Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cast your fate to the wind…or the council…

Just to show that my life is not one big happy smile, we are going through a bit of a rough patch. Because of my health and the current state of employment, I can’t get a job.  My husband is likewise unable to work (both health issues and the lack of jobs). Fortunately, Scotland is a very supportive country and we will not be left without. My daughter’s hours are being cut at work and my son-in-law recently lost his job when the restaurant in which he was working had to declare bankruptcy. So, we are all a bit adrift right now. But, not to worry. The council to the rescue. Chris and I have met with the housing people on the council and, as of Thursday, we most probably will be housed in a B&B until we are found a more permanent place to live.

I refuse to be upset or angered by what has happened.  The economy around the world is making it hard for people to find jobs and make enough to pay the bills – as utilities rise and rise without a thought to how it is impacting on users.  Banks and utilities and super-companies post profits and give out bonuses.  The rest of us – well, we just have to keep on keeping on.  For those of us over 50, it is difficult to find work.  I even had one job enquiry end with the recruiter telling me that they were looking for younger people. That is against the law, of course, and I reported it and received a telephone call from the head of this particular agency. Prior to my diagnosis of severe osteoarthritis in my knees and hips, I would have gone forward to be considered for the job that agency was advertising.  But my health issues and increasing immobility would make that impossible. I wrote to the gentleman and told him what had occurred and that I could not pursue the opportunity. He was very kind in his response and wished me well.

The UK has a wonderful safety net for people like us. The national insurance payments we have made over the years and the taxes we pay help us now that we need it most. We will be provided with a nice to place to live and assistance in paying our living expenses. I am currently applying for a living allowance for people like me who have health issues and are unable to get around easily. If awarded the top tier for my mobility issues, I will receive a payment that can be used to lease a car through a programme called Motobility. We will be all right.

My business, which is the best option for me and something I enjoy very much, is puttering along nicely. I have over 300 subscribers to my monthly newsletter and my website is receiving hits from places as diverse as New Zealand and Brazil.

I am an optimist.  Always have been and always will be. I believe that if we believe the best will come to pass, it will.  Sometimes there are bumps along the way, but we will arrive at a place and time when it all makes sense.

The wind is howling today, the sea is churning and the sky is grey. But every once in a while, a beautiful rainbow appears – a harbinger of better days to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I thought it was spring!

Well, I really thought spring had come, but weather over the recent couple of days has not been very spring-like. My poor arthritic knees and wrists have certainly felt the change in the weather! But, not to fear, the spring, to be followed shortly by summer, will arrive.

For those of you not familiar with summer in Scotland, allow me to enlighten you. First, our days are very long. In fact, I am writing this at 9:16 at night and it is still very light outside. Remember, we are pretty far north. For this part of Scotland, the longest day, June 21, the sun will rise around 4am and not set until nearly 11. Farther north, the sunrise and sunset is earlier and later by a half hour. I remember, years ago, traveling to a small village called Lochinver in the north of the Scotland. It was early June and the room never did get dark the entire night. This is why so many people in Scotland use black-out curtains in their bedrooms. No, it is not a remnant of the days of the blitz. They are used so the sun doesn't awaken you long before you need to get up. Of course, unless you have sound-proof curtains, nothing will keep the dawn chorus quiet.

Speaking of early morning quiet, three years ago, when Chris and I were living in Moffat in Dumfries &Galloway here in Scotland, our cottage backed onto a stream. On the other side of the stream was a small field kept for sheep. When the spring lambs were born, they and their mothers spent much of their time in that field. Apparently, a lamb's cry can be heard and recognised by its mother.  There were several mornings when I was awakened long before intended to the lamb equivalent of  "Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?"  As adorable as the those tiny fuzzy things are, I did not appreciate their cries causing my comfortable sleep to be disturbed (and yes, we had black-out curtains).

The second harbinger of the summer is the Scottish midge. The midge is a small flying insect that could give the mosquito a run for its money. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that any diseases are carried by these flying pests, but their bites are something to deal with. Chris and I were once visiting the Kintyre Peninsula, staying in a lovely village called Tayviallich.  We heard that there was a vantage point, not far out of town, for seeing the most incredible sunsets.  Armed with directions given to us by our wonderful B&B hosts, we made our way to the little beach.  Sure enough, the sun was setting and the sky was the most glorious red I've ever seen.  Chris and I got out of the car and walked toward the shore. Within seconds, I felt a bite. As I am apparently delicious to all flying nibblers, Chris suggested I go back to the car. I got in, closed the windows, and watched as Chris set up his tripod and camera. I became aware that, between taking shots and giving me thumbs up, Chris was flailing his arms and hands around like a man possessed. By the time the last shot was taken and he got back to the car, I could see the bites appearing on his arms and face. By bedtime, we could see that he was covered with bites. But every artist knows that he must suffer for his creations, and the photograph Chris got was an incredible one.

But along with the long days and the midges come beautiful blue skies and blooming flowers and light dancing off the surface of the firths and lochs. Just as everywhere else in the world, people spend more time outdoors, visiting tea or beer gardens, going to historic properties, and, for those of us who live here, trying to avoid the crush of tourists. For there is one other harbinger of the spring and summer here in Scotland - the motorcyclists who descend en masse from Europe to enjoy the breath-taking rides on the single-lane roads of the Highlands. Many are following the Whisky Trail, visiting the distilleries and buying a bottle to take home to keep them warm during the winter.

