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!

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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.

Portal pendants

There may be no better conversation-starting piece of jewelry than the locket.

Lockets are so specially secretive and inherently mysterious. What’s inside – and why?

s-l500
My favorite locket by Waxing Poetic.

These content-carrying pieces of jewelry were first employed to port perfume for ladies in the 17th century and later morphed into wearable tokens of loved ones. They also served to signify adherence to a leader or a faith and were worn by both women and men. Known most obviously to contain photos, they have held small charms, love letters – even ashes and poison.

Lockets reached their zenith of popularity in the 19th century, when they were regularly presented to mark special holidays and milestones, including funerals.

Even as styles have shifted drastically, the locket has remained a constant, appropriated by every major jewelry trend in the 20th century. You’re just as likely to see someone wearing one today as you would have been when Queen Victoria made mourning an official pastime.

victoriaShe too, loved the locket. Her husband Albert gave her this bracelet (right) that, in its final form, bore nine heart-shaped enameled lockets containing a lock of each of her children’s hair.

Today, lockets are worn not only for sentimental reasons but to demonstrate personal style. Lockets themselves often don’t resemble their forefathers. Origami Owl has popularized the “living locket,” hingeless clear discs inside which float a series of charms personally selected by the wearer or giver.

From the classic to the contemporary, lockets are the most magical of mementos.

The benefit of bangles

12974507_10154200854853755_894595498306239693_nThere is no greater form of gratitude than giving back.

The ladies behind Alex and Ani jewelry have made appreciation an art form. Literally.

Dozens upon dozens of organizations have garnered generosity via the company’s Charity by Design concept. For more than 5 years, 20 percent of the purchase price of that line of bracelets has generated funds and awareness for associated charms’ charities. To date, more than $1 million has been raised.

And it gets better. Alex and Ani stores – like my local shop in Cherry Creek North – host events to support their communities. Just last night, my friend Jen and I attended a happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m., during which 15 percent of all sales would be donated to one of my favorite nonprofits, Think 360 Arts. Don’t mind if I do!

I did, however, employ restraint and buy only one bracelet, despite my desire for many, many more. I have a feeling this is going to snowball very quickly. (Have you seen how many choices there are?!)

There is so much to love about this company, from its dedication to recycling and its overwhelmingly vast body of work to its incredible corporate citizenship. Best of all – the pieces remain affordable amid that conscientiousness.

It’s this type of enterprise that deserves the devotion its fans demonstrate. Bidding wars for retired pieces are commonplace on eBay among clamoring collectors. The girls here in Denver showed me a photo of a woman who loved the Rulers of the Woods series so much, she tattooed it on her arm.

Stack them up. Pile them on. Collect away. There is definite elegance in this kind of excess.

 

Sedimentary sentiment

20160404_204236-1_resized_1“Did you ever love me?” I asked.

He blinked. “There is a probability I did at some point, but I don’t, now.”

His words were exacting. Clinical. Cold.

I had walled up my feelings for him over the better part of a year until that very moment, when it was far too late. I’d been afraid of drawing attention to the obvious imbalance of emotion between us. But here it was, striking me in the face with each of his stony words.

Then, like so much dust in the wind, he was gone. I never saw him again.

I was wearing this necklace (above, right) that day as our relationship crumbled. (Fitting, don’t you think?) I had stumbled upon it days earlier at Simply Sterling in Broomfield. It was love at first sight.

But enamored as I was with that cobbled creation, I couldn’t bear to look at it. It served to remind me of that crushing day and of the fault I bore.

I carefully buried the necklace in my jewelry box as I mourned our uncoupling. There it stayed for years, waiting to again glint in the sunlight of happier days.

20160404_204124-1_resized_1In the meantime, I added to my pile of stone-patterned silver. My broken heart healed. I got married and gave birth to the most adorable nugget this side of anywhere.

I even found a similarly pebbled pendant, bearing a bright red stone, while on vacation with my now-husband, just a month before we married.

Rocks are formed one of three ways: through cooling and solidification of melted rock, when soil and other materials on the Earth’s surface are eroded and finally settle down into layers of sediment or as the result of extreme environmental pressure. One could say I’ve undergone similar changes since the years-ago cooling of that relationship.

Only last weekend did I finally unearth that first necklace. It is no longer synonymous with a broken heart, cracks in my psyche or with failure. Instead it is a symbol that good things come to those who wait and that pressure and pain can have a surprisingly beautiful result.

 

 

 

No vacancy

It’s no mystery why hordes of people become “transplants” in Colorado – and why natives cherish their fortune of having been born here. Our bluer skies, myriad recreation opportunities and the 300 annual days of sunshine we boast are just some of the thousands of reasons the Centennial State is the crown jewel of the United States.

