A lotus grows in New York

20170605_194821.jpgThe early-to-mid 2000s were formative years for my personal style – most importantly – via my jewelry box. Long before I became fluent in the language of Waxing Poetic, I was prostrate at the altar of Me & Ro.

The brand was launched by Robin Renzi and her now former partner in design, Michele Quan, in 1991. The pair was thrust into the limelight eight years later, when opportunity “buzzed” their intercom as they worked in their Lafayette Street studio in NYC.

Renzi recalled the incident to People magazine in 2000, “The man downstairs says, ‘There’s a woman here looking for you.’ I said, ‘We’re not a store; we’re not open.’ But the woman got on the phone and said, ‘Hi, this is Julia Roberts, do you make jewelry? Can I come up and see it?’”

I spotted Me & Ro pieces in nearly every scene Roberts filmed in 1999’s Notting Hill– as did millions of others – and Me & Ro was On. The. Map.  Roberts is rarely photographed without at least one piece from Me & Ro; she accepted her first Oscar wearing  the line.

“Loving Me & Ro is like loving chocolate—it’s a no-brainer,” the actress told InStyle magazine in 2011. Dozens of other actresses have followed suit: Mariska Hargitay and the majority of the female cast of Law and Order SVU and Marisa Tomei are just a few. I was delighted to see Sandra Bullock wear a necklace identical to one I had, while she filmed Two Weeks’ Notice.

I can only imagine it must have been a defining moment for Renzi and Quan when THE Elizabeth Taylor discovered Me & Ro’s delicacies. (She did write a book about her lifelong love affair with jewelry, so it’s fair to consider her an expert.)

While my pocketbook couldn’t compete with the buying power of those leading ladies, my adoration of the brand, could. The attention to minute detail, devotion to symbolism, substance and craftsmanship was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

20170606_120319I bought my first piece – this 10k gold slate engraved in the Sanskrit word for truth – on a slow night in the newsroom in 2003 in the beginning of my journalism career. Over the coming years, I added to my collection; rings and pendants, earrings and the tiniest of diamonds. I took immaculate care of each of them, thankfully so, as I ended up financing a career change in 2006/7 by selling off the bulk of my pieces.

Rooted in Buddhism, eastern cultures and Bohemia, Me & Ro’s first offerings are engraved in Tamil and Sanskrit, pendants hanging from natural leather cords, rough cut gemstones honoring the natural world. The pieces are finished with a satiny, brushed texture, a quiet nod to luxury.

Renzi told the Stone Set, “I fall in love with jewelry because it speaks to me on many levels. The way it looks, the craftsmanship and quality, and what it represents. I want people to fall in love with my pieces for all of those reasons. Like when something hits you and you have to have it! I am inspired by life—it all melds together and comes out in jewelry.”

The line, now a quarter century old, has expanded into more trendy fare, including pave diamond pendants reading “kiss me.” Me & Ro touches on every faith and every style.

“I like personal jewelry that I wear and doesn’t wear me,” Renzi says. With Me & Ro, that’s a mission every accessory aficionado can accomplish. (Keep in mind, the price point on some pieces has nearly tripled over the past decade.)

In 2009, following Quan’s departure from the business to pursue fine art, Renzi went as far as to launch a special, purposely affordable take on the line for HSN: Robin by Me & Ro. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being less than thrilled about the venture; the departure from quality was obvious – metals were plated, gemstones were created… Thankfully, the move was short-lived.

In its place, Renzi in 2016 launched a line of sterling silver pieces exclusive to Amazon.

“The jewelry for Amazon is about symbolism and inspiration. I am not elitist. I had tried to do jewelry at a lower price point myself, but I refused to go to China. Everything for Amazon is produced in my factory where my fine jewelry is made on 47th Street. It’s really pretty. I think it’s well-designed, made in America and has a really good price point—and Amazon has allowed me to do that. It’s a great opportunity.”

20170606_120845Speaking of opportunities, I’ve begun rebuilding my collection, with different pieces this time. I tracked down a now-discontinued tiny 10k lotus petal and Iolite necklace, engraved in Sanskrit, which I pair with sterling and 10k earrings engraved in Tamil.

