Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Operation Workshop/Rescue: Success!

Phase One: Fun at Cedar Lakes

It's hard to imagine embarking on a craft workshop/rescue mission, much less being able to come home and claim it a success.  I mean, it's not often the two are combined is it?  So all is well and I can fill you in on it.  First of all though, I have to give the praise to my cousin, Karen, who drove those hundreds and hundreds of miles.  I think it ended up around 1,600 or so, and most of them in the last two days.  She will always be an angel to Frankie and me.

The workshop was divine!  I had no idea what making enameled jewelry would entail, or what the instructor would be like.  It turns out I had underestimated both!  Catherine Crowe has been an enamellist for over two decades; her work is exhibited all over the US and Canada and there aren't any words to describe its many shapes so I will put a link in here for you to check it for yourself.  Once you do check out her work you will most likely chuckle at mine, but that's okay because I haven't been doing it for 25 years yet.  The scariest part of the whole thing was the kiln.  It looks absolutely evil when you open its door and it shows you its 1500 degrees!  I won't, can't, go into the steps of the process.  But have a peek at some of these pictures.

Catherine helping a newbie at the kiln.
 As you can see by the photo on the left, the kiln is scary.  Catherine helped each of us with our first steps and some of us, ahem, she had to help more often.  We worked on copper that had been cut into shapes and on our first day I looked for a shape that would suit me for a shawl pin.  I didn't see anything though, but Catherine heard about it and she actually sawed a hole from the center of an oval disc, then she cut, shaped and hammered the pin for me from the only wire she had there.  (She said it should have a thicker wire pin when I can make one on my own.)  I used two colors of translucent enamel here.

My shawl pin with two translucent enamels on its front.
 Karen was an enamelling maniac!  Where I did four pieces, Karen got an amazing six finished: 4 pendants and 2 pins.  Besides the shawl pin I finished a pendant, small pin, and a totem for Frankie.  Between the classes and meals the days went quickly and made us tired enough to sleep at night.  I tried not to worry about the rescue to come.  Our last night there was capped by a concert of Celtic music.  I went because Catherine was to sing, and oh my gosh, I don't know if it was hormones or what, but her voice had me in tears.  It was beautiful.

Here are some other photos:
Karen's bling!  Her last piece isn't in the mix yet.

The above photo shows my other pieces, but only two are finished there: the fishbone pin and the totem I made for Frankie (with the cord).  The side you see is supposed to be a representation of primitive art, when the artist would blow ochre around their hand upon a wall.  On the back I did an enamelled version of a spiral.  Working on this little gift made me less anxious and enjoy my time in Cedar Lakes until we could leave for Kentucky.  The big yellowish moon/pumpkin is just that.  My next step was to sift on some yellowish-green stripes alongside the orangey ones to give the piece more depth.  I didn't realize there wasn't a "finished" photo until I looked for one.  You'll have to take my word for it that it doesn't look bad!  But you can still chuckle, especially after you check out Catherine's website:  You can also check out Cedar Lakes, where all sorts of workshops are held throughout the year, from stained glass to wood carving:

And so, a good time was had by all as they say!  Karen and I didn't burn anything, glue anything with the gum binder that wasn't supposed to be glued, and agreed that we wouldn't mind taking the class again.  I would like to think that could only make the wonderful Catherine Crowe happy.

Phase Two: Rescue!

Biscuit World, here we come!
Looks sloppy, but luscious! (Like me.)
On Sunday morning we rose early and decided to skip the Cedar Lakes breakfast (shocking I know) in order to check out a West Virginia hot spot called Tudor's Biscuit World.  I don't know the connection between biscuits and Tudors. I have no idea what Henry VIII would think, but I  think he'd give it the royal seal of approval.  You know, of all the food in the world I think biscuits are something you either eat too much of or don't eat at all.  I can't have one.  One piece of toast?- Yes.  One piece of cornbread?- Yes.  One biscuit?- Are you kidding me?  Karen got a biscuit sandwich called The Rocket and I got two biscuits with sausage gravy, which I couldn't finish.  Maybe the Tudors weren't happy, but I was nervous about how the day would end.

