Crazy Woman Glassworks Not At All Crazy

There is something that seems to elevate our existence when we are in the presence of beauty.  This is so true of the time I gratefully spent as a member of the Lakewood Arts Council’s (LAC) cooperative art gallery, and meeting the artists there.  But the beauty on the canvasses, and in the sculptures and jewelry, while excellent, was outshone by the personalities of the artists themselves.

Leslie Anne Bitgood creates glassworks through Crazy Woman Glass

Leslie Anne Bitgood creates glassworks through Crazy Woman Glass

Leslie Anne Bitgood of Crazy Woman Glass is one of those artists.  She displays her glassworks both at the LAC Art Gallery and in glass and jewelry shows around the country.  I met Leslie while helping on the annual garage sale-fundraiser for LAC.  She chipped in with fun and wit and made my day special.  So I asked to meet her again.  She invited me to her studio in Lakewood, another Denver suburb.

First step in meeting Leslie is meeting her family.  Beyond a terrific husband who creates glassworks with Leslie, there are two cats, a bird and the studio dog, bear.  Bear likes to make sure visitors feel welcome by jumping up for attention and a pat on his soft fur until Leslie says “No, Bear, down!”  I felt welcome.  Bear is a real cutie.  He wandered off to let Leslie and I get down to the business of showing me her studio.

Leslie Bitgood's Bear

Leslie Bitgood’s Bear

A veritable rainbow of colored glass, art on the walls and a collections of glassworks supplies were neatly stored within a couple of steps of each other.  Leslie has three work stations where she holds classes for glassworks.  It’s part of the life of an artist.  And beyond the workstations, there are two kilns for keeping the glassworks at the correct temperature until completely cooled and ready to display.  She rattled off a mind-boggling array of times and temperatures and glass hardness that showed this woman’s comfort in her craft.  Very impressive.

But the impressiveness was expanded as Leslie showed me some of her and her husband’s works.  The marbles were breathtaking, the fishes delightfully whimsical, and the beads for making jewelry shone and caught the light. Who knew that you could make your own beads?  I always thought you went to a craft or bead store and picked up what you wanted.  That beads were always mass-produced.

Leslie Bitgood making glassworks

Leslie Bitgood making glassworks

But Leslie makes them lovingly one by one.  And so do other glassworks artists around the area.  And that love goes into a bead project that is beyond-words generous.  Each time Leslie makes beads, she sets aside one or two (or probably more) to donate to Beads of Courage, a program helping children with serious illness record their milestones in treatment.

“The ones that steal my heart are those with the very long strands of beads,” said Leslie.  “Each time a child gets a treatment, they get to pick a bead for their string.” She shook her head in thought a moment.  “They are so brave.”

Then she showed me how she works the glass for beads.  She starts with a small rod of colored glass and a stick with a clay coating at one end.  The coating will allow the eventual bead to slip off the rod and become a bead.  She fires up her torch that mixes propane and oxygen into a fire too hot for me to remember more than that I’d keep away from the flame – several hundred degrees hot, and goes to work.

Almost instantly the glass turns to the golden orange you see in glassworks videos.  We wear special glasses to protect our eyes from the glow and any bits that may fly out. I even covered my camera to get a better picture of the process.

Suddenly the glass is wound around the clay-tipped rod, and details are added with a confidence born of more than 30-years experience in bead making and other glassworks. Leslie shrugs in an ahh-it’s-nothing kind of attitude.

As the bead, a beautiful blue and white creation (inspired by her highness, Kate Middleton’s post-baby dress), is finished and put in a small kiln to properly cool, I returned to the trays of beads and jewelry.

There, I found an exquisite heart-shaped bead with a pink cancer ribbon on it.  I asked if it was part of the Beads of Courage program.

“No,” said Leslie. “I make these for people who have loved ones conquering cancer. Or who conquered it.”

I turned the bead over.  It normally sells for about $18.  She has a complete range of glass art priced from $3 to $250 — something for everyone’s eye and budget.

“I have a friend who just celebrated five years of cancer-free living.  I’d like to buy this,” I replied.