Just last week, the gorgeous sterling silver and ruby mandala (at top) arrived in the mail to accompany a matching ring I often wear. (Thank you, hubby, for succumbing to my mooning over it on the Internet; it was on sale!)

Renzi, too, has spent the last few years rebuilding.

She told Flair, “When market crashed in 2009, I had four stores and 100 employees. I thought ‘this is crazy, I don’t know how I got here’. So I built my website, pulled out of department stores and ultimately got out of wholesale.

I’ve completely revamped and restructured and now we have 20 employees. I think it’s nice to have a smaller company–to take better care of myself and my employees.”

It’s a good move, in my humble opinion, exemplified by the pieces released last year to mark the company’s silver jubilee: limited edition, labor intensive and intended to “feel like a second skin.”

Much like a lotus flower pushing through the mud to bloom, (and that often appears in her pieces) Renzi has succeeded by evolving and refusing to give up.

“To me jewelry empowers you to believe in yourself, and I think people are ready for that now,” Renzi says.

She’s right.

Silver lining

20161122_081853
Wearing southwestern jewelry, along with my NorthFace fleece jacket and driving a SUV in the snow. Does it get any more cliche?

Let’s talk  Native American-made jewelry. Its got its own special kind of magic. It’s huge and small, ornate and incomplex, fundamentally storied and mystical.

Even when the symbolism is overt, these pieces demand explanation. Made of sterling silver and often inlaid with brightly colored stones, the pieces bear witness to the quiet strength, pride and beauty of the United States’ indigenous peoples.

Despite the vast variety of imagery, design and craftsmanship, each piece seems to bear a shared humanity, carrying with it a bit of the person who gave it life. I like to imagine the artists honing a skill passed down for generations, their fingers blackened with tarnish, polishing the pieces to a perfect glow to be displayed on blankets, black velvet or inside cases heavily laden with treasure.

s-l1600I particularly enjoy the use of finely detailed patterns like the ones that mark the pottery pieces (of which I’m most fond) on this vintage bracelet I bought on eBay (left).

I love how these pieces revere and honor nature, animals and folklore. I would argue that no other genre of jewelry makes the simple more beautiful than pieces rooted in our country’s ancestry.

Living in Colorado, these pieces aren’t just for special occasions, solely paired with denim or reserved for days when cowboy boots are a must. They’re for everyday wear and I take advantage of the opportunity frequently. Today I’m wearing a pair of pendants I bought at the gift shop at the Colorado Convention Center, home of the blue bear.

20170210_165327Many shops that set their sights on the tens of millions of tourists who visit our state annually are a gold mine for these pieces. (Just be careful not to pay too much.) Some of the shop owners will haggle while others hold a stiff line.  Another reliable source is the many antique and consignment shops across the Metro Area. I purchased the bulk of the bracelets pictured at the top of this post at the  Hampden Street Antique Market.

Adding these pieces to your jewelry stable is a wise investment; their value and application doesn’t ebb and flow like many other styles do. Much like the turquoise stones so regularly employed by these pieces, no matter how long they’ve been worn, they remain cool. (A quick test of the authenticity of turquoise is it will be cool to the touch, even while in direct contact with the skin for several minutes.)

20170213_150630Case in point: During a recent visit to my favorite Denver consignment shop, I marveled at a beautifully bulky hinged cuff bracelet, forged of solid sterling silver in the image of a saguaro cactus.  “Isn’t that amazing?!,” the shop owner exclaimed, adding “It’s from the 40s.” I’d never have guessed it was born in the same decade as my parents. Aside from its size, it blended right in with the dozens of other pieces she had for sale that day – some new and some vintage.

I encourage you to blaze your own trail and to make your own statement with bright stones, Hopi overlay, Navajo Conchos or Zuni fetishes, to name just a few. This jewelry gives true meaning to the term “conversation piece.”

Roy G. Biv

In 2014 when I 13124663_10154271808838755_6238862855837539800_nlearned the baby in my belly was of the female variety, my 6-year-old niece declared that the theme of her nursery should be “rainbow zebra.”

