December 23, 2009

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When Traditions End Posted by Lorraine Bartlett My Dad was a craftsman, and could do just about anything. He built half the furniture in my house. Heck, he gutted my first house and made it a home. (I impeded him with that operation, but learned a lot, as well.) He went through a lot of hobbies. For a while he did leathercraft. I still have--and use--the wallet he made for me over 30 years ago. He made jewelry. (I wear 14 rings, five of them he made.) But one of his most endearing projects were his wood carvings--a hobby that stayed with him for a long time. He liked to do variations of Santa, and literally did hundreds of them. These little guys were one of his first efforts, and look pretty primitive when compared with his later work. He gave them to me for my birthday in 1992. When he'd finished them, he thought they looked like they were singing--and that they should do that under a lamppost--so he made one of those, too! At first, he was very critical of the painting of his carvings, and even asked my husband to do a few, but in no time he was better at it than Frank, and adding more and more decorations to the little guys. He did fat Santas, tall Santas and a lot of short Santas. His favorite were Tomties--little elves that help Santa. (As pictured on the right.) He made a LOT of these, and usually they were doing something, (like this little guy holding the candle) and usually wore "wooden" shoes. I'm really not sure how Dad got into carving, but for him, it was an adventure, albeit a usually solitary affair. I had my critique group, and Dad had his carving buddies that he saw every few weeks. One of them moved to Berea, KY--home of The Kentucky Artisans center, which, like the name says, showcases the work Kentucky's best artisans. Dad's former carving partner wanted to make a certain carving, but it wouldn't come out right, so Dad made one and sent it to him as a prototype. Unknown to Dad, the man put Dad's carving into a local competition where it took first prize! (The one on the left is another version of that prizewinner.) As far as adventures go, one day Dad was in his workshop carving, when he called up to my mother. "I've cut myself." She figured he'd cut his hand, but he'd actually dropped the knife on his thigh. When she got down to the workshop, there was so much blood, she thought he'd slashed an artery and got on the phone to 911, then hauled him upstairs to wait for the ambulance. There was blood everywhere--on the workshop floor, the stairs, all over the kitchen. The EMTs arrived in record time and got the bleeding under control, but they sent him to the ER just in case. Then they wanted to see THE CARVING KNIFE. When Mom showed the guy, he nearly went into hysterics of laughter. He'd been expecting a 10-inch carving knife, not a tiny 1-inch blade. (Hey, those suckers are sharp.) Ninety minutes later, Dad was belly-up to the bar at my Aunt's house where they were supposed to go for dinner--and only 30 minutes late. (Hey, there was a Manhattan waiting with his name on it.) One of my favorite carvings is Santa stuck in the chimney. From the top, all you see are Santa's legs sticking out--but turn the carving over, and there's Santa's sooty face. Dad didn't do too many carvings these last few years. His remaining carving buddy moved away and it wasn't so much fun any more. But last year for Christmas he gave me two of his last efforts. One was unpainted, the other was a Bear dressed in overalls. They live in my office, with a couple of fishermen, an owl, and an unfinished Santa tree ornament. The rest of them reside on a little bookshelf in my living room. I have carved bunnies, birds, a deer, and even a walrus, and I love them all. Dad passed away in October, so there won't be just one more "found" carving to go in my collection. (I know they're there--I've seen them in his workshop, which is pretty much just the way he left it.) It's the end of a wonderful tradition. While it makes me terribly sad, I have all these wonderful pieces that Dad made, a lot of them signed "For Lorraine made by her Dad." The were the best Christmas presents ever.
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Hey, this mess is a place! posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken I feel sorry for my friends who don't have cable television. I mean, for the mere price of one night at a mid-range hotel room, we have an entire month's worth of access to hundreds of shows. Okay, a lot of those shows are...well, lame, or boring, or just plain dumb. Really--how many times can we watch reruns of "The King of Queens" before we can recite the dialog along with Doug and Carrie and Arthur? And I never got the charm of Seinfeld, although I do love "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (but would somebody please explain to me--did Richard marry Barb or didn't he? I get so confused...) "30 Rock" used to be pretty good, but this season, not so much. My husband is easily satisfied--if there is a World War II documentary on, he's all good. Sheesh! My new favorites, though, are the cleaning shows. I used to watch a British one where the cleaning ladies ask, "How Clean is Your House?" The answer, invariably, is "not very" before the show stars tackle things, clean up what seemed like horrible filth even to me, and reform the slobs into neatniks--for at least as long as the cameras are running. I liked "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," too, where the five fellows cleaned up and redecorated some bachelor's pad, taught him how to dress, groom himself, and cook, all in an hour. Pretty impressive. My new favorite, though, is "Hoarders." A screen shot at the beginning of each episode notes that hoarding is a mental illness and no laughing matter. The cleanup team includes a therapist, some family members, and professional junk collectors. The houses, though--defy description. Some of the homes look pretty normal from the outside; (this, admittedly, from a woman who had an old toilet sitting in the yard for so long there was talk of using it as a planter. Don't ask. Please.) I mean, I used to joke all the time that we were going to clean out one kid's room with a shovel. But this is what the cleaners have to do on "Hoarders." These homes are so far gone that relationships are foundering, usually the health board is lurking in the wings, and foreclosure is often threatened. Interestingly, the homeowners are often well-educated, thoughtful and forthcoming. The ages have ranged from an elementary school boy to elderly men and women. "Hoarders" is a show I watch with jaw dropping and eyes bugging. Our house is no "House Beautiful" spread, but at least it's reasonably healthy. It doesn't take much for the clutter to get out of hand, but there comes a point when even I can't stand it any more and tackle the mess (while family members and pets head for the hills, since my mood at that point is usually pure poison.) Yeah, "Hoarders" makes me look good. I spent hours last spring cleaning up my office until it was totally neat and organized. Then the kids moved out and took my bookcases. (I let them. What was I thinking?) So the little room, about 9 by 9, is now a maze of piled books and papers. I can whip it back into shape in a short time, but the bookcase I'll need is filled at the moment with manuscript papers and research materials from The Cancer Book From Hell. All I need is time. Hah. Besides, we are trying to clean out Mom's house. She lived there for 40 years, and guess where I learned my Yankee-thrift-don't-throw-away-anything-that-might-be-useful-some-day? Yep, from Mom. We are having to sort through not only her stuff, but also stuff that belonged to her mother, as well as two mothers-in-law...you get the picture. On the plus side, unlike "Hoarders", there are no goats chewing their way through the wall or cats multiplying madly in the corners. The only animal carcasses here are the dearly departed mice that Mongo, a/k/a Killer, leaves for us to find. Still, there but for the grace of God... How sad. Some Asian cultures clean their houses in preparation for the New Year. Sounds like a good plan to me. If only I had six months to get it done. So Merry Christmas, if that is your choice, and for heaven's sake, don't hang on to the used wrapping paper and boxes.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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