Monday, December 19, 2011

The Year in Review

As the year winds down, many of us take time to evaluate our wins & losses in the previous twelve months.  Planning and goal setting are two ongoing challenges we all struggle with.

Try a little exercise with me to reveal how effective your planning and execution was this year, in preparation for the year to come.  Hopefully, this will help us all make the best possible choices for 2012.

Answer the following questions for yourself:

1.  What are the successes I are most proud of?
2.  What have I done to celebrate these successes?
3.  Who were the people I surrounded myself with & how have they added value to my life?
4.  Who did I meet this year that has positively impacted me in some way?
5.  What goals that are important to me did I not reach & why?
6.  Using the development opportunities available to me, how have I applied what I learned?
7.  What books & articles did I read and what did I do with that information?
8.  Who did I take the time to develop/coach and how have they benefitted from my help?
9.  What actions have I taken to better my life in some way?
10.  What strengths do I possess that I can use at a higher level next year?
11.  What do I hope to accomplish in the next twelve months?
12.  What obstacles must I work through so that I can reach my goals in 2012?

Once you have your answers down on paper, you can set yourself up for a more productive, healthy & happy new year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December Birthstone: Turquoise

Turquoise is the one of the official birth stones for the month of December.  The colour is, of course, turquoise, but its range of colour varies from green and greenish blue to sky blue shades.  The name 'turquoise' comes from a French word which means 'stone of Turkey' and is apparently related to the fact that is was brought to Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean by Levantine traders, more commonly known as Turks.

For centuries, the highest quality turquoise came from Iran (Persia) but today some specimens mined in the southwestern United States compete with it.  The Aztecs mined turquoise in an area now known as New Mexico and a significant amount of turquoise comes from Arizona, California and Nevada also.  Turquoise is one of the first gems that man began to mine.

Turquoise is one of the most valuable non-transparent minerals used in the jewelry trade.  Poorer quality turquoise is often dyed or colour stabilized with coatings of various resins.  The colour can change with exposure to skin oils if the stone has not been stabilized and therefore, jewelry should be wiped clean to deter this.

It is a sacred stone to the North American Indians, as well as, the Tibetans.  It is often used by shamans in rituals & ceremonies and said to promote mental & spiritual clarity & expansion, and to enhance wisdom, trust , kindness and understanding.  Turquoise amulets have been worn for protection on quests & journeys through the unknown and for strength.  This stone is a very personal and meaningful stone to one who wears it. Turquoise takes on the characteristics of the owner.  It is the symbol of friendship and also brings peace to the home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yule Traditions

The Sabbat of Yule is the festival that celebrates the rebirth of the sun.  Having been in decline since the summer solstice on June 21st, the sun now begins to increase in power again.  Slowly the days will get longer and banish the night's long grip on the earth.  It reminds us all that life will begin again, that everything is cyclical.

Christmas is an adaptation of the pagan festival.  The early Church Fathers found it difficult to stamp out long-held pagan beliefs so they appropriated the holidays along with their customs and gave them a new twist.  Many of the pagan traditions still survive as elements of the Christian holiday.

Decorating the home with evergreen, is used as a reminder of the return of the growing season.   Holly with berries had a dual significance, the red symbolising the resting Mother, while the dark green of the holly symbolising the Holly King who has ruled since the summer solstice.  Mistletoe is another plant used in decoration with strong pagan origins. The plant was seen as magical because it is said to grow beneath the earth and the sky and is not rooted in the ground.  Place a robin in your Yuletide decorations. The robin is one of the many birds with very strong pagan associations.

Just as Yule marks the death of the Holly King, it also marks the birth of the Oak King.  They perpetually strive for superiority, with the Holly King being victorious over the Oak King at midwinter and the Oak King winning in midsummer.  They are seen as personifications of Light and Dark, as both are needed for the growth of plants.

Many people go out to watch the sun rise on the winter solstice on December 21st. This is to welcome the Oak King.  Stand facing East and call upon the Goddess and the God to be with you.  As the sun rises, give thanks for the return of the light and warmth. Then, you could make a wish and dedicate it to the returning sun. Ask it to empower you so that you can achieve what you have asked for. If you can, look for a stone or a twig, something that catches your attention that you can keep with you as a symbol of the promise you have decided to make.

The Yule Log is not the chocolate covered Swiss roll of modern times but a real log. Onto this log, candles are placed to represent each member of your family or coven.  The candles (red, green or white) symbolise the return of the days with increasing light.  Of course, traditionally the Yule Log was kept and would be burned on the following year.  Once the ashes were cold they were gathered into powerful amulets, or scattered throughout the garden & fields to ensure fertility & bounty in the coming year.  But because so few of us live in environments that allow for open fires, the chocolate Yule Log may be more practical.  After the candles are lit and the wishes made, the log can be cut and eaten.

Light a Yule candle, preferably gold or golden orange in colour. Prepare it by dedicating it to the rising sun and the days of increasing light. This can be done by stroking the candle from the centre to the end while visualising the sun.  Ideally, the candle should be lit before sunrise on the first day of increasing light and allowed to burn out on it's own.  However, for practical reasons, a candle should never be left unattended, so you can light the candle for a few minutes and then put it out.  Do not blow out the candle; use a candle snuff for this purpose. Re-light the candle every day after the Solstice, remembering why we celebrate this festival until it is gone.

