Friday, December 31, 2010

Finally, Some Beads!

Greetings Beady Friends! Things at Poppyfield are moving along nicely. Although, I must confess, not in a New York minute. I love the pace of the NM life, but when I want things to happen, I revert to my Big Apple expectations. I've had to come to terms with the reality that creating a brand new retail space takes time. Not only that, there are about a thousand unexpected kinks that pop up, and I've been learning patience and humility in dealing with it all. Here's a tidbit. Last week I bought some used sales counters from Ooh Ahh jewelry store. They are going to be refurbished. One of them flew out of the truck on the way home. It landed in the middle of the road. Now it will be VERY refurbished. Ohmmmmmm.

It is a good thing I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I made this decision. I probably would not have had the courage to make the leap. That being said, I am thrilled with my decision, excited to see the progress, and confident that great things are in store, in the store.
Phoenix Phlower by Margo Field

Here is a photo of Margo's Phoenix Phlower. It has a sparking rivoli at the center, and her own original bezel, which you will really enjoy learning and applying to other creations. Like all her designs, it is a product of her beady genius. As soon as we open we will begin registration for the class. I will be sure to have all the supplies needed in stock.

An Experiment in Bead Display

Yesterday I finally had a day with the beads. I spent hours working with one of the many boxes of tubes I've got. It was such a joy to finally get a box open and start organizing the inventory. I've been experimenting with displaying the bead tubes in a way that is both appealing and practical for all beaders - newbies to veteran advanced stitch mavens. I tried out these cool trays that hang in the slat wall. What you see are a small sample of bugles and the 6's that I have in stock. I love being able to see the whole tube of beads. But, I am not convinced that these trays are durable and will hold up. I will continue in my quest. Hanging tubes are next on my agenda.

Finally, I've also spent hours getting the inventory organized in the computer. As an avid beader myself, I know some of information I'd like to have when walking into a store. I am working on setting up the system to be practical for beaders' questions. For example when I walk into a bead store, I want to know if 638 (my favorite color) is available in 11's, 15's, 8's, do you have it in frosted? what about hexes? bugles? You'd be surprised how difficult it is to get straight answers to these questions. But I've already got an email in the Miyuki inbox on someone's computer in Japan.

Happy New Year to you all! May the New Year bring you everything you need. And lots of beads, too.

Peace and Beads,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poppy is Sprouting

I Can't Wait to WELCOME You

Signs of growth are finally evident at Poppyfield Bead Company! Up til now, so much of the work I've been doing to get the store running has been behind the scenes leg work. Phone calls, internet searches, visiting shops, and placing orders. I was working hard, but, everyday, I'd walk into the store and it would look the same as the day before.

Finally, change is visible. My contractor, Owen Kellum, has been on the job. The walls are blooming in color! Tuesday the track lights go up. I am still waiting on the slat wall. That is the structure that the beads will hang from. It has been ordered, and should be here early this week. When it comes, it will go up and then I can start hanging the inventory.

Speaking of inventory: Please leave a comment on the blog about your wishes for the store inventory. What did Margo carry that was important to you? What would you like to see me carry?

My goal is to open right after New Years. But, a lot depends on the delivery of the structural elements of the store. Obviously, I must be able to display the inventory to open.

Store Hours: M 2 - 8, T-F 12 - 5:30, Sat 12 - 4:30, Sun Closed
Phone: 505-880-8695 (when store opens)

Margo has finished her Phoenix Phlower brooch / necklace, which will be offered soon after the store opens. A photo and description of this gorgeous intermediate - advanced projected will be posted here soon. There is also a beginner's level bracelet in the works. So check back for more news.

Peace and Beads,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Passing The Torch and Moving a Meadow

Julia and Margo Signing The Sale of Poppyfield

Greetings Beady Friends! It has been a busy week for Poppyfield. On Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 Margo and I signed the papers (and I signed the check) and Poppyfield officially began its rebirth. I spent Tuesday until Friday packing up and moving all the inventory around the corner to 4401 A Cutler. Millions of beads and findings, large and small, are safely nestled in boxes waiting to hang for your purchase and pleasure.

I know that it is difficult to be without your bead connection. Over the years, I've had my own share of "Bead Emergencies" and found myself scouring the streets in desperation. I wish I could serve you YESTERDAY. But, everything is still packed. PLEASE be patient as I set up the new store. I only found out about Margo's plans to close when you did. I've been working non-stop on the takeover since that fateful email she sent last month. I promise you, the wait will be worth it. As soon as I am able to serve you, in any capacity, I will let you know.

Many of you have asked what is the date we will open. Honestly, I don't know. Realistically, I expect it will be after Christmas. Again, as soon as I have a date, I will send out the word.

