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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Christmas Eve 2013DSCN1079

While I am upstairs reading a post from a friend whose dog just “discovered” the Christmas ham as it was  stored out on the porch, my own Dog is downstairs hovering over the remnants in the cat dish. Dinner has already been served, and yes, I am distracted, especially since it’s Christmas Eve and I don’t want to find in June, the stocking stuffers that I am dangerously close to forgetting about right now.

And there was something that desperately needed to go in the attic. And, in fact, something that wanted to come down, but I can’t remember what.

So when I finally return to the kitchen, Dog is still engaged in the waiting game. She stands over the cat  dish, her head hanging and her eyes somewhat glazed. Her eyebrows bob. This has nothing to do with any rules I am aware of. She will wait until I spoon the leftovers into her own dish, and then have at it like the scavenger that I know she is. This behavior has always bewildered me, but I happily go along with it.

I’ve had dogs before, and I’m reminded in particular of a dear Golden Retriever who would cozy up to a dumpster as soon as she would hop onto the couch. This dog of mine right now, Saint Dog, as I imagine her because of her unworldly display of “patience”, is a different sort.

It’s true that, I myself have been accused of having the “patience of a saint”. I have a long history with Catholicism, so I should know what that means. However, a moment of doubt (!) sends me to the dictionary. A quick search reveals only a reference to Job and his nagging wife. Well, screw that.

If I were to attempt to boil my observations down to something meaningful (in fact this is what I try do every day), today’s lesson would be that Patience = Faith in a Positive Outcome. As an alternative, Grab the Ham!

Have a Merry Christmas Everyone, wherever you are!

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Being a restorer is a little like jumping into a movie mid way. First, you have to figure out what’s going on. Then you have to keep the plot interesting, the characters viable, the scenery and costumes true and the concept and signature in line with the filmmaker’s. All this without knowing for how long, or to what outcome, because you’ll be jumping out again before the credits. Hopefully, no one will know you were even there, but in your old age, perhaps you will be lucky enough to lean back and in your mind’s ear hear that resounding chorus, “Wow that was a great flick!”, and know you had some small part in it.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaxVwD-HvNU

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So my triceps are aching and my hands tingled with “pins and needles” all last night.

Actually, I like shoveling snow. But I’ve had enough of it for the time being. Some young muscle-y young fellow showed up this afternoon and finished shoveling my driveway for the best $15 I’ve ever spent. “Where were you yesterday???”… I was thinking, while being ever grateful that he had spared me this last insult of having to clear a path just enough wider to squeeze the car out onto the street. The Car. Which I stupidly parked way back by the garage, about a mile and a half from the street, in the spot that I know is prone to drifting. By the way, my car is black.

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My first words, Saturday morning, were reiterated a few hours later, by my Puerto Rican neighbor, who, upon opening her front door to discover  snow nearly up to her waist, simply exclaimed, “Oh my God!”

The nice thing about this kind of weather event is that it brings people out. I have noticed, in my neighborhood, a spectacular showing of men and machines. In fact, being the newcomer in these parts, it still surprises me that they all seem to know one another, having attended school together apparently, some time before the middle aged paunch and grey whiskers happened. Then there is the other slice of neighborhood, the one that says all with a keyboard post and shout out (it could be from anywhere in the world, but it’s) from around the corner.

One is concerned about the elder woman that lives across the street. Another is grateful for the refuge offered by a neighbor during a CO scare. Another is trying to find the owner of a trash can gone AWOL. We watch out for each other, and I like this about this multi-layered community. I like getting the (albeit) recorded message from my beloved Mayor, stating the parking updates and a reminder to stay safe and check up on neighbors.

Someone decided to call this snowstorm Nemo, which I think is both preposterous and endearing. Preposterous because Nemo is a name that’s been appropriated by  Disney, and endearing because,… well…! I’ve neglected thus far to mention that my own twenty-five year old daughter hightailed it from Boston, hound dog riding shotgun, to arrive here in Holyoke just before the storm hit. And speaking of Disney, it was this same 25 year old, who at age 5 would not eat flounder unless we called it salmon. Whatever.

It’s been Weekend Interruptus by all accounts. One more day of school is cancelled and with the good graces of our stellar DPW, all should up to speed by Tuesday. With the driveway cleared (and why this seems to me a marker of some sort, I don’t know, since I really don’t go out much!) it will be business as usual. DSCN0218

Oh, and I promise, the next post will be more about serious violin restorer stuff. I may just get out that “Heap of Cello Bits”. I have one more snow day to think about it.

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Chopping has come up in a couple of conversations with women friends lately. Yes, chopping, not shopping, thank you. Since I am who[sic] I am, sometimes a word or an image repeated, even in completely different contexts, lights up some mysterious part of my brain. I got to thinking.

The friends in question and I are all artists/artisans. One friend mentioned that after working at a computer for an extended period of time, she needs to go into the kitchen and chop vegetables. Another friend had her work with a cutting tool admonished as being “choppy”, not to mention unbecoming her gender. What? I thought about how I enjoy a job that requires getting out my bamboo froe. More about that later.

In my view, the act of chopping means taking an edged tool in hand and inviting a certain blend of speed, momentum, and larger muscle groups to augment an already practiced partnership between the hand and the eye. For instance, tonight’s butternut squash was bisected with one formidable whack. Had I not spent much of  the day fine-fitting a ridiculously little piece of wood, I may have been happy to simply lean into the vegetable with my biggest knife, rocking with it until the blade hit cutting board. That squash got whacked and it felt gooood!

