Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Very First Stained Glass Class

Shalom, chaverim! I'm excited to say that I have now completed my first stained glass class and even made my own tiny little project. Elul and I went up to the beautiful--achingly beautiful, in fact--city of Vancouver, British Columbia, yesterday, and I had a lesson with a lovely man named Shane Edwards.

I connected with Shane via Craiglist, and from his picture, talking to him on the phone, and exchanging a few emails, I felt pretty secure that he wasn't going to be some kind of ax murderer. Elul wasn't so sure, however, so he came with me to Shane's front door just to sniff around protectively, so to speak. Everything seemed fine (and it was), so he took off for a couple of hours while I took my class. As it turns out, Elul wisely spent the time getting a wonderful chair massage in some neighborhood where they had lots of old Asian men offering chair massages and reflexology treatments.

The class was terrific. Shane spelled things out very clearly and had me do each step of the work myself, which boosted my confidence. We started out by picking pieces that we were going to use for our respective pieces, out of a pile of off-cuts from previous projects. After assembling them into the shape I wanted--in this case a kind of representational tulip form--I drew an outline around each piece so I could remember how to assemble them when it came time to solder.

Shane Allen, ready to teach me stained glass. Apologies for the unfocused shot; my camera lens is acting up!

Then, it was time to file some of the rough edges on the pieces, and then wrap each one with copper foil around the edges of each piece of glass. This was a lovely activity--about as engaging as knitting, without the need to count stitches--and gave Shane and I a chance to talk. We talked about our respective upbringings, and also about stained glass as an art form. We both agree that lots of stained glass hobby work these days is pretty conservative and very "safe." Who can get in trouble for doing stained glass objects featuring cats, or mallard ducks, or rainbows? There's nothing wrong with those pieces, of course, but they are rather repetitive when you go to craft show after craft show and see the same types of work. Of course, that's probably because people like them and they sell!

I am determined, however, to create pieces that are edgier and make more of  a statement. Indeed, why can't stained glass be provocative and thought-provoking? Judging from some rather libidinous Roman mosaics I've seen in the past, there's nothing like a canvas of any form to be a platform for social commentary and bold personal expression.

Revolutionary fervor and lofty discussions about art aside, it was soon time to get to the real business end of stained glass: the soldering. I'm happy to say that even though I'd never soldered anything in my life, with Shane's good form to follow, I did all right. The piece stuck together, and looked nice at the end. I filled in all the gaps created by pieces that wouldn't sit flush against each other, covered all the rest of the copper foil with solder to strengthen it, and then soldered on a hanging hook in the back,

Then it was time to wash off the flux, which is kind of a gooey paste that you spread on areas you want to solder. I did that, and then was thrilled to put my new piece up to the light.

My first piece. I have yet to get one of those suction-cup hangy-thingies to let it actually hang on the glass.
One final step that I chose not to do was to add black patina to the solder, which turns the silver to black, giving a piece that leaded-glass look. Although it looks black in the picture, the piece actually has silver solder on it. Time itself will turn the solder black, but until then, I'll enjoy the piece in its lighter, more ethereal state.

Quite satisfied with our day, Elul and I said goodbye and took a beautiful drive through a very high-end neighborhood in Vancouver, so we can see how the 1% live over the border. The cherry and plum blossoms were all in bloom, and it was a gorgeous, bright, cool day without a cloud in the sky. Driving back to Bellingham, we indulged ourselves in numerous stunning views of Mt. Baker.

Mt. Baker, also known as Komo Kulshan--the original Lummi and Nooksack name.
So that was lesson one in my career as a stained glass artist. Now the job is to get my own tools and materials to get started with my own pieces, and to continue learning with Shane and with other teachers I cross paths with in the future. It feels great to have finally taken the first step towards fulfilling a new dream. Obviously, our dream to live the rest of our lives in Israel did not work out--at least for now. But we have to carry on, and for me, I always do better when I am moving towards something, rather than sitting, crying, and staring at a closed door.

