Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Story Time with Tea

Anna gave me a very special tea mug for Christmas.
The bottom part is like a mini-chalk board, and the mug comes with two colored pencils that write on it. Before she returned to Japan she wrote me a last note on my mug. Now I have to figure out how to use the mug without ever washing the message off :)
Peter and Shani gave me some delicious tea for Christmas. Here are the three canisters on my windowsill:
Aren't they pretty? The center one is Earl Grey and the ones on either side are varieties of chai -- my absolute favorite! It's a gorgeous tea.

The canisters are sturdy and come with plastic sealing inner lids. I will be using them to store tea when I'm 85 years old because I never, ever throw gifts away.
So I'm sipping some very sweet, very creamy hot chai and enjoying some youtube videos of adorable twin girls, Ava and Alexis McClure.
However, I told you this is story time, and it is. This is the best creativity that's been happening in the house (for me, anyway) lately. I'm once again writing a story. I wrote Three Against the Dark quite a few years ago. Anna and Peter were in about 2nd and 3rd grades. I edited it (although I was never quite happy with it), and Adam formatted it, and it's been for sale on Amazon for several years now. I forget when I actually published it ... 2012? 2013? Something like that. (I really ought to know.)

I've tried several times to write a sequel, without success. I've tried to write other stories, with some success. But the characters (the children) from that novel are still in my head, sitting there, bored, waiting for me to do something with their lives. They're nagging me. The story -- the idea -- is nagging me. And at last it appears something might be happening. I'm now in chapter four of the new book, the sequel to Three Against the Dark. I'm not confused and frustrated in the writing. I'm not in a fog. It's clipping right along and things seem to be falling into place. Perhaps it was all those years of ruminating, pondering, and false starts.

What's most fun is that Julia still likes to be read to, and she wants each chapter read aloud to her as I finish it, just like all those years ago. She sees Three Against the Dark as the story of her childhood (among others), and she is excited to hear about those kids again and find out what happens next. This is quite satisfying. I'm not sure how I would write if I didn't have some child to read it to.

I'll let you know when the story's finished. The editing, formatting, and publishing process is rather long. If Adam didn't do the online formatting for me, my stories would stay right here on my laptop. Now I must go finish chapter four and find out what happens in the middle of the night with Carla and her cousin.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Do you ever pass through an entire month and wonder what in the world happened? January's nearly gone. What did I do?
 Today I spent a little time in Oriental gazing at the river.
An historic home in the village has been falling down. I noticed the back porch disappearing the other day.

 Today, well, it was gone.
 In recent years the elderly couple who own it, and who still visit Oriental occasionally, would come to stay there. It was quite scary. One exterior wall was held erect by bracing, and I heard the stairwell and upstairs floors were falling in.

 One marina's boat owners decided to take the poopy seagull situation in hand. They bolted these spiky devices atop the dock poles.
 Speaking of dilapidation, I've been meaning to photograph this interesting barn on Teaches Cove.
 More unusual that the normal falling-down barn, this one had a stash of computers in the corner, now quite exposed.
 Isn't that odd?
Meanwhile, a building is going up on our farm. It's the new greenhouse!
 This is the most recent photo I have, but this afternoon Adam also attached the walls on the far end, so it's nearly ready to unscrew and move into the garden. Last year's greenhouse was about a $100 project; this one is about a $500 project, but it will last a decade at least. I'm quite excited about my new farm wife retreat.
Now, for my friends still buried under ice and/or snow in Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, or Ireland ... or elsewhere! ... here are some of the bulbs that are already up on our farm.

 The big fig tree is budding out.
 As is the Japanese magnolia.
Of course, most of my perennials, the ones I love, aren't even making a peep. But I do keep checking! Soon Adam and I will sit down and make a list of seeds to order, and I'll move everything I need into that lovely greenhouse, and I'll spend many happy  hours there, snug with my soil and pots, working away at making our summer garden. A greenhouse is a retreat for me, away from the angry voices out there in D.C., on Facebook, on the radio, voices that would tear us all apart while they claim to stand for good. I'm tired of both sides, and I'm quite suspect of any group that says it's "for" something. Usually, it's just "against" something and willing to be quite mean about it.

I prefer the greenhouse.
I guess this was more of a farm post and should have been over on the other blog, but it's all Our Life, right?

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!