Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Cleaning, a Genetic Imperative? Bead Organization, Part Two

I realized during my recent cleaning/organizing effort with my beads, that this may be the last remaining symptom of the Spring Cleaning bug I inherited from my mom.

When I was a kid, turning out the closets, cupboards and storage areas in the house was an annual ritual. I think it must have been this way back in the caveman days...after a long winter sweeping out the accumulated bones, fire cinders and schmutz of months of people huddling together for warmth must have been a great relief, not to mention a hygienic necessity. 

Why this is mostly limited to women, I don't know. Do men who live alone spring clean? I sincerely doubt it. 

Just like the urge to buy school supplies in late August, spring cleaning is an urge I still get. Fortunately, I've learned to mostly quell it. I don't do heavy cleaning anymore, and whatever organizing I need to do I try to spread throughout the year. 

Yesterday, the additional two drawer units I ordered arrived. I've labeled and filled the drawers, though I still have one drawer left over. I'm sure it'll get filled pretty soon. I was able to break up three of my "color" drawers for beads...the brown/tan/orange one is now two, one for tan/beige and one for brown/orange. I split out the true blues from the blue/blue-green drawer. And now red is split by size, large & small. Those were the three fullest drawers, and now I'll be able to find things much more easily, not to mention acquire new stuff. Ahem. Eventually. Not soon.

And now I have a drawer for my ultrasuede, a separate spot for all my stringing materials and wire, and a whole drawer for cabochons. Designing will be easier, though I'll be sliding a lot more drawers during the process. 

All this is in service of getting stuff off the top of the desk, so I can spread out and work, and also keep things a bit neater. The work area is in the living room, after all. Yesterday I also got a couple more of the project cases for seed bead storage, and I'm still seeking a way to stack those while retaining an easy way to get them out of the stack. Whatever I want is always at the bottom. 

The goal is easy access, logical organization, and elimination of visual clutter. Less crap, more beading.

Still a work in progress.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cleaning...Huh! What Is It Good For?

Well, not absolutely nothing.

Yesterday I was cleaning out two very large, deep drawers in our main bathroom. Among all the unmentionable stuff I found and threw out, I found two Bead & Button magazines from 2002 & 2003. 

Interesting fact #1. Bead & Button back then ran to 188 pages, including the cover.  The June 2010 issue that just arrived in my mailbox is 124.  Hmm. There doesn't seem to be a large difference in the number of projects, articles and features between the older and newer issues, but many of the advertisements are smaller. I think more ads include URLs for websites, and I think more companies do more marketing online.  

It may be the paper is thinner too.

Interesting fact #2. Old issue at 188 pages = $4.95. New issue at 124 pages = $5.95.

Interesting fact #3. On the cover of the June 2003 issue is a perfect project for the 18 strands of faceted tourmaline rondelles I just bought.  It's a project to mimic tourmalines with seed beads, but I can certainly use it with the real thing.

Interesting fact #4. It's been 7 years since I cleaned out those drawers. Ouch!  Perhaps the fact is not as interesting as it is disgusting. Oh well. 

Somewhat interesting fact #5. This is concrete proof I've been interested in beading at least since 2002. Not interested enough to subscribe to the magazine, which I just did last year. But interested enough to buy and keep a couple of copies.  So it's been percolating for a while. 

Now, this is proof positive that old articles can come in handy. But how to organize and keep all this info at hand for use as new beads come into the stash? I don't know. A massive pile o' paper isn't the way to do it, though. Thoughts are welcome. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Theory and Practice of Bead Organization, Part One

My husband looks at me funny when I sit down to work with my bead software and catalog all my inventory, as I call it.  

But for me, it's an odd combination of business logic, design process and a very slight organizational wankiness.  It's a warm, feel-good process for me, combining right & left brain.  At the end of it, I know where every bead I've just purchased has gone, and helps to prevent the older purchases from getting buried or fading into the background as new ones come in.

The business logic results in my being able to trace the source and cost of every bead I purchase, whether it has been purchased wholesale or retail, and recording close to purchase date what material the items are made of, and any special facts about the item.  In the future, if I want to know what the beads labeled #244 are, I can just look them up. 

I can also check the accuracy of my receipts, and get a grasp on my total investment in beads. Right now, I suspect that other than consumables such as stringing materials, findings and perhaps seed beads, I should probably not be buying anything new for quite a while. I need to produce and sell.

The organizational quirk is that I'm not a big organizer in most areas. I avoid business and personal filing as much as I can, and still find things when I need them. My clothing is not arranged by color, nor my canned goods alphabetized.  But beads, I feel, should not remain in thousands of teeny but varied plastic bags, jumbled together.  I need to have an over-riding organizational principle, or it's all just chaos and I can't create in chaos.  I'll describe more of the physical organization of the beads in a later post.

The design process comes in as I handle the new purchases, and then integrate them with my existing inventory. I see combinations that look good together, or just see the new items in the context of my own workspace, and ideas arise. Of course, I always end up having so many ideas I'll never be able to make them all, but in the course of cataloging, the ideas arise, combine, evolve, and finally, come close to the surface enough for me to grab them, sketch them, audition partner beads and actually start the project.

