Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Fairy Dust than Tinkerbell

I saw just the last of the most recent Peter Pan movie and was horrified that it may have been billed as a movie for children. It was very very dark. At any rate, I noticed just how much fairy dust Tinkerbell was giving off so today as I was packing and sorting things in the upstairs room where I have my crafts and books and such, I noticed the vase that had been used at my wedding. It has been holding knitting needles--yes, I have a lot of them.

Coincidentally the wind was picking up again today.

The wind, the vase and fairy dust collided in my tired imagination in this way. The vase is galvanized --like those buckets we all used to have before plastic became king. I bought galvanized because I got married in a granary and the galvanized metal really looked nice. The florist who did all the flowers suggested spraying them with sprakly stuff to reflect the evening light and the candlelight. Great idea. Like so many great wedding ideas, it invovled more effort and took way more time than anyone expected. I wound up spraying the vases in my garage and rolling on the sparkly stuff, fairy dust. I then took them back to the florist and then in a flotilla of cars we took them to the wedding.

The florist warned me that the fairy dust would get all over everything. She was right. In my garage, my car, everyone's else's cars and on clothes and in hair. Despite packing and a long voyage, the article sleft fairy dust in the boxes, on the surrounding packing and hence in odd places even in Caithness.

Now Caithness wind can take the thoughts right out of your mind, so I got the idea that I might just set this vase out tonight as the wind picks up and see what the wind can do with it. If you are sleeping with the window open, you might think about closing it tonight unless you want some fairy dust to come your way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lessons from a Selvedge

My blogpal Curmudgeon, www.secondeffort.blogspot.com, puts a warning at the front of his sports-related posts. With that same sense of fair play, I offer the warning here that this post is about knitting, or at least includes scenes of knitting that some people may find uninteresting. As if to make my point, in the corner of the photo above, you can see my husband nodding off. Nodding off or running off seem to be common reactions by husbands to their wive's knitting. I learned just how true that was on a trip to the Isle of Skye. I actually wanted his opinion, which he is usually only too eager to share, on which yarn to buy for my daughter. I thought he was right behind me when I went into the store. When I turned, he had vanished. The store owner was not the least surprised. "I see it all the time," she explained.

I did not worry about the vanishing act until I could not find him in the car park, the store, or along the streets. He had wandered off and become involved in a conversation with a man from Australia, perhaps as an antidote to having crossed the threshold of a knitting store. The episode taught me three important things: 1. opinions are more fun for him when they are not asked for 2. anything he does not like he assumes will take enormous amounts of time and 3. he expects me to know what is in his mind, and hence, where he is.

This piece of knitting is lying in the sitting room because that is where I usually do the finishing stitches--hemming, darning in loose ends of whatever project I'm working on. I stitched up one sleeve last night. Tonight I'll do the other one. When my husband sleeps, I get the remote and switch the channel to one of my favourites--knitting along to Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie is great. Sherlock Holmes is a distant third.

The lovely soft blue yarn (Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran-- 85%wool, 10% silk, 5% cashmere, Colour 137 Empire) I bought on a trip back to my favourite knitting store in Westfield, Indiana--Stitches and Scones. On that trip I was alone and so I had all the time I needed to linger over the yarn and swap stories with other knitters. I bought so much yarn on that trip that it had taken a long time before I started knitting with this yarn and even longer before I came to the stitching up stage. Along the way I learned (and subsequently forgot) how to do the decorative edging stitch from one of the Nicky Epstein books (On the Edge, Over the Edge, Beyond the Edge). I got one of those books from the library and probably made a photocopy of the stitch instructions somewhere. As I pack up my craft supplies and UFOs (unfinished objects), those things that were set aside for sometime are propelled into the now.

Some projects have been finished and sent to a nearby craft shop for sale (and some of them have even been sold!).

Saturday we had our monthly Stitch N Blether meeting. For two (or is it three years? we could not remember when we talked about it Saturday), a handful of us have been meeting and knitting and talking. Over that time we have come to know each other as knitters and as people. So when I pulled out the blue jumper pieces on Saturday and explained that I had one sleeve separate and one attached to my would-be shrug, they laughed knowing full well that I would start out on something and change my mind mid stream. When I fretted about stitching the pieces, they all knew that I had an aversion to what I think of as fiddly bits. Knowing this, they would not let me put the hapless piece back in the bag for another time. And so with great good humour and patience, I got the knowledge and the support to do the first hard thing, attaching the orphan sleeve.



