Sunday, May 31, 2009

Storm Rolling In

I just looked at the weather cam in Lanesville and it looks like the waves are kicking up. There re rain drops splattering the lens and it says the wind has gusted to forty-three miles per hour. Storms's a'coming, it seems.

I have been sequestered here in my office all weekend working on Each Angel Burns. I want to get it off to press in the next month and it seems like time is pressing in. It gets like that sometimes --- I don't understand it but there are times when it seems there is just not enough time for all the things that need doing --- work, favors for friends, writing, more work, writing down patterns, books, cleaning, a mountain of sewing waiting for me. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

And, as so often happens when I am deep into writing, there is this strange assault of emotions that seems to gang up on me and pummel me into emotional mincemeat. I know it sounds crazy --- at least to anyone who isn't a fiction writer --- but I think my characters take me over sometimes, or try to and they can get to be tough to deal with. The part of the book I am working on right now involves a January snowstorm in Maine, a thing I remember only too well, and two people who are suspecting they may be in love and yet there is all this trouble going on --- it gets complicated.

There's something that happens when storms are getting ready to break. There's this sort of excitement in the air. Right now the birds in the cemetery are chirping away. My grandmother always said “the birdies are singing for rain”. She claimed that they sang differently when rain was coming. I don't know if that is true. Right now the wind is blowing the leaves in the trees --- possibly my favorite sound in all the world --- and the birds are singing and off in the distance a fog horn has begun. I have the radio on and a radio station from California is broadcasting the full version of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. It is a good time to write.

This past week has been unusually sad. Partly it is because it is infused with the memories of a year ago when everything in my life changed. And partly because I have been talking to Sharon whose life has also changed dramatically. She told me yesterday that she spoke with David's cardiologist and he told her that there is nothing immediately apparent to indicate why he died. They have performed the autopsy but the results won't be ready for months. In the meantime Sharon is trying valiantly to just get through each day. We talk and we share. My heart breaks as much for her loss as for my own. Here's the simple truth --- it never gets easier. You can go for longer periods without thinking about it, but when you do it's just as hard.

Strange things fascinate. I'm not a television watcher and, while some of my friends got caught up in the whole Susan Boyle-mania that gripped talent show lovers for awhile, I wasn't particularly interested one way or the other until.... I watched the YouTube videos and I saw this one:

Words fail me. I can't imagine anything more beautiful. I don't know how he made out but, oh my God, he takes my breath away.

So a storm is rolling in and the birds are singing and my book is coming along and there is a performer like Julian Smith in the world who can make your heart break...... and sometimes that's just what life needs.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Taking a Chance on Dreams

(Things have been very busy here and I haven't had time to blog, this is a repeat from February 2006.)
I had lunch with a friend recently. She has quit her job in order to paint and she is scared she is not going to make it. She’s painted all her life while working but she is the sort of person who gives herself fully to anything she does and her job demanded a lot of her — so the painting suffered. Now she has come to the point where she either gives herself to her painting or give up her dream. That’s a brutal prospect.

This is a thing I relate to because three years ago, after losing my brother, I realized that some people never get that luminous “someday” that glimmers on the horizon of true dreamers. I was always going to write for real someday. Oh, I wrote here and there, a few magazine articles, some newspaper columns, I puttered around with my first novel but I worked 9 hour days and commuted another 2-2½ which didn’t leave me with much creative energy left.

Here is the thing about dreams, I believe that they have a life of their own and, like a neglected spouse, there comes a point where they give up and move on to someone who will appreciate them. They flutter on the edge of madness but the soul and the heart don’t respond like the brain does.

All this talk the last few days of corporate downfalls and all the gloomy political bickering going on has been eating away at me and I know I am losing energy because of it. I thought about writing about the Steelers today. At least that made me happy. But the truth is I haven’t paid attention to the Steelers or any other football team in years — not since the glory days in the Seventies when I had a mad crush on Franco Harris, fellow Penn Stater. That was a great team, not to mention the cutest team I ever remember. But I was young then and cuteness meant a lot more than it does now.

But dreams.... you have to have faith in them and nurture them. Without that you might as well just get the job, make the money, buy the stuff, march in step.

Over the past three years I’ve learned a lot. I’ve risked a lot and sometimes that frightens me but the writing has been good and I’ve learned so much about publishing and being a better writer and helping myself as well as others move toward those dreams. They say that when you take a step toward God that God takes a thousand steps toward you. I’ve seen signs of that, too. Wonderful people have come into my life and I believe that angels sometimes take human form.

