Tag Archives: crafts

I’ll tell you about the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stars made the biggest impression on me, this time at the mountain cabin by the lake, but not in the usual way.

Normally what strikes me at such a high elevation is the brightness, how the Milky Way is huge and obvious, and how even my weak eyes can see the Pleiades. But last week the moon stole the show with its competing lumens. I’ll have more to say about the stars later.

Just below the place that was too steep for my timidity…
Tall and Short climb Gumdrop.

We had friends with us whom I’ll call Tall and Short. They are good sports and happy campers, very resourceful and cheerful when challenges arise. I will only tell you about the most fun challenge, of climbing Gumdrop Dome. I failed to surmount it for the third year in a row, and after I gave up I walked around the base to meet the others coming down the other side.

Of course I found a new plant on my walk, something that looks like a fern and a succulent at the same time, and was growing against a granite boulder, its “fronds” about as tall as my forefinger. I marked it with cairns above and below so that when my camera was returned to me I would be able to find this best of the specimens again.

I have no idea what it is, or how to start researching it. And I need to spend time on other things now, like making small dolls.

Seemingly tiny real people descend Gumdrop.

I took along on the trip my doll project that has been in the works for years without a single doll being born. (More than three years ago what slowed me down was stuffing-wool so dirty I couldn’t bear to tell its story, but that excuse is long expired.)

And while sitting on the cabin deck in the warm afternoons I completed three tiny dollies! I’ll post more photos of them when I have a bigger family to show. But it was a breakthrough that added to my contentment with a vacation that tried to scream “too short!”

More pleasant hours were spent paddling around the lake with my husband, while Mr. Tall fished and Mrs. Short sat on a rock nearby and knitted sweaters for her expected first grandchild.

Gumdrop Dome from the lake

Many rocks are exposed that we normally prefer not to see. It was a year of little snow in the Sierras, so the lake is down. But it’s fun to drive out into the dry lake bed a ways and park in the midst of granite drama, as in the photo at top.

We can’t imagine that there is another Sierra lake that has so many granite domes and peaks encircling it. As we floated on the lake I studied the variously shaped rocks and tried to come up with names for them. Only one is named on the official maps, but I think they all are deserving.

This picture shows at least four hitherto unnamed domes. The one on the left I want to call Glad Peak, because Mr. Glad and Soldier climbed it one time. In the center of the photo are two domes side-by-side, whom I am calling He and She. Between those in this view is a peninsula that is in a normal year called Ant Island, and which we like to paddle to and around. But not this time….

It doesn’t matter if the snow pack was light, or if some trees have died, the sky is unchanged. But on the first night up there I completely forgot to go outside to greet the stars. The next day we all talked about how we must view them together that second night — but the sun sets so late, and half of our party was in bed before the other half of us remembered again. Then I forgot and put on my nightgown, and then remembered again. Almost dutifully I opened the slider, pulled the door shut behind me… and immediately felt myself in Deep Heaven, what C.S. Lewis wanted to name what we coldly term Space.

The stars crowded me, pressing their quietness down. I was alone, standing on the deck barefoot with the cool night air on my legs, but barely noticing the slight discomfort, because of the great company of beings so close — just me and them being familar, and me wondering. It would have been rude to leave after only a quick glance, and besides, they were telling me something.

I walked slowly around in the dark, annoyed by the light from the lamp inside, which I tried to keep behind me. Not a human sound could be heard, not even an animal sound. It was the kind of quietness that is roaring — but with what? I couldn’t pin down what it was, so I stood and listened. The host of heaven with weighty silence conveyed the presence of The Holy, and it was almost too exhilarating, that close to bedtime.

Eventually I had to go inside and climb under the covers. But my exciting encounter with the stars changed me in this way: Years ago I did make solitary mountain retreats here at the cabin, for several days at a time, but I haven’t felt up to doing that again. Now that the feeling has been revived in me, of being alone and at the same time the opposite of lonely, I am hungry for more of it, I want long days and nights of it, and I plan to return in September. I think those stars are angels.

I communicate vintage style in small bits.