It probably is from the Roman Saturnalia, a celebration for the god of agriculture, held around the time of the winter solstice that the ancient yule traditions of the free exchange of gifts, the making and giving of small presents, and the spirit of revelry have been derived.  People feasted, drank, and danced in honor of the return of the sun, the god of light and new life.

Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Personal Prayer Beads: The Journey to Completion

What process does one go through when creating personal prayer beads?  Well, I know but I don't know....not exactly.  Part of it is pre-planning, for sure.  There's a lot of thinking about the elements, dieties, ideals, colours, etc. that are important to you and that you want to incorporate.  A lot of the process, however, just 'happens' once you've done the intellectual work.  Through meditation & 'not' thinking about it, a design will emerge and you will 'know' that it is right for you.

Searching for the beads & charms you envision in your head can be both fun & frustrating.  There may be times that you have to compromise a bit.  You will not always find exactly what you are looking for but don't loose sight of your create a set of prayer beads that have special meaning to you.  Take the time you need to find the elements you desire.  It's not a race, it's a journey.

Here are some of my rambling thoughts & impressions that resulted in the prayer bead set pictured here....

I chose amethyst beads, beautiful dark purple ones, as the predominent beads for my strand.  Amethyst has long been used to open the spiritual and psychic centres, making it one of the power stones.   It symbolizes piety, humility, sincerity and spiritual wisdom.  And besides, purple is my favourite colour.  Yes, sometimes it's that simple.

I feel a great affinity & connection to the cycle of the seasons, so I included single beads to represent them.  The green aventurine for spring & new growth, yellow jade for summer & sunny flowers, peach aventurine for autumn & the changing leaves, and white jade for winter & the blanket of snow that covers the fields.  These four beads also symbolize the four directions (north, east, south & west) and the four elements (earth, air, fire & water).

There are five amethyst beads between each of the seasons beads for a total of twenty-five.  Why?  I'm not really sure...I just know that ever since I was a child the numbers 5 and 25 have been two of my favourites.  It just seemed 'right' to include them somehow in my bead set.  My other favourite number, twelve, is represented in the green, yellow, orange & white beads....4 seasons + 4 directions + 4 elements = 12.

The 'drop' portion of the set starts with a round, open-work, sterling silver bead to represent the Divine Universal Power which I have no specific name for at this time but absolutely know exists.  The faceted rose quartz heart represents love in all it's of self, love of family, love of friends, love of strangers, love of of all things. 

The triskele charm symbolizes all aspects of theTriple Goddess; the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone...the sacred feminine.  This ancient Celtic symbol also represents the three Celtic Worlds....the Otherworld, where spirits, gods and goddesses live; the Mortal World, where you and I live along with plants and animals; and the Celestial World, where unseen energies live and move the forces of the sun, the moon, the wind and water.

This set of prayer beads will be my 'everyday' beads...the ones that I will carry with me at all times...the ones that I will pray and meditate with daily...the ones that will provide comfort & strength to ground me when the world around me is going haywire (as it often does).  Each time I hold them a sense of calm envelopes me and the spiritual energies flow through me.  It's an incredible physical sensation that fills my whole being.  I can't really find the words to describe it.

So, this has been my journey in creating my own personal prayer beads.  I hope that your journey is as rewarding as mine has been.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Symbolism: The Peace Sign

Having grown up in the 'hippie era', a Peace sign seemed like a good choice for a pendant to hang from the personal prayer bead set I'm creating for myself.  Being an inquisitive person, I decided to look up a bit about the history of the symbol.  What I found out surprised and shocked me!  Being curious, it seems, is not always a good thing.

The internationally recognized symbol for peace was created for the nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom, a British artist & designer, in 1958.  It is meant to be a representation from the naval code of semaphore for the letters N & D, superimposed on top of each other.  The outer circle represents the concept of 'total' or 'complete' and surrounds the N & D to signify 'Total or Complete Nuclear Disarmanent'.

However, to my chagrin, I found that this same symbol has a very dark past, much older than that.  It was used by Hitler's 3rd Panzer Division from 1941 - 1945 on their regimental badge, seen to the left.  Many Soviet, Polish & Hungarian people, having suffered atrocities under the Nazis, must certainly have struggled with it's use as a way to communicate peace.  The symbol can be found on the tombstones of many of Hitler's SS troops also.

There are numerous associations with Satanism & as a symbol of a 'broken Jew' or 'broken cross' from as early as the first century A.D.  The Emperor Nero, who despised Christians, crucified the Apostle Peter on a cross head downward. Today, heavy metal lyrics & imagery use it to communicate anti-Christian sentiments.  It has been used to support communism & the 'anti-God' movement for many years.  The founder of the Church of Satan depicted it on the backdrop for his altar.

Holtom was horrified when he discovered that the peace symbol had such a long history of hatred & despair.  He tried to encourage it to be turned upside down, as illustrated by the picture on the left. When the peace symbol is inverted the letter "N" becomes the semaphore code for "U" which could mean 'universal' disarmament or  'unilateral' disarmament.

