Light One Candle

IMG_2435I hadn’t thought about Diwali in years, not since I took a graduate course in myth and legend and read the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. There, I learned the story of Lord Rama and Sita, his wife, their exile, and subsequent return to their home. It’s that return, some say, that Diwali was meant to celebrate.

Today, Diwali “celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness,” according to an article in The Independent.

Gallivanta, at Silkannthreades, wrote about Diwali yesterday and about lighting a candle, as was tradition in the land of her youth, Fiji. Gallivanta ended her post by saying, “Join me, if you will, in lighting a candle, for the night is black, and we need all the light we can get. Happy Diwali and may the light of the lamp burn brightly in all our hearts.”

Yes, the night is black.

It seems exceptionally black right now. Not just the fading light of autumn, here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the longer nights, and the snow and cold that keep us isolated from one another.

The news of the world makes the nights feel exceptionally black and dark and cold. The fear of disease, and of fear itself. The fear of unspeakable horrors that humans inflict on others. The fear of wars, and rumors of war.

I’m feeling very sad about Canada right now. I live just a few miles from her border; I love her capital city and its beautiful Parliament, with the Peace Tower and Tomb of the Unknowns and Books of Remembrance.

Canada always seemed a place apart to this American. A little apolitical, a little innocent, a little safe. A little sunny.

But recent nights have been black for Canadians, too. They know darkness now, as they did not before.

The world provides so much to keep us anxious, so much that seems to hide in the shadows and whisper, “Be afraid.”

But then I think about Diwali and how humans, from all cultures, it seems, have used fire and candles and lamps to dispel those shadows and fears, and replace them with light and hope. It’s not only Diwali.

So many fire festivals, in so many lands. So many songs to honor the sun and light and fire, and to bring the light of the human voice to the shadow of silence. So many metaphors that play a key role in human language, and so many ancient places built to admit the light of the sun on transitional days. So many candlelight marches and perpetual flames at graves.

So much light, literal and symbolic, to combat the dark, and push it back, and replace it with the hope of trust and peace.

So, yes, Gallivanta, I will join you in lighting a flame, to celebrate the good and to refuse to give countenance to darkness and evil.

And I will reiterate your wish, “Happy Diwali and may the light of the lamp burn brightly in all our hearts.”

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Isn’t It Lovely?

big choc barIsn’t it wonderful?

It’s a big bar of beautiful chocolate.

It weighs 11 pounds.

It measures 18 inches long by 10 inches wide. It’s 2 inches thick.

And I have 35 of them in my pantry.

They account for almost 1,000,000 calories of happy.

Life is good.

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Edited to add:

Oops! I am reminded by Silver in the Barn that not all of you know why I have so much chocolate around! I eat a lot, but not all of it, myself. The rest I make into a variety of chocolate candies. You can visit them in my shop on Etsy!

On An Imperfectly Woven Dishtowel

IMG_2412Me: Rats. It’s not perfect.

The ME I want to be: Relax. You’re new at this.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect.

MIWTB: Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Me: I know. But I was so careful.

MIWTB: You said you were just experimenting, just having fun weaving.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect.

MIWTB: You claim you like the imperfect and idiosyncratic!

Me: Yes, but . . .

MIWTB: It’s not the last thing you’ll ever make! The next project will be better!

Me: Yes, but this one’s not perfect.

MIWTB: It’ll still be perfectly serviceable.

Me: I know. But it’s not perfect. I wanted it to be perfect.

MIWTB: Do you think our foremothers got hung up on tiny mistakes in utility items? They had bigger things to worry about!

Me: So what? I wanted mine to be perfect.

MIWTB: But look—there’s no question it’s made by hand! Did you want it to look machine made?

Me: Well, no. I wanted it to look perfectly handmade.

MIWTB: Aren’t you the one who’s always yammering on about the human touch and seeing human fingerprints on the things we make?

Me: This is different. It’s so obvious! People will think I’m not perfect.

MIWTB: No offense, Kerry, but people already know you’re not perfect.

Me: I’ve noticed that whenever you start a sentence with, “No offense,” the rest of the sentence is really offensive.

MIWTB: Yes, well, some things need to be said.

Me: But I wanted it to be perfect!!!