So here's how the whole thing goes. I bring in the incredibly tiny packages that result from profligate spending and marvel again how buying beads and stones can pack so much value into such a small cubic space.  I try to preserve the store receipts, but frankly, often those receipts are completely useless in describing what's been purchased. Store owners just don't have the capacity to make or print receipts for specific bead purchases.

In my software, I enter each strand or bead purchase, and the software assigns an ID number. The entry has a complete description, with material, color, shape, size, place and date purchased, price and number of beads. The program calculates the price of each individual bead for me.  I'll make a list or mark each package with the computer-assigned number.

This latest trip, at Chapman's, I got a lot of different cabochons. I'm very excited about using some of these. 

Next, I take the new pieces to my workspace. I've got a Brother P-Touch label-maker to create numbered labels for each separate item.

At Harbor Freight (a great store), they sell small plastic boxes that measure about 3" x 7" x 9" that are filled with smaller plastic boxes, either 1.5" square or 1.5" x 3". These small boxes are good for strands, loose beads, cabochons of the smaller sizes, etc. I label each box with a printed number, and that's all I need to do. 

Then I file each numbered small box by color in the drawers of a set of rolling drawers, purchased from Stacks & Stacks. For me, color is the overwhelmingly important quality of a bead. I have two of these sets that roll under my desk, and I think I need two more.

I'll talk more about the color-organization later, and about my seed bead storage, which is separate from the regular beads.

The larger Harbor Freight boxes, I keep for use as project boxes. More of the small boxes fit in each drawer if I remove them from the large boxes.  For our latest trip I was able to pack enough project work into three of these boxes for the entire trip, including tools. That way I can keep materials for each project separate and not have to finish it right at the moment. I do have to be careful about not having critical materials segregated in project boxes when I need them for another project. I guess that means I have to not have too many Unfinished Projects hanging around.

So that's part one. There'll be more on the workspace, color organization, seed beads, and working tools later. With pictures. (oh boy that means I have to clean up)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Last of the Trip, Home Again, Home Again

I don't think we have any more pictures, as the camera ran out of batteries and we didn't buy any more.

Anyway, Monday afternoon we arrived in Arcata to visit good friends, Kevin and Nicole. We stayed for dinner, graciously prepared by Nicole, and spent time deep in conversation with Kevin about his efforts to become a writer.  We urged him to start a blog, no news on that yet.

Tuesday morning we set out in rain, our goal for the day was Tracy. We drove south, getting wet all the way. In Santa Rosa, we had decided to try Willie Bird's, a turkey restaurant I'd seen on Diners, Driveins and Dives, and for the first time, Guy Fieri failed us. The turkey was clearly from big, plump, well-grown birds, but it was...uninspired, as was the rest of the food. I had a roast turkey leg, with stuffing and mashed, and John had an open face turkey sandwich with gravy & 'taters.  I tell you, the Laurel St Deli in Fort Bragg could teach Willie Bird something about mashed potatoes. I had some there with the special meatloaf that would make you slap your momma! 

I should have realized when I saw the episode on TripleD that when the cook said they don't season the turkeys as they roast, they really don't. Made everything bland. Not bad, just blah.

So, lunch done, we set out south again. We got a little turned around east of SF, and ended up in a dismal suburb named Pittsburgh, where a storm front blew through and dropped hail on us. Small, pinhead sized hail, but still! April in CA? Hail?

We made it to Tracy, where we stayed in a hotel we'd been in before, the Holiday Inn Express. In general, these hotels have done well by us. I think they upgraded their handicapped room since our last stay, the bathroom was very enjoyable and functional.  Next morning, we set off for home. More rain, on and off.

Driving down through the San Joaquin Valley again, this time on the 5 all the way, we stopped at a small family-run fruit stand for a break, and some fruit. Local citrus, pistachios, and mmmm fudge made by local culinary students. Wow, good. The owner told us that the day before, the front that hailed on us had torn down through the valley with a vengeance. It had come on like tornado weather, a black front advancing as fast as anything she'd ever seen, and rained sideways while bending some of her trees to the ground. (they recovered) It was cold that day, very unusual for the valley, which is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than LA at all times. 52F is nippy there. 

That was nearly the last break before home. We stopped one more time for gas, then made it home by 1pm Wednesday. Car is unloaded.

Almost half the laundry is done. It's taken me two days to catch up on all the business and home administration stuff of bills, calling I put off, fixing things that need fixing. I still haven't got my beads labeled and put away.  More on bead organization tomorrow. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good Friends Rock! or Rocks and Good Friends...

Yesterday we bid goodbye to Mendocino, traveling north on Rt 1 along the coast. It's a wonderful drive, made better by the fact we were going north, on the inside of the road, rather than south, where the passenger hangs over the abyss quite often.