A Fresh Start at 4401 Cutler Suite A

The new store is located just across the street from the Pima Medical Institute. From the old store, go south to Cutler and make a right at Liberty Gym. It is on the right side of the street just past the Hallmark Computer Supply store. If you hit Washington (and Reflections Funeral Home), you've gone too far. Right now, it is an bare storefront. No sign, no window display and most of the time the curtains are drawn.

Meanwhile, what have I been doing? The process has been like moving an entire meadow - the Field of Poppy. I had to dig up each and every flower and now I am getting ready to transplant them - one bead tube or strand at a time. In addition to all the packing and moving, I've been figuring out the layout of the store, seeking out furniture for the studio / class, investigating the displays, making contact with wholesalers, and designing the brand, logo, and signs. I've already purchased the computer and software system, and some of you already have your contact info uploaded into the customer data base. How exciting is that?!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A New Home

Poppy Field Bead Co will have a new home!!! I decided to find a new, nearby, permanent location for the reincarnation of Poppy Field Bead Co. As I started making plans for the store, I realized that I did not want to start looking for a new location and moving while I was settling into running a new business. So...I am doing all the legwork now, finding a locale, and creating a beautiful bead-space. My other areas of interest are micro-macrame and wire work, so I plan to be adding those areas to the store as well. Of course there will be a learning space set up for classes. There is also a planned area for kids.

Margo and Barry have been working hard on organizing and getting ready to close down and do the inventory. We are still planning for a passing of the torch after Thanksgiving. I will keep you posted about the actual re-opening / Grand Opening - as I get a better idea of when that will be.

I've got a space picked out, but until the lease is signed, it's an unofficial secret - not yet ready for the Beady Grape Vine. Tune in for more news.

Until then, Peace and Beads, and Gratitude.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fan Mail

A big THANK YOU to all who took the time to send me an email or leave a comment on the blog about my purchase of Poppyfield Bead Company. It is clear that Poppyfield means a lot to many people. I relish each message and really look forward to meeting you. I cannot respond to each message right now, because I am just preoccupied with the details involved in this transaction.

So thank you Elaine, Barbara, Mary Ann, Dana, Becky, sister Susan, Marge, Hal, Steven, Mary Ellen, Keri-Lynn, Lee, Georgian, Julie, Valerie, Joanne, Elly, Fran, Lesley, Sara, Meg, Terri, Lynn, and Karen for your words of support.

Please don't be shy about leaving comments here. It helps stimulate discussion by the readers.

As far as an update: Things are moving along. The timeline remains the same: Margo will close for Thanksgiving and I will re-open on Monday, Dec 6th. New classes in January. The telephone number will remain (505) 880-8695. We should have a nice supply of seed beads and delicas on opening day. See you soon!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I Bought A Bead Shop!!

Poppyfield Bead Company, my long time seed bead source was closing. Margo Field, the owner, and a master seed bead artist, was ready to retire. On Wednesday, she sent out a one sentence announcement, and within minutes I was at the shop offering to buy it.

I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Eleven months a year, it is the bead capital of the United States (except February when Tuscon enjoys that distinction). We have Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, Thunderbird Jewelry Supply, Indian Jewelry Supply, Thomason Stone Company, Bead and Fetish, and at least 2 other retail shops, which cater to the individual. There are a slew of wholesale shops selling in bulk to the trade. But no shop offers Poppyfield's extensive supply of seed beads. When I sat at Margo's counter on Wednesday, the phone rang off the hook with desperate callers. Yesterday we agreed on terms and shook hands. Margo turned her closing sale into a one day celebration sale. I started receiving emails thanking me for "saving Poppyfield" and pleas to keep up the seed bead supply.

In my 48 hour whirlwind research of bead shops nationwide, I discovered a trend...bead shops are closing, and have been since 2007. Internet sales at low prices have seriously undermined the viability of local bead shops. The economy has hurt stores that have not managed their risk well. Still I feel confident about my venture and here's why:

Margo's mission is my vision: Offer the best supply of seed beads and delicas. These particular bead prices remain competitive in local shops because buying bulk bags allows owners to offer better price points than one could ever find on the internet. Individuals are not going to order bulk bags of seeds. Projects usually require 5 -10 grams of a color. Bulk bags come in 100-500 grams. The best bead stash is the most varied stash. Only a shop can manage both bulk quantity and extensive variety. Of equal importance is that nothing compares to being able to stand in front of a vast array of beads of myriad colors, finishes, cuts and textures, and pick and choose the "just right" combination for the bead weaver's dream design. Seed bead projects are extremely time consuming. The ability to start with the choice beads makes it a pleasurable labor of love. Having the selection at your fingertips is key. Poppyfield has always offered that.

