Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Occasion I Do Art

What was cooking in my world this past weekend?

Well, it was supposed to be Craft Camp at the lake. That's the weekend each summer when my friend Kate and I go to the cottage, take way more art supplies than we'll ever be able to use, and make art, in between trips to the farm market, and if it is very nice, time in the sun.

Well, when it was going to be low 60s and rain this weekend, we decided to stay home and do Craft Camp in my family room! We watched the Ted Kennedy ceremonies from funeral to burial, apart from some time off to have very late lunch at Bravo! (Of course, there were antic "play with the cat" times throughout the day!

Kate finished her shrine to color and made some beautiful jewelry. She's a wizard with that.

I got a ton of prep-work done (canvases gessoed, etc.) and did up a bunch of tags.

I'm really into the tag thing lately, I guess because they make fun bookmarks, too.

I don't know if I'll be doing a winter sale or not, but I figured if I do, they're nice stocking stuffers or good teacher gifts. And if I don't, I know they'll find homes! (My images came from bits and bobs of everything including The Vintage Workshop, above. That very cute baby below came from one of Joanne's collage sheets! Thank you!)

I also had some mini-composition journals that I worked on. I loved these -- wish I had bought more at the time and may well go back, though I'll never get the same great deal!

It felt good to do something creative lately. Not that baking, knitting, and other odds and ends aren't creative.

But there's nothing like paper and glue to cheer a girl up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Random Thoughts

My mind is flying in lots of different places!

First, thanks, all of you, for such kind wishes for a speedy recovery! Things are looking up. I can go out in public (though I still scare people and the Gypsy when I cough) and am making good ground! I have been taking your advice -- hot tea, honey, lemon, rest -- and things are looking up. As always, I feel wrapped in a warm clock of good feelings from friends I've never met, yet know so well. Yes, many thanks.

I was thinking, as I walked through Kroger after my doc appointment while waiting for my prescriptions that one shops differently when not feeling so good. Examples? My cart had things like cheese and crackers -- comforting spready-cheese, not the kind you have to cut! Bagels, soup (three kinds), a new box of tea (not that I didn't have more tea than I'll use in five years at home), yogurt (OK, that's a staple), Ricola and lots of Kleenex, extra soft, please. And I was desperately searching for meat loaf.

Comfort food. Something warm, savory, carby. I had zero interest in salad fixings, fruit (though I did find some good blueberries), or meat I'd have to cook. I didn't want to be cooked for yesterday, either, because that means you really have to eat just to be polite and I wasn't in the mood.

Meanwhile, I had some nice thoughts of the past weekend up at the lake. Granted, I was extremely annoying to be around, but nonetheless, my Cleveland cousins took it in "relatively" good form.

We did do something fun -- an antiquish store in town decided to have a big sale in their six barns near Gaylord, so on a rainy Saturday, we headed out there. (Yeah, rain, bronchitis. I know. The whole weekend, it just rained...)

I saw lots of fun stuff, most of which I had no spot for, so reluctantly left it behind.

I liked this bunny and these Indian blankets.

These paddles aren't old, but had a nice up-northy feel.

Croquet sets always appeal to me -- I love the colors!

Who wouldn't want these? And who would have a place to put them?

And there was lots of great "big stuff" -- some decent furniture, that sort of thing.

I did find one thing I liked a lot -- this desk. Wouldn't it be a great art table?

Trouble is, it's one of those melamine things that you put together with a kit from someplace like Target. She wanted $125, which I thought was way too much for something that wasn't even real wood. Wouldn't budget on it either, said she would take it to the store after she cleaned it up (and it was cleaned up, by the way) and ask $175 or more for. Good luck. It did, however, make me realize that perhaps my pine desk similar in style to this might one day be reappropriated!

I did find a couple of interesting tins -- one very old filled with hair curlers, the other probably more recent but fun. Mutty and Howard found a couple of bobbleheads.

And we enjoyed nice dinners out, several belated birthday celebrations and good times. And really, does it get much better than that, no matter what the weather?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Savory Sisters

I've been asked to join a book club! They're called the Savory sisters, and my friend Kate says it's the best!

