Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Not Again....

I'm having such an 'off' week; so full of dark thoughts and sand-papery feelings. Clothes hurt, colors shout, nothing soothes....

And all the while I suffer, the sun shines outside and birds sing, and I sense the passage of Time. It brings me to tears....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another New Arrival

I heard a string quartet for the first time when I was a kid in grade school, and immediately afterwards I yearned to play the violin. Bless their hearts, my folks bought me one at a neighbor's garage sale, and I won't lie: the lessons were torture! I couldn't read music to save my life -- still can't, in fact -- but managed to fake it, probably because I had a decent ear. During that time, I used my allowance to add a guitar and harmonica to my repertoire, and my dad jokes to this day about how quickly I could get a tune out of them on the way home in the car, just minutes after their purchase.

Even though I wasn't particularly good at it, making music back then was a personal pleasure. But somewhere along the line I became too timid to play in front of others. Over the next 40 years I collected dozens of instruments -- everything from tin whistles to drums to mandolins -- and I've managed to coax an amateurish tune out of them all at one time or another, but you'd have to take my word for it. James has begged to hear me play, but I choke every time.

For over a year now I've been desperate to work through my discomfort, and I blame writer Jenna Woginrich and her wonderful blog Cold Antler Farm. Jenna's a scrappy, fresh-faced 20-something living my dream. She's a graphic designer who owns a small homestead teeming with life (a lot of it at the moment happens to be of the newborn lamb variety), and she writes about it in a way that makes my head do the Happy Dance. Over time I've enjoyed posts about her love of mountain music, of fiddles and banjos, and of playing tunes on the porch on an autumn evening. It all made me long to make music again, and the feeling has yet to go away.

So when Jenna suggested recently that we all (meaning her blog followers) consider learning how to play the banjo together, I was immediately interested. We'd start on the spring equinox, and she'd post videos on her blog of lessons she's taking with her own instructor. She made the whole idea sound so down home and charming that it kept me awake at night just thinking about it. I mentioned it to James and he was instantly encouraging and even went so far as to look up instruments on the Internet.

But I know how it is with me.... I have tons of good intentions, but that's about it. The instruments I already own are crying out to be heard and I'm not giving them voice.

It'd be cruel to add another to their ranks....

Days passed. I thought I'd talked myself out of Banjo Equinox. Then James and I walked to the village to run errands one afternoon and stopped in the music store there on a whim. And what should we discover but a used Fender open-backed banjo there on consignment. It seemed like a big old sign telling me to come out of the music closet!

The elderly gentleman there took the instrument down and inspected it, and we talked at length while he turned the pegs and plucked the strings. Then I asked him if he played banjo at all. He kindly said, "No." And then he stopped and looked me straight in the eye. "But you will."


I can't very well disappoint him now, can I?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A New Arrival

Meet 'Viola Margaret'
Not long ago, my friend and neighbor Dan invited me to take a drop spindle class with him at our village's local yarn shop, and after an evening spent in the company of a handful of fiber fans, surrounded by yarns and wheels and knitting supplies, I was soon smitten.

The feel of the roving in my fingers combined with the rhythmic zen-like focus of the task seemed to reach me on a personal level. Spinning made me think of my Swedish grandmother, for one thing -- perhaps because I seem to connect all yarn- and fiber-related things to her. And, of course, it made me think of simpler times. As I clumsily worked, I thought of childhood moments spent on Grandma's lap as she taught me to knit, and I entertained country dreams full of sun and sheep. By evening's end I'd created half a yard's worth of the ugliest yarn imaginable, but to me it was gold spun from straw.

James met us at the yarn shop when our class ended, and he and Dan and I went out for pie and conversation. It was apparent that Dan had been smitten similarly with the act of spinning, and it wasn't long after our class that he purchased a wheel seen in the window of a local antiques shop. Prior to our class I'd seen a wheel there as well (not the same one as it turns out). To me it looked like something that had 'come over on the boat', and I imagined it once standing proud in a Swedish ancestor's clean and spartan parlor. I couldn't afford that particular instrument, and I was happy for Dan that he could. And I was envious, too....

