Hello from this time of corona-isolation-will-we-ever-be-normal-again days!
I’ve got a post in the works about emotional struggles with life at the moment, but I first must share the sparkling, wondrous, amazing news of the birth of my nephew, Cade Emerson!
He is one month old today, and we have yet to see him in person (thanks a lot, coronavirus!), but thankfully his parents share photos and videos of him every day. Usually toward the end of the workday I will hear a pleasant chime and know that fresh Cade photos are available. It’s a welcome sight! Thank goodness for technology.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and that is (partly) because I have been focusing on learning the art of stained glass! If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen plenty of my posts over the last 6 months or so involve glass in some way. Here’s the back story:
At the end of last summer, I was feeling like it was time for me to try something new. I get this urge from time to time, when things in my life are feeling stagnant, or I am feeling creatively stunted. It is what motivated me to take pottery lessons so long ago, to get my degree in landscape architecture (an expensive foray), to take the master gardener certification course, and to get involved with Toastmasters.
I’ve always had a thing for glass. Perhaps it’s not really glass itself, but light. Glass is a medium that changes appearance depending the light source, intensity, and movement. I guess what I really love is light itself. I love light.
Ahem, back to my story. So late summertime, I’m looking for my next creative adventure and it hits me – GLASS! It is one of those things I always wanted to try, and I’m at a time in my life where I can easily afford to take a class and buy supplies, so why not? I googled “glass studios” and found a place about 20 minutes from my home. I also found that a local art center was doing a one-night class to make fall leaves. I asked my dad to join me and we made our very first stained glass pieces.
Dad foiling his leaf pieces!
Our finished leaves.
The stained glass classes at the glass studio were offered in 6-week sessions. I wasn’t able to sign up for a session right away, so in the meantime I took a couple of the one-day classes they offered on Saturdays. I asked my friend Stacy to join me.
The first class was pretty minimal work. We had to select a piece of glass that would be slumped over a form in the kiln to create a vase. We could trim the edges of the piece however we liked. After we left, the studio owner would fire the piece for us, and we could pick up the vase the following week.
Although I had done some cutting to make the leaf mentioned above, I was still getting the hang of it. I found the glass cutters offered at the studio were a challenge for me to hold. I watched as the instructor held the cutter in his hand. His index finger extended down to the cutting head while the rest of his fingers gripped the handle. Well, that didn’t really work for me, since I was working with two less fingers.
Nevertheless, I persisted and was pretty happy with how my finished piece turned out. Unfortunately for Stacy, her piece broke when they attempted to drill through the bottom so she could use it as a lamp shade.
After that first class, I emailed the studio to ask if they had different cutter styles I could try out, since the pistol grip style was clunky and hard for me to control. It turned out they had a couple of options. The next time I went in, I tried a pencil-style one and one that had saddle-shaped handle. The saddle grip worked best for me, as it allowed me to grip close to the tip with my fingers and use the pressure from my palm to push the cutter.
I ended up buying a really cool cutter that has an adjustable grip handle. It has made cutting the glass so simple and fun!
Fused Wind Chimes
The next class we signed up for was to make wind chimes. We were given a wide array of fusable glass to choose from and allowed to go wild. Stacy went with an aquatic theme for hers, but I decided to make abstract leaves for mine.
Once again, we had to leave the items behind for the studio to put into the kiln, and then we could pick up our work the following week. I was really happy with how mine came out, although I think the stick I hung them on is a little too big, so I may re-hang it later.
As the holiday season approached, the studio offered fused ornament classes pretty much every weekend. By this time, Stacy and I had already started the stained glass course, but I figured the ornaments would make really unique Christmas gifts for the family.
Stained Glass Butterfly
The first night of the 6-week stained glass course, I had no idea what I wanted to make. I’ve never really been interested in the cookie-cutter stained glass designs you see in people’s front doors or in bars. I wanted my piece to be funky and artsy and different. The first night, I began sketching out this crazy spiral design that I’d been doodling in my notebook for weeks. It would look so cool, but as I drew it larger, I was intimidated by the complexity of it.
The following week was Thanksgiving, so there would be no class. Plus, Dave and I were going to Costa Rica, so I’d be missing the class after that as well. That bought me some time to think about it and come up with an idea. While in Costa Rica, we saw lots of blue morpho butterflies, which inspired me to do a butterfly pattern.
My first thought was to do a realistic rendering of the blue morpho, but as I searched online for stained glass butterfly patterns, I came across a drawing of a celtic knot butterfly, and I knew that was the one I had to do.
