Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The "little-known" parathyroid gland!

Hi friends, I'm writing this in the hopes that my experience can save you from the devastating effects of an often over-looked disease.  

Are you tired, irritable, and depressed? Do you feel older than your chronological age and have "foggy brain?" Have you suffered from kidney stones?  How about constipation, GERD, and other digestive problems?  If so, you might have Primary Hyperparathyroidism.  Yes, it's a mouthful but it describes these teeny, tiny  "punks" that are robbing you of full and happy life.  

If your blood labs have shown high calcium levels, there's a 99.9% chance you have a benign tumor on one of the parathyroid glands. Post-menopausal women are at higher risk.  If you've never heard of parathyroid glands, you're not alone. We have four and they rest on the thyroid. They control the amount of calcium your body produces.  If your calcium blood levels are normal, it means that your parathyroid glands are taking a nap.  If your levels are high, it means they are fully engaged but should be napping.   

So, what is a high calcium reading?  For someone in their 50's or 60's it would be in the 10's. In 2014, my calcium level was 10.5.  My doctor never addressed my high Calcium level.  I noticed it but thought it was good.  I thought it meant I would have strong bones, which is so laughable to me now that I realize the devastating effects of high calcium.  

In 2017,  I started seeing a new PCP, Dr. Gigi Lefebvre. Besides having a very pleasant demeanor, she's very thorough and methodical during patient visits. She doesn't miss a thing.  At the end of the visit, she hands you a copy of the notes she took during your visit.  

My first blood labs with Dr. Gigi revealed high calcium of 10.7.  I had two doctors prior to Dr. Gigi who didn't notice or address my high calcium levels. Dr. Gigi referred me to an endocrinologist who ordered more tests with the same results, normal PTH and high Calcium. He said, "You can wait and see ... or you can go to the Norman Parathyroid Center (NPC)  in Tampa." By the time of my visit with the endocrinologist, I had already researched the Norman Parathyroid Center. They specialize in parathyroid surgeries.  That's all they do. People from all over the world come to the Center and here I am living across the bridge.  I thought, "Hell no! I have three years of blood labs showing high calcium levels, I don't have to wait any longer."  If it had not been for Dr. Gigi, I would still be suffering!

I filled out the NPC online questionnaire. They received my records from Dr. Gigi within three days. Dr. Daniel Ruan, who would be my primary contact on my three-member surgical team, called me on the phone while driving to his vacation destination. In short, he said I had primary hyperparathyroidism and the only cure was surgery.  I said, "What's the next step?  Do we meet?"  He said, "I'll meet you on the day of surgery."  In the meantime, the surgical appointment was set up and I started receiving informational emails from their supportive staff.  

This is the ugly thing they removed from my neck 6 days ago!

My gland should have been the size of a grain of rice not the size of a kidney bean! They use a specialized scope to detect the amount of hormone the gland is producing.  Normal limits are between 30 and 80.  The reading of this tumor was 1709! 

If you've made it this far, what you've read is a patient's explanation of hyperparathyroidism.  If you want to hear the explanation by my surgeon, an expert in the field, click here.  You'll hear Dr. Danial Ruan explain this often overlooked disease in an easy understandable way.  Please don't let the day go by without taking a look at your last blood labs!  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.  Here's to good health! 


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hello, friends!

It's been a long time, but Facebook doesn't give me enough room to really write!  I miss writing ... not enough to write another book ... but enough to get my blog going again!

Family is so important.  People ask me, "It's great that you all live near one another.  How did not happen?"  Well, it wasn't an accident, let me just say that!  From the time Laura was 12 years old she complained of Maryland winters.  She would say, "When I grow up, I'm going to live some place warm."  This was not a single complaint mind you.  This happened every winter.  I'd hear the familiar refrain many times throughout the cold, dark Maryland winters, something not easily forgotten.

