Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Own Little "House of Creativity"

A blogger friend, I've forgotten who undoubtedly PomPom, recommended a visit to Susan Branch's blog to read about her visit to a convent in Brookline, Masachusetts. So I did. Go read about how 17 nuns live happily together in a warm, brick home there, making things all day long. You can scroll down past the first part, Susan's Christmas activities at home.The convent is called the Holy Nativity Convent.  (That's their website.) As Susan says of the convent:
"Almost a real-life Santa’s Village, filled with charming, indefatigable elves."

The nuns, who are Orthodox, wear the expected dark garb and shining, happy faces. They do not solicit funds but instead work with their hands and minds and hearts, selling excellent wares to support their life. They bind books! They sew fine church vestments! The make beeswax candles! They paint murals and make mosaics! Go take a look.
I don't have 17 nuns with industrious hands living here on the farm, but we do keep a little creativity going. Adam is still busy with his book-binding experiments.
The book he's cut and bound most recently is rather large and heavy (above). His goal is to print and bind a copy of my children's book, Three Against the Dark, and give it to me for my birthday. I don't actually have a printed copy of it right now. That would be fun!
He's decided to practice his book-binding work, so he dismantled an old book from the 1800s, a Greek New Testament. How fascinating to dissect it and discover how books were done then! They used staples to keep the signatures (groups of pages) together.
 Adam bought a small tool kit to work on the books.
He took the book apart and is starting from scratch with the signatures and putting it all back together. Here it is in his book press.
Now just to clarify, for those of you who think I'm married to some sort of Super Human who does all things, Adam is a tinkerer. He dabbles in hobbies for a while; he masters them; then he quietly puts them aside. Almost all his hobbies are quite useful and interesting. Over the years they've included: photography, chess, painting, candle-making, writing a novel, astronomy and telescope-building, sailing and boat repair. wood-working and furniture building, jewelry-making, cooking/baking (I won't let him put that one aside!), gardening, rewiring a car, etc., etc. I can't remember them all. Some skills he keeps fine-tuned better than others. For a while he even played the piano with one hand! I think he experiments to find hobbies he'll love long-term. And that list doesn't include all his handy-man and farm skills.
I sneaked over to Julia's room the other day to put some clothes there and saw a painting on her desk she is working on. It's of two kitties snuggling. I had my camera, so I stole a shot!
It's not done at all. This is just the color, and she'll put pen drawing on top to crisp it up. Honestly ... I love it just as it is. Isn't it pretty? I love the colors.
Last night I worked hard on my first figure for my Advent calendar -- the Virgin Mary. I'm just using my little knitted doll pattern for her.
 She won't have hair. Instead she'll have a scarf draped round her face and falling over her shoulder, like Mary usually does. I started the shawl last night, but it was bed time. Have you ever seen a shawl that was only six stitches wide? :)
 Here's Mary tucked into one of the calendar pockets. I can't wait until she has some company!
How in the world shall I knit little sheep and camels? That's the fun ... is finding out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Creative Juices

January is such a quiet time, perfect for creativity and thinking. I'm still working on my woven Advent calendar. First I trimmed the fringe on the top edge and encased it in fabric, like so:
 The fabric runs below a casing for the dowel rod on which the calendar will hang.
I carefully measured and folded the long woven fabric, creating deep pocket-pleats, pinning them, and sewing them in long columns of stitching to hold the pockets in place.
 The seashells indicate how the pockets will work. I think it turned out well (so far)!
That was the easy part, of course. The hard part will be knitting 25 individual items to slip into those pockets for the nativity scene on the top of the calendar. That'll take me all year!
Adam's been very creative also. He ordered the innards for making a fountain pen.
 You see the raw wood block above. He put that onto his drill press and carved it down into the shape you see there with the hefty bolt through it. I don't know all the mechanics of how he did it, but it turned out quite smooth. Here is the finished product:
 Peter expressed an interest in fountain pens, and we thought this would be a pretty one for him and Shani to sign their marriage license with and keep for a gift.
 All the metal pieces, of course, he ordered online and fitted into the pen. It's so beautiful and elegant.
Adam is interested in early writing technology in general, and for years he and Julia (off and on) have made their own books. He made another one recently. It will hold the book he's writing (also a very old project) called Tubal-Cain.
He bought mixed media paper, removed it from the booklet, cut it and folded it and pressed it. He hole-punched it with my seam-ripper.
He stitched the binding with hemp using the Coptic stitch, which looks like this:

