Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Gift of Friends

Those many years ago when I went to the University of Illinois for grad school in Landscape Architecture, I was welcomed into a wonderful group of people, some of whom were technically my 'students'.
I was the Teaching Assistant for the site technology classes in the program and helped with the instruction of surveying, grading & drainage, site layout and preparation of construction documents.
Having just graduated from Rutgers, I was barely older than the students in the classes that I assisted in and becoming friends happened naturally as we spent a lot of time together with me explaining that yes, understanding and using mathematics was a required and necessary part of a degree in Landscape Architecture and that no, mathematics was not the enemy.
Some of these friendships were pivotal in my life.
I'm 2nd in from the left in the above photo and I ended up marrying the guy, Martin, standing next to me at far left.
My husband passed away ten years ago, but I'm still in touch with others in the photo, including Jeff, kneeling center front.
I considered Jeff to be the social hub of his class.
His high level of energy and ever-positive outlook on life drew people into his orbit.
When I found out that after graduating and working for several years as a Landscape Architect, Jeff had made a career change and became a teacher in Florida, I thought,
"Of course, that makes sense."
Jeff's enthusiasm and creativity would almost certainly make him the kind of teacher who changes the lives of his students in profound and positive ways. 
When I found out that Jeff won the Teacher of the Year Award for Palm Beach County, I thought,
"Of course, that makes sense."
He is the kind of person who gets results.
And when I found out a few years ago that Jeff made the decision to teach overseas rather than be constrained by the limitations prescribed by standardized testing, I thought,
"Of course, that makes sense."
It was no surprise that Jeff chose to make a change that would permit him to educate in an engaging and thoroughly creative way and to satisfy his need to travel the world.
He has been chronicling his adventures encountered while teaching in Mali at his blog,
Back in May, Jeff posted a picture of items that he had purchased from a local arts & crafts person.
The items included a long strand of textured beads which caught my attention and my imagination.
I made a comment about how I would love to work with beads as lovely as the ones in the picture, and, Jeff being Jeff....
he sent 12 of them to me!
These beautiful terra cotta beads are made by the Tuaregs in northern Mali and were originally used as spindle beads to keep lines from getting tangled when weaving cloth.
Spindle beads and other beads from Mali can be seen here.
Since the beads are terra cotta and are very porous,
I decided to seal the surface with a conservator's crystalline wax.
The wax was applied three times so that it could fully absorb into each bead.
With a soft cotton cloth, I then buffed the surfaces of the beads which created a subtle, lustrous sheen.
Brass discs were cut, drilled, hand textured and domed and then wire wrapped with annealed steel to create fitted bead caps.
Semi-precious, facetted gemstones dangle from sterling silver chain.
I chose to go with a simple chain, allowing each bead to be the wonderful, singular focus of each necklace.
I love how these beads are rich in texture and rich with a cultural history.
Thank you, Jeff!
Jeff and his husband, Jamey (also a teacher) have completed their teaching contracts in Mali and are preparing to travel to their new teaching assignments in Shanghai.
I look forward to learning about their adventures in China.
Bon Voyage!

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