It’s almost time to resurrect Buckminster Fuller- or write a new Christmas story.

I have one in mind, but I feel a need to play catch up. Since last we chatted I hosted the neighborhood holiday party here in the land of Oz (Park). I’m always surprised- and alarmed- when I invite people and they actually show up. Every one came and this tall skinny brickhouse, that often seems dark and stark to me, turned into a cozy candlelit gathering of new Chicago friends.

For years, I’ve been in love with blown art glass. I own an early piece of Dale Chihuly- the real deal- and some other very nice glass and I’ve always thought that turning sand to glass is a most amazing accomplishment. Back in October, for my birthday, Rich gave me a two day course in glass blowing at Chicago Hot Glass, so the day after the party I was up early to learn a new craft. Whatever dream fantasies I had about glass blowing fairly quickly turned into a nightmare. For the very first time, I found myself up against the wall in terms of strength, coordination and, frankly, age.

Glassblowing involves holding a five foot long 15 pound metal rod, dipping it into a 2200 degree white hot furnace of liquid glass, scooping up a very precise amount and getting it out of the furnace without dripping it all over the place. The only way to accomplish this is to continually turn the pipe and, given the physics of leverage, this is more or less difficult depending on where you hold the pipe. The end you stick in the furnace is glowing red hot, but how hot is it, say, two feet down the pipe? I was constantly fearful that it was way too hot. The other challenge for me came with a lack of depth perception. It was well nigh impossible for me to see the glass level in the glare of the furnace, even with sunglasses. After confronting the challenges of getting the right size blob of liquid glass out in the open I had to, well, blow it. Fast, before it began to cool. If you are over 50 years of age, you might remember a time when it was substantially easier to blow up balloons. Now imagine blowing a white hot molasses-like balloon at the end of a heavy steel pipe. I am still full of hot air, but blowing a precisely sized and shaped bubble at the end of a pipe that is too long to see the end of, at least from my vantage point- well, you’re starting to get the picture here. And don’t forget to keep that pipe turning at all times. Always.

Glass blowing commands an integrated balance of grace, muscle, and coordination. I also suspect it is a craft that requires an incredible amount of time and patience before you can relax enough around that kind of heat to settle into a comfort zone that allows you to turn the corner into creativity. I went home after the first day and Rich was all excited to hear about how much fun I had- and I burst into tears. The second day began with an ice storm and I want to tell you that I was one hair breadth away from not going. That close. This was one of those times in life where your love for another person nudges you forward, because if Rich hadn’t wanted SO much for this to be a great experience for me I would have quit. But I didn’t. I went back and joined the other three (very young art school) students for the second day. Twice I took a bathroom break to cry in private and splash cold water on my face- it was that hard and that frustrating. I worked on numerous pieces and I ended up with two paperweights and one small bowl. That small bowl seemed to weigh a hundred pounds when it was a work in progress; the ones that seemed to weigh only 90 pounds were too fragile and the bottoms broke out when I tried to snap the pontil rod off.

In the end, it was a great experience but not of the sort originally planned. I failed at this, miserably and I also realized that I have reached a point in life where I am limited by age in learning a skill. I guess that shouldn’t be such a big deal, that realization, but it was. A life lesson of sorts. Rich took one of the paperweights to his office, exclaiming over it’s lumpy lopsided dark purple beauty. The small bowl, I’ll keep as a memory of those two days and the other paperweight I will give to my good friend from book club. It is vaguely obscene. It was supposed to be a calla lily in there-I’ll show you tomorrow-but you’ll agree it looks more like, um, parts. From times gone by. She’ll get a laugh out of that when she feels like laughing again. While I was struggling with hot glass, she was at the hospital with her dying husband. He did die that day and I thought about how I had just been with her at the Lake Michigan cottage two weeks earlier and her life was one way and now it was not. Remind me to tell you about the flowers Martha Stewart sent to his funeral.

Say! I have an idea! Let’s invite 1247 (by actual count) strangers to come look at the inside of our house! My friend had a ticket to fly to Florida to be with us for the historic house tour but she stayed home to say goodbye and begin the process of mourning and I flew down to open the doors to the bungalow. I really wanted to be with her and vice versa but that didn’t happen.

The week in Florida was hectic and hard but also lots of fun. Fun and festive, yes indeed. We finished up all of the four trees: one with endangered species ornaments, one with sea life, one antique German feather tree with old mercury glass bird ornaments from my grandmother, and one with nothing but white sand dollars tied up with blue satin ribbons. We finished the outdoor lights including the polar bears, the geese and the penguin. I made a wreath with hundreds of feathers and set out the three generations of Steiff animals and Mary with Jesus on the mantle. I set up the little Mexican creche that for twenty-five years includes Daniel’s gift to the baby: a Matchbox John Deere tractor. We went to parties and our Chicago neighbors flew down and we ate, several times, at the 4th St. Shrimp Store.

mantel.jpeg(In this picture you can see the fine watercolor of the house they gave us as a gift for having the house on the home tour which is a big fundraiser for neighborhood preservation and improvements.)

All during these activities this past month I lived in denial of a nagging tooth ache. A childhood filling that was refilled five years ago had cracked but, you know, these things sometimes heal themselves. Right? I made the call from the cab on the way back from the airport and a dentist, an endodontist and an oral surgeon later, I’m nursing a bone graft in my jaw and stitches stretching from the front of my gum into my soft palette. Enough said, except now I think I really will lose those few extra pounds. I’m thankful that we have leftover beverages from the party that started this post.

sandboa.jpeg(Snake handler in dental pain.)