Little did I know, as I began that project, just how hard it was going to be to cut out the curvy shapes. I broke several pieces before the instructor informed me that they had a saw that I could use for the especially curvy parts.
Even with the saw, I left a lot of extra glass on my pieces, which meant that I had to spend a LOT of time using the grinder to get my pieces down to size. At first I found it very hard to hold onto the small pieces, and my hands were cramping up. I asked if they had something to hold the pieces with, and it turned out there was! Once I used that, it alleviated the strain on my hands and made for a more pleasant experience.
By week 3 of cutting and grinding, I was feeling somewhat downhearted about my project. I confess, I’m an instant-gratification kind of person, at least when it comes to learning new things or creating something. In my artistic experiences, I tend to prefer projects that can be completed in one sitting. I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing something. Of course I am aware that working on something over time can also be gratifying, but I was really getting tired of grinding the life out of my glass pieces.
It took me most of the 6-week course (actually 5, since I missed a week while I was in Costa Rica) for me to complete the butterfly. I did learn a lot through the process, mainly that I should cut much closer to my pattern lines so I wouldn’t need to spend hours grinding.
Once the butterfly was finished, I wanted to try my hand at a slightly larger piece. I had a couple of octopus drawings I’d done in the past that I thought would be cool to modify into a glass piece.
I redrew the design on a larger piece of paper, and then traced over that with tracing paper to create my new pattern. Originally I wanted my octopus to be bright orange with pink undersides like the drawing, but I couldn’t find a bright enough orange in the selection of glass at the studio. I settled for a piece of glass that reminded me of the inside of a seashell. It was mostly beige in color, with hints of purple and green and an overall iridescence to it, like abalone. For the underside I found a piece of glass that was swirled through with bright orange-red. And for the skirt, as I called it (I guess really it’s the armpits? ha ha), and the eyelids, I chose an iridescent white. For the water I just laid low and went with a clear cobalt blue.
By now I was much more comfortable cutting the glass, and did not have to spend nearly as much time grinding, which was a huge relief. Also, by this time the new year had rolled around and the studio had put fresh grinding bits on all their grinders so that also made the grinding process less annoying.
I’d come to grips with the fact that this was going to be a multi-week process, so I was feeling less angsty about the time it was taking to get my octopus put together. It ended up taking me about 10 weeks from start to finish. I made some more rookie mistakes in the process, but I am happy with how it came out!
Over the past few weeks I’ve been putting together a small glass studio of my own. I am keeping an open mind as to where it will take me. I have no shortage of ideas for future projects, and perhaps once I’m more confident with my skills I can start taking commissions. We’ll see!
Dave got us 23andme kits for Christmas. You’ve probably heard of it before, but in case you haven’t, it’s one of those DNA testing kits where you provide a saliva sample and send it to a lab that analyzes it and tells you where your ancestors came from and if you carry any genetic markers for disease or hereditary conditions.
I’ve long been interested in learning about ancestry and genetics, but had been somewhat hesitant to provide my genetic material in this way. I’ve seen arguments against it saying that by giving a corporation access to your genetic code, insurance companies could potentially buy and use that information to deny coverage for conditions you’re genetically predisposed to, or maybe to harvest your organs for a wealthy person who has a similar genetic makeup (I don’t know, we watch a lot of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi movies in this house).
I thought about the above scenarios but decided that, at the rate my hair falls out, my genetic code could easily have fallen into the wrong hands by now. Plus, I blog about my medical condition on the internet, so it’s not like I’m keeping any secrets about that either. So, I decided to go for it. My urge to know how much Viking blood really flows through my veins outweighs any concern over my medical privacy.
The first step of this whole process, after signing all the virtual paperwork is collecting the saliva sample. Let me tell you about that. As you know, if you or a loved one has EEC, we tend to be rather dry-mouthed folks. I’m pretty much never caught without a water bottle in my hand or a pocketful of hard candies or gum, because left to it’s own devices, my mouth would be as dry as the Sahara in minutes.
The instructions for collecting the saliva sample explicitly state that you have to wait 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth before you can spit into the vial. Other than while sleeping, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve gone 30 minutes without putting something in my mouth, so that in itself was a challenge. Then came the spitting part. Dave, the healthy-mouthed person that he is, was able to fill his vial in less than 5 minutes, with 3 or 4 spits.
