Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Turning Point

The truth is, I can't pinpoint it. There probably was no "point" at all but a gradual shift, as meaningful changes often are.

I started veiling daily on Samhain 2012. After much reflection, meditation, and searching, I knew it was something I needed to do. In recent months, I've been feeling a pull away from veiling. This gave me pause because it was something I was so sure was supposed to be a part of me. I had known it since childhood. I rejected this new feeling. It couldn't possibly be right. Veiling was right.

The funny thing about accepting something you need to do is that you also must be open to the time when you don't need it anymore. The truth is, I was in a very different place in my life in 2012. Not necessarily worse (unless you consider the terrible company I worked for) but different. Physically, spiritually, emotionally different. This new place along the journey of my life doesn't seem to need what I needed four years ago. It's no surprise really, but I do tend to hold on to things even when I no longer need them in the same way. So I needed more reflection, more meditation, more searching.

That's the journey. After four years of veiling when outside my home every day, I don't need that anymore. I don't need to stop veiling completely either. I will veil for Sabbat and Esbat days, I will veil for any rituals in addition to those days, and I will veil when I need to - perhaps a low energy day or an everything's annoying me day or something.  

It took a conversation with my friend Heather, who is experiencing a similar shift in her veiling journey, to accept how this calling is changing and to realize how it needs to change. But I'm very excited. As much as I knew four years ago that I needed to veil, I know now that I don't need it as much as I did. I don't even approach donning my veil every morning as I used to, which was probably my first sign that it's not doing what it once did for me.

Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox, is a perfect time for letting go of things that no longer serve you, reflected in the trees losing their leaves (eventually - it certainly feels like summer is still in full swing even with Mabon just about a week away). It's also a good time for "fall cleaning," again clearing away things that are no longer necessary. In that vein, I went through my entire vast scarf collection, putting some in little baggies to coordinate with the energies of the Sabbats and Esbats and holding on to my absolute favorites. The rest (that's 71 scarves as of this writing and I still have more to go through) are going into a box to sell or (more likely) donate. Downsizing my scarf collection is probably the hardest part of this, but I don't need so many! I really only wear just a small handful on a daily basis now as it is.

I'm excited to start doing fun things with my hair again. It's the longest it has ever been now. I should be able to pull off 7-strand braids to great effect! I've been reading up on victory rolls and I could dig out my spiral curlers again. My greys are coming in silver and I actually quite love them, though I could get tired of them in a week and need some color. I'm taking bets now on how many people at my office are going to faint when I show up on the 23rd after Mabon without my veils.

The seasons change. My spiritual needs change. It is a beautiful time to embrace change.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

My Turn


I've talked about this before so I'm not going to repeat myself but I still feel like I have to say something. I'm going to ramble all over the place, but you should be used to that from me.

The hot news moment is a case about a Stanford student, convicted of sexually assaulting a stranger but given a severely reduced sentence because "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him." Seriously? Who the fuck cares about him? Why doesn't the judge care about his victim, who already has a severe impact on her life from this criminal's actions to her? It is estimated that only 32% of rape or sexual assault cases are reported. This leaves 68% - 68% - unreported. This is why. There is no justice. Being a member of an elite class means you can do no wrong. Blame the alcohol, blame the situation, blame the victim.

I'm not going to talk about male privilege - this case screams it. I'm not even going to talk about rape, the crime of rape, what it's like to be raped.

The thing is my Facebook feed is filled with memes and graphics and news posts. Most of it is outrage at the sentence (and we all should be outraged), attacks on the criminal who got off easy (yes, he is a criminal), there are a few posts about the diatribe from the criminal's father (victim blaming at its finest), and a good deal of posts about the victim's letter to her attacker (I couldn't read it all though I tried, I really did).

I don't mind that people are talking about this. Rape and sexual assault are things we don't really talk about. The problem is, just like the Steubenville case I wrote about three years ago, people are going to stop talking about it when the next hot news moment comes along. And then the next time we see a case like this the results will be the same. "The poor criminal, he had such a bright future. We need to protect his chances because his future is at stake." Nothing changes.

So, we've all heard the statistics, right? One in six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. One in six. Do you know six women in your life? You know someone who has been sexually assaulted. You probably know several, but you may or may not know that about them. And it's a pretty good bet that someone you know is having a very hard time right now. When cases like this hit the social medial world the way this one has, suddenly triggers are everywhere and in the most unexpected places. I don't want people to stop talking about this, because rape culture is real and dialogue is the first step in doing something about it, but please consider the victims and survivors. The focus is in the wrong place. It's not about the alcohol, it's not about the clothes, it's not about the parties, and it's definitely not about the bright futures that are dashed because someone made a choice (though it could be, in part, about the bright futures that are not dashed despite said choice).

I've strayed far from the point I hoped to make, I think. This case is not about me at the same time it is. It is about every single one of the one in six. It is about the unnamed victim whose entire life has been altered because some privileged kid made a choice and some judge thought he was more important than she is. Justice.



Entire life.

And the real kicker here is that even if she did get some semblance of justice, it would not have helped those things.

