Saturday, October 18, 2014



Some days are better.  This was one of them.

The Amish have gathered corn into stately shocks along the ridge fields. The Amish school yard was empty today, but yesterday, young boys and girls in dark black capes, hats, pants, suspenders, and bright blue skirts, and emerald shirts, girls and boys together,  stood like pins on the little baseball field, in the glow of the sugar maple grove beside the school.  A girl was pitching, to a boy.  Another girl was on first. But this morning was cold and rainy, as bunches of Amish children walked to the  school along wet roads.  Most of the little boys still walked shoeless, with red, bare wet feet.

The night before last, I showed up for my 6th writers' class, and read what I wrote for the first time aloud to the small group. There were murmurs of encouragement. This may be the last formal education, in my life. I'm really bad at being a student.  But, I'm sure what I've learned will serve me well. I am sure I'll keep writing fiction,  because I have nothing to lose. The adept writers in my class give me hope that I'll make progress.

Just off the loom is a  new batch of crying towels, each named after an aspect of tears, crying, sadness, joy, onions, or any occasion for tears.  So, they have a text, as well as a texture. "Water Works,"  "Spilled Milk (half full / half empty),"  "Father sighed, Mother cried,"  "Hang my tears out to dry," "When it rained down sorrow, it rained all over me,"  "Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride. You will not die, it was not poison.  Bob Dylan." The names are fragments of song lyrics, old expressions, the ways we talk about our small and large griefs.

Wash cloths, face cloths, sauna cloths, all belong to our daily, private ritual of putting on  a fresh face  before going out in public.  Crying towels are another acknowledgement of being human, of living with our sorrows.  Tears are universal.  My weaves are made to provide what textiles always have, comfort, warmth, memory,  protection, and cleanliness.  My utility blanket, in two panels is one such cloth.  I wove it in my old familiar Rosepath, with linen, wool, cotton rag, perle cotton, and raw silk and call it "Pot Calls Kettle Black," a name about naming.  Names attach themselves to the weaves while I'm weaving, and my thoughts drift.  The name belongs to the weave. 

 (Thanks to Harry and Barb in Dell for the pumpkin scene!)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

falafel colors

 Duck Egg Nutmeg Waffles

All this talk about writing has me thinking about reading.  If you notice the nuance, I'm not to the point of reading, yet!  But three new books have me very excited to take up the practice again, as soon as the weather is a little nippier.

Will It Waffle?, by Daniel Shumski. The title intrigues me, and the book's premise, which is why have a waffle maker on your kitchen counter dedicated to making just one thing: waffles? This has been my perennial thought, too! Long ago I began a flirtation with extreme waffling with my original recipe, Lentil-Soup-Walnut-Loaf-Waffle, a bold experiment for a beginner.  My recipe began as a simple soup, which lacked color and flavor, so I dumped it into a loaf pan with eggs,  bread crumb topping, walnuts, and a squirt of ketchup down the middle, and though I  baked it for a goodly hour, it still had not congealed. Not a quitter, I looked around my kitchen for options, and beheld the waffle maker.  Inspiration struck, and I scooped the baked lentil walnut loaf into my waffle maker.  The wafffles looked like hay flakes, or all-day dog biscuits, when they were done, and no one would eat them.  (My family could be overcritical of my cooking, I feel).  Daniel Shumski picks up where I left off, making many things into waffles, some successfully.  I'm definitely going to try his falafel waffles soon. First I have to find the book.  This morning I invented Duck Egg-Nutmeg waffles.

In the Kingdom of Ice: the polar voyage of the USS Jeanette, by Hampton Sides,  is a rediscovery of
a 19th c. doomed arctic expedition.  I am thrilled that there is new material to add to the genre, so I don't have to re-read Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.

The idea behind the polar voyage of the USS Jeanette,  was a 19th c. scientific belief that there was a shallow, ice-free sea at the polar cap, surrounded by pack ice.  There may be one someday soon, but then it was a flimsy precept for an arctic expedition in a wooden vessel, but what hey?  Of course, the outcome was predictably terrible, and the Jeanette never made it to the warm polar beach, instead capsizing in the icy ocean.

But here is the hook:  not all perished when the ship went down. Some of the exploration party survived, dragging their life boats across shifting ice that moved them north as fast as they traveled south. After many harrowing ordeals, and months of frozen hardship, they finally arrived at open water.  Three life boats were launched, but almost immediately, became separated,  and each boat met a different fate!  Now that's my idea of value! This will be fine reading in mid-January.

The best for last, and the book I have long wished I could read, if I had known it existed, is being published in November! It is Laura Ingalls Wilder's, memoir, Pioneer Girl,  the adult version of life on the prairie that Laura wrote in the 1930's, but which no publisher wanted.  In this book there is domestic abuse, love triangles, and a whisky drunk who sets himself afire.

