Bunga, Bunga, Cowabunga


(Sophie watching me update the blog.)

Not much motivates me to write these days; I’m continuing to bounce around in day-to-day mode, living in the moment. But, while in the shower this morning, just thinking about writing something trailed off into considering my communication skills in general.

Abby has just dropped off of Facebook and I suspect it’s not in small part because she has reached a point in her academic and professional development where she doesn’t want a lot of silliness on such a public forum- and face it, many of us have a lot of silliness hanging there on that page. It may also be that she is simply more mature and productively busy than, say, her mother and doesn’t want to bother with the distraction of idle one liners. Whatever it is, she’s off FB, along with all of her cute photos of her in dreads when she was fourteen and so forth. So I wrote her an e-mail last night and said I missed her presence there (and being able to communicate with idle silly one-liners) and that I had only signed up for FB in the first place, all those years ago, so I could keep track of her life as she moved away from me. Hover, intrude, that sort of thing. She answered my e-mail promptly with, “Too bad you can’t talk on the phone.” Well, she’s correct about that. I really dislike talking on the phone and now I fear that there are people who think I just don’t care enough about our relationship to have a decent telephone conversation with them. If I answer the phone at all I usually, in short order, concoct some ridiculous lame ass excuse when they are mid-sentence (“whoa! call you back! someone just drove up on the lawn!” click.) or worse yet, I interrupt them as they are telling me about a life-changing experience with, “Okay then. Talk soon. Bye! Love you!” Recently, to compensate for my inability to stay on the phone I’ve developed the habit of adding, “Love you!” at the end of all together too many calls. I did that the other day with a total stranger who found my number and wanted to talk to me about whether she could felt her cat’s fur. I do care about my friends and family and I think about them a lot; I guess I just don’t care enough to work through my telephone issues. However, you should all believe me when I suggest you come see me, on the mountain or here in Florida in the cold months. Those offers are sincere and I really would like to see you and cook for you and look at you, possibly hug you.

Another thing that really annoys my children and husband is my habit of stopping mid-sentence when I’m speaking with them. I would be concerned that this is some sort of dementia setting in except that I’ve done this for years. Abby says things like, “yes, and then?” to jump start the completion of a thought; Rich just says, “finish.” Perhaps it comes from spending 30+ years as a therapist, trying to make sense of the words and thoughts of others while simultaneously rooting around for some sage advice or resolution to their problem. This process involved organizing lots of jumbled ideas combined with the need to offer an enlightening response in fairly short order.

Working as a psychotherapist means spending a lot of time sitting in a chair, lost in the world of stream of consciousness- theirs, yours. It also, for me, involved a lot of time on the telephone- taking and returning calls that could go on for a bit. For years I functioned very well with high level communication skills, very successfully. Many therapists take the easy way out by narrowing their vocabulary to “ah” and “um-mmm” but I did not. I’m not being immodest here when I say I was quite competent and much sought after as a psychotherapist.

As a lot of you know, when I was through with that part of my life I moved on to the Lincoln Park Zoo. That was a great transition for me. I desperately missed my profession and the people I cared for, but the zoo provided an opportunity to talk with hundreds, no, thousands of people on subjects I was passionate about without having to worry lest someone jump off a bridge.  I’d get so wrapped up in talking about the mating rituals of Piping plovers or the niche occupied by the Sichuan takin that eyes would glaze over and people would wander off to the sea lions. Seriously, I was good at that job, too. If I’d stayed at it for decades I most likely would have become like one of the other docents who no longer spoke to the visitors and, in fact, detested them; she just wanted to hold the blue-tongued skink and shoo the children away. But then we moved from the Windy City to the mountain house.

So now I teach felt-making. Apparently, I’m pretty good at this too but much of the communication evolves around demonstrating with my hands. I still have to talk and I’m sometimes concerned that a lot of what I’m saying is coming out as gibberish, especially when I start comparing wool fleece to human hair (some is good for dreads, some is not, etc.).


(Sophie is rolling her eyes. What is she telling me here?)

Okay. Now I’m sitting here wondering where the hell I was going with this post. When I was in the shower, in a mere 6 minutes, I covered my communication skills, my relationships with Rich and the children, the roll of stream of conscious thought in my life, Virginia Woolf and her position on the plotless novel, the insane gibberish of certain presidential wannabes, the slippery slope of verbal promises impossible to keep, and plans for making a felted moon jelly. And, I was going to discuss the origins of “bunga, bunga, cowabunga” which, contrary to popular thought, were not from Chief Thunderthud on the Howdy Doody Show of my childhood but were really tied to Virginia Woolf and the Dreadnaught hoax. And I had all of that worked into a cohesive blog post. Now I’ve wasted an hour plonking away and have come to the conclusion that when your mind works like this it’s best to say nothing. Nothing at all.

Whoa! The mailman just knocked the box off the house! Love you!

