Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Day of the Year

Mindful, as always, of my grandmother's injunction that the Christmas tree must go out the door before the the New Year comes in, I'll spend today breaking up Christmas.

All the little Christmas tschotchkes will be hunted down from their various perches and assembled on the dining table to be put into boxes.

Disassembling the tree is a slow but pleasant task, first the candy canes, crocheted snowflakes, tin icicles, red bows -- all the 'bulk' ornaments. Then the fragile glass ornaments, the many one-of-a-kind ornaments, and last, the stuffed ornaments -- reminders of long gone days with toddlers in the house.

Next to last is the popcorn and cranberry string. I'll slide the popcorn and cranberries off the thread and into a bucket for the chickens -- who will devour the popcorn and ignore the cranberries. Last of all, the lights come off and John drags the tree outside to a final resting place somewhere in the woods.

The Santas and the two Nativity scenes in the corner cupboard get put away. The spare grouping below includes a Holy Family of delicately carved and painted wood. I gave them to my grandmother many years ago and they came back to me on her death. There was a wonderful little lamb as part of the scene but he disappeared a few years ago. (I suspect William.)

The canopy over Baby Jesus (made from the wire topper for a champagne bottle) was put there a while back by Justin and I can't make myself remove it. The lovely little angel, probably from the same Italian workshop as the other figures, was a gift this year. And yes, that's a Swedish Yule horse peeking out from the background. Better than the year the boys added Darth Vader and Han Solo to the Nativity.

Finally, the Christmas cards come off the shelves and all the increasingly dry greenery (FIRE HAZARD! I think, whenever we leave the house) will go to join the Christmas tree.

We leave the lights up though, to brighten the dark days of January.

Throughout this last day of 2008, I'll be be thinking of the changes behind us and the challenges ahead, the sadness of saying goodbye to old friends and the joy of all the new acquaintances I've made -- many right here.

It'll be interesting to see what 2009 has in store.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daphne aka Fleta

My book Art's Blood dips into the art scene of Asheville, inspired by the years I spent in weekly studio classes with Fleta Monaghan, the real life Daphne. Though writing has gotten in the way of painting and I no longer take classes, Fleta and I stay in touch.

Recently Fleta emailed me to say that she'd been in Books a Million and, hearing the lady ahead of her ask for the location of the Vicki Lane books, Fleta spoke up, announcing that she was sort of a character in Art's Blood - to which the lady said,"Nice to meet you, Daphne."

So I thought I'd introduce all of you to the real-life Daphne. Fleta sent me some pictures of herself, her studio and her classes, as well as a little information. The studio, River's Edge Studio, is located in Riverview Station -- previously known as The Candle Station, and the scene for all kinds of creepy goings-on -- in Art's Blood, that is. And this building, with its collection of studios and other enterprises, is one of many in Asheville's River Arts District , also described in the book.

Fleta says:
I'm going into the fourth year at River's Edge Studio after moving from teaching at AB Tech, and I really can't believe that three years have passed so quickly. You know it is Kind Of Weird that in Art's Blood, both AB Tech and Riverview Station are featured locations, and I moved from teaching at one to the other!

I am happy to report that while "The Candle Station" retains some of its timeworn charm as described in Art's Blood and the artists here are an eccentric lot who long for fame, fortune and personal attention, we work happily here, safe and sound!

In the classroom I teach painting classes for beginners and up in oils and acrylics, and have weekly studio/critique five hour sessions for advanced artists who are continuing to study, some of whom are now exhibiting and selling their work. This year some great professional artists are teaching classes and giving demonstrations here at RES in drawing, watercolor, palette knife techniques and Japanese ink painting called Sumi-e.

It is a privilege to teach the adults who study here, and we(me and the other guest teachers) all work to provide some scheduling that works for everyone, while giving that all important continuity that every artist needs to really advance in their chosen medium.

The classroom also serves as a small gallery for special events such as the twice a year Studio Stroll and other exhibits here at Riverview Station. We love to see visitors during our events, or by appointment, and are always hoping to make a sale! There are over thirty artists here in the building now, and also other business such as the dog trainers so we don't have too much empty space here now.