Our first book for this fall is "The Soloist" by Steve Lopez. If you want to know more, visit Chopsticks and String!

And, if you love heartwarming true stories, stop by Mama K's blog (it's her 100th post!) and read about Charlie, a little boy who adopted after lots of waiting! He's a cutie with a great smile and the story will warm your heart!

Monday, August 24, 2009


The Gypsy's Mom is "quarentined" for a couple of days with bad bronchitis. (Yes, I can go out, but the doc said it would be best if I stayed away from everyone.)

Unfortunately, that means dial-up, which will make it hard to check in with you. If I get an energy burst, I'll reply to all your lovely comments during the past few days! Meanwhile, back soon! (Thank goodness for pre-posts!)

As High as an Elephant's Eye

"The corn is as high as an elephant's eye,
and it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky!

So wrote Oscar Hammerstein in the lyrics to "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" in "Oklahoma!"

He could have been referring to summer in Michigan, not Oklahoma.

My grandparents had a small farm. It wasn't their sole livelihood, but it kept them going during the depression and filled the larder during the cold winter months for as long as I could remember their being fit enough to manage it.

(Grandma, Grandpa, Grandma's brother Uncle Sam and his wife Aunt Merle,
and my Great Grandmother, Delia.)

I was often roped into helping pick whatever veggie or fruit was in season. I think they especially appreciated my strawberry picking skills -- I was much lower to the ground than any of the adults!

And of course, I "helped" with making strawberry jam, pickles and canning vegetables. I say "helped," but mostly I observed. However, going down to the cold cellar with the deep, dark cistern to help Grandma put the glass jars on the shelves was one of the high points of the whole process!

We had two mealtime traditions in the summer: Strawberry shortcake dinner in June (all shortcake, none of those nasty green things!), and Corn-on-the-cob dinner in August (all corn, with sweet butter, salt and pepper).

I loved them both.

These days, we don't really do that anymore. But when it's corn season, I can't resist a farm stand with corn picked fresh that day.

It isn't as good as that Grandma and Grandpa used to grow. But I'll boil it up (bring to a boil, boil three minutes and sit covered for 10), lay on the butter and add salt or my favorite new alternative -- the juice from a wedge of lime.

And I'll be thinking of my grandparents with every bite.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New on "Chopsticks"

A lot of you asked me questions about Paris, and while I tried to reply to all of you, I thought they might be fun to share. (Besides, you know I was looking for another spot to use my Paris photos!)

So, if that's your cup of tea, click over to Chopsticks and String and check it out!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Things I Learned at the Lake

Last weekend at the lake I learned some new things.

First, when you friend calls you from the cottage and says "I think you have raccoons in the chimney," it's good to find a Critter Guy as fast as possible -- and be very persistent.

I was lucky to find Larry the Critter Guy, and by the time Rick and I arrived at the lake, there were several traps set on the roof and by the tree that was clearly the access point.

About 10:30 at night or so, we heard squealing. (I should add at this point that these were traps that would not hurt any animal, so although it sounded awful, we knew it wasn't hurt from the trap.)

The squealing and wailing went through the night, along with sounds like something being pulled along the roof, no doubt baby coon one trying to escape. It was well after three when I got to sleep to stay. I was worried about the poor thing in the pouring rain in the cage, and yet so relieved it wasn't in my chimney.

The next day we could see one raccoon, so I called LCG who came out. Turned our there were three -- we couldn't see two of the traps.

We got two babies -- weaned, said Larry, and ready to be on their own -- and the mom, who'd been badly injured in a fight and clearly wasn't going to make it. I won't go into detail, but it was obvious even to me.

Now, when I think of raccoons, I think of these cute little Bandit type animals with their mask. Remember the children's book "Rascal"? Yeah, Cute. Sweet.

My childhood friend Jeri Aldrich had a mom who could do anything with animals and I clearly remember going over to their house and seeing the cat, dog and raccoon sit up for dinner and treats.

Let's just say the guys we pulled down don't fit that category, and are probably more true to form. They were definitely scrappy!