Betty Lou and I kept our Tuesday night pizza date last night. It was just the two of us this time which I love because we talk about the craziest things — Harry Potter, and the artists and writers we admire, and what men we think would be worth falling in love with. BL said she was thinking about what title she would want if she could have a title and she decided she liked the sound of the word “Dowager”. “I looked it up,” she told me, “it means an elegant older woman of great dignity and worth.” It is a good name for her.

I thought about it and finally said the word I’d most love to be able to claim is “mentor”. I think that is a beautiful word. BL was one of my mentors, one of the greatest. She taught me to paint, she encouraged me to write, she just about tricked me into joining the board of the art association. She is one of the best things that ever happened to me. She continues to give me permission to follow dreams.

Sometimes I get scared. The world is often too much with me and I’m afraid of getting so lost in the demands of daily life that I’ll lose faith in the dream. And if I lose faith, how will I make the dream happen? But I have BL and I have faith in showing up at the page and those are good things to hold to.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Pooling-on-Purpose Shawl

Some months ago I posted about a project I had undertaken using handpainted cotton chenille yarn from Yarntopia Treasures. Using handpainted yarn can be tricky because it tends to "pool" (one color collecting in the same place creating strange patterns). Knitters are divided on the to-pool or not-to-pool question. Some like it, some hate it. So I decided to see what would happen if I "pooled" on purpose. It was an interesting challenge and I did a lot of frogging (knitter's slang for ripping out) before I got something I liked.

What I discovered was it is possible to force pooling but you are stuck with a fixed width in which the pooling will work. In the case of the cotton chenille worked on #5 needles that was 37 stitches which created a 9" strip.

I played around with this for quite some time and finally decided to make a shawl in the ruana fashion as described by Cheryl Oberle in her book Folk Shawls. This is the result:

The classic way to wear a ruana is with one side thrown over the shoulder as seen above but it can also be worn just hanging:
Because it is cotton it could be used as a beach coverup but is also warm enough for a summer shawl. The back is especially beautiful:
I've gotten a lot of positive feedbck from people who have seen it but, because of the unique nature of the yarns used, it would be difficult to write line-by-line instructions.

So I have decided to try writing a series of instructions on how to pool-on-purpose and then give some layouts for the design. I'll make that available through a PDF download on my Knit Your Tail Off site. I aam now working on a pooling-on-purpose totebag in Yarntopia Treasure's rayon boucle.

So there you have it, pooling-on-purpose. I think it is very attractive and useful!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks...

I've been using Photoshop for at least ten years and I use it nearly every day but no matter how much you know with Photoshop, there is always more to learn. As I am working on the last revision of Each Angel Burns I've thought a lot about the cover. Since it has something of a contemporary gothic flavor I want the cover to reflect that so I though I'd try out some new Photoshop techniques.

The five images below were the ones I knew I wanted on the cover because they pertain to the story.

So, using some new Photoshop skills and a lot of grumbling and starting over, I now have this. Carla, how'd I do?
Thanks for reading....

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gloucester in a Quiet Mood

Ever since I joined Facebook and discovered a bunch of nieces and nephews there, I have been trying to add photos to albums for them. Today I was looking at all the photos I have of Gloucester taken in the quiet of winter --- so I made this album. I call it Gloucester In A Quiet Mood.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Catching Fireflies

Repeated from July 30, 2008:

My sister Lisa called last night and, while we were talking, she mentioned that our nephew Thad who is 11 is staying with her this week. She said her boys, Cal and Patrick, love it when Thad --- or either of his siblings, CJ and Mia --- come to stay. They live in Pittsburgh and think staying at Aunt Lisa's, in the rural environs of Coudersport, PA, is a great adventure.

“What are the boys doing?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “right now they are outside catching fireflies. I told them I'd come out in a little while and build a fire. We're going to toast marshmallows and make 'smores. The kids across the road are coming over.”

Well, no darn wonder Thad loves to stay at Aunt Lisa's house! What is a more perfect way to spend a summer evening than catching fireflies and toasting marshmallows? Lucky boys. “I know they are,” Lisa said. “I've tried really hard to give them a real childhood --- as much like ours was as possible. Not many kids get that anymore.”

She's right about that. Despite the usual childhood complaints of sibling rivalries and neighborhood bullies and parental ineptitudes, our childhood was certainly a way of life that has gone by for far too many children. We lived out of doors. There were woods all around us. In the summer when we went flying out of the house at 8 a.m. Chances were slim we would come back inside all day long other than to eat a quick meal and go to the bathroom --- the boys didn't even bother with that.

I wonder how many people today even know how to make 'smores. You can buy 'smore candy bars but eating one of those is about as much like eating a real 'smore as watching a television program about the ocean is like swimming in a real ocean. When I was a kid the way to make a 'smore started with a properly toasted marshmallow. You had to cut long, slim branches from a tree, peel and sharpen the tip, and secure the marshmallow on the end.