Today was my last day at the zoo for a long stretch. It was very very cold but snowy and sunny so I tucked my mouth down deep in my coat collar and made the rounds to visit my beastly friends. The puma girls were loving the snow, plowing through it and pouncing on one another. The snow leopard and the Pallas’ cats seemed content to nap in it and Adelor was kept inside, where he complained a bit.

adelor.jpegI will miss them but Hannibal, the hawk and the pelicans and the manatee help offset things and I’ll be back to work with the children and women of Family Village while enjoying the warm sunshine in Florida. Christmas plans are all goofy because Bud is in the hospital getting his electrolytes squared away (Bud update soon- he’s okay and as heartwarming and quirky as ever), the decorations are all in Florida and there are tentative plans to gather in Kalamazoozoozoo at my sister’s home. We shall see.

I like this photo I took today of the farm at the Lincoln Park Zoo with the cityscape behind. Knowing there is a limit to how much winter I face, I thoroughly enjoyed the view.


12 responses to “It’s almost time to resurrect Buckminster Fuller- or write a new Christmas story.

  1. I was so happy to see this post! I have missed you. Have a terrific Christmas, wherever you spend it!

  2. I have missed you too, Vicki, and I am sorry to hear of the bone graft, etc. Having had numerous bouts of oral surgery in the past, I can empathize.

    I first went to see glass blowers when I was about 10, to the Blenko factory in WV. My mom collected colored glass and Blenko was her idea of heaven back then. I’ve never harbored the idea that I could do it, since smokers use their breath for one thing only, and even though I quit smoking years ago, I doubt I’d have the power to blow glass either. It is sad when you see that age is catching up with you, and all of a sudden you realize….Nah, I couldn’t cut it on Survivor anymore (if ever).

    Please tell us about Bud, and the party, and the tour and the zoo and the kids, and…..everything. You do lead such a nice life.

  3. Wow! So much has been going on. I’m beyond impressed that you tried glass blowing. I watched someone do it when I was 24 and I thought it looked too scary and too hard.

    I’m sorry about your friend’s husband.

    Great to hear from you again.

  4. A Chihuly? Need a house sitter while you’re in Florida? That’s okay, I wouldn’t trust me with it, either.

    Seriously, I did glass blowing a couple of years ago, just before we moved to Michigan. It is incredibly harder than it looks, especially when you’re inexperienced and afraid you’re going to burn yourself or someone else. I have a very lopsided bowl that looks nothing like what I imagined in my mind when I started. I enjoyed the experience just to have done it, but don’t have any interest in repeating.

    Now, repeat after me: “Blenders are my friends, blenders are my friends …”

  5. I admire you for going back that 2nd day.

    Your Chicago/Florida life seems like it has settled into a rhythm. You are making yourself useful wherever you go and it sounds like you have tons of new friends. Not a surprise, really.

    All that decorating for the house tour? You are quite the little Martha Stewart, aren’t you? I bet you can guess my favorite part of your decorations. Daniel’s gift to the Baby.

    I have missed you so much,honeypie-babydoll.

  6. Good to see that you’ve gotten off your glass and are back to writing for us again.

    Hope you are healing well!

  7. What a rich, full post! I especially enjoyed the blown glass details. It brought back a flood of memories of a summer family trip from my childhood. We visited an artist who blew glass and it was fascinating. He had muscles and strong lungs, that for sure.

    Good to see the penguin reference!

    Merry, merry, Vicki. I hope your friend finds comfort from friends and family during this holiday season as she grieves. We buried my grandmother one Christmas eve and while there is really never a good time, holiday time is even tougher for funerals.

  8. Hi, Vicki,
    I’m so glad to hear from you again via this blog. I’m looking forward to catching up with you when you get here. Call me.

  9. Bucky balls! You are a beautiful snake charmer! We are listening to the Concordia Ann Arbor Boar’s Head Festival CD. I know that is what made you post. XOXO and Blessed Advent, dear friend!

    P. S. Robbie lost a tooth recently that had a cavity in it. He suggested that the tooth fairy leave the usual dollar plus the amount that the dental bill would have been for the filling.

  10. So glad to hear from you. Hope you are feeling better soon. The house looks beautiful. What a great gift (the watercolor, I mean.) It occurs to me that you should not blame your age for the inability to do glassblowing. Had you tried it at 25, you might not have been able to do it either. The important thing is that you tried and did not let your inablitity get in the way. Think how much more you appreciate a beautiful glass piece now that you know how much work it takes.

  11. Dale is a local boy, and I’ve seen a lot of his work–which I admire from a far with NO desire to be anywhere near molten glass. No, thanks! I’m glad that your mouth is better; isn’t it fun to get older?(ha ha)

  12. In the early sixties, the big Sears Christmas catalog had a glass-blowing kit (back then we were allowed to burn our lips off, I guess) and it was the ONLY item on my Christmas list. Needless to say, I didn’t get it and have wished for years that I had learned glass blowing. Kudos to you for trying so hard–at least we can appreciate the beauty of what others create, right?

    Welcome back to blogging and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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