By Tony Reid Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.
They say you can't take it with you when you die.
But now, thanks to an entrepreneurial stay-at-home mom from Lincoln, you can at least keep some of them with you after they die
Pets, that is. And people, too.
Aletha Ely runs a business called "The Glittered Acorn" that uses decorative beads hand-fashioned from a special clear resin to hold little bits of your dearly departed pets or persons. Customers send her a half to a full teaspoon of the deceased cremains (the dust left after cremation) and Ely blends them seamlessly into the beads.
It's then highly polished and finished with decorative sterling silver inserts so it can be worn on a necklace or as a bracelet or maybe earrings. "You could even hang one in your car," says Ely, 37.
She further explains that the beads will be in shades of gray depending on the color of the cremains, which tend to vary a bit.
But settling for monochrome mortality is far from your only choice. Ely has all kinds of colorful metalliclike flakes that she can sprinkle into the beads to dress remembrance in many splendid hues.
The creator dramatically highlights the contrast by showing a plain blackish-gray bead holding a bit of dust from her late and beloved pug, Brutus. Then she shows off one she did for a customer's dog that is flashed through with bright red accents. If you want hair incorporated into the beads, she can do that, too. Her approach is to be very custom-oriented to please her clients. And those customers are seeking her out from far and wide.
"I've made five for a lady in New York," says Ely, who says her beads are getting noticed on Facebook. "And that lady also paid for an additional four as gifts this Christmas for a friend of hers in Colorado."
Those were all dead pet beads (four dogs and one cat in New York and four dogs in Colorado) but Ely, who charges $35 per dime-sized bead, is on a roll and branching out.
"I just got an order for from a Michigan customer involving her mother's cremains," says Ely. "I am doing two beads: one for the customer and one for her sister."
Making each bead takes several weeks, and it's all done by hand. Ely says the process can be nerve-wracking, and the trick is to get the essence of the critter or person in there and nicely distributed without air bubbles. Often working late into the night after her children Stella, 3, and Poppy, 18 months, are settled down, Ely keeps plugging away until she gets it right.
"I don't give up easy; I'm stubborn," she explains.
Her mom, Bev Hoaglin, brought in to watch the kids so Ely can get five minutes to talk, says her daughter is a perfectionist. "Whatever she does, she always does really well," says Hoaglin, 71. "And I think this bead thing of hers is really going to kick off, I really do. People like it."
Ely got into the custom bead business 18 months ago and found it through a rather strange avenue: breast milk. She noticed there were ads online for craftsmen who made keepsake beads using breast milk from proud moms. The wrinkle here is that the milk can't be liquid before it becomes part of the bead and, for aesthetic reasons, must keep its original color during the creative process.
Ely has almost perfected her own hush-hush technique after much agonizing trial and error. "If you look online, it is a big secret about how it's done," she says. "But I am about 90 percent there now."
The cremains beads became one of her many offshoots while doggedly pursuing that immortalized breast milk goal. Another style of motherhood memento bead she mastered on the way, and has already done for herself and one paying customer, involves incorporating material from a dried placenta. Seriously.
"I know some people will be completely grossed out, but I love these beads," Ely says. "I think going through childbirth and becoming a mother is something women are really proud of, and it remains very important to them. They want to remember it, and I'm proud that I can create something to hold that memory that will last forever."