So, Larry lowered his traps from the roof, put them in the truck and was going to set the babies free on 40 acres about 20 miles from the cottage. They should be fine.

(As for mom, he said, "I'll do what you want, but she's not going to make it." I said, "Do what you need to do but don't tell me the details." I think she's in raccoon heaven right now.

So, that was one big adventure.

The other thing I learned was about leftovers, after making two things for dinner on Saturday night -- ratatouille and a tomato/basil/mozarella/kalamata/cucumber salad with oil and vinegar.

Making these was nothing new. But using the leftovers was. Try making an egg scramble with your eggs, leftover ratatouille and a little cheese. It's fabulous. That was Rick's idea.

As for the other salad, mix it in with mini-penne and whatever else you want to add and serve it with herbed shrimp. Delicious!

And that's how I spent last weekend!

Thursday, August 20, 2009



Recently, Relyn and Robin have been including some "unphotographable" moments on their blogs. I’m not sure what their precise definition is, but from what they've written and how I interpret it, I have come up with one of my own.

I define an unphotgraphable moment as one that simply cannot be adequately conveyed on film. Sometimes you can try. But it is ultimately a photograph of the heart, one to remain indelible, yet ephemeral.

We all have those, don’t we? The moment where we don’t have our camera and something endearing happens. Or the finished photo isn’t nearly what the memory was.

Sometimes that photo just can’t capture it, because in the endgame, it’s not the image, it’s a collection of images, a collection of experiences.

Recently I attended the Great Lakes Folk Festival, which I described in my last post. I was recuperating from a quick but intense flu bug, and was wearing out. But I had to see the klezmer group, Beyond the Pale, which was performing at the dance stage.

I have two genres of what I call soul music – music I feel I knew even before I was born. Klezmer is one of them.

The festival’s dance tent can be found on the asphalt-covered parking lot behind a row of typically overpriced college shops and restaurants on the main drag. At one end of the tent, the musicians perform on a fairly large stage. Rows of chairs form a semi-circle around a wooden dance floor. The bands on this stage alternate over three days between Cajun, klezmer, Cuban/Carribbean, Tex-Mex, polka, Latin and Norwegian-American, and it’s one of the more popular stages at the event.

This particular evening was a hot one, and walking in the humid early evening air was like walking into a wall. The eight-hour rainstorm that started the day at six in the morning was long over, but the heavy damp atmosphere seemed all the more so with the intense heat that had grown through the day.

We had just finished dinner and wandered over to the dance tent to see the group I was waiting for. It was a packed venue, but we were able to find chairs, and tucked the folding chairs we’d brought with us under our seats. And the music began.

Most times at the dance stage, the moves aren’t taught. The band plays, encourages people to dance, and everyone just goes at it. In some cases, polka for example, the dance is a common one, and most know it. But the dances associated with klezmer aren't so common -- one's most extensive experience may be dancing the hora at a Jewish wedding.

It didn’t matter.

Within moment the floor was filled with people, young and old. They formed a line, then a circle, with the more experienced dancers moving about in a grapevine step, and the others just running along with them as the tempo increased. Someone would move in toward the center, holding the hands of those on either side. Then out, then in again. Soon the whole group was moving as one, in and out, hands raised, hands lowered.

Song after song, the dance continued. Small groups would break off to the side, doing their own thing, forming bridges under which others passed. Others would break the circle and turn it into a spiral.

As a waltz slowed things down, a couple passed by, their year-old daughter swirling along with them, held in their arms. The child simply beamed, and it was clear this family loved one another very much.

The music changes. While the group moves about in various steps, a mother guides her son who looks to be about ten into a tango. His footwork is off, his steps long, and his smile is wide.

Three teen girls dance together in one spot, while in another a group of college-aged kids incorporate every move from bridges and twirls to allemande left and swing your partner!

Sometimes, the circle turns into a solo dance, with an individual or couple moving center, doing their variation, then returning to the periphery, so another can have a turn.

Several young men, possibly twenty years old or so and wearing white "Phantom" masks that cover the tops of their faces leap into the fray. One of them has a video camera and he’s capturing it all.