Snow or shine, Colorado is an epicenter of creativity – particularly for jewelers. Some of my favorite designers live and find their inspiration here . So today, this space is reserved for fellow Coloradans Deanna Hood, Deb Fine, Ina and Kristin of iNk jewelry and, of course, the John Atencio.

2016-04-05 14.23.53_resizedDeanna Hood
Deanna Hood’s jewelry is reminiscent of the items a mother might find in the pockets of her child’s overalls at the end of the day. A gorgeous mishmash of found objects, handmade lampwork beads and whimsy, her pieces have helped to support her family after the untimely passing of her husband.  A fun fact about this artist: One of her most treasured pieces of jewelry is her Little Orphan Annie Decoder pin. Her designs can be found at Willow Artisan’s Market  in Old Littleton, where I found this treasured teacup (right).

 

20160404_204413_resized_2iNk Jewelry
Former Colorado craft sale rivals Ina Gustafsen and Kristin Rankin decided to combine forces in 2002 to form iNk jewelry. The pair creates unique pieces formed from recycled silver that takes all sorts of  shapes ranging from everyday items to participants in our natural world. Their work can be found in a dozen shops across the country, as well as on Etsy.

The artists sweetly refer to their creations as “inkets.”

I snatched up this adorable piece (left) while killing time with retail therapy – and after a double bourbon –  before an international flight at DIA. (I’m not a good flier.)


Deb Fine
20160404_204032-1_resized_1Deb Fine, namesake and talent behind Fine Designs, has a passion for the power of gemstones. Her website reads, “Everyday Deb is thankful to be surrounded by the beauty and wonder of natural gems: their colors, their textures, and their properties are the muse for her designs. The interplay of colors and how they can satisfy, excite, or soothe is a constant source of inspiration.”

For more than 12 years, Fine has worked to establish a strong presence on the Front Range at craft fairs and in small boutiques, relishing in the “enhancement of a woman’s visage by a little burst of color and an eye-catching design.” Her work can be found at a number of shops, including Silk Road on South Gaylord, where I found this little trinket (right).

 

20160404_203838-1_resizedJohn Atencio
John Atencio is arguably the most well-known jewelry designer from my home state. A fellow alumnus of Colorado State University (GO RAMS!) he revolutionized modern jewelry, popularizing offset stones, mixed metals and alternatives to the more typical round, princess, pear, marquis and square cuts. His pieces are distinct, solid, colorful  and fun. While I also treasure a limited edition sterling silver ram horn he designed to honor his Alma Mater, my personal favorite piece of his is this ring (above) which my mother gave me to mark a big career change.

I invite you to dabble and delight in the designs of these artists. Just please, don’t move here. We’re running out of room, not unlike my jewelry box.

You should go

CdpGNsDWIAAt5Am.jpg largeI’m going to let you in on a little secret.

On nearly a weekly basis as my daughter takes her Saturday or Sunday afternoon nap, I commit unarmed robbery.

Well, unless you consider a debit card a weapon.

In truth, I’m getting away with screaming deals and steals at my local TJ Maxx.

I keep in my bank account hundreds of dollars that would otherwise be kissed goodbye if I didn’t have a visceral aversion to paying full price.

Examples? I’ve got them in spades – including Ms. Kate Spade.

Kate Spade leather tote – $99. Original price $350.
Michael Kors suede handbag – $50. Original price $248.
Zac Posen wallet – $99. Original price $195.
Tory Burch scarf – $40. Original price $175.
Ippolita 18k initial charm – $79. Original price $595.

TJ Maxx is a mecca for discounted designer items. And, contrary to popular belief, nothing is wrong with said merchandise. The aren’t “factory seconds” or damaged or irregular.  They’re just marked down.

20151011_155423_resizedDon’t get me started on the fantastic housewares that are up for grabs (those are just accessories for your home)! I got a Cynthia Rowley comforter set, sheets and throw pillows (pictured left) for a total of $60.

Yes, it’s a bit of a commitment to patience to find these kinds of prices because, due to their nature, these discount stores aren’t as neatly organized or compartmentalized as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s or Nordstrom.

I think that just makes the shopping trip more fun.  The Mothership (as my friends and I lovingly refer to TJ Maxx) and its brethren, Marshalls, Ross and Steinmart are new stores every week. They are never the same place twice. A visit to any of them is rarely fruitless.

This great post encapsulates the justification of my discount devotion – and further explains how to make the most of the Maxx. And, fellow Maxxinistas often tweet to spread the gospel of successful bargain shopping.

Now if we could just get TJ Maxx to branch out into groceries, I’d never have to go anywhere else again.