So imagine my surprise when I encountered Dan recently on his way home from the village and in his arm was a modern and efficient little spinning wheel, the Scandinavian-looking collapsible kind -- all blonde wood and wheels. I stopped to admire it but hesitated to ask about the antique one he'd purchased. We walked back to his house together, and once there I waited outside while he brought the new wheel in and the old wheel out. I'd never seen the 'old' one before. It wasn't the one I'd coveted in the window of the antiques store, it was infinitely better! A classic, castle-style wheel that looked as if Rumplestiltskin himself had once used it.

As I ran my hand across its wood, I told Dan how smart he'd been to snap it up. And his response was, bottom line, "Maybe, maybe not. You want it?" It took me more than a moment to realize that he was offering it to me! His reasoning was that he only had room for one, the antique wheel needed repair, he had no idea how to make that happen, and he was anxious to get spinning. Plus, he knew I'd been jonesing for one ever since our class together. Want it!? I fell all over myself in my excitement to take it home.

When James arrived later from work and saw the wheel, he was just as excited about it as I was. And the next day he loaded it up in the car and drove us back to the yarn shop to see if the owner there could tell us what we could do to get it up and running.

First thing: she threaded a cheap belt around its middle, got it spinning, then managed to draw an inch or two of roving in before the instrument lost interest. She said a tension adjustment was needed, but after studying it all at great length couldn't figure out how to make that happen.

So James and I wrote down the number of someone who may or may not be able to help us and then we took the wheel home again. We both agreed: if nothing else, it would be the star tchotchke in a whole house of tchotchkes. And we were prepared to let it be just that. Until the very next day when my dear friend Louise and her sister Ann paid us a visit. And guess what? Ann just so happens to be very familiar with spinning wheels, and together, she and James solved the tension problem! Looking back on it now it all feels like magic....

So now it appears as though my new arrival might prove to be more than just a pretty dust-collector, and -- like the one in my imagination -- she now stands proud in my parlor - er - living room. That's right: it's a 'she.' And even though my Swedish grandmother had a loom and not a spinning wheel, I've decided to name this new addition after her, so welcome 'Viola Margaret.'

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Goodnight, Moon

A 'super' moon -- one that appears to be way closer to the earth than it really is -- apparently came up over the horizon this evening, ushering in the Vernal Equinox and the proper beginning of spring. But I didn't see it.

Earlier today when the sun was shining warm and bright I reminded myself of it. I prepared myself for it. And then an hour or so before sunset the clouds came in, and rain began falling when a week or so ago the cold night air would've turned it all to snow....

But it's OK. It's all good.

Because the fact that rain is falling still (and it's after midnight as I write this) is all the proof I need that spring is really, truly here. And after the winter some of us have endured, I feel it's only right that I stay awake for a bit and honor its arrival.

So I'll end this post now and do just that. I'll pour a finger of Irish whisky and drink a toast. I'll stand at the back door in my darkened kitchen and watch for March hares dancing on what remains of the snow. I'll listen for thunder, and I'll write down my wishes. And tomorrow when the day begins I'll bury them in the earth with pea seeds and copper pennies.

So much to do. But for now I'll simply say: Hello, rain. Welcome, spring!

And goodnight, moon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Version of the Wearing o' the Green

A winged leprechaun! Is nothing sacred?
I'm creating a pea soup with corned beef and potatoes today.

I'm listening to Irish Fire and getting their tune 'Hooley with the Herd' happily stuck in my head in a kooky loop of dancing bovine goodness.

I'm watching old faves like 'The Secret of Roan Inish' and 'The Quiet Man' for a heapin' helpin' of sea and cliffs and cottages. I'm burning peat incense....