Working hands

Today, because it is a new year and that’s always an opportunity for a fresh start, I tried once again to tackle my wool website. The one where, in theory, I conduct business. This is a joke, in the same fashion that any artist conducting business is a joke (or would-be artist in my case). It was with relief that I laughed at Robin’s FB note about exactly how arbitrary these dates are (and that it makes far more sense to keep track of things according to the sun and the moon and the tides) because, as usual, I end the day feeling somewhat like a failure, technologically-speaking. Here are a few of the things that have been hampering me:

An ancient MacBk Pro, the first off the production line and now ready for the Smithsonian, that stopped typing 4s and Qs and then 1s altogether.

Finding enough money to buy this lovely new MacAir. We found it.

Trying to get a page, any page, to stay still long enough to work on this new MacAir. The pages hover and swoosh and dart about ala CSI Miami as I try to learn new  keypad techniques.

My kindly tech support team at iPower. They are always there, 24/7, with never much more than a couple minutes wait time and they are always really happy and willing and eager to give me technical support- and they are all named Peggy. Hence, TangledUpInWool.com makes even less sense to them than it does to me.

All of my photos are scattered about the virtual universe, on hard drives left in the mountains, in Clouds, on servers. Half are degraded to thumbnails and most I can’t find anyway. This is really discouraging because, of course, along with photos of wool and bad alpaca teeth are photos of my mother, my babies, Adelor the lion at LPZ, my best wol shots (WOLS! reference Pooh), and past homes with trees and flowers and cats.

And so forth. Today, after one of those completely debilitating trips to IKEA in Tampa last week to buy more storage, after carting and assembling and unpacking and sorting, I pushed my luck and asked Rich to take a couple of new photos of me working on the drum carder. I wanted desperately to post something, anything, at tangledupinwool.com so I could then send out e-mails to all the lovely people who have contacted me at one time or another about felt making. So I can conduct my business (this is a joke). Of course, all of those e-mail addresses are the way of my photos, half disappeared and some of them have co-mingled in adulterous ways with garden club lists and book club lists so that if and when I do get out an e-mail half of the addressees will be irritated at more unwanted junk in their mailboxes.

Anyway. Rich took photos of me working on my new old electric drum carder and as he was taking them he said, “you are not going to like these. They make everything look messy.” What he meant but was kind enough not to say was that, as usual, I was looking terribly un-photogenic, hadn’t combed my hair or put on clean clothes, let alone-God forbid- any makeup. Also, as usual, my skin is rebelling here in Florida by turning flaming red with blotches, further exacerbated by a new SPF moisturizer. So I just went about my business. When the sun hit the porch and I had to come in out of it, I uploaded the photos and found that I really like them.

I like them because of my hands. They are working hands. I never get manicures and I have never, at least since I’ve been felting, grown my nails or engaged in any other hand care maneuvers. As I get older my skin has gotten thinner and knicks and scrapes show up most every day as I go about my business. Horrid age spots have appeared. They are in pure olive oil sludge many hours a week -I think that’s actually good for them. And they are working hands. Feltmaking is hard work. Turning loose bits of animal fiber into durable and sometimes artistic product is hard work. I scrub, squeeze, rub, twist, push, pull, tangle, smooth, lather, rinse, toss, throw and rub some more. That is the work of a felt maker. I liked looking at my hands in these photos. Looking at these photos, I didn’t mind that I don’t photograph well, that I have quite a bit of surplus chin, the my complexion is ruddy, my belly paunchy and my eyebrows Vulcanesque. Most of all, I didn’t mind that my hands look shopworn and sinewy. I thought about all of the pleasures of working with my hands, I thought about my hard-working father, I thought about how very much I enjoy felt-making.

In all of these photos I am carding wool, in preparation for making felt. I found this old used and adapted electric drum carder in the mountains of Madison County, near our home in NC. It was originally a Louet hand carder and up until now, I have only ever used a hand carder that you crank away at ad nauseam. Somebody who worked with his hands built a housing for this carder and added a workhorse of a motor and automotive belts to drive it. It took forever to clean it of the alpaca (there were about two and a half beasts) and vegetative matter (enough to fertilize my garden for a season) but once done I fell in love with this machine. I think it will run forever.

A sign of the times

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. (Willa Cather)

I’ve always taken good care of my trees. Back in Ann Arbor I had several trees that I was very attached to emotionally. I had a Norway Spruce that the White House would have been proud to have as their Christmas tree. It was the largest, oldest in Ann Arbor and at the base of the drive with unchecked space it grew to over 100 ft high by 30 ft wide. I often wondered what it would cost to put lights on that puppy. I had a Bradford pear that I planted as a seedling and when I left that home it was in full bloom at about 35 feet. Right out the front window we had a white birch that had far exceeded it’s life span for a water bound tree and was home to many many birds who came to the feeders there. My neighbor would make me a lovely collage of that tree , done on clementine boxes, as a parting gift when I moved.

(you can see the collage of my birch tree on clementine boxes, now on the wall of the mountain house.)

