DIY: Friendship Charm Necklaces


 With the recent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (and my anticipation leading up to it), I’ve been inspired to create pieces of jewelry that in some way reflect characters from the movies. For this project, I went with my sister’s and my favorite characters, Fili and Kili. Since the dwarf brothers demonstrate such strong familial love, it seemed appropriate to celebrate the special bond between me and my sister with Fili- and Kili-themed friendship necklaces.

Of course the design can be tailored to fit any theme that you and your friend share in common. Get creative! I’d love to hear what you all come up with.



  • Wood toothpick
  • Round nose pliers
  • Chain nose pliers
  • Side cutter pliers
  • X-ACTO® knife and cutting mat
  • Computer and printer (if you don’t want to cut up a book)

Step 1 — Choose what text you want to showcase in the bubble charms (I just went to Google Books, took screenshots of some Hobbit pages, and printed them out).

Step 2 — Adhere a bubble cap to the selected text. Press it firmly and rub gently to eliminate air pockets.

Step 3 — Using the X-ACTO® knife and cutting mat, slice around the edge of the bubble cap to free it from the remaining text.

Step 4 — Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other three bubble caps.

Step 5 — With the toothpick, rub a tiny amount of rubber cement onto the back of each bubble cap. Glue the caps to the front and back of the square metal charms.

The following directions are for the Fili necklace, since that’s the one I made first.

Step 6 — Trim the flat heads off a head pin with the side cutter pliers. Bend one end of the wire into a loop with the round nose pliers, leaving it partially open.

– The reason I didn’t use pre-looped head pins was because I wanted to control how large I made my loops.

– If you’ve never made a loop like this before, Blue Moon Beads offers a simple illustrated tutorial here.

Step 7 — Insert the looped end of the head pin into the square metal charm’s connecting ring. Close the wire loop the rest of the way.

Step 8 — Add beads to the head pin in this order: round spacer bead, spacer flower, amber glass bead, spacer flower, round spacer bead.

Step 9 — Bend the remaining wire into a loop like the other end. Trim excess wire.

Step 10 — Repeat steps 6-9 for the key charm. The bead sequence in step 8 will be a little different: spacer flower, wood bead, spacer flower.

Step 11 — Connect the bubble charm, the key charm, and the locket to the chain necklace with jump rings. Done!

Step 12 — Now you’re ready to repeat steps 6-11 for the Kili necklace. In step 8 substitute the blue glass bead for the amber one, and in step 10 use the decorative cylinder spacer instead of the wood bead.

– *Tip: I stacked the two leftover round silver spacer beads inside my decorative cylinder spacer to keep it from sliding around on the wire.

Thanksgiving 2014


Eighty degrees and golden rays of sunshine. I keep thinking, pretty soon the weather will cool down and the holidays will be upon us — then I realize that I live in Southern California and the holiday season is almost halfway gone.  Another year has zipped by, and Thanksgiving will be officially over by the time I get this published.

The day started off well: no electronic beeping at 5:30 in the morning, no shuffling out to the kitchen with puffy eyes to turn on the electric kettle, no need to be anywhere at any particular time. I was going to get my eight hours without unnatural interruption, and 7:45 a.m. found me refreshed and ready to eat breakfast with my mom and sister, Katherine. We chatted over slices of Corner Bakery’s Cinnamon Creme Cake, enjoying the easy pace of the holiday.

As the rest of the house began to stir, we started to prepare for the day’s feast ….

Plenty going on in the kitchen all day — most of which I avoided (unless I was peering through the viewfinder of my camera). Let’s just say that my decorating skills are stronger than my cooking skills (or cooking ambition as the case may be), and I spent most of my time in the dining room setting the table.

Katherine cooking up a storm of potatoes, savory and sweet.

Deciding how to present the napkins is my favorite part of table arranging. Do I want them folded into little elf boots? Rolled inside a stem glass? This year I chose a simple flatware wrap garnished with homey red raffia, artificial leaves, and felt owl clips.

The final product (simple but fun):

 In between cooking and decorating, there’s always time for tea …

 … and goofing off with my big sis

 Living proof that being tied to someone’s apron strings doesn’t work out too well.

 Sister love.