In addition, Margo and Bobbie Yoakum, her assistant in the shop, have offered the highest quality classes and wonderful customer service. Both are avid beaders and teachers, as am I. I've taught at Poppyfield in the past, and it has been a blast. Margo will continue to teach intermediate and advanced level classes. I will also offer basic beading classes and some of my more advanced designs as well.

I really look forward to helping new beaders get comfortable with technique and materials. For the uninitiated, it can be tempting, but overwhelming. Just as in the past, there will always be a bead artist at the shop to assist customers with bead selection. Thats the fun part for me. Helping others enjoy what these tiny points of color and light have to offer.

Because Margo has filled this very specialized and unique niche for so many years she's got a very loyal customer base that knows how to find the shop at 2531 Jefferson St. NE. It is centrally located, but on a quiet street (click here for map). For now, Poppyfield will stay nestled where it is. Margo will close on Thanksgiving weekend for inventory. I will re-open on Monday, December 6th. Classes will resume in January. Bobbie has other commitments, but has offered to stay during December.

To my local beading community, I say come by in December and say hello, and tell me what you'd like to see at Poppyfield. I am already ordering inventory to have at the shop. Feel free to leave a comment here. Introduce yourself, tell me what's important to you and what your wishes are. I will continue to update you via my blog. For those reading from afar...tune in to follow my journey.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beaded Medallions

Harriet Tubman Medallion

Beadweavers know the joy of delayed gratification. It's the nature of the medium. Nothing happens quick with seed beads. But, these medallions I've been making are about as close as I get to instant gratification with seed beads. I've been turning all sorts of papers and graphics into beaded pendants. I can do a few a day. I make the bails as well, and even that is a quick twist of wire. The biggest challenge for me has been learning to work with computer graphics programs and learning the behavior of the different glues I need to use. The beading is a joy. My next challenge will be the marketing and posting on etsy. I am looking forward to seeing if these will do well as holiday gifts.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Val's Custom Prayer Vessel Necklace in Jewel Tones

The Arts and Crafts Fair in Santa Fe was 2 weeks ago. It was a wonderful weekend - fabulous autumnal New Mexico weather, awesome art, and the best tent spot. The ground under my tent was uneven, and hazardous. But my artist neighbors were the best company and support I could have hoped for. Sue Orchant, a silk artist, Maggie May Beyeler a ceramicist who employs graphic art in her unique designs, and Ginny Hogan, a painter and paper maker were all veterans compared to me. They had been doing art since like forever. Sue and I were the relative newbies with fairs - but none was greener than me. I had the added treat of shmoozing with silversmith Vicki Deane, my anonymous home-girl inspiration, now revealed (see my previous post). She was two spots down from me.

The first day was a bit rough. I had overslept, so it began with me rushing around at home. Plus, the first day includes the added stress of setting up the tent and filling it with all my wares. By the time the first customers strolled on in I had been working for hours and I was exhausted. In addition to the flutter of anticipation, the early morning chill kept me going, as did the hot coffee and breakfast burrito. All day, sales were slow for me and the ladies around me. No one even signed my "guest book". How pathetic. It was disappointing. Nonetheless, I was determined to surrender to the experience, whatever it would be. If customer enthusiasm was at a low, then I'd drink in the camaraderie.

The following day the energy was inexplicably different. People of all sorts starting strolling in early, with big smiles, and lots of interest. My guest book was filling up with names and emails. Women were trying on necklaces and earrings. People started buying my work, my beaded treasures, my painstakingly slowly produced shimmering, glittering, colorful, labors of love. They gave me money, and took them home. I felt as if I were adopting out beloved kittens and puppies. Wow! One after another. I could see Sue and Ginny making sales. Maggie was selling out!

One of the most memorable sales, was to Val. She asked if I would make her a custom prayer vessel necklace in her favorite colors. I took her order, without a deposit or a promise. I told her I'd contact her when it was complete. Then she asked if she could have it by October 14th, for her mastectomy. I thought of my class coming up on October 16th, and all the prep I still needed to do for it. "Yes, I will have it ready," I told her.

All my life I've wanted to be a healer. So much so, that I went to medical school, and worked as a doctor. Now, I've moved in a different direction, allowing myself to flow with the tide that has pulled me out to a new sea. I don't see patients anymore, just people. For the past several days I've sat in my studio, with Val's jewel tones in bead puddles on my mat. With a heart full of hope for her healing and for the gifts that illness offers, I wove Val's prayer vessel necklace. Today I put in my own prayer for her and mailed it clear across the country. Tomorrow she will receive it and can replace the prayer with her own.