With this unsavoury past, can I still use the 'peace sign' as a symbol of peace & love on my prayer beads?  What's more significant, the history of it or my personal, long standing perception of its meaning?  A perception that has now been tainted.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Pray With Beads

No matter what faith or tradition you practice, the use of beads to pray is a journey into mysterious realms, full of contradictions.  You will be traveling by yourself but never be alone. You will go somewhere while sitting perfectly still.  It will be a journey of words conducted in near silence.    You will have gone away, without leaving where you are.  The beads are the journey.  The number & configuration of the beads is not important.  The intention behind them is crucial.  

Learning to pray contemplatively with beads takes practice.  There are a few simple steps that will help put you into the right state of mind....

1.  Find a quiet place where you can be alone & undisturbed.
2.  Sit still for a few moments in silence.
3.  Narrow your circle of attention, only to your breath.
4.  Breathe in & out slowly, lowering your heart rate & calming your body.
5.  Spend a few minutes in quiet reflection.
6.  When you are calm & still, pick up your beads.

You may want to have an icon or picture that induces a peaceful state in front of you.  Don't think about what you're praying about, rather focus on what you're praying for.  Keep the idea of it in your head.  Feel it as you pray.  Thinking will take you out of the mysterious realm of prayer & bring you back to the mundane world of demands & obligations. 

The beads will help you direct your attention to the task.  Rotating the beads between your fingers will anchor you to the words of the prayer.  Your prayers should be deeply felt statements of faith, praise & joy that will keep you emotionally attached to your intention.

Contemplative prayer will not come readily, so be patient with yourself.  It's hard to shut out the noise of everyday life with all its complications.  It won't be easy in the beginning but with time & persistence it will come.  The results will be well worth it.  I promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What is an Inukshuk?

The Inukshuk is a familiar sight on the vast Arctic landscape.  These mysterious stone figures come in different forms for a variety of purposes: as a navigational or directional aid; to mark a place of respect or memorial for a beloved person; or where food can be found.

They were built by the Inuit as guideposts to make the easier & safer for those who follow.  It took many hands and the co-operation of the entire group to construct these massive stone structures.  Each stone is a separate entity but each supports the one above and the one below it.  No single piece is any more or less important then the rest. 

The Inukshuk embodies the spirit and persistence of the Inuit who live and flourish in Northern Canada, one of the world's harshest environments.  They symbolize what the focused action of a group, with a concensous of purpose, can achieve.

Finely crafted pewter Inukshuk pendants are now available from Jasper Moon in three different styles....

Stylized Inukshuk, with Gem

Stylized Inukshuk, without Gem

Primitive Inukshuk

Each pendant is hand-cast & individually finished by a Canadian artisan in Ontario.  The photos don't do them justice.  I love them all but still can't decide which one is my favourite.  Which one do you like best?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weekend Craft Show

I attended a fabulous craft show on the weekend.  It was well organized & executed, professionally staged & advertised.  I spent two days there selling my wares.  Well, I was 'showing' them anyway.  Sales were less than stellar for the second year in a row.  Unfortunately, I had to tell them I will not be back next year.  That makes me sad because I'd really like to do the show again.  It's a nice change from the outdoor events I vend at in late spring, summer & early autumn.  I can't keep losing money on it though, that just doesn't make economic sense. 

I made plenty of changes this year by increasing my product offering and upgrading my presentation. Looking at the photos now, I can see where improvements can still be made. 

Leg risers were added to the tables to lift them six inches higher off the ground making it easier fo customers to look at things without having to bend over but I really need to have longer tablecloths that will hide the bins & boxes underneath.

The character hats made by my friend really pulled the customers in.  That's why I placed them front & centre like that in the first place.  Once people stopped, most at least walked in & looked at the rest of my offerings.

Nice display boxes brought the whole presentation up a notch or two also.  Having products at different heights kept the eyes flowing across the table.

I know that I still have a lot of work to do if I ever hope to break into the indoor craft market in a big way.  I'm open for suggestions.  Please comment if you have any.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Prayer Beads & Lady Godiva?

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman in the 11th century A.D. who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband (Leofric, Earl of Mercia) on his tenants.  Did this actually happen or not?  Scholars are still debating that. 

According to the popular story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation.  She appealed again & again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls.  At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town.

So, Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as 'Peeping Tom', disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism.  In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see her pass, and is struck blind.  In the end, Lady Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry on the site of a nunnery destroyed by the Danes in 1016.  In her will (c. 1075), Lady Godiva bequeathed to the monastery she & her husband had founded, “a circlet of gems that she had threaded on a string, in order that by fingering them one by one as she recited her prayers, she might not fall short of the exact number.”  They were to be hung on the statue of 'Our Layde of Coventry' (Virgin Mary) after her death.

Although there are earlier legends regarding St. Anthony and the counting of prayers with pebbles in the 3rd century A.D., as well as, a string of beads preserved in Belgium that is said to have been buried with the saintly Abbess Gertrude (d. 659)....Lady Godiva's will is the first written record to be found in England.  Clearly, the use of beads to count prayers is likely much older than that. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: Pagan Prayer Beads

Another book that I've found very useful is 'Pagan Prayer Beads: Magic and Meditation With Pagan Rosaries' by John Michael Greer & Clare Vaughn.  Like the book I introduced to you last time, this one contains many similar elements - symbolism, materials available, construction tips, along with suggested uses & rituals.