Somewhere, one or more of the women in your life are hurting right now.  Maybe more than they were a week ago because of the news. Just: don't forget that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

That Moment

There is a thing in the life of infants they call the 9 month sleep regression, or sometimes the 8-10 month sleep regression, based on when it's likely to hit. It's pretty consistent, consistent enough to have a name and a number of websites dedicated to helping sleep-deprived parents through it so, if you have an infant, you're probably going to experience this. It tends to be a drastic change in sleep patterns; for one example, the baby who once slept through the night and self-soothed like a champ can no longer do either. It is important to note that this phase is just a phase - so they say - and, while it can last days or weeks, it is going to end.

Elora seems to have hit her 9 month sleep regression. She used to sleep wonderfully: nurse for a bit (or a while) and then I put her in the crib and she's down for the next 8-10 hours pretty solidly. Now, she nurses for a bit (or a while) and wakes up immediately as I try to set her in the crib. If I do put her down (and, let's face it, I do), she will sit up, grab onto the rail of the crib, hoist herself onto her feet, and reach for me zombie-like, all while screaming at the top of her lungs. There's no getting back from this. She'll lean over the rail in exhaustion before lying down when we all know she would fall asleep if she just lied down. She wants to be held, rocked, cuddled, maybe nurse some more, but do not, for the love of cats and little fishes and your sanity, put her down. Sometimes, don't even sit or attempt to lie down yourself, because she'll scream bloody murder for that too.  And we're fast learning that what worked one night to eventually get her to sleep won't work the next night.

Last night was rough. I put her in her crib and she woke up screaming. We nursed some more and I was finally able to get her in the crib without waking her up. It took me a good 20 minutes to sneak out of the room, praying that the floor, my ankle, the door wouldn't creak and wake her up (it has happened before). She slept about four hours in this attitude before waking up, standing up, being inconsolable. The previous night, my husband brought her downstairs and slept on the couch, where she could be held all night. This time, after some fuss and bother, he brought her into our bedroom. She woke up when he climbed into bed with her, but was happy to see me nearby and settled on me to sleep. I did not really have a cozy night in that position (an old back injury necessitates quite a lot of moving to keep me comfortable and pain-free in the night) though I had all the baby snuggles I could want. And she did sleep, which is what we all really needed in the end. My sleep and my husband's sleep doesn't matter nearly as much.

In the morning, but before any of us was ready to wake up, she adjusted her position and I adjusted mine. She sighed and I looked into that sweet, sleeping, gently smiling face.

It's all for That Moment.

Whatever we, as parents, must endure so she gets a few precious hours of sleep is worth it for that one moment when she stretches, wiggles into a new position, and that tiny little smile forms across her sleeping visage. That Moment.

Friday, May 13, 2016

More Breast Milk Beads

At the risk of blogger TMI: I was convinced a month ago that my breastfeeding days are nearing their end. I'm disappointed because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a year at least and Elora is just nine months. We'll be supplementing with formula these last few months since I can't just will my body to produce more milk. A month ago when I started writing this post, I didn't think we would make it another month. I'm still hanging on, but just barely. It's time to move on. That makes this project that much more important to me.

Our breastfeeding journey started out pretty rocky. I couldn't feed her in the hospital at all. When my milk finally did come in, nursing was excruciating due to her shallow latch for the first three or four months. Then, we both seemed to figure it out and I looked forward to feeding my baby and giving her the one comfort that I have that no one else can offer. It is ending too soon for me; I'm definitely not ready to be done and she's not at an age where I can explain that there simply is no more milk. But it seems she is ready and I've no choice but to follow her lead here.  

In my last post, I mentioned round 2 of my breast milk bead experiment. I wanted to redo a couple pieces that didn't come out as I had hoped and I finished mounting the rest. I also learned a method for creating a galaxy-like background and wanted to play with that.

This is the tutorial I found for the galaxy effect. It looks super awesome! I skipped the glitter step, though I might try one with the glitter too. It might be neat.

 So here they are, set in their molds, colored and curing. I popped them out after three days. The thing about the galaxy background is that it involves "painting" the mica powder on the back of the first layer of resin while it is still tacky. I messed up and waited a day instead of a few hours so my resin, while still curing, was completely dry and the powder did not stick. I gave it a quick burst of resin spray and worked on that. It still wasn't all that sticky and I was sure it wasn't going to work, but I trudged ahead (and made some more clay pieces just in case. I'm almost out of milk clay!). The tutorial also says to use black as the final layer. I used a blue glass paint to color my resin. I think it worked wonderfully.

Fresh out of the mold! 
 The pink heart (this is actually mica powder that is a mix of red and blue) was a redo because my earlier padlock wasn't exactly center. The blue lock was also a redo, remember I tried to color it brown in the previous attempt (yep, it's not exactly center. Redo!). The key has the gold background I wanted but didn't get in the first round. And, despite my mistakes, the galaxy effect looks awesome behind the cameo and the buttons. These pieces still need to be sanded and glossed.

 Again, wet sand paper is best when working with resin, but I don't have that so I just used what I had. Long sides were sanded with the round sandpaper and small bits and details were sanded with my jeweler's file. The pieces were then coated with resin spray to make them shine.

A hand drill is handy! 