We drove pretty much straight through the 400-plus miles with very few stops to stretch and refresh.  I don't know how Karen did it, really.  I hate to drive, haven't driven in years if I can help it, and I'm ashamed to say that, but it's true.  If Karen hadn't suggested visiting Frankie after our workshop in the first place, I don't know if I'd even have him here now.  Other friends have said they would have gotten him, but I feel sort of cosmically looked-after that it all happened as it did.  It took us about six hours to finally reach the Job Corps Center.  I had some minor freak-outs toward the end when I didn't quite trust the GPS and began thinking the government actually hid the center, like a mini Area 51.

Frankie had called my cell from another inmate's  student's cell phone, and we followed his instructions to come straight back until we saw a pavillion on our left and that he would be waiting.  I can't tell you how I felt when I saw him... He and two other boys, not an official in sight, stood and came toward the road as we slowed and came to a stop.  I don't know how I kept from crying.  He hugged me, then Karen; then put his suitcase, backpack and mandolin in the car.  He said goodbye to his friends who would both be leaving in the next couple of months, one graduating after two years there, and one leaving like Frankie.

In the car he told us to get moving and Karen did.  She said later that it was like we were sneaking him out of there.  I was glad I didn't have to deal with administration, but I think it's kind of weird that no one came out waving papers to sign, or a gun, all of which I'd imagined a gazillion times!  We told Frankie where the snacks bag was in the back and he dove into it.  I turned to the back seat and took a quick photo of him having a bite of crackers.  He looks a bit shell-shocked, but all he kept saying was, "I'm so happy." 

Karen said we'd only stop for the night after we reached West Virginia, but we did stop for supper at a Cracker Barrel where Frankie got French Toast, bacon and eggs.  He started talking a bit while there and I think he started feeling better and better as night fell.  Just over the border we stopped at a Quality Inn where we got Frankie his own room with a king-sized bed.  No more metal, skinny bunks.  He showered, then joined us in our room for a chat, then went off to bed.  After we turned off our lights I started to doze and I could just hear the sound of his mandolin through the wall.  I tried to listen for it, but fell asleep.  I slept very well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My **** It List (rhymes with bucket)

Being a non-conformist, it's almost embarrassing to admit to having a bucket list.  But everyone has those moments when they find themselves with butterflies in their stomachs, hope pounding in their hearts and those One day I'll... thoughts going through their brains.  I have those moments, too, and some of the ideas really get me clenching my fists in excitement.  The problem lies in the way this perfectly normal part of living and dreaming was given an official name: Bucket List.  When something is given an official name it takes on an air of importance and when something is important, one might start feeling obligated.  Before the Bucket List someone might have said, "I want to go to England one day."  Now, if they've put it on an actual Bucket List, they might find themselves saying, "Oh my gosh!  I have to get cracking on this!"  We don't need this extra stress in our lives, do we?

Trail scenery at the park.
Years ago I started reading journals written by people who had hiked the Appalachian Trail.  You've got to have time, money, and endurance to hike a little over two-thousand miles of mountain range, and though I had none of the requirements, I always toyed with the idea.  But I always had one condition: that I would wait until I'd gone through menopause.  Not having time, money and endurance doesn't mean I'm not practical after all.  Well, by the time I'd passed that checkpoint, the Bucket List had become its own entity and I found myself stressing out.

I live near a part of the AT and spend a lot of time in a park there.  I've taken small jaunts along it there in the park where it's pretty easy.  I've also hiked a wee bit of it in search of a letterbox (future blog topic perhaps) with a friend.  This wee bit kicked butt with its steepness.  After finding the box and going back down, finding it harder than going up, I had the epiphany that the AT and I would never have a long term relationship; that little preview, brutal as it was, showed me the AT would never have the patience for fat, frumpy me with my noodle-like calf muscles and chafe-prone thighs. I definitely wasn't its type.   Sigh... 

I didn't think you could just cross something off a Bucket List.  Standing there panting, feeling the burn in my legs, I said to my friend, "I used to think I would hike the whole trail one day.  But you know what? **** it."  That is how the **** It List came about.  So a little juggling of mental files and the AT Hike swooshed out of the one list into the other!  No stress, no obligation, just the freedom to meander along gentle, frumpy woman-friendly bits of the trail. 