Then we turned inland, away from the coast, to make the windy, twisty drive to the 101, 20-some miles of mountain driving, with redwoods. Just a few turns away from the oceans, the redwoods came down to the road, and the sunnier spots along the roadside were awash with forget-me-nots. In some places both road shoulders were blue as far as you could see.  It was lovely.

After a while, the constant left & right swerving of the car following the road gets a little bit like a boat in a not-particularly-calm ocean. It kinda puts you into a dozy state, as long as you're not driving. For a while, the road followed a small river that looked like nothing so much as Fern Gully, sprouting ferns right down to the banks, with fallen logs all over.

Once on the 101 (just after passing The World-Famous Drive-Through Tree!!!) we drove through one of the most beautiful landscapes in California. Rolling hills, much of them covered with redwoods. We chose not to drive the Avenue of the Giants this trip, as we've done it before, and it's much slower than the main route.

Later we stopped at Chapman's Rock shop and Museum. This is a rock-hounds paradise. They don't have their own website, but are probably the best rock shop you'll ever see. Gems, beads, ammonites, specimens, you name it. I got a lot of cabochons here.

More later. I was going to post this 2 days ago, but the internet connection at the Best Western in Arcata was less than reliable.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seals and Surf

Just a quick little post to share some of the reasons MacKerricher Park is my Happy Place.

The surf is unpredictable but always mesmerizing. This site used to be a huge staging and loading area for logs floated down the coast. Right where these rocks are was a big pier where the lumber ships would tie up.  I can't imagine working in this environment. The wind is always strong and the currents are visibly turbulent.

This land was owned by the MacKerricher family and given to the state under very strict terms of use and opening it to the public. If the state screws up, the family gets the land back. I hope the state doesn't screw up. Having access to this piece of the coast is very nice. There are long boardwalks above the ground that work very well for wheelchairs, and large viewing platforms well-placed for looking at the waves and wildlife. The able-bodied can go down the cliffs at several places to frolic among the tide-pools. Watch for rogue waves!

There are ground squirrels all over the bluff edge. Dozens of them running, digging, sunning, standing about. They are fearless and unbothered by people and dogs, keeping a keen eye out for any food that might be offered. We don't feed them, as overpopulation driven by extra food isn't good for them.

There are plenty of birds and wide open meadows, as well as stands of spooky pines along the north edge of the peninsula leading out to the viewing platforms.

We took dozens of photos trying to get the seal activity going on in the water. At least 3 or 4 were gathered together, diving, swirling and frequently slapping their tails briskly on the water. Don't know what that was about, but it was entertaining to watch. To take pictures of, not so much, as the camera has a tiny delay that makes action photography difficult. On the other hand, pixels are cheap.

It was a beautiful day last Thursday when we visited.  We try to come out here at least once every trip. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why oh Why Must Vacation End?

This place is as close to a definition of heaven as it gets for me. Surf, rocky shoreline, coolish weather, wildlife and birds, surf, a modicum of rain, enough sun, many flowers, surf, very few bugs, nice people, surf, good places to eat, a world-class bead store, surf. Did I mention surf?

I love to watch the waves. To hear the sound throughout the day and when I wake at night. In this house, other than the wind and occasional rain and birdsong, that's about all you hear.  I can watch the sun cycle overhead, and the town lights across Mendocino Bay at night.  The house itself is both beautiful and comfortable, as much as any one we've rented before.

Monday we'll pack the car and head north to Arcata to visit a friend. After a night there we'll be wending our way back south. Somehow just today I feel like I'm truly on vacation. It's not enough!!

We talked about ways and means of moving up here for a month or two out of the year. With our work, we can do it remotely. This week proves that, actually. I haven't had a day yet, including today, when one client or another hasn't needed something.  John has been working as well, both on his book and for his client.

Gotta store up some more vacation memories before we have to leave.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Very Short Post, Pictures to Follow

Yesterday ended with deer. In our front yard, about 20 feet from the living room window. Shortly after sunset, they came up over the bluff and grazed, 4 adults and two fawns just growing their adult coats. One of the adults was a buck with short antlers covered in velvet.  They could clearly see us in the living room, watching them. They watched us back, very carefully. In case we decided to do anything funny.  Those quiet brown eyes and big oval ears pointed straight at us, in between mouthfuls of grass.

Then they hopped over the fence into the field uphill (what an elegant economy of motion!) and proceeded on their deerly way.

During the day we met an online friend from the newsgroups alt.callahans and rec.arts.mystery, Vicki Jean. She lives in Fort Bragg now, and it was great to get to meet her in person. We all went to MacKerricher State Park for an hour or more of seals in the surf and sun. I know I've mentioned MacKerricher is my Happy Place. It certainly was yesterday.  The sky was cloudlessly blue, the waves clean and white, the seals and their pups lively and splashing about.  They looked happy. I felt happy. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

I took a zillion pictures, none of which have made it into the computer yet. But mostly I just took it in, engraving it on my memory neurons for the future. 