Despite my opting not to go that route (her nursery is periwinkle and green), that saturated steed has been a mainstay in my daughter’s 3-and-a-half years of life.

1896840_10152978645848755_3723640402400884733_nAt a craft fair the year after her birth, I happened upon a pairing of the Rainbow Zebra cloth book and accompanying stuffed toy. Soon enough, “Rainbow BEEZA!” became part of our nightly routine. I can recite it by heart. Meanwhile, her aunts, cousin and of course, yours truly, added to her polychromatic pony collection with toys, clothing and artwork.

My girl’s interest in Rainbow Zebra has currently waned in favor of Minnie Mouse and Every. Single. Disney princess. But I won’t let our favorite multicolored mammal fade into the past. I cherish memories of reading (and reciting) that story with her nestled in my lap so many times. Maybe, royfor me, it’s a way to cling to her babyhood a little longer.

Two weeks ago, I painted her this painting at a class with my sister.  (You may have seen this painting featured on Undercover Boss.)

And, thanks to Links of London, I have my very own Rainbow Zebra, to honor my precious princess. It arrived in the mail this week, all the way from the U.K.  s-l300

Maybe even more than clinging to every bit of my girl’s childhood I can keep, I  believe the message the story bears is one particularly important right now for every child, every person: It’s OK to be different and always love who you are.

For those interested, the full text of the story is below. I’ve as yet been unable to determine who wrote the book, but to him or her, I say thank you for the brightly hued happy memories.

Once in a jungle far away, a herd of zebras spent each day. They grazed on grasses in the sun. They pranced and played and had great fun. They all wore stripes of black and white, which to the zebras seemed just right. “Black and white’s the way to be,” they all agreed contentedly.

They were quite happy with their lot, except for one. His stripes were not black and white but a brighter hue…yellow, green and red and blue. This little zebra said with a sigh, “I want to be like you…oh why can’t I be black and white too, not yellow, red and green and blue?”

He tried to scrub his stripes away! He tried to fade them in the sun! He tried to cover they with clay! But nothing worked. No way. Not one. So finally one dismal day he waved, “Farewell!” and went away. He told the herd, “I must go see if somewhere there’s someone like me.”

He walked until he came by chance upon a place called Jungle Ranch. “Here,” he said, “I hope maybe to find someone who looks like me.” He met a leopard wearing lots of splendid orange polka dots. A silly green gazelle was there and a sleepy lion with red hair. He met all sorts of jungle creatures with bright colors and pleasant features. “You’re nice,” he said, “as nice as can be, but none of you are striped like me.”

And so he walked for hours and hours until he came to the Land of Flowers. Their smiling faces were green and blue and red and pink and yellow too. “But none of you are striped like me,” the zebra sighed unhappily.

And now quite tired, he lay his head upon the fragrant flower bed. He woke again to thunder and lightning and rain so heavy it was frightening. A dreadful storm had come to pass. It shook the trees. It shook the grass.

And when at last the storm passed by. A rainbow arched across the sky. The zebra smiled with great delight at seeing such a wondrous sight. “A rainbow’s beautiful to see. And it is striped…just like me.”

So from that day he took great pride, in his own multicolored hide. Back to the herd he brought a glow, the beauty of his own rainbow.

(Hardly) A Renaissance Woman

Each Summer, my husband, his friends and I make a pilgrimage to Larkspur -home of Colorado’s Renaissance Festival. Now in its 40th year, the festival draws more than 200,000 people annually. (This year, due to scheduling, we’ll make two.)

Together, we jaunt through the facade of a medieval castle, beneath revelers perched atop the gates shouting a merry welcome. We’re greeted by players who’ve taken up a weekend job to call me m’lady. Inside, it’s dusty, dirty, sweltering and expensive. There’s little shade to be found and Colorado’s fabled afternoon downpours often turn the park into a muddy mess. (And don’t get me started about the poor elephants and big cats that serve as entertainment. It infuriates me.)

fairy.JPGAside from those factors, the event greatly amuses me. The poorly executed fake British accents. The token rotund woman in a chain-mail bikini. The knights in knockoff armor who’ve clearly taken a break from LARPing and marathon games of MAGIC, WoW and D&D to try their hand at capturing the hearts of fair maidens clad in fairy wings or gypsy garb.

