Category Archives: St. Petersburg Bungalow

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, 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 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. 

My new best excuse

(This photo was taken by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and is not copyrighted. He is one of my all time favorite photographers and I also think he is an incredible steward of the earth, maybe the best. If you haven’t seen his work or you are not familiar with his, I highly recommend you check him out.)

Made up my mind. I am definitely going to keep up this blog, if for no other reason than to get Bonnie’s comments. And really, FC is right: FaceBook is sort of sucking the life blood out of some good blogs but there’s something lacking over there. It’s sort of promiscuous, a kind of cheap intimacy. (It ain’t pretty being easy, but sometimes I love it.) Also, it encourages those of us already challenged around editorial boundaries to just cut loose, not that I would ever do anything like recount my adventures with Bank of America, ala some bizarre impersonation of Robin Williams negotiating a mortgage.

Anyway, today I am coming clean and I have this new link for you: TANGLEDUPINWOOL.COM

I have been a busy feltmaker and I’m happy the site is up and launched, if not completely written, stocked, or padded out with all the bells and whistles I would like. I do hope you all will come visit me there. And for those of you chickens willing to cross the road? The first three to add a note at TUIW with your address will get a lovely surprise in the mail. (I promise not to share it with anyone, not even B of A)

And just to show you that I am, indeed, keeping up this blog that will no longer be all about things wool, guess who is back in the ‘hood? We thought he might have finally moved on, but two days ago I heard his call, went out and looked and there he was: Hannibal! Our old friend is back, perched next to his nest but I haven’t seen the missus yet this year. She usually arrives about a week later. That’s how Coopers stay mated for life, you know. She takes a separate vacation for a few months each year. I’ll keep you updated on their progress this season. Promise.

The Ultimate Demise of Minky

Last week our contractor called me to say “thanks a lot” for warning him about the stuffed fox hidden under the basement stairs of the mountain house. They were pulling things out in preparation for laying tile down there and I guess a couple of the builders screamed like girls.(Foxy never did like the neo-industrial architecture of the Chicago condo. He jumped at the chance to go to North Carolina.)

Those few of you who have known me for a while know that I had a brief fling with taxidermy. Back in Michigan I could sometimes be found haunting antique stores, not in search of a Roseville vase or a Chippewa basket but rather some hapless stuffed critter. I admit that I was fascinated with these specimens that, in life, I couldn’t get close to but as taxidermy, I could admire them to my heart’s content. Small mammals were my favorite. And although I would never be involved with the killing or commissioning of such an item I did really enjoy my little collection, much to the amusement of BCMA. In retrospect it was probably much to the horror and bewilderment of some of my patients. Ah, me.

Anyway, I’ve been busy organizing life and this household in Florida for my move north to Asheville. Rich is coming along in about a month and a bit, after everything is done and our possessions have been pulled out of storage and brought down from the Midwest. It makes the most sense to have everything as settled as possible before he and the cats arrive. A slight digression: Curious thing about marriage. The past couple weeks as I’ve been really very busy, with many details in my head, I have gotten a bit short with Rich’s apparent inability to find a fork or open mail. But as I was thinking about it, I realized that we each have gone helpless in certain areas, deferring to the other for assistance. Really, we’re more capable than we each act. So when I considered the possibilities I realized that if Rich is at the mountain house when the van first arrives and dumps everything off, he’ll be distressed because he can’t work in peace and I’ll be distressed because he’s not helping me lift boxes and move heavy things. And we’ll give vent to our distress because that’s who we are and then there will be that negative pall over something new and special and happy. It is far better for him to stay here and work and mind the kitties. I’ll be there, managing just fine (remind me I wrote this in a couple of weeks) getting everything arranged and put away. When Rich isn’t around I surprise myself with my own physical strength and if that isn’t sufficient I’ll just work around what I can’t do until I can snag trusty Rosario. (he has no idea he’s becoming a fixture in my plans and in my blog, poor fellow.)

As far as the cats go, they like routine and they do not like change. They would prefer to stay put whether we go or not. It would be fine with them if the Roomba put out their food as long as it was at 7am and 7pm. Not really. They like us and besides, the Roomba wouldn’t do the litter box.

