Tuesday, March 26, 2013

lucky button

i have the honor and privilege of introducing to the blogosphere diana's newest venture: di's lucky button.

come visit, say hello, connect in some way.

(she still has her other blog, di: the mini writer, but wanted to expand the repertoire of what she posts about.)

oh, it feels so good to have another shared project and experience with her!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

eggy art

decorating and coloring eggs for easter was a really, really big deal growing up in my family of origin.  we wouldn't just do a dozen or two; no, it was at least four dozen.  or was it six?  (don't correct me, dad, this is my story!)  anyway, my brother, mom, and dad and i loved to decorate using wax crayons and vivid food colors and especially loved to crack them, greek-style ('cause we're greek, you know, with my dad having been born under the shadow of mount olympus and all) and mostly loved to eat lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs, either plain or in egg salad.

since having my own children, we don't color quite so many eggs, perhaps because there are fewer of us in the household who enjoy eating eggs all day every day until they are gone (like me), but we do still color them.  over the years we have brought others in to do it with us, particularly our friends who were raised in faiths which didn't participate in egg coloring or cracking or consumption during this time of year.  you're very welcome, my converted friends.

some things don't change.  we always use piping hot water (very carefully around little children, of course) and plenty of white vinegar to have the best color-fastness.  we always let our refrigerated hard-boiled eggs come to room temperature first, so they don't sweat.  we always at least try to remember to purchase our eggs plenty of time in advance, as "old" eggs are much easier to peel than fresher ones (otherwise i swear silently to myself at the kitchen sink as i peel infinitesimally tiny bits of shell off in a vain effort to prevent my egg salad from being crunchy.  the only crunch allowed in mine is from pickles, thankyouverymuch.)

we have expanded (not abandoned) tradition by experimenting with dyes made from natural materials, like onion skins, orange peel, spices, and berries.  yes, for the people who have accused me of becoming more "crunchy" since moving to california, i have been influenced by native culture, but i assure you, i was well on my way in that direction for a long time beforehand.  it's just easier to do it out here 'cause people don't look at me quite so funny.

i remember the cups we used to use at my parents' house.  teacups on their saucers, to catch the spills.  not that spills ever happened, mind you, because we were so very, very neat when submerging the eggs into the liquid concoctions that dad had poured so very, very carefully and we very, very gently checked the eggs and lifted them out with the special wire egg-lifters from the paas coloring kit box that we kept and used year after year even though we switched to food coloring rather than the kits.

we used our own teacups and saucers for a while, then switched to clear plastic cups because it was fun to see the eggs inside and we could (mostly) keep the kids from climbing onto the table to see the colors.

i remember one of my favorite parts was watching the colored liquid swirl and mix together as i ran the faucet and emptied the cups, one by one, into the sink and down the drain.

pretty, but not quite the same effect as colors-mother-nature-never-intended-for-eggs

we've also expanded our repertoire, blowing the eggs first and then decorating them so that we can preserve the art for longer.  strangely enough, i cannot find photos for these, but if i have time (ha!) i'll take pictures of the ones we kept and post them.

there are the egg geodes, a la martha stewart.  no, we didn't use the fancy, expensive egg dye, but did still achieve some pretty spectacular effects with alum purchased from the spice section of our local grocery store.

and we used straight pins to fasten sequins onto egg-shaped styrofoam.

this year will be different, as i am trying really hard to focus on putting things into boxes for the big move, rather than taking them out.  fortunately, i have all of our holiday materials in labeled bins (the most organized part of my household is in storage), so i could get out our spring-y decorations.  definitely less than what we have for fall and nothing like what we have for all the winter holidays we celebrate.  i think most of what i do for spring is edible.  or i just look outside to see what's emerging and growing.

we'll likely color eggs at a friend's house.  but beyond that, i don't think we'll be doing much of our eggy thing.  next year, when we are well-settled into our home in virginia, i'll send the kids out to hang plastic eggs on the trees like my mom (still does?), i may fashion our own indoor display like martha did for our fancy eggs, and i might finally indulge myself with the tools for pysanky.

until then, i hope you are inspired to create something egg-themed for this time of year.  maybe you'd be willing to share it with me, too.  or, better yet, bring over your own colored eggs after easter and i'll show you our proper technique for greek egg cracking and how to be entirely unsportsmanlike about the results.