My favorite tree at that house was a wedding gift to Rich and me. We were given a gift certificate to the American Heritage Tree Nursery and we selected a Yoshino Flowering Cherry, aka a Tidal Basin Cherry like the ones in D.C. that were a gift to the American people. Original stock. We ordered it and it arrived in a 4 ft tube with a 4ft stake and detailed planting instructions and it was no bigger than a pencil with about as much evidence of life. I was appalled and called the folks at the nursery and they said, essentially, “patience, Grasshopper. Have a little faith.” I planted that pencil and by the time the weather started to turn cold I could feel two small nodes, barely perceptible, with a promise for Spring. Come Spring those nodes turned into leaves and all that growing season the cherry tree had 4 leaves. Since I had high hopes for it, I had made a large circle, outlined by rocks from Lake Michigan and planted some shallow root primrose at its feet. They flourished and bloomed. Late in the summer the husband of the couple who gave us that gift was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. The wife was a good friend from BCMA. The battle was on. I HAD to keep that tree alive. Late that fall it went to bed with 4 swollen nodes and David just plain went to bed. In the end, David died and the tree lived. When I sold the house 3 years later to move to Chicago I couldn’t bear to leave the now flourishing young Cherry tree but it was growing well enough that transplanting had become an issue, especially when left in the hands of a grieving home owner and a grieving widow. We humped that tree over to Linda’s down-sized new home where everything was still mud and construction and damn, if that Michigan Spring didn’t last five minutes before it turned to hot, dry Michigan summer. She said she would work on it as well as her heart and energy could muster but neither of us were particularly optimistic and life went on. We moved to Chicago and Linda remarried. This year she sent me a picture of that Tidal Basin Cherry.

When I lived in Ann Arbor, if  I needed tree work done (this would have been through the nineties when I was an established mature homeowner) I would have called some company with a solid reputation like Urban Foresters and they would come out and give me a bid for 800.00 to trim up the trees and treat the cedar-apple rust and I would save up for a month or so and then have them out to do the work.

When we moved to Chicago I began doing my own tree work on the flowering crabs that were in our meager courtyard. By climbing onto the roof of the detached 4 bay garage that served the entire condo building and by leaning out in far too precarious a posture for a woman of an age where bone scans are routine, I managed to whip them into a nice shape and they bloomed well while we lived there. Mostly, I went down to the conservatory on the lake and the area all around my beloved zoo when I wanted to see really good trees.

North Carolina has brought us more trees than we can shake a stick at- they’re everywhere, acres of them. A lot of nut trees- hickories, oaks, chestnuts- all with fruit that shoots out of the sky like missiles when the weather is just so. Fruit trees including apples and a Damson Plum I plan to use for Damson gin and of course, spectacular rhodies and shockingly orange flame azaleas. It’s tree paradise and they most all take care of themselves and all we have to do is haul off downed branches after a wind blows through. I do fuss over the giant Carolina hemlock which has been doing battle with woolly adelgid disease since we moved in, but as of this fall, the tree is winning.

And then there is Florida. In keeping with the general Florida theme, there are some real gems down here and then there are a lot of trash trees. We removed a giant Brazilian Pepper with some reluctance this past year as it was home to half a dozen Cardinal families and provided good shade on the kitchen side of the house. It also provided more falling garbage than any tree I’ve ever encountered. Dropping little invasive seeds and berries on everything, it would get so bad that we couldn’t step foot int the kitchen door without removing our shoes and I was continuously pulling out millions of little trees. So good riddance to that tree and I don’t say that lightly.

Oaks. We have Live Oaks here in Florida (Quercus virginiana) and they are indeed lively, multi-trunked and branching trees with great canopies that are constantly dropping shit. They celebrate Fall and Spring simultaneously because the thing that forces them to drop leaves is not a change in temperature like their Northern cousins but rather, new leaf nodes pushing off old leaves. This means that in a matter of weeks, but continuing for months, there are leaves everywhere along with flower parts and yellow pollen. Inches of pollen. Pollen that turns a British Blue purebred cat into a scratching yellow rat. Pollen than covers the furniture, floors, counters and makes it so you can’t see out the windshield of your car. Because live oaks have such a broad canopy they also drop branches and limbs and sticks and threaten to topple on your roof come hurricane season. And while the Florida bungalow is a place where I would rather not invest much time or money in the care of all these wild and crazy trees, it dawns on us periodically that we need to make sure they don’t become a liability to our house or the neighbor’s. Today a truck full of guys with a tall ladder and chain saws came by and offered to “clean up” our oaks. I swear these are the same guys I see panhandling by the freeway off ramp every day- truly, I did recognize them. But here they were, still toothless and filthy, but chainsaw in hand. To their credit, in response to my first question regarding license and insurance, they produced a soggy well-handled business card that said “licensed and insured.” I took it from him just in case( he really wanted to hang on to it and I could see his eyes shifting with indecision: “a card in the hand or beer?”) and we gave them the job. Rich stood out on the front walk and supervised and in something under two hours the six guys had removed every low hanging branch on the property for 175.00. We had previously had this same job bid by a professional tree company, one where the guys wore polo shirts with logos, for 700.00. What can I say?  I think it’s a sign of the times that 6 guys will trim all these giant oaks and haul away the refuse for 175.00 and also that we would consider hiring them. The whole episode made me very nervous but it’s done now and it looks great. Rich had to follow them to the compost center to show his license so they could dump the stuff for free and he noted that they took side streets all the way, rather than the main road. Hmmm. There was one fatality; I guess that was bound to happen. 