So, when it came time for Laura to transfer to a four-year university, I said, "If you want to live some place warm, why don't you consider finishing your degree in a warm climate?"  Then I put on my thinking cap, "Hmmm, where would Jim and I like to live?"  He did his psychology internship in the mid '70's in Miami, but so much had changed there.  When we lived in Coconut Grove, it was filled with creative people who owned and operated the shops in the village ... instead of Banana Republic and Gap!

St. Pete's sense of community, affordable housing, arts and culture, and beautiful water has been a great choice for us.  We bought a home for Laura to live in while finishing her degree in Finance at USF.  The difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition nearly paid for the monthly mortgage payments.  We moved Painting with Fire to its location on Central Ave and David, our inventory specialist, came with it.  Laura graduated from college, she moved out of the house, we moved in!  It was like synchronized swimming, very well orchestrated, with God's hand moving us as if we were marionettes. Life is good! 

A birthday celebration is all the sweeter when you're with family.  Jim graduated from his 66th birthday (which he called being "two-thirds evil") to 67.  His interest in music was re-emerging.  He figured out how to create a play list on Amazon through his Prime membership. :-)   Songs we grew up with by Creedence Clearwater, Gordon Lightfoot, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix ... it was quite the mix.

Then the light bulb went on ... Jim used to love to play the mandolin.  When I first met him he serenaded me with Quicksilver Messenger Service's "Who Do You Love?"  I was impressed!

His mandolin was so tired looking and had a crack.  It was barely holding it together. David, our musician son, picked out a beautiful mandolin for his father.  Without any thought, Jim placed the mandolin here ...   Could it be a more perfect setting?  

Laura and Matt, our daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Green Thumb, brought plants.  Here's the little vignette they created on the porch.  This is only a sample of what they've done in the yard since Father's Day! I feel as though they're landscaping the yard a little bit at a time! 

It was the perfect day.  I'm now babysitting the plants so they won't die in his brief absence. I'm really not a good babysitter! 

I'd love to hear about special moments you share with  your family.   

See you soon!  Hugs, Barbara

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sources of Inspiration

Have you ever gazed at the burning embers of a fireplace and thought, "I wish I could get my enamel (or ceramic glaze, or textile surface, etc.) to look like that? 

These earrings by Lynn Burcher of Gilded Lily Glass on etsy is a perfect example! These made-to-order earrings "smolder with red and copper dichroic glass."  Lynn also makes a matching pendant.  And, guess what, we're coming into that time of year where fireplaces will be lit ... even in St. Petersburg!

You can get inspiration from the work of other artists, too. I'm drawn to the richness of the work of Janet Loomis of Anvil Artifacts, where the edges of painted tin appear to have been lovingly rubbed to reflect the patina of age.

When I was writing my second book, I thought, "How can I recreate that look of wear?"  "I'm Distressed" a project from "Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry" is my stab at it.  

Here are the steps I took to make these earrings. You could also bump it up a notch by adding painted detail through the use of acrylic or liquid enamels!

I'd love to hear about some of your favorite sources of inspiration and would be happy to post them on my blog as a follow-up to this post!  This could be fun! All the best, Barbara

You can find Janet's lovely work here:


Thursday, September 3, 2015

New Classes:
Lost Wax Casting & Metalworking I & II

In the 3-day Lost Wax Casting Workshop, you'll learn this age-old art that dates back to 4500 BCE.  You'll participate in creating your own wax jewelry or component pieces, attaching them to the "tree," and casting them in sterling silver.

The Painting with Fire Team has been enjoying casting organic pieces as a part of a ring.  A pistachio shell on top of a ring with 2410 Copper transparent enamel in the interior is our new favorite. One of the wonderful things about cast jewelry is that you can eliminate solder joints, which prove to be somewhat problematic when enameling pieces.  I find this to be a very big deal! 