This week the discussion of Hidden Art of Homemaking is on chapter 9 – Writing Prose and Poetry. I haven’t kept up with the conversation at Ordo Amoris for a week or more, and for this chapter I’m just re-posting this from August 2009. Don’t be misled by the now-obsolete references to postage rates!

Old-Fashioned Correspondence


To introduce the postal theme– and for a few moments just forget about the concept of mail that can’t be carried in from the mail box in one’s real hands–I show you this T-shirt we bought in Yosemite last month, at the post office. It was the best clothing deal in the park, and an unusual and historic design: a reproduction of a stamp that was issued in 1936, showing–Yes! my beloved El Capitan! If you have ever beheld that rock I trust you won’t find its frequent appearance here tiresome.

I mostly wanted to tell about postcard-writing, and the shirt isn’t very pertinent to that…though it just occurred to me that one might buy the shirt at the Yosemite post office and then write a postcard sort of message on the fabric before mailing it in its more personalized form. I don’t think I’ll run right back there and pick up a few more, though.


When I was a child, my maternal grandmother would send postcards to me and my siblings from wherever she was traveling. I recall receiving word from Turkey, Norway, Mexico, and Hawaii. She also wrote very entertaining letters from home. As she has been a major role model for me, it’s no wonder that I feel it a natural activity as a human being to share my life in this way with those I love.

It’s easy when on a journey, away from the usual housekeeping duties, to remember friends and family and take the opportunity to let them know I do think of them. A trip just doesn’t satisfy if I haven’t dropped a dozen cards in the letter-box.

This picture was taken at the Grand Canyon. When others in our party were hiking down into the gorge one morning, I walked all over the place looking for a picnic table with a view, from which I might write my cards. That was not to be found, but in a sheltered courtyard I did find a good spot, away from wind and next to a big stone with rain water pooled in a depression on the top. I didn’t notice this rock until I was startled by a raven who swooped down to drink.

Postage “just” went up again. It now costs 28 cents to mail a postcard. On those first envelopes carrying my grandmother’s address in the corner, the stamps on the other corner said “4 cents.” I can’t imagine that a postcard was more than a penny.

One thing I inherited from my father recently was the stamps from his desk drawer. There are some pretty old ones, from when a letter was 25 cents. If they still have stickum on them I use that, and if not, I apply a little Elmer’s glue and save my pennies by using these old stamps.

I also “inherit” stamps from my father-in-law, who gets them (less and less, now that he responds infrequently) from charitable organizations that want him to send donations. They come to him already sticking to envelopes, but I cut them off and glue them on to our own bill payments. Some of my collection are in the photograph above. If you want to see the stamps up close, just click on the picture and you can see an enlarged version.

In California it seems that every town is a tourist town. At least, I find postcards in all the stores. But in some locales, the market has yet to be discovered, and I have to make my own postcards, which I learned to do from Martha Stewart, who gives us this handy template and instructions for using it. I’ve made these one-of-a-kind cards with photos of someone’s backyard, or a lake that is small and unknown, or a town that is seemingly too plain for the professional postcard people.

But why restrict this fun habit to traveling days? I started sending postcards to the grandchildren and friends any old time. A postcard is small enough that I can find time to write a few words while the iron or computer is warming up or perhaps even in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come. I don’t think old-fashioned correspondence of this sort will ever become obsolete or unwelcome.

I did it for love of manzanita.

I am reposting this story from two years ago for the Hidden Art of Homemaking discussion at Ordo Amoris. It’s about one of my projects that illustrates some of the difficulties and satisfaction of interior decorating.
 
A botanical theme has emerged.

Decorating is a homemaking job that I wish I could get over and done with and on to other things. This post is about how the realization of that wish is a long time coming. On one level the story bores me to death, even though it’s my own house I’m writing about, the house I’ve been investing in for 20 years. That should warn most of my readers to leave right now and go read something more entertaining.

What’s makes me want to tell this too-long tale anyway is the way it illustrates how an incredible amount of mental and physical labor can go into what seems a simple project. I suppose I’m not used to this precisely because I’m not into home decorating and haven’t applied my perfectionistic creative energies to it so much before. In a way it’s a larger-scale version of my doll clothes effort: what I envision doesn’t come in a kit.