What I particularly like about this book are the detailed instructions for bead strands to make for specific traditions - Druid Revival, Celtic Reconstructionism and Wicca.  It also contains ideas for designing many 'special purpose' rosaries - for ancestors, individual dieties, memorial beads and much more.  It will certainly get your creative mind & imagination working.

This book is a must-have for anyone interested in designing, making and using prayer beads.  I refer to it often.

November Birthstone: Citrine

The traditional birthstone for November is citrine.  The name citrine comes from an old French word, 'citrin', meaning lemon.  One of the more rare forms of quartz, this gemstone ranges in color from the palest yellow to dark amber.

Perhaps because of its scarcity, there is little mention of citrine used as a gemstone prior to the first century B.C.  The Romans were thought to be the first to wear the yellow quartz, crafting it into highly polished cabochons and set into jewelry.  Citrine became more popular during the Romantic Period, when artisans often favoured these warm colored gems to enhance gold jewelry.

Most citrine is mined in Brazil, but other sources of the quartz are Bolivia and Madagascar.  Almost all citrine that is available on the market today is heat-treated amethyst.  Natural citrine is pale yellow to pale orange, much lighter than the heat-treated material which is dark orange-brown to reddish-brown.  The heat-treated material has a red tint, while natural citrine does not.

Citrine, like all forms of quartz, was believed to have magical powers and was worn as a talisman against evil thoughts and snake venom.  It was also considered to have medicinal properties and was commonly used as a remedy for urinary and kidney ailments.  A gift of citrine is symbolic for hope and strength.  With its sunny brightness, this gemstone is ideal for helping anyone to get through the tough times in life!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: A String & A Prayer

One of the best prayer bead books I've come across is 'A String & A Prayer - How to Make and Use Prayer Beads' by Eleanor Wiley & Maggie Oman Shannon.  It begins with a brief history of prayer beads, and moves to a chapter on creating personal meaning with symbolism, then to construction tips & tricks.  From there it goes to a section about how to use prayer beads and concluding with a series of meditations for various traditions.  I highly recommend the book to anyone wanting to explore prayer beads on a path to spiritual growth. 

See on of my favourite meditations from the book below......

Today, I remember that I am One with all.

Earth, ground and nurture me.
And connect me to the Divine Mother
Who loves and protects all her children.
Divine Mother, send your blessing of comfort and protection to....

(using the prayer beads, mention names of persons, groups, projects or nation)

Air, breathe life into me.
And connect me to the Great Spirit
Who inspires all and dwells in all.
Great Spirit, send your blessing of inspiration and serenity to...

(using the prayer beads, mention names of persons, groups, projects or nation)

Fire, enflame me with passion.
And connect me to the God/Goddess of Compassion
Who equally embraces and supports all.
God/Goddess of Compassion, send your blessing of mercy and joy to....

(using the prayer beads, mention names of persons, groups, projects or nation)

Water, cleanse and empower me.
And connect me to the Source of Life
Who flows in all and through all.
Source of Life, send your blessing of refreshment and abundance to...

(using the prayer beads, mention names of persons, groups, projects or nation)

Today I am grateful that I am One with All.

---adapted from a traditional Buddhist loving-kindness mediation by Barbara Rose Billings

Personalized Prayer Beads

John Becket is an engineer, Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist trying to shape his core beliefs into a consistent and meaningful theology & practice.  He is the Co-ordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

He has always been interested in prayer beads, even as a young child, but as his family were strict Baptists they wanted nothing to do with anything that could be considered or associated with anything 'Catholic'.  Hmmm, isn't that a familiar tune to me?  I get the same kind of opposition all the time.

Earlier this year, there was a guest preacher at his Untarian Universalist church who handed out small strings of four beads to everyone in the congregation.  She walked them through a little prayer bead exercise.  This re-sparked John's interest in them and he figured out how he could use them in his own practice.

I like his method for creating a personalized strand of prayer beads.  He began by making a list of all the people, dieties & things he wanted to pray for, to or about each day.  This included his family members, ancestors, Nature spirits, peace, justice, etc.  He also wanted to add a bead for each of the four Elements / Directions, as well as, three more for death, birth and the mystery in between.

My First Set of Meditation Beads

Once you have them all written down, you can begin to select beads for each individual item on your list.  My list will be different than your list.  Follow your own heart and practice when selecting what to include in your prayer beads.  Choose each bead to reflect the person, diety or thing you will be praying for.  No two beads will be the same.  You can include as many or as few as you desire on your strand.

John's Pagan Prayer Beads

I've found prayer beads to be an excellent tool on my spiritual journey.  As John says, 'If you want to make prayer a regular part of your daily practice but you're having trouble being consistent about it, I highly recommend prayer beads'.  He has chosen to pray with his beads six times a day.  Again, the frequency you choose to use yours may be different.  The important thing is to do it on a regular basis, the same time each day will help form a habit.

I look forward to hearing about your exploration and creation of a bead strand, as I will be sharing mine with you.  Happy journey!