Now there is a lot of controversy on how to properly toast a marshmallow. Some people are of the evenly-toasted-brownness school of marshmallow-toasting thought. This requires restraint and vigilance. You have to keep your marshmallow a proper distance from the flame and keep turning the stick until the correct degree of brownness covers the entire outside of the marshmallow. I personally have always found the folks who do that to be very annoying. I am of the burn-the-sucker-to-a-crisp-so-the-inside-runs school of thought. This has the benefit of giving you a two-fer in the treat department. First you stick the marshmallow directly into the flame until it catches fire. Then you pull it out and let it flame for a minute or so like a small torch. This is the proper time, while the marshmallow sizzles and pops, to use it to take swipes at your brother until you mom yells at you that you are going to poke his eye out. Which is sort of what you had in mind but hoped she might not notice.

So when the outside of the marshmallow is a crispy, crunchy black, you blow out the flame and prepare your 'smore (while carefully holding you marshmallow stick between your knees while it cools a tad). You take a graham cracker and place 4 squares of Hershey's (it HAS to be Hershey's --- no imitations accepted) chocolate on the cracker. Now here's the good part: You gingerly pluck the charcoaly coating off of the marshmallow and pop that in your mouth while you gently ease the gooey, creamy white inside onto the chocolate. When it is properly positioned and the stick withdrawn, you smoosh a second graham cracker down on top of it. Of course while you are doing this you are chewing that crunchy, chewy, hot thing in your mouth while sucking air trying not to burn your tongue. By the time that is eaten the hot gooey marshmallow will have melted the chocolate so you get to try to eat that without most of it winding up running down your arms. Is this fun or what?

So, I hope my nephews had some proper instruction on 'smore making. I'm sure they did. Afterall, I was the one who taught Lisa how to toast marshmallows and make 'smores. And I hope they caught a lot of fireflies. I wonder if they even have fireflies in Pittsburgh.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I have been reading Jim Harrison's memoir Off To The Side which is utterly beautiful. It is Jim Harrison so of course it is beautiful. And in it he says something I never thought of before but, as soon as I read it, I realized how true it is. He said that the best stories are always about longing. Wow.

This comes as a particular irony because today is the first anniversary of Mark leaving this world. I could write pages and pages about longing but I won't because this past year has taught me something: I was given a great gift by having him in my life and, though it didn't last as long as I would have liked, the gifts of that gift will be with me forever.

It is also interesting that I would find that quote now because Harrison was one of Mark's favorite writers. We talked about his work a lot --- mostly about his utterly gorgeous ability to create characters that were rough and raw and could be miserable turds but yet were so filled with poetry and --- well --- longing. In an earlier blog post I wrote about Harrison's Tristan Ludlow, the central character in his Legends of the Fall. Though Tristan is the most vulnerable of the characters he is also the strongest. Harrison has a great line in that book when talking about the people who loved Tristan. He writes, “Tristan was the rock they broke themselves against.” Tristan couldn't save the life of his younger brother, Samuel, and the longing for Samuel becomes the core of his life.

I guess in some ways I understand that now. Longing for things unsaid, longing for another chance at being kinder, more understanding, and, most of all, at healing that fragile heart buried inside all that brawn and bluster and bull. And yet there is the comfort of knowing that I helped him realize a dream, a dream, sadly, that died with him.

I got a letter today from someone who asked about his book. I get them from time to time from people who have seen his memorial page and want to read the book. The book is out of print and I have no control over that. Shortly after he died we talked about a commemorative edition and I spent months working on it --- a tribute, a tribute to his life. But, in the end, it went nowhere. His family has control of the copyright and they have the final say. It is beyond understanding the choice that they made, at least to me.

So anyway there is this business of longing --- something I try to give my characters. Clair longs for a lover and Baptiste longs for redemption. Ruby longs for the past and Silvio longs for Ruby's love. All three of the main character in Each Angel Burns burn with longing. Maybe my own longing finds an outlet, finds expression, in my characters.

I am loving Harrison's memoir. I love his stories about hanging out in Boston and New York with Richard Brautigan and Gary Snyder. Of going to hear Jack Kerouac read and winding up spending an evening drinking with him. Harrison had the kind of early life a young writer should have. He didn't like Hemingway until he read A Moveable Feast, my favorite book. How could I not love Harrison.