If I could make a kit out of it no one would buy it. It’s just the best that we could do given our priorities, and with a tract house that doesn’t have enough walls to be cozy or enough windows to brighten the view. The story I tell is also amusing if one considers the output of my mental energies compared to the mediocrity of the results.

G.K. Chesterton said,

It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can. 

I’m not sure what all G.K. meant by that, but he does seem to give me liberty, and even to tell me it is my duty, to spend time on my house and property with the purely physical and aesthetic aspects in mind.

One year ago

So, I push on. Last year we changed the arrangement of the living room furniture so that the pictures on the wall didn’t work anymore. It seemed that the painting that used to be above a couch was too “heavy” after we moved the piano under it. It was then the largest wall item above the largest piece of furniture. Also, the TV had come out of the closet and found a new and permanent place in a corner, and the emptiness above it bothered me for months while I tried to figure out what to put there.

The first thing that came to mind was a manzanita branch such as I remembered my grandmother having in her living room for a while, a natural curio of sorts. Hers had sat on the coffee table, I think, but mine would hang above the TV to fill some of that airspace and balance out the piano nearby. (We’d need to get a smaller something to put above the piano, too.)

I started looking online for manzanita, but I found only small and twiggy, pale specimens, for use in flower arrangements. So I gave up for a while and spent hours looking for a decorative mobile. Nothing pleased. By that time we were in the middle of the remodel, so it wasn’t urgent.

Then in April we went north to Pippin’s place, where the previous winter’s record-breaking amounts of snow had piled up everywhere. As we walked through her forest we saw several manzanita bushes with large branches broken off. My mind started twirling around the idea that I could prepare my own decorative branch. The others helped me choose a couple that might work and we hauled them home.

Nine months ago

I still didn’t know if I could accomplish what I envisioned; I’ve never been one to do woodworking of any sort. I knew enough to trim off the flowers and small twigs. Then it occurred to me that wood needs to dry out before one can work it. I read that manzanita tends to split, so people have trouble making furniture out of it. Maybe my branches would split too much as they dried?

I left them sitting around in the garage for a couple of months and they only split a little bit. On the Internet I read somewhere to paint them with Danish oil to preserve the wood, so I did that. And one of my children said I should stain the trimmed ends of the branch so the whiteness of the wood wouldn’t distract from the lovely smooth and dark bark.

I think this is the one I didn’t use.

It was B.’s upcoming birthday party that put the fire under me to get the chosen branch up in the corner. We bravely screwed two hooks into the smooth new ceiling, and I painted them white so they would fade into the background. Then three strands of fishing line were tied to those, and to the branch.

Soldier was here and helped me position it just so; he’s tall and strong and could stand there calmly holding it in midair while I fumbled with the almost invisible threads. Then voilà! At last, that one part of my decor was in place (now we only had to ignore the empty space above the piano) and all our party guests could admire it. I began brainstorming on a solution to that remaining space nearby.

Three weeks later I dusted the manzanita with a feather duster and the next morning it crashed onto the TV and to the floor. Nothing was harmed. Guess we needed stronger filament. It took me about two months to get to the store to buy it. Then it took another month before B. and I could make ourselves re-hang the branch. See what kind of do-it-yourself-ers we aren’t?

I was sure I knew how to orient the branch, the way Pippin had told me to, but after B. and I got it centered and hung and he’d gone bike-riding, I realized by looking at previous photos that I had it exactly backwards, and it truly didn’t look the best. I tried just flipping it over, and that sort of worked; I only had to re-tie one filament, and we were o.k….except that now the branch was a little closer to the ceiling than ideal, and the top of it was vaguely lined up with the curtain rod, which didn’t look right. I suffered with that all through Christmas, trying not to care. Of course most people said it was fine because no one wanted to go through the difficulty of doing it over.

I had to buy a piano lamp before I could decide what would go behind it; our old one was shot. Piano lamps are expensive! The cheapest one I could settle on was out of stock for a few weeks, so we waited on that. I had looked at so many paintings or other wall decorations, many hours of browsing over several months, and found nothing I wanted enough to spend money on.