Then Vicki showed us some of her cast-metal jewelry, one beautiful piece of which is now mine. I'll put up a picture of that later too. We went to lunch, and then parted ways with a hug. 

It was a fine day all the way around, and the deer were a fitting ending. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tickled Pink, Intellectual Property, and Comments From the Beadosphere

A little while ago, I posted about a spiraling technique I read about in Bead & Button, attributed there to Aleta Ford Baker. 

I don't know how she found the post (I won't speculate about Googling oneself, I would never do such a thing, ahem, because if one has a common name like mine, Googling oneself is pointless, plus what kind of name is "Lynn Allen" for a band made up of guys none of whom are named Lynn or Allen, I ask you?) but she did. She left a comment and thanked me for crediting her for originating the technique.

A comment! An actual comment on the blog! I was excited because it means that someone other than family & friends was reading it. It was a lovely comment, too. By an actual published beader/author!  I was so, as my surfer friends say, stoked.  Tickled pink, as it were.   My friend Ilyse also commented, which was very much appreciated.

Aleta's thanks, though, brought up another issue, one I've encountered before in the world of art quilting. That's attribution of techniques and copyrights. It has been, in the past, a major issue among quilters. Once an entire series of quilts by a famous author was ripped off by (cheap) manufacturers in China, and the civil prosecution of the offenders took years. I don't know if the author ever did get any compensation, but she was able to force them to stop the manufacture of rip-off quilts.

Similarly, many people who teach quilting at the local quilt-store level have a tendency to just copy pages out of published books and distribute them to students, with no regard for copyright laws. They tend not to see anything wrong with this. The internet has just made this phenomenon worse, as people seem to believe that anything on the web is fair game.

As someone who has great respect for intellectual property rights, I will always give credit where I know an attribution. If I don't know an attribution, I will at least provide a source where I got whatever technique or pattern I'm discussing. And rather than use someone else's published work for my own profit, I will create my own patterns independently. That's what I used to do when I taught quilting, only to see my own handouts copied by others. So I know what that feels like, too.

All this is in service of begging shamelessly for comments.  Let me know you're out there, beaders, readers, friends!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mostly Bead Store Review, and a Little Birthday

Mendocino Bay is gorgeous in the sunshine. It's not too shabby in the rain, either. 

So I sit here blogging, looking out over the bay. I'm waiting for the thermals to rise, so the osprey pair that live here will begin to fly past the cliff. A lone quail just wandered past on the deck, not more than 5 feet away from my chair, his little hmuh curled tightly over his head. Yes, it's called a hmuh. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. We say it "hmm-muh" but that may be wrong. We don't care. It's an intrinsically cool word.

Anyway, hmuhs aside, yesterday we made the long-awaited visit to Rubaiyat Bead Store in Fort Bragg. The owner, Dawa Sherpa, was there. We had a wonderful conversation while he helped us find the treasures that were all over the store. Dawa is from Nepal, so much of the shop is filled with Nepalese ethnic pieces. He's a man of many interests, and he told us about his farm in Nepal, where he actually has yaks, although he called them cows. I guess in Nepal they are cows!  He and his wife own this shop and the one with the same name in Mendocino. He also has a business in Katmandu! Imagine. Visit their website, as it shows all the other types of things they stock besides beads; rugs, textiles and religious carvings and other items.

Many of the stones that line his walls are from India, Nepal, and China. He has amazingly high-quality items I have not seen anywhere else, for exceedingly low prices. Because much of it comes directly from the producers in Thailand, India, China, etc, and Dawa shops for it and brings it in personally, the prices are kept very low. This is much closer to direct-importer stuff than you're likely to find elsewhere. The undyed coral and the Chinese turquoise were wonderful, and I got some unique pieces. I got some faceted green topaz and citrine drops that look like nearly gem-quality. 

I invested heavily in faceted multi-color tourmaline strands like these. The price on the ones in the photo is $39 a strand. Let's just say I paid far less than that. This shop offers major discounts for those with a resale license. Slightly less but still fabulous discounts for retail shoppers, and frankly, even the regular prices without discount were about half of what you find online.

I bought some ruby and amethyst drops, some Thai silver beads, and various other bits of uniqueness. Dawa told me that next month (May 2010) he will be traveling in China getting new inventory, and the shop will be closed. But if you can make it here when the shop is open, visit!  

The shop is a bit tight for wheelchair access, but I stood long enough for my husband to move the chair about and made do. Dawa was very helpful in bringing things for me to see.  Like every other shop, there is just too much variety for this review to cover it in full.

They have a very high uniqueness factor here. No supplies to speak of, no workshops or classes. Just high-quality merchandise at low-low prices. I'll give the shop a 9 out of 10 rating.

It was John's birthday, of course, and we ate lunch again at the Laurel Street Deli. John voted for the chili-burger again. Someday he'll grow up. Maybe. Probably not. 

We took a short stroll across the Pudding Creek trestle, and looked at the beginning of the 10-mile trail up the coast. Allegedly you can walk all the way to McKerricher State park on this trail. It might be a bit too far for us (particularly round trip!) but we might try a small part of it. 