And now, before I run off to finally pack for the trip/rescue mission, I leave you with a wish: that you too find power over the Bucket List and the freedom to create your own **** It List.  Bye for now!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Curb Appeal-less

I have been known to give directions thus: "The stately brick house with the porch, and the beautiful white stone wall? We live directly across the street from it."  For some reason the other side of the street is nicer and we live on the wrong side.  But that's why it's a good thing I'm not what they call house proud.  They can call me tacky, tasteless and lazy, but never house proud!  Another benefit is the fact that I can look out the front door or windows and get a lovely view that changes with the season and well, that's priceless and makes me better off than those very neighbors who have to look at my porch, doesn't it?

How dare those leaves blow there?
This morning, while on my porch pretending to sweep something, I took notice of the neighbor's nice sidewalk and wall and steps that are sided by nice wrought iron hand rails and thought of the lovely little walk to get up to their porch.  Why, if something were to happen and one were to fall straight off my porch, one could land with their head in the road only to get it run over by a truck or something; whereas for that to happen from my neighbor's porch, it would require incredible gymnastic machinations and some really bad karma.

But my house has its charms and they're not all bad.  Our sidewalk is one of the original brick ones that were laid in the late 1800's.   Charming to look at, but full of dips and hard to shovel in winter... So yeah, it's an ankle-twister and shovel-jammer, but it's original!  Our house is also brick, also old, probably one of only five brick houses that were on this street when they made the borough map in the 1880's, but it has been painted an old barn red.  Our porch has gingerbread trim along its roof, but the paint is chipping.  But I love our house!  It's mortgage free for a year and a half now so it's mine all mine!  And I have no plans to sell it any time soon, so why worry over curb appeal?  The porch will be perfect decorated for Halloween since it doesn't need that much more done to it. 

When I get home from my trip/rescue mission (leaving in two days!!!) I will get the porch all bewitched out and show you what it looks like.  But for now, I will show you a little photo of what you might see if you walk past my porch with your eyes on the sidewalk (so you don't twist an ankle and fall to your right, landing with your head on the road to be run over...).  I won't be offended if you feel a brief stab of sorrow for my neighbor, but spare me any pity.  I love my creaky, paint-chipped porch.  It keeps a lot of salesmen away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

To the Rescue!

Meet Frankie: Eagle Scout, high school graduate, son. Always a nature lover, he's the one you want to be with if you are lost in the woods.  Not that I'd actually sleep in a shelter he'd built from sticks, but he has an innate sense of things that I trust.  When he was young we'd walk together on the trail that runs through the woods beyond the orchard.  He'd listen to my prattle about nature spirits, fairies and legends as long as he could carry his latest self-crafted spear.  (The day his spear was tipped with a twine-fastened shard of pottery I had a feeling our walks wouldn't last much longer. I was right.) 

A hopeful Frankie.
During his last year at school it somehow got into his head that the Job Corps might be a good path for him to take.  Now the Job Corps, which is a government program, is supposed to offer training in various careers in centers all over the US.  It operates in a para-military fashion, from sending out recruiters and giving free transportation to the recruits, to the barracks-like living arrangement in the centers.  Frankie ended up in a center in Kentucky.  He left in early August; it was his first plane ride.  He was hopeful.  We were all hopeful.

Unfortunately, all of the bad things you hear about government programs, or even the Job Corps itself seemed to be coming to pass, fairly quickly once he got down there.  In our first couple of conversations I found out he was not allowed to have a pen to drop me a line or two on the prestamped, preaddressed post cards I'd sent along, because a pen could be used as a weapon!  And they don't mean that prosaically!

Believe it or not, the reports got worse each time we talked, and we haven't been able to talk that often!  Maybe five times in all.  If he could, he'd borrow someones cell phone to call me so I wouldn't have to call the barracks where he would have to talk within earshot of someone else.  They keep putting off the training; he is basically spinning his wheels down there.  He's frustrated as all get out and says he thinks they try to put people off so they end up staying for a year or more.  At first he said he'd stick it out until Christmas and see how things were going, if they were moving along at all.  But then other things happened.