They not only like us, they bring us food. Much in the same way that Rich and I are in some ways helpless to care for ourselves but care for each other, so it is with the cats. McCloud can’t open a can and although he surely could, he hasn’t gone out and caught any sustenance for himself lately. But he reliably brings us bunnies. And Sophie brings birds. Every morning when we get up the bedroom floor is littered with delicacies for us to eat. I think Sophie is a tad brighter because she at least brings things that vaguely resemble birds while McCloud just brings large balls of yarn. He would move dozens every night from the living room to the foot of the bed if I didn’t intervene but since he also enthusiastically kills each and every skein, I’ve got him down to his own basket of 6 balls, all tangled and in shreds. Every morning we round them all up and put them back, Cloudy’s bunnies in his basket and Sophie’s birdies in hers. Then we thank the cats effusively and give them breakfast.

The two of them are in for a rude awakening when they get piled into the car and driven north.I plan to have their baskets of yarn and toys in a convenient place near our new bedroom but still…When I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo we would often change up the habitats of the animals just to keep them on their toes. It’s called “enrichment.” By giving them a whole new environment to explore they stayed alert and curious and didn’t get complacent. So, Cloudy and Sophie- brace yourselves for a little enrichment.

(Okay. As I was writing that I had deja vu for this delightful Monty Python skit. I have tried to describe it before and no one seems to have seen it but me-except now I find it on YouTube. Go here and laugh with Confuse-a-Cat.)

Where was I? Oh, right, moving in circular fashion back to taxidermy. Working at the zoo pretty much cured me of my interest in taxidermy. I had lots of opportunities to get up close and personal with all sorts of furry creatures and besides, I began to feel fairly guilty on behalf of all us ignorant folk for lording it over animals in the first place when really, we should try at all costs to leave them to themselves when we can. That includes not being party to enjoying stuffed ones, thereby denying them the privilege of the whole dust-to-dust scenario. Who knows? A dung beetle might come back as a meerkat, left to decompose in peace. But here I was, stuck with the responsibility of a half-dozen taxidermied animals. Hence the fox under the stairs at the mountain house.(Minky, minus an ear and two moth-eaten feet, finds herself unceremoniously dumped in the trash today. Life moves on.)

Minky made the move here to Florida a few years ago when (God forgive me) I dressed her up with Christmas bows and posed her under the tree- back when the house was on the Old Northeast Christmas home tour. (Now that I think of it, it’s possible that this had something to do with my lack of acceptance in the neighborhood garden club. Then again, I might be imagining that.) Yesterday, in the process of packing up some things that will go north I discovered that Minky has acclimated to Florida’s pestilence and high humid temperatures about as well as I have: not at all. And now I feel badly because while I was having my own encounters with the dermatologist and tending to the cats flea allergies, I ignored Minky who was just sitting in an old fishing creel in the corner, coming apart at the seams.

The moral of this round about tale (yet another one) is that, as noted in Ecclesiastes,  there is a time and a place for everything. My skin tells me that much of the time, Florida is not a place for me. The cats’ constant struggle with flea allergies and the subsequent itching and fur loss suggest this place is rough on them during the really hot times.  Many of my plants, nurtured over years, including begonias from my mother, have struggled with the Florida heat and sun.(These plants will hopefully survive the trip and thrive in North Carolina)

On the other hand, plants that I could never grow before flourish here,  in a fashion I never imagined possible. Orchids and ferns go wild. Rich thrives here in Florida, especially since he’s found a renewed love for playing baseball and a group of swell teammates. He does a much better job of growing where he is planted, in any case. Me? I need the seasons. I need the contrast between full vibrant green and dormant cold ground. Basically, I need that deciduous thing, the starting and the stopping and then all over again. That’s more my nature.

For a fair part of the year, I will miss my friends here, especially my good neighbors Marion and Other Vicki and Ken and south of the bridge Cathy. I will miss the art people here in St. Petersburg and classes at the Morean Arts Center. I will really miss Shadow and Wheezer and Phantom and Hoo2 and Mystic, my feathered raptor friends and all of my fellow caretakers at Boyd Hill. I’m not sure yet what my schedule will look like; I’m going to let the weather move me so we’ll see. These next couple days I’ll be loading up my car and heading to the mountain house- the first house that I have ever really designed with me and my life with Rich in mind. A house to fit my life. Imagine that. What will the reality be, for me and for Rich and those flea-bitten cats? Imagine that!  I’ll see you there.(Okay, I admit it. There are things about Florida that are simply beautiful.)