For John's blog posting on this subject, click here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prayer Beads Are For Everyone

When I first resurrected 'Jasper Moon' from its previous incarnation, my goal was to bring prayer beads to matter what tradition they followed.  I was inspired by the difference a simple set of meditation beads made in my own experience & spiritual life. 

Who knew that I would run into such opposition?  The very mention of prayer beads, however, brought forth scores of negative images of the Catholic rosary & church to most people's minds.  They immediately shut down and stopped listening.  I could not break through the prejudice.

What most don't seem willing or able to understand & acknowledge is that prayer beads were around long before the Christian church was established.  Various traditions in India have been using them to count prayers & meditate since 1000 BC.  The Buddhists adopted the practice from there and spread the use of prayer beads to China, Tibet and Japan.  As the monks wandered to other lands, they introduced them to the Muslims & Christians.

Tree of Life Prayer Beads - Exclusive Design of Jasper Moon

I began by offering workshops at pagan events to introduce the concept of designing & using personalized prayer beads to reflect individual belief systems.  I only had modest success with that venture.  Discouraged, I set aside my idealized vision, and moved to making & selling other products that people could & would use and relate cloak clasps & Tree of Life pendants.

The flame of my desire to spread the concept of using prayer beads has never left me though.  In the next few weeks, I plan to share information & ideas with you that will help you understand & embrace them.  I hope you will open your hearts & minds to them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

5 Tips to Success in the Craft Market

1.  It is important to maintain a physical separation between your work and your personal life.  This often difficult when you are trying to launch a small craft business.  While an off-site space to work would be optimal, many crafters must work in their homes.  In these circumstances, business is on your mind from the minute you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night, unless you're really disciplined and can get up & walk away from it.  A dedicated work area will be the best option for most people starting out and when you leave that space, you must be able to leave 'work' behind.  You need your personal time & space to help you gain some perspective, relax your mind & body and to renew your creative energy.

2.  Take advantage of the opportunities to learn from fellow crafters.  Attend as many craft shows as you can, either as a vendor or a 'buyer', and talk to the other crafters there.  You will find that people are more than willing to share what they know with you...where the good shows are, where to find supplies and give you plenty of ideas on how to market your business.  Plug yourself into the craft networks available through social media outlets, Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, etc., and start building your fan base.

3.  Don't be afraid to change your direction.  If what you are making doesn't sell, revamp your product line or change mediums altogether.  Explore all your options, leave no stone unturned.  You are not a complete failure if your first idea does not turn out as you hoped or expected.  You've just found one way that doesn't work.  You've gained new knowledge & vital lessons to apply to your next venture.

4.  Experiment with techniques that are popular with other crafts.  Don't get 'boxed in' to a specific way of doing things.  Keep your mind & your eyes open.  Look at mixed media techniques to find new methods or supplies.  Your evolution as an artist is a never-ending journey.  Take classes with teachers that you admire and use their techniques, not their finished products, to keep your line fresh.  Look for books & magazines to inspire you.

5.  Adjust your business model to conform to economic realities & changing trends.  Success at craft shows can lead to selling your product lines wholesale to retail outlets.  You may eventually find that you do not need to do craft shows anymore, or that sales in those venues have dwindled off to the point that you need to look for other avenues.  Some crafters run very successful online businesses, either from their own website or sites like Etsy which is an online market for handcrafters.  If you have a website, make sure it is current & updated frequently.  Look for every opportunity to gain exposure for your work and make sure you have a bit of fun along the way!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Birthstone: Opal

October's birthstone treats the eye to an explosion of shimmering colors, much like those of a magnificent rainbow following a summer rain.  The opal is prized for its unique ability to refract & reflect specific wavelengths of light and derives its name from the Latin word 'opalus' meaning precious jewel.  One legendary explanation for this gemstone's origin is that it fell from heaven in a flash of fiery lightning. 

Ancient monarchs treasured opals, both for their beauty and for their presumed protective powers.  They were set into crowns and worn in necklaces to ward off evil and to protect the eyesight.  These gemstones were ground up & ingested for their healing properties and to ward off nightmares.  They are said to help recall past lives.

Most of the world's opal deposits are found in Southern Australia and are 50-65 million years old, dating back to the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Other sources of this gemstone are Brazil, Mexico, Czechoslovakia and Nevada. 

This gemstone actually contains up to 30% water, so it must be protected from heat or harsh chemicals, both of which will cause drying and may lead to cracking and loss of iridescence.  Opal must also be guarded from blows, since it is relatively soft and breaks easily.  Quality opals are very expensive, made more so by the caution that must be exercised in cutting, polishing and setting it into jewelry.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Upcoming Event: Harvestfest - October 7-10, 2011

Harvestfest provides a warm and friendly environment for members of the Pagan and Heathen communities to gather for the purpose of shared learning, ritual, workshops and fellowship in a wonderful outdoor woodland setting.  The event is held on the grounds of the Mansfield Outdoor Centre located about 1 hour north or Toronto and west of Barrie.  The central theme of Harvestfest centres on the creation of an effigy of the Corn King, and culminates in his sacrifice during the main ritual.

The Corn King, HarvestFest 2009

Jasper Moon & The Chain Mail Guy will be there, and as we have at other events this year, we will be accepting Canadian Tire money towards any purchase in our booth.  We always carry a variety of products, something to interest everyone.  Drop by to see us if you are attending this event.  I look forward to spending time with old friends and meeting some new ones too!

