Archive for January, 2014

Winter Pranks


I pass a small memorial shrine almost every day when I walk up the Sunrise Carriage Trail in Charleston. Former governor MacCorkle built it in memory of his daughter, Elizabeth, who died in a car accident. Some long-ago vandal knocked the hands off Jesus, and it always bothers me a bit, seeing Him holding his empty wrists aloft. So, when I saw a pair of child’s gloves on sale at a local thrift store for a dollar, I could not resist. Here’s a picture showing more of the shrine.


Jesus has not been there forever. When I first began walking the trail, perhaps 30 years ago, the interior of the shrine was tiled in half-inch, sky-blue ceramic tiles—not quite garish but certainly bright—and the statue I recall was of the Virgin Mary, although I may be mistaken. One year the shrine was badly damaged by a falling tree. The blue tiles were torn out and left in a pile on the ground (I still have one that I picked up for a souvenir). The statue was removed or stolen. Although the shape of the shrine was rather crudely repaired, the tiles were never replaced and, for a long time, the space stood empty.

I retrieved  my own scarf immediately after the photo shoot. The gloves didn’t last long, a day or so, but I know a few people enjoyed them. And, of course, there are other sorts of hand coverings for other occasions. Boxing gloves would be nice….

What reminded me to post this was a lovely little snowman I saw yesterday, perched on a sidewalk table right in front of a sign suggesting that nobody should sit or stand on the table. Ha! Those scofflaw snowmen. He even has a sheepish smirk on his face, to my mind.


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When I came to West Virginia as a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) in 1970, I was 20 years old and had never attempted a sewing project more complicated than the apron I made in Home Economics class. How lucky for me that I landed in Cabin Creek, where a few old ladies and a few other VISTA volunteers were in the process of starting a cooperative called Cabin Creek Quilts.

The cooperative became my service project—probably the most enjoyable VISTA project anyone ever had—and the business endured for about 40 years, eventually becoming one of the oldest quilting cooperatives in the country. During all that time, I attempted to make only one quilt, an endeavor that turned out badly and made me cry.

Now, 40+ years later, I find myself drawn to quilting. Not the traditional kind, necessarily. So far, my three completed quilts have been constructed using scraps from wool skirts I found at Goodwill stores. I love the density of color in wool, and I love the idea of recycling fabric from a donated garment. I love the design challenge of creating an original pattern with just a few colors. (I don’t actually “quilt” the layers together, as you can see, but tack them with cotton thread.)

Most of all, I love the warmth of my wool quilts. This one is quite small, about 50 x 60 inches. It resides on my couch and makes a comforting throw on a cold night.

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Here in Charleston, West Virginia, we are an official federal disaster area. A coal-cleaning chemical spill into the Elk River has contaminated the water supply for much of nine counties, including the state capital, where I live. We are warned not to drink, cook with, wash dishes with, do laundry with, or bathe in our tap water. All restaurants, coffee shops (yes, even Starbucks), and many other businesses are closed. It’s scary in a dreamlike way, as I suppose all real disasters are.

Like many people, I’m furious at the chemical company that let the toxic chemical leak into the river, the water company that stalled about reporting the contamination, and especially the politicians who have sold this state’s citizens out, year after dreary year, to big extractive industries, meanwhile complaining about the EPA and calling President Obama a “job-killer.”

Deadly pollution is nothing new in West Virginia. For years, some communities in strip-mining regions have experienced dramatically higher incidences of death due to cancer, birth defects, asthma, and other diseases. But big industry, with the blessing of our elected officials, has effectively silenced the friends and families of these murder victims by buying out legislators and threatening that jobs will be lost.

A supreme irony: This is happening in a place where the natural beauty, cultural resources, and hard-working people have the potential to support industries that do not pollute.

One can only hope that the scale of this disaster—300,000 people without clean water, with no estimate about how long this situation will last—may cause some of our elected officials to realize that Big Coal has not done us any favors. I’m not holding  my breath.

Considering how polluted the air may be, perhaps I should.

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These are just two of several origami envelope designs you’ll learn in “Origami Containers,” the workshop I’m leading at Cedar Lakes Crafts Center this summer. Join me for a week of gentle folding in good company. Then, next winter, you can send your friends holiday greetings in these exquisite handmade envelopes.

The class is scheduled for August 17-22, 2014, and I’d love to fill it up in advance! This is a Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) class. With prices starting at $487, it’s a remarkably good value for a week that includes tuition, a comfortable lodge room, and plenty of good food. All this in a picturesque place chock-full of West Virginia hospitality. Get all the details at the Road Scholar website.


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