All I want for Christmas

It’s a good thing I didn’t want any presents this year, of the variety that come wrapped up in paper with beautiful bows because I didn’t get any.

Well, before I commit to an exaggeration, let me think about that. I guess I did get a few small presents.

From Abby and Misha I received a wonderfully soft cotton t-shirt with a great horned owl on the front and back. It reminds me of Hoo2 and what a gift it is that I’ve been able to work at places like Lincoln Park Zoo and Boyd Hill. Abby also got me a good sturdy canvas knitting bag with a sheep print on the front. Those are both great, suit me fine and are entirely useful. “Useful” reminds me that I am so happy that both Dan and Abby learned fairly early that Christmas wasn’t about a big sleigh full of presents. By middle school Daniel appreciated that we were investing in musical instruments and lessons in support of his now life work, gift and passion. At thirteen I told Abby that there would be no more depreciating goods except underwear at Christmas and she needed to think of something that she wanted with lasting value. She said fretfully, “nothing from the mall?” and then cooked my Christmas goose by asking for a kayak trip up the Inside Passage. That started us on a decade of the most amazing travel adventures, trips we took together that gave us a lifetime of colorful memories and launched her commitment  to the seas and environment. (Everyone still always gets new underwear, pjs or socks for Christmas.)

(Abby working on her dissertation proposal on sustainable coastal ecology, with her little LED USB Christmas tree.)

From the women I teach to make felt in Sugar Hollow I got a lovely pillow with a beautiful silk screen of birds at a feeder. Perfect choice for me. It reminds me of another gift from a friend, a beautiful collage painting of my birch tree in Ann Arbor, with all of the birds feeding.

My friend Cathy gave a Guatemalan child enough food for a month, from me. This made me so happy I cried. Every day in January, a child is not going hungry because of the gift she gave on my behalf. I was just overwhelmed. I’m going to reciprocate by giving enough diapers for a month for one of her little orphans there. Cathy’s gift also reminded me of the best Christmas gift I ever received from Rich and that was the first year when we were still courting. He was also trying to win favor with Abby that year, so he gave enough to care for all of the cats in one enclosure for a year at the humane society and the cage had an engraved plate on it that said, “We are being cared for by Vicki and Abby Bennett.” Gifts that care for those in need are wonderful gifts.

(Despite a plethora of bubble wrap and neatly folded waxed paper, these always arrive broken. They are that perfectly crisp.)

My sister Betsy gave me my all time favorite Christmas treat: dark chocolate cookie press cookies. She makes them like nobody else in the whole wide world. All of us girls us Gramma Moe’s recipe but Betsy’s are always truly fantastic and far superior. They are the most perfect thin crisps of ridged chocolate and with a glass of red wine, late on Christmas night- well, that’s a bit of Heaven. And every year they remind me of the year I was pregnant with Daniel and absolutely miserable with morning noon and night sickness of the sort where they threaten to dump your belly in the hospital with IV hydration. She sent those cookies and that was the only reason I was able to survive and give birth to my first-born love, Daniel. So the cookies mean a lot to me. Betsy is also the Queen of Wrap. No matter what she sends, the paper is lovely, the ribbon divine, the gift tags perfect classy bits, printed on re-cycled papers and covered with birds and bees. We have similar taste, but like the cookies, her wrapping is always done just so while mine has a corner poking through here and a patched in strip of paper there where I was being too stingy on the original cut. This is the first year I’ve failed to get her gift to her on time and since it was already late I went out early this morning for the day after Christmas sale on Christmas items, including wrapping papers. I wouldn’t have done it for anyone but her and I know next year this morning’s headache will be back to delight me. Now to the post office.

My neighbor, the Other Vicki, (she and husband Ken are the world vagabonds who spend a giant portion of each year traveling on his airline passes from life as a pilot) out did herself and opening the bag from her revealed a treasure trove of goodies: a bottle of olive oil from my favorite place in Tuscany, spices from the casbah in Turkey, a small bag of paprika from Hungary, a lovely star ornament she made in ceramics class and three exceptionally cool stones from oceans far, far away- the Black Sea, the Aegean. We didn’t know Other Vicki and Ken when Rich and I got married so she doesn’t know that on our wedding invitations we asked people to please not give us any gifts because there was absolutely nothing we needed more than their friendship- but if they insisted on a gift, a stone or a shell from a place that they loved would be nice. As a result we have some really super stones, including Petoskey stones from Lake Michigan and some from the Holy Land in Jerusalem . So Other Vicki’s gift reminded me not only of how much I love stones from special places but also that there is absolutely nothing I really need more than a good stone.