Then, when I came home, I got to put all my new acquisitions into the BeadEnCounter software so I can keep track of costs and sources for the future. I actually enjoy this part of the process immensely. It helps me to remember where and when purchased something, and that adds to the emotional weight of the finished pieces.

In the evening I got one of my kumihimo disks set up with a new braid, and today, I'm going to spend some time with an embroidered picture frame I'm working on. 

Tomorrow we'll be spending some time at McKerricher. It's my Happy Place.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Second Day, the Last Bit, plus the Third

Driving into Mendocino is always like coming home to us. We don't know why this is, but it was true even the first time we went there, perhaps 8 or 9 years ago. It's like we almost know what lies around every corner before we see it. 

One benefit is that Mendocino, by intention, changes very little. Businesses move around, and start up and fail. I think our vacation rental agency is now in the third space since we started using them. But the resident population works hard at keeping the historical accuracy of the structures, and rigidly prohibits "progress" in the form of chains of any sort. This results in sparse services. There are no Starbucks, but there are coffee shops that are open...well, sometimes. There are no McDonald's, but Mendo Burger will serve you an adequate slider.  A gallon of gas will cost you $1.50 more than at any station outside, and is only available for about 3 hours a day. During the week. Sometimes.

It's very hard to get the Coastal Commission and the Historical Review Committee to give approval of any new construction, so building sites are few, far between and expensive. It keeps out the riff-raff, keeps the population exclusive, and makes the tourists feel good, I suppose. Like many people, we'd love to live here, but practicality tells us that there's no living to be made here, and living costs are even higher than Southern California.

There is no cell-phone service, sort of. All of the above are available down the road in Fort Bragg, a town of about 6000.  One time we were sitting in the Mendocino Headlands State Park, out by the water, and a pickup truck came roaring up and slid to a stop beside us. The driver leapt out, jumped into the bed of the truck and held his cell-phone aloft, trying to get a signal. Even then, I think it was sporadic. He shouted a lot.

Today, somehow, my mom got through on my cellphone, don't ask me how. We're across the bay from Mendocino. This is the view from our bedroom. Pretty nifty. We see the lights of the town at night. Chapman's Point, where the house is, is very quiet. Last night, the rain fell, and the surf crashed, and the fire crackled. All noises we enjoy. 

Today we woke late, blogged a bit, and then went into Fort Bragg. We ate a moderately decent hot dog, and visited Pippi's Longstockings, a sock store. That's right, a sock store. They don't sell much else...a little jewelry, a sock monkey or two. But mostly, it's the most unique socks  you've ever seen. They carry a nice selection of socks for those of us with ankles that need more room and no constriction. In colors!  I stocked up two years ago, so it's time again. 

We got a more comfy chair for John to type in at the Humane Society thrift store, and came home. For dinner, I cooked some of the Black Pig bacon. It was bacony-good. Mmmmm, bacon. The pig did not die in vain. I think his name was Quentin. Quentin the Pig.

Somehow, vacation days seem to fly by, don't they? 

It's raining again.  Perhaps we'll retire to the bedroom, and start up the fireplace that's right there in an alcove. That sounds like a good idea. 

Tomorrow is John's birthday. We'll see what the day brings. May skip a blog. 

Day Two, With Beads

We got up early, not wanting to spend any more nanoseconds than necessary in that hotel room.  The "free" breakfast buffet was mediocre. We fled as quickly as we could with rain starting as we pulled out. Sunday morning traffic was light through San Francisco, I always like that drive up 19th street to the Golden Gate Bridge. Though I still maintain that the bridge is a myth created for movies. There was some race going on when we crossed, with dozens of runners with numbers pasted on their midsections, all soaking wet.

North of SF, the rain got heavier. We had thought about eating at a restaurant in Santa Rosa but the timing was wrong. There was another one in Healdsburg we'd considered, but we were still too full. We did get off the freeway, to discover that Healdsburg is a really nice little town, very wine-oriented and a bit touristy with lots of good-looking stores, galleries, and restaurants. We found Bovalo, where the net told us that the Black Pig Farm sells their (reputedly) wonderful bacon. Very expensive bacon. The kind where they name each pig, massage its butt daily and bring it tea and slippers nightly until the Day of Piggy Reckoning.  

We will sample this bacon later this week, and report on it's bacony goodness. We will also arrange some future trip to spend some quality time in Healdsburg. Nice place. We'll be back.

Driving up the 101 in the rain was oddly nice, except for the crazies who didn't think hydroplaning applied to them. We saw one car off the side, actually perpendicular to the freeway and nose down in a ditch. Oops. I guess the laws of physics still apply.

An aside: Yesterday in the SJ Valley, we also saw an off-the-road car. It was a restored jalopy-type vehicle, but the front axle had entirely separated from the body, the body was upside down and about 60 ft off the road, and there was a med-evac helicopter down in the farm field next to the accident. This didn't look good. "Med-evac" is one of those words you really don't want associated with you. Like "torso" or "burned beyond recognition."