It is a beautiful, breezy, sun-drenched day. I am editing a book on music for a client and I can smell the ocean. I'm worried about all the usual things --- money, work, the wars, the environment. It was on mornings like this that I would often hear his light footsteps across the back balcony and the back door opening and him coming to start the day with me... to tell me his latest thoughts and ideas. Today is a day to be quiet, to work, to remember, to long for what is lost, and to remember that I wouldn't be so steeped in longing if I hadn't had something so wonderful.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wisteria for Carolyn

Our good friend Joe Ciaramitro reminded me that it is time to post wisteria photos for Carolyn. Our friend Carolyn O'Connor loves the wisteria that covers a huge rock on East Main Street. These are for her. Thank you, Joe. I nearly forgot!




Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tell Me A Story

(This is a repeat from a column in the Gloucester Daily Times on August 9, 2004)

This is a true story.

It happened 30 years ago, when I lived in the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania and loved to canoe, hike and camp. We were at a campsite designated as "primitive" in one of Pennsylvania's many state parks. "Primitive" means "in the woods, no amenities. If something goes wrong, deal with it."

"We" were my longtime camping pal, Patty, her two boys, my youngest sister, Beth, who was nine at the time, and a new friend, Karen, who had grown up in Chicago and thought sleeping on the ground was high adventure.

We spent the day canoeing down a quiet, beautiful river sheltered by hemlocks, with just enough rapids to give you a rush about the time you needed it. Now, as evening fell as softly as apple blossoms on a May breeze, Patty gathered the kids to clean them up while I, the chronically designated camp cook, whipped up a skillet full of smoked sausages and beans with pancakes made from the batter left from breakfast.

I was just hefting the cast iron skillets, those same skillets I had laboriously hauled from campsite to campsite for years, steaming and succulent smelling, onto the log that served as a table when I saw Patty stop dead still. Her eyes grew huge.

"Oh ... nuts."

That isn't an exact quote, but you get my drift.

Before I could turn to look behind me, a large, glossy black head sunk into one of the pans I was holding, and the black bear that the head was attached to bumped meaningfully against my left side. Before I could surrender the pan and slip away, a second bear came around my right side and dug into the pancakes. In seconds it was sharing its dinner with a third. I was trapped in the midst.

I tell this story because it is one of those incidents that happens in a person's life that is a lot more fun to tell and re-tell than it is to experience.

Recently, while giving a speech at a business seminar, I told a story that happened when I lived in Houston and worked at Enron Corp. The good thing about having worked at Enron is that you have material for life.

Afterwards, people told me how much they loved the story, and I started thinking about the pleasure of sharing stories. With all the sophisticated entertainment available today, there is much to be said for the sheer joy of listening to a fellow human tell a story.

Here in Gloucester storytellers abound. When I was writing the guide book for the North Shore Arts Association's 2001 Legacy Exhibition, I gathered stories from local artists about their favorite teachers. The humor and warmth of those tales enriched the book immeasurably.

My friend Mark is writing a collection of stories about his years lobstering aboard his boat, F/V Black Sheep. His power as a storyteller astonishes me. I read his work with awe.

"Did this really happen?"

He smiles. "That's not even the best one," he says.

My friend Dianne is writing a family cookbook with anecdotes that have been passed down from parent to child.

Every time I attend one of the area open mike nights for writers, I marvel at how many people come just to listen.

"I love to hear what people are writing about," they say.

It is one of the most ancient forms of community. Our earliest ancestors, weary from a day of mastodon hunting on the veldt, gathered around the fires as the meat roasted and shared themselves by sharing their days' experiences.

"Everything grew suddenly quiet," they might have said, "I could smell the danger in the air."

"Once upon a time," they later said. And everyone pulled their chairs together to listen.

"Back when I first met your grandfather ...."

"I remember when I was a boy ...."

Thus begins a form of intimacy, a way of opening our lives and inviting another in. Those are the stories that will linger in the mind and touch the generations to come more than the latest episode of any television show ever can.

We owe it to the future of the world to turn to another and say, "Did I ever tell you about the time ...?"

That day in the Allegheny Highlands the bears ate every bit of our dinner. I managed to squeeze out from among them and get far enough away to watch with amazement as they moved from the detritus of that dinner to whatever provisions we had stashed for the week. They ate their fill and moved on. We packed up and did the same.

My sister Beth has three children of her own now and she tells them the story, "Long ago, when I was little, Aunt Kathleen took me camping ...." And they fix their big eyes on her and hang on her every word.

"Tell it again, mommy," they say.

And, of course, she does.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The World Is Less Kind Today

Last night I received a message so sad it hurts to write about it. My dear friend Sharon from Houston, the animal lover who works at the zoo and keeps me supplied with wonderful stories and photographs of the animals there, wrote to say her beloved husband David died on Friday. He was 54. It was very unexpected and Sharon is still in shock. She didn't give details but we had talked on the phone a couple Sundays ago and I had asked, as I always do, about David.