There are pirates, church folk, tavern wenches and Robin Hoods aplenty. Lords and ladies mingle with dragons and demons. And, with LOTR’s and Game of Thrones‘ rise to fame, a visit isn’t complete without spotting a Legolas or a Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen.

costumeDespite not fitting in with the crowd, I love the people watching. Some of the costumes are beautiful and elaborate and I respect the stamina of those wearing them. IT’S. SO. HOT.  Only twice, under extreme duress, have I ever attended “RenFaire” in costume, and both times I paid dearly. (Think heat rash and migraine.)

costume 2I’m perennially disgusted by the gaggle of “gents” gorging on oversized turkey legs, the greasy juice dripping down their faces and onto their kilts. Though in truth, the food is delicious, (I’m partial to the artichokes)  I’m not sure they had deep-fried macaroni triangles in the 16th Century.

“Huzzah for the tipper,” rings out on the regular as attendees guzzle flagons of wine or ale (in the form of Coors Light). Artisans beckon festival-goers into their booths to hawk their wares. That’s when it gets good.

dressThe handiwork of the craftspeople who set up shop is simply amazing. Handmade wooden drinkware, blown glass, fantasy artwork, clothing, textiles and jewelry are just some of the offerings of the more than 200 vendors at the fair. Last year, we bought our daughter this dress (right) for just $20. She wore it until her arms got too big to fit through the armholes. We loved it.

For a wedding gift in 2012, I presented my husband with hand-forged pewter goblets featuring a pair of dragons intertwining into a single heart, a row of amethysts dotting each of their backs. A couple of years later, my husband commissioned a one-of-a-kind pair of leather boots bearing an understated purple dragon. They took months to make and are truly exquisite.

But as you might surmise, dear reader, the accessories for sale are my favorite: Rows of hand woven and painted scarves, sterling silver and gemstone jewelry glistening in the scorching sun… Sign. Me. UP.

PicMonkey Collage

Over the years, I’ve purchased or been bought the three pieces at left, from the same vendor. They’re gorgeous and I love them all. The Citrine dragonfly is my favorite, since it was a present from my sweetie. The other two I acquired; both are made by Peter Stone. While you can come by his enormous cache of work online, it’s fun to scoop one up at the festival to remember your visit. For me, each marks the passage of time.

I’ll likely be doing so again on our upcoming visit in a couple of weeks – after a few cups of mead and at least one Steak on a Stake. Sorry hubby, but honesty’s the best policy.

 

Israel, I’m infatuated

Early last fall, my husband came home with news.  He delivered it casually as he poured juice to accompany our daughter’s pre-dinner snack. “So, they’re sending me to Israel for work.”

A sly smile spread across his face as my eyes widened and my index finger extended to an exaggerated point. Before I could speak, he raised his palms defensively and said, “I already told them you’re coming with me.”

Crisis averted.

12645026_10154014457933755_7228192715664048313_nMy entire adult life, I had wanted to travel to the land of milk and honey to absorb the history, to smell and taste the food (THE FOOD!) and to revel in the beauty that has inspired many of my favorite jewelers.

Thankfully, this was no secret to my sweetie, who happens to be one of the Chosen People.

Despite my long-term idolatry of all things Israeli, I did not seek him out on J-date. (We met on Plenty of Fish.)

Obviously, my spouse was excited to visit the birthplace of his ancestry (his family are Jewish Americans by way of Russia). He did his best to suppress the panic that ensued because he recalls very little of the Hebrew he learned for his Bar Mitzvah.

telavivAfter a series of delays due to technical issues and scheduling snafus, he touched down in Tel Aviv the last week in January; I joined him a week later. With just five days to spend in the country for vacation, our trip was more a mission than leisure. Both of us wanted to experience as much as we could.

We spent our first day walking across Tel Aviv, which has a “cool part of L.A.” vibe. We noshed on goose bacon and the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever eaten. My adoration of the city was instantaneous and consuming. The people and the places are beautiful. (And you’ve never eaten an apricot until you’ve eaten one from Israel. They’re insanely good.)