And it all works. There are smiles, there is joy. There is the frenzy of the wailing clarinet, the powerful melody of the accordion. There is no pattern, yet it comes together in the most sublime patchwork quilt of music and dance.

And then there was the fellow I called The Ponytail and whom Rick decided must be a Gypsy.

He was probably sixty, his gray hair pulled into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wore a light colored, pressed shirt with long sleeves, tucked neatly into pleated black pants and had been dancing all evening, often with a woman in a black leotard. Yet amidst a sea of sweat-soaked, smiling bodies, he alone appeared cool and crisp.

He knew how to dance – there was no doubt about that. We’d watched him all evening, dazzled by his footwork, his sense of the music, his √©lan. He was confident, composed, and having a wonderful time.

The band begins its last set – a fifteen minute medley of fairly fast-paced tunes. The Ponytail pulls a kerchief from his pocket and leads the group into their circle, waving the kerchief and weaving throughout the stage and the group moves much as it had before – long lines, small groups, in and out, living the music.

But then something different happens.

The Ponytail has turned to face one side of the audience and begins moving to music apart from the circle. Others form a line behind him, mimicking his movements. Then more turn to join. Till finally, the whole group is behind The Ponytail, mirroring his actions, swiveling their hips, raising an arm, bending backwards or moving closer to the ground. They are one.

And the music soars, the audience claps in rhythm, the dancers smile.

And it is unphotographable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Jewel in the Crown

My little city is not the most exciting place on the planet. More often than not these days, it's singing the blues.

It’s horribly depressed right now with the same economic issues cities everywhere are facing. Sprawl has taken the beauty out of it and spread things out for miles, leaving the city with a downtown that becomes empty after the state employees leave at 4:30 each day. And while there are occasional pockets of interest, by and large it isn’t much to write home about.

True, we do have some nice things. The capitol building is beautifully restored and parts of Michigan State University (like the gardens and the old part of campus) are lovely. Its history museum (MSU Museum) and art museum (Kresge) are cultural assets to the community. (Of course the university will do its best to rob you blind and its poor traffic patterns and outrageously expensive parking make this public institution nearly inaccessible to anyone not already on campus.)

But I live here. I work here, in the city in which I grew up. At one time in my life, I really didn't have a choice about staying here. I had to care for my dad. But after he died, I did have the choice and for whatever reason, I choose to stay.

One of those reasons is what I consider the “Jewel in the Crown” of our community. Really, the only super-jewel, though there are a few semi-precious stones.

That jewel is The Great Lakes Folk Festival, which took place last weekend.

The festival sprung out of the National Folk Festival many years ago. It is two-and-a-half days of free music entertainment on three stages, running simultaneously and nonstop, with traditional craft displays, ethnic foods, youth activities and more.

And if you think by folk I mean Kingston Trio-type tunes for three days, think again.

Like blues? Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy rocked, with soul stirring tunes. She had an attitude, really knew how to work the crowd, and gave her all.

Maybe you prefer Cuban/Caribbean? Then check out Tumbao/Bravo with south of the border sounds that were jazzy, melodious and fun.

Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys knew how to make bluegrass sing! You haven’t seen fingers move faster on a banjo!
Shotgun Party was more Western Swing. Maybe I didn’t like them so well because I still had a fever and a headache when I saw them. But the crowd seemed happy.

For me, Celtic is one of the two musical genres I call my personal soul music. (You’ll learn more about the other in my next post!) Slide, four men from Ireland, did not disappoint with slides (those are sort of like jigs on steroids), soulful Celtic tunes and rollicking music that had people cheering.

And if those aren’t your thing, there’s polka, Cajun, Finnish-American, Norwegian-American and Acadian! Traditions showcases feature topics like fiddling, hard luck songs or immigrant songs, where representatives from various groups take to the stage not to perform but to explain their particular take on the music.

You can absolutely count on running into your friends!

New this year was the BookFest tent from MSU Press. Michigan authors, mostly of children’s books, read from their books and answered questions. We had to go see Jef Mallett, creator of the comic strip Frazz.

Now Rick reads Frazz daily. He even went as Frazz to a Halloween costume party. And Mallett, like Rick, is a bike rider.