“He's fine,” she said, “you know him, he never complains about anything.”

I haven't seen David in twenty years --- since I moved to New England. Sharon has visited but David was always working. I never knew a man who worked as hard as he did. When I lived in Houston I always looked forward to it when he would join us for dinner. He was one of the kindest, gentlest, most positive people I ever knew. He was a gentle giant --- six feet 8 inches tall and handsome. He'd been quite an amazing basketball player in his younger years and was, when I knew him, a photographer of considerable skill. Sharon loved to talk about the weddings that they worked together --- what fun they had. She was utterly devoted to him.

Later he decided to close his studio and took a job at Children's Hospital in the Medical Center. He was the person who talked with the families of little patients and tried to help them through painful times. I cannot imagine a more reassuring presence than 6'8”, kind, gentle David. He would certainly have assured them that he would not let anything happen to their child. He worked long hours and, according to Sharon, with never a complaint.

When hurricanes hit Houston --- Katrina and then Ike --- I'd call Sharon to see how she was faring. She'd always say that David had boarded up the house then gone to the hospital so he could be there when worried families and children needed him. He knew they counted on him.

I don't yet know the details of what happened. I will call Sharon and send messages. I cannot imagine her pain. David was one of those glorious men whose loss would be unbearable. It is a bitter irony that he died on Friday --- this Friday is the first anniversary of Mark's death.


James David Kimmel

JAMES DAVID KIMMEL, 54, born in Dallas, Texas to James C. Kimmel and Tommie Sue Kimmel, went to be with the Lord on the 15th of May 2009, in Houston, Texas. David was employed by Texas Children's Hospital for 17 years, and took great pride in the excellent work done there. He was a member of Second Baptist Church of Houston and enjoyed doing volunteer work every Sunday. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Sharon Kimmel; brothers, Gary Kimmel, Glenn Kimmel and wife Penny Kimmel; nieces and nephews and numerous friends and family members. The memorial service will be conducted at ten o'clock in the morning on Thursday, the 21st of May, in the Sanctuary of Second Baptist Church, 6400 Woodway in Houston. A reception will immediately follow in the Parlor. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations in David's name be made to the fund of your choice at Texas Children's Hospital, P.O. Box 300630, MC 4-4483, Houston, TX 77230-0630.

So, it is with deep sadness I report that David is gone from this world and the world has less goodness in it with his passing. He was a wonderful man and many of us will miss him. Say a prayer, if you believe in such things, for Sharon for her loss is surely the greatest of all. Rest In Peace, David. You gave much goodness to our world.

Guestbook for James David Kimmel.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Ever since I read Jon Krakauer's Under The Banner of Heaven I've been a little fascinated by the FLDS. Last year when the state of Texas invaded an FLDS compound in Eldorado I watched more of the coverage than I really wanted to but couldn't seem to stop. So when I saw that David Ebershoff had written an novel about the FLDS I had to buy it. It's a great read.

The book intertwines two stories --- a technique I admire --- one a contemporary mystery involving a young man, Jordan Scott, raised in an FLDS town until he is abandoned at the age of 14. The second story is based in fact about Ann Eliza Young, a real historical figure, who became Brigham Young's 19th wife when she was 23 and he was in his 60s. She became somewhat famous for divorcing him when he moved on to younger wives.

Ebershoff's writing is beautiful, lyrical and compelling. Both stories are fascinating and I found Jordan to be a truly intriguing character, tough and self-reliant, or so he thought until he discovers that his mother --- the mother who dropped him on a highway in the middle of nowhere on “the Prophet's” orders --- is in prison for killing his father. He leaves his life in California and drives to Utah to try to help her.

The story is told well and the historical background filled in by Ann Eliza's story and other interesting literary devices like newspaper articles, journal entries, court testimony, etc. And, while the mystery of Jordan's father's alleged murder is interesting, the real mystery is why do these people live the way they do? It is somewhat understandable in the case of the women who were born and raised in the cult and perhaps somewhat understandable for men who are drawn in by the allure of access to many women but why women convert remains a mystery I don't think can be explained in a book. Over and over FLDS wives talk about the pain and misery they endure when their “husband” takes a new bride --- the shame of having to listen to him in the next room with his latest “wife”, sometimes only days after the two of them were married.

They endure it, of course, because they were raised to believe that plural marriage is God's will but I can't help but wonder why so few of them cannot do what Ann Eliza did and get out.