All of these reminders were good because Rich , as usual, struggled this year in the gift department. He’s never been especially good at holiday times (that is a kind understatement) and the entire family laughingly tells him it’s time to go to CVS at 11pm Christmas Eve so he can buy gas and Starbucks gift cards off the revolving rack. This year he left late Christmas eve afternoon, right when I needed help around the house, to go to Target where he bought a screw driver for Misha, a rocket blender for Abby and four beer glasses “for the house.” (this was written on the wrapping paper in ink). Neither of us drink enough beer to need a dedicated glass. Sophie, by comparison, made out like a bandit. I think it was with embarrassment and humor that he chose a comic card with the punch line reading, “cuz you’re in charge of picking it out.”  After a day of feeling irritable about it, I finally found his gift to me: remembering that there’s not a single thing I needed and not much that I want to clutter up my life at this point. Cliche that it is, the truth is most certainly that Christmas is not about stuff. Rich’s inability to go Christmas shopping is not indicative of his feelings for me. I have no idea why he is holiday challenged; the therapist in me is quite certain that it goes back to his childhood in some similar fashion to my need to have Christmas be perfect and shiny bright. I’m remembering that he works very very hard to provide for us and that we live, relative to most everybody else in the world, among the rich and well nourished. And in my effort to stop being childish, I was able to  remember all of the kindnesses that he shows me, including his love for the children (and Sophie), his weekly letters to my stepfather Bud at the nursing home, wonderful travel to see the world and the random acts of compassion and kindness he shows towards others. He stood up from the Christmas dinner table yesterday and packed up an enormous plate, got in the car and drove it over to a homeless man he’s befriended. In other words, his gift to me is that he makes me work a bit on my attitude. And as grudging as I was when I set out to adjust my attitude this morning, I now remember all of these amazing gifts. Thank you, Rich.

(I also got a bouquet of flowers Rich picked from the yard- a reminder that I am basking in the warmth and beauty of our surrounds here at the bungalow.)

What did you get for Christmas?

(Here’s something else I got for Christmas. Bonnie came by and left one of her kind comments, which I always love. What, no poem?? And I re-read my post and realized that the paragraph about Rich, as I originally wrote it, was kind of snarky. So I made yet another attitude adjustment. Good deal.)

Deck the halls with Bucky Balls

Last night, I tuned in here for the first time in months. It was so embarrassing that the last thing posted was a recipe for chili dogs that I couldn’t even bear to come and I was virtually certain the whole place would have been consumed with pornographic spam by now. But, no, here was a comment from Bonnie, rubbing in a Spartan victory, per usual and the only thing that has really changed is that I now, after some time living in agricultural heaven, have more respect for what us Wolverines refer to as “Cow Colleges”. In fact, one of my new favorite institutions of higher learning is Warren Wilson, where many a starter person is learning that a good place to start is in the dirt under our feet.

Once here, I went back aways reviewing older posts, mostly because I was looking for a couple I wrote around the time my mother died to share with a friend who has recently lost her remaining parent to the ravages of old age. Makes no difference your age, becoming an orphan makes you childlike in your heart. When I found those posts, I cried a little,remembering my mother, my childhood, Christmases past.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever return to writing routinely, keeping this site up as a sort of journal. It was good for me when I did and over time I matured from slapping up pure silliness to trying, at least part of time, to capture the feeling and color of my day to day life. But life is busy and now feltmaking has become the thing that always calls for my time and attention. I do know that I’m not ready to give it up altogether.

Here we are in Florida and even though our preparations are sort of slap dash since we only arrived from Asheville two days ago, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. As usual the best laid plans for homemade Christmas cards and many of the items I planned to craft have fallen by the wayside but enough has been done: everyone will get their scarf and the life-size animated light up moose is swaying his antlers in the front yard. The amaryllis, carefully transported in the car, are all abloom and the only Christmas cookies that really matter (chocolate cookie press cookies) are in tins on the counter. The Animals Christmas is playing in the background and I love when Art Garfunkel sings The Friendly Beasts. Once as a child, I got to be the donkey, all shaggy and brown, in the Sunday school Christmas pageant. As is our tradition the Swedish angel chimes go ding, ding, ding every night and leave melted wax on the mantel that needs to be scraped up each morning. The small wooden creche with the Matchbox John Deere tractor that 2 year old Daniel gave to baby Jesus is up on the sideboard as it has been every year for the past thirty. The little rituals of life continue to carry us from season to season and year to year. So, I guess you know what that means…

I posted this for the first time several years ago. There’s a lot of truth in it, despite the flights of fancy. Whatever else, it is a memory of my childhood: Christmas, my father, the Ford Rotunda and things that mattered and still do. I wish you a most wonderful holiday, filled with the magic and mystery of childhood. I wish for us all the quality of life that Buckminster Fuller envisioned.)

R. Buckminster Fuller was friends with Boston artist Pietro Pezzati, singer John Denver and also, my father. Even though my father was but half his age.
Bucky came into my life at Christmas time, in 1953. I was three years and three months old. Do I remember him? Yes, I do.