p.s. maybe next year someone will get me one of these.  or, better yet, i'll make it myself with diana, since she's a budding chocolatier, having handmade some of her original "chocodots" for and with her friends.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

the second mrs. gibson

i don't typically call these field trips, because they are just part of our regular homeschool learning experience, but it's a term that many people are familiar with, so...

we took a field trip to a place just down the street from us, gibson house.

it's not the first time we've been there.  it was also just down the street from us in the house where we lived prior to this one, actually, within walking distance, which was especially useful for festivals and fairs and such so we wouldn't need to be concerned with finding parking.  speaking of which, they are having a may festival coming up on the 5th that would be an awesome time to investigate the grounds.  we won't be there, sadly, because we'll have moved to our new home across the country by then.  but anyway, we have had the privilege of trying our hand at grinding corn and pumping water and peeking into the buildings.  we've wanted to know and see and do more, especially go inside the house.

i was inspired to organize a field trip for members of our homeschool group primarily because of mary, a lovely docent from our first trip to cache creek.  she volunteers at both places, among others, and had mentioned the educational program available at gibson house.

the program is geared for third-graders, as that is the year the public school kids study california history.  as with most of the things we do with our group, though, grade level is just a target, because we have so many families with learners of all ages and siblings, too, and we leave it up to parents to determine if the experience would be a good one for their students.  so, we had toddlers through fourth-graders (by age) participate in their family groups.

i was hoping to see everything, but the docents needed a parent to help out with the scavenger hunt and laundry stations, so i volunteered to do it.  fortunately, i was able to hear quite a bit about the barn and blacksmith buildings, plus pop in for a moment to hear a verse of "mr. gibson had a farm" while a group shook milk into butter.

i immediately started humming "surrey with the fringe on top" from the musical "oklahoma" which my high school drama class put on

mary knew all sorts of details captured in this photo behind her. there was a foal kept nearby her mother, who was needed to pull the machinery along with the other horses. during breaks, the foal nursed, and the mare felt better having a watchful eye on her offspring. also, there was a woman perched on top of the tall seat, driving the team, because it was a good place to have a photo taken, and it was a big deal when a camera came to town.

foot-powered jigsaw

with the price of corn going up, not as much is being donated to the gibson house. nevertheless, there was just enough so that all the kids had a chance to turn the crank to grind the corn into a coarse meal.

mary describes how the blacksmiths would probably control the bellows themselves, wanting to closely monitor the temperature for their work.  did you know that the pointed end of the anvil was used to shape horseshoes?

wash like a boss


the hands-on washing station

the boys in particular loved cranking the wringer handle.

my mother told me that these washboards came from ohio, where i grew up.  now i'm intrigued. maybe she can find me one, since diana has decided she'll do the family laundry for ten cents per piece.

singing "this is the way we wash our clothes, so early monday morning" in matching aprons (loaned to the girls for the duration of their visit; boys wore kerchiefs and suspenders) added to the enjoyable experience
plenty of finger games to explore

after quite a bit of practice, and using tips from a much younger student, i actually got this to work, and i didn't even hit myself in the face.

because one could hear it from afar, this bell was used to signal the time to rotate stations

this was nestled among the many different varieties of scented geraniums, such as orange, lemon, and green apple

i wish i'd gotten to hear more about how things changed due to the "second mrs. gibson."  apparently, expansions to the house and the addition of columns were not the only things she insisted upon.  i think there might have been something regarding a marble fireplace, too.

fun facts i want to remember (and didn't get pictures of):