In recent weeks, since all the press about the torture in US detention camps has heightened I have watched several documentaries produced over the last few years on the subject. Taxi To the Dark Side, GITMO: The New Rules of War, and, especially Standard Operating Procedure have been difficult to watch but hard to not watch as well. What concerns me and interests me the most is why the young military personnel who were turned into torturers did what they did. But, as one young soldier says in SOP, “I was 19. I joined the Army in hopes of a better start in life. I knew what we were doing was wrong but what were my choices? If I had refused I would have been court martialed.”

This is the question I keep looking for an answer to: how do we help people to maintain their human dignity and integrity when they feel they have no choice but to obey? Whether it is a teenage girl forced to become the 19th wife of a man 2 or 3 times her age, or a young soldier ordered to inflict harm on an enemy, there has to be a part of them that whispers “this is wrong”. How can society help them to be strong enough to resist. I don't know.

I recommend The 19th Wife. It is a deep book that left me wondering why? Why does stuff like this go on? It is a question we should all ask, and ask often.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Surviving a Bad Economy with Creativity

One of the most interesting parts of my "real" job --- designing for the web and for print --- is that I get to work with the most interesting people. Over the last year or so I've had an increase in people who contact me to start or enhance cottage industries to help them through the current lean times. The creativity and ingenuity of these people impresses me and the way they are using their passion for a particular area of interest to create business is a testimony to their cleverness.

A couple years ago a Reiki practitioner from Texas contacted me to create a web site. Recently she enhanced it by adding information on her tai chi classes and her workshops in mask-making, an endeavor I was completely unfamiliar with. She is keeping busy with classes, workshops, seminars, etc. --- all out of her home.

Similarly an artist from Wisconsin wanted a web site to sell prints of his paintings of airplanes and to accept commissions. He knew exactly what he wanted including an opening slideshow played to the tune "The High and the Mighty". He told me that once the web site went live his wife would sometimes just put the homepage on her computer and let the music, and images of his paintings play as she worked.

Those of us who live in Gloucester often forget that people in other parts of the country don't have access to the quality of seafood we get here. An entrepreneur in Pennsylvania decided to start a business selling Canadian lobster, salmon and other delicacies. He wanted a shopping cart and a means of updating the prices and availability himself which I was pleased to provide. He told me he knows the prices seem ridiculous to those of us in coastal towns but inland people are willing to pay for these luxuries.

One of my favorite projects was a web site for a man who loves to fish --- fly-fish, that is. Not only does he have a lot to offer in terms of information on fishing for Atlantic salmon and steelhead trout but he has designed lures and flies and is now writing articles for fishing magazines all thanks to his web site. Because I grew up in central Pennsylvania with a father and brothers who were inland fishermen, I found this site especially fun to work on and his photographs of fishing trips are wonderful!

This site is still in progress but is one of the most interesting sites I've ever worked on. The owner is in love with vintage stenciling and is creating a site chock-full of information, photographs, historical backgrounds plus a shop that will sell her own vintage designs based on New England stenciling by masters such as Moses Eaton. We hope to have it ready soon.

All of these people are taking advantage of tough times to pursue their own passions --- and generating income in the process. I've also done a bit of work with people who are selling information via e-books, something I've had success with on my own. But more about that later.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greasy Pole Documentary In Finals

Our buddy Joe at Good Morning Gloucester asked for help getting votes for these guys! Thanks!

Kate Glass/Gloucester Daily Times

Kate Glass/Gloucester Daily Times

Congratulations to Michael Pallazola, Emile Doucette, Tom Papows and Brian Wright

Best Use of Sports Genre
The Greasy Pole
Team: Gloucester to Gloucester Films
City/Country: Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA
Genre: Sports
Theme(s): Hope and Fear

During March 5th-9th, 2009, 142 filmmakers from 15 countries made short non-fiction films with the assigned theme of “Hope and/or Fear.” The 13 finalists premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on May 9th where the Jury Winners were announced, including the P.O.V. Award, the DERRead More. Award, and Best Film. Check out the list of winners by clicking

2009 Finalist Audience Voting

The judges have spoken but now it is time to hear from the people! Watch the 2009 International Documentary Challenge finalists and vote for your favorite films to determine the Audience Award Winner. The top rated film will be featured on the front page of the Doc Challenge website, receive a free registration in the 2010 Doc Challenge and will be automatically included in the next “Best of the Doc Challenge” DVD.

Rating of the documentaries starts May 6 at 22:00 Central as the Hot Docs screening of the International Documentary Challenge screening wraps up in Toronto. Ratings close on June 15 at midnight.

