A Somber Halloween

Halloween is in the air.

I’ve loved this festive day since I was a child. My sister and I enjoyed dressing up, making costumes from this and that, and anticipating the night. Of course, there were strict rules about where we could go, how long we could be out, and with whom, but we made the most of it.

With Sharon at our home in Canada

We arrived home long before 8:00 with cold cheeks and a bag of candy. The candy haul would fuel a trading game in the weeks to come. We would spread the goods on the living room floor, count each item, then trade back and forth. We each had our favorites. It was also a way to extend the thrill of the night.

As adults, we found the excuse to dress up for parties or work events. We fixed each other’s hair or wig and donned false eyelashes. Sharon usually helped with my makeup since I’m an amateur and she’s the pro.

Sharon dressed as a witch. I made a costume this year called my year in trash

My sister and I no longer dress up, and the thrill of the day has passed. Sharon’s MS has advanced to such a degree that she can no longer walk or drive. She struggles to dress, and she needs help putting on her shoes. At the end of this month, the water therapy that helps sustain her is no longer covered by her health plan. The powers that be, determined that since she can’t get well, she can’t have physical therapy. Health “care” in this country often boils down to health insurance. It’s beyond depressing.

Today, I shampooed my sister’s hair in an inflatable sink, then wrapped it in a towel to dry. She’s lost the chance to shower two days a week after water therapy, robbing her of the dignity of basic hygiene. We are both bereft.

It’s hard to know where we go from here, so we’re improvising. Costumes and wigs no longer apply.

Tomorrow I’ll toss candy into the bags of costumed children after they knock at our door and yell, “trick-or-treat!” The night will be bitter and sweet.

Treasures: Newly Discovered Photos of Aunt Alys

Be still my heart!

I received the following email in late June via my blog:

Good afternoon, I came across your web page as I was researching Windsor water woollies of Poulton-le-Flyde near Blackpool as I have recently managed to purchase a large number of photographs depicting the companies swimwear products from the 20’s and 30’s. The photographs I have are the actual original copies the company had taken in order to select for their advertising and obviously your Aunt Alys features in quite a few of them and I was wondering if you would like copies forwarded to you? I look forward to your reply. Regards Jeff

Jeff Riddle

I felt giddy as I promptly replied with a resounding “yes!”

Of course, it pays to tag your blog posts, which is how he found my previous Aunt Alys’ posts.

I wrote:

Hello Jeff,

My goodness, you’ve just made my day. I would love copies of any photos you have of our Aunt Alys. If there are several, you can add to a shared Google drive. If there are just a few, email attachments work as well.

I would love to hear more about your collection in general and your interests in the Windsor Water Woollies.

Alys

Mr. Riddle forwarded these photos of Aunt Alys (Alys Milner Lancaster) and gave me permission to share his story.

Hi Alys

Thank you for your reply. I am sharing with you copies of the pictures I have of your Aunt Alys. Sorry, there aren’t more.

Long story short: I used to own an antique shop and also ran Flea Markets throughout the northwest of England. During one of these markets, I met a couple who had purchased the old Windsors factory in Poulton-le Flyde near Blackpool. The couple were selling items they had found in the building, and after a conversation, they invited me to the factory to try and assist them in selling items they had found. To my amazement, when I arrived, the factory was like a time capsule, having been locked up and left untouched following a burst water pipe inside. It was a treasure trove of items ranging from vintage automobiles to little tin whistles, which were part of a children’s sailor outfit the company used to produce. One of the highlights was the bathroom in the office area, which was original art deco in design and beautiful for an office washroom. Anyway, I was able to advise them on the best way forward selling the items, and they gave me the collection of photographs.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. She truly was a beautiful lady.

Regards, Jeff

Jeff Riddle

Isn’t that a great story? Mr. Riddle describes the factory in fascinating detail. What a lucky break to run into the factory’s new owners and to further receive an invitation for a walk-through. I would have never known of the photo’s existence if he hadn’t reached out and graciously shared these images of my father’s only sister and my namesake aunt.

ScrapHappy Crafty Halloween

It’s October 15th. Do you know where your scraps are?


Our ScrapHappy host, Kate, invites bloggers to join in the fun of making something entirely out of scraps. We create something useful or beautiful (or spooky!) each month and share details on our blog.

I love Halloween, and I love paper crafts. October is my birthday month, so in addition to the paper I buy, friends treat me to Halloween treasure. I may never run out of scraps, but not for lack of trying.

Once again, I assembled small craft kits that I offer next to our Little Free Library. Some of my Halloween paper goes back 15 years. If I haven’t used it by now, it’s time to send it out into the universe for someone else to enjoy. The scraps are leftover from paper kits or freebies from craft weekends past. I used black ink and a couple of my acrylic stamps so I could include a couple of small embellishments.