Now this post, begun in all innocence, is about to take a timely turn. Next Tuesday, we here, in the States, exercise our civic duty to stand behind the candidates of our choice. This is a privilege and, in my view, an obligation of the highest order. I have never missed an opportunity to vote. I consider myself a humanist, sometimes even an optimist. That said, I recognize my not-so-inner curmudgeon. People are basically self- interested and short-sighted jerks. I have been closing my ears against the barrage of measured lies and twisted truths. Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot else to listen to. So I find myself trolling the neighborhood for places to be on Tuesday night, where I might  drink with abandon in case this election heads for the crapper.

The alternate title to this post was “Chopping Therapy 101”, which may help explain why this election digression is not totally a non sequitur. If I were still heating with wood, you can be sure I would be out there with my maul and axe reacquainting myself with my right-side rotator cuff. Instead, I chop vegetables. I use the biggest knife I have. I fit little pieces of wood all day and then split out a bunch of end blocks and bass bars. Whack! Here is the aforementioned bamboo froe: It’s a Japanese tool that is used for splitting bamboo. Someday, perhaps I will understand where it figures in terms of  Japanese craft and construction. It fits nicely in my hand, with a comfortable balance and confidence-inspiring heft. For me, it’s the tool I turn to when I need to be assured that the grain direction in a given piece of wood is appropriate to the purposes to which I am employing it. I use it to split out bass bar stock and also endblocks. I pick up a small hammer, position my froe, and  give it a whack. The split follows the grain line. There is no deception here.

Chopping exposes the nature of a material, the propensity of the tool and perhaps the mindset of the chopper. It’s an activity  that employs a kind of controlled abandon, or calculated wrecklessness. The perfect antidote to a day filled with the questionable minutiae of modern life.

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With only some regret, I’ve pulled the last of the tomatillo plants. And just tonight, while a handful of hot peppers are still turning orange on my windowsill, the last of the kale was consumed. Next year, I plant smarter, tend smarter, hopefully cook smarter and eat smarter. That’s what they all say! No traffic jams in the kitchen! Hah!

In any case, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed, and yet I keep finding the most interesting things out there.

I especially like this time of year for its odd mix of hope and resignation. I am relieved and delighted to see that the dogwood I planted just this year survived the drought and indeed has buds that I hope to witness in full flower next spring. If this baby tree had not survived, I would have been put in the awkward position of having a cosmic discussion with the Golden Retriever-in-a-can that I’d planted with it.

Likewise, the rhododendrons have buds, and the little peach tree, in spite of having lost all its fruit shortly after I planted it, seems to be healthy and willing. Sometimes it is wise to hunker down and focus on setting roots, even if it means passing on the flashy stuff.

As I walk in the woods and tidy the garden these days, I remember that there are things that are beautifully and inextricably entwined with their own decay.

It’s a good time of year to share a meal with friends, to visit children and aging parents. It is a good time of year to contemplate the dying and turn toward the living.

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Yesterday I delivered a bunch of home grown veggies to my neighbors. I was grateful for the short term loan of a dehydrator, with which I dried my first batch of Principe Borghese tomatoes. I look forward to committing these little red gems to olive oil and herbs, probably sometime in January or February, when a hit of summer will be ever so much more effective than the latest designer “pick-me-up.”

So my thanks to M and her partner T, with whom I remarked about how this summer seemed to be  unusually difficult for many of us. I say was, because we have just been kissed by our impetuous lover (if you live in New England), Autumn. Yes, the temperature dipped below 60〫F just the other night. In New England we love and hate the weather. It is unreliable – glorious and disappointing in turn.

For the better part of the summer we have been looking at this:
I did not mow the grass during the month of July. And while that would seem like a strange gift of time otherwise unallocated, the “brown out” has, overall, been a serious downer. I’ve been thinking about my first year in this house – only last spring/summer, really – in which I sweated through a dramatic late winter thaw that flooded the basement, a nearby spring tornado, an almost unheard of East Coast earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and a devastating late October snowstorm that downed trees still dressed in showy yellow, red  and orange foliage. The aftermath of that last storm inhibited mobility, left thousands without power for days and caused several deaths including the old lady up the street, who died wrapped in a blanket, in a comfortable chair, because she would not leave her 45 〫F house.

For me, the weather events of 2011 were all near misses. Still, I admit to becoming weather shy. Maybe it is a function of my age, or of circumstance. I am a newcomer to this community. In any case, as this dry, dry weather seems to take a needed turn, it is a joy to be sharing the bounty of a summer salvaged by care and diligence:

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There’s an interesting thing that happens in the course of a restoration. Today it happened subtly, but in a moment. I recognized it as I shifted my tool and repositioned the violin top that I was working on. zzzzzzt! There it was, a sign of life.

I’ve been working on a lovely old violin that has suffered not only the effects of a couple hundred years, but also some serious misfortune at the hands of unskilled violin “repair” hacks. It was a sickening mess or a titillating challenge, you pick.

An instrument with multiple cracks, broken and deteriorated edges, loose bits of wood and a bad history with a glue pot, doesn’t vibrate. It buzzes, rattles, clacks and gasps or simply lies dead on the workbench. With a change of fortune it could become, yet again, a beautiful, healthy, vibrant and participating member of the performing arts scene. That’s my job.

zzzzzt! It’s not a sound, it’s a feel. Gradually, as the cracks are glued properly, and the loose bits are reinforced or replaced, my patient remembers that it was MADE to vibrate. In my hands, it feels like a nicely tightened drum head. Ready. Excitable. Alive.

More on this fiddle another time – stay tuned!

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