Ready? Watch and Rate the Documentaries

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mending the Nets

See Good Morning Gloucester for a video related to this: Gloucester Zen

Repeated from April 30, 2008:
It has been a beautiful Spring so far here in Gloucester. There have been a few rainy days but lots of sunshine, too. The last couple days I am having trouble staying inside to work–-when the sunshine is as bright and golden as this I just want to go outside.

My favorite place to go when I have a few minutes is the state fish pier. I am not alone in that, there are plenty of people sitting in their cars reading the paper, drinking coffee, watching the boats go by. Now before summer arrives, it is all working boats in the harbor and they have been busy. Yesterday, just as I got there, a herring boat had come in and the pier was alive with activity. Huge totes of herring were being lifted off the boats and poured into bins to be taken inside and processed. Forklifts scuttled up and down the pier and the gulls–-the gulls were going wild! They soar in great, bright clouds around the boats and as the stream of shining, silvery fish pours out of the totes into the hopper that feeds them into the bins the gulls screech and swoop trying to snatch a prize. The men hate it but it is wonderful to watch.

And always there is the continual work of mending the nets, a timeless activity that has gone on since fishermen used nets and is not terribly different today than it was two thousand years ago. The nets today are plastic and fiberglass and miles longer than the nets of earlier times but the process is the same.

I have been watching the men mend their nets for close to twenty years now. These huge nets, which are strung out sometimes for miles in the ocean, are kept afloat by round orange buoys attached to the upper edge. The mesh of the nets is designed to let the smaller fish through so they can go on to keep breeding but they catch the gills of the larger fish so they can be gathered in by the fishermen. The nets spend a lot of time in the water where they sustain considerable wear and tear. Stuff gets caught in the nets that shouldn’t–-mostly sea vegetation–-barnacles grow and assorted pollutants get tangled up in them. They get attacked by larger sea creatures. Sections get torn and damaged. So the men spread the nets out along the pier and they get to work.

With knives the cut away the excess attachments, with line and large bobbins that serve as needles, they weave the damaged places back together. They move along the pier always bent over their nets working as they go. Some sit on over-turned plastic milk crates. Some stand, some kneel. They spend hours and hours. Sometimes I can hear them talking to each other as they work–-sharing news and gossip, telling stories, discussing politics and keeping the world running properly.

It used to be that Our Lady of Good Voyage, the Catholic Church with the two blue spires and the statue of the Blessed Mother holding a fishing schooner in her arms that stands on the hill overlooking the harbor and the fish pier, rang the Angelus at six in the evening. I don’t think they do that anymore but back when they did sometimes on summer evenings you could hear the men praying the Angelus as they worked. I loved that.

We live in a technically sophisticated age. I sit before a computer and earn my living. But I love to remind myself that as I sit here creating data, down on the fish pier there are boats unloading their catch, gulls, trying to steal a bit of it, and fishermen mending their nets. I find great comfort in that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Mystery of Dreams

I've read a lot of books over the years about dreams --- what they mean and where they are said to come from. Lately I have been unusually busy to the point where I can't even find time to blog. One of the things I've noticed is that when my life is most hectic it seems I dream more than at other times. Last night I had a very beautiful dream and if got me thinking about what goes on inside my psyche that produces these things.

Mostly my dreams are pretty ordinary although bizarrely disconnected as most people's are. But from time to time a dream shows up that is so ---- well ---- dreamy that it makes me wonder about why it happens and if I could make it happen more often. I'll only preface this by saying that yesterday afternoon I was looking at the flowering tree in the cemetery behind my house and thinking what a gorgeous thing it was to see all those beautiful pink flowers amid the greenery and the stones of the cemetery and thinking I should take a picture of it (left).

In the dream I had decided that I was going to start photographing buildings --- or the remains of buildings --- that I found interesting and that, in order to do it properly, I needed to start paying attention to when the sunlight was most beautiful on the building and make sure I was there then. The building I was most interested in was an old stone castle, or rather the ruins of an old stone castle, that was, I thought, in accessible but which I could photograph from a distance anyway. So I'm looking at this castle and I realize that, as I am watching it, the light is growing increasingly golden and luminous, almost surreal the way light is when the sun comes out after a long rain.

I grabbed my camera and started walking toward it taking pictures as I went. And as I went closer I realized that I could actually get quite close to it. The ground wasn't swampy like I had thought it would be. And I also realized it was not just the tower that was there and terrifically lovely but there were other buildings --- gazebos and walls with gates in them and little porticos. Everything was flooded with this luminous golden light. The stone glowed golden and the greenery was lush and brilliant and then I saw that everything --- the tower and the walls and the pergulas and everything around them was covered with vines bearing large, lush, feathery deep pink flowers. They reminded me of tree peonies which are my favorite flower.