Back to the 2nd day... we got off the 101 onto the 128 at Cloverdale and headed up into the mountains. I love this drive, it's like coming home. We see all the farms and wineries, the wild turkeys, and the deer. With the rain, all the small creeks were running like mad. After Booneville and Yorkville, outside Philo (all of these are pretty much wide places in the road) we stopped at Gowan's Oak Tree, an apple stand. In the fall they have tons of different varieties, grown right there. Now, not so much. End of season leavings. But we got some nice jelly. A little farther on, we stopped at the Rock Stop.

This is the part where the beads come in. Last time we were here, two years ago, I hadn't revived my interest in beads. We got a wonderful ammonite fossil that time, and had a grand time talking with Sam Gitchell and Heron Nelson, the owners. They were just as glad to see us, and remembered us and the ammonite.  What fine and friendly people!

They've got lots of semi-precious and stone, shell and bone strands, but along with that there are all sorts of mineral specimens that can be used in jewelry. There are tables and tables of beads and high quality cabochons and pendants at really amazingly good prices.  I got 3 pairs of small ammonites in beautiful colors (better than the one in the photo). There were high-quality lapis rounds for less than I've seen it anywhere, and some nice "smoky citrine." I found "chrome diopside," beads of an unearthly green like I've never seen before and had to have those. 

We also found and bought a wooden bowl Sam had taken in trade from the artist, a guy from Washington state who had been traveling through and traded for some jade. This bowl (pictures later) is made of Norfolk pine wood, but because of the wood, or perhaps the finishing, it has a unique chatoyance, which is a shimmering, reflective quality you sometimes see in gems and minerals (such as labradorite), but never in wood.  

Oh yeah, and we got a big hunk of labradorite with amazing aligned streaks of chatoyance. 

We talked some photography with Sam and Heron, about the web and my jewelry. They posed for me. It's so nice to see people living their dream, and I get the impression that with the Rock Stop, they are.

It's not a standard bead shop. They have absolutely no beading supplies, but what they do have is mineral beads, strands, gems of all descriptions and utterly unique items that the imaginative beader would go nuts for. There were some ethnic necklaces and a lot of ethnic silver pieces. There were some nice samples of bead-weaving in the store, though Heron said she doesn't do this herself any more. There are hidden items all over, under the tables, behind stuff. You have to look closely so as not to miss anything!

They're only open Saturday, Sunday and Monday so time your trip! And allow at least an hour to browse thoroughly.  They have shopped and explored the world, and brought the choice bits of it back to this beautiful place beside the road. Stop here,  you'll be glad you did. Your credit card balance may not be so glad. 
It's a short hop from the Rock Stop to the coast, no more than half an hour. We had to pull over and drink it in.

Then we drove immediately, without stopping, to Fort Bragg, for lunch (long overdue by this time) at the Laurel Street Deli.  They have the best chili-burger that John has ever tasted, and their soups, sandwiches and salads are absolutely home-made and delicious. Yum. They're a regular stop for us, and the desserts are totally wonderful. Not as good as the bread pudding at the Garage, but still great.

After that, back to Mendocino and picking up the key to the house. More on that later. 

Days One and Two, On the Road

We got a lateish start Saturday morning, but being a weekend the traffic through LA was light and we made good time. In Gorman, the flowers are blooming. I'd call it a good year for the wildflowers, but not a great year. You judge. We love seeing the colors, especially when for much of the year this stretch is just desert.  All those bright yellows are mustard and poppies, the purple of the lupines isn't so obvious, but it's there to the naked eye. 
Then there was a long loooooong stretch up the 5, through the San Joaquin valley. This is the heart of California's productive farm land, and the primary impression this year is that a Water War is being waged between the farmers and the government. The underlying desert has never been more obvious. Much of the farmland is fallow or uncultivated, just lying there bare. The grapes (mostly raisin grapes here) seem to be doing well. Most of the nut tree orchards (almonds and pistachios) are doing well, particularly the mature ones. But we saw quite a few acres of abandoned orchards parched to death. There was no sign of former cotton crops (a notorious water-sucking crop) and little other than the grapes and the trees.   Oh, and the feedlots, full of cattle. We always make sure to close the car vents when we see those on the horizon, otherwise we Travel with Manure for miles. 

What there were signs of, on nearly every farm, was "A Congress-Created Dust Bowl." I'm not sure what that was about, but it was widespread.

They tell us in Long Beach that we've got a water crisis. It isn't obvious to us in the city, because actually the city has plenty of water. We throw away all the rain that falls in storm sewers. But the real crisis is in the farmland. I wish there was a way to get that through to people.

One nice item I noticed...throughout the southern part of the valley, nearly every freeway overpass has a large colony of swallows that has built mud nests under the roadway. They swoop and glide through the air, a joy to behold. And any help thinning out the masses of bugs that hit our windshield was appreciated!