This owl was from my first batch. I picked up some larger split rings at the craft store so I could actually make it through the thick resin pieces.

It takes some wiggling, but it will fit!

Even with larger split rings, I had to almost completely straighten one end to get it through the resin. It worked and now all my original pieces and most of my new pieces are pendants!

I didn't want to drill through some of them. The placement of the clay charms or how I wanted them to hang wasn't conducive to drilling on some pieces. For those, I used flat-backed bails and glue. I've had good luck with Weldbond, so I just used the bottle I already had.

 And here they are! I have to say the cameo is my favorite. The key on gold is for my daughter, in that time many years from now when she will wear necklaces (even if she never wears this one).The one with two hearts (representing her father and me) in the drop is for her as well. And now I have a variety of pendants to change out and coordinate as I wish!

Some of these are just fun shapes: the owl, the ducky, the flower. The two different locks represent me, the key is my daughter. The cameo is both of us. The two buttons are for my family: my husband and daughter, and the three buttons are all of us. While the breastfeeding journey is definitely hers and mine, I couldn't have done any of this without my husband, without his support, his care, his patience, his love.

Faux Opals
 Bonus! Faux opals! I love opals and I'm lucky they are my birth stone. One of the resin videos I came across was how to make faux opals. They turned out great! I haven't mounted the top three yet. I'm not sure what I want to do with them. I used the glass paint again to color the backgrounds on these.

A while ago, my mother saw me pressing more milk clay into molds. I want to use all the clay I have, even if I never set these pieces in resin, and its storage life was coming to an end. I told my mom about the artists who make breast milk jewelry and how I figured out a way to do it myself. She really liked the two pieces I made with the silver charms. She said the milk clay looked like mother of pearl. It kind of does!

For my full breast milk bead tutorial, see this post! If you make milk beads with my method, I want to see! And I'm happy to help if you have any questions.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Things That Change

There are few weather events that fill me with paralyzing terror the way tornadoes do.

I remember a day in an August long ago. I think I was eleven. It was a Thursday and we had to go to church that evening. I was playing at a friend's house that afternoon and it was time to go home. My friend's house was on the next street over from mine, not really far. I remember opening her front door and seeing the blackest clouds I had ever seen. I ran home, not wanting to be caught in the rain that I knew was coming. I walked into my front door, my mother said "good, let's go" and herded my brother and I into the garage, and then she opened the garage door. In the space of time it took me to walk in through the front door and out through the garage, the tree in front of our house was on the ground, bent over by the fierce wind. That black cloud was overhead and my mom made the decision not to drive to church after all.

This was an odd storm. All the neighbors were outside talking about the wind, that came and went, and the blackness that made the summer evening look almost like night. I remember we played outside with a friend who lived on our street while everyone stood around and discussed this unusual storm. We each had our favorite stuffed animals. Suddenly, my brother looked up with an expression of absolute fear that I never want to see on his, or anybody's, face ever again. We asked what was wrong and he just pointed behind us. The sky turned eerie green, the funnel cloud formed right over the house at the top of the street as we watched. Shingles flew everywhere.

We ran for it, into our house and into the pantry: a tiny room under the staircase with no windows or outside walls. I have no idea what the adults were doing. My mom and our friend's mom found us in the pantry. The rain was falling now. They said it was safe to come out. Apparently, that funnel touched and left. We were commended for our hiding place and for knowing what to do. My father came home from work shortly afterwards, bringing the mailbox inside with him because he found it rolling down the street.

That image - that ominous green cloud that touched the roof of the house beneath it, the brown cloud of dust gathering around it - was burned into my brain. This particular funnel wasn't bad as funnels go, but tell that to an eleven-year-old who was mere yards away when it touched. Every time I heard of a tornado even remotely in my area, I was overcome with fear. There were two more cyclones that touched the ground within my eyesight since, all of them relatively minor.

Eleven years later in April - so almost exactly 14 years ago - the worst tornado in Maryland history touched down some 20 miles away. Interestingly, the main thing I remember about that storm was that my father and I were driving to Tennessee in the morning for my great-grandmother's funeral and we decided not to drive through that town. It was somewhere in the Carolinas, when we stopped for gas and food, that we caught a news report giving that cyclone an F5 rank. It was later changed to an F4. This one is significant in my life not because I saw it, but because I now live in the neighborhood that was in that F4's path. There was another small funnel the week after we moved in, actually. I remember everyone standing in front of the hardware store with their phones pointed at the eerie green sky as the funnel formed. That one didn't actually hit ground until a bit later, but it was trying. You could see the cloud twist downward and a finger rising up from the ground to meet it, only they didn't connect just yet. It brings my total of observed funnel clouds to four.

Anyway, we had a tornado warning last night. A warning means the clouds are turning and conditions are right for funnels to form. The rotation was less than 10 miles away. Considering that the F4 was on the ground for 24 miles, less than 10 is really nothing. I don't know if a tornado actually touched anywhere last night, but that's not the point.