  • the gibsons grew olives, oranges, persimmons, and pomegranates in their gardens
  • portraits and furniture and heirlooms from multiple sources are housed in the main building.  we recognize many family names, as some of the first schools (and streets) in woodland are named after them.  there's a delightful thimble collection to be seen on the way up the staircase.
  • the lower kitchen cupboards were labeled with single letters.  it was pretty simple to identify which were for flour and sugar.  coffee was another.  we were nearly stumped by "p p & k" and "c v," but with just a couple of hints, the kids figured out "pots, pans & kettles" and "canned vegetables"
  • i don't like ironing now, and i sure would not have enjoyed it back then, either.  those irons were really heavy!
  • buttonhooks could be quite ornate and just as pretty as the boots that needed to be buttoned up
  • the task of emptying chamber pots would have fallen to the children, so it's reasonable that i would want my own kids to clean our bathrooms, right?
  • babies slept in the same room as their parents for quite some time so that parents could attend to them during the night.  it wasn't until they were older that they went to a separate children's room.  sharing sleep made sense.
  • tin ceilings weren't used just to look pretty; they offered fire protection
  • a large headboard was supposed to keep you warmer.  not sure how that would help more than wearing a sleeping cap, but they sure looked grand.
  • the concrete blocks out by the front driveway were for ladies to step up upon as they mounted sidesaddle on their horses
  • everything was reused or repurposed.  broken items were repaired or used as scrap material to make something else.  ladies brushed their hair one hundred strokes every evening to get rid of dust, and they saved the hair that came out into the brushed and turned it into art.  i am not kidding about this.  we saw some.
i'm sure glad we made the time to go.  we'll definitely be looking for experiences like this when we get to virginia, and i don't doubt we will find plenty.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

walking the fine line

i found some unexpected extra time one morning last week after efficiently running errands while the children were in activities.  i did not have a book with me, nor did i particularly feel like doing the work i brought with me.  it was a beautiful morning, sunny and cool, so i went walking. note: i did not take pictures that day, but when i felt compelled to write this post, i went back to capture the images below.

there is a labyrinth in davis modeled after the one in chartres cathedral in france.  i've walked this one at st. martin's episcopal church a couple of times before, but i paid a different kind of attention to specific details.

it was wet, having been freshly sprayed down by a caretaker, so i wanted to be particularly careful in my walking so that i did not slip (i tend to stumble easily).  the path is relatively narrow, allowing for single file only, so you have to watch where you walk to stay within the path (not that there is a penalty or anything if you don't, but it's a nice little addition to the mindfulness exercise as a whole).  i found the puddles' reflective quality to be welcome highlights along my journey.

the lines are curved, often in a tight switchback, so i amused myself with planning my strides so that i could turn on one foot with some semblance of gracefulness.  i was not always successful, sometimes getting wobbly, affecting my pace, but i simply noted it and moved on.  this was not a time for self-criticism, after all.

when i practice sitting meditation, my breath is the primary focus, but in walking that morning i found that the sound of my heels clicking on the ground provided a slow, solid, steady rhythm.  i liked being able to hear it, the ticking of a living metronome, a harmonious middle ground between the insistent pursuit of desire and the ponderous dragging of reluctance i often hear in the footsteps of others around me.

walking this labyrinth is not the same as taking a stroll in the garden.  instead of looking around, i needed to keep my eyes downward, always in front, semi-aware of the paths around me but entirely uncertain of which way i would be going next until i was upon a turn.  i haven't walked it enough to recognize or memorize the pattern yet, and i think the essence of my experience would change once i did.  i tend to be a person who avoids change, who fears uncertainty, who clamps down on any aspect of a situation i think i can in a fruitless effort to control something.  but this labyrinth releases me from those feelings.  i know and believe with all my being that i will get to the center, and i will come back out, because it was designed that way. and i find that comforting.

this is at the heart of why a labyrinth and a maze are different, though the words are often mistakenly interchanged.  a maze is multi-cursive, created as a problem to solve, a challenge to test you every step of the way.  it has alternate routes, "dead ends" to lead you astray of the goal, which is to get through.  part of the appeal of creating and running though elaborate corn mazes in autumn is to test wits and navigational skill.  (or patience and tolerance for confusion, which is why my children and i prefer the smaller hay bale mazes that you can pop your head over the side to check on your progress.)  a labyrinth, however, is unicursive, and though it may indeed be mysterious in appearance, one will always emerge at the same point of entry without the need to concentrate on finding one's way there.  there are no decisions to be made.  just keep walking.

i held my hands behind my back as i walked in, gently intertwining my fingers.  it allowed me to lean forward slightly, opening up my ribcage, baring myself honestly to whatever thoughts might cross my mind.  meditation is an intense, introspective, insightful practice, but i work to enter it with openness and curiosity, interested in what i will discover about myself without judgement or criticism.  i must admit, i get a thrill when i reach a moment of clarity, when a realization reaches a deeper level of comprehension, when something in my subconscious breaks through and dances in the forefront of my mind saying, "here i am!  look at me!  i've been waiting for you to notice me!  attend me now!"  i don't know if my face registers a smile at that moment, but i feel my body tense and relax simultaneously in acknowledgement of such an experience.