Casting offers options for creating jewelry that would be all but impossible using fabrication techniques. You'll experience the ease of carving, filing and polishing wax, which will then be transformed into sterling silver. 
The cast tree! Look at all the pieces one tree can hold! It's amazing!
Let's shine it up :-)
We have also added Metalworking I & II to our class schedule as well as other new project workshops.
Please register here and pass along to a friend.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When "DIY" can hurt your business

This thoughtful post is from my daughter, Laura Lewis Albright, Manager of Painting with Fire Studio

First I would like to say that I absolutely love do-it-yourself projects. From making my own garlic olive oil to dying lace curtains (to replace the ones that my dog destroyed during her puppy chewing phase!) But when does "do-it-yourself" become do-it-inferior?  Maybe a better question is, "When a company or individual gives you an idea or teaches you how to 'do-it-yourself,' how do you show your support of that small company or individual?" 

I will admit that there are times when I've picked up Elmer's glue from the grocery store to make my own "Modge Podge" instead of going to my local art supply store. But you know what? Most of those times I couldn't get the right consistency and I didn't feel good about not supporting a small business, like the Art Supply Store across the street from our studio. 

I know the purpose of do-it-yourself is to be more cost-effective and experience self-gratification for a job well done.  However, when does that come at the cost of quality?  For example, in our small city of Saint Petersburg, we have a specialty olive oil shop. My husband and I love to garden and are growing garlic. So, of course, we want to try making our own garlic olive oil :-)

It would be very easy for us to go out to our local super center or grocery store and buy an inexpensive brand, but we like to support the business that gave us the idea!  To show our support of Kalamazoo Olive Company, this is what we do. We buy one of their simple olive oils that has no zest or extra pizzazz.  We can take James' great olive oil and spice it up ourselves, while saving a few dollars and supporting a small business. Voila!  I feel good about supporting the individual or small business that was generous with their knowledge and ideas while still being able to do it myself.  

For our family, we see teaching and, hopefully, the inspiring of others to "D-I-Y" as our calling in life. We truly admire and appreciate our customers, friends and those who inspire us! We appreciate their support so that we can continue to do what we love to do which is to ... you got it ... teach and inspire others.  Through their support, they give us a reason for our calling.

Sometimes it may require a little extra effort, but it can be so worth it for all! 

Please share if you love do-it-yourself projects and have a calling or desire to support creative individuals and small businesses. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

An interesting use of torch-fired enamel!

I have to remind myself that not everyone who uses the immersion process of enameling is a jewelry maker.  Recently I received an email from Robin of The Dancing Goats saying that he bought my book and taught himself how to torch-fire enamel to be used as an accent to his spectacular turned wood.   Isn't this stunning?   I just love the enamel tide pool with the turquoise inlay!  Take a look at his etsy shop.  You'll find some really beautiful things ...

Do you use the immersion process to enamel items other than jewelry?  I'd love to feature it here. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Silhouette Die

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest place.  How about the result of cleaning out your garage? Absolutely! Some time ago I picked up this hunk of metal from a recycler.  I don't even know why or when I bought it but it sure made a great silhouette die for the hydraulic press! 

Hunka, hunka metal!

24-gauge copper over the silhouette die produced a great form, but I see this as only "the beginning" with this die.  Liquid enamel painted on the front and back with 2300 Opalescent Green sifted on top produced the "canvas."  A few strokes through the liquid enamel with the end of a mandrel produced some graceful forms.  These particular pattern decals have become a favorite for background texture.  

Multiple layers usually equals rich design.  Sometimes I think we stop too soon. Keep going with color, scratch marks, decals and see what you get.

Have you ever had the experience that you stopped too soon in the design process?  I'd love to hear about it.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

True Confessions: I was a color-phobe!

I know, it's hard to believe that I really disliked color ... in the past!  I used to wake up and wonder what shade of beige I would wear that day.  It wasn't until I was introduced to over-fired enamel that I became enamored! 

Over-fired white enamel features subtle color with added texture being added by copper oxides that bubble to the surface.  I was in love!

But over time, more color crept into my work ... 

Although, currently, a little less color appears  ...

