April 25, 2015

On My Arm

    I love beautiful things. My home is my sanctuary and the gallery of my life, my love of art and music and handiwork. I am fortunate that, as a young girl, I had an artist beside me to guide my hands as I learned to pass the yarn over a needle to create a knit stitch or to roll thread between my thumb and forefinger to make to make a knot. My father, who was a fix-it man, gave me the confidence to take on a project without fear of failure. And now I love making beautiful things. From the spark of an idea, or an artistic need that must be fulfilled, a project will begin in my imagination and take on a life of its own. With eyes closed I will build and rebuild it, speculating how to make it more functional and more beautiful until I have crafted a three dimensional picture in my mind and assembled a plan and materials list. It can become like an obsession, a project that must be made real and that I long to hold in my hand. Of course there always looms the risk of failure; the possibility that the imagined article falls short of my envisioned piece of art as it becomes reality, but that prospect usually leaves me undeterred. I have learned, through trial and error, that there is just as much chance that the project will exceed my imagination.
      I cannot spend all of my time tucked away in the artistic refuge of my home, nor would I want to either. Outside of my door there is beauty and there are experiences waiting to be realized and the inspiration fueled by other artists and the joys of life. For this I take out in the world not only an open mind to absorb the influence of it all but my own collection of art and supplies and a few creations of my own personality, namely my purse. It is my tool bag, my companion, my most personalized accessory and perhaps a bit of a security blanket as well. Out in the world I feel naked without it.

My handbag, date book and Kindle:

      My friends know I adore a lovely handbag. A woman’s purse, to my way of thinking, speaks volumes about her. Inside, tucked away in her assemblage, are bits of her life and traces of her personality. For a young mother there are toys and goodies waiting to be brought out in dire times of need like those interminable waits in doctors’ offices. For a business woman her purse holds what she needs to keep her schedules and meet her deadlines. For that gal who always looks amazing, in her bag you find the tools that keep her fresh and confident. Even the handbag itself has a story to tell. One might imagine what a well-designed, serious leather handbag says about the wearer, and what she was thinking and feeling about herself when she chose it. How many generously proportioned women have we all seen carrying the very, very smallest of purses? The bag we choose says so much about us. Is it efficient and minimalist, or huge and roomy, waiting to be filled with even more treasures? Even if I do not notice a woman immediately, I almost never miss her handbag.

      For my own bags I never choose lightly. I have certain specific things I seek in a purse. It cannot be small. If I hope to carry my treasures and tools it had better have some room. Too large and voluminous, however, will not do either. I have learned not to fall for that adorable bag that resembles a bucket. On my shoulder it becomes exactly that, a pail that fills quickly with miscellaneous items that soon bury the essentials I need to retrieve. It ought not to have too many compartments. Those well-intended handbags with slots for your credit cards and center dividers and a dozen zipped compartments may be utopia for some very organized people, but not for me. If I have to memorize purse contents like a filing system I will lose that bag rather quickly. A few pockets are fine, too many becomes work.
      A good purse has to be sturdy. I have a few lighter bags I might carry for an evening out, but for every day it is best made of a good leather, real or vegan, and it should hold its shape well. As for size it ought not to be too deep or cavernous either. If I need to get out a flashlight and go spelunking every time I need to get to my wallet, that purse will find itself in a new home before long.
      It should be pretty and, even better, unusual. I must admit I simply love it when someone notices my bag and asks me about it. Immediately I feel as if I have made a connection with another handbag connoisseur. It’s just joyous to know there are other purse lovers out there in the world. For many ladies it is about the shoes but for me it is all about that purse.

      My favorite time of year for a good handbag hunt is always the spring. It is standard practice for my darling daughter and me to go out when the blooms are emerging in April and do some shopping. She speaks “purse” and it is one of the things I have loved most about having a daughter. Her rules are her own and you can find us, milling through the handbag section, while I hold up bags she might like and she shakes her head or nods approvingly to me as she shops herself. One of my most fond shopping experience memories was an excursion where I found an adorable deep green, patent leather bag for her that affectionately became known as the “jalapeno”. It was a wonderful bonding moment.

My Steve Madden wallet, tatted hankie, iPhone, honeysuckle spray and Cross signing pen:

      So, if you are still with me, and if you are, then perhaps you love a good bag as well, I will share this year’s purse project. It has been more elaborate than usual, but not unique. Because I can and enjoy making things I sewed my own bags to fill this year’s purse and loved every minute of it. Some of my purse’s contents were inspired by some clever tutorials I found online. I will include those links at the end of this posting. Perhaps you will get inspired and make a gift for yourself and your hardworking handbag.

