Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Goat

It is interesting to me that these days the main actors in Christmas traditions are human or at least as human-like as angels and elves can be. Perhaps this anthromorphing has something to with the Age of Reason,  the Industrial Age, or man's supposed mastery over  the planet. Who knows? In contrast, old Scandinavian traditions designated a goat as the driving force of Christmas. This animal, the Julebukk, was the mythic descendent of Thor's companion. In rowdy Viking ceremonies, the divine and fearsome goat was portrayed by a man who would customarily die and be born again.

The early Nordic Christians raised the stakes and viewed the goat as a sort of welcome devil who would appear in times of wild celebration. The Church was not pleased, thank you very much, and forbade the Christmas Goat which, when not acting out, had turned to supervising Christmas preparations and giving gifts.  Eventually the active role of the Julebukk faded, to be replaced by the Julenissen, the Christmas Troll.

You had to watch out for the Julenissen as well. If  you did not provide it with a Christmas Eve bowl of rømmegrøt, a porridge made of sour cream, whole milk, wheat flour, butter and salt, it would retaliate by killing all your cattle. Norwegians take things very seriously.

When I spent a Christmas in Norway, we set a straw Julebukk next to the chimney to guard the rømmegrøt, and -- sure enough -- everything turned out fine. So tonight, as Christmas Evening comes to us, I wish you friendly visitations and much joy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lille Julaften

I love this evening. In Scandinavian traditions, December 23rd is Lille Julaften -- Little Christmas Eve. Taking note of this night spreads the pleasure of Christmas forward and  intensifies anticipation. When I lived in Norway as a teenager, preparations for Christmas did not really begin until Lille Julaften. That was the day when people shopped for gifts and put up a tree which was decorated solely and purely with white lights, Norwegian flags, and small balls of white cotton snow. 

Lille Julaften became part of my life as a young mother, wife, and artist in Cleveland as we threw a big party that drew together people from all parts of our lives -- neighbors, friends, family, work colleagues, and eventually friends of friends and friends of family. The preparations were daunting -- huge quantities of eggnog and strong punch, buckets of 1/2 inch round Swedish meatballs. I accomplished Herculean feats of lefse-making and fragile cookie cakes. And it was all wonderful as everyone I loved gathered together.

So tonight, even if you are far too busy and your list of tasks is still too long, even if the Christmas music that has played in your ears since Halloween has grown tedious, even if you are sad, even if you miss someone, perhaps there will be a moment of quiet joy and sweet anticipation of better times as Lille Julaften works its small magic.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanks for the Ride

I have used this loyal hip for a long time -- learning to walk, chasing my sister, climbing, dancing, running, skating, skiing, accelerating, and generally having a fine time. It is now time to give it a rest and get a substitute joint. How about something that looks like it was machined at Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, as sleek and expensive as a new car?

So off I will go on Pearl Harbor Day to have my hip replaced, interested in the whole process, eager to move again without discomfort & this annoying limp, and grateful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lucky, the Blue Hen

When I last stopped by Shady Maple Farms for fresh, right-out-of-the-hen eggs, Ms. Linda asked if I cared for a blue egg. Who could resist that offer? The egg is the offspring of a Blue Hen, who was abandoned injured at the county fair by some really bad actor of a 4-H kid. Ms. Linda and her husband, the vet, named the chicken Lucky, for good reason, and took her back to Shady Maple for recuperation and poultry companionship.

The egg is not a brilliant, knock-your-socks-off blue but rather a sweet, light azure, and we are delaying cracking open such a lovely thing. When we do, it will be our lucky day.


Monday, September 5, 2011

A Girl in the Studio

When my ten-year-old granddaughter, Sterling Knight, visited for a  week, we spent much of our time in my studio. She arrived with Fluffy, a cunning, lavender-plush, weasel-like toy pet who needed a house. As it turned out, Fluffy actually needed a contemporary, four-story condominium with a private elevator and garage for the red convertible Sterling would make for her/him.
Beyond the satisfaction of using odds & ends, materials, and saved objects for which I could not imagine any use but had kept anyway, the real delight was watching Sterling work. She is deft and understands how to put things together. She sees possibilities and has an intuitive sense of structure and proportion. What I really admired, however, was the way she did not self-edit. There was no "This looks all yukky and stupid." If a chair made of boxes, scrap leather, cotton balls, and brads was a little wonky, she accepted it and moved on to construct a big-screen television. The home was packed with imagination, clever ideas, originality, and fun.