At last! We can read what it was really like to live under the banks of Plum Creek in a dug out house with dirt falling on the bed, and livestock coming through the ceiling, and just one little parchment window square  of daylight for 7 months of a prairie winter.  And, scarlet fever. And, childbirth. How did Ma not go mad?

I did devour the Little House books in 2 weeks when I was in the 5th grade, but even at the time, I thought Ma should have told Pa, Heck no! We're not leaving town to go out to Indian Territory, so I can live with my girls in a sod hut with a blanket for a doorway, because you're getting itchy. I can't wait to read this memoir! I'd definitely have been the kind of woman who stayed in a nice house back East, thank you.

p.s.  I'm still in my writing class, and still underperforming. On Week 3,  during class,
I found myself doing something I haven't done in many years:  I located a clock in the room and began to watch it. One effect of writing class I have noticed is that I am writing more things down,  and more ideas rush in to fill the space, causing me to write more things down.  Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Time will tell.  Everything is fiction.

Monday, September 15, 2014

writing class

When opportunity comes knocking, I usually shut off the lights and pretend I'm not home.
But this time I signed up for the writers' workshop.  It's my first workshop, except for a felted slippers workshop, in which I successfully crafted a pair of serviceable felt slippers. This success may have been the source of my confidence to write the check. Do I want to write? Yes, I do, and I would like to write better. I'm excited. I buy a new notebook, with college spaced blue-lined paper.

In my first fiction writing class there are 12 writers writing, including two teenagers, two men,  and mostly people I know already.  I hear the instructor promise that no one must read what she has written aloud. We will be given a topic, and a time limit in which to write about it, using a technique called "free writing" in which nothing matters but to keep the pen on the paper,  pushing on even in the absence of an idea.  We are learning to access our creativity, without judgement. My first idea is that I'll not touch my pen to the paper until I have an idea, technically adhering to the rule of not stopping once I start.  We're given our subject:  an old worn object.

The story of my life! There's so much I could say. I gaze into the distance of the middle of the floor of the room where we are assembled at desks.  When was I last seated at a desk?  Every writer is writing furiously now. (I didn't expect the writing workshop to feel competitive). But, I'm going to wait until something comes to mind, as it surely will, so I may set my pen to paper and begin.

Next to me, a dazzling young woman, a dazzling and accomplished writer I have known and admired for several years, is writing to the bottom of her first page.  She has a very fine pen, I notice, with very slippery, fast ink.  I know myself, and though the time must be already half over, I'm not concerned. But, no. The time is actually over, and we are told to stop.  Desperately I look into the inside of the front of my forehead. Two words swim up from the gray murk, like a magic-8 ball. I scribble them.

Now the vibrant writing woman next to me volunteers to read what she's written. I'm not shy, she says.  Her piece starts with a small worn fragment of cloth, a fragment of an old worn story, a child's blanket, a color,  rose, a bit of cashmere, a mystery, that ends half way down page 2 with a sentence that pulls at my heart. It is a beautiful piece about a bit of textile, which sounds beautiful but, after the first two sentences, I honestly can't hear what she's saying.  I look down at my own paper, on which I've written, interestingly, two words:  tuna fish.

My friend Judith says, about taking workshops,  I don't want to be the worst. I don't have to be the  best, but somewhere in the middle. I just don't want to be the worst.

7 more writing classes. If I can last.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

at the lake

 This summer may be the last time I can take a sauna here, in my mother's sauna.  Each summer,  I think this.  It's all so familiar, the rugs she wove, on the floors and benches, the sauna stove, the tin tub on the wall that the kids would play in, and the noodles! She built a fire, in the sauna stove. She likes to build fires.  She grew up on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota and has been building fires in wood stoves most of her life. When the sauna was pretty warm, we went in together.  Though it was cool and windy, I went into the lake twice to cool down. Lake water, after being in the sauna, feels so soft and silky. I float around as long as I can, lazily swimming, listening to the little splashy noise  my hands make in the water,  with the good taste of lake water at the back of my throat. I like to sink my face down into the water until my eyes are just at lake level, and look across to the far shore. 

My mom kept sticking her head out of the sauna screen door to check on me! Then she came out the door in her bra and underpants to hang her towel on the line.  I'm not coming in, she said. How is it?  Is the water nice?

  It's cold, but there are warm spots, too.  I knew she wanted to come in.  She loves the water.  She was a good diver. I remember when we grew up, that she was the only mother at our neighborhood swimming pool who would swan dive off the high dive.  The  stone steps down into the lake are uneven, though, pushed by the crazy ice melt last spring, and we both know she shouldn't try it.   