Everything inside:

   This spring’s purse is a nice leather Balenciaga motorcycle bag in a delicious shade of mauve. It certainly fits all of my rules. It is a good size, sturdy and adorable. Inspired by the lovely color, I got a remnant of an unusual old, vintage fabric and made two bags for the inside. A cosmetic bag and what I call my “tool” bag. In my tool bag I carry those miscellaneous items like mints and pens and ear buds. I’m not that woman who carries two swabs and a sewing kit, “just in case”, but I like to have a nail clipper when I need it and not rely on another person’s purse to meet that responsibility.

Handmade cosmetic bags:

     I found a wallet in a delicious shade of teal, that I loved with the purse. I never underestimate those opposite shades on the color wheel for that perfect artistic touch. For convenience, I have added a tiny card holder this spring, for my most used credit/debit card and my business cards. Tucked in the outer pocket I am ready to plug a book, or my writing, or run my card through at the market without pulling out a whole wallet. 

Card holder:

      With my handmade bags doing much of the organizing I have lots of room for my date book. It makes me look good when I show up on time for a book signing. A pretty tatted hankie, and a honeysuckle body spray make me feel brand new. There’s also room for my reading glasses and my shades, in freshly crocheted sleeves, my keys, my good book-signing pen, and of course my beloved iPhone. I am comfortable and prepared and yet there is still room for a little bit more.

Eyeglass sleeves: 
The project at Ravelry

      The last contents are my art and inspiration: my Kindle and my tatting. With my Kindle I have a book everywhere I go, in fact, I have an entire library in my bag. I can steal a precious moment getting lost in a romantic novel or doing research for my own, next novel. When I feel I need some inspiration I sometimes read my own books. They remind me that I write what I love to read and get me excited to continue my work. When my mind is full of inspiration I think best with busy hands and right there, dangling from my purse is my tatting. I keep it in a little bag that resembles a Lakota medicine bag. I fashioned it from a bit of leather and it is perfect for a couple of shuttles, a small pair of scissors and thread. Whenever I can, I drift away in the gentle art of lace and I have my art with me to fill me with joy and contentment.

Tatting bag:

Fintie Kindle cover:

My current tatting project:

    And so, these are a few of my thoughts for this entry. Please come again next week for another foray into my wonderful life.

April 18, 2015

Charlie Gracie


     My husband, Pat, has often said that his guitar has opened many doors in his lifetime, and that is certainly a fact. Behind one of those doors we met the wonderful Charlie Gracie. In 1959 Charlie Gracie had a number one hit with the song "Butterfly" and earned a gold record. He is also in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. To this day he still tours Europe where he is an even bigger star than here in the States.
     It was in an Acme Market (pronounced Ack-a-me as Charlie jokes) that he first shook hands with the rockabilly icon in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. We were both smokers at that time, as was Charlie, and we always bought our cigarettes in that supermarket. Behind the courtesy counter was a delightful woman, named Margie. She had bright red hair and a friendly manner and for about two years she kept telling my husband that she wanted him to meet a musician friend of hers. On one fateful day they both happened to be in the market at the same time and Margie was finally able to introduce them. Only recently it occurred to me how many ways knowing Charlie Gracie and the people around him has changed our lives.
      As they got to know each other, Charlie asked Pat to give him a few samples of his music and invited him to his home to see his gold record. They talked about writing a tune for Charlie's upcoming album. Pat was thrilled! He returned from his visit feeling honored and before long he did write Charlie a piece, Love What You Do, that Charlie later recorded on his album Just Hangin' Around. The song was also used in the television documentary, Fabulous, about Charlie's life and career. For Pat it will always be one of the highlights of his career as a musician. It certainly was an honor, but our meeting with Charlie Gracie has brought much, much more.