I expect I will always remember this fair. I went in still feeling like a doctor, wondering what artists do besides make art, how they live, how they sell. I even gave out some public health information to a mom with questions about vaccines. But when it was over, I felt changed. I saw the joy my art brought to others. I felt the pleasure of sharing a part of myself - the ideas, the hours and the choices that go into each piece. I was inspired with the honor of being invited into the healing of a woman confronting her own mortality. I came home, cleaned out my studio and revamped it. I lit a candle, and got to work. I know the artist has landed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My First Outdoor Show

Ruby Sparkle by Julia L. Hecht
Gold plated seed beads and swarovski crystal

Tomorrow I will have my first outdoor booth at an arts and crafts fair. It is a juried show for members of the Northern New Mexico Arts and Crafts Guild. I scoped out their July show. It is a great location just off The Plaza in Santa Fe, in Cathedral Park. The historic and grand Cathedral of St. Francis provides a fabulous Santa Fe backdrop. I am excited to be among this diverse group of artists. I am even more excited to be talking with a whole new group of people who will meander into my booth. I love explaining about beadwork. A lot of my work is very intricate, and it is very rewarding to see the wonder and awe that beadwork inspires. Always, people comment that they don't have the patience. As fellow beaders may relate - For me, it isn't patience - it's a joyous, meditative process and love of the beads - tiny points of color and light.

The fair is Saturday and Sunday September 25 -26th,
from 10- 5.
For a Link to the Guild and a Map click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Saul Bell Design Entry

"Night On The Town"

I entered my "Night On The Town" bracelet in the Saul Bell Design Competition today. This spike cuff is my homage to New York City, my former home. I made it entirely of beads and assembled it entirely by sewing. No glue was used. I am very happy with it. The photo credit belongs to Pat Berrett, who does all my professional shoots. He works with models often, so I am lucky to benefit from having models on hand to display my art.

I dropped my submission off at Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, which happens to be in Albuquerque where I now live. Wow, what a resource! I've never shopped there. There is no browsing, everything is warehoused. But, man, are they nice! My mom has even taken classes there when she's come out to visit me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Class: Today is a Gift - A Necklace of Gratitude

If you are an advanced beader, you can now learn to make this prayer vessel necklace. I will be teaching this 2 session class at The Beaded Iris in Albquerque, New Mexico on 2 consecutive Saturdays, October 16th and 23rd from 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM. It is comprised of ladder, brick, peyote and herringbone (tubular and circular versions). I recommend that students know at least 3 of those stitches in either flat, circular, or tubular form. There is a wirework option as well, for those who want. The vessel opens and a prayer or message can be placed inside. This project is a "non-denominational" version, derived from my Beaded Mezuzah Cases which are featured in 500 Judaica, now available from Lark Books.

See the Classes page on this website for more class details.

I have submitted this to Beadfest Santa Fe, but haven't heard back from Interweave yet.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Follow Your Heart

Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The last weekend in September I will be selling my jewelry in an outdoor show for the first time. The Northern New Mexico Arts and Crafts Guild has 3 shows a year in Cathedral Park in Santa Fe. Recently, I went to scope out the show, in preparation for my show in September. It is a sweet fair, not at all overwhelming, with 35 booths of very high quality art and craft. I walked the fair, examining the set-ups for ideas, meeting the artists,and introducing myself. I met another seed bead artist, Elaine Sutton, who does fabulous bead embroidery collars. We talked for quite awhile.

The next morning I woke with a start. I remembered something my mom told me when I was hating junior high school. I grew up in a town on the east coast where I felt i just did not belong. I hated living there and felt like a misfit and also "unsafe" in some way. I remember my mom telling me that I would find my place in life and that I didn't have to live there forever. She mentioned some friends whose daughter had moved away to New Mexico to make jewelry as an example. That seemed far-fetched, exotic, adventurous, and mind-blowing. It didn't really help me figure out how to live day by day. But it did give me a sense that I could explore the world and find my own place. Something I've been doing ever since I left that town. I never did meet the girl who moved away to make jewelry.

I was interested in art but never pursued it seriously. I thought I should do something brainy and prestigious and I became a doctor. After medical school, when I was contemplating where to train in my speciality, pediatrics, I remembered that girl who moved to New Mexico and applied for a residency position at the University of New Mexico program. It was strange because I had never been to the state. But, the exotic idea was planted in my head 18 years before by the notion of this girl from my town who followed her heart and found happiness far away. When I interviewed in Albuquerque I saw the full moon rise over over the pink Sandia Mountains and find its place in the indigo sky. That was it. I have been living in New Mexico ever since - 15 years. It is only this past year that I have stopped practicing medicine to give my creative life a chance to blossom.