 The worse thing that has happened to Frankie is really too much.  He has been bitten four times-- four times -- by what might be brown recluse spiders, while he slept in his bunk!  The first time he was bitten so badly he now has a hole where the infection was.  I can't think about it...  He was bit just last week for the fourth time.  He said this time he raised hell and they gave him three big shots.  How nice of them to take care of my son!  If I could get him right this minute I would.

So, before any of this, Karen and I planned to go visit Frankie at the center after our workshop in West Virginia.  He was excited about us coming and we were planning on getting him for the day.  The last time we talked he asked if we were still coming down.  I said we were, and that unless he was crazy now, we were going to bring him home with us.  He said he needs the week or so to get things taken care of and he'll be ready to leave with us the minute we pull up.  Now I can only hope and pray he stays safe until we get there!

All of us here are impatient.  We want him home now!  We can't wait to hear all the noise that follows Frankie through his day: his singing, his mandolin, his stomping big feet.  He makes us laugh and we've missed him so.  And just so you know I'm not painting him as perfect, I'll leave you with one of my favorite pictures of him. :)
And your little dog, too!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Counting the Days

On the 18th, my cousin Karen and I are starting out for Cedar Lakes in West Virginia.  This will be our second trip there; both trips were picked out from the Road Scholar program catalog.  Road Scholar is a wonderful program that facilitates "adventures in lifelong learning" as the catalog cover says.  Karen and I are both timid when it comes to getting out and doing daring things such as having adventures, and Road Scholar got us over the hump by taking a lot of the unknown out of doing a fun get-away.  Cedar Lakes is a beautiful place; originally an FFA (Future Farmers of America) camp, and still owned by the school district there, it is now the host of many different craft workshops and camps year round.

Last year Karen and I went to learn Traditional Rug Hooking.  This is NOT your run-of-the-mill latch-hooking, people. This is serious stuff, from cutting the wool into strips to hooking it through the linen or burlap (ouch), to turning it into the cushion or mat or rug.  On our first morning in class we got to pick out a kit made up by the instructor, and there were several designs I liked, but of course, I picked the squirrel!  He was cute.  And there is my squirrel last year after Day 2 or so. There is a good bit done since, but he still isn't done. I think I will be finishing him this winter just so I can brag him up on the blog here!  Karen, by the way, picked out a flower design, and hers is finished, waiting to be made into a stool topper. Let's see if I have a photo of hers...

Karen is always Teacher's Pet!

This year we are taking a workshop called Celtic Enameled Jewelry.  I am hoping to make a nice shawl pin, or at least a small brooch.  Heck, I'll be honest with you and say I hope to come home with something I can flash quickly at people to convince them I've made something.  That's all I ask.  I would have taken any class though, to go back to Cedar Lakes.  I love the place!  During your stay they do wonderful things like provide entertainment at night and feed you every four hours whether you need it or not!  I just know that my first step back into the dining hall will give me that lump in the throat that you get from places like that... you know: your alma mater or a great cathedral.  There are enough Road Scholar workshops held there in the fall to keep us busy for several years, so we will be planning the next year's sojourn while there.

We will be leaving Cedar Lakes on the 23rd, hopefully with some Brand New Bling!  And then we'll be on to the second leg of the adventure, which I will be writing to you about later.  (Insert Cliffhanger!)  Meanwhile, anyone interested in learning about Road Scholar I will attempt to insert a link here for you! Road Scholar: Adventures in Learning

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Better Fit

This is actually the second blog I've created in the past couple of weeks.  Due to having a snafu trying to get a password for a blog here, I pouted a bit and stomped off to wordpress.  It's nice over there, don't get me wrong!  But after posting a few times I realized it's not really a good fit for me.  Sitting behind the keyboard over there, I was actually editing and re-editing everything I wrote.  The prose coming from me was, well, too prosey.  And that is not me.  It was too much work writing over there.  I am against working that hard for something hardly anyone will ever see.

So, while reading someone else's blogspot blog yesterday I decided to try signing in again, and POOF! I was in!  All there is left to do is to design this little niche of mine and then pull the plug on the artsy-fartsy one.  So now, I'm off to explore!