Knitting Glass

These darker, shorter days tend to veer my crafting to projects that might keep my hands happily busy for the winter months. Knitting and embroidery are hands-down my favorites. On a recent foray into cyberspace for some ideas, I happened upon Carol Milne, a Seattle-based artist from Canada who knits with glass. Yes, you heard that exactly right, she knits with glass!

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Milne has developed a technique for pouring glass into molds of designs made from wax, a new twist on the ancient art of lost wax casting. She uses a slender and very elastic candle to make different patterns, then surrounds them with a high-temperature plaster to make a mold. Each stitch of her knitted design must be carefully created by hand because using needles tends to stretch the wax. After the molds are dry, the wax is melted with hot steam and replaced by liquid glass. When the glass has slowly cooled, the molds are chiseled away in archeological fashion to reveal intricately knitted structures.

Milne first embarked on this technically challenging journey back in 2002 as a way to couple her knitting passion (she’s been wielding needles since she was 10) with her love for cast glass sculpture. I think I’ll have to stick with yarn, but how inspiring to combine her two passions into timeless art.

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Milkmaid Beauty Queen

Step aside Miss America,

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica Barnett, Kansas Adjutant General’s Department Public Affairs Office via Wikimedia Commons

you’ll need a bucket if you want to compete with Miss Uganda …

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Photo, http://www.ugandaonline.net

a milk bucket, that is.

This year, hopefuls vying for the title of Miss Uganda had to show their talents in an unusual realm for a beauty pageant—a milking contest. And that’s not all; they also had to handle sheep and goats and answer pertinent questions about agriculture—no tapping cup tricks for these ladies … and no swimsuits.

“Why all this emphasis on farming?” you might ask. The current Ugandan president apparently thought it would be a good way to spotlight agriculture, the country’s economic backbone. “We are here to change the perception that agriculture cannot co-exist with beauty. The contestants have been taken through 25 modules of agriculture and have had their hands dirty at some points to get to know how things are done. The regional winners, together with the overall winner, will champion agricultural projects in the next one year,” said Brenda Nanyonjo, Miss Uganda spokeswoman.

You go, farmgirls!

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If You Want My Opinion … Which I’m Sure You Don’t!

Who says it? Can you name that character?

I’ve been hearing it from our bathroom while the girls brush their teeth, from the dining room while we eat dinner, hollered from the girls’ bedrooms, and muttered by the front entry while we pile our winter layers on. But who else says it?

Nanny Jane took us girls to the theater last weekend to see a live performance of Anne of Green Gables. We are so lucky to have a great little theater with great little productions in our small town.

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It was definitely a cold and rainy November day. A perfect day spent with Anne Shirley and a bag of popcorn. The cast was wonderful and catered to a younger crowd, so the girls loved it.

Photo Nov 09, 2 10 27 PMThe girls’ favorite line wasn’t one of Anne’s, but the rather nosy BFF to Marilla Cuthbert (Anne’s adopted Mum), Rachel Lynde.

“If you want my opinion … which I am sure you don’t!” is a perfectly fitting thing for two sisters to tell each other pretty much … constantly.

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Crafty Brains

Hold on to your needles and yarn because science is proving what we farmgirls have known for generations … that crafting is good for the brain! Cooking, sewing, drawing, painting, taking photos, listening to music—any creative endeavor—is beneficial, and its physical effects are similar to those of meditation.

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When we’re involved with a craft, we enter a special zone that psychologists refer to as “flow”—that place where we are so focused on the task at hand that we don’t notice hunger or fatigue or the passing of time. Being in a creative flow reduces stress and helps fight inflammation, and when we engage in activities that we find pleasurable, our bodies also release dopamine, nature’s own antidepressant.

And just like playing brain games or working crossword puzzles, crafting can protect us against aging and dementia by working different areas of our brains at the same time, using memory, attention span, visual processing, and problem-solving in tandem.

Whew, all that from a little old embroidery needle. So the next time you’re enjoying a little quilting instead of say, chasing dust bunnies, you can feel a little less guilty knowing you’re taking good care of your health. Continue reading

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Monkey Business

When Carol brought in her newest junk-sculpture creation, pictured above in our “Photo of the Day,” I was interested to see that, upon close inspection, the body of this little guy wasn’t a vintage Camel cigarette box, as you might think at first glance, but was, in fact, Camel Vulcanizing Patches. Say what???

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Vulcanizing patches are something you might remember from your childhood, if you’re my age. We used them to fix our bike tires, and before that, our parents and grandparents used them to fix their car and tractor tires. But why does the box look like a Camel cigarette box, you might ask? The answer isn’t monkey business, but it DOES involve a monkey. In fact, a monkey was instrumental in inventing this inventive way of fixing a tire.