Above all she worked with enthusiasm and self-confidence, making what she wanted to see, making what would give Fluffy pleasure. Any artist can learn a lesson from this young girl.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


After my son, Ryan, died two months ago, I kept moving forward with work --- in disbelief, in sadness, but buoyed by the love that poured over me from all quarters of my life. It was possible to work slowly in the studio, and I was able to measure, cut, paste up, print, and generally accomplish things. There is a notion, translated roughly from the German, of "grief bacon," a slowness, a layering of emotion much like hibernation that comforts, nourishes, and protects those who have experienced loss. I had the grief bacon. Still do.

The action that brought me pleasure and peace was knitting, to no knitter's surprise, and I wanted to make something for Heidi, Ryan's young daughter. At  Red Purl in downtown Niles, my choice was immediate, soft, and white: yarn that Amy had spun from local sheep. Delicious between my fingers and heaven to my eyes, it invited another yarn to ride along -- something perfectly named Little Flowers. The bright bits strung along the fiber remind me of Tibetan prayer flags.

So I knit my heart and my healing, my love for Ryan and his life, for his children, for all children into this rhythm of white and pink and red and sparkle.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wonky in Austin

You don't have to be in Austin long before you realize that people here pride themselves on being different. "Keep Austin Weird" is a slogan plastered everywhere. To me, the city is more "original" than weird  -- packed with independent stores & restaurants and bearing an attitude of insouciance & the off-beat. It is an altogether engaging place to be.

A question though: is it the Austin attitude or the Whole Foods attitude that produced these parking jobs? All within a twelve-car corner of the lot. Even the Smart Car failed Driver's Ed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Hat That Legends Are Made Of

Ever since Al Shudde opened a hat store in Houston in 1907, four generations of Shudde men have been serving those who know the importance of a good hat. Several years ago in Houston, Edward (one of those who can wear any hat with style and conviction) spotted a man wearing an exceptional cowboy hat. After chasing him down, Edward learned that it came from Shudde Brothers Store and Hat Factory, and yesterday we made a pilgrimmage.

What a wonderful place -- hats, hat forms, hat steamers, and Neal Shudde who knows all there is to know about fitting, wearing, and maintaining hats of character. I nearly succumbed to a black wool derby, thinking that wearing it would unravel the unbearable lightness of being. I did receive a gift of sharp, narrow-brimmed, flat-topped, straw hat with attitude. I think that, wearing it, I will be unstoppable.

Edward looked fantastic in a black top hat, but he was on a quest for that exceptional hat.

It was amazing. It was undeniable. It was Edward.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One Thing Leads to Another

I came across some small pieces of beautiful Asian papers and thought I would put together a diminutive book -- a few poems, a few images, bound simply and quickly finished. Beware such unambitious thoughts! Here I am, weeks later, in a complicated and enticing undertaking that has involved the purchase of more paper, the writing of more poems, the construction of more images, and some engineering possibly beyond my skill level.

The parts so far:
a chunky, poem/image-packed book with a beaded silk cover
a box that will hold the book and whose sides will have digital images printed on Yupo
the parts of a platform for the box

What is next in my imagination:
a statuesque cover for the platform that will have openings screened with knitted stainless steel yarn and a window in the top
a four-legged base for the whole business

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pleasures of the Hand

I have taken up knitting again -- something I delayed for fifty years because I was afraid I would not remember how. Yes, I knitted when I was an exchange student in a small Norwegian town, but I did not actually learn to knit. Every girl and a few of the boys knitted all the time, everywhere, and so it was a no-brainer for me to hand any problem I created for myself over to the kid sitting next to me. To really knit again, to really create a textile, I would have to do some learning, and, because I prefer to do everything perfectly the first time, I put the project off.

Luckily for me on a visit to Cleveland, the seduction of the yarns at Liz Tekus' Fine Points, proved to be no match for the habits of my ego, and I began to teach myself from books and on-line videos. The allure of holding and manipulating yarn is so compelling and delicious that I have been trying to figure out why I do it.

I know some knitters are in it for the creation of objects, and some perhaps for the challenge of patterns and structures. For me, it is the feel of silk or wool or cashmere or alpaca or merino between my fingers, in that sweet V between digits that is so sensitive and always available. As I child, I slipped my hair through that intersection for comfort and pleasure, and I have seen my mother and my grandchildren do it.

The act of knitting has many attractions --- gorgeous materials, visual construction, the emergence of pattern, the sound & action of needles, and the capacity to make something while talking and listening to others. Who knew it was also so sexy?