Friday, April 20, 2007

Crocus, Finally

As everyone knows, April has been unusually cold this year. The crocuses (croci?) in our yard got snowed on twice after first rearing their brave little heads, but here they are at last, none the worse for it. It was such a beautiful day that I was comfortable in short sleeves as I toured the yard for the first time this season. The recent wind storms did a lot of minor damage, leaving a litter of small broken branches all over the ground, but no large ones. My vegetable garden is almost dry enough to start working the soil. I tied up a new clothesline and hung the wash out to dry in the sun. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out the clothes in summer, and working in the garden. After being housebound all winter, being able to get outdoors is like a whole new life opening up.

Cranberry Glass

Another piece of family history, at the opposite end of the scale from the homely horn cup. This pretty little glass, about the right size for juice, was brought over from Ireland and treasured through what must have been very rough-living decades. Perhaps it was once part of a set. My husband remembers being allowed to drink milk out of it when he was a small boy visiting his grandmother, but since its gilt and paint trim is starting to wear off, we never use it now, except for the times when I take it out of the china cabinet and try to capture it in paint.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Horn Cup

This little charred cup made out of a cow's horn has been passed down through my husband's family, who were early settlers in what is now Stittsville, Ontario.

One day their log cabin burnt to the ground, and the horn cup was the only thing recovered from the ashes.

It probably was never very pretty on its best day. After its trip through the flames it was charred, scarred, and ugly, but for a hundred years it has spoken about endurance and survival.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My infatuation with Ukrainian Easter eggs did interfere with daily drawing, unless you count drawing on eggs, but I'm back at it now. Just some carnations...

a few objects from the cupboard...

and, of course, a cat.

Jelly in the Bowl

My daughter, home for Easter, found a forgotten package of orange Jello in the back of the cabinet. "Ooh, Jello! Let's make it right now."

It seemed like a lot of excitement over plain old Jello after I had gone to some trouble to stock all her favourite foods for the holiday, but, oh, well, it's certainly not hard to make. On goes the kettle and out comes the mixing bowl.

Confronted with that familiar chemical fragrance and in-your-face colour, I was suddenly catapulted back through time. Food fads come and go, but there's always Jello. An old skipping rhyme popped into my head, one of the first I ever learned.

Jelly in the bowl, jelly in the bowl,
A-wig-a-wag, a-wig-a-wag, Jelly in the bowl.

Sausage in the pan, sausage in the pan,
A-wig-a-wag, a-wig-a-wag, sausage in the pan.

This was accompanied by vigorous waggling of one's hind end, hopefully without missing a step, which is quite a feat if you are very small and just learning to skip. We children thought it was hilarious and a little naughty.My daughter had never heard that one. She thought it was funny, too. We spent some time recalling other skipping rhymes, coming up with a dozen or so off the tops of our heads.

My old granny, ninety-nine,
She can drink a barrel of wine.
She can drink a bowl of soup,
To make her belly go boop-boop-boop.

Passed orally from child to child down through how who-knows-how-many ages, they tend to be irreverent, ungrammatical, impolite, sexist, ageist, probably racist, certainly politically incorrect. Raw kid culture.

Do not leave this rope be empty.
If you do, you shall be out!

I hardly ever see groups of girls skipping in the street anymore. In my day (that's the Jurassic era, not the Antedeluvian) it was one of the certain signs of spring.

Of course, I was a baby boomer in a Catholic town. Almost every house teemed with children, and it was usually easy to get a gang together just by stepping outside with a long rope in your hand. Parents were also eager (not to say desperate) to keep the kids outdoors as much as possible, as the houses were pretty small for the size of the families. Skipping drew in a wide age group, from about five to about thirteen. Once you were in high school, you didn't skip anymore, even if you wished you could.

In this village where I live now, there are fewer young families, fewer children, and I suppose less willingness to let children entertain themselves for hours outdoors, especially on the street (although road hockey still flourishes). However, I still see skipping ropes for sale in the stores, and sometimes I see a rope turning on a school playground. So I'm hoping the rhymes are still alive and being passed on.

Cinderella dressed in yella
Went downtown to see her fella.
Guess how many kisseshe got?
One, two, three...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Did I Say Distracted?

I've always looked at Ukrainian Easter eggs with enchantment and awe. Such moving symbolism. Such beautiful colours and patterns. How do they draw those straight lines on eggs? How do they do that tiny cross-hatch thing? >

Last week I finally got to attend the annual workshop which has been offered by our local library for the past seven years. Turns out, it really is simple. It does take time, for sure. Nothing about this process is fast, but it's so absorbing that you hardly notice the time passing.

Obviously, experience and practice count for a lot in turning out a really high-quality piece. My lines are still wobbly and I often have to compensate for blobs of wax in the wrong place. Honestly, though, anybody can make these. You only need the kistka, the little tool for applying the wax, and of course the special dyes.


As soon as I got home from the library, I went online and ordered supplies from They were great to deal with. Everything is reasonably priced. My package arrived within six days and everything was in perfect order.

I got the basic beginner's kit, which consists of five dyes, a medium-size kistka, a piece of beeswax, and instructions. I chose the plastic kistka, which costs more, because that's what we were using at the workshop, and some people who had attended in previous years said they're much easier to use than the old wooden ones. I also ordered a packet of black dye, which wasn't included in the basic kit. I knew I wanted black after seeing the eggs the instructor had made. All the other colours just glow against it.

I once read in a magazine article that many Ukrainians regard making pysanky as a prayerful activity. They meditate and pray as they work with the ancient symbols of life and faith handed down to them by their ancestors. It certainly isn't necessary to take that approach in order to make beautiful eggs and enjoy them. For myself, I thought that trying to be too pious might rob me of some of the fun, so I didn't consciously set out to do that. However, I found that sitting by a lit candle, calming the mind enough to draw the simple shapes on the surface of an egg, and thinking in the most general way about the ideas expressed by the cross, the fish, the rose, the little dots that represent Mary's Tears, has been spiritually uplifting in a totally unexpected way. I'm definitely planning to make this an annual event.