I found the story on TireBusiness.com:

“Tire repair, as we know it today, began soon after a pneumatic tire was mounted for the first time on a motor vehicle by Michelin in 1885. Between the hazards of sharp stones on dirt roads and discarded horseshoe nails, you were lucky to travel 100 miles without a flat tire. The only method of dealing with a flat tire at that time was to take out the tube and patch it. Permanent repairs could only be made by the time-consuming, and costly, hot vulcanization process. A temporary repair could be made by using a surface patch affixed by cold cure acid and the casing made serviceable by a “skied boot.” Neither method was satisfactory, and the only effective way of dealing with a tire failure, until about 1920, was the fitting of a new or replacement tire and tube.

Specialist manufacturers of tire repair materials emerged following World War I. Some American companies had amusingly different claims about their origin, and one was written up in a 1920 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. It was about a man in Oklahoma City who, with his pet monkey, visited a friend’s bicycle repair shop. He placed the animal on a worktable while watching his friend repair a tire using the only known method at that time—a long, drawn-out process consisting of a liberal use of a sticky cement, a patch cut to size, and a long wait while it was vulcanized.

During the visit, there was a loud crash of tools and cans—the monkey had overturned a large can of rubber cement, an acid container, and another solution. While trying to clean the mess from the monkey’s paws, the man found that when he rubbed his palm over the monkey’s paws, he warmed the cement and little rolls of material came off. But as soon as he finished, the monkey was able to knead the rolls into a ball, since the cement had set and was no longer sticky.

Meanwhile, his friend became angry when he found the vulcanizer was not heating up properly and despaired at completing the tire repair. The man picked up some of the new rubber concoction, spread the gunk on the tire and asked his friend to try it, as it might cure without vulcanizing. After waiting several minutes, he pulled on the patch. It stuck. The tube was inflated and dunked under water. No bubbles. The men realized that they had developed a patch that would withstand the pressure of inflation and cured without heat. The patch was perfected and a few years later, Dallas-based “Monkey Grip” claimed to be the largest manufacturer of tire patches in the world.

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Shortly afterwards, a “hot patch” was developed by another American company. This type of patch was vulcanized by igniting a built-in fuel pan and a tube repair could be completed in about 10 minutes. This was followed by a further development, which used a fuel pan that could be ignited by a cigarette. That particular company named its patches Camels, Lucky Strike, and Chesterfield, after the well-known cigarette brands of the time.”

Now, that doesn’t sound to me like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, who’s been making Camel cigarettes since 1913, was the manufacturer of Camel Vulcanizing Patches. But the graphics on Carol’s can certainly evoke images of Camel cigarettes.

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You can see from this old ad (note the “not one single case of throat irritation” claim) that the camel is facing the opposite way and the typestyle is slightly different, but the graphic, curved headline type, and subtitle placement are certainly similar enough to be confused. The patches were made by the H.B. Egan and Camel Tire Care Co. and the first can with the camel image was trademarked in 1925, well after the Camel cigarette graphic was in use. Was this a result of lax trademark laws in the early years? Or did R.J. Reynolds give the okay to use similar graphics since it promoted the use of Camel cigarettes to light up the vulcanizing process? My quick web search led to a dead-end, but if you like a good mystery and have a little time on your hands, it’s an interesting question for trademark history. And you might just find there’s monkey business involved. Continue reading

Good for the Soul

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We did it! Hubby and I have been quietly training for another half marathon. In 2013, I completed my first half marathon. Becoming a runner has changed my life. It’s a form of meditation, a reminder to appreciate the body I have, to be thankful I am able to run. I certainly don’t do it quickly, but this allows me to enjoy the world around me.

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Of course, we were happy to abide by the suggestion to dress in costume. Hubby Lucas, myself, my dad, and my stepmom were maybe not as fast as Batman, but we sure enjoyed the journey!

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Our girls were there to cheer us on, and we finished the weekend with a jaunt over to Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s good for the soles of tired feet to soak in the salt water.

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And good for the soul to soak in the sounds of the ocean.

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Happy Halloween!

Today’s the day … ghosties, ghouls, and goblins beware. It’s a delightfully scary, spine-chilling night for youngsters and the young-at-heart alike, but where did it all begin?

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Photo by Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot, USMC, via Wikimedia Commons

People have been celebrating All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) since ancient times, as a time to remember the dead, saints (hallows), and martyrs. It’s thought to have evolved from the Celtic holiday of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, and also seen as a bridge between the living world and the world of the dead. Celebrations included costumes and merriment, using humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.