Leslie wouldn’t hear of it. She packaged it up for me, gave it to me for my friend, and added a hug on top.

Crazy woman! How would she make a profit?  She just smiled.  Maybe being generous, talented and kind isn’t crazy. It’s simply great.

If you’d like to learn glassmaking with Leslie, please contact her through her website.  You’ll be glad you did. You can also see more of Leslie’s work on Etsy and on Artfire.

Leslie's Heart Glass Art Bead

Leslie’s Heart Glass Art Bead

The Trouble with Grasses

The English are credited with our love affair with the great green lawn.  Golf courses are grand sweeps of emerald views.  Where would be the landed gentry of Jane Austin novels without the pastoral vision of sheep and shepherds on his lord’s estate?  Over time, we who enjoy a lovely garden have multiplied our efforts to come up with waves of Kentucky Blue, Bahia, or even Zoysia (found those names under a site showing the twelve most popular kinds of grass).

I could do a whole post on how I feel about our cycle of water-to-grow-to-mow-with-gasoline-driven-mowers-to-water-to-grow-again, but that’s for a more political time.  Suffice to say, I’m not too fond of grass.  All those allergies!

Cheatgrass sweeps Chatfield State Park

Avoid Cheatgrass at Chatfield? Not likely.

Now I have an even greater reason to be wary of grass, but the kind of grass I’m talking about is called “Cheatgrass.”  Over $100 in a vet bill, and consider myself lucky, cheatgrass.

According to Robert Cox of the Colorado State Extension service (where you can have up to three kinds of plants identified for free), the cheat grass (or Downy Brome – Bromus tectorum) got its name “because it uses soil moisture in the Spring, “cheating” farmers out of a crop dependent on winter-spring soil moisture. Livestock may forage downy Brome in spring but once it sends up seed heads it is much less palatable.”

When the grass dries out in June and July, it develops something called “awns” (great word for you Scrabble players out there).  The awns are prickly little arrows that can only move in one direction, often embedding themselves in your socks, and other clothes as you walk out in the field, or in your pet’s case, embed themselves in their fur, in the soft skin between the pads of their feet, in their eyes, ears, and even in their lungs and stomach if they get inhaled.  Yuck!

Cheatgrass up close

Cheatgrass up close

Poor Prophet, got an awn stuck in his skin behind a rear foot.  I couldn’t see anything.  For two days, the poor guy hobbled about.  At one point his foot cramped so much he couldn’t put it down to walk.  That’s when I called the vet.

After a good 10 to 15 minutes of searching and manipulating Proph’s leg, foot and everything else that tested his normally calm demeanor, she found it.

“Ah,” said my vet, triumphantly pulling the little awn out, “foxtail grass!”  She told me about other dogs who have been brought in with infections, and how some don’t make it as a result.  “I had one little guy who inhaled the grass, and the awn worked its way through the lungs and up into the spine.  Another ingested one, got infected and died on the operating table before we could get it out.”

Scary stuff!  That’s when I took the grass to my local CSU extension service.  Mr. Cox told me that “foxtail” and “cheatgrass” are two distinct varieties of grass, and while cheatgrass, a native of the Mediterranean sea area, is considered a noxious weed by Colorado’s department of agriculture, foxtail with the obvious fuzzy tail shape at the top of its stem is not.

Cheatgrass is also a challenge in that it dries so thoroughly that it is often the source for grass fires here in the sensitive west (Please! No more fires for us this summer!).

As for my dog’s problem of cheatgrass in the dog area of Chatfield?

“I’m with you on the Vet bill – my dog got into some cheatgrass recently, to the tune of $85,” said Robert.  I knew I liked this guy.  He understands the problem (type “Cheatgrass infection in dogs” in your search engine and you can see some pretty gruesome pictures).