 And the pies are done (check out that braided crust by Katherine)! Now, where’s the whipped cream?

 Our two friends, Sara and Amy, joined us for Thanksgiving and shared their superb family recipe for crescent rolls with us.

 As Sara said, only in California do you set dough outside to rise (it was warmer than in the house).

 Ninety-six of those puppies, and they probably won’t last the weekend.

 The crescent roll masters.

 Katherine tried a new seasoning on our carrots.

And here they are.


And finally, the main attraction!


Well, as I finish writing this, it’s certainly not Thanksgiving anymore (it’s almost 2:00 a.m. Friday morning). But giving thanks doesn’t end at midnight — it’s  something Christ calls us to practice every day, in every moment: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV) and “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, ESV). Whether in trying times or happy times, let us come before the Lord with grateful hearts, knowing that in His Son, Jesus, He has given us everything we need.

Living Like Moths


Of course Annie Dillard is a poet; I can hear it in her prose. She wrote lyrical sentences, making ample use of assonance and consonance as though she intended her essays to be read aloud. “Pale moths seeking mates massed round my head in the clearing, where my light made a ring.” “He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.” She wrote music without a staff while coaxing the English language into pleasing arrangements of rhythm and sound. “His journal is tracks in clay, a spray of feathers, mouse blood and bone: uncollected, unconnected, loose-leaf, and blown.”

In the three selections of hers that I read (“The Death of a Moth,” “Living Like Weasels,” and “Singing with the Fundamentalists”) she followed one of Strunk and White’s golden rules of writing: “use definite, specific, concrete language.” It’s hard to express how soothing the vision of a university professor’s “long, old ear” is or how satisfying the picture of a weasel that “would have made a good arrowhead.” I guess some people might think I’m funny because of that. Maybe it is funny. But I get so sick of empty abstractions that have gone bald from overuse that I want – I need – something to hold onto. Something fleshy, something pointy. Something sensational.

I want sweat, I want dirt, I want smoky smells and candle wax. I want moth heads spattering in fire; I want virgins facing death on a crackling pyre. All on a stage lit by saffron-yellow lights, with muddy shadows dancing eerily on the curtains.

Dillard supplied my want.

I didn’t know a moth’s death scene could furnish such a sensation. In “The Death of a Moth” Dillard takes a disgusting phenomenon and transforms it into a metaphor of power and brilliance. It truly is a “Transfiguration in a Candle Flame.” She uses radiant, rich vocabulary to describe the scene and create a mood of awe that haunts readers. Golden, flamed, frazzled, tissue paper, moving, circle of light, blue, green, red, fine, foul smoke, glowing, gold, moth-essence, spectacular, burning, soaking, flame, saffron-yellow, immolating, winding flames, light, fire, glowing, fire, hollow saint, flame-faced, light, kindled – notice how she repeats the themes of gold, light, and flame, reminding readers of a pagan ritual, of a holy sacrifice to the gods. Although a scorched insect doesn’t normally conjure up lofty thoughts, Dillard’s moth does because of the author’s skillful wording.

Dillard contrasts her striking moth with the miserable carcasses scattered under the spider’s web behind her toilet. For those creatures she manufactures an ugly mood – drab, mess, corpses, husks, hollow, sipped empty of color, wingless, flake, carcasses, crinkled, clenched, blind, blundering, hazard, mouth on gut, sticky tangle, shines darkly, gleams, smooth, shrunk, gray, webbed to the floor, dust, curled, empty, fragile, brittle fluff, translucent, ragged, drying in knots, stagger, headless, confusion, peeling varnish, jumble, reduced to a nub. Instead of taking her readers to the temple of the gods, she takes them to the Little Shop of Horrors.

In both illustrations, Dillard characterizes two kinds of people: those who live, die, and fade away in insignificance and those who live with strength, make the world take notice, and die in splendor. Dillard does not want to live like the masses do – like bugs behind the toilet. They will be forgotten – “Next week, if the other bodies are any indication, [they’ll] be shrunk and gray, webbed to the floor with dust.” She wants to live with luster.