Well, it was a lovely, sweet, relaxing dream. I wandered around taking photos but also just lost in the beauty of the place and I woke up feeling like something magical had happened.

But, of course, it is Spring and everything is beautiful. I guess dreams like that are just one's subconscious' way of reminding you of how much beauty there is --- especially when you are too busy to remember on your own.

Sweet dreams and thanks for reading.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Elderberry Memories

When I was little, one of the many wonders of my Grandmother Valentine's house was the alley that ran behind her backyard all the way to the park where my Mother and I often walked. I was crazy about sliding boards at that time in my life and probably drove my poor mother nuts begging for a walk up the alley to the park where the slides lived. The alley itself was something of a wonder too. Because it ran between the backyards of many houses, it was lined with fences, garages, and garden sheds most of which were overgrown with vines, climbing roses, blackberry and currant bushes, and elderberry bushes.
I thought of this because I noticed an elderberry bush behind a friend's garage recently and it occurred to me that I hadn't heard much about elderberries in recent years. But it brought back a lot of memories. My Grandmother Werner claimed that elderberry tea, mixed with elderberry juice, was the very most reliable cure for flues in the winter time and for years she bottled elderberry juice to save for such an emergency. My Grandmother Valentine, on the other hand, used the elderberry flowers to make pancakes. These were quite a treat.

Toward the end of June or the beginning of July, when the elderberries flowered with their pretty, white blossoms, Grandma would pick the blossoms --- one per pancake --- and dip them, face down into pancake batter and fry them in lard until the were golden and crispy on both sides. They had a nutty, sort of elusive flavor that we thought was quite astonishing. Probably more because of the pretty patterns they made in the batter.
My mother made elderberry jelly. We'd pick buckets full of the berries which were heavy and black, each berry bursting with a tart, tangy juice. She'd wash them and put them through the Foley food mill and then strain the juice and boil it down with lemon juice and sliced up green apples to add extra pectin. Then the juice would be strained again, through cheesecloth this time, and simmered with sugar and Sure-Jell and put up in little glass jars with a diamond pattern in the glass. Sometimes, if there was a surplus of rhubarb, she'd combine the elderberries with that to make elderberry-rhubarb jam. It was tart but so delicious with a rich, wine-like taste which was luscious spread on buttery, home-made bread on cold winter mornings.

Sometimes, if there were enough elderberries to be had --- and there often were because we knew every elderberry bush that lurked behind an abandoned barn or tool shed --- she would can them whole in their own syrup and use them for elderberry pies. An elderberry pie is a beautiful thing, dark and winey. When you scoop ice cream on top of it and mosh it down so the berries mix with the cream the color is absolutely stunning. Too pretty to eat, though not for long.

I'm told that elderberries are good for use in custard pies too, though I've never had one. The syrup is mixed with cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs and poured into shells and baked until firm. I can imagine the color --- and the fragrance.

I don't know how much use people make of elderberries anymore. I rarely hear mention of them. But spotting that elderberry bush behind my friend's garage made me smile. “Do you use your elderberries?” I asked. She laughed. “I never get a chance, the birds usually get to them before I can.”

Well, that's good, too. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 01, 2009

So now what?

Remember my Pooling Project? Well, it has progressed considerably and I am now at the point where I wonder what to do next. To recap I started out with 5 skeins of Yarntopia Treasures' Cotton Chenille in different colorways that I thought looked nice together. I experimented trying to force the colors to pool --- a thing most knitters usually try to avoid when working with handpainted yarn. I found that if I knit 9" strips the colors pooled pretty nicely so I worked a long strip changing yarns at random.

When that piece was 72" long I decided to knit a second strip andknit it on to the first one making a 72" by 18" piece and this was the result:

I liked that but I wanted to keep going so I started a third strip. At first I thought of making a blanket but then I got the idea that I might want to try something wearable --- like a beach-coverup. This cotton is so soft and nice. So I knit the third strip but only attached it for 34" and then knit the rest of the 72" unattached. When I was done with that I added a fourth strip for the full length. And this is the result so far:

That is the back (as you can see, I haven't woven in the ends yet.) The overall piece is 72" long by 36" wide with a 38" slit up the front:
Now the question is, what next? I thought of adding a shorter strip centered on each side and turning it into a very loose, breezy jacket but then I was looking at Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls and I noticed her Ruana. It is 90" long overall and can be up to 42" wide. That means I would have to add some length and maybe even a few inches of width but it would be worn like this:

I have plenty more yarn so I could add borders as needed. I've also thought of washing it in hot water to see if it felts down to make a jacket that would be a better size. I can't make up my mind. Thoughts anyone?

Thanks for reading.