If you're in the Asheville area, the River Arts District is well worth a visit. And if you're looking for an art class, Fleta is an amazing teacher, gifted at bringing out the best in every student. She's a pretty amazing artist too!
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Egg-stra Good Chix

I should be ashamed for that title. But sometimes I just can't help myself.

After Debra's comment, saying that she especially liked seeing the chickens, I decided to invade the girls' privacy and catch them in the act of laying eggs-- which they've begun to do at the rate of six or more a day. There are 12 new chickens plus 5 old girls, and then the banties -- we're looking at a lot of omelets once everyone comes on line.

In the picture below, a Wyandotte and an Ameruacana are hard at work. The next box between them holds one egg and one golfball -- John put a few golf balls in the nests before anyone began to lay, just to give the new girls the idea that this was the place. Even so, there've been the occasional eggs atop the nest boxes or even outside in the dirt when a biddy has been caught short. (Oh, my goodness! What's this? BbbWawk!!)

The Wyandotte (below) wishes I'd get a life and leave her alone.

The golden Ameruacana has just stood up and is straining to deliver her egg. The egg will drop a few inches -- good reason for hay in the nest boxes

The pale blue egg has dropped and the Ameruacana has begun her triumphal song -- Buck, buck, beCAW, buck, buck, beCAW. She's also heading outside where the rooster will be waiting, having been alerted by her call. I've read that hens are at their most fertile and receptive immediately after laying so that's why the rooster is lurking.

Sorry -- no pictures of chicken whoopee today.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homemade Gifts

I've always been a big fan of homemade gifts and have bestowed them as liberally as my time, skill, and imagination would allow. From clumsily hand-painted piggy banks for my friends back in junior high to flannel nightgowns, vests, crazy quilt evening bags, canned goods and lavender sachets, dried flower wreaths, patchwork pillows and painted gourds, I've inflicted homemade gifts on all of my nearest and dearest. John makes gifts too -- Shaker boxes, wooden implements, furniture -- this year it was a nifty set of knife sharpening ceramic rods in a beautiful cherry box.

I was especially excited about these things Justin and Claui made. Claui forged graceful holders for the blown eggs (emu, ostrich, and rhea) that John gave me several years ago.

Justin carved a sensuous set of condiment implements - a spoon of apple wood and two cherry wood spreaders. (He also took to the forge to craft a wonderful curved goblin sword, straight from The Lord of the Rings, for Ethan.)

More of Claui's work -- a fire poker and a hook to hang it on.

Our friends the Langsners came for Christmas dinner, laden with gifts from their garden, their workshop, and their kitchen as well.

Home made gifts -- a gift of yourself.
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Log Cabins

The Stepp and the Morgan cabins at the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, NC were deconstructed and removed from their original sites and reassembled at the museum.

These are the real thing, the simple, small log cabins that are emblematic of the Appalachians. A settler with little more than an ax to fell the trees and notch the logs could put up a shelter single handed -- if he stuck to small diameter logs. There was wood in plenty and fields to be cleared. The same trees provided the wooden shakes or shingles for roofing and wood to shutter the few windows. And the land supplied the rocks for the chimney, the clay for the chinking.

These modest shelters, often one room with a sleeping/storage loft, are a far cry from some of the log homes that go up today -- massive structures with soaring ceilings, many windows, thousands of square feet of living space, exercise rooms, media rooms, bedrooms and more bedrooms.

I think of the log cabin on on our property -- Little Sylvie's cabin. It's smaller than these-- originally one room, no loft. At some point a partition was added to make a second room just large enough for a bed. About the same time, a small frame addition was built on to accommodate a kitchen -- before that, the cooking would likely have been done in the fireplace.

And in this house, Clifford and Louise raised four sons; in this house, as Louise told the story, one memorable Decoration Day, she fed Sunday dinner to some forty people in shifts. I imagine them crowding the porches and swarming in and out of the little house, gobbling up a garden's worth of beans, pone after pone of cornbread, sausage and sidemeat, maybe a stack cake, possibly two -- Louise knew there would be company coming but was surprised at the number -- sweet milk and buttermilk till there was none left in the spring box . . .

You can cram a lot of living into a small space.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

This Is Where I Came In . . .