It seems while I was sleeping, my brain put this together with a face I saw at the fair. One of the artists makes beautiful "modern botanical" silver jewelry. We spoke a bit. That next morning, it was her face that I saw when I woke with a start. I rummaged through the cards I had collected at the fair, and there was hers. I sent her an email, asking if perhaps she could be the girl my mom had told me about. It was a shot in the dark. I got a reply and guess what? She is, in fact, the girl from my town, the daughter of someone my mother knew 20 years ago, whom we'd never met, who followed her heart, moved 2000 miles away, and makes jewelry in New Mexico. She is the girl, who just the notion of her, influenced my life, in ways neither of us knew.

Cheers to us (all of us), to self -exploration, to following our hearts, and to the wonderful ways we help others, by just having the courage to be true to ourselves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beadfingers is Budding

My biology teacher, Mrs. Karasik, showed me that when the microscopic organism, the hydra, is ready, little buds form on its surface. The buds separate from the parent and become their own hydra selves. My blog has budded. It's time.

Beadfingers came into being to bring me into the online community of bead artists like myself. It was my toe in the water for showing my work, and discussing my craft. However, almost as soon as I started blogging, my writing changed. Now I post less about beading and more about life and my own healing. My readers have encouraged me to keep on, go deeper, and share more. Yikes! I am doing that.

A new blog has budded off. It is called
Sticks Stones Words Bones. I hope to journey deeper there. All are welcome to join me. I've posted today about a tough topic in a personal way. It is called "Driving Through Freeport".

If you are interested in my bead art you can find it here. I am giving Beadfingers back to beading. Stay tuned for more beaded delights."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Mother's Prayer from Divorceland

I recently spent 17 consecutive days with my two children. The last time this happened was when my 7 year-old daughter was 18 months. At that time, my husband and I separated, and then divorced. We were awarded joint custody and our children have been moving back and forth between the two homes ever since. My son, who is 11, set up his own blog last week to write about his life as a child of divorce. His expression of the pain and joy of his life inspires me to face my own.

My marriage was rough and so was our divorce. After the separation, my emotions came with such ferocity that even my house seemed too small to contain them. I used an old familiar friend, alcohol, to cope. It worked for a while, and then it didn’t. At that time, I was not a good mother. I was impaired and full of shame. With help, I was able to quit drinking. From the day I put down the bottle in 2005, I have used the time that my children are away from me to focus on my healing and rebuild myself and my life. I have not taken a drink since.

My son writes about the unrelenting pain of moving back and forth between 2 loving homes. He is always moving and always missing the other parent. His language is simple and clear. How he copes is the mystery. I have coped by telling myself that the time that my children were with their dad was a blessing to my recovery. I found relief in the idea that I couldn’t handle long- term consecutive parenting. My story was that despite the pain of separation from them, I needed the breaks when they would leave. Perhaps early on, this was true. But this trip together revealed the lie.

Normally, our lives are dominated by the rhythm of separation and transitions. On this recent trip, it was the rhythm of life. In those 2 ½ weeks together the weave of our family tapestry tightened. We learned about each other, grew closer and strengthened our bonds. Love flowed. There was little solitude, lots of joy, and lots of compromise. My partner, Henri, my children, and I rode the waves of life in unison. We dealt with the ripple effect of bad moods, mishaps, and illness together. Each of us found time to be alone, recover from the stress of life, and reunite. I saw that today I make good choices, my intuition is right on, and I am a really good mother.

My son’s blog is called Divorce: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. As the mother I want to see the good, accept the bad, and not contribute to the ugly. Here is my prayer:

Let me turn the pain and loss over my children into something useful for us and for others. Let me accept my feelings, live healthy, and rest, so that I can be right there with them. Let me use the knowledge that they will be leaving shortly, to make the most of our time together. Let me nourish them, cherish them and never take them for granted. Let me feel the sacred bond that their father and I share. Let me continue to put them first when it comes to their dad, and not wage war. Let my love for my children and my faith in spirit guide me to respond always with love and compassion. Let my own healing inspire their healing of the split that dominates their lives. Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Catching Aloha Spirit

I was recently on the island of Maui, Hawaii with my family. As we made our way out of the airport I could already feel that despite still being in America with no need to change money, I was somewhere else. It was the aroma of plumeria flowers, the shade of dark green giant waxy-leafed flora, and the deep tones of skin with kind Hawaiian smiles of Aloha. The island is small and it was initially disconcerting to be dead-ending with water. We’d turn down a street and once again there would be the Pacific Ocean, a breathtaking, awesome kind of surprise.

There’s also a lot of developed tourism and a lot of transplanted “locals” from the continental US. I had no expectation to penetrate the Hawaiian culture in a two-week stay visiting beaches and staying on the tourist track. However, by day #2, a mild mishap brought an unexpected cultural experience and exactly the kind of Hawaiian lesson my life needed.