 One advantage of this stitch is that the book will lie flat no matter which page is opened. Quite nice.
 He also made a little book for Anna, who flies away late tonight to return to Japan for another year of teaching. We won't see her again until next Christmas, and my heart feels broken. However, we know it's just the right place for her to be, and we're so happy she has found a place, a job, and people that she loves.
That's it from us! Are you doing anything creative in January this year?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Those English People and Their Big Houses

Yes, fellow Americans, we know that the English have big, beautiful houses, and we must admit we are jealous. On this side of the pond we have Biltmore, and a few notable domiciles in New England, and that's about it. Nobody tours stately 250-year-old homes in the Midwest, although we wish we could! What's with this British love of the rambling 40-room Georgian manor in Wiltshire?
Image result for georgian manor home in england
Now I ask you -- how easy would it be to write a cool children's story in that setting?
Which leads me to the point of this post (in case you were wondering): Isn't it interesting how the English write children's stories set in big old country houses? Just think:
1) C.S. Lewis put four siblings in an old rambling country house during WWII with Professor Digory Kirke.

2) Lucy Boston, about whom I've written before (here and here), puts her boy Tolly into an ancient home, adds some magic and time travel and a few bad characters, and creates a lovely children's classic series.
Image result for lucy boston's house
Lucy Boston's actual spooky old house in Cambridgeshire
3) This past week, our dear fellow-blogger Kezzie (from England) introduced me to yet another such series, John Masefield's Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. I spent a few days watching all the episodes of the TV adaptation of The Box of Delights on youtube. It was delightful! It was made in the 1980s when the BBC didn't have lots of cash, and the special effects are more akin to Dr. Who with Tom Baker than Star Wars, but I just loved it. The boy Kay Harker (as you would expect) goes home for Christmas vacation from boarding school to his guardian's home -- a big, stately manor in the country -- and from there experiences the usual good guys and bad guys, time travel, magic and mayhem, a handful of friends for company, and a narrow escape from danger in the end. Perfect!

That's three. One would be an anomaly; two a coincidence; three a pattern.

Why do the English like to use their old crumbling mansions as settings for children's stories? What in the English psyche tends this way? Do they dream as children of going for a vacation to such a creepy old place? Is The Old Rural Mansion somehow entrenched in the English mind as a place of childhood delights? I wish I knew! I confess to jealousy; I wish I'd grown up in a land where such houses were there for the looking-at around each hedgerow bend. I wish my grandma lived in a dank, mammoth residence with fourteen fireplaces for warmth and we spent each Christmas there. How would my inner child be different if that were true?
Seekings House, the setting for "The Box of Delights"
For me, setting comes first when I write. I must know where something is happening before I can see who is there and what they'll do. Oh for settings like England's! We have delightful places in the states too, but I love old houses most particularly, and I find myself rather stymied in creating realistic locations for stories in my mind. One must write what one knows, and sadly I don't personally know any big old drafty (draughty?) homes with secret passages, servants' quarters, a nursery in the eaves, and a tunnel to the garden.
One exception is a home my uncle's family lived in when I was a child. It was in rural Virginia, an historic home with a boxwood garden in the rear. It was called Federal Hill, and I had to inquire of a cousin where it's located. (There are quite a few "Federal Hill"s in Virginia.) When I look into it more, perhaps I'll share about this house because I did have a lovely time there, and I was the perfect age (maybe 4th grade?) for adventures and hide-and-seek in the garden. Maybe our American settings aren't so boring after all? One can hope.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Weaving into Advent

