The Royal Bonnet

Only 48 hours to go before the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey!  The world attention is, and has been, on London for months leading up to the royal nuptials which begin for me at 4 AM on Friday should I accept my digital invitation.

In a world desperate for a happy occasion to celebrate, Brits and Americans have gone more than a little overboard with preparations.  British citizens attending in person or in the crush of humanity on the public streets will be dressed to the nines, which for those from the UK will include a royal bonnet.  Many Americans apparently are also cleaning the good silver, breaking out the bone china cups and saucers, organizing the tea, ordering the crumpets and carefully choosing a wardrobe for that early morning celebration worthy of a visit to the House of Windsor.  What to wear… what to wear??

I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  I remained there except for an 18 month time period near St. Louis in the late 1960’s.  The past 8 years have been on the coast of southern Maine.  It’s a strange thing about hats.  The Brits seem to love their royal bonnets.  From my perspective, Americans are predominantly hat free except for the Easter Parade and the Kentucky Derby.  That observation may have more to do with where I have lived and my own cultural background than a broad American cultural statement!.

As a child, Easter was always big doins’ fashion-wise.  There was always an Easter dress or as an older child, a suit, shiny patent leather shoes, usually black, it was BEFORE Memorial Day after all!  Depending on how early or late Easter fell in the calender, there may have been a spring weight Easter coat.  Topping it all off, an Easter Bonnet.  My Easter bonnets were mass produced and cheap.  They came from department stores and discount stores.

On only one occasion in my life have I visited a millinery shop.   When I first moved to Maine I joined The Red Hat Society to meet new people.  Membership required a  purple outfit (a cinch for me!) topped with a red hat.  I searched the stores with no luck.  Overcome with visions of Miss Irene  Molloy’s Millinery Shop in Yonkers and the sound of  her dancing around the shop singing “I’ll Be Wearing Ribbons Down my Back” I danced off to my own Hello Dolly moment at Queen of Hats in Portland, Maine.

The first step in the process was to choose the hat base shape.  It is at best difficult to find “just the right size and shape” hat when you hate hats!  It required starting from the premise that this “garment” will ruin my hairdo, give me “hat hair,” make me sweat so that I wind up with wet stringy hair under the hat and draw added attention to what I consider an “ugly mug.”   It further presumes I could find a hat that was such a knockout  it would make me willing to embrace that experience!  Humph… add fabric around the crown, flowers, feathers, baubles and beads.  Voila!  A royal custom designed bonnet fit for a queen!

Friday morning, I will rise early, put on the water for tea (which I will brew in the London scenes tea pot I purchased at a Heathrow gift shop twenty years ago) and bring out the biscuits and jam (hard to find clotted cream in Portland).  I purchased a silver pin depicting the insignia of the House of Windsor in the gift shop at Windsor Castle.  Friday morning I will be pinning it on the lapel of my lavender fleece robe.  The cotton blend night shirt topped with floor length lavender fleece robe ensemble will be topped off with the only REAL hat I have ever owned… that being defined as custom designed by a millinery artist.  At 4 AM I need to be comfortable, yet I do not want to disrespect the royal family ~ thus the compromise outfit.

What will you be wearing???

The Easter Egg as Character Study

Across the world it is egg dying day!  As I attempt to once again see the world through the eyes of a writer, I imagine baskets, bowls, egg cartons and wobbly old wire racks filled with hard-boiled eggs awaiting either an egg hunt or a nesting place among vivid lime, pink or purple shredded cellophane ~ modern man’s version of straw from the hen house.  I imagine families of many lands and cultures gathering around the kitchen table creating these works of art which define their culture and their character.  The Easter Egg, in literary consideration, is an essential ingredient in defining character.  It is what is referred to as “external detail.”

The Easter Egg, and the simple hard-boiled egg, are used in many religious and cultural celebrations this time of year because they represent rebirth.  It is the verge of spring for most of us.  Crops are planted with high hopes for a productive yield, animals are birthing their young.  Christians see the egg as a symbol of the resurrection.  In Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches the eggs would all be dyed red symbolizing the blood of Christ.  The beautiful Pysanka eggs are utilized year round in the Ukrainian culture.  Pysanka eggs are historically prepared only by women at night, in seclusion and a spiritual state of mind.  Each egg would represent a separate blessing.    Each symbol and color would tell of the desired blessing and express gratitude.   For Jews, the hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water represents a sacrifice and peace offering served during Passover Seder.  To Russian Czar Alexander III and his Czarina Maria Fedorovna, his son Czar Nicholas II, and his beloved Alexandra, the gift of a Faberge egg provided quite a different meaning and surely was not created around the kitchen table on the eve of Easter.

In some homes, the egg is not just a decoration, it represents a need for tradition.    It represents desired security of an event that never changes from year to year.  The little bowls are lined up on the newspaper covered table.  Each bowl contains a Paas colored tab, boiling water and white vinegar.  They look like eggs, but smell like a vinaigrette salad.  Beside each bowl is a brass  tool looking like the “little dipper” that it is.  It is waiting it’s turn to safely dip and scoop the treasured eggs from their bowl of coloring.  Any change in process or egg appearance would alter the family dynamic.  Finding a new way to decorate an Easter egg would be unacceptable and result in anxiety, feelings of discomfort and unease.