So I thought I would saw and paint some wooden birds to hang up there…they needed to be warm and colorful, because the corner with a black TV and a stark naked branch turned out surprisingly modern and chilly. (Maybe what I need is a branch about five times that big, just sitting on the floor behind the TV and reaching toward the ceiling…and permanently trimmed with Christmas ornaments…? )

But then we must return to how I’m not a woodworker, or a painter for that matter. I think it was on New Year’s Day that I felt desperate to make some progress; I decided to spend money and get something. B. and I knew we needed color there, and we knew the parameters of what the measurements needed to be. I bookmarked some paintings, and when B. came home from watching a football game we chose one and ordered it. Whoopee!

The painting arrived and sat on the floor near its destination for over a week. I knew we needed to be in the right mood to even talk about putting it up. In the meantime, one day I got a burst of courage and all by myself re-did the lines supporting my manzanita. I think it might be as much as an inch lower. A most satisfying inch.

Last week we hung the picture. Those are giant poppies providing the splash of color. I hope Mr. Chesterton is happy and won’t mind if I get back to my sewing and reading now.

Snowmen and Jello – Christmas

Two Glad Grandboys

While we are waiting for Christmas and preparing our gifts, and thinking about what Santa and our parents are preparing for us, children are lucky if we have some snow around with which to build a snowman or snowlady.

My own grandchildren sometimes have that. But when I was a child, I only had the beloved “Frosty the Snowman” 45 to play on my little record player.

It’s the only record I remember from my youth until I bought such ones as “Like a Rolling Stone,” and I listened to the Frosty tale over and over so that I can still hear the voice — maybe it was Red Foley — in my head. On the other side he sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The image below is not quite like what I owned, but it evokes the memory well enough.

I remain snowless, and don’t mind a bit. Besides, I can watch “The Snowman” on video. Those who lack the technology for watching movies (and I know there must be some of those people still, though they are probably not the ones reading this) could read the wordless book The Snowman.

But the video is so enchanting, with its haunting tune. The first time I borrowed the movie from the library, it was a version with the song, but since then I have only found it with a purely instrumental score. We are all fortunate now, and I am more than pleased to tell you that YouTube has a clip that includes sung lyrics of “Walking in the Air.”

When I turned fifty a friend took me browsing in a quilt shop to pick out a few pieces of fabric as a birthday present from her. Several prints called to mind images from the adventures of the snowman and his little boy, and I took rectangles of them home with a theme brewing.

I sewed by hand several potholders that I call my Snowman Potholders. Of course, they have nothing to do with Christmas, except for their frequent role in pulling pies out of the oven for Christmas dinner.

Waiting….We Orthodox are still waiting until December 25 (or January 7) for the feast and waiting to feast, because we are preparing our hearts, which are tightly bound to our bodies. But participation in the Advent fast needn’t mean that children of any age must forgo all goodies. I made this festive rainbow jello for one Christmas Day, but while we are still fasting it seems to me it could easily be made with some soy or coconut milk replacing the small dairy part of the recipe.

RAINBOW RIBBON DESSERT


1 (3 oz.) package (each flavor) raspberry, lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry Jell-O

6-1/4 cups water
1-1/4 cups evaporated milk

Dissolve raspberry Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water. Remove 1/2 of Jell-O to a bowl and add 1/4 cup cold water. Place into a 9-inch square pan. Place in refrigerator until slightly firm. To the remaining half of Jell-O, add 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Cool and place over slightly firm layer in pan. Continue procedure with remaining flavors of Jell-O in this order: lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry. Cool each mixture before layering. Chill completely. Cut into squares to serve. Yield: serves 8 to 12. 

Now I’m trying to figure out how to tweak this colorful recipe into a frozen dessert. It already has the brightness of Tolkien’s wintery image, and I think I might attract my snowmen friends to my holiday table if I just advertise that for dessert we are serving a treat called “Northern Lights.”

(This is the third in my contributions to Pom Pom‘s Childlike Christmas Party.)