For more information go to the Harvestfest website.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Formula For Life: E + R = O

Believe it or not, this formula can change the course of your life...


While we can only control the events in our life to a certain extent, we can ALWAYS control our respone to them which will in turn affect the outcome.  Let's look at a simple example.

Jack & Charlie are driving to work along the same highway when they encounter a traffic stoppage.  Neither one can see what happened, the obstruction is too far ahead.  They are literally parked on the highway with nowhere to go and no way to get off.

Jack shrugs his shoulders, puts the car in park and turns up the radio.  He's tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, singing along to the tunes and dancing in his seat.  He's enjoying the music and using the time to chill out a bit.

Charlie is tapping on his steering wheel too but for a very different reason.  He's frustrated by the delay, getting more angry & agitated by the minute.  He even starts hollering at whatever idiot ahead is causing the hold up!  His blood pressure is steadily rising.

They finally get moving again, off the highway and arrive at work.  Suprisingly, they are only ten minutes later than usual.  Jack comes in calm & non-chalant about the incident but Charlie walks in stressed out & fuming.

Which one of these guys do you think is going to have a better day?  Even if they work at the same place and experience the same set of circumstances, they are likely to perceive them in a totally different way if their earlier reactions are typical for each of them.

This same logic can be applied to all the events in your life - good or bad, happy or sad.  By controlling the way you respond to them, you can alter the outcome.

Will you select the response that will bring you happiness or the response that brings you misery?  I know what I prefer to do.  How about you?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Visually Mapping Your Ideas

How do you translate your creative thoughts into the tactile elements you want to include in your art jewelry?  What process is involved?  It's not as easy as you may think it should be.

First, try to visually map your stream of conciousness, writing down on paper the ideas associated with the theme you want to emanate in your piece.  Start with the images that come to mind.  Add the words or phrases, colours & textures, materials & techniques and emotions that are evoked.

When finalizing your design, select the components for your piece by pulling information directly from your visual map.  Take your notes to the store with you when you go to buy what you need.  

Don't get discouraged when the materials you want are not be readily available in your local area.  This can be really frustrating, I know, but do your best to stick with your original concept or idea. 

You may, at times, have to adapt or modify your design a bit as you go.  Or you may be able to find just the right item online or in a little antique shop you visit on your next vacation.

Don't give up and don't compromise your vision.  Set the project aside until you do find the right components.  They will come along when you least expect it.  Good luck on your artistic travels!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jewelry Challenge: Haunted Vintage Jewelry

I found this 'challenge' online this week in a free weekly e-newsletter I'm subscribed to, devoted to home jewelry business success tips.  Here is the challenge...create a piece of jewelry that somehow embodies the concepts of both 'haunted' and 'vintage'.

After you finish your piece, share photos of your creation on the challenge page and tell a bit about it....

- What's the story behind this design?
- What components did you use, and what inspired you to use them?
- What was your process of creating this piece?

You can add the URL of your website, blog or online storefront at the end of your story. The challenge closes on October 23, 2011 at midnight.  It's not a contest, there is no prize given.  It simply sounds like a fun idea, don't you think?

I've been contemplating trying out some new techniques to create a piece to share.  I'm looking at using shrink plastic, which I've never done before, to make a unique pendant and creating a mixed media necklace using leather lacing, organza ribbon, beads & wire-work.  It's still very much in the planning stages and it will evolve as I go along but it's got my creative spirit in gear.

If you want to check it out the e-newsletter, click here.  For the challenge, click here.  I can't wait to see what people come up with!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Creating a Brand

I've been putting some thought into 'branding' recently, both for my company and my product.  What steps do I need to take and what elements do I need to include to establish myself as a 'known entity'?

Let's first define 'brand' and 'branding'...

Brand: a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer

Branding: the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand

Here are some of my initial thoughts on what I need to do...

A mission statement is probably a good place to start.  What does your company want to do, how do you want to do it, where do you want to do it, why do you want to do it and how do you want to do it?  Make it short & sweet, clearly understandable to all.  Do I currently have a definitive mission statement?  No, but I'm thinking I should start working on that right now.

I believe that having a customized logo is very important.  That's why I asked an artist friend of mine to create one for me last year.  I'd been using a free fairy clipart that I'd found online.  It was more cartoon-like than classy & grown-up.  See my current logo to the left and my old one below...

Big difference, eh?  It's the same basic theme (a fairy on the moon) but the impact is much more dramatic with the new logo, I think.  Your logo should be unique & easily identifiable.  When people see it, they will think of you.
It is my opinion that you need good quality business cards.  My first cards were purchased from an online printing company, and while they totally served my purpose when I started out, I quickly learned that I needed to step it up a bit if I wanted to reach a more sophisticated audience.

Next, I believe there needs to be consistency across the board.  Your logo & colour scheme should be reflected on your business cards, flyers, website, blog & wherever else you have a presence; facebook, etsy, craft shows, etc.  This blog will be definitely be getting a much needed facelift to bring it in line with my company colour soon as I can figure out how to do it.