Meanwhile, I swept my tongue around my mouth, from cheek to cheek, silently summoning my saliva glands to produce. My spit was very bubbly – more air than saliva – but I kept at it. I stuck my nose in a bag of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies to try to stimulate the juices. I sniffed lemon juice, as suggested by the 23andme instruction card. I massaged my cheeks (also suggested by 23andme). I kept looking at the clock as my tube filled up with bubbles. The sample had to be collected within 30 minutes and time was running out! Finally, just as the last minute was slipping away, my saliva reached the fill line on the tube. As a reward, I ate a cookie and had a glass of water.
Dave and I dropped off our samples at the post office on December 28. We anticipated the process taking about 6 weeks, but were pleasantly surprised to get an email about a week later saying that our results would be done by January 16th. Then, on Saturday I checked my email and discovered that mine were already ready! Of course I couldn’t wait to look at them. For some reason, Dave’s results are still not done, but I’m hoping that he’ll get his tomorrow.
Unsurprisingly, my ancestry results show that I am 100% European. I was a little surprised by the French/German part, as culturally, there is absolutely nothing French or German in my recent family history. But I also know that these results just show where your recent-ish ancestors descended from, and I think they are really just comparing DNA with people who live in those regions now.
The other fun factoid that 23andme will tell you is how many Neanderthal variants you have. Apparently I have a lot compared to other 23andme participants. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s fun to know.
There is so much more to explore in the results. A lot of it is just fun, silly stuff, like how your genes affect hair color or other physical traits like finger length or freckles. There’s also an DNA relatives part, which shows you which other people out there (who have also used 23andme) are related to you. My results list a second cousin – turns out she is my grandfather’s cousin. There are a couple of other second-to-third cousins, but the majority of the results are 4th cousins or beyond. Still, it is kind of mind-blowing to look at the map and see how many people out there are descended from the same ancestors as I am.
I was curious to see if the report would pick up anything related to my EEC. It did not. But that was another reason I wanted to participate – so that I could provide my DNA and tell them I have EEC, and perhaps eventually others could be helped by it. An optional feature of 23andme tests your health and carrier status, so it tells you if your genes carry variants for particular diseases. Of course 23andme reiterates that their tests aren’t meant to diagnose any genetic conditions, and that you should see a doctor if you think you are really at risk of some thing. I was pleasantly surprised that my genes appear to be pretty good. I carry one variant for celiac disease, but apparently it only *slightly* increases my risk of developing celiac disease. Amazingly I carry none of the variants that could negatively affect my offspring… too bad I don’t plan to produce any offspring. (But duh – EEC is heritable, so there is that.)
I can’t wait to see what Dave’s results are. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia and as far as he knows, his family had always been in Colombia. But South America was colonized by the Spanish for like 400 years, so there would have been mixing of multiple cultures. I’m thinking his map will be a lot more colorful than mine.
I’d love to hear if you’ve done 23andme or Ancestry.com or any other DNA-testing to find out about your genetic building blocks. Did you find out anything you didn’t expect?
Going through my photos from 2018 has reminded me of how many good moments we had throughout the year, and how much I have to be grateful for.
The year kicked off in a dark place with Mom’s cancer diagnosis, but after chemo, surgery and radiation (and now oral chemo), we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The experience, plus some other incidents this year, taught me that no matter how much you may try, you’re never really in control of your destiny. An illness or an accident can so quickly end or derail whatever you’ve got going on. Worrying about that happening doesn’t do any good either – you just have to swing at the curveballs life throws at you and hope for the best.
This year I got out and did some exciting things – I marched in marches, and I ran in 5k’s. I learned how to cut glass, make a slumped glass vase, make fused glass ornaments and I am currently working on my second stained glass piece. I travelled to Vermont lots of times to visit Mom, Indianapolis for a work trip, Maine for a family get-together, and the grand finale of course, was our impromptu trip to Costa Rica!
So, despite whatever bad things happened in 2018, they were far outweighed by good things and positive experiences. I’m sure 2019 will be the same – while you might not be able to control your destiny, you can certainly control your attitude along the way.
One of the things we did this summer was take a trip to DC. My brother John and his wife Cara have lived in DC for about a decade, and it’s embarrassing to admit how little we have visited them. So, once we knew they’d be moving back to Vermont, we figured we should pay them a visit and enjoy DC on the cheap while we still could.
Here’s a photo montage and dramatic retelling of that experience.
July 5, 2018
I woke up early, to scarf down breakfast and pack the last of my things before Kris arrived. We loaded up his car and hit the road just after 8am. Exciting things happened on the drive, such as seeing animal control wrangling a giant turtle on the side of the road, and getting to drive on the new Tappan Zee Bridge! Except it’s not called that, it’s called the Governor Mario M. Cuomo bridge. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely but it looks pretty cool, and I no longer had the nervous feeling that it was about to collapse under the burden of all the traffic on it. No pics of that because I was driving responsibly.