Although we lived in a Pete Seeger ticky-tacky post war house and not a Dymaxion House, he came to dinner one night in early December. And he pet our giant gray and white cat, Ike. As in, “I Like Ike.”

It was a Friday night and that was fortunate because on all the other nights of the week we ate tuna noodle casserole, spam with brown sugar and New England boiled dinner. On Fridays we dined on fish and chips from Suzie Q’s, located at the corner of Woodward and 8 Mile Rd. It came in yellow cardboard pie-plates stapled together to form a dome of sorts, although not geodesic. The fish was sole and there were crinkle cut french fries and a giant blueberry muffin. Food fit for a king and also Bucky.

My father and Buckminster had been working together on a project for Ford Motor Company for over a year and they were nearing the end of their joint effort, the Ford Rotunda. An architectural wonder originally built for the Century of Progress Exposition (aka, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), the building was moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 1936 and closed to the public during WWII. Described as “ultra-modern”, the Rotunda reopened as part of Ford’s 50th anniversary celebration on June 16, 1953. A radioactive wand (the tip contained a small amount of radium), said to be symbolic of the arrival of industry at the threshold of the atomic age, turned on golden floodlights and lighted 50 huge birthday candles around the rim of the Rotunda. The wand bombarded a Geiger tube with 44,890,832 gamma ray impulses in 15 seconds. The final impulse (the number signified the number of vehicles produced by Ford since 1903) was said to trigger the electrical system. But most people would come to associate the Rotunda with an annual Christmas display called the Christmas Fantasy, which first opened on Dec. 15, 1953. In the last two weeks of that December over 500,000 people would visit the Christmas Fantasy at the Rotunda.

Back at our ticky tacky little house my mother and father were in the kitchen unpacking Susie Q’s fish and chips. My brother was in the den, watching the 10 inch diameter black and white TV screen housed in the 38 inch console. It was Howdy Doody Time. Bucky sat on the sofa petting Ike and I sat on the floor staring up at him through 1/2 inch thick eyeglasses which didn’t really fit a 3 year old all that well. Blind in one eye, my world was blurry, to say the least. And then Bucky (Mr. Fuller, to me) said something quite odd.

“Listen, little billionaire, have you considered the benefits of polyphasic sleep? You may not remember when this was second nature to you, but you should practice this all throughout your life. You’ll get more done.” Then he said, “Excuse me momentarily” and he stretched out on the sofa, without removing his shoes, and instantly fell asleep. Ike and I watched him until my father came in about seven minutes later and announced that dinner was out of the bag. Bucky sat up, blinked and said, “Better now!” and we all went into the kitchen (for want of a dining room) and sat down to Susie Q’s.

I only saw R. Buckminster Fuller one more time and that was a few weeks later when we went to the opening of A Christmas Fantasy. I was dressed in my best dress and leggings, patent leather shoes, a wool coat, matching hat, a rabbit fur muff and those ridiculous glasses.

I should take a moment to note that my father was not a distinguished architect, a man of radical philosophical beliefs or a great visionary. He was an Ohio farm boy who grew up, went to war, married young and formulated plans to sell Ford tractors. It’s true that he was exceptionally good at coming up with ideas to sell tractors. My father and Buckminster Fuller were an unlikely pair and yet in some fashion, they became a pair around the building and promotion of the Ford Rotunda.

And so, we were among the first in line. We arrived in the late afternoon while it was graying but still light and stood in a cluster of VIPs and their children. A red and white bow, far larger than I, was tied across the winged entrance and someone, while my feet grew colder and colder in those patent leather shoes, said some things about the wonders we would see and cut the bow with a flourish and a giant pair of scissors. We filed in and the magic began. It was snowing inside! Inside the biggest igloo of a building you could ever imagine- it was snowing! In the center of the igloo stood a Christmas tree 4 stories high with thousands upon thousands of lights and shiny ornaments.

I slipped my mother’s grasp. You can see that her attention is elsewhere; that’s little me, the smallest child, in the dark coat and cap (too bad you can’t see the disproportionately large eyeglasses). And I ran to the tree: I needed to touch it and smell it, to feel the bright hot colored lights, to brush snow from the limbs. I stood transfixed and then, from inside the branches of the tree, I heard a familiar voice.“Ah, my little billionaire! What do you think of my tensegrity structure?”

“It’s very nice, Mr. Fuller.”

“Yes, in here, there is no sunsight or sunclipse, but only the endless recycling of sustainable snow. Oh, and be sure to stop by Santa’s workshop. The elves are building toy Ford tractors on the assembly line.”

My mother came then and reclaimed me. I’m certain she was unaware of Mr. Fuller sitting on a branch inside the tree. We moved on and saw all that there was to see.

There was ‘The Night Before Christmas’, an almost lifesize house with Rudolf snorting puffs of steam impatiently on the rooftop while Santa emptied his sack under the tree. Story Book Land came to life, with Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, Puss in Boots, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty animated by machines performing around a vast Santa Claus castle. The best was a 15,000-piece miniature circus with a parade, a 10-piece band on a wagon pulled by a 10-horse team, a steam calliope and 800 tiny animals, 30 tents, 435 performers and a full audience, all in a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot. In addition to the circus, we saw a rustic barn dance, a shopping center with a doll beauty shop, animated dolls representing children of all nations, and woodland creatures frolicking in the snow. The blur of partial blindness only enhanced the wondrous effect.