      One evening back then we went out for the first time to see Charlie at a local bar and restaurant. It was a neighborhood watering hole, with a good sized stage, and Charlie was playing with his band. We arrived a bit early, got a good table close to the dance floor, and watched. We were new fans to a performer who had been gathering followers for many years. Most of the people who came in to see Charlie were in their fifties and sixties, like Charlie himself. They came from a generation before Pat and me, from a time before the turbulent sixties. The women were dressed in fresh pantsuits and skirts, their hair coiffed neatly and many of the gentlemen wore suits, or sport jackets and ties. There were broaches and tie pins and it was clear they had dressed for a special occasion. They greeted one another in a warm and friendly manner, took their seats, and ordered their food and beverages. Then the music started.
      I came from the age of the Doors and Dylan and Comfortably Numb, music that inspired a very different style of dancing. Charlie Gracie's rock and roll came from the roots of the rock movement and it hit your ears and ran right down to your feet. His fans got up from their seats, hit the dance floor and the music began to take over. It was as if they were magically transported back in time. They were sixteen again, fresh from practicing their dance moves in their parents' basements, swinging and spinning and twisting. The thought crossed my mind, as it does on many occasions when I hear Charlie play, that they had discovered the fountain of youth. Charlie's fans were not shuffling on the dance floor, across from one another, independently experiencing the music the way we had in the sixties. They were partners, many of them life partners, and they held each other in their arms and danced in a practiced and coordinated manner. They were teams and I was mesmerized.
      And so, a bit later we invested in dance lessons. We wanted to dance like Charlie's fans, and before long we were. I knew Pat could dance, but it wasn't until we practiced as a pair that I knew how well. It was not the first time in my life I had the thought that I was born too late in history. We learned how to swing dance and foxtrot and triple step. It wasn't always easy but we rose to the challenge. I have always loved dancing and now I have a respect for the art, and for the couples who have conquered it. Charlie Gracie and his music, and fans, had given us another great gift.

      Sadly, some of those fans have gone now. "Rubber Legs" Billy could spin a partner delightfully across the floor, but when he got up alone and felt the music down to his very soul and the bones in his legs turned into rubber, he took your breath away. There was another Billy as well, whose knees were not made of flesh and bone either, but perhaps titanium. But when he got on that dance floor they were the knees of a kid again and if the song had a rocking, creole feeling he could not be stopped. The list went on and on and still does. There are dancers in their seventies out there still, doing the Hop on the dance floor who are sixteen once again under the magic spell of Charlie's music.. They are the last of a great era. I loved going to see Charlie play then, as I do now, years later. Pat and I are still the "younger" folks and we are always hugged warmly and welcomed by all of his fans.

      Along the way, in our relationship with Charlie, Pat came to form a duet with the bass player from Charlie's band, and performs with him professionally and practices with him often in our home. Terry Bortman is a talented musician, a nice man and a good friend as well. 

     Charlie's drummer, Freddie Khan, who is also a piano tuner, supported me with help and information when I decided to look for a piano to put in my home. Without his inspiration I would never have fulfilled that lifelong wish. I cried the day the movers settled it into my dining room. I guess I wanted one more than I had realized.

     We have had the good fortune to get to know Charlie's wife and son (a top-shelf promoter for his dad), his daughter and daughter-in-law and even a cousin or two of his as well. He's a great musician and a wonderful family man and a good friend. He has shown me the fountain of youth and now I can swing dance. That's a lot to get out of a friendship. An awful lot.

See you next week!


April 11, 2015

The Cottage Witch


    When I was a young girl I visited my Aunt Pat and Uncle Leonard in their beautiful Santa Monica, California home. They had no children at the time so their house was a far cry from mine, where I lived with my five noisy siblings. They had a well-cared for Pomeranian named Topaz and their house was adorned with fascinating bits of art. Aunt Pat’s father made little wooden mice and stunning little chapels cut from thin veneers of wood. Their house was perfect. The kitchen was filled with earthy brick and blissful quiet. They are kind and gentle people and I was thrilled to hear they had a daughter sometime later who has grown into a beautiful woman with children of her own.
    One strong and cherished memory that stands out clearly in my mind is the day my Aunt Pat showed me her "apple head people". She explained to me how someone had taken the time to carve the shape of a face into the apples and then allowed the tart, round fruit to dry. It wrinkled and turned brown, giving them detailed and ancient expressions. I swore one day I would make one of my own.

    Time passed and I never got around to it until one day when I happened to spy an old dusty kitchen witch in a friend’s pantry and became inspired. A kitchen witch would be the perfect use for an apple head!
     As far back as the late 1500's the Scandinavians kept these handmade dolls, sometimes called Cottage Witches, in their kitchens to ward off bad luck. The legend says that these old crones will save one from burnt roasts and boiled-over soups and they were given as gifts to bring prosperity to the home. I'm a sucker for a great conversation piece and an unusual project and I never would turn down some good old fashioned luck in the kitchen.

A "store bought" cottage witch:

    I gathered a few apples, and my good friend, Fay, from up the street. Armed with sharp paring knives and determination, we set to carving heads. We went for a very basic shape thinking that wrinkling would add witchy personality to our creations. We cut them and then soaked them briefly in a mixture of lemon juice and water to keep them from spoiling.

It's blurry, but it shows an apple, freshly carved. 

Then we waited for the fruit to dry. The carved heads did indeed age, and shrank a bit too much, so we carved a couple of bigger, harder apples. Here they are at different stages of drying. Each one took on a personality of its own. Gala apples shrunk much more than the Macintosh. 