Here they are, my mom, Irene, and my little sister,  Jody, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

tapes without measure / books without words

I was weaving a new tape without measure on a small loom, when some visitors
arrived.  I showed this list of measures that it might include to one, who said, Well, that looks like a poem.  I agreed.

Another person said, How are you going to do that?  Simple, I said. The person I'm making it for  sent me the list, and also sent a long string with knots on it, that goes with the list.  I just put the marks into the weave where they are supposed to go.  My visitors left wondering why on earth  anyone would try to reinvent the measuring tape. I feel good if my work causes anyone to wonder at all.

After a while, though, I decided to drop the string knot, and improvise.  It is a collaboration, after all.  I was weaving late, almost midnight, when a dog started to bark in town. Each time it barked, I wove in a dark blue thread, for just 5 minutes.  Not exactly a coyote's crazy yipping, but I thought it sufficed. Then, I decided the tape was long enough, and that was pretty much the end of it.

The project developed as an exchange between Velma Bolyard, artist from upstate NY, Wake Robin blog keeper, and myself: a woven tape without measure in exchange for a handmade book, seen here.  I think we recognize in each other  a similar laissez-faire attitude to what happens in our projects.  The ideas that propel them are down to earth, well grounded, but when things happen that we didn't expect, we are willing to deviate.  Her paper making and book construction appeals to me. The images she has been able to draw from detritus of the ditch (she collected the material, hortus siccus, used to make the images in my book in frozen January!) appeals to my love of graphic design, and the mystery created by shapes and line.  I see faces, claws, paws, ladders, webs, polar glaciers,  and lights-at-the-end-of-tunnels. Nothing is flat on the page, due to the line and shadow. I don't know how she does it, frankly, but I'm so drawn in. This is a graphic novel, with images that mysteriously appear and disappear in it, as I try to relocate them.   Until I realize that I am probably holding the book upside down, and everything is different, from this new  perspective.

An object that shows me the limits of my assumptions has earned its keep, as far as I'm concerned.  It doesn't even have to be beautiful, but this is.

Long ago, when I first dipped into the the www-stream,  Velma B sent me a message out of the blue. I was so amazed to be connecting to a cyber being, as if the Ouija board could possibly be believed.  In the end I was also amazed to find a small piece of paper weaving (shifu) in my actual mailbox,  woven on nails she'd pounded into the endgrain of a wood block, to make a loom.  The paper was hand spun yarn, with little knotty places.  You see how this all comes back, to her string of knots, that I used as a guide.  Now it has found a perfect place in her book.  I care for my internet friends and the ways we can inspire and affect each other's real hands-on work.  Thanks, Velma, that was fun, even if I couldn't fit "desire" onto the tape.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

lush life

The wedding party celebrated in the campground across the road, kept us awake with a band playing loudly until the middle of the night. It was a soft, sweet summer night, with a few early Perseid meteors streaking across the north sky.  The half moon was still orange, though it was high overhead, because of smoke from all the forest fires burning now in the Pacific Northwest.

We have a fresh maitake (chicken of the woods ) mushroom to shred, fry in butter and oil, and eat to our heart's content. It is a rare treat to find one wild in the woods, that someone doesn't mind us

I ride my bike everyday this summer! Today,  I climbed up the overgrown driveway where Veva's house stands, though she died years ago.  She was the artist of Avalanche back in the day, and a very sweet woman.

When my kids were little we used to find our way up this path on Halloween night,  to Trick-or-Treat.  Veva came out on her porch wearing a little Martian helmet with springs sticking up on top. Little handkerchief ghosts came flying out of the woods on strings, pulled by a neighbor boy hiding in the bushes. Her house is tangled in brambles and brush now, and my hair bun got stuck in a blackberry vine while I was climbing the overgrown path to her place.

I felt a little panicky,  as I tried to untangle my hair from the thorn bush, because it was a little bit creepy up there, and I didn't want to hang around.  There was a rock root cellar behind the house, and the door was off. It looked black inside, and If I'd been braver, I'd have gone over to have a look. As it was,  I took a couple of pictures, just to prove to myself I went up there, and to my relief,  there is no face in any of the windows!

The trailer house is still empty where a popular shade tree mechanic lived when we first moved to Avalanche, but he also died years ago.

I started this blog quite a while ago.  At first I was afraid to write words and send them out on the Internet (no, really) so I just posted pictures.  One of my first posts was a picture of the fairy candle flowers blooming along the highway.   Here they are, blooming again!

The last picture is from my friend, Judith, who was recently in County Clare, Ireland, and draped
a scarf I wove on a rock there!  What a thrill for me to see it there.