It was a beautiful day for a drive, and surprisingly light on traffic, considering it was the 4th of July holiday weekend.
Six hours and three rest stops later, we were in Capitol Hill! We found a parking spot half a block away from John and Cara’s house and carried all our luggage to the front door. Kris knocked on the door a few times. We were answered with a barking dog. John and Cara don’t have a dog. Mmm, maybe this wasn’t the right house.
After calling John we realized we were on the wrong end of the street. They were 210 SE, not 210 NE, or wherever the hell we were. Whoopsie!
Kris brought the car around so we wouldn’t have to lug everything back up the street. Soon we were at the correct house, and after a quick tour, we headed off to a late lunch at Blue Jacket.
After lunch, John and Cara took us on a brief walking tour of the area, but it was really hot and humid so we went back to their place to lay around with the cat for a bit.
We concluded that waiting until evening would allow us to tour the monuments without the sun’s angry rays beating on us, but even so, it would be an oppressive night for a walk.
Nevertheless, we persisted. We started off with a gander at the Jefferson Memorial. A stately rotunda housing a larger than life bronze sculpture of – you guessed it – Thomas Jefferson.
From there, we continued around the tidal basin to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
From the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we walked to the Lincoln Monument, where we also got a cool view of the Washington Monument at the other end of the reflecting pool. Even though it was now dark, the heat and humidity was so intense, it was like the whole world was a sauna.
July 6, 2018
Cara woke up early to check the website for the Museum of African-American History & Culture. She was able to get 4 tickets for us to get in! We were excited, as it’s very popular and you have to buy tickets months in advance – or, get up at 6am and check for day-of availability.
After a leisurely breakfast, we headed out, getting to the museum just in time for our 11:00 entry time.
I did not take many photos in the museum. I kind of felt like it would be disrespectful, especially during the first part, which was all about the middle passage. It was extremely crowded, but as you are reading about slaves being packed into transport ships like sardines, you realize your situation isn’t that bad.
The exhibits were emotionally powerful, informative and interesting. I wish we’d had the time and stamina to do the whole museum in one shot. We made it through to the civil rights area and it was already 2pm. Upon exiting the exhibit hall, we saw the line for the cafe was very long, so we decided to go elsewhere.
It was a lot to take in, and it’s too bad we couldn’t get back in to see the rest, although we were pretty emotionally spent by the time we left anyway.
We drove up to NuVegan cafe for lunch, and that was really, really good stuff. Then, it was back to the house to rest up and cuddle with Bertie some more.
After some mid-afternoon R&R, and more eating, we decided to go to a Capitals game that evening. It blew my mind that we could still get tickets that late in the day, and for not much money, either! So, that evening we hit up the ballpark.
The game was entertaining, as was the audience. We had a group of frat boys sitting a few rows ahead of us who kept us entertained with their bro-laughter and failed attempts to initiate the wave. Mid-game they were joined by a group of girls who were flaunting their assets and tossing their hair. Then, some drama ensued as one of the girls got caught vaping.
As for the game itself, they were tied 2-2 for several innings, and John and Cara suggested we could leave in the 7th. I said, no way Jose! There’s going to be a dramatic tie-breaker, I can feel it! And lo and behold, in the bottom of the ninth inning, there was a home run and the Nationals won. Woo hoooo!
July 7, 2018
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and fantastically less humid than the previous few days. We walked to the Eastern Market, and browsed the booths there for a while.
After that, we checked out Capitol Hill Books. The moving company John worked for- Bookstore Movers- was started to fund the owner’s dream of buying Capitol Hill Books. Since our visit, he was able to make the purchase! Here’s an article about it.
After the bookstore, where I purchased one book and a tote bag, we headed to the National Mall. There was a Smithsonian Folklife Festival going on, featuring Catalonia and Armenia. We heard there were going to be human towers, and this was something we had to see!
Once we got to the Mall, we wandered around the exhibits at the Folklife Festival. There was lots of cool art and craftsmanship on display. We witnessed an interesting dance routine with the dancers wearing various animal heads and lots of fireworks, but the real show was the human towers:
The human towers were really cool to see, but a bit nerve-wracking to watch. Little kids would climb up to the very top and raise their arm, which is what signalled that the tower was complete. Then they would scamper down the tower, sliding down the people like they were a fireman’s pole. One of the last towers was very wobbly and actually ended up collapsing. It looked like they fell gracefully, so hopefully no one was hurt.