The Nativity included a life-size manger scene set in a lean-to built into the side of a hill, with a huge star glowing in the heavens. (In 1958 Ford would receive a commendation from the National Council of Churches for emphasizing the spirit of Christmas with what the Council determined was “the largest and finest Nativity scene in the United States.”)

In the end, all roads led to Santa, but I was tired and tiny and shy when it came time to sit on his lap. My father said, “Hop up, Tadpole” and so I did. And here is what Santa said to me, speaking ever so softly and near enough to my ear that his beard tickled:

“And what would you like for Christmas, my little billionaire?”

I thought ‘how strange’, at least in the sense that a three year old can think ‘how strange’ but I answered, “Santa, a bride doll, please.”

And Santa responded, “Well, little B, you would be wiser to want an Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. It will teach you that through ephemeralization and synergetics we can waste not and want not and the worldaround will be populated by 4 billion billionaires, each able to enjoy Susie Q’s fish and chips whenever they wish. You will come to understand that less is more and cooperation is the optimal survival strategy. This manual explains how selfishness is unnecessary and irrational, and war is obsolete. It explains how we can recycle both our knowledge and our materials to live ever more fulfilling lives. Wouldn’t you rather have that for Christmas instead?”

I considered a minute, as much as a three year old can consider, and said, “Ummm, no thank you, Santa. I think my brother wants a spaceship but I would like a bride doll.”

And then my father was there and said, “Hop down, Tadpole.” And I did and we held hands and walked out of that fantastical place with the never-ending warm snow and I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

That Christmas Santa brought me precisely the bride doll I wished for. She was as tall as I was and had eyes that opened and closed and the most beautiful of bride’s dresses. My brother Bruce got a model tractor rather than a spaceship.

I don’t recall what became of that bride doll after her hair tangled and I lost interest and now I often wish I had accepted the Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. But that is hindsight rather than foresight and hindsight is usually the path not taken, yes? (This is the end of my Christmas story)


Buckminster Fuller died at the age of 88, a decade before my father did. He was a guru of design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities. He was (hopelessly) optimistic that if we carefully, conscientiously and thoughtfully managed our resources there could be high quality life for all the creatures of the earth.
When his wife was comatose and dying of cancer he visited her in the hospital. At some point he exclaimed: “She is squeezing my hand!”. When he stood up, he suffered a massive heart attack and died within the hour. His wife died 36 hours later. John Denver wrote the song “What One Man Can Do” for Fuller. A new allotrope of carbon (fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (buckminsterfullerene or buckyballs) have been named after him.

If you want to know more about Fuller, Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, His Life and Work by Lloyd Sieden (ISBN 0738203793), explores Fuller’s personal life, his beliefs and important contributions to society. Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936. The original steel framework was covered with Indiana limestone, forming a design representing a stack of gears, decreasing in size towards the top. Located on Schaefer Road, across from the Ford Administration building, the circular structure had an open courtyard 92 feet in diameter and a wing on either side.Huge murals on the walls depicted the manufacture of the Ford automobile. Exhibits were changed regularly, but Ford products always took center stage. 

The grounds contained reproductions of 19 historic Roads of the World: the Appian Way from Italy, the Tokaido Road in Japan, the Grand Trunk Road in India, a Mayan road from the Yucatan, the Oregon Trail and a wooden plank section of Woodward Avenue from the earliest days of that thoroughfare.

Besides its own attractions, the Rotunda served as the gateway for tours of the Rouge Plant. In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone National Park, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

The building was closed to the public during World War II, and following the war underwent a massive remodeling in 1952, in which the courtyard was covered with an 18,000 pound dome. The weight of a conventional dome, 320,000 pounds, would have crushed the structure, so Ford turned to R. Buckminster Fuller, who came up with the design, the first commercial application of his experimental geodesic dome. Later, Buckminster Fuller would perfect his concept of tensegrity to the degree that he could cover the same 92 foot diameter area with a permanent, secure dome weighing less than 3,000 pounds.

The preparations for the 1962 Christmas display were well under way when disaster struck on Nov. 9. While workers applied tar to the dome as weatherproofing, they kept it warm with an infrared heater. The tar caught fire. Shortly after 1 p.m., an employee saw flames on the ceiling of the main floor, and gave the alarm as workmen raced down from the roof. Sheets of flames shot 50 feet high. The black smoke was visible for miles.In less than an hour the Rotunda lay in ruins. The Christmas Fantasy was completely lost to the flames. All that was saved were the Christmas tree, which had not been put in place, the 2,500 Goodfellow dolls shown yearly which had not been delivered, and the miniature circus, which had been packed into trunks and was ready to move in.

My father did, in fact, work with Buckminster Fuller on the geodesic dome aspect of the Rotunda and they became friends. A Christmas Fantasy was an integral part of the Christmases of my childhood.