Now I find that I want a BALANCE between having color that will KNOCK your eyes out and no color at all, plus now I want BLING!  But I know very little about stones because, like I said, I never liked color.  I mean, my birthstone is Diamond so I guess I could  have been working with Diamonds!  LOL!

Today I signed up for the Accredited Jewelry Professional course offered by the Gemology Institute of America.  Shane Socash, owner of David Reynolds Jewelry and Coin, can be credited with bringing this information to the students of the Jewelry Making and Repair Program at Pinellas Technical College.  AJP classes begin July 7, 2015.  I've always loved being a student.  Thank you, Shane, for sharing your information and experience. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alternative shopping sites for jewelry tools!

I make jewelry so I usually check out sites that sell jewelry or metalworking supplies when I need a tool.  But friend, Larry Mellgren, St. Petersburg jewelry artist, tipped me off to another way to shop.  He buys many of his tools on Ebay by searching "Machinist Tools" instead of "Jewelry Tools." He's found that he pays a fraction of the price had he bought the same tool through jewelry searches.  

Taking his advice, I searched Ebay for a digital caliper.  I was looking for a Mutitoyo, which I discovered are quite pricey.  The budget doesn't currently permit this purchase, but some darling dividers popped up on the screen.  In a recent workshop with Wendy Thurlow I admired her smart-looking 3" divider, which was easily maneuvered in one hand.  Mine, on the other hand, were big clunky things. 
Say hello to my new "$15 purchase," a divider made by Starrett, a USA company manufacturing precision tools since 1880  You'll notice the $58 price tag on their website. Mine even came with little covers to protect the points of the legs, which may no longer be offered by a review of their listing. 

Just to visually compare the Starrett divider with the others I own, the divider in the middle is one I bought from Eurotool.  There's nothing wrong with it, but it's unwieldy when compared with the Starrett.  The divider on the right end has some nice replaceable points, but is even larger.

The divider doesn't replace a caliper.  It is simply used for marking ... or dividing ... lengths.  For instance, you can easily mark off a strip of metal by placing one point along the edge of metal land drawing the other point along the metal; mark divisions on a ring; mark lengths of a prong, etc.  These tasks can all be done with a divider.  I'm still in the market for a digital caliper.  I'm sure I'll be checking Ebay! 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The beauty of Liquid Enamel!

I absolutely love the versatility of liquid enamel!  I also love the satin surface of the fired enamel, which is very unlike other enamels. The porcelain clay in liquid enamel contributes to its buttery smooth surface.  

Liquid Enamel over Copper Pipe, Copper Mesh, and Copper Sheet

I use liquid enamel ... 

  • as a replacement for Klyr-Fire.  You can apply it to the entire piece of copper and sift 80 mesh enamel onto the surface before the Liquid Enamel dries.  This approach gives you a good foundation for other techniques
  • when I want to do sgraffito.  Sgraffito is a technique where you scratch through the unfired surface of the enamel to reveal either a different base layer of enamel or the metal beneath.  The lines of the sgraffito design remain dark as a result of the oxidation of copper during firing. Sifting colored transparent enamels on top doesn't budge the toasty brown color of the oxidized copper.  In fact, the transparent enamels can be layered upon each other to create shading and entirely new colors. 
  • when I want to accent etching. You can dip an etched piece into liquid enamel, allow it to dry, and finger sand the enamel from the high points of the etched design. 
  • when I want to preserve a very delicate material, such as copper mesh.  Because glass is an insulator, applying liquid enamel to delicate metals will protect them. 
Pictured below is "A Mother's Heart," by Kathleen Kilgore, Tampa Bay Sculptor. Welded from strips of steel, Kathleen wanted to add color.  White liquid enamel was handpainted by Kathleen on each of the strips.  Orient Red (1870) and Sunset Orange (1840) with a smattering of Raspberry (2836) enamels were sifted onto select areas of the sculpture. The heart received multiple firings.

"A Mother's Heart" by Kathleen Kilgore
This is a "first look" at liquid enamel.  Stay tuned for more.