Last night, just before dozing off, I thought it would be fun to decorate a themed box for the craft kits. So I pulled out the box I used last summer for kits and covered it with scraps of Halloween paper, leftover Washi tape, and the remnants of my son’s haunted house phase. He’s a senior at university, so those scraps have also been around.

The box is too deep to display the kits, so I used a cardboard lid to divide it, covering it with gauzy Creepy Cloth.

The cloth drapes along the back and intersects with the paper. I raided my fairy garden stash for the “broken fence,” and it was finally ready to go. I recycled a cellophane bag on the bottom of the box in case it gets damp. We’re unlikely to see rain in the next two weeks (BOO!), but I’ll bring the box in at night anyway since it will get damp.

There are twenty kits in total, but if they go quickly, scraps remain.

That, dear readers, brings me to the other fun part of these posts. Here are links to several other ScrapHappy bloggers.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
Jill, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys (that’s me)
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol,
Preeti, DebbieroseNóilin and Viv

Postscript: Tessa the curious

October 1: Happy Birthday President Carter

President Jimmy Carter is celebrating his 98th birthday today.

He’s my idol.

I met President Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter in 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s an extraordinary man who’s done amazing things in this world. Here are just a few:

Jimmy Carter served as the 39th President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.

He negotiated the Torrijos–Carter Treaties, which provided for the return of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999. In an effort to end the Arab–Israeli conflict, he helped arrange the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.

In his final months in office, Carter was able to push through important legislation that created Superfund to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps and that set aside some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of land in Alaska to protect it from development. Carter would also be remembered for his inclusion of women and minorities in his cabinet, including Andrew Young, the African American former mayor of Atlanta, who played a prominent though controversial role as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

He considers one of his greatest achievements, the near-eradication of Guinea Worm Disease. According to the Carter Center:

  • Incidences of Guinea worm disease have been reduced from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986 to 15 in 2021. The disease has been eliminated in 17 countries.
  • The Guinea worm eradication campaign has averted at least 80 million cases of this devastating disease among the world’s poorest and most neglected people.
  • The campaign has helped to establish village-based health delivery systems in thousands of communities that now have networks of health personnel and volunteers who provide health education and interventions to prevent other diseases. Source: The Carter Center

Happy birthday, President Carter!

Posing with President Carter’s portrait at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
The Carter Center and Library Grounds
The Carter Center Briefing

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

Jimmy Carter

ScrapHappy for Flower Cards

ScrapHappy for Flower Cards

Once a month, Kate inspires a group of bloggers to dust off their scraps and embrace the ScrapHappy vibe. I’m always up for the challenge of creating from scraps. Kate is a talented quilter, a raiser of chickens, a gardener, and an all-around good soul. Check out her blog for more inspiration and fun.

It’s fair to say that I took the directive to “dust off your scraps” literally. My friend Donna gave me a pair of National Geographic magazines several years ago. She knew I would appreciate the flower prints in the magazine’s fold.

I’ve pulled out both issues from my drawer many times, but I couldn’t decide what to do with them. It’s one thing to use a five-year-old-scrap but quite another when the scraps are pages of a magazine published over one hundred years ago. The fragile paper doesn’t leave any margin for error.

I decided to turn some of the smaller prints into cards. I trimmed them to size, leaving a small border and the identifying state and the flower’s name.

They needed a little oomph, so after testing on one of the magazine’s ads, I cautiously proceeded. I ran each print through my die machine using a floral embossing folder. It applies just enough pressure to emboss the card without tearing the paper.

Using my green scraps, I found the perfect paper to create four cards.

I had one tear when I tried removing the tape backing. As a result, the California poppy description is on the back of the card. Otherwise, I’m both pleased and relieved with the results.

I’m looking forward to mailing the cards to dear friends.

Are you crafty? Scrappy? Come join us on the 15th of each month and let us see your ScrapHappy creation.

Check out these creative blogs:

 KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
Jill, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,(that’s me)
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera,
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol,
Preeti, DebbieroseNóilin and Viv

Postscript: Here are some photo outtakes. Tessa had to get in on the action

Tomato Postmortem or Better Luck Next Year

Autumn weather is a few weeks away, but our tomato crop is throwing in the towel. We’re facing a brutal heatwave with triple-digit, record-breaking temperatures this weekend. Unfortunately, it seems to be the world’s trend this summer, either brutal heat or devastating floods.

Pair of VegTrugs: succulents on the left, tomatoes on the right.

San Jose had the driest January on record, followed by an equally-dry February. We average 14.9 inches of rainfall annually, with 6 inches falling in the first two months of the year. It’s disheartening.

Given these drought conditions, we can no longer justify a large vegetable garden. So instead, we limited our planting to three tomato varieties and watered them exclusively with captured rainwater. Unfortunately, I mistook some watering advice and let them dry out for too long between watering. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our small harvest in salads and supplemented from a local farm stand.

