Is anyone not stressed as we slog through the final couple of weeks of this Dante-esque election process? It’s been nearly impossible to find inner calm as we are relentlessly pelted by a hailstorm of news reports and Facebook posts. I’m working to re-frame my focus on work and on enjoying my favorite time of year. I remind myself that there is jewelry to be made (and worn), good books to read, good food to be shared with friends. The fall weather has been splendid, still plenty warm enough for early morning bike rides and walks. My daily mental health break involves getting outdoors with an eye to autumnal color and light.

Take a deep breath…

Enjoy the crisp air, go outside and look around!

Mackerel sky en route to the Y.

Spiderweb bejeweled with dew.

Cattails and golden leaves fringing Holmes Lake in Lincoln.

Fiery orange sumac.

A visit to Washington D.C.

The Smithsonian Craft2Wear show was held at the beginning of October in the beautiful National Building Museum. It was nice to see so many familiar faces and a pleasure to meet new people. Thanks to all of you who visited my booth!

You can spot my booth in the lower right corner, the one with the blue sky banner.

We couldn’t get tickets to the new African-American Museum, but we could admire the breathtaking architecture of its exterior.

On the Mall behind the museum was an interactive exhibition created and operated by Doctors Without Borders. Groups of 20 people are led through a simulated refugee experience and encampment. The tour left us feeling enormous sympathy for the refugees who risk everything, and awestruck admiration for the doctors and nurses who risk so much to help them.

Our guide was Emilie, a French nurse who has worked with Médicins Sans Frontières at refugee camps in Africa and in the recently razed camp in Calais. After 5 minutes in a life size, 360-degree video of a refugee camp in Africa, we were told we had 30 seconds to choose 5 objects to bring with us. Each object was printed on a plastic card. If you had seconds to flee your home, what would you take: cell phone? money? shoes? blanket? water? passport? photos?

We crowded into a small inflatable boat, the same kind used by many attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and then were told to imagine 20 more people crammed in the boat with us. What would that feel like, and what concerns would we have to deal with? Each passenger had to hand over one of their 5 possessions to pay the smuggler.

Then we were herded into a chain link enclosure to await placement in our unknown future. At each stop we had to give away another of our possessions to pay for food, smuggling, or other necessities. Tents and cooking areas had been set up to show how refugees live in the camps- only these were clean and fresh. Emilie showed us the small water rations that each of us would be allotted.

Acting out the experience carried far more weight than a broadcast story or newspaper article, enabling us to empathize with the emotions and challenges that refugees endure.

Nebraska Artists Helping Refugees

A friend here spent time in Greece volunteering at a camp and came back feeling compelled to take action. She and a few friends, including another local jeweler, have organized a fundraising art sale in November to help buy supplies for a group of refugees in Greece. If you’re interested in reading more about the organization, check out Carry the Future.

The natural connection.

I’m often asked about the source of inspiration for my designs. Nature never lets me down, as an ever reliable source of color, texture, shape and composition. I rarely create a piece of jewelry based on a specific image or form. It’s more a process of continual visual awareness, looking for the “Aha!” moments to add to my mental image archive. When I sit down to design, these images influence the process.

Here are some of my recent Instagram posts of new jewelry in informal settings:

Those fall colors again!

Biwa-style pearl earrings. Always longing for the beach.

Pale blues and grays inspired by the colors of Iceland.

Green-black Tahitian pearls and faceted tourmalines.

Mixed turquoises with a few punchy accents of pumpkin orange.

Dendritic quartz, rose cut citrine, and a little black diamond.

These pieces are on my website, and will also be with me at the upcoming Atlanta Contemporary Jewelry Show.

A good read.

These days, I’m grateful for a bit of escape reading. One of my book club friends loved this as much as I did, another couldn’t get into it. After the Revolution, a Russian count is sentenced to permanent house arrest in a grand old Moscow hotel. The characters he befriends and how he passes the years make for a surprisingly engaging story. Beautifully written.

If anyone wants to share their latest favorite book recommendations with me, please do!

Cooler weather whets the appetite!

I love how our food changes with the seasons. (Though I don’t always love the results of enjoying heavier fall and winter cooking!) Here’s a recipe from my friend Lynne, who writes a weekly recipe column for the newspaper.

It’s pretty big, so good for sharing.

Pear Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake

For topping. 2- 2 1/2 ripe, but firm pears
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For cake:
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup molasses
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, plus more for cooking the pears
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel and core pears, and cut each into approximately 8 wedges. Melt butter in a 10″ iron skillet on the stove until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, and sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of skillet; cook undisturbed for 3 minutes. Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together molasses and boiling water. Beat butter, 1/2 c.brown sugar and egg in a large bowl until creamy. Alternately mix flour and molasses mixtures into the butter mixture in 3 batches, beating until smooth. Pour batter over pears in skillet and bake for 40-50 minutes until done.

Cool skillet on a rack for 5-8 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen. Place platter over skillet and invert quickly to release the cake. Warning! Some pieces of pear may stick, so there may be a bit of repair involved. Serve a bit warm with fresh whipped cream.

Good chance we’ll be enjoying this at our Pre-Election Kumbayah Potluck gathering this weekend!

ACC in Omaha: Present Tense

Soon after I returned from D.C., the American Crafts Council held it’s annual conference in Omaha at The Kaneko, a multi-purpose creative space built by ceramic artist Jun Kaneko and his wife Ree, founder of The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art.

While there are some university classes in ceramics and textiles, Nebraska has never been a hotbed of contemporary craft, so it was a treat to have leaders in the crafts world in my ‘hood I ran into quite a few familiar faces, strangely out of context in this part of the country. My favorite parts of the conference were discussions and lectures by makers/craft artists who talked about their work and processes.

One of my favorites was Sonya Clark, who works and teaches as a fiber artist. Much of her work is conceptual and addresses her identity as an African-American woman. She considers hair to be the primordial fiber, and has used her own hair and that of others in a number of sculptural pieces.

Sonya’s own heritage represented by a string of “pearls” made from her hair.

Moments of Zen

I usually take the earliest flights available. These beautiful airborne views are my reward for dragging myself out of bed at 3:30 am.

I’d better finish this quickly before I turn into a pumpkin. Happy Halloween y Felíz de de los Muertos!

–Sydney

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