Lost in a dream

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream

I remember saying to someone a while back that I was considering getting tickets to a Bob Dylan concert and she commented, “Doesn’t that only encourage him to sing?” I woke up with this songworm today, for no apparent reason and considered pulling it out and putting it on the turntable.  But then, I think because of all the lovely condolences about McCloud left by friends on FB, I started mulling over how some of those friends go back such a long way  and we began here in the blogging neighborhood. Time for an update.

I remember when I published this photo of McCloud right after my mother died and it was in the context of his being such a comfort when I was grieving. Yesterday we said our goodbyes to McCloud, splendid cat that he was. He was Rich’s “big-boned” friend (not to be confused with obese, mind you) but in the past 18 months the big bones were becoming more and more apparent as he would ever more slowly lower himself down for a nap. Most recently, his life was one long nap under the deck punctuated with interludes of digestive distress and incontinence. His hearing and vision were seriously impaired. He had taken to coming up to us and tapping us on the leg and when we would look down and ask, “What do you want? You have food. Water. Pats. What? ” and he would give a silent meow. Even his voice had left him, all except the purr. We talked it over and felt that he was confused and uncomfortable enough that he wasn’t sure what he needed but he hoped we could help. In the end, after a feline lifetime of mutual love and affection, we’ve done the best that we could.

When I arrived here at my page after not even looking for a month I found this from Bonnie:

Humbly, Ms. Bennett, I must presently beseech thee:
Compose a new post before mold grows on my French brie.
For you to write something new, must I create a silly poem?
(You’ll drive me to drink wine by the jeraboam!)
Lastly, from me (I can be such a pistol):
For Heaven sakes, Vicki, update, Sistah!

How can I not post? Facebook is making bad bloggers out of a lot of us, as we take the cheap and easy way out with little snappy one liners, but I realized this week as I enjoyed following Mary getting her room together for her first graders that it’s really not fair to simply eavesdrop on your friendships. A big part of what I struggle with is taking the time to sit and communicate with people I can’t see and or hear as we share our stories, but it’s still true that in the debate over “real or virtual” friends, I have meaningful and strong friendships with people I can’t snuffle up live.

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Here on the mountain, we’ve made new good friends. A day doesn’t pass that we aren’t happily surprised all over again by the good news that we find ourselves in such a beautiful place among such a wonderful group of interesting people. It’s a true neighborhood here. Everyone knows and cares about everyone else but no one’s porch light is hindering your view. We have musicians and artists and woodworkers and authors in our small neighborhood. We have the best farmers in the world, educated and experienced and young and so full of hope they have many beautiful tow-headed babies and children. We have conservationists and environmentalists and educators. Most of all we have new and good friends. We really feel as though we’ve turned around and come down where we need to be.

One my friends, Sydney, works with Molly to raise and milk goats and then turn the milk into soap for Farmer Jane Soap. I work with them now, felting some of the soap for sale at two tailgate markets each week. (Felted soap is extra special, don’t you know, because it’s a loofah and soap all in one with no slime and no waste! When I felt bars of the “itch witch” goat’s milk soap with jewel weed extract it’s the perfect gardener’s soap, kind of like your own Felt Naptha. And so forth and so on, with you getting the idea that I am now thoroughly ensconced in the practical esthetics of life here on the mountain.) Sydney was recently linking to a short film about people choosing to become farmers here in Western North Carolina and she made a comment about why she chose to leave her previous lifestyle to come make goats milk soap. She wrote, “Over time the importance and the beauty of living close to the land and letting go of the things I could not change became my dream.” I can’t imagine a clearer or better articulated statement of how I had been feeling since ending my practice as a psychotherapist. During my professional life I worked with people to affect change but at some point the overwhelming parts of life that I can’t impact started to get to me in a serious way. Narrowing my focus has been a good change; now I’m happy just to be living locally, shrinking our footprints, enjoying the view, helping out in small ways where I can.

Here on the mountain in Sugar Hollow I stay inordinately busy. I grow a large garden. I teach felting. I work at my own feltmaking. I observe the snakes and bears and birds and coyote and insects. Last week I was flipping the lid on the grill and felt something under my finger that I knew in my heart I did not want to be touching. Even before I saw it, I shrieked and jumped back and then, there she was: a wolf spider with her entire brood on her back. To the degree I was working on my arachnophobia, this was a major setback.

We’ve had lots of our not-so-new good friends come to visit and we enjoy showing them around. This summer, in the course of exploring our area, we’ve discovered some great waterfalls and one of them has a jump off into an ice cold mountain stream. It’s pretty scary, to stand on top of that high shelf contemplating a leap- first and foremost the leap of faith that you won’t end up in a vegetative state by crashing onto the rocks below. I did it, finally, and since then have taken pleasure in goading others. Actually, it felt like quite an achievement; I try not to compare it to the times I kayaked the Inside Passage or scaled the Tetons or hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. Things change.

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away

Wordless Wednesday, cat’s-eye view