Galas on each end and the Macintosh in the middle:

     They sat for a few weeks on Fay's windowsill. She got to watch the day-to-day drying since she has a lovely sill (of which I am quite jealous), and I do not. It was the perfect excuse to meet over several weeks in her warm and wonderful kitchen to check on the drying of the heads and enjoy a cup of tea. After about five or six weeks, when the apples were dry and about as pliable as a marshmallow we proceeded to make them into dolls. We gathered the heads and supplies and met at the table in my big dining room.

By now the heads were much smaller and far more wrinkled. Fay gave her's eyes during the drying process:

We took old wire hangers and shaped them into something resembling a stick figure with a long neck:

Then we wrapped them up like little mummies with polyester batting. The batting I had on hand was the iron-on type that has a rubbery backing. The batting worked really well since it just clung to itself as we wrapped:

Now it was time to dress the witches. We cut fabric by eye and just sewed it directly to the batting:

For the bodice I cut a long strip of fabric, cut a hole for the neck and sewed the underarms. I chose a red gingham scrap to match my kitchen and Fay went with fabric with a rose pattern. We added a few other bits, aprons and such:

Now it was time for heads!

     Fay brought over these great pearl pins and we snipped them with wire cutters so the pin was not too long for the heads and shoved them in as eyes. At this point the heads were a bit rubbery and the eyes closed around the pins. It was great fun and a bit scary, seeing the apple heads seem to come alive. I chose red eyes and Fay put blue in her witch head. I also added a bit of powdered blush. We poked a hole into the bottom of the apple head with a bamboo BBQ skewer, added a gummy fabric glue and stuck the head in the wire necks of our stick figures. A bit of wool roving made great hair, also secured with fabric glue:

Now they needed scarves sewn on at the neck. Even scarier:

      I think she's beginning to look like someone I know! Fay's darling witch has her own personality as well. She chose an eclectic mix of fabric for her gal and fashioned her a nice pair of glasses from thin wire to help her watch over Fay's kitchen that much better! 

We threaded a needle with fishing line for a hanging thread, sewing it to the back of her neck and up through her hair and scarf. Fay gave her cottage witch a little broom and I selected a honey dipper for mine to give her a sweet ride. My witch's arms were a bit too short to wrangle that handle, so I have supplied her with a little rein made of a bit of leather.

And here are the finished witches in their kitchens! I'm not sure how lucky they will be, but they sure are cute! Thank you, Aunt Pat, for inspiring me with your apple head collection!

My friend, Fay's, witch in her forever home:

My witch. I call her "Honey".

Thanks so much for joining me. I'll be back next week and I hope you will be too!

April 4, 2015

The Eggs Revealed

Happy Easter and welcome back egg hunters! SPOILER ALERT! In my previous post we hid sixteen Easter eggs around my home. Today I'll be revealing the hiding places. So, if you still want to try to find them, go back and read that post now: Together at Easter. Okay, moving forward...

As I said, back in 2002 my children were leaving the nest to start their own adult lives. Now, even my youngest daughter has a family of her own. They still like a good egg dying as well. Here are a few pictures of more recent Easters and then the big egg reveal!

My grandson Michael loved eggs his very first year.

 Every year he dyed more and more:

By last year he was a real pro!

Now he's making eggs by the handful!
Time sure flies!

Little brother Thomas likes eggs as well!

And he's a pretty handsome egg hunter!

 This year he went for adding stickers to his lone surviving egg:

So now it's time!
Let's find out where all those eggs were:

Egg #1 was done by the lovely Alexis. You can see it here shown inside the yellow box. Had you found it?

Egg #2 was decorated by son Jeremy to look like a pack of Camel cigarettes. Was it tough to find among the sock darners?

My garden egg, #3 is cleverly hidden as a spool of thread.

Husband Pat's binoculars eggs from photo #4 are well camouflaged in the polish bottles:

Did you see the second egg in #5, or just get all wet?

My refrigerator hides three eggs in photo #6, one, an egg of Saturn, was done by now son-in-law, Bob.

Two lovely ladies from two different eras, had their eggs hidden amid the tins in #7

#8 was tough, but I bet you found it!

Egg #9, son Jeremy's little face egg, was very well concealed in a wreath:

# 10 was elusive and maybe the toughest to find of all, even though the setting was simple:

And last, but not least, in picture #11 the 16th egg, planet Earth, is revealed!

We had fun that year, for two years in fact, and two golden egg trophies were awarded. We were careful, keeping a list of where each egg was hidden, lest we lose one ourselves and it not be found until far later. I do hope you enjoyed my little trip back in time and that you remember your family this holiday, no matter how far you may all have roamed. I wish you a wonderful weekend. Please come back to see another adventure next week!