After our first day of chores and stocking our condo we were exhausted and jet lagged and ended up in bed without ever making it to the ever-present beach. But on day #2 we went to the wonderful Kamaole III, a popular public beach in Kihei. It is a stretch of golden sand with smooth black lava rock jutting out like bookends on both sides. The sky is vast and off to the west it meets the blue ocean in a small bowl formed by the sloping edges of the island of Molokai and the mountains of West Maui. Every night the giant orange orb of the sun sets down and slips below the horizon right in this bowl. Between the road and the beach is a grassy park overlooking the sea, with grills, a playground and showers. There are always native Hawaiian families gathering here. The weekends are particularly lively with large extended families cooking, eating, laughing and playing.

With the enthusiasm and awkwardness of the land-locked creatures we’d become, we overloaded our car with boogie boards, coolers, snorkel equipment, chairs and beach umbrellas for 4, and drove to this park, just yards from our condo. Covered in our gear, we schlepped down to the beach and set up our site. After all this, the ocean was finally ours. We ran into the water with glee and accidentally took our rental car key in with us. Remember when keys were made of waterproof metal? Realizing we had overlooked this one minor detail, we went to check on the computer chip function. Clicking “unlock” no longer opened our car. However, I learned there is an old-fashioned key hidden inside. We used that to open our door, and it worked! Unfortunately, the alarm started sounding and would not stop.

Suddenly we became very aware of our surroundings. A pit bull club was meeting just next to the parking lot with about 20 dogs leashed to stakes and their proud owners chatting it up. Three very large Hawaiian men were drinking beer and cooking meat on a grill about 15 feet from our car. There were birthday parties with inflatable jumpers. Gatherings of Hawaiian families with dark-skinned wizened faces, diapered toothless babies, and every age in between were just yards away from the obnoxious siren and flashing lights of our vehicle. Ready to jump in and drive away to spare the others, we found that the car would not start. We were stuck being annoyances, and we’d only just arrived.

In New York, where I’d grown up, the response would have been snarls and sneers and, “SHUT THE F*** UP!!” I once knew someone in Manhattan who keyed up a BMW with the words “Die Yuppie Scum” because it alarmed repeatedly and kept him awake. There isn’t a lot of tolerance for this kind of inconvenience and irritation. People become easily enraged when other’s problems impose on them.

But at our public beach none of this happened. We dealt with the rental car company and various towing companies over the next 5 hours. It resulted in the car alarm going off 5 different times for several LONG minutes each. Eventually a tow truck brought us a new car. During this time, we got a dose of Aloha Spirit.

First, the lady with the most pit bulls approached us, offering her cell phone and trying to help us turn off the alarm. When it finally stopped on its own, the 100 people within earshot applauded with giant smiles. When it alarmed the second time, one of the men grilling closest to our car brought us a plate of steak he had just cooked. As the hours passed we were offered beer, soda, and water. More plates of food were brought to us. We were invited to a baptism celebration and given shade under someone’s canopy. The patriarch of one family sat with us for a couple of hours sharing about his family and about Hawaiian life in general.

Our repeated apologies were repeatedly dismissed. People stopped looking up when the alarm sounded. When it stopped they cheered good-naturedly. I shared my experiences in New York with George, the patriarch. He laughed off the idea of being rude to people in our situation. “I guess you are experiencing Aloha Spirit,” he said.

I knew I had caught it on July 4th. We planned a dinner out in Lahaina, West Maui and then watching fireworks. We left ourselves plenty of time. However, our waitress was very upset and distracted. When she finally arrived to take our order she was tearful and just barely keeping herself together. We gave the order and waited. While people were being served around us, and those who arrived after were already finishing their meal we became more agitated. Our waitress was nowhere. It had been over an hour. Our children were going to miss the fireworks. As we got up to leave, hungry and angry, our food arrived. It had been hastily thrown together. Our waitress apologized for forgetting to put in the order during her meltdown. I saw in her face my own embarrassment that Sunday at Kamaole III.

A few moments later, we heard the kaboom of the fireworks and the kids and Henri tore out to the road to race towards a view. I found our waitress to pay the bill. The food had been terrible and we’d had no time to eat. She looked at me squarely, “I am so so sorry. It’s been my worst night here in 5 years.” I remembered the grilled steak, the shade of the canopy, and George’s smiles of Aloha. I put my hand on her shoulder, and passed on that same smile, “Everyone has a bad day. Don’t worry about it. It is really not a big deal. Give yourself a break. We are fine, really.” “Thank you so much,” she replied with a look of great relief.