We got into San Jose fairly early, and located The Garage, the restaurant that I saw on Diners, DriveIns and Dives.  San Jose actually has a nice downtown, and is a compact little town that's pretty easy to get around in. We found out the restaurant wasn't open until 5, and in talking to one of the staff who was setting up, we got his recommendation to get there early, as it could pack up quickly. It was a Saturday night, after all.  It's in a lovely neighborhood, too. Right down the block from San Jose State University. 

So we drove around near the airport looking for a hotel. I suspect we were on the wrong side of the airport, because the pickings were slim. John (and yes, I'm going to blame him for this) picked the Wyndham. As noted in my previous post, there wasn't much about the room that wasn't broken, dirty, worn or just wrong. Oh, wait. The climate control was excellent, for a hotel room. When the complaint card is only a third of the size it needed to be, you know you shouldn't stay at that hotel again. Word to the wise, eh?

But we got into the room in good time to change and go to dinner. Oh my. We each ordered the steak, which was marinated in something citrusy. So flavorful and tender! I got the roasted brussels sprouts, and John the Mac & Cheese. I got all the sprouts, because John won't eat them. I shared the M&C, which although not as good as mine, was perhaps the best I've ever had at a restaurant. Needs more crisping & breadcrumbs on top.  The sprouts were flavorful, roasted with whole cloves of garlic and bacon bits. 

We sat outside on the patio, which was a bit breezy but with the outdoor heater on, was very pleasant. The indoor part of the garage is very small, only 5 tables, as a good part of the kitchen is behind the counter. Everyone lines up at the counter to order, which takes a while. It's odd ordering food good enough for a fine-dining place at a counter, but we went with it. 

Then we had the vanilla bread pudding. They also serve chocolate BP. We should have gotten one of each, actually. The pudding part was smooth, infused with vanilla, warm, light, oh so good. It was covered with good whipped cream, slightly sweetened, and crunchy bits of nuts & what seemed like nougat bits or something. I don't know. If there's an ultimate bread pudding, this is it. I should have gotten several more of them. If you're ever in San Jose, do not miss this. Their other menu selectioons were very tempting as well. Next trip. We promise.

Then back to the Hotel Of Doom, to sleep. Oh, first we drove around looking for a Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy an air mattress. No, it doesn't make any sense. But we found one, purchased it, and packed it away in the car. It kept us out of the hotel room for another hour, so I call it a net win.

Day Two, to be continued....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Never Again, or Every Chance We Get

Never again will I stay in a Wyndham hotel. The one in San Jose has poisoned the world-wide well on that one. I filled every line on a perky little "how are we doing?" comment card with things we found wrong (things that even the most basic Motel 6 gets right) and could have filled two more.

Crappy, that's how they were doing. Tried to charge us $9.95 to use the internet. I ask you. The darn hotel has 400+ rooms. Do the math.

Every chance I get, I will visit The Garage in San Jose. It's a little brick garage behind a 7-11, converted to a restaurant, run by young, smart and enthusiastic people who love and respect food. We had flat-iron steaks, roasted brussels sprouts, and mac&cheese, and then we had the bread pudding they must serve in Heaven. Some day I'm going to go there and order nothing but 5 or 6 orders of that bread pudding. Serially, so they're each warm when I get them.

Now, I'm in Mendocino, about to lie on my bed overlooking the ocean, and take a nap. Later, pictures and more details.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On Changing a Cat's Name

Our cat is currently called Meri. Now, I think of this as "merry" but I know other people hear it as "Mary" which is just a dumb name for a cat. Okay for people, not so good for a cat. Might as well call her Edna.  Actually, Edna would be better, catwise.

Please note, in my dialect these words are pronounced the same: merry, marry, Mary.   I know in some regions they are distinctive, not so for me.

We've had this current cat (see picture) since September, and her foster parent from whom we adopted her called her "Merigold." I dislike that even more than "Meri" but Meri was a compromise so that the cat knew who we were bellowing at when she tried to use the furniture for a scratching post. 

Now, I think I've come up with a better name. I'm staging a quiet little campaign to a) get the cat to recognize it, and b) get the other people here to use it. Well, my son, anyway. My husband calls every cat we have "Cat." He's a bit stubborn.

The new name is "PDQ" because this cat eats her dinner Pretty Damn Quick. You'd think she'd never seen wet food before, every single night. One night she conned my son into feeding her at 7:30, and behaved just as usual when my husband fed her again at 8:30. Food? *Inhale!!*  Takes her all of two nanoseconds to eat. Don't stop to wash your hands on the way back to the living room after you drop off the food. She'll beat you back there.

We could call her "Petey" for short. 

I like it. Even though when my husband was a kid, he had a parakeet named "Petey" who died tragically. So, I think to myself, why didn't he just call the parakeet "Bird?" I ask you.

Now we'll see how the Grand Cat Renaming Campaign goes. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

So Beyond Ready For Vacation, We Are

Not for the first time (okay, the four-hundred-and-seventy-eighth), I thought today, "I really wish I was already on vacation."