so deep was my focus that i barely noticed i was at the center of the labyrinth until i took the last few steps in.  it seemed odd to me at the time that i was reluctant to leave the center, but as i lifted my eyes and saw what was all around me, i sensed a protection.  this labyrinth is two-dimensional, a design inlaid into the ground, undetectable if one was living in flatland, but i have the benefit of the perspective of height so that i could observe the gestalt and its clear distinctions between path and in-between spaces.  the flowered inner sanctum held me and my fragile, quiet thoughts for as long as i asked it to.

i breathed and breathed and prepared my mind and body for the winding path outward.  i was not simply retracing my steps, even though i was once again on the path that brought me inside.  i could not, because i was different than - fundamentally changed from - the person who entered.  i wanted to cherish the thoughts that came to me, nourish and tend to them, imprint them upon my mind so that they would stay with me on my path and beyond the outskirts of the labyrinth.  i symbolically held my hands gently cupped in front of me, carrying my newfound treasures of realization gently and respectfully.

my efforts were successful in more ways than i can adequately describe.

Monday, March 11, 2013

beautiful beeswax

i love candles.

birthday candles.  tea lights.  votives.  tapers.  even the battery-operated ones we use during winter holiday play times where open flames are not the safest option.  luminaries lining our sidewalks. 

i love the ones scented like food that make me hungry, like fruits or vanilla or baked goods like gingerbread or cookies.

i love watching the flames.  so mesmerizing.

i love to see the drip patterns after the wax burns.

i used to prefer jarred candles, because i could burn them and put the lid back on afterwards and not lament at how little wax was left.

now i am fascinated with natural beeswax candles in beautiful shapes, probably because we met jan from bee happy candles several years ago.  we first oohed and aahed over her teeny-tiny little candles poured into halved walnut shells at woodland's stroll through history.  then we found her again at the davis art center's holiday sale and we've been coming to her ever since.

diana's even taken candle-making lessons with jan.

we've added to our collection of jan's candles bit by bit.  i wanted to find candles we could use for celebratory occasions, like the solstices and equinoxes.  we only light them one day each year so that they will last a really long time.


then i added other holidays, like st. nicholas day, christmas, valentines' day, and st. patrick's day.  i'm a little concerned about how st. nicholas and the angel will look when their heads burn off, though.

fall is one of our favorite seasons, and though there are plenty of materials we find outdoors for display in our nature basket, i couldn't resist getting these, all hand-poured using molds that jan created herself using pieces of nature.

i had to get the fruit, given how much ander loves the part in the muppet christmas carol about rizzo the rat trying to eat a wax apple.  he doesn't eat ours, of course, but it provides for funny family remembrances.

here's the secret for keeping the beeswax candles looking so fresh, even after storing them for months.  jan "polishes" them by using low heat to melt the "bloom" off.  i used the warm setting on my hair dryer, and within seconds, the whitish coloring that can make the candles look a little dull vanished!

diana's personal collection on our last visit bears some explanation.

i will miss visiting jan's studio after we move, but i am glad to know i will still be able to order her beautiful creations.  diana and i will always have memories of our experiences visiting jan's studio, basking in the sunlight, inhaling the aroma of clean, melting beeswax, marveling over all the beautiful candles she creates.  and, thanks to jan's generosity and willingness to teach an enthusiastic, engaged student, diana now knows the whole process of creating a prototype to fashioning a silicone mold to pouring and finishing off her very own creation.  see the heart in the middle, surrounded by red hearts on either side?  diana's very first candles using her very own mold.  she made one as a birthday gift to a very special friend in her life.

how did she do it?  well, i daren't give away all her trade secrets, but i was permitted to photograph bits and pieces of the process.

elements of the prototype

silicone setting up

wick strung through the cured mold

first pour hardening

working to keep fingers busy while waiting for wax to cool and harden. these were used on an order for celestial tapers.

getting just enough colored wax for the next pour

candle number two

the happy faces of satisfied student and teacher

whoever thinks that DIY is not worth doing doesn't really know my daughter.

thanks, jan!