Have a core set of products that customers 'know' you for.  That brings some repeat business, but even more importantly, referrals.  I can't tell you how many times people have stopped in our booth and told me that their friend had told them to come over to see what we had.  The products, for me, that would be 'core products' are the Tree of Life pendants and cloak clasps. 
It's still important to continually bring in or create new products to keep your customers coming back....just to see what delightful treats you have this time....but they should complement or enhance your core products.

I certainly will be put putting some more time & thought into this branding issue in the next few weeks.  I think there is real value in establishing your company and your work in this way.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

History is All Around Us

I've been a history buff for as long as I can remember, and that's a LOT of years.  How many people really put a lot of thought into it though?  Look around...history is all around us.

What was happening 100 years or more ago on the ground you are standing on right now?  How did your town gets its name?  Where did the street names in your neighbourhood come from?  A little bit of research online or at your local library can provide you with a wealth of interesting information.

Here's some of the information I've discovered about the town where I grew up....

The main street was originally planned by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe as a military road from York (Toronto) to Fort Penetanguishene.  Surveying began in the spring of 1794 but the road was not fully opened until early 1796.  Although Yonge Street was conceived as a military road, the possibilities for settlement along its length were obvious.

The village of Richmond Hill began about 1801 when Abner Miles, an innkeeper and merchant from York, settled on the lots each side of Yonge Street at Major Mackenzie Drive. He established an inn, store, and ashery, thus creating a nucleus for future development. On his death in 1806 his son James inherited his lands, eventually donating land for the Presbyterian Church and a school.

Above:  Home built by James Miles (son of Abner Miles) at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive, as it looked in 1885. The home was occupied for many years by Miles' nephew James Playter Jr., and later by the Boyle family.  Unfortunately, the house is no longer there.

By 1830, the name 'Richmond Hill' had become well established.  The village was known briefly as Miles Hill and then Mount Pleasant.  According to popular history, 'Richmond Hill' may have come from a visit of the Duke of Richmond to the area, in 1819.  However, the family of Benjamin Barnard believed that the name was adopted when their father taught his school classes to sing "The Lass of Richmond Hill", a favourite song from his childhood in Richmond, Surrey.

This is only the tip of the information I've found.  There is so much more to discover.  It might not be the most exciting stuff to you but I love history!  You'll have to excuse me now, I'm off to do more research.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Peaceful Santuary

Are you weary & discouraged from trying to keep up with everything you think you need & have to?  This modern life we call 'normal' is not normal at all.  It's not designed to help us have happier or more meaningful lives, or even a more productive one.  Do we really have an option though?  I think we do.

You won't be able to shut out everything, I agree, but you don't have to fight every battle either, especially when they are not your own.  Don't surrender your sanity to someone else's insanity.  You can choose to create a separate peace for yourself.

How do you manage this?  Quite simply, find or create a place to retreat.  A refuge where you can rest and renew yourself before returning to the fray. 

This place could be a comfortable chair in the corner with soft lighting, perhaps some candles burning to the side, and a good book.  Step through the pages to another world, a simpler world, a more peaceful world.

Your retreat could be a long walk in the woods listening to the sounds of nature.  Take along your binoculars and bird watching guide.  Turn your cell phone off, guilt free.  Absorb the ambience.

Your place of retreat will be different from mine, the specifics don't really matter.  As long as the place or activity gives you a chance to unwind, that inspires & challenges you.  Make it beautiful, use it often.

Learn to say 'yes' only to things that matter, and 'no' to whatever gets in the way of that 'yes'.  You will ultimately find yourself more energized and productive.  Peace and calm will settle into your life.  It's a peace worth seeking.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fibber McGee's Closet & The Thing In The Hall

I drove home from work a different way yesterday and found myself passing by the property where my grandparents' house used to be.  A flood of fond memories washed into my head.  One thing in particular came to mind.

There was a closet in the small hallway next to the bathroom of that old house that my grandmother called 'Fibber McGee's Closet'.  I remember that it had all kinds of cool stuff in it.  If something wasn't somewhere else, it was in there.  As a child, I had no idea why it was called 'Fibber McGee's Closet' and I didn't think to question it.

I have since learned that back in the 1940's and 50's there was a weekly radio show called Fibber McGee and Molly.  McGee kept everything, he never threw anything away. Where did he keep all that stuff that was either "too good to throw away" or that he "might need some day"?  In his closet, of course! 

At some point during each show, McGee would go looking for something in his closet.  It was a recurring gag where he or someone else would open the closet and everything would fall out on top of them.  He'd eventully find exactly what he was looking for, including some obscure and unusual things.

I have a closet like that in my house.  It contains bedding, towels, glassware, fabric, holiday decorations, lightbulbs, matches, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, dolls and who knows what else!  Maybe I should start calling it 'Fibber McGee's Closet' too.  *smile*

Also in my house, interestingly enough in the hall by the bathroom, stands what my mother called the 'Thing In The Hall'.  The 'thing' is actually a tall, narrow chest of drawers.  Inside you will find batteries, new toothbrushes, sewing supplies, patterns, tissue paper, extension cords, appliance manuals, yarn, knitting needles, safety pins, hair brushes, old eyeglasses, scotch tape and tons of other stuff too. 