Now intact, the pieces of the shrug had to be cajoled into place. Stocking stitch can curl back upon itself. To get a smooth edge and the proper dimensions, these stitches have to be trained flat. A steam iron and a damp cloth is usually enough for that, but these stitches had been left to their own devices for too long. I had to press them repeatedly, and finally, one especially recalcitrant edge had to be dampened and pinned in place--that edge looking like a mini fence row with pins every two or three stitches securing it the cover of the ironing board.

As I worked over the selvedge edges, I could not help but think of a familiar phrase up here. Someone is said to be "turned in on him/herself" when they have become isolated, withdrawn, and usually so ingrained that change of any kind is not welcome. We all get a case of it from time to time, which made me even more grateful for my Stitch n Blether companions who did not give up after the first gentle pressure with a steam iron.




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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Three Boats

OK, my friend has just put in her triumph of creativity when it comes to non-paper paper boats. You can see it here:
http://joannebkaarpaperboats.blogspot.com/search/label/UK
along with all the other cool contributions. And here is a sneak preview of the flotilla I will sail to Joanne's studio tomorrow.

I'll let Joanne give you a close up shot, so I guess this is a sneak preview.

the tiny boat in the rear is a recognition of the many women whose lives were not chronicled who made the perilous voyage. The ones who had skills at needlework were luckier than most, so the pennant is a needle threader.

The middle boat is Forever Young, after my brother and sister in law's boat down in Grand Cayman. On the side are photos of my brother and sister. I miss them both very much and so this boat helps me keep them in mind. On the side it says, "May you be Forever young" adapted from a line from the Joan Baez song.

After all that seriousness, the third boat is just a fishing boat. I liked the cartoon-like fish. The little ones looking at the net; the larger one looking at them.

Oh all three are made out of fabric scraps from one thing or another bonded with an almost paper so that I could fold them like the original pattern on Joanne's blog. There is still time to make a boat, so by all means add to the flotilla.


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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stories in the Stones

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From the back of the cupboard as we clear small patches of this house--seemingly only to refill others, this photo emerged. It is a photo of the farm where we now live--although these stairs and the building behind it are now gone--victims of a fire several years ago now. I was drawn to it not only because it is from this place but also because I have not known this farm or the other farms around here to have so many people on them. This is a roup--a farm sale. My husband had the tenancy of the farm but the contents of the previous owner, who was retiring to a small house just down the road from here were being sold.

This photo came into mind as we went to a nearby farm to see about buying some piece of equipment or other. I took my crochet hook and my camera with me and went along mostly for the ride. Just before a bit of rain fell, I took several shots of the stairs there. The contrast with the hustle and bustle of this photo was much in my mind.

This farm is still an active farm but the farmer lives somewhere else. As with Isauld, which at one time had seven men working and living here, this farm is now managed on a shoestring and with fewer and fewer hands. Those of us living here and hearing the stories of the farms that are changing what they grow to match the amount of labour available or the young people who have to go south because they cannot find a job here call this another clearance. I suspect that the clearing of strath naver and the villages to the west was nearly as invisible as this one is. In the 19th century, the plight of the villagers caught the attention of socially conscious writers who championed their cause, to little effect, I am afraid. Now the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with a whole passle of academics in a variety of fields has brought together a well researched document of the plight of the hill farmer and the legacy of the current agricultural policy. I hope someone is listening, but in the meantime I'll keep going out with my camera.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Box Brownie in the Cupboard

We all know of cultures who think that taking a photograph of them captures their soul, but what of the relationship between the camera and the photographer? What lingers inside the camera?

Not long ago I had one of those amazing interactions that stretches my thinking. I like that. I try to embrace a sentiment I got from Maxine Hong Kingston's autobiography years agoin which she has her alter ego express the goal to "make your mind large enough to incorporate paradoxes." The interaction came from an exhibit at the nearby glass works (North Lands Creative Glass in Lybster). I might not have gone to see the exhibit except that two of the artists had come to do a show and tell of their residencies at a closer to home venue--the new museum in Thurso.