Hawaii is paradise, they say. I did have a spiritual communion with nature on the beach. I let the ocean rock me and the sun warm my soul. Through my snorkel mask I saw unimaginable creatures, colors, tendrils and tentacles. I felt the power of beauty and the mysterious creative force all around us. I saw my children freckled, innocent, and open to the world, splashing in the surf and rolling in sand. I felt the love of my dear partner dancing along with me. But, back in my desert home just a few days later the air is different and the memories are already fading. The sound of the surf, the orange orb, white caps and salt water seem very far away. What lingers is the Aloha Spirit. It is a message of peace and interconnection, gentleness, compassion and respect for others and for all of nature. Thank you, George. Mahalo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Three Cheers for Dorothy

Tomorrow I am teaching a seed bead class at The Beaded Iris in Albuquerque. (You can see my teaching schedule with pics on my Classes page on this blog). When I advertised the class, I sent out flyers to the local Deaf Community. I know American Sign Language. In fact, my home is bilingual and I use ASL everyday. I got a video message on my iphone from a woman who called the video phone (VP) at my home. When I clicked on the video, there she was, asking about my class. I don't think Dorothy would disagree with me that she's elderly. We had a VP conversation and I held up some samples of the bead project in front of the VP camera at my house. She said "oooohhh" with her facial expression, and then she signed. "I would like to try it. Something new!"

Two weeks ago was the first session. I taught in English and ASL in tandem. Dorothy has glaucoma, but she carried on with the seed beads with persistence. It was the first time she had worked with seed beads. "So tiny, " she remarked. She seemed a little nervous. But she's a lady who had her hands tied in elementary school to prevent her from signing. She learned ASL anyway. So, I knew she had moxie. As she focused on her first three rows of peyote stitch, the room was filled with the chatter of the hearing students. It is harder to "talk" when you need your eyes and hands for both the art and the conversation. We took some breaks from the beads and got to know each other with our full attention.

From time to time I let Dorothy know what the chatter topic was amongst the other students. But, there was really no way she could be a full participant in that conversation. She finally got the peyote set up, undaunted by her vision, her age, lack of experience, and being the only deaf person in the class. By the end of the session she made a beautiful focal piece for her necklace - purple and green. Truly stunning.

Dorothy's sense of adventure and her willingness to take a risk and try something new despite the challenges inspires me. Tomorrow is the second session. I can't wait to see what she is going to do with the netting I will teach. Perhaps, one day there will ASL chatting in my classes as well.

Ammonite Fossil with Peyote Bezel "in Progress"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Tent

I had a flare of Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder after my son was born. I didn’t know I had a mental illness, I just knew I was losing my mind; But only mildly so. I was a good and loving mom to my baby. I went back to work as physician and did a good job there too. But, while I was pumping my milk and multi-tasking, I was feeling my neck for sprouting cancers. I avoided the outdoors, lest I be stung by a bee and die. I couldn’t look at peanut butter as it might cause anaphylaxis. I held my breath in my garage, in case of Hantavirus mouse droppings. I thought my husband would give me AIDS. It didn’t matter that I am not allergic to bees or peanuts and that my husband was HIV negative. I knew I was irrational, so I tried to ignore myself. I went mountain biking and hiking and planned my next child. But I was miserable with anxiety that bubbled just under my skin. I got into a fight with my husband because he wanted me to eat a wild berry.

My son’s babysitter was a religious woman from rural Mexico. With my family far away, she was one of the few maternal figures I had in New Mexico. We spent a lot of time in my kitchen talking about our lives. She also tended toward anxiety. I asked her once how she handled flying in airplanes, something that had become scary for me. She said she trusted in God. I wanted that. I wanted a loving God who would protect me. Even if he couldn’t, at least give me a God that I believed could. What I really wanted was Peace Of Mind. I didn’t know a thing about finding that. So I went looking for God.

I like being Jewish, so I looked in Jewish places. I started to attend Chabad services every Sabbath. Chabad is the outreach movement of a sect of Hasidic Jews who feel it is their mission to help other Jews become more religious. They have outposts all around the world, for Jews who live there, or who are just passing through. They follow the teachings of their deceased leader, or Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who escaped Europe’s persecution of Jews, and died of old age in New York City in 1994. I figured I had a better chance of finding God with the Chabadniks, than with the Jews who prayed down the street and dressed like me, but didn’t keep kosher.

The Chabad mission to further my yiddishkeit or Jewishness was perfect fodder for the insatiable OCD gremlin in my head. I started to feel something strong take hold of me. I HAD to pray. Soon I had to pray better, and longer. I HAD to light Sabbath candles. Then, I HAD to make sure no one blew them out. I HAD to stop touching money on the Sabbath. I was compelled to these acts. If I didn’t do them someone would die. In life or death situations it is hard to be flexible. My husband was horrified as my religiosity and my rigidity increased sure and steady. The more anxious I became, the harder I looked for God.

Orthodox Judaism has a lot of rules. Members of this group find pride in following them. The mystical and spiritual side is less obvious to outsiders. Hasidic Jews believe that their leaders are channels to the divine. Week after week I would attend Sabbath services at the Chabad outpost. After the religious service, I would stick around for the luncheon. This is when I started to hear stories about the Rebbe’s Ohel, or tent.