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“The Green Forest Fairy Book” by Loretta Ellen Brady, illustrated by Alice B. Preston, 1920.

Traditionally, All Hallows’ Eve was a day to abstain from eating meat. Seasonal dishes like apples, colcannon (potatoes with cabbage and kale), and potato pancakes were served instead. Bobbing for apples, anyone?

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Bob Apples by Frederick Morgan (1856-1927)

During the Middle Ages, homemakers in Britain and Ireland would also cook up batches of “soul cakes,” little cakes they filled with sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger along with raisins or currants, and marked with a cross on the top to denote that they were offered as alms. “Soulers,” mostly children and the poor, would go door-to-door, singing …

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

… while saying prayers for the dead. Each little cake they ate represented a soul being freed from Purgatory. Trick or treat!

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From a farm on Camp Dix, NJ 1914-1918, by Richard, Flickr.com.

Along with humorous costumes used to counterbalance the thought of death, a darker side of costuming also came into play. Dead souls were thought to wander the land of the living until All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Hallows’ Eve was thought to be their last chance to wreak vengeance on anyone who had wronged them in life. So those with a fear of retribution also wore costumes and masks to disguise their identities from the wandering spirits. Jack-o’-lanterns (carved pumpkins with candles inside to illuminate their scary faces) were carried to frighten the evil spirits away.

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Photo by Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re 9 or 90, a souler or a baker, a trickster or a purveyor of treats, this is the night to scare away the spirits and have yourself a big dose of costumed merriment. Continue reading

Candy Corn

Festively colored and nearly bursting from every grocery-store shelf this time of year, candy corn harkens the arrival of Halloween. But aside from that, what do we really know about this little dentist’s nightmare? I went searching for answers and found out that it’s certainly the candy we love to hate; candy corn has been reported as the least favorite candy by consumers. But ironically, 35 million pounds of the confection are made and sold in the U.S. each year.

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Witchy!

Creepy?

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Photo by Sony Mavica via Wikimedia Commons

Gasp.

Crawly?

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Photo by Velela via Wikimedia Commons

Shudder.

Can you identify these decidedly Halloween-ish (ween-y? ween-esque?) creatures?

Here’s a hint:

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yup. Witch …

Hazel!

These wriggly, yellow, leggy-looking oddities aren’t actually withered fingers or a strange species of scrambling spider. They are the wonderfully fragrant, fall-blooming flowers of the native witch hazel shrub that last from October to December.

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Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Despite its rather eerie appearance and oh-so-spooky name (which may derive from the historical use of the shrub’s limbs for dowsing, or water-witching rods), you’ll find nothing to fear from witch hazel. In fact, it is a veritable wealth of health and happiness.

“Native Americans used witch hazel leaves and bark as a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation. They also brewed witch hazel as a tea for conditions including cuts, colds, heavy menstruation, tumors, and eye inflammation. Witch hazel was taken internally to stop bleeding from hemorrhage,” reports AltMD.com. “The medicinal element of witch hazel [used today] is the hamamelis water that is distilled, decocted, or tinctured from fresh and dried leaves, and fresh and dried bark and twigs. Tannins and volatile oils are the primary active ingredients of witch hazel that contribute to its astringent benefits.”

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Image by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897, via Wikipedia

Used topically, witch hazel extract reduces inflammation to ease the discomfort of abrasions, psoriasis, eczema, razor burn, ingrown nails, cracked or blistered skin, insect bites, and poison ivy rash. A cold compress can help heal bruises, headaches, hemorrhoids, and postpartum swelling. Cosmetically, witch hazel is used as a facial astringent to reduce pore size, remove makeup, and to reduce eye puffiness.

Practically a panacea, wouldn’t you agree?

I absolutely love the witch hazel extract sold by Mountain Rose Herbs. Unlike most commercial extracts that are distilled multiple times and contain more alcohol than actual witch hazel, MRH’s extract is only distilled once and contains 86 percent witch hazel extract and 14 percent grain alcohol. It is gentle enough to be used alone, but you can also combine it with fragrant essential oils and herbs. Try this Herb-Infused Witch Hazel Recipe from the MRH blog.

Of course, if you’d like to start from scratch and grow your own witch hazel shrubs, you can buy them now from the Arbor Day Foundation (fall order deadline is November 12 through 26, depending on your location). They thrive in Zones 3 through 8. Once you have flowers, you can learn to make your own witch hazel extract on a lovely blog called Handmaiden’s Kitchen. Continue reading