In my attempt to conquer the crippling fear that tornadoes have over me, I will usually wait. I will hear about a tornado in the area, or get the warnings on my phone that say "take shelter now," and I'll move to a window and watch. And wait. And if I see a funnel forming, then I'll take shelter. For an actual funnel that I see, not just a warning. Maybe this isn't smart, but it's really what keeps me able to function and think clearly when storms roll through because, before I started doing this, they would reduce me to a shivering, sobbing heap.

Last night was different. My husband was at rehearsal. My dad had just left, after babysitting all day, for his own rehearsal. I got out of the bathroom and my husband was calling. This is actually unusual - that he calls, particularly when I know he's at rehearsal and would be for several hours. I didn't take my phone into the bathroom and it's constantly on silent lest it rings or beeps or buzzes and wakes the baby so I completely missed the warning on my phone to seek shelter now. I probably wouldn't have seen it at all if my husband hadn't called (though my dad did text about 10 minutes later). This time, instead of running to the window and watching the sky, I gathered Elora's socks, a couple toys, a blanket, my water bottle, and a flash light and took the baby down to the basement. We weren't in an interior, windowless room, but I wasn't right in front of the glass doors either and could easily move to one in a second.

And that's what changes. It wasn't just me. It wasn't just me and the cats. It was me and her and taking care of her is the most important job I have ever had and will ever have. Even more important than heading upstairs to collect the one cat who didn't follow us to the basement. I wasn't a shivering, sobbing heap either, though I'm sure an observer would say I was obviously agitated and anxious. We got through just fine and, 30 minutes later when the warning expired, we went back upstairs and watched a movie and practiced standing and had a fine evening. I don't think taking the warning seriously was overreacting in the least.

It got me thinking that there were so many things I would have done differently if I was alone last night. My regular way of dealing with these things had to change. And I think I got through alright.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Make Beads with Breast Milk Tutorial

Yes, you read that right. There is a growing trend among moms to have one's breast milk preserved and set into jewelry. For many of you, dear readers, it probably sounds gross - the weird stigma around the grossness of breast milk is another topic altogether - but, to the new mom whose ability to feed her baby breast milk is very important, it can be a beautiful way to memorialize that very special time. Some artists have built their business around this. Go ahead and search; their pieces are really quite beautiful.

I had a vague desire to order a piece or two until about three weeks ago. It was the first of two work pumping sessions and I got a pathetically low amount of milk. I started to panic a little; at only seven months old, it's too soon to stop feeding Elora breast milk. I really want to make it to at least a year. I'm a "just enough" supplier as it is (this means my body produces what she drinks and not a drop more), so finding myself with less did worry me. It made me realize that this part of being a mom, the ability to provide for my baby all the nutrition she needs, was very important to me and more important than I tend to let on. That vague desire was replaced with a desperate need as I searched for something to help me cling to this very precious time.

But I have a few problems with the breast milk jewelry currently on the market. The first is that the pieces are very expensive. They are made with closely-guarded processes. Search for a tutorial on how to do it yourself and you'll only find posts like the one I'm writing now: just a mom who wanted to figure out how to do it herself with varying results. Based on all the research and trial runs that I did, I absolutely understand the cost. It's not that I don't think the money is worth it, but more that I don't really have it lying around. Another hang up for me is the wait time. I found one artist who says you'll get your pieces in six weeks, another who said three months, and there is one with a ton of complaints because it has apparently been more than a year and people still don't have their orders. The demand is high since only a few people know the secret, so of course they are busy. There is also cure time, which is often impossible to rush. One of the glazes I used takes 28 days to cure, so I understand this too. That leads me to my next point: how do you know that the piece you get is actually made with your milk? If I were doing this as a business, I'd probably want to have several orders curing at once to minimize the wait. Or maybe they work one order at a time to be sure they don't get pieces mixed up. The reality is we don't know. I also wonder what happens to the extra. My method made a ton of compound and I used a very small amount of milk. Some artists ask for only a teaspoon of milk, some ask for an ounce. You want enough to work with, of course, but then what happens to it? Along the same lines, with these closely-guarded trade secrets, we don't know if whole milk is being used or just the casein (separating the casein is one way to make a clay out of regular milk, though the casein content in breast milk is quite low so you need a lot of it. I suspect this is the method the people who want an ounce or more are using). It's more meaningful to me if the whole milk is used, and I've come across a few other moms who feel similar.

So I decided to figure this out on my own. That way I know it's my milk, I completely control the design and the colors, and I can make as many pieces as I want. For my purposes, I don't care what other ingredients are involved as long as my whole milk is one of them. This is not my trade so I have no trade secrets to protect. Hence, this post!

The first thing I did was research if it was possible to mix the milk with the resin directly. The answer is yes and no but mostly no. It's like mixing oil and water: they really don't mix. You can do a few things (add more hardener, freeze it while it cures) to force it to mix but I wasn't getting anywhere close to the same look as what the professionals make. So then I searched for a way to make clay with water as one of the ingredients, figuring I could just substitute my milk for the water. The answer is YES! you can make a hard, air-drying clay with water as one of the ingredients. This clay uses plain old white glue, water, and flour or cornstarch. It's similar to a recipe I found a few years ago that makes a kind of porcelain clay. I did a couple test batches with water first, and I tried both flour and cornstarch. I found that flour worked better so that's what I used for my milk clay compound. This is the video I referenced for my clay.