I'm polishing up the dimply pint glasses and shredding cabbage and locating my wooly newsboy cap with its cloisonne shamrock pin.

I'm wreaking all sorts of tootle-y havoc on the tin whistle and letting the Guinness warm to room temp, and I'm recalling now how I used to phone in sick every year on St. Pat's Day way back when, just so I could watch 'Ryan's Hope' on daytime television and share in their rowdy festivities.

Yes, I know it's the O'Disney version of all things Irish. But today that's how I want it, thank you. 100% Lucky Charms.

Years ago I tried to change things up a bit: I froze my butt off watching the parade in St. Paul and fought noisy crowds at a pub in an attempt to barely hear musician friends play a traditional tune or two.

Yeah, not anymore.

 I like my pie-in-the-sky Irish imaginings to be unmessed with. I'd rather stay here where I can break out the fiddle and sound crappy in peace, and queue up some tunes that I can hear all the words to, and watch perfect films all Kelly-green-&-gold with a side of Chieftains and a Maureen O'Hara chaser.

And potatoes. Don't forget the potatoes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

5 Magical Things About My Day (3/10/11)

1. Enjoying each spectacular selection on Loreena McKennitt's new CD, The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

2. Reconnecting with an artist friend whose opinions mean the world to me.

3. Curling up in the big rocking chair with my sweet grandbug and watching PBS Kids while she feeds me goldfish crackers and leans her cheek in for a kiss.

4. Dripping icicles, blessed sunshine, and a bit of green in the front garden.

5. Watching quietly as twilight turns Tumbledown to shadows....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meet My Newest Muse

My mom'll agree, I'm sure, that I've always been an odd daughter. And my own girlz will pipe up that I am definitely an odd mother. And now with this new addition -- my dear grandbug -- I'm literally a granny oddmother.

I've got a lot of hats now, all of them odd in one way or another....

I was just a 20-something kid when I gave birth to my girlz. And during their vulnerable, growing-up years I spoonfed them nothing but Drama-with-a-BIG-D. (Sorry, Girlz; a day doesn't go by that I don't wish I'd handled things differently....)

But in spite of all my selfish wailings and chewings of scenery they quickly outdistanced me in the Functioning Adult department and have since grown into beautiful, amazing women living fabulous lives, both of them now happily married, and the Youngest a mother to a daughter of her own.

James was sure I'd have a major meltdown about becoming a grandmother, and I admit now that I was a little afraid that I would, too. Magically, I was asked to be in the delivery room for the baby's birth, and that might've made all the difference, as the event probably ranks highest on my list of I-Can-Die-Happy-Now moments.

I confess that I didn't watch my own babies come into the world. My eyes were closed, for one thing, because I was pushing my insides out through the eye of a dang needle! (Were epidurals even available then? and if so, why wasn't I aware??) Plus, I have to admit that I was more than a little afraid of what my own lady parts must look like in their trauma of stretching to hell and back! Yet, my daughters' births were still indescribable... And totally monumental... And crazy-ass breathtaking miraculous in an only-another-mom-can-know-what-this-is-like kinda way.

I just wish I'd watched now.

Because I did watch the grandbug. And there are no words to describe what I witnessed.

I felt afterwards as though a veil had been wafted aside and I'd accidentally seen The Big Secret. I was afraid that if I dared to blink it would all be erased from my memory. Truthfully? I didn't sleep for days. I kept replaying it all over and over again. I wrote it down. I tucked it in my heart....

My dear grandbug arrived with sparkles and spells and awesome special powers. She transformed my James from a kid-hatin' bachelor into a guy who turns into a sweet blithering idiot whenever she takes his hand. She's turned quiet Tumbledown into a home where Sesame Street blares and mac & cheese boxes line the pantry shelves. She's given me a new lease on life.