MIWTB: Shhh, it’s time to stop whining and get back to work.

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Ahhhhhh-tumn

As a charter member of the North American autumn appreciation team, I felt it my bounden duty to attempt to capture the evanescent essence of the season. The Adirondacks have put on a splendid show this year—my photos do not begin to do justice to the glory! (You can click on any of the thumbnails to get a closer look, though.)

From the Permanent Collection: A Forest Fantasy Tablecloth

IMG_2232A lot of vintage linens cross my path. I’ve been looking and loving and buying them for 35 years and, while I’ve seen many that are stunning, my own collection is small. Our lifestyle is very casual so we have no need for formal or fancy linens. I tend to keep the plain and homespun, the quirky, the practical.

I only keep a couple of tablecloths around. To achieve a spot in my permanent collection a tablecloth needs to be good quality, have a design or look that fits the rustic camp aesthetic, and isn’t too fussy or cutesy or precious.

One special tablecloth meets all my standards!

It features a printed design in two understated colors of brown on a just-slightly-off-white background. The design is of a serene and happy fantasy forest with spotted deer, and the odd fox and bunny boy, frolicking amid the pines and birches. Small cozy cottages are tucked in, with smoke rising from the chimneys and the center of the cloth is strewn with falling leaves, dancing on a crisp, autumn breeze. Can you feel the breeze? And to top it all off, no motif is repeated—every border and every corner features different deer.

I find the graphics on this tablecloth endlessly appealing—so much has been accomplished, visually, with so little! The design is charming and nostalgic, without saccharine sweetness. And the simple, stylized elements are consistent with other influences that inform my aesthetic (doesn’t that sound grandiose!)—Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Deco, the artist Rockwell Kent. In fact, look how great the cloth looks with these plates I bought years ago!

IMG_2249 IMG_2246I first saw this cloth on eBay and fell for it immediately. As you may know, eBay has moved beyond the auction format and some items are now for sale at a set price. This tablecloth was one such item and the set price was high! At least it was by my standards. I’m used to finding linens at garage and estate sales so a tablecloth that was priced at over $100 produced instant sticker shock. No way, I thought.

And, yet, I kept going back to it. And looking at it again. And loving everything about it. My husband urged me to buy it. Sometimes I listen to him.

The next morning I decided this was one such time and logged on to make that pretty thing my own.

And it was gone. It had been bought by someone else and I was bereft!

I thought about it and pined for it. I stomped my feet and gnashed my teeth. I even pinned it on Pinterest, lamenting that I hadn’t bought it. If I couldn’t have it, I at least wanted to keep a picture of it.

And then, a couple of weeks later, I was on eBay and there it was! Apparently, it hadn’t been sold, but, rather, the listing had ended or something (much about eBay is a total mystery to me!)

The tablecloth was still available and still stunning and . . . it was priced at $30 less than it had been! Still expensive but . . .

I know a propitious sign when I see one! I hit the “buy it now” button and never looked back!

I have to admit, I’ve never put this tablecloth on an actual table, except to take the photos here. We have been known to spill, at our table, and the perfection of this tablecloth is daunting. But buying it did light a fire, to create a display space I’d been thinking about for awhile—vintage glass towel rods on the side of a pantry, which hold some of my favorite linens.

IMG_2237Autumn is the perfect time to pull this cloth off the shelf, touch up the ironing, and feast my eyes on my fantasy forest.

I smile every time I look at it. And is that isn’t a fine criterion for admission into the permanent condition, I don’t know what is!

It’s Official . . .

yellow glass E&JIt’s official. Summer is over.

What? Does that not come as a news flash to you?

I know we’ve all been talking about fall and, really, the signs are everywhere here in upstate New York. Even the calendar says, unequivocally, that autumn began three weeks ago.

But emotionally, for me, summer ended a couple of days ago, when my mother and her husband (E & J) closed camp and left for Florida. Like all the other snowbirds, they trade winter for an endless summer.

I wrote earlier about “opening camp,” and how it looms large in North Country culture. “Closing camp” is equally fraught with meaning.

E & J spend the summers here, in a seasonal “camp” just 250 steps down the road from us.