Once the tower-building was complete, it was time for Kris and I to head home. We bade farewell to John and Cara and began our long journey north. Not long after getting on the highway we witnessed this creative genius, ironically sporting a Darwin sticker on their vehicle. Plot twist – there was a woman driving it!
And thus concludes our whirlwind journey to DC. Thanks to John and Cara for having us! We had a great time!
So much for my “life purpose” of sharing my experiences so others can know they aren’t alone. Failure!
I won’t bore you with excuses for why I haven’t written all summer. None of them are really valid reasons. The truth of the matter is that I am just lazy and unorganized.
Today I write to you from the shores of Lake Champlain. I am up here to help my mom recover from her mastectomy. She is doing really, really well. It’s so awesome. The chemo was incredibly challenging, especially the last couple of doses of the cocktail I mentioned in my last post called the Red Devil.
I had been worried about her all throughout chemo, because it is really hard for me to accept that in order to fight the cancer, they have to practically poison you to death to do so. The Red Devil was no joke. She felt worse than ever. Her blood counts were incredibly low. After her last dose, she had to get a blood transfusion because everything was so low. However, within a few days of the transfusion, she was feeling much better. She said she went from feeling like 40% of herself to about 70%, and that now (5 weeks post-chemo) she feels like her normal self again!
Obviously chemo is a tried-and-true method, because her tumors shrank significantly, and one of the smaller ones disappeared completely. The cancer that had been in her lymph nodes was nowhere to be found at the time of surgery.
As for the surgery, they removed her affected breast but only took out a couple of lymph nodes. This made the surgery a lot less invasive than it could have been. It also means she won’t have to worry about lymphedema, which is a condition that can develop if you get all the lymph nodes taken out of an area.
I can’t believe how well she is doing for someone who just had a part of her body removed. I was expecting her to be bedridden and immobile, but if you saw her out in public you wouldn’t even know she’d had surgery less than a week ago. Well, unless you saw the drain poking out of her shirt. Ew!
Well, time for me to take the doggie for a walk. One of my goals this week is to get back into the blog and plan out the content for the next few months. I’m taking requests! Let me know if there’s an eec-related topic you want me to talk about, or if you would prefer I philosophize about some aspect of life in general, I could obviously do that too.
So much has been on my mind lately (what else is new?), and I’ve made multiple attempts to write, only to save my posts as drafts for one reason or another. (Mainly because I think they are all dumb!)
Today I finished up a course called Coretography, which was designed by Tracy Otsuka to help people develop a roadmap for their lives. Of course I already know a lot of things about myself, but I’ve always had trouble figuring out what road I want to travel down, and where exactly I want to end up. Her course helped me narrow things down a bit. I figured out:
My top 8 core values: Creativity, love, brilliance, humor, authenticity, health, environmentalism and mindfulness.
My passions: Being creative, being authentic and self-improvement.
Combined with my top talents: Empathy, humor and intelligence.
And my skills: Writing, grammar, and teaching.
Plus a few other things… resulting in my PURPOSE: to share my own life experiences in order to help people going through similar things.
At this point I think my best way of doing that is to continue with the blog, so I had better get writing!
The most prominent life experience I am currently experiencing is watching Mom go through chemo. At first it was so scary to know that she had cancer and that the prescribed course of treatment was to pump her full of hazardous chemicals.
Watching her lose her hair, lose weight, become fatigued and worn out has not been fun. I feel pretty helpless, and as a result I worry that I am not being supportive enough. I suppose one positive aspect of the whole thing is that we have been communicating a lot more than we used to.
Her treatment is progressing nicely though. Since February she was one one chemo cocktail, and today she just started a different cocktail. I probably shouldn’t use the word cocktail because that sounds like a fun drink garnished with fruit on a plastic sword. In reality, it’s about as opposite of that as you can get. One of the drugs they gave her today is nicknamed the Red Devil. She was warned to expect nausea, among other things. Fortunately she is only getting 4 doses of that, so I am crossing fingers and toes that she can bear it and get through it as quickly as possible.
It’s so mind boggling to me that in order for a person to fight cancer, they have to take in such toxic chemicals. I suppose there is a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. She has been doing what she can with diet and supplements to help her body stay strong, and I am sure that is helping her. I even started taking one of the supplements myself (tumeric cucurmin) and I am about 90% sure it is helping my eyes, but that is a topic for another post.
I hope you, whoever you are who is reading this, is well. Thanks for reading, and please check back soon.