The beloved leader “the Rebbe” is buried in a cemetery in Queens, in New York City. I laughed when I heard this, because anyone who’s been to Queens knows that it seems like everyone is buried there. Endless rows of graves. One of them belongs to Menachem Schneerson. Apparently it is believed by many, that praying at the Rebbe’s grave is the closest thing to having God’s ear. Over a couple of years of Sabbath luncheons, I heard a handful of stories of miracles that occurred after a graveside prayer.

I mentioned this to my father who lives in New York. He is a very practical, rational, and grounded man, and only mildly religious. I was surprised to learn that he already knew about this place. In fact, his brother had prayed there. “Really?” “I want to go,” I said, hopefully. “On your next visit to New York, we’ll go.” He replied with the assurance of a deal just closed. I couldn’t believe it. My father would help me get God’s ear. At Chabad, they told me, “Be careful what you pray for, because it is going to come true.”

My dad arranged everything with a Chabad Rabbi he had met in NY (who turned out to be my local Rabbi’s uncle). My father had a client who also wanted to join. In honor of our trip to the Ohel, the client hosted us to breakfast that morning. The NY Rabbi Uncle picked us up in a very old and declining sedan at the very fancy Carlyle hotel, in Manhattan. He had a couple of other men with him who were happy for a ride to the Ohel. There we were: Three Hasids in matching overgrown brown beards, pasty-white skin, and poorly fitting black suits; two stylishly dapper middle aged men with silk ties, and one modestly dressed freckle-faced me.

The NY Rabbi Uncle maneuvered that jalopy as I thought only a city cab driver could. We zoomed from one borough to the next, over a bridge, and through narrow one-way streets with warehouses and defunct storefronts. Eventually, he stopped on a residential street and parked the car with confidence. Feeling like the new kid at school, I followed the others into an unassuming brick “house-like” building. It functioned as an antechamber to a very large area – that may have, in fact, been a giant tent. There were rows and rows of fold-up tables and chairs. Some people were milling about, others seated and writing. Based on their dress, I saw that some were Hasidic and some not. The space was still mostly empty. Clearly this was only a fraction of what the room had occupied and would again. I remembered seeing footage of the Rebbe leading gatherings, or fabringens, of thousands of his followers, who relished the opportunity to be in his presence and receive his wisdom. They had moved their fabringens from Hasidic Brooklyn to this Queens cemetery to be near their Rebbe.

We did a preparatory ritual hand washing and sat down to contemplate and write our prayers. I would ask for 2 things. I wanted my anxiety removed from me. I also wanted a child. I had been unable to get pregnant after 18 months of scientific “trying”. I didn’t dare ask for a girl, but I did request “healthy”.

As soon as I started writing my skin began to prickle. I became numb, and detached. I felt as if I were floating. When my peripheral vision started to blacken, I called out to the NY Rabbi Uncle. He pulled me out of that large room and quietly called for assistance. Several Hasidic men with bushy beards and black suits jumped up and came to my aid. My dad was there, a cup of water, a bench. My vision was clearing, but I was terrified. What had just happened? “What if God doesn’t want me to have what I am asking for? What if God thinks I am wrong for asking? Will God kill me?” The NY Rabbi Uncle looked at me with a piercing gaze that grabbed me firmly yet with compassion. His white skin seemed translucent and ephemeral and his blue eyes sparkled. From inside that brown forest of a beard his invisible lips said simply, “It doesn’t work that way. God is good. Ask.”

I finished writing. I followed the prescribed ritual. I removed my leather dress shoes and walked my stocking feet along a narrow concrete pathway to the grave. I lit a candle, and went to the women’s area. Others were there, with head-coverings and long sleeves, their lips moving in quiet fervor. I read my prayer in a whisper. And then, as is the custom, I tore it to shreds and let the pieces float onto the enormous pile of paper bits. I turned and left it in God’s Hands.

Back in the big room, I felt drained and fragile. At the NY Rabbi Uncle’s urging, I had some juice and a bagel. The Hasids caught a ride back to Brooklyn to get ready for the Sabbath. The NY Rabbi Uncle sped us back to Manhattan. I was relieved to be out of there. It was all too intense. But, if I had had God’s ear, it was definitely worth it. That night, I hoped I would have a sign. I did. I had a vicious panic attack, the worst ever. My friend was visiting and it came on suddenly. She saw me rocking, retching, and beyond help. It lasted for hours. I felt destroyed and utterly abandoned. This was God saying “No.” I would never be free of the terrors that haunted me. I wouldn’t get my baby girl. I should never have asked for what was never to be.

Years later I realized that I had misread that sign.