Dillard’s essay challenges Virginia Woolf’s essay of a similar title: “The Death of the Moth.” A generation earlier, Woolf had also witnessed a moth meet its end, but her response to it differed from Dillard’s. The hay-colored moth on Woolf’s windowsill faded helplessly under the crush of death, but Dillard’s golden moth literally goes out (pardon the cliché) in a blaze of glory. Woolf stressed temporality; Dillard stresses memorability. Woolf’s moth was serene and prostrate; Dillard’s is crackling, blazing, and erect. Dillard saw death differently than Woolf – instead of quietly succumbing to the inevitability of death, Dillard wants to stand out and leave her mark on history, strong to the end.

At the end of “The Death of a Moth,” Dillard says, “Sometimes I think it is pretty funny that I sleep alone.” She must have identified with the moth, a singular beacon shining in the wax. Though alone, she kindled a fire of her own (and still does to this day) by leaving her stories, essays, and poems behind like signal fires for future generations of writers and readers.

Water From the Memory Well


Most people wouldn’t choose to spend their Saturday morning and afternoon in a Marriott hotel without a booking, but that’s where I found myself last weekend — surrounded by rhinestones, funny looking dresses, banana curls that defied natural roots (pun definitely intended), nonstop accordion/fiddle music, and swarms of memories.

That’s what I get for going to a feis. For those who are unfamiliar with the Gaelic word, a feis (pronounced “fesh”) is an Irish dance competition. (In a broader sense it refers to a Gaelic festival, but for me, an ex-Irish dancer, it has always meant competing for a prize.)

As I walked across the narrow blacktop driveway toward the ballrooms at the side of the hotel, I felt confident: a native daughter returning to the world of her childhood. But this time, instead of a half-circle dress bag and a carry-all stool packed with two pairs of black leather dance shoes, a curly blond wig, bobby pins, poodle socks, duct tape, etc., I shouldered only an orange satchel purse. No stress; no pre-competition angst; just a pleasant time to reflect on the past and invest in the present.

I was there to watch a young friend make her own memories. About a year ago she fell head over heel-clicks in love with Irish dancing and dove right into it, burning energy at lessons and at home, listening to Celtic music, and watching YouTube videos of dance champions. In February she competed in her first feis (I was blessed to be there for it), and already she’s trebling and skipping upward through the ranks to Prizewinner.*

Inside the hotel corridor I met the familiar scene. Large cellophane-wrapped raffle baskets decorating long tables like giant rhinestones; shiny garment racks packed with a rainbow of used costumes just waiting for the perfect girl to find her new look; vendors selling everything from Barry’s Tea to hair scrunchies (and I do mean hair scrunchies — there were enough synthetic curls to make Shirley Temple jealous). I turned to the left and found Ballroom B.

Two years ago I had come to this feis. Not as a dancer — college had already put an end to my competing days — but as a sentimental time traveler hoping to reconnect with my past. The exact events of that day are somewhat blurred now, but I remember coming away with a new appreciation for Thomas Wolfe’s perceptive phrase: You can’t go home again. Though I had met up with a few friends, the face of Irish dancing that I knew had changed. One classmate was away on vacation; two others had moved east. Soft skirts were in, paneled skirts were out, and the wigs had gotten bigger (mine would have looked like a novice’s in comparison). Small changes added up, and I stood face to face with the facts: The era that stood frozen in my mind had moved on without me.

Quitting dance hadn’t been easy. When you’ve been involved in something for thirteen years, there’s a lot of mental rearranging that accompanies a new direction. The process started when my mom got a job and couldn’t drive me to practices. Then I registered for the fall semester and found that a class conflicted with my lessons. “I’ll be back after Christmas” I told myself (and my teacher), confident that I would simply pick up where I left off.

Christmas came and went, and with an intense spring semester approaching, I realized how much I valued the extra study time not going to dance had given me. By summertime, I had finally swallowed the new reality: I was done with Irish dancing. The fact that I had time to chew before swallowing was just one of many proofs that God is gracious.

So in spite of my disappointment, in spite of the drawn out goodbye, in spite of Thomas Wolfe, why was I back? What made this time any different than two years ago?