Did I say Advent? Isn't Christmas over? For years I've wanted a beautiful, interactive Advent calendar, the kind with 25 little pockets, 25 little objects, one for each day of December..Homemade advent calendar kit | Woman's Weekly | Craft | Sewing
Something a little like that. But as I ruminated, I decided to weave the body of the calendar on my loom, including the pockets. The pockets will be located on the bottom half of the calendar, with the top half pocketless. Each pocket will contain a hand-knitted figure, each one part of the Christmas nativity. The final figure, in the 25th pocket, will be the baby Jesus, so on Christmas, he is placed in the manger. The top half of the calendar will be the backdrop for the nativity scene.With 25 pockets, I should have plenty of spots for the holy family, the magi, the shepherds, a few sheep, the star, pieces of the stable/manger, and maybe a few other odds and ends to fill out the scene. Each day, one item is placed on the top part. I still must decide how they will be affixed. Buttons? Hooks?  I'm so excited!
Yesterday I started the weave after figuring the dimensions of the calendar. I used Simply Soft yarn that I already had in my stash.
 I chose red, green, yellow, and black for Christmas colors. The black and yellow are important -- black is a useful accent in all tartan weaves, and yellow brings the weave to life -- a pop of brightness.
 As you see above, in the weft yarn I'm using only the red and green. I alternate (as if I were weaving a houndstooth pattern) two shots of one color, two shots of the other. This gives a neat overlapping edge along the right side.
 My camera isn't capturing the colors very well (above), but it's much better in the photo below.
I'm pleased with the look of the pattern I ended up with because I didn't find it online or in a book; I just started warping up yesterday and that's what I ended up with. I wanted slightly more green than red, with a little yellow and black, but not much. I truly enjoy patterns like this. They turn out so sharp! I need 42" of fabric, and I'm close to being there. As I go along, I'll keep you apprised of the progress of the entire calendar. Thankfully I have a year to complete it!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Anna Cooks Okonomiaki

Tonight Anna cooked supper for us, a long-awaited meal that she enjoys in Japan. It's called Okonomiaki, a cabbage/cheese dish with a special Asian sauce. First you chop cabbage (lots of cabbage!) and mix in egg, flour, water, and chopped onion.
 We used our own eggs :)
Anna, chopping away!
 Adam had sliced some beef roast very thin for her to brown in a skillet.
 Please note, single men. Anna has some cooking skills. Doesn't that look yummy?
 In a second skillet she browned large patties of the cabbage mixture.
 After flipping them, she placed the browned meat on top and then covered the patty with mozzerella cheese, the one item that's significantly more expensive in Japan than it is here. She covered the pans briefly to allow the cheese to melt.
 Doesn't that look great? Believe me, it WAS great. The texture -- a combination of crispy edges and soft cabbagy inside. She brought it to the table and gingerly cut out large sections for each plate.

 Okay, here's the odd part. First you drizzle a plentiful amount of mayonnaise on top.

Then you drizzle on the Okonomiaki sauce. Anna bought this last week at the Asian Market in New Bern. It was their last bottle.
This sauce is probably closest to American barbecue sauce, at least in its aroma, but the flavor combinations in this dish are so wonderful. If you feel brave enough to try it at home, give it a try. But be sure you buy THIS sauce at a real Asian Market. Don't settle for something else. Yummy!! Thank you, Anna!

Friday, December 30, 2016

M'Lord and M'Lady Go to Lunch

Perhaps the most delightful Christmas gift I received was from Philip and Kara. They gave to Adam and me official royal titles, issued from a tiny micro-nation called Sealand.  Sealand was an anti-aircraft platform built by England in the Channel during WWII in international waters. Built of steel and concrete and not particularly elegant, the towers amid the waters declared its independence in 1967 under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Bates and their teenage children. The base was derelict and abandoned. Now, it's the world smallest state!
And I'm officially Lady Mary Kathryn of Sealand!! Here is my documentation, which I find utterly cool. I squealed when I opened this gift at Christmas.
 Lookie, lookie!!!
You may now simply address me as "My Lady." Hahahaha!!!
The fun fact is this: Roy Bates took over the towers of Sealand on Christmas Eve, 1966, exactly 50 years before I acquired my title. I am married, of course, to Lord Adam.
We decided to mix with the commoners for lunch today and ate at the local burger stop, Aggie's.

 I took a selfie of Adam and me.
You never know when you might get the unexpected good photo of old fat people.
The first one was fuzzy.
 So I took a second.
Adam thus had time to prepare a goofy face.
 Which made us both laugh.
 Isn't he adorable?
We had cheeseburgers, fries ...
 Subs and onion rings ...
 And more onion rings!
We are all enjoying our Christmas vacations and adjusting to our royal titles, hoping they do not come with any responsibilities.