20160421_081450_resizedMy husband bought me this lovely necklace (right) depicting a stalk of wheat, fronted by a small gold-washed Magen David, at the shopping mall adjacent to our hotel.

We visited Masada, the place where the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion stood. That place and the lots that were drawn there are an incredible testament to the endurance and resilience of the love and faith of the Jewish people.

Inside its gift shop were dozens of beautiful earrings, rings, necklaces and bracelets resembling some among my collection of Israeli jewelry at home, from the likes of Shablool, Or Paz and YAM. The bright, fiery blue opals, deep red garnets and dark turquoise set in Israel’s iconic ribbony sterling silver greeted me like an old friend.

The prices, however, did not. (eBay, Etsy and Amazon have done away with the captive market.) So, the painfully pretty pieces stayed there to be admired and acquired by another.

Our next stop was the Dead Sea before we stayed the night in Jerusalem, crossing the country’s capital on foot the following day. We popped in and out of houses of worship, all of which claim ownership of that holy land.

12642539_10154013438803755_3401927284124268222_nJerusalem is a breathtaking place in every sense of the word. Gazing across the Mount of Olives, it’s difficult to grasp how a city that has been razed and built again 33 separate times and that is a daily victim of violence can still be so beautiful and seemingly peaceful.

After a stop to place prayers in the Western Wall, we wove our way through a sprawling market at the heart of the city, its twists and turns taking us into a variety of faith, ethnicity and culture. Tiny stores peeked out from holes carved into walls, offering spices, meats and grains, toys and clothes and bits of silver and gold. Some vendors sat quietly letting the sale come to them, while others occupied narrow walkways, shouting the availability of their wares to all within (ringing) earshot.

Much of the jewelry offered was similar at each shop – pendants and rings mimicking the stones of the Wailing Wall, vibrant Breastplates of Aaron and delicate filigree Chai charms.

The textiles in that country, not surprisingly, are amazing. The scarves, tapestries and linens we saw were more artwork than tools of cloth. The colors and details are unlike anything the United States has to offer. We came home with hand-sewn table runners dotted with colorful  pomegranates as gifts for family.

12662548_10154016965753755_7409226149486601665_nOur last day was spent back in Tel Aviv, perusing the Nachlat Binyamin artisans market. Israeli artists are rich in talent and inspiration. The crafts for sale capture the ambiance of this country’s piece of the Mediterranean with bright colors and ethereal imagery.

Now after three months back at home, my mind often returns to Israel in moments of quiet. It is no secret why visitors travel there again and again. The next time I get there, many of those artists will also be rich(er) with my money.

I will always be thankful to my husband for sharing with me those days in Israel and a bit of his special heritage. Shalom!

It’s all Greek to me

I’d love to think I were Greek in a former life, but DNA doesn’t lie. I’m purely a western European mutt.

MCDALCA_EC032_H_Jennifer-Aniston-Along-Came-Polly-467Despite my heritage, I harbor a fascination that borders on obsession with this gem of the Mediterranean and all that comes from it.

Even my most admired style icon – the actress Aphrodite that is Jennifer Aniston – is (half) Greek. Just today, People magazine named her the most beautiful woman in the world for 2016.

Anyway, back to my point: I love all things of the Grecian persuasion – most notably, the jewels.

It all began with an inexplicable fondness for cameos. I collected a handful of them as a young girl and sadly, every one of them has been lost to time (or maybe a Caboodle thief).

Any woman my age can call herself a liar if she says she wasn’t at least a little bit in love with George Michael – our modern day Adonis. I was slightly crushed when he came out, you lucky menfolk, you.

As an adult, I learned to love Greek food. I learned about Greek mythology (not just from Percy Jackson). I lived vicariously through my parents when they crossed “take a Mediterranean cruse” off of their bucket list, ogling every photograph they captured and demanding specific details of every meal they consumed.

CEringThe first piece of fine jewelry I ever bought myself was  a ring like this from Caroline Ellen, engraved with a humorous ancient Greek saying. I saved up for a long time to have it commissioned after spotting it in a June 2003 issue of InStyle. The scratches and dents in my ring’s heavy gold blend into a fine patina.