I had no difficulty finding my friend’s family. Together we made a fine cheering squad — filled an entire row of chairs by ourselves. During the interludes when the object of our accolades wasn’t dancing, I gladly supplied a running commentary (by request) about everything from feis procedures to costume styles. When my friend took the stage, I sat up tall in my chair to see around the adjudicator’s table as best I could, but even when the white tablecloth hid her feet, we could see her smile — a smile sweet with genuine pleasure. She was glad to be there, fulfilling a dream.

In her I saw one of my own dreams fulfilled: a dream of watching a new generation take up its Irish dancing shoes the way I did sixteen years earlier. Two years ago I had been dwelling on the past; now I was living in the present. A season of my life had ended, but a new season had taken its place, one in which I appeared not as the performer, but as the supporter.

People sometimes ask me if I miss Irish dance, and I usually answer with a decisive yes and no. I miss my teacher; I miss the kids who danced with me over the years. I miss the practice sessions and the physical stamina I used to have. But to give a flat out yes would be to acknowledge that Irish dance plays no part in my life anymore. On the contrary, I simply changed roles. My old memories are a well from which to draw water for the present, and I’m just thankful that up-and-coming dancers like my friend give me a reason to dip in my bucket and pull it up full.

*Irish dance levels progress as follows: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Novice, Prizewinner, Preliminary Championship, Open Championship.

And since Irish dance is empty without Irish music, here’s a link to the lively Chieftains album that inspired my title.


DIY Chandelier


Baby food jars gone shabby chic. I’ve been wanting to make glass votive holders for a long time, and the chandelier idea just sprang up on me.

Softly frayed pastel fabrics and white tulle add a feminine flare.

Jewelry wire, the kind that comes pre-wound for bracelets, holds its shape even under pressure.

A touch of elegance.


Battery-operated votive candles eliminate fire risk, but if you must have traditional wax candles, substitute the suspending ribbons for wire or another flame-resistant material.

Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler


Today marks the 126th birthday of detective pulp fiction writer, Raymond Chandler.

Raymond Chandler

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888, Chandler relocated to London seven years later with his newly-divorced mother. He spent the remainder of his formative years there and attended Dulwich College from 1900 to 1904. Although Chandler broke into the writing world in 1909, crafting an assortment of journalism pieces for publications like The Westminster Gazette and The Academy over the next three years, he didn’t settle into the niche for which we know him today until 1933 when he published his first short story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.

The 1930s saw Chandler produce 20 more short stories, featuring the hard-boiled private eyes and hyper-observant descriptions that have made him famous. It was his third story, Finger Man, that introduced readers to his iconic shamus, Philip Marlowe. In 1939 his first full-length novel — The Big Sleep — hit the market and was followed shortly by Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), and The Lady in the Lake (1943).

Although Chandler found the film industry distasteful, he spent a number of years contributing his talents in Hollywood as a screenwriter, working on films such as Double Indemnity (1944), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Several of his own novels were turned into movies during the 1940s (some more than once), and even after Chandler’s death in 1959, Philip Marlowe continued to make his way onto the screen in theaters and on television.

Today, the popularity of Chandler’s stories continues for a new generation of readers. I’m happy to include myself in that category.

I phoned my grandpa this afternoon in honor of today’s occasion. Pretty much everything I know about Chandler I heard first from him (or read in a book that he gave me). His enthusiasm was what finally prompted me to check out Killer in the Rain, a collection of some of Chandler’s short stories, from my college’s library during my senior year. He couldn’t have been more pleased when I told him who I had started reading, and he promised to bring his favorite novel, The Lady in the Lake, for me to borrow.

He did better than that. For Christmas he bought me my own copy of The Lady in the Lake and a hardbound anthology of all Chandler’s short stories. He wrote me a note inside the second book’s front cover: “Here is your start on a long and rewarding journey through Chandlerland.” I didn’t wait long to set out — I had completely devoured the novel by the end of the next day.

And I’m enjoying that journey. I recently finished Farewell, My Lovely, and now The High Window is waiting for me on my shelf. I also started listening to a podcast channel on iTunes that plays Philip Marlowe radio broadcasts of yesteryear. All in all, I’ve got plenty of Chandler to keep me company when I want a concrete story whose characters are clever, sarcastic, memorable, and above all, human.