So, you need roughly equal parts clear-drying white glue and water or milk and some flour. I highly recommend trying it with water first so you get a feel for working the flour into the compound. You want enough flour so that it won't be sticky or you will end up with a flaky mess. If it's too dry, add more water/milk. If it's too wet and sticky, add more flour.

Flour in a baby food jar and plain Mod Podge

See how it sticks to my finger? Too sticky! Add more flour!
 Once you've mixed up your clay, let it rest for at least 30 minutes in an airtight bag. Once that is done, you can start forming your pieces or pressing them into molds. I used two teaspoons of milk and got a ton of clay. Mine was still a tad sticky, so I just coated my fingers in flour when I was working with it and that was plenty. Store your unused clay in an airtight bag in the fridge. It will keep for a couple weeks, then it will start to harden.

A note about color: the flour will color your clay. I used an unbleached all-purpose flour and it had a nice doughy color that I liked a lot. Cornstarch was stark white, which I didn't want at all. The batch with flour and milk came out slightly more yellow than the flour and water batch.  I did not try cornstarch and milk.  My milk tends to be tinged with yellow, blue, or green depending on the day and this was a yellowish day. If your milk has more distinct colors, I imagine it will reflect in the clay a bit. Just remember there is more flour than anything in this compound, so that will be the predominant color. You can mix in a bit of paint to color your clay from the beginning, as in the video, if you want. I wanted mine to look more milky and I think, even at mostly flour colored, I got that. I did try coloring one piece with mica powder and it didn't come out as I imagined it would.

Drying in some molds in round two!
This clay will shrink slightly as it dries so keep that in mind. I found it worked a little better when I was very precise in filling my molds, nothing oozing out of the cavities or too many lumps on the back. I set these aside to dry in the molds for at least two days. You can also bake this clay, at 200°F for 10-20 minutes, if your mold can handle the oven. The blue cameo mold above can but I'm not sure about the orange ones so I just let them air dry.

Test round pieces, all dry. You can see some unevenness and other imperfections: that's why this was the test round!
 I also formed some pieces by hand and set a glob into an open silver pendant as a background. The pendent was where I had to pay special attention to the shrinkage of the clay.

This is a great sealer, but it takes 28 days to cure fully! 
 I used this dishwasher-safe Mod Podge on some of my pieces because I wasn't going to encase them in resin. Because this clay is water-based, you want to make sure you seal it. In hindsight, I probably could have used the spray resin sealer pictured further down, but I didn't know about it at this point! The instructions say to apply 3 coats, letting it dry for at least an hour between each one, for best results.

Coated with the blue Mod Podge and left to cure.
I intend to drill holes in the heart and button on the right and just make them into charms.
The two smaller hearts and one button will be left as-is, as charms for a floating locket.
 Next step: resin! I have never worked with resin before, and always wanted to, so this was a learning process all its own. While my pieces were drying, I watched every resin jewelry tutorial I could find on You Tube. I came across some really great things to do with resin while I was at it. I'm going to be playing with this stuff for a while! I did not do a non-milk test run with the resin but you may want to if you're unsure about working with it. I almost wish I had, because I'm remaking some pieces that didn't turn out quite how I wanted.

You need a mold, a resin kit, some plastic mixing cups, and some popsicle stirrers.
Mold Release is not necessary but, from my research, I found it to be a good idea.  
Whatever brand you find, look for two part clear epoxy resin. I carefully planned out which pieces I wanted in which shapes. Follow the directions for your particular brand of resin. I removed the piece before pouring the resin into the mold and then set the piece back in the resin. For this step, which I did not photograph, I wanted the beads to show so I just used clear resin.

Beads waiting for resin. You can see the one I tried to color with mica powder! 
 I like the idea of doing a color background and mica powders are great for coloring resin. I carefully planned out which colors I wanted on which pieces and set out enough mixing cups and stirrers for each color. I then made my resin, separated it into all the cups I set out, and added color and poured one by one. There is time to work with this before your resin starts to set up, but don't dawdle if you have a lot of colors.
The white jar is a blue glow-in-the-dark that I ended up not using for this round. 
 A little goes a long way, but too little doesn't go far! In the picture below, I wanted the key in the trapezoid to be gold, but I didn't use nearly enough gold. The greenish one next to it was initially too light as well and I added more powder directly to the resin in the mold to make it darker.

Curing resin! 
 Some of the beads did not end up in the position I really wanted them in but that's okay. I've got enough clay and enough resin to do it again. That's round two drying in the orange molds above.

Now, my resin says to let it cure for 24 hours for a soft cure and 72 hours for a hard cure. I want my pieces really hard so I left them in the mold for three days. Follow the instructions on your resin for curing times.

After you pop your pieces out of the mold, you may find there are some bulges where resin ran over the edge of the mold. Cut these off with scissors. You may also find that some pieces have sharp edges, either from rising up the sides of the mold or just slightly overflowing the mold. These bits can be sanded down and I didn't get any pictures of this part. It is recommended to use wet/dry sandpaper with water to help control the dust. I didn't have that so I just used what I had. A small jeweler's file or regular nail file can also be used for some of the small edges. Keep your pieces moving and roll with curves to keep things even. I used this video to learn about sanding and finishing resin pieces.