Where does the time go? My first post on this blog was December 26, 2007 -- a year ago. In the ensuing 366 days (it was a Leap Year,) I posted 361 times, on a variety of topics, from Life, Death, Writing, and the Garden to food and pets and ironing linen hand towels. There've been pictures of flowers, families, and the farm, the county, an occasional field trip, and probably more sunrises and skyscapes than anyone could possibly tell apart. (Like today -- I couldn't choose a favorite, so I posted all three.)

It's been fun -- even back in the beginning when I had no idea if anyone was reading the blog or not, I enjoyed gathering my thoughts each day to focus on some aspect of my life. And I got hooked on carrying my camera with me most of the time so as to attempt to capture anything at all that caught my eye.

But one of the nicest things has been 'meeting' you all here -- Pat, the other Pat, Tammy, Susan. the other Susan, Phyllis, Marta, Liz, Kay, Karen, Nancy (both of them), Carol, Cynthia, Esta. . . And there's Byron, Amelia, Fay, Pepper, Lynne, and Sheila. . . You all have been great -- applauding when I have good news and sympathizing and supporting when the news is crummy.

And to all those who don't comment but are readers -- Barbara, Wayne, Vic, Ann, Kaye, Bob, Chick, Jean, Nora, Sophie, Connie , and all the rest -- I like knowing you're out there!

As an anniversary/holiday celebration, I'll do another drawing -- leave a comment before January 6, and I'll put your name in the basket to draw for a copy of the Miss Birdie book (no, I'm not sure when it will be out and if you'd rather have a copy of one of the other books, I'll be happy to oblige.)

This time, I'll only put each person's name in once -- though you're welcome to comment all you like! And be sure to identify yourself beyond just a first name -- Jeremiah in Jamaica Plains, for example, will make sure I don't confuse you with Jeremiah in Jersey.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Father Christmas

I've always loved the idea of Santa Claus -- though these days I kind of prefer the Father Christmas image to the jolly fat man of the Fifties. But whether you call him Santa, Father Christmas, or Saint Nicholas, he embodies the warmth and open-handed generosity of the season.

I feel sorry for children whose parents choose not to play the Santa Claus game. I remember putting out the plate of cookies, going to bed, and lying awake, listening for the sound of sleigh bells. Magic was definitely in the air . . .

When my boys were little, we played the same game -- with the addition of letters written to Santa weeks ahead and burned in the fireplace so that the spirit of the letter would magically rise up and make its way to the North Pole. On Christmas Eve, there would be hay and carrots for the reindeer in addition to the cookies. And always a little note from Santa in the morning, thanking the boys for the nice snack.

It was evidently the note that eventually awakened the boys to reality. "We noticed," said Ethan, "that Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all had the same handwriting."


Yesterday I was in my work room and John called up the stairs to tell me to look out the window. It was growing dark but the sun was sending a shaft of light sideways along the valley, illuminating the folds and contours of the hills. I just kept taking pictures till the light faded away -- the sky is really pretty too, in a very subtle way. I put the pictures into a web album you can check out if you like.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The New Widget

Have you all noticed the new little widget over there at the bottom of the right hand column? It's a live traffic map called FEEDJIT and each little red square marks a visitor to the blog. Mouse over and click on the map to enlarge it and see little flags pop up. Click on the flag to see where the readers are and what they clicked on.

Around North Carolina, the flags are so thick it's not always easy to pick out individuals but as they thin out I can sometimes guess who's who. St. Louis is likely my old college friend Susan; Jamestown, NY must be my sister-in-law's friend who monitors the blog and passes along news of my doings to my computer-free sister-in-law.

Others are what I would call birds of passage-- folks who are surfing around, hitting that tempting little NEXT BLOG button at the top of the page. How else to account for a visitor from Taiwan and others from Kuala Lumpur, Greece, and Brazil? Still, it's fun to think they lighted here, however briefly.

Some, I suspect, Googled a subject and were directed to one of my posts -- a person in Baton Rouge was checking out Lagniappe and two different people hit on White Frosting -- were they baking cakes and were they disappointed to find out I was talking about snow? And then there were two people in the south of France, one in Nimes, one in Montpellier, both of whom hit on Night Blooming Cereus -- do they know each other? Did one send a link to the other?

It's fascinating to see the effects of that world wide web!

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