No way to avoid Cheatgrass

No way to avoid Cheatgrass

So what can you do to avoid the vet?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Enjoy your walks, but try to avoid off-the-path areas of deep, golden-colored grasses that haven’t had foot traffic in them.
  2. Brush Fido as soon as possible after your walks.
  3. Watch your dog as if she were a new puppy.  Be interested in her eyes, ears, nose and paws.
  4. If he starts any sort of limp, or shaking his head, try to examine Spike with a detailed once over.  Look for that gold color of dried grass.  It may be small, but it can hurt a lot.
  5. Call the vet.  It’s not worth the infection and operation to neglect the problem.

Here’s to another hot day in Colorado.  A cheatgrass-free day for us all.  But then again, perhaps there’s a story here . . .

Becoming a Productive Writer/Public Speaker

I had planned to talk with you today about becoming a more productive writer, but need to update my regular reading friends on “Daisy News” first.

Beth Groundwater siteWhoo Hoo!  My very first guest blog is today!  If you have time for a quick step over to author  Beth Groundwater’s site and blog, you could possibly win a copy of my book.  And if you have a blog you’d like a guest post on, please let me know.

Book sales have been going well according to my publisher, and I’m closing in on 2000 copies sold!  This is, of course, before returns, but I currently have visions of grandeur.  I hope those who  read Faith on the Rocks will enjoy it and spread the word that this makes a good, light read at the beach or on the back deck.

Tuesday Talk Show

Looking forward to chatting with Lindsay Woods.

I’m really looking forward to my first radio interview on Tuesday, July 30!  Back in college, I tried working on a radio show for my dormitory at Michigan State University.  Talk about disaster!  I was too afraid to actually talk on air, so I just kept playing music on the record player and, believe me, I have no taste in music worth sharing!  Had to try at least.

Anyway, the host of Ft. Collins based KRFC 88.9FM The Tuesday Talk Show is Lindsay Woods.  We met through ballroom dance here in Colorado, but found we both grew up in the same area of Michigan.  Lindsay is a vibrant personality and wonderfully fun person to be around, so I’m sure she’ll help me overcome my Michigan State background to talk about my book.  Hope you can join us.  If you can, please let me know and I’ll send you a call-in telephone number for your questions or comments. For those not in the Ft. Collins area, my friend, John, found this link: http://radioradio7.com/radio/KRFC-889-FM-Fort-Collins-CO.html 

Now, as we’re on the shameless self-promotion part of this blog, I do want to thank everyone who came to my book signings this weekend.  Mike Befeler was a complete hero at Broadway Book Mall, helping me through my first effort.  I was able to see some friends at the signing both from my fantastic critique group and people who I haven’t connected with in a few years.  What a thrill.  And Mary Ann, one of my best friends, even brought me a rose from her garden to mark the event.

On Sunday, my fantastic ballroom dance friends and a couple of great neighbors attended a private party where I had the spotlight all to myself.  I tell you, it’s a wonder I can still get my head through the front door!

At this point, book signings and appearances are all about selling books.  The average book signing results in about 8 books sold, and that’s where I sit today.  I could use your help, though.  If you have any places you think I could do signings (shops that also happen to sell books, places that are focused on Littleton, Pets, Special Needs People, or mysteries) please let me know.  I’d love to do a signing or talk in your area.  Of course, I’m limited on travel budget–ie I have none, but I can do podcasts and connect to you through  other media.

Now the hard part of being a writer kicks in.  Sales is party time, but without product, sales don’t exist.  I love Faith on the Rocks, but Sliced Vegetarian needs work.  So how do you balance between writing and promotion?  I’m not sure, but plan to try.

In that effort, I’m reading The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen.  Her book is jam-packed with exercises and other organizational things to keep you writing.  I particularly like in Chapter One how she has you set up a group of files in an effort to “make a case” for your writing future, and asks you to study your author heroes.  I also like how she calls us who write People of Letters.  It sounds so noble when drawn out like this.

So, here’s a thought for you today: pick an author and research her.  Find out how she got started in the writing profession, what other work he’s done besides the books you’ve read, what kind of writing life he or she leads.  Is there something in your hero’s work style that you might emulate?  We’re not looking to become the flamboyant Thomas Wolfe or suicidal Ernest Hemingway here.  Just find out how they wrote and ask yourself if their habits might become your own.

Good luck, and happy writing!