For others, this annual event requires blazing new trails.  There is a sense of tradition inherent in the gathering around the news-papered table, yet the process demonstrates a need to continually move forward, to explore new territory.  Those families have dyed, stenciled, painted, glittered, be-ribboned, marbled, wrapped, tie-dyed, stamped, sticker-ed, sponge painted, decoupaged, fabric wrapped, and pysankied.  The challenge each year is to find some means of decorating an egg that hasn’t been tried before!  The Easter egg then becomes a traditional activity bridging to group creative exploration.   Each egg becomes symbolic of culture and individual, not unlike the Ukrainian Pysanka egg.  The difference is in the language of the symbols.

What’s in YOUR Easter basket??


“Sing Up the Earth”

Following a long period of dormancy, thoughts of Paulus Berenson (artist, potter, dancer, writer, ecologist and spiritual being) have returned to the front of my brain in the past few weeks.  Paulus is also the author of Finding One’s Way With Clay.

Eight years ago I moved from the Philadelphia area to Maine.  Packing, wrapping and moving was an arduous task.  It caused me to ponder each individual possession, rank it according to importance and prepare to either trash or transport.  One small cardboard box, about 10×10 became a “hand carry with extra care.”

Upon arrival in Maine there were two packages to be unwrapped which symbolized that I was “home” in these new and unfamiliar surroundings.  One was the cat carrier containing Monhegan Mist, aka Miss Misty my green-eyed, gray DSH rescue resembling a Russian Blue.  Her name comes from her fur color which is smooth as velvet and reminds me of the dense fog and mist in the harbor in the early morning on Monhegan Island, ME.  Misty is my first cat and a sweet, gentle soul that keeps me grounded on a daily basis.

The second package was that 10×10 cardboard box.  The moving van was not arriving for two more days.  I had done a great job of securing the contents of that box with heavy duty packing tape.  The question became, how would I get into the box when my scissors and all tools were on the truck?  I couldn’t grasp the ends of the tape, nor could I break through the extra layers I had applied for security.  Following a few minutes of creative problem solving I decided to try to “cut” through the tape with my car keys.  Success!!  I folded back the rigid tape covered brown flaps to reveal rolls and balls of bubble wrap.  I gently lifted each precious mini package from the box.  The box contained small pebbles, shells, pine needles, an arrowhead, a piece of sea-glass and a pottery shard from an archeological dig.  These organic treasures were gathered from many places I have traveled.  Their container, however, is the true treasure.  It is a pinch pot made during a workshop with Paulus Berenson.

In the workshop we were each given a small ball of clay.  As I rolled the ball of moist earth in my hands I sat with my eyes closed listening to Paulus describe “it is the artists work to sing up the earth, to praise and thank and express gratitude…that’s what art is… art is a behavior, to sing up the earth.”  As I slapped the ball of clay on my bare knee, the clay ball became a vessel that evolved from the shape of my leg and hand.  In essence my spirit became one with the clay.  It will forever hold my spirit within its shape.  I truly became one with the earth.  The pot is a small primitive free-form with a spirit that holds a song in praise of the earth.  It holds my gratitude for what the earth has given me.  It holds the spirit of our indigenous ancestors who thank the earth daily for the gifts they receive.

Tomorrow is Earth Day.  A good time to be reminded to “sing up the earth” in praise, gratitude and thanksgiving.  As an artist uses clay, paint, stone, metal, whatever media to “sing up the earth” may we also use our words as an art form to sing in celebration of our potential as human beings, be they spoken, sung or written words.

My goal for my book-in-process is to use my words to sing up praise and express gratitude for Dr. Selma Hortense Burke.  I have all but silenced myself by fearing that my art will not do justice to her art and her life lived as a work of art.  I hope she spiritually takes me by the hand and leads me through my journey.  I think I hear the orchestra tuning…

Finding my way with words…

It is said that every great journey begins with a single step.  Well, it appears I have now spent about twenty years trying to tie my sneakers!  There is finally a nice little bow securely tied beneath my ankle and I am ready to head out the door.  Come with me, if you dare, as I take that first step on my journey from idea to reality.  There is a book within, it is anxious to get out.

I haven’t been dormant these past twenty years.  I have been mentally planning, organizing and conjuring up a visual image of my book.  I have been examining genre, characters, setting, voice(s) and the evolution of my story.  I have, in essence, attempted to channel Stephen King ~ I hear he writes his books in his head, then when they are “done” commits them to paper.  Well, I don’t know about you, Stephen, but my memory isn’t what it used to be.  I need a new plan of attack.  I have been physically researching, trying to find and develop characters participating in writers workshops to practice and receive feedback and reading to expose myself to as many voices as possible to allow me to make informed decisions based on knowing what my possibilities are.  Yet not one chapter is on paper.  This blog is an attempt to take that first step out of my head and from mental process to literary process.

There are some great minds taking this step with me.  One of the greatest gifts I received from my father was the notion that I was worthy of standing beside greatness to observe.  My book is about one of those great women ~ Dr. Selma Hortense Burke. I made a promise to her years ago that I would not let the world forget her.  It is time to deliver on that promise.

Years ago, I participated in a workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY with Dr. Judith Cornell, author of Drawing the Light from Within.  Judith was an artist, and so much more.  We began each art session with meditation.  We drew only on black paper with white prismacolor pencils.  Our goal was to reach deep within to draw the images out of the darkness of our inner spaces and into the light.  So it is with words.

Paulus Berenson, dancer, potter, philosopher, author and ecologist supreme was another master I met during a workshop at Omega.  He is the author of Finding One’s Way With Clay.  His inner light and spiritual presence is so radiant that he could walk into the Omega dining hall amongst hundreds of people and every head would automatically turn in recognition of his presence.  Paulus planted the concept of the artists’ work as a means to  “sing up the earth” with praise, thanks and gratitude.

It is with these ideas in mind that I begin my journey.