Shavua tov, chaverim!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby

Shalom, chaverim! How's it going, eh? Things here in placid Bellingham are rolling along nicely since I last wrote. We've been having fun exploring the area, including a couple of visits to a local casino up the road. They loaded us up with new member "comps" (complimentary gifts) like meals at the buffet--two were free because we were new members, and another two were free because it was going to be our birthdays at some date in the next year! Not to mention each of us receiving two (two!) plastic tape-measure keychains (do we look like people who need to measure twice and cut once? Probably.), lanyards on which to hang our players' club card, large buttons screaming "New Member!", and a pen that doubles as a cellphone text message stylus. That's a lot of swag.

Unfortunately, the friendliness of the staff and the generosity of the players' club benefits was not matched by the actual quality of the food. Nursing our bloated bellies and disappointed palates following our meals there, we found ourselves missing the splendor and debauched gluttony of a typical buffet at a Las Vegas Strip casino. Some things just taste better at home.

Never mind. Allegiant Airlines flies cheap and cheerful planes out of Bellingham on a daily basis, so we'll get around to visiting Vegas again when our wallet and calendars allow it. By the way, here's a little shout-out to our friends in Nevada...we miss you all! Remember you residents of the mesquite-fired state, Allegiant also flies from Vegas to Bellingham, too, so come visit us in the City of Subdued Excitement for a polar opposite urban experience and all the crunchy organic granola you can eat.

I've harnessed the power of the interwebs to build up our social life, and have joined a bunch of groups on that meet in Bellingham. is a really cheap (like $10 a year cheap) online service you can sign up with to connect with like-minded people who want to meet "IRL" (web-speak for "in real life"). I've joined "Women of Whatcom," for one, a photography group, one for independent filmmakers, one called "Northwest Entrepreneurs,"  and a couple of others. So far I've been to two meetups, and the people have been very, very nice. Since I've completed my Goodwill classes at the moment, I have some extra time and want to put it to good use.

I've also put out some feelers to see if I can form some kind of act with other musicians. So far I've gotten two responses to an ad I put out on Craigslist, so we'll see what happens with that one. I was looking, actually, for musicians with whom to form some kind of old-timey, folksy bluegrass group--my secret music love. Of course, with only a few YouTube clips to demonstrate my singing, which were of me doing Cantorial Soloist pieces in Hebrew, I'm not surprised I didn't have much street cred. Never mind. I just keep thinking of The Bangles and how they all had boring day jobs as secretaries and office workers. If they can do it, why can't I get together a little folk music ensemble?

Finally, I've started in earnest to learn how to do stained glass--something I decided I wanted to do before we made Aliyah, but could never get it together to learn when I was in Israel. Of course, the language barrier, my own shyness, and various other problems got in my way there. But now, it's time to act. I tracked down two different teachers who are offering introductory workshops in stained glass, and signed up with both of them.

The first teacher, whom I'll meet this weekend, lives in lovely Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. That's great, because it allows Elul to explore Vancouver while I toddle away with my new hobby. The next teacher is down in Auburn, Washington--south of Seattle and near Federal Way, if you know the area. I hope to study with him next month, for a two-day workshop. Strangely, the woman in Bellingham from whom I bought my tools last year seems to have disappeared from the local stained glass scene, so I have to hit the road to find my teachers.

One of the many dreams I have always had, but never did anything about, was to make art that I could actually sell. In the past, I've always sold services: English lessons, babysitting, lawn mowing, copy writing, pet sitting, showing up to a job, and so on. But I have a passion for stained glass that has haunted me for years now, and now I want to learn to make all these daydreams of beautiful work that have danced around in my head come alive--and into the homes of people who love stained glass like I do. That's it. We'll see where this new road takes me. Maybe it will be a road accompanied by the dulcet tones of my bluegrass duo. "Olah chadasha Turns Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby" there's a headline and a half.

Until then, l'hitra'ot ("see you later" in Hebrew), chaverim!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Taking Care of Business, Been Working Overtime

Shalom, chaverim! Or, since we now live so close to our Canadian neighbors, should I say, "How's it going, eh?" Either way, it's nice to be back in the blogosphere! I feel like I'm talking to a good friend in this little bloggy-blog, even though I have little to no idea who actually reads it. Especially now that we're not living in Israel anymore. I've really had to think hard as to whether anyone would be interested in this blog now that we're not living in Israel, and whether I should just close the whole thing down. But I'm not ready to do that, simply because I like writing, aka gossiping via a keyboard.