Tessa finds the warm soil in the raised bed irresistible, so I wrapped the front of the box with tulle to keep her out. As you can see, she simply figured out a way to gain access from the back of the box.

Tessa flouting the rules
Cozy

Our Bushman tanks hold 130 gallons each, and we have three. Unfortunately, the tanks are nearly depleted and are unlikely to fill again for several months.

We’re ending the season reflecting on our meager crop and a serving of humble pie. Better luck next year.

Got rain? Please send some our way.

Repurposing My Postcrossing Postcards

A Postcrossing postcard

Several years back, I discovered Postcrossing while researching vintage postage. I’ve always loved snail mail and for years kept up a correspondence with friends worldwide.

Postcrossing is the creation of Paulo Magalhães. Simply put, he started the project so he would receive more postcards in his mailbox. To date, 68 million postcards are in circulation.

“The goal of this project is to allow anyone to send and receive postcards from all over the world! For each postcard you send, you will receive one back from a random postcrosser.”

Paulo Maglhaes

I set up a Postcrossing profile in March of 2016. Over the years, I’ve sent and received 257 postcards from 40 countries.

Postcrossing profile

The organizer in me enjoyed sorting the cards by country, but as my collection grew, I started sorting by subject. As a result, my collection includes gorgeous cat photos and illustrations, botanical drawings, and clever garden illustrations.

Gorgeous cat postcard
This is one of my all-time favorite cards

It seemed a shame to keep these miniature works of art in a box, so I came up with the idea of laminating several cards to use as a cover for my garden bench.

First, I created a template using a piece of thick gift wrap, then arranged the cards within the parameters of the bench’s surface.

Our local teacher’s supply store has an oversized laminator. They charge by the inch, so it’s a bargain. I used the laminator to fuse the cards to the gift wrap, returning home with what looked like a large placemat.

I slid the sheet of laminated postcards below the clear acrylic top.

Garden bench with postcard topper

I’m pleased with the final results and reminded once again how a bit of creativity soothes the soul. It’s fun remembering when each of these cards arrived in the mail, and what a joy it is to send and receive cards around the world.

Postscript: May I send you a postcard? If you would like a card in your mailbox, please send me your name and address via my contact form. I’m happy to post your card anywhere in the world.

Fancy Plants: Moles and Wheelbarrows

Fancy Plants: Moles and Wheelbarrows

We received several charming thank you gifts from a friend who knows me well. In addition to delicious Scottish shortbread infused with lavender and a chocolate bar laden with strawberries was a Diorama Kit for Houseplants.

Be still my heart.

The packaging describes the small, water-resistant spikes as “Yard art for your houseplant.” It goes on to say, “Arrange whimsically for maximum fancying.”

I’ve been reworking my birdhouse gourd, once home to a tiny tea house. Unfortunately, the neighborhood squirrels “rearranged” it last fall, so I brought it indoors for the winter.

Empty birdhouse gourd

I bought an old-fashioned plant hanger two weeks ago and asked Mike to install a hook near our back door. I nestled the hollow gourd in the hanger, and I’ve been playing around with decorating ideas.

The Fancy Plants spikes are just the inspiration I needed.

After fussing with different materials, I settled on a piece of florists foam, rescued from another gift earlier this year. I cut the foam into two sections, one tall enough to hold the spikes and a thinner section to create the back “wall” of the mole’s nest. I applied a thin layer of glue to the back, then wandered the garden looking for natural debris. Finally, I tossed a few micro-pebbles at the surface and spritzed the wall with dark ink.

I filled a piece of bark with micro pebbles to emulate a pathway and poked some debris up the neck of the gourd to emulate roots.

Small brook

I added dried roots from an unearthed plant

I’m not sure why creating in miniature is so appealing. There is something about the limitations of size and the challenge of scale that invites a creative focus. It’s fun.

I started researching a mole’s natural habitat in the category of one thing leading to another. Moles live underground in a burrow and travel through tunnels they create in a small territory Moles dine on earthworms that fall into these tunnels and rarely surface unless food is scarce.

While it’s unlikely moles will ever need a wheelbarrow or a watering can, the notion of this scenario reminds me of the treasured hours spent reading to my boys.

Dark and cozy, just the way moles like it

Reading, writing, creating, and gardening are all gifts for the soul. It’s been an energizing day.

ScrapHappy Cat Cushion

I’m joining Kate and a cadre of crafty makers this month for what Kate and her friend call ScrapHappy. Fellow bloggers create something functional or beautiful, perhaps even whimsical, made entirely from scraps.

My project this month is a small cushion for the cats. It’s designed to cover what’s left of a tattered cat condo. I merged two unlikely scraps: the former padding from an ironing board and a remnant of upholstery fabric that once graced our garden swing.