Next week there will be vacationing. In fact, it starts Saturday. My son will be holding down the home-front, taking care of the cat, attending his college classes. My sweetie and I will be driving hither, yon, and assorted other places. 

Cannot WAIT!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Ground, It Shakes!

I've lived in Southern California for nearly 14 years now. I came here from Michigan, where I'd felt exactly one earthquake in my entire life.  That one was a door-rattler, it felt and sounded very much like an extremely large truck was driving past on the street.

Since 1996, we've had a nice assortment of quakes, none of them strong enough to cause damage locally, or at least not much.  I remember the first "biggish" one, it woke me at night, and felt very much like my bed was a boat on the gentle swells of a lake. Up and down, roll a bit.

Most of the others have been of the same variety, though some of them have begun with a fair-sized bang!! and a sharp drop of the earth, to continue with the aforementioned rolling. Some are very noisy, with a subterreanean grinding that makes your hair stand on end, and the house rattling, even some things on shelves dancing about. There's a perceptible difference between a quake with a close epicenter and one farther away.

Today, though, the one that was centered in Baja was a bit different in quality. It started out gently, with a side to side motion unlike any I've felt before. Then after 10 or so seconds, it got stronger, still side to side. It was quiet, not noisy, and it made all the hanging plants out in the garden sway. Although there was minimal rattling and banging, our door chimes, which are long metal bars, began to sound, which has never happened in a quake before.

I hope that the people in Baja come out of this all right. When the earth won't lie quietly, it can be very disturbing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bead Store Reviews

Since I haven't been to any bead stores, nor have I purchased any beads online for at least the last 6 weeks, I thought I'd revisit, at least in memory, some of the better bead stores around here. Well, two.

The first is Brea Bead Works. It's located, unsurprisingly, in Brea.  Their website has changed since the first time I saw it, because I could have sworn there were pictures of the store itself.

They have two large storefronts in the strip mall where they're located. One is the bead area, the other is a large workshop. Workshops and classes are a major focus of this store. They do lampworking and fusing, as well as some very nice bead weaving and stringing classes. They also have a kumihimo instructor, which isn't common.

I've subscribed to their emails, which come about once a week. They have a lot of trunk shows from local or visiting bead artists, and you have an opportunity to purchase many art beads or one-of-a-kind works to incorporate in your own work. I got a carved tagua-nut focal bead there that is going to make an amazing statement. Pics to follow.

The bead area is unique among bead stores in that it seems to have tons of open space. It makes the bead-buying experience different (not sure if it's better or worse) when you're not crammed in among shelves or aisles elbow to elbow. For a wheelchair user, it's a welcome relief. Much of their unique stock is on tables, which can be problematic for someone in a chair, as seeing and reaching may be difficult. They have a decent selection of seed beads & bugles, tools and storage supplies, and a smallish area of semi-precious. Nice, but small. They stock a fair amount of chain, books and ribbons. I found a few unique items, including some enameled magnetic clasps I'd never seen before, and some sterling silver hand-worked clasps I fell in love with, but couldn't afford. Those were behind the counter.

Staff is friendly and helpful, and I'll definitely be back there. I'd give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Second store is OC Beads. I was aghast when we walked into this store. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with various kinds of semi-precious, stone, shell, pearl, and glass bead strands. The tables in the center, and the large open pull-out shelves along all the walls are jammed full of tiny glass bowls with a few (2 to 200) beads of zillions of kinds. Need sea glass? They've got 50 different beads. Coral, shell, all sorts of semi-precious. The pull-out shelves make it as if they have hundreds of feet of counterspace.

The middle is a bit tight for wheelchair navigation, but the outer area is wide enough. There's a work-at bar in the back of the store where they welcome beaders during store hours.  We met Mishi, the manager(?), when we were there, and she was so friendly, interested in seeing some of my work.

Behind the counter she carries an amazing selection of precious and semi-precious stones of higher value. I'm still drooling over a string of watermelon tourmaline briolets that I was soooo tempted to buy, price be damned.

As you can see in the pictures on the site, they have lots of ribbon, leather, satin cord, there were some unique African paper beads, just too darn much to list. It's like the flip side of Brea Beads. Not much space, a surfeit of inspiration. Rather than workshops, the focus here is beads.

Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? I'm tempted to give this store a 10. Other than a little difficulty reaching the middle tables, I didn't find anything I didn't like about this store.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Exploration, Beads, and Photos

The other day I posted about learning a new technique. Here's a better picture of the first spiral I made.   Note that it took me three tries before I got the start correct, and I needed 4 colors to landmark my way through a pattern that was supposed to have one or at most two colors.

So, these colors are cool enough, though right now I don't have the inspiration to take it into a project. So I started a new spiral, at first with the recommended two colors, a nice yellow-green and a darker green with some blue overtones.  Here's what I've got so far.

How many tries did it take me to get this one started? Four. That's right. One more than my first experiment. Sheesh. As my husband said, "So you're getting better!"  I stuck my tongue out at him.  Why did it take so many tries? After all, I thought...