And now she's almost two years old. I am her biggest fan! My heart breaks a bit every time our eyes meet or she pulls my face down for a kiss. I feel my age.... And I pray to live forever because of her.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Denial (or Happy Skinny Tuesday)

Days like today, being as they're all Mardi Gras-ish 'n stuff, are harsh old times for one (meaning me) to be on a weightloss program....

When asked recently by my daughter if I'd guestpost a Little Something to her blog (it appears today, so check it out) I wracked my brain looking for a topic -- until I realized that Fat Tuesday was just inches away and then it all came together. The food especially. I'd write about red beans and rice, shrimp and crayfish, spicy homemade jambalaya, and crazy voodoo hurricane drinks -- sweet!

Yeah... no. Probably not a good idea.

Of course, I did write about the food. (I couldn't help myself....) And doing so made me crazy hungry. I knew it would, just like writing about it NOW is making me crazy hungry. So I'm back-pedaling. And trying to focus instead on a 'thought-filled-vs.-tummy-filled' version of Fat Tuesday....

In my youthful church-going days I routinely met the Lenten season with the promise of giving something up for forty days and forty nights. Usually chocolate, as it turns out. (Although one year I did manage to give up television, which I'm still pretty proud of). And now I can't hear the word 'Lent' without thinking of the word 'denial.'

And because Fat Tuesday all snuck the heck up on me this year and Ash Wednesday is just hours from now, I'm forgoing much of the party suggestions I guestposted about and am taking time to give the season some serious thought. There'll still be food, of course. And denial. Both at the same time, in fact (stick a trinket in a doughnut-hole and call it King Cake, why don't we.... hooray). But it's now an alternate version of denial that I'm busy pondering.

A thoughtful friend offered a suggestion this morning that ignited a little fire that's been getting warmer by the minute. She said, "How about focusing your art for the next 40 days on a theme of giving up, or release?"

How about that? Great idea! 

So that's where my head is at as I type this. Her suggestion was just the kick in the seat of the pants that I needed. (And I promise that anything that comes of it will be shared with you here, 'k? So stay tuned!)

And while I'm deep in creative thought today, why not check out my dear daughter's blog and enjoy? And if you've got some fun Fat Tuesday party suggestions, PLEASE share! :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Cottage of Make Believe

I've been sick since I wrote last -- totally down for the count; in bed 24/7 and everything -- and I'm feeling particularly small and childish today. That said, I've been far away in some comforting Make Believe that I feel like sharing. It's about my favorite place. This place takes on many guises, but this is the one I'm going with for now, the one that's been in my head this long week of under-the-weather-ness:

There's a tiny cottage in a tiny clearing in the woods, just like in the Grimm stories, only it's not made of candy and gingerbread. It's made of stone. There's only one room inside, and the little cottage windows with their thick ripply glass look out into the trees.

An orange cat lives there all the time, snoozing on a cushy threadbare chair bedecked in a faded granny-square afghan. Near the chair stands a warm stove upon which a kettle always simmers, ready for tea. And there's a little pine table, too, with a cloth thrown over it and a jelly jar full of woodland flowers standing in the center.

Every room is full of books -- books tucked haphazardly into shelves, books stacked in corners, books piled on horizontal surfaces. There are cobwebs, of course, and some dust bunnies. Paint is peeling, there are water stains in the corners. They add to the ambience, and besides -- no one easily offended by dust and too many books can find this place....

In this cottage there is no power save for candles and a woodfire in the stove. (It's a cozy stove, too; you can see the cheerful flames through its little grill...). There's no telephone, no Internet, no television, facebook, Twitter, anything. But there are musical instruments. And a manual typewriter and a bunch of paper, pens and a stack of thin-lined notebooks, pencils and some pads of drawing paper.

No timepieces exist in this place, and no danger lurks in the trees. There are no bears or dragons or housing developers. There are no door-to-door salesmen or bible thumpers. No one to clean house for, no one to look good for. No demands whatsoever.

And if one knows the magic words, one can escape to this cottage for as long as one likes.

And time in the Real World stands still and waits for them to return....