So happy birthday to a master of writing whose works continue to stand up to the passage of time.


Chandler, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2002.

Moss, Robert F. “Raymond Chandler’s Early Poetry and Prose.” The Raymond Chandler Website. Accessed 23 July 2014. <>

Photo Credit <>




No Betrayal Here


When I first sat down to write this, I thought it was going to be a personal response to Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. And I suppose it is. But it definitely came in a different way than I had expected. In the end it turned out to be a musing on the theme of trust, as related to Pimpernel of course.

Shortly after finishing Pimpernel, I was thinking about trust, and naturally the elusive title character came to mind. Everyone (except the “Frenchies”) trusted him implicitly. And why? Because his track record was excellent, he was above reproach, and he was too clever to fail. In the eyes of his followers, he was perfect.

My thoughts began to develop: Why do we love certain characters? Take for example Sherlock Holmes. Do we as readers ever doubt but that he will put everything to rights in the end? Or what about Perry Mason? When I watch the old television series from the 1950s and 1960s, I always feel calm if the other characters on the show confide in him or follow his counsel. And I have definitely wished for my own personal Jeeves (of the A&E television series, Jeeves and Wooster) on several occasions. His never-failing assistance and his ability to extricate Bertie from any predicament wins him the admiration of his young master and all Bertie’s wayward friends.

Once we find the answer to the first question, we will also have an answer for a second: Why do we loathe when our heroes get the short end of the stick? The very thought of Perry losing a case offends us. And do we not feel cheated when Irene Adler outwits Holmes in “A Scandal in Bohemia”? The answer to both questions is because we trust them. When they disappoint our confidence, we feel betrayed. What if Jeeves had not managed to thwart Roderick Spode and Bertie had been forced to wed Madeline Bassett? The idea rubs us the wrong way like so many children who pet cats backward.

To reign in my roving thoughts, I return to the Scarlet Pimpernel. Over and over again, Orczy emphasizes how much Percy’s friends trust him.

“Percy would thus not only be endangering his own life, but that of Suzanne’s father, the old Comte de Tournay, and of those other fugitives who were waiting for him and trusting in him. There was also Armand, who had gone to meet de Tournay, secure in the knowledge that the Scarlet Pimpernel was watching over his safety.”

“She knew enough about him by now to understand that he would never abandon those who trusted in him, that he would not turn his back from danger, and leave the Comte de Tournay to fall into the bloodthirsty hands that knew of no mercy.”

“But not only that, the much-trusted leader will also have been unconsciously the means of revealing the hiding-place of the Comte de Tournay and of all those who, even now, are placing their hopes in him.”

“When he has thus unconsciously betrayed those who blindly trust in him, when nothing can be gained from him, and he is ready to come back to England, with those whom he has gone so bravely to save …”

“‘Sir Percy Blakeney would not be the trusted, honoured leader of a score of English gentlemen,’ said Sir Andrew, proudly, ‘if he abandoned those who placed their trust in him. As for breaking his word, the very thought is preposterous!’”

“Sir Andrew knew that Blakeney would brave any danger, run the wildest risks sooner than break it, and with Chauvelin at his very heels, would make a final attempt, however desperate, to rescue those who trusted in him.”

“she could now so plainly see the strength, energy, and resourcefulness which had caused the Scarlet Pimpernel to be reverenced and trusted by his followers.”

I come now to Proverbs 3:5 — “Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (ESV). Any true Christian knows that this is one of the most difficult commands in the whole Bible to obey. Yet I think that God has put an inherent desire deep in the human heart, a desire to trust in something outside of ourselves that we know to be greater than ourselves. An inherent knowledge that we need Him. We want a Rescuer. We want to know that no matter how deep our troubles are, there is Someone who is able to pull us out.

I think that is why I like the Scarlet Pimpernel so much. And Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason and Jeeves. In them I see an imperfect representation of who God is, a clouded facet of His radiant character. Sir Percy may fall prey to the guillotine, and Perry may lose a client to the gas chamber, but my God will not be beaten. He is the absolute, uncontested victor. He is worthy of my unreserved trust, and He will never, never, NEVER betray the confidence of those who place their hope in Him.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10, ESV)