If Fibber McGee had had a 'Thing In The Hall', I bet it would have been much like mine.....a junk drawer gone wild!  *smile*

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Birthstone: Sapphire

Sapphire is the birthstone for the month of September.  It is the non-red variety of corundum (the red variety of corundum is ruby).  A 9.0 on the Mohs scale of hardness, sapphire is the second hardest natural mineral.  It is one of the four most precious gemstones (the other three being, diamond, ruby and emerald).

Blue is by far the most popular color for sapphires, but they can be found in many other colours, including yellow, green, white, colourless, pink, orange, brown, and purple.  Sapphire has been mined in Sri Lanka, since the 7th century.  It is also found in Australia, China, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.  Sapphires are commonly heated to improve their color and reduce cloudiness that is caused by rutile inclusions. The rutile inclusions are responsible for the "star" or "cat's eye" in star sapphires. 

There was a notion in ancient times, that the Earth is set on sapphire, and hence, the sky is blue. It is also believed that the Ten Commandments, were written on sapphire.  The ancient Egyptians associated sapphire with the 'eye of Horas' (the eye in the sky).  It was also popular amongst the Romans, for its beauty.  Sapphire was worn by kings, as it was believed to possess the property of wisdom.  Priests wore it because it was also said to symbolize purity. 

The sapphire helps bring spiritual enlightenment and inner peace.  It is believed to offer healing properties for rheumatism, colic, and mental illness.  It is also considered an antidepressant and an aid to psycho-kinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance and astral projection.  Long ago, it was used as an antidote for poison and as a cure for a number of illnesses.

Sapphire is associated with physical and emotional balance.  Attributes like wisdom, purity and sympathy are linked with sapphire.  It also stands for the qualities of loyalty, faithfulness, truth, sincerity, constancy and reliability.  Therefore, it signifies long term relationships.  Sapphire also said to inspire clarity of thoughts and improve problem solving capacity.  It is said to protect the possessor from evil thoughts.  It is also believed that sapphire strengthens the power of intuition.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August Birthstone: Peridot

Peridot is the official birthstone for the month of August.  Gem quality peridot comes from Arizona, Burma, Norway, islands in the Red Sea, Hawaii and is sometimes found in meteorites. It has been mined as a gemstone for over 3000 years, and is even mentioned in the Bible under the name of Chrysolite. 

The earliest known peridot mine was on the island that is now known as St. John’s Island, about fifty miles outside Egypt.  Legend says that peridot was one of the favorite gemstones of Cleopatra and that some of the 'emeralds' worn by her were actually peridot.

Pirates really respected the peridot. They wore it as a protection from evil spirits but to be effective against it had to be strung on donkey hair and worn on the left wrist. Peridot was also said to ward off nightmares and evil spirits in the night if one slept with it beneath the pillow.

Peridot is a clear, transparent green stone, ranging in hue from the vibrant green of spring grass to the muddy deep hues of an olive. The more clear and vibrant the green, the more valued the stone is considered. Because of the particular refractive properties of peridot, the stone has a velvety appearance rather than the fiery sparkle of an emerald.

Wearing a peridot is believed to promote peace of mind & calmness and to heal depression & mental illness.  Peridot is considered to be a tonic for the entire body rather than being associated with any particular system of the body.  In days gone by, medicines were often served in cups of peridot because it was believed that peridot enhanced the healing properties of the medicines.

The stone is said to promote openness in relationships, warmth, friendliness and love making it an ideal stone to be exchanged between friends to promote a long and healthy friendship. It is also the official gemstone of the first wedding anniversary, when love is still young – green and growing like a spring plant.

Capitalize on Your Strengths, Don't Focus on Your Weaknesses

A very smart man keeps reminding me that I should do that.  Stop commiserating about what I can't do (or do anymore) and concentrate on what I'm good at.  So, what am I good at?  What are the strengths & talents that I should be capitalizing on?

For the purpose of the audio book I'm currently listening to, a strength is any activity where you exhibit consistent, near perfect performance.  I could not take the online test associated with the book because I purchased it second-hand at a thrift store.  The web access code had already been use, presumably by the original owner.

I did, however, find a free online test very similar to the original.  The RichardStep Strengths Finder (RSSF) Test attempts to provide a way of pinpointing your preferred patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.  The questions are based on the data from the book I'm listening to.  According to the results of this test, here are my top 5 strengths....

1.  Belief (95%):
People strong in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values
emerges a defined purpose for their life.

2.  Input (90%):
People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive
all kinds of information.

3.  Positivity (90%):
People strong in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and
can get others excited about what they are going to do.

4.  Woo (90%):
People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over.
They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

5.  Responsibility (90%):
People strong in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will
do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

Okay, that does sound a lot like me, I think.  I was surprised that some of the other identified strengths did not come up higher than they did in the results but this is not an exact science, I'm sure.  The ones that stand out most in my mind are....

•  Learner (75%): People strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

•  Focus (75%): People strong in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.

•  Communication (65%): People strong in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

•  Discipline (60%): People strong in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.

Perhaps I don't know myself as well as I thought I did.  So, where do I go from here?  I guess that I have to figure out how to capitalize on my top 5 strengths, as identified above, and learn to work around my weaknesses.  I must try to maximize those strengths, using them to my best advantage, and stop attempting to fix my weaknesses. 

Looks like I have some work to do.  *smile*