The padding is soft and easy to work with. Tessa came along to investigate.

We have what remains of a kitty perch sitting on the steps in the back garden. Unfortunately, the cat perch did not live up to its potential! The top-level broke after one of the cats jumped from the perch. I removed the top, leaving two levels, but the hardware poked through, making for what must have been an uncomfortable surface. I eventually moved it outside and removed the second level, placing the base on some pavers. This cushion hides the ugly surface and provides comfort for the four-legged royalty of the house.

I used two layers of the padding for the cushion, then shredded the rest to offer as nesting material to the squirrels.

I made a simple envelope style cover for easy washing. The cushion is more pleasing to the eye.

So far, the kitties aren’t impressed, but I enjoyed dusting off my sewing machine and using up some scraps. I had to resort to bribery to coax Mouse onto the cushion. He hasn’t been up there since.

Oh well.

The second make, also for the cats, is a hit. I used the last bit of green fabric to repair a beloved cat toy. The upholstery fabric is rugged enough for cat claws and teeth, and the fine stitching keeps the loose Nepeta contained.

It’s good to know I can still sew a couple of rectangles. (Ha!) Wait till you see what the other creative makers have been up to at the links below.

Interestingly, Kate’s scrappy project this month is for her four legged Mouse. Our Mouse is a feline and Kate’s Mouse is a pooch. Is anyone out there sewing for a real mouse?

Thank you, Kate! I hope you are feeling better soon.

Check out these creative blogs:

 KateGun,EvaSue, Lynda, Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys, ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, NanetteAnn, Dawn 2,Bear, Carol, Preeti, EdithDebbierose and Viv    

Fire in a Church: Conclusion

FINAL INSTALLMENT (You can read fire in a Church part one here and Fire in a Church part two here.)

Six weeks ago, I found myself at the back of a church with a man I didn’t know. Within seconds I realized he had set the church sanctuary on fire, before traveling along the ambulatory to the hallway near me. When I encountered him in the hall, he had two lighters in his hands and he was surrounded by smoke, but it didn’t wholly register at the time.

A distant smoke alarm and the smell of smoke drew me out into the hallway; however, adrenaline sent me running for safety. 

That man is the suspect in the St. Paul’s UMC fire. The sanctuary of the church is beyond repair. They estimate close to two years to rebuild it.

Aerial view of fire damage, St. Paul’s UMC

Lifted Spirits has been serving vulnerable clients from rented rooms at the back of the church. Although those rooms didn’t sustain fire damage, they are now closed due to smoke, asbestos, and lead contamination. The building is without power as well.

Doors and windows are covered in plastic with warning signs

Asbestos can’t be easily washed out of clothes, and professional remediation costs are prohibitive.

Our entire inventory is gone.

My dear friends, along with other supporters in the community, rallied quickly. As a result, we’ve received donations of men’s and women’s t-shirts, some shorts, and new socks, underwear, and hygiene items. Friends have also donated gift cards and cash so we can purchase items as needed.

Racks of donated clothing, color-coded hangers by size

Before the fire, I had set up canopies and washable rugs and tables in the outdoor serving area. This area provides a shady place to sit and relax. In addition, I’ve started serving lemonade and scones, a welcome treat for people coming in off the streets. 

Canopies provide some shade and respite

I rented a portable storage unit (PODS or Portable on demand Storage), bought some shelves and plastic bins. The POD provides 128 square feet of surface space and vertical space from shelves. We were operating with 1,900 square feet indoors.

POD: Week one
POD: Week four

I’ve been emptying a shed to allow us some extra storage. We donated fifty like-new chairs since it would cost more to store them long-term than to replace them. It feels good to pass them on to another non-profit. One of our board members agreed to keep the Christmas items, and we offered the remaining contents to those in need.

Lifted Spirits has weathered many storms in the four-plus years of my tenure. First, I started volunteering in the clothing boutique and eventually became the lead volunteer. Then, I spent three years as Board Vice-chair and poured my heart and soul into every aspect of our programs. 

The church that started Lifted Spirits sold the property out from under us. Then the pandemic hit, stopping the respite portion of our program. Finally, last year, the new developer gave us four months to move, and we landed at St. Paul’s UMC in the eleventh hour. Then eight months to the day, the sanctuary went up in flames, and we find ourselves renting a fenced parking lot.

We serve our clients in the middle of the day. The summer temps are high and the overhead sun heats the blacktop surface where we operate. It takes an hour to set everything up. As a further complication, ants quickly invaded the food pantry while lingering soot drifted down from the church.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged. The program’s future is once again uncertain. Most days, I wilt in the heat. We leave exhausted at the end of the shift, lucky to have homes where we can retreat.

In the end, that’s why I continue to show up. But, that said, it’s not easy.