The green heart remained tacky after all the other pieces were done; I suspect it was a result of adding the mica powder directly to the resin in the mold. I probably didn't mix it enough. Additionally, a lot of the pieces had cloudy areas over the clear resin, probably a result of the mold release spray. The sanding process also leaves scratches and rough edges. The easy fix for all of these problems is Resin Spray.

Gloss and sealer.
 Give your pieces a few quick, light sprays of this on all sides and let them dry at least an hour (it's probably wise to do one side and then the other once the first has dried) and there you have it! Clear, shiny resin pieces! Additionally, you can use a paint brush to paint on a layer of mixed liquid resin and let that cure and it will do the same thing.

Now, there are still some imperfections in these - bubbles I didn't get out or slightly off-center beads - but that's okay. I've learned a few more tricks since I did these that I will use on round two to, hopefully, resolve those issues. I'm also really pleased that I did these myself and those flaws are just marks of my handmadeiness!

The final step is to turn them into jewelry! There are a couple easy ways to do this. You can drill a hole and add a jump ring, you can drill a hole and add a chain, you could drill a hole straight through and use a headpin, you could glue a bail onto the back, you could glue it onto a cabochon setting, and I'm sure there are more.

A small hand press drill works great on resin.

I used a spring drill on a few of my pieces and then realized that the resin is very thick and I need larger jump rings than what I have! I think gluing a flat backed bail would probably be easiest, but I'll have to pick up some of those.

This one wasn't too thick!

Wear it with pride! 
I hope this helps many more moms commemorate this precious time in your and your baby's lives! I even made one to eventually give to my daughter (the key trapezoid that was supposed to be gold). If you make some milk clay beads using my method, I want to see! Feel free to ask me any questions and I'll try to help you through the process.

For part 2 with finishing tips and pictures, see this post!

All of the supplies that I did not already own were purchased on Amazon. If you need links or help finding supplies, let me know! Always shop Amazon Smile (not an affiliate link) and support your favorite charity! Some might be available in your local craft store, but I had bad luck finding what I wanted there. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Profane Mom Rant

There seems to be some kind of silly one-up game among moms about who was more bad-ass while giving birth. The consistency that I've found in scoring seems to be thus: Some kind of crazy happening like in the car on the way to the hospital or 'went to the bathroom and out he came' is the gold medal, vaginal with no drugs is the silver medal, vaginal with drugs is the bronze medal, and the c-sections get the participation trophy- there's a slightly bigger trophy if your c-section was an emergency rather than scheduled.

But the truth is, we're all moms. We all went through the joy and fear of pregnancy. We all had nine months, and sometimes terrifyingly less, to dream about our perfect birth experiences. We all had that moment when we knew it was coming that filled us with fear or elation or excitement or dread or confidence or all of these things and more.

And we all had the aftermath. Beyond the myriad of feelings that go with having a new person who depends entirely on you: the sleep deprivation, the healing that could take weeks or months, scars, stretch marks, new bulges, waiting for your uterus to go back to normal. Maybe you feel guilty for being concerned about those things when you should be concerned for your baby, maybe you feel guilty for not caring about those things. Maybe you bounced back in no time at all, maybe you fight to lose that baby weight for years. Whatever happens to you, your body is changed forever.

Moms, you did something fucking amazing. It's not about how it happened, it is about that it happened. Maybe you didn't choose it, maybe you carefully planned it, maybe you spent a whole lot of money to get it. None of those hows make you more or less of a mom than any other mom. That new life is still a miracle, the fact that your body did that is one great big marvel.

And, while I'm talking about it, maybe your body didn't do that at all. Maybe you had to find someone who, for whatever reason wouldn't couldn't didn't keep their baby so you claimed him as your own. You get to go through all the things that any mom gets to go through - the worries and fears and excitements - with the added bonus of an extra little circumstance that may set him apart from many of his peers. Moms, you did something fucking amazing.

Whether you took a breath and there was baby, pushed through the pain like the earliest humans, took advantage of modern medicine, lied on a cold operating table numb from the waist down, or waited by the phone for that "you've been approved" phone call, you are a rock star and a super hero. We all get to take the trophy home in the end.

And if something went wrong during any part of this journey and you didn't get to bundle up your little miracle and take him home, I want you, moms, to know that you are the strongest of all of us.

Friday, December 11, 2015

New Mom Guilt

It has been a little over four months since Elora was born. I don't think I've ever had a time when I felt so guilty over what I can't do while, at the same time, doing absolutely everything I can do. Everything is not enough: not enough food, not enough sleep, not enough cuddles, not enough money, not enough time. I feel guilty that I have to go to work, guilty that I can't pump more than 4 oz of milk at a time, guilty that sometimes I just need someone else to hold her, and guilty that sometimes I never want anyone else to hold her. I've spent plenty of time being critical of myself through the years - my appearance, my talents, my job performance - but I have never been more critical of anything than my role as mom. No job has ever been more important to me and I'm just not good enough for it. How critical everyone seems to be of a new parent is nothing to how critical I am of myself.