Just yesterday (or so it seems!), I went down to E & J’s little cottage and threw open the doors and windows, to allow spring to blow through and chase out the winter chill. My husband turned the water back on and mowed the lawn. The rhododendrons out front burst into bloom, to say, “Welcome back!”

E & J arrived and summer had begun.

Summer means garage sales, just my mom and me, driving the familiar back roads and yakking. Summer means the four of us, gathering at water’s edge in the evening for cocktails and a campfire, with my husband’s guitar providing a well-loved soundtrack. Summer means endless hands of pinochle, played with idiosyncratic rules and varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Summer at camp has meant so much to us over the years. My husband and I were married during a summer at camp, almost 25 years ago. My mother and her husband were married during a summer at camp, 3 years ago. Small children have learned to build s’mores and sing along during summers at camp. Crafts have been taken up, explored, and abandoned at camp. Family members and friends have gathered and partaken in the camp rituals of concerts on the seawall, bike rides to the soft ice cream stand, and day trips to Lake Placid.

The summers at camp are almost a cliché. But not quite, because they’re ours and they never lose their originality or become commonplace when we’re lucky enough to live them.

E & J are somewhere on the road right now, heading to the year-round summer they prefer, in Florida.

During winter, they trade wild heron and osprey flying against a twilight sky for a heron who shows up at their house daily, for hot-dog handouts. They trade Saturday evening campfires and wine in big yellow plastic goblets for Saturday morning coffee hour at the clubhouse. They trade kayaking into the long grass at the end of the bay for barefoot walks on the beach in January.

My husband and I are firmly ensconced, now that summer is over, in our autumn home, heading for winter.

We trade the bonhomie of family time for the cozy solitude of couple time. We trade a view of rippling waves and heeling sailboats for wind-sculpted snow drifts. We trade the grill for the slow cooker, the campfire for the fireplace, summer for winter.

We’ve made very different decisions for the part of the year that is Not Summer At Camp. We’re happy, all of us, with our choices and the trade offs.

But there’s one thing we agree on—we wouldn’t trade next summer, together at camp, for anything! Summer has ended. Long live summer!

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How about you? Is there a moment when you know that summer is officially over?

Killing It Softly: Shattered Silk

IMG_2095It’s beautiful. It’s romantic.

It’s dying. It’s incurable.

It’s tragic. It is doomed.

It begs for its story to be told, even as the story comes to a sad, inevitable end . . .

My mother bought a box of vintage linens for me recently, a box full of damask and lace and elegance.

In that box, in a plastic bag, was a garment, a nightie or a slip, and it was so lovely. Soft peach-colored silk with pin tucks and filet lace and a pointed handkerchief hem.

IMG_2092Just seeing it sent my imagination awhirl. The young woman who wore this—who was she? When did she live? What was her story?

Well, she probably lived in the northeast United States or Quebec. She was here, and wearing pretty things, in the late 1800s or early 1900s. She had enough money for quality silk, at least for this one special item.

Could I learn more by looking at the details? I pulled the lingerie out of the bag, opened it up, and . . .

It shattered. The silk began to shatter and each touch, each movement, made it worse.

It didn’t shatter like glass shatters, into a thousand brittle pieces that scatter and cut you and make you bleed. It shattered as only fine old silk will, into creeping tears in the fabric that appear from nowhere and grow and multiply and break your heart.

IMG_2090 IMG_2086As I understand it, the very quality of this item was its undoing. The seeds of its end were there from the beginning.

According to the Pragmatic Costumer, old silks were created in ways that guaranteed their demise. She notes that, “During the 19th and early 20th centuries, silks were often treated with metallic salts to give them fabulous weight and a pearly sheen.” Because silk, unlike other fabrics, was sold by the weight, the heavier it was, the better. Metallic salts gave silk the heavy lushness and “rustle” that spoke of money, class, and quality.

But those same metallic salts ultimately destroy the fabric. Old silk fans shatter along the fold marks, a man’s silk tie shatters at the knot, the silk patches in a crazy quilt shatter and disappear while the cottons and wools stay strong. Slips and negligees and lingerie shatter when they’re handled.

Every time I move this silken beauty, I hasten its death, killing it softly with my touch. I can’t save it; there are no conservation methods. I can only take pictures to remember it by. And tell its story so it won’t be forgotten when its gone.

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