The work that interested me the least --at first--was a young American whose work had been taken up with vintage cameras. He found them, repaired them as needed, took at least one photograph with them, and then used the camera as a mold--juxtaposing the permanent and the transient. Having long been daunted by the mechanics of photography, I did not expect to be captivated, but I am drawn to photographs, especially the anonymous faces staring so keenly out of old glass negative photos, so I listened and looked intently.

The artist shared some of the history of the cameras, including the democratizing of both history and art with the advent of the Box brownie camera. Now transient moments could be captured by more than the elite or the technocrat, and candid photographs were possible. Arguably, this ushered in an era of overload of vacation snaps of seaside visits or children in best clothes, but those were the photos of someone choosing a moment that they wanted to remember--to hold on to.

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When my husband found this old box brownie in the cupboard, it brought back to me all those associations and a few more came with it. I remember a friend whose husband--now decades ago--showed me his collection of 19th century photographs carefully preserved and framed. They were beautiful, tiny photos of what I took to be sleeping infants. When he told me they were dead and that there was in the 19th century a tradition of photographing these infants as a last memory for the grieving parents, I was appalled. I remember sadly how hurt he was, "I thought you would understand," he said as he picked up the nearest photos and put them out of sight. Now I understand. I understand why the parents wanted, needed, and cherished those images. I understand why the photographer thought of it as precious gift to the parents. I understand why he saved those photographs. I also understand now why he thought I would appreciate them. I am honoured that he had such faith in me and very sorry that it took me so long to grow into that understanding.

And for all those reasons and more I took photos of this little box brownie out into the garden where it was many years ago. I photographed it on the garden wall overlooking the sycamores and in the honeysuckle and in front of the newly painted front door.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sun Tea Summer Day

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It is impossible to rank the things you miss most at any given time when you are in a culture other than your own. Occasionally I have missed iced tea, which I used to drink year round in my midwestern, central-heating chapter of my life. Mostly I have missed the heat that gave you a thirst for cold, really cold drinks. Recently, in desperation, I tried to get a cafe in Inverness to pour hot tea over ice for a semblance of iced tea. They would have obliged me but they explained, "We have no ice." I smiled through it all and thanked them. Of course. No ice. I don't have ice cubes or an ice maker in my fridge freezer either. It is a rare occasion when we have need for cold. It is usually one of the things that you can count on being in ample supply.

Today is one of those rare occasions. Not only is it hot enough for iced tea--it is hot enough to make sun tea! All right, for those of you who know better--yes, sun tea can be made even in cool weather as long as the sun is out, but for me sun tea needs hot weather because it is the heat that drives the desire for it and also drives us out of the kitchen when even air conditioning cannot keep pace with the heat.

Sun tea conjures the recollection of those days when heat sent everyone into a lower gear, an alternative domestic life on the exterior of the house--porches, back yards, patios.

I remember how cool the water felt as my grandmother would spray us with the hose while she sprayed down the concrete patio to help keep the house cool and then reading comic books under the trees while anticipating chasing lightning bugs in the first cool of the evening turning into night. My grandmother's iced tea was lightly sweetened. I remember how my mother made a storm cloud of sugar poured into the tall glass and stirred into a tornado. It was the summer equivalent of those snow globes--as vigorously as my mother stirred, as soon as the stirring stopped, the sugar drifted down into a drift at the bottom of her glass.

My next door neighbour back in Westfield made the best sun tea ever. I don't know how she made it. She always demurred, as good cooks do, that she did nothing special and patiently explained to me again just how she did it.

There is in my mind also an association of sun tea with life in the southern part of the US --soft, like hint of Texas still in my sister in law's mother's voice. The connection of practical and frilly with adorning the top of a simple jar with a crocheted doo dah seems distinctly southern. I should have beads on the edge, but I am having to improvise up here in this improbably sun tea summer day in the north of Scotland.

I linger by my reclaimed jam jars, despite a boatload of chores and appointments, to watch the river of colour move through the water as the temperature gradients begin to dance. Physics and poetry collide in my mind as I conflate the brown stained water in the jar with the little streams in Batso and the peat burns through the moors. I have great expectations for this American intervention with Highland water, British tea, and genuine British mint.