings in the newest “Best of” edition of Step by Step Beads. They reminded designer Terri Wlaschin of some her mother owned back in the Mad Men-era of clip-ons, so she redesigned them as dangles for a modern touch.

Katie and I each worked on a pair this afternoon. Katie's pair is elegantly crafted in the original crystal AB design, and I opted to anchor mine in light siam.
Mad Men’s Betty "As long as men look at me that way, I’m earning my keep" Draper might have worn them to a Sterling Cooper holiday party. Joan “No dull moments or dull men” Harris would wear them anytime!


Baby It's Hot Outside

It’s over 100° in ATL today, so I decided to spend this sultry afternoon indoors – not at my beading table, but at Beadworks Atlanta’s warehouse sale. We shoppers got the chance to step beyond the retail showroom into the warehouse itself to browse the stacks of beads, findings and components offered at lower-than-wholesale pricing.

My favorite purchase was this pendant and string of black rutilated quartz teardrops. After some intense days of beadweaving, I’m in the mood to do some stringing.

A great afternoon to browse the selections and chat with fellow beaders about their current projects. And since I only exceeded my budget by $4.95, it proved to be a no-sweat way to cool off!


To Infinity and Beyond

Infinity has many faces. It’s one thing to the mathematician and quite another to the scientist. To the artist, I suppose it is imagination given free reign. That’s what I discovered when I found Gill Slone’s blog, Beadography, last year, when I threaded up a needle and opened my first tube of seed beads. Gill’s was the first beading blog I read, and after a few visits, she seemed like an old friend. I felt like I knew her Scottie dog, her garden, her dreams. She joked about hiding a few beads in her luggage when she left for a motor bike tour around Europe with her husband, a trip that, tragically, ended her life. I still find inspiration from her blog entries, and knew when her design, Galaxy Bead, was published posthumously in the February issue of Bead and Button that I had to make this piece. When I discovered a cache of Swarovski Peridot Sahara bicones at Crystal Creations in West Palm Beach, I finally had my beads.

Fastening it around my neck, a line from Gill’s first post came to mind – sometimes happiness is bead shaped!


A Pearl of a Gray

I just downloaded Margie Deeb's Fall 2010 Color Report, and what a treat for the eyes! If you're a green lover like I am, there's a healthy dose of that color, from the yellow-green of crisp Endive to the forest green of Woodbine. But while I was searching out the green page, I was caught up by a new color, Oyster Gray, and this piece from SaraBeth Cullinan. Isn't this a gorgeous neutral? Can't you just imagine it paired with a deep navy blue? Now, where's my bead stash...


Girl Time

A visit from my grandchildren left little time to bead this week, but what a week! Yesterday was a day just for the girls – an hour’s drive north for a trip to Atlanta’s American Girl Boutique for shopping and hairstyling tips followed by more shopping. A lunch stop at the Cheesecake Factory, where one bite of this eight-layer chocolate fudge cake toppled Subway from the number one spot on Abi’s list of favorite restaurants.

And speaking of heavenly confections, today I’ll be teaching Abi how to make Buckeye Balls. Some families reserve these for the holidays, but at our house, chocolate is always in season!