My interest has since expanded into ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures – both of which owe much to Greece and its people. (If you tell me you didn’t like the short-lived ROME series on HBO, I will call you an idiot. To. Your. Face.)

20160420_150321-1_resizedA large part of my jewelry wardrobe bears Greek symbolism. I have replica coin necklaces featuring the likenesses of Cicero, Calliope and Minerva. I have an Alex and Ani bracelet honoring Hermes, the great communicator and trusted messenger of the gods.

The earrings and bracelet (pictured left) are vintage finds I made on Etsy and eBay, respectively. The earrings, a rare piece by Angie Olami, are a tribute to Philotes, a lesser-known goddess of friendship and affection. The bracelet is a beautiful example of the widely-used Greek Key, or meander, pattern which symbolizes infinity or the eternal flow of things.

I’m hoping to have the opportunity to wear my lovely pieces while visiting the birthplace of democracy someday. Sweet hubby, I’m looking at you to get me to (the) Greece!

Shared wrist-ory

grammyThe moments I spent inside my Grandmother Virginia’s apartment as her soul embarked are heavy in the pit of my stomach even now, six years after her death.

I can still feel the light that poured into her little space, illuminating the palpable void. I can hear the silence that stressed her absence. I can still smell the faintness of her scent.

Never again would I sit on one of her kitchen chairs and pepper her with questions as she whipped up something delicious in her well-loved toaster oven.

Like stitches, the scene is embroidered on my heart.

In her bedroom, the covers were thrown back as if she’d gotten out of bed just minutes before; her favorite Colorado Avalanche socks were waiting atop the blankets to warm her feet.

On the floor I found a paper bag that she’d crumpled and breathed into, attempting to cease hyperventilation from the pain she had been in. What she called the “Devil’s grip” turned out to be the second of three heart attacks that claimed her life. (The first had occurred more than a year earlier.)

I felt like an intruder, not wanting to linger. My father and I – sent on the errand by my uncle – swiftly searched for the few heirlooms Grammy had hidden away that could prove potential targets for thievery.

Where would Grammy keep such things? What were we even looking for?

babygrammy
The small ring we found may be the one on her tiny finger in this photo, ca. 1919/1920.

We eventually uncovered a small, blue fire box containing her wedding ring, an antique pendant watch and what I believe was a ring she must have received as a child.

In a top drawer we located a number of pieces of vintage turquoise jewelry and a mound of costume necklaces and bracelets. Behind the door in a hanging vinyl earring organizer, I happened upon a blue silk pouch that held a gold ring – a present from a boyfriend – and a sterling silver horse ring she’d bought for herself on a rare occurrence.

Two weeks later, the bulk of our family returned to Grammy’s apartment to parcel out her worldly belongings in the manner she’d intended – a lottery. While my father and his two brothers waited as chance would determine the next owner of contested items, everyone pitched in to pack up her life.

Each of her granddaughters and great-granddaughters were allowed to select something from her less-valuable pieces of jewelry. My sister chose a sterling locket that my niece called “Grammy’s pretty.” She cherishes a photo of my niece as a baby, sitting in Grammy Ginny’s lap, mesmerized by that locket around her neck.

wp-1460681260797.jpegI chose a silver bracelet loaded with charms Grammy had collected on her travels – most of them after my grandfather’s passing 22 years earlier. She became a widow at the age of 70 after half a century of marriage. For many that would be life-stopping, but not for Grammy. It was a new beginning – just as she told me Grandpa Jack would have wanted it to be.

The last decades of her life were truly golden. When she turned 80, she announced that none of us could tell her what to do, ever again. She did shots of Tuaca and drank Budweiser (not simultaneously). She ingeniously wore her pants backwards to accommodate her tummy and lack of backside. She beat my super smart brother-in-law at poker. And she did it all wearing bright red lipstick.

She saw the world in those years. She found love again. She made new friends, took up painting and poetry and rarely missed watching a Rockies game. She wore a sombrero on her 92nd birthday. She lived.

That charm bracelet and the incredible woman who now shares it with me are profound and gentle reminders that life is what you make it. Grandma Ginny made her life big, beautiful and her own.