Our summer will be here soon and with it all that it brings. I love looking out my window at nearly 10pm and still seeing across the Forth, spotting the lighthouses down the coast and across the way. Summer will pass quickly enough and we will trade our long days for short ones. But I don't care if the day be long or short, as long I spend it here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rainbows and giggles and surprising inheritances...

Yesterday, as I sat on my bed working on my latest piece of jewellery, I looked out the window at the most vivid rainbow I've ever seen. The brightness of the colours was breathtaking. Chris went to the window and commented that we were so close to that pot of gold. I wish we were...but in many ways we have found that pot of gold.

Despite some very serious health and housing issues, we are where we want to be. Not exactly in the spot, but at least on the side of the Atlantic that makes us happy. People often comment about how wet the UK is, and Scotland in particular. But you don't get rainbows without rain. And we get lots of rainbows.

No matter how old I get, I still ooh and ahh when I see one. One of nature's most wonderful shows - her own necklace or bracelet of shimmering colours. Arcing above the water or over the hills, it is a wonder to behold. I shall never lose the child in me when it comes to rainbows. Rainbows never cease to bring a smile and a lifting of the spirits.

Our house is full of smiles and lifted spirits these days. Catherine is at that age where we understand more and more of what she says. She is exploring her world and finding delight around every corner.  Her giggles fill the house with happiness. Her latest thing is to take some of my beads and hide them behind her head. When I tell her she has to give them back, she puts her hands out, only to slowly reveal that the beads have disappeared, declaring "All gone!" "Oh no," I say, "where are Nana's beads?" Then she dissolves into giggles as I find them behind her.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me, as I watch my granddaughter, are the similarities I see in her to other family members. She can pull a pout that reminds me of my father, and her habit of pulling fuzz out of an old stuffed animal so she can rub it gently across her lips and beneath her nose is just like my sister, who, as a very little girl, used to pull the fuzz off her blanket so she could softly tickle her nose as she fell asleep. Which gene carries that?

Years and years ago, I told my aunt that I couldn't stand to have my feet under covers that were tucked in. I always either had to have my feet outside the covers or had to pull the covers out from under the mattress so I could move my feet around. I remember the look of delight and surprise on her face. "That's so strange," she said, "your grandfather was just like that."

It is the inherited parts of ourselves, body and spirit, that intrigue me so much. Is it my ancestors' genes that made me realise that I had to live in Scotland? I think my Scottish genes just thought it was time to come home. I had to come home so I could look at the rainbows and find my little pot of gold.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just taking care of business...

Like so many other over 50s here in the UK, employment is proving rather difficult to find.  Not only am I 55, but my arthritis makes it hard for me to get around.  So, with a dwindling job market and competition with younger and more specially trained competitors, I am fairly sure of the path I must make for myself - self-employment appears to be the way forward.  Fortunately, back during our stay in the States, I started making jewellery - sterling silver and copper earrings and bracelets, using gemstones and glass beads.  I have now forsaken the glass beads and I am concentrating on using only gemstones.  The decision, I hope, will be the right one.

Carnelian pendant with
sterling silver wirework
This past week has been a very busy one.  While I did make time for myself in order to watch the Royal Wedding (romantic that I am), I have spent most of the last week rewriting and redesigning my website and working with Chris to rephotograph my creations.  It has been a labour of love.  I have always enjoyed doing artwork of any kind (in fact, I recently decided to take up knitting - drawn in by seeing the most beautiful yarns in colours and combinations that make my heart happy).  When I was younger, I did quite a lot of work in charcoal and acrylics.  But I also did limited work in clay.  I imagine, had a kiln been readily accessible, I would have done more.  I enjoyed working with the clay and creating three-dimensional art. So, when I returned to the State following my father's death and found an employment environment much like the one I face now, I decided to give jewellery making a try.  I have grown in my skills and designs and feel quite sure that my art is worth the appreciation and custom of others.  I had some success with it while I was in the States - selling mostly to friends over here in the UK.  Since I've been back, however, my creativity and inspiration has kicked up into overdrive.   When I launched my site back in March, I had some sales - which did nothing but inspire me more.  I was asked to do several commissions as well.  Happy times!  Since then, I have designed more and better pieces and I felt these deserved better presentation.  So, on 1 May, the website went into hibernation as I reconfigured it.  On 2 May, it went live again and I am thrilled to say that I have had five sales since then.  Not bad - but not good enough to be a profitable business.

I am learning about marketing, about how to get my name and creations "out there." Time will tell if I am successful or not.  But, for the first time in a very long time, I believe in my ability to make a business for myself that is mine and mine alone.  I will keep on creating beautiful jewellery and hope that, working through various channels, my business will find its way to lots of people who will appreciate what I do.

My "slogan" is "More than jewellery - affordable art you can wear."  And it is art.  Each piece is made in the moment - there are no patterns, no pre-conceived ideas.  I sit down with wire and stones and let them lead me.  When I have finished each design, I am often amazed at how it has come together.  For me, these are little sculptures of wire and stone, each one unique.

So, if you would like to see my art, please visit my site at www.ailleasdesigns.com (there is a link in the About Me area to the right).  I would welcome you on my list of newsletter subscribers as well.  Each month you will receive a newsletter and a special code that will give you substantial savings.

Excuse the advertisement.  Now, I promise a non-business related blog for next week. Oh, and for the record, I thought the new Duchess of Cambridge looked gloriously elegant and the Duke so handsome.  What a treat for this tired old world to see a love story come to the breathtaking moment of flowers and promises.  I make no excuses - I am a Royalist and a Royalist I shall remain.  I can't imagine a world without the monarchy of Great Britain.