I'm pretty sure every new mother thinks like this and I'm completely sure it's not true. To that little life, I am everything. I am comfort, I am warmth, I am food, I am safety, I am fun. She loves Daddy too, who is all of these things except food, but Mamma is everything. I do my best and she's healthy, dry, clean, fed, growing, happy. This job that I'm not good enough for is good enough for her.

Frankly, I'm never going to be satisfied with it. There will always be more I should be doing and more I should be giving and more I should be whatever-ing. But not really. I should be doing exactly what I am doing, which is my absolute best at any given time. Even when I leave her in the swing crying because I have to eat is my best. I'm no good to her starving. Even when I leave her with my parents to go to work is my best. I'm no good if I can't help keep that roof over her head. Even when I head upstairs for a nap while my husband gives her a bottle is my best. I'm no good to her exhausted. The floors may not be clean, but the baby is laughing at her doll. I'm not clean, but the baby is splashing in her bath. No job has ever been more important and I am doing my best.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

And We Have Baby

My wonderful team of doctors said they wouldn't let me go past my due date of August 7, so we headed to the hospital to start the induction process at 1600 Thursday evening.

Well, induction did not work. They did the first step around 1700 or so that was supposed to soften and possibly dilate my cervix. I was having contractions all night, according to the monitors, but I didn't feel them. In the morning, my cervix was soft but not any more dilated and they started me on pitocin and I couldn't eat anything. The doc tried to break my water around noonish but it didn't work; still no change in dilation. Contractions got more intense and frequent, but I still wasn't feeling them. I started to around 1530 or so and, about an hour later, the doc came in to check me and found that my cervix still hadn't changed. He recommended we stop torturing me with the pitocin that wasn't working so we ended up with a cesarean birth.

I completely broke when the doc said nothing changed. It was an amazingly frustrating day to go through all that and get nowhere.

But a c section was a good move. Elora Anne was born at 1712, 21.25 inches long and weighing a lovely 9lbs 15oz! She was never going to make it out vaginally!

We're doing great. I was way too groggy to breastfeed, but my husband has been giving her a bottle and she's eating more and more at every feeding. Her blood sugars are looking great. I'm finally feeling less nauseated and drugged up, so I'll try to feed her today. Yesterday was totally an ordeal but, as they say, it was all worth it in the end!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Birth Altar

With a little more than a week (give or take) to go before Poppyseed is born, we're in full-on preparation mode. My hospital bag is packed, Poppyseed's hospital bag is packed, the bassinet is put together, clothes are washed. There are still a few things that need doing but, for the most part, if she wanted to come tomorrow, we're ready. (I'm really ready! The sooner, the better!)

I came across this article about birth altars early last week and realized I had forgotten something. Well, maybe not forgotten, because I researched this at the start of my pregnancy, but I definitely had a little more preparation to do. Some people bring things to help them before, during, and after labor. They can be items to focus on or to help calm them or a reminder of something that gives them strength, as faith often does. Tangible objects are unnecessary when it comes to faith but, the truth is, they help for a lot of people. That's what a birth altar is: objects to help with those things like focus and courage and healing on a spiritual level. Giving birth is a transformative event and transformation is a big deal in many neo-pagan faiths. 

Building a small, portable birth altar to take with me to the hospital is fairly easy. The first thing I needed to do with this project is to realize and understand that, once active labor starts, I'm probably not going to be thinking of much of anything else. So, I designed my altar with that in mind: putting objects in a bag where they can be brought out if time/space/mental capacity allows but will still lend their energies if they don't. 

So, I started with the bag that will keep all my objects nicely contained. I modified this free pattern to make a little bag in the size I need and in colors that meant something to me- purple for me, blue for my husband, and green for growth and new life (yes, I know that purple, blue, and green are the colors the pattern designer used, that's not the point!).

A bag!
Next, I began gathering gemstones. I started with a quartz point, which is one of the most effective healing and energy-amplifying stones around. I have a rose quartz, also good for healing but has some calming properties too. A red carnelian is a great stone for grounding and healing the female reproductive system (and, as a bonus, can help with lower back healing too). A green aventurine is good for healing and reducing inflammation. Amethyst, one of my power stones, is a great stone of balance. It helps to focus and calm the mind. Moss agate is considered a birthing stone, historically used by midwives to lessen pain and ensure a good delivery. It is a stone of new beginnings and can help speed up recovery. Tiger's eye has long been accepted as a stone of courage and overcoming obstacles. It can also be useful in healing the reproductive system. I have extras of a couple of these that will stay on my home altar and contribute energy and meaning from there.

A collection of crystals.

I'm also the kind of person who likes the symbolism in statues. I made two, not sure what would suit me best for the hospital altar. The first is a design I came up with years ago: an abstract mother and child figure. The mother figure is me, a blend of purple for me, yellow for my mother, and blue for my grandmother. I included them as the two largest maternal influences in my life that will be passed to my daughter. The child figure, just a ball held by the mother figure, is Poppyseed, of course: a combination of lilac for my purple and blue for her father. The second statue I made is based on the popular Millennial Gaia statue by Oberon Zell. I did not need all the "Mother of the Earth" symbolism of the original statue, but the form and pose was appealing to me. I made her from a stone-look clay in brown with lilac hair (again, to represent me) with a world-like belly because Poppyseed is already my world. I haven't decided yet which statue is going in the hospital altar bag, probably the abstract, but the other one will stay on my home altar with the extra stones.