He delighted the audience, who asked questions throughout, answering as he drew Frazz and later a cat for a child in the group.

After we waited around to meet him and say hello. Rick had met him once before and Jef remembered Rick from that. I told him I thought PBS should animate Frazz. It is, after all, set in a school (Frazz is the custodian). Well, you never know.

We didn’t have the time to spend there I would have liked, but every moment there was well spent! If you’re in Michigan and love music, mark your calendar for next year! You won’t regret it!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Kindred Spirit I Never Really Knew

When I was a very small child -- not quite six years old -- my aunt Eleanor died. She was second-oldest of my mother's sisters, and she died at the age of 1957 from asthma.

It was a large family -- for awhile there were five children, though Junior died when he was about seven. Even after they were adults, there was a bond between the sisters, and I often think of them as "The Four Sisters," even though in most of my lifetime, there were only three living. (In the photo below, the sisters are Eleanor at left, Grace -- the baby, held my Iris, my mom, Jean, who looks like she's chasing away a bug, and Junior, the brother who died at about seven.

Because I was so young when she died, and because they lived rather far from us, I really didn't know her, apart from stories my mother told me, and my memories were sketchy.

I knew she was the beautiful one with the gorgeous hair -- long, thick, curly.

She looked like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm! (Pictured on the above on the right and below on the left with my baby mom, Iris and my grandparents.)

Mom said when I was a little girl, I looked like her. I sure had the hair!

And a little bit of the facial structure, around the mouth.

Iris -- the oldest sister -- once said, "I was jealous, because I think Papa liked her best." (Below, Eleanor is next to my grandfather.)

Mom told me what a wonderful artist she was, and I have two of her paintings that prove it! Here's one she gave mom when I was born.

Eleanor moved to Cadillac, Michigan, when she was married, and had three children -- my cousins Sue, Anne and Jack. But after she died, we didn't see them very often and I never knew them as well as the other cousins.

(Later, when I worked at Ele's Place, I remember telling someone that I wished that option had been available for the Cadillac cousins in the mid-1950s. At ages ranging from about six to early teens, the loss of a mother must have been a huge adjustment. It's big enough when you're older.)

About a year ago, Iris died at 95 (or close to it), outliving all her sisters, the last of whom had died in 1977. Last month her son brought her ashes back to the family plot. We gathered for a brief graveside service and lunch at a restaurant in the building where Iris used to work for my grandfather.

We had cousins from Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona, and the four who were missing were from Ohio, Arizona and Madison. (Pictured are Eleanor's children Jack and Anne, Iris' older son John, and in front of me, two of Grace's children, Mutty (aka Mary, but we don't call her that, and David.)
Anne and Jack, both of whom live in Michigan, were able to come, and oh, what a reunion it was!I'd seen Jack a little more recently, but Anne and I haven't had a good ol' long talk, maybe ever. At least, not since we were old enough to care! But seated together at lunch, I had a chance to ask her questions.

"Did you used to have a little green plastic box in the fridge with water?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "It had a little push button for the water!"

A memory confirmed.

"And did your house in Cadillac have a big staircase?"


(Another memory, confirmed!)

"Did you call her Ohnee?"

"No." (That must have been my name for her, since I couldn't pronounce Eleanor very well.)

Anne told me that her mother would talk to her (she was only nine when Eleanor died) about all things metaphysical. She was deeply spiritual. This is an interest we would have shared.

And that she remembered our playing with the pots and pans in the kitchen, with the moms saying "When they meet in the middle, we'll go clean it up." Mom said that when Cleveland cousin David (below) and I would play, too!

Asthma. Art. Things of spirit. Curly hair. Oh, Ohnee and I would have had much to talk about!

We talked about family, trying to piece together other relatives, and I know we'll have these talks again.

Later, I told Rick, "If Anne lived closer, she's someone I'd want to be my friend here! We just have much in common! When I told her that, she said "I told my husband the same thing!"
Discovering a kindred spirit you never really knew is a wonderful (and somewhat sad) thing. Discovering a cousin with whom you share much is equally wonderful!

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