It's been two months since my last confession--er, blog post--and the time has really flown by. At this very moment, I'm writing at 11:25 at night in Beautiful Bellingham, the City of Subdued Excitement. I am teaching an Israeli student, and her English lesson starts at midnight. Fortunately, she's the only one of my eight students who wants a lesson that is in the morning (for her), which means I have to stay up very late. The rest of my students like their lessons after they get home from work, so I teach them in the mornings.

My students are such an interesting and pleasant bunch of Israelis from all walks of life. One student, whom I'll call Svetlana, is a Russian-speaking woman who made a kind of forced Aliyah when she was just a teenage girl at a very tender age. She was from Moldova and her family got caught up in the Balkan war in the 1990's. The family left for Israel, and in the blink of an eye, she found herself living in very poor conditions and the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid in her school. All her classmates bullied her ruthlessly, calling her a "Russian slut" in a language she barely understood.

But Svetlana didn't let that get her down. She studied and worked harder than anyone in her school, and got a scholarship to study at the University of Haifa. She went into social work, because she wanted to help others who found themselves in equally dire straits through no fault of their own. She did development work in Haiti, then in Africa.

Right now, Svetlana is preparing to move to Senegal to do more work, helping to develop community leaders to teach others about psychological health. Her employers, a non-profit Israeli NGO, believe that a crucial part of development work lies in training young people to be community leaders and to feel empowered to make change within and among themselves. She is a delightful and fascinating student to work with, and I'm very lucky to have her. If anyone is interested in hearing more about my other students, let me know via Facebook or the comments section here, and I'll talk about the rest of them over time. They really are fascinating people, and always inspire me to do better, think bigger, and work harder.

So, what have I been up to besides work? Well, for the past two months, I've been taking free classes in Word and Excel and Career Coaching at our local Goodwill store. And here, I want to do a BIG plug for Goodwill. Did you know that sole mandate of Goodwill is to get people ready for and into the workplace? And that anyone who wants to can come in and take free classes to improve and build on their skills in computers, customer service, cashiering, GED preparation, ESL, and even citizenship test preparation? They do! And they do it so nicely, as well. I've had a great experience working with my job coach, Cathie Haag, my computer instructor Jim, my case manager Jessica, and the other great people who work there, Maureen and Sean. Cathie has been working with me on revamping and updating my somewhat chaotic and incoherent resume and has given me some leads on some great jobs.

I've really enjoyed the coaching and computer skills development classes, and I'll be returning for more when the new session starts in March. Even if you're only partially employed, you can still take advantage of the job coaching services Goodwill has to offer, and anyone, regardless of employment status, can take any class at Goodwill for free. I highly recommend you check them out and offer them support by becoming one of their customers. Yesterday, we students toured the "production area," where all the donations are sorted, cleaned, and priced to be put on the floor. As an example of how well the Bellingham store is run, the head of retail there, Patty, spent over twenty years running departments at Target, Sears, and even Nordstroms. This lady trains her floor staff incredibly well, and runs a very tight and immaculate ship...and it shows in the store. I can't tell you how many bargains I've gotten there already!

Our social life is still pretty much based around my mother, stepfather, stepsister, and her partner. We've been "shul shopping" at two places so far, and while one seemed quite promising, we're not sure if it's really the right fit for us. We'll probably go back a few more times, and if it still doesn't click, we'll try other places. We really missed our congregational life in America while we were in Israel, and hope we can find a new community that will be fulfilling spiritually as well as socially.

So while finding a synagogue to join is still in "search mode," we've also taken to going to to find other groups we might be interested in joining. I've joined one on digital photography, another one on independent filmmakers, and a couple of women's groups with various centers of attention. I've also joined a yoga group that does musical chanting, followed by readings from the Bhagavad Gita and a vegetarian potluck! I'm also flirting around with joining the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, but their dues are a little pricey for the moment, so I'm content just to go to their monthly talk. Last month's talk was about women and depression, and this month's talk is about women and economic insecurity in the local area. Having had first-hand struggles with both of these issues (being depressed and broke at the same time, living on not only a shoestring but also having my life itself hanging by a thread), I am a highly motivated attendee!

Well, it's time to teach my lesson "at the midnight hour," as it were, so I wish you all a Shabbat shalom, and a shavua tov (good week)! Please let me know if you'd like me to keep blogging about all my mundane and non-glamorous nonsense.