Mother statuary!

While I doubt that the hospital will allow a burning candle or incense (I haven't bothered to ask and I won't), candles and fragrance are an important part of my spiritual practice. Thankfully, I already have a safe alternative that will be enough of a symbol of the actual thing for me to do the trick. The LED candles we got for our wedding are vanilla scented. The look of a flickering candle will help sooth me, as well as the vanilla scent it gently emits.

Modern witches use modern tools!

Next, I made an herb pouch. I put a few pinches of three healing herbs in it: peppermint, arnica, and white willow. There are also some cleansing herbs: sage, lavender, and dragon's blood resin. I've found that just having herbs near me lends their energy and I don't need much. 

Tiny pouch of herbs.

My birth altar also needs an altar cloth because, while it's likely to stay in the bag for the birth itself just for practicality, all of these things will be helpful in recovery too. I picked a piece of cotton in a pleasing pattern and color and cut approximately a 9x9 square (9 being a sacred number) and serged the edges.

Altar cloth.

There are two final touches for my birth altar. The first is for me; I made a bracelet out of gems to aid in birth and recovering. I used fluorite, long used as a healing stone and to bring balance to the body in times of stress, and moonstone, good for balancing feminine energies, to promote a safe birth, and encourage healing of the female reproductive system. After I have charged and dedicated my items, I will wear this bracelet daily. There are 27 stones, the same number I use for my wrist malas. I definitely don't think I'll be able to count prayers with a mala while in labor but I certainly can, and plan to, in the days leading up to it. Counting prayers with a strand of mala beads is a calming and meditative act to me - and to many who use prayer beads. I have also prepared some affirmations and prayers to repeat in the coming days and after Poppyseed finally arrives.

A wrist mala of fluorite and moonstone.

The last item I want to include is a gift for my daughter. Even though there is no shortage of gifts for my daughter, many that were made especially for her, this one will be packed with the altar if it arrives in time. It is an amber necklace, and there is one for me as well. Amber necklaces on infants seems to be a fad right now, but a witch already knows the value of amber. It is a stone (yes, not technically a stone) that has been used for ages to draw dis-ease from the body. As a healer, it promotes tissue regeneration and balances and cleanses the chakras. She is not going to need this right away, but it will go in the altar bag just the same, my first magical gift to her.    

All the things, sitting on my altar for dedication. 

Preparing a portable altar for a specific reason goes beyond just getting things that have meaning and purpose for the task. Like most magical items, you want to dedicate them: specifically state in a ritualistic way what the altar is for and why those items were chosen. This also serves to cleanse them of any previous, unrelated purpose, so all your tools and items are fully dedicated to the task at hand. Since I only just finished putting my altar together, with the exception of the amber necklaces that should be in the mail and on the way to me soon, I haven't done this yet, though some cleansing has already begun. My dedication ritual is simple, and there is no need for something elaborate and complex anyway. This final part will be completed, and the items packed away and ready, this evening. 

27 birth affirmations, to be repeated four times (this is why we count with a mala):

I will have a strong and healthy baby.
I trust my body to know how to birth this child.
I trust my instincts to know what I need in labor. 
I am a strong and capable woman.
My body was built for this.
I accept myself completely here and now. 
I feel inner peace and serenity. 
I feel the love of others around me. 
I am a powerful, loving, and creative being.
My baby knows how and when to be born.
I will breathe deeply and slowly.
I am completely relaxed and comfortable. 
I will have an uncomplicated birth. 
I will have a joyous birth.
Birth is a safe and wonderful experience.
All I need to do is relax and breathe.
Everything is going as it should. 
Inhale peace, exhale tension.
My baby is healthy. 
I know my baby feels our calmness and confidence.
I am ready and prepared for childbirth.
My job is to relax and allow the birth to happen.
I am excited to give birth to my baby.
I have courage, faith, and patience.
My courage and patience will send my baby into my arms.
I am open to the energy of birth.
I deserve this wonderful birth experience.

Some pre-birth prayers:

Mother Goddess, sitting so gently, 
I will need both gentleness and strength in the days ahead.
Aid me as I become a mother:
You know well what that means.
May I know also. 

Stand about her, servants of the Mother,
Singing the birth songs clearly
So that my baby, although deep inside, 
May learn what she must know
To do what she must do.
Go before her, Great Mother,
Open the gates, open the doors, 
Open all the ways, that the birth might be easy.

The child moves down the birth canal
On the first of her many journeys.
Mother Goddess, make her journey be smooth and safe.

Some post-birth prayers:

On this baby who rests in my arms,
Pour blessings, O Lord, pour blessings.
On this baby who rests in my arms,
Pour blessings, O Lady, pour blessings.

May the gods walk beside this child throughout her life,
Guiding her steps into the way proper to her,
Guiding her way along the sacred path.