Monday, December 27, 2010


God bless the Austrians! Speaking of yule goats and yulicorns and horned beasts of all manners this holiday season, I want to write one time about Perchten. My friend Heidi, who was brought up a halfling in Austria and America just returned from a winter visit to the motherland. She returned with pictures and videos and stories from a magical and lovely sounding snowy terrain, which has quickly and surprisingly become my next dream destination (sorry, Chile and Panama, you will have to take 2nd and 3rd chairs...) We sat down after work Thursday and sipped some Austrian Schnaps*, and then later some very strong Romanian grappa, and Heidi answered all of my tedious questions about Krampus and Perchten, two Austrian traditions that I wanted a little more 411 on.

Here's the breakdown:
Krampus is a devily dude (scary horned beast) who rolls with Saint Nikolas in early December. Whatever children have been good get goodies from St. Nick, and whoever was bad gets coal and crappy stuff from Krampus. He is frightening and gross, and is probably a Christian version of the pagan Perchten.
Perchten comes closer to Christmas at around the time of winter solstice. It is a scary horned beast that goes through the streets with switches (made of horse hair I believe). He whips teenage boys who taunt him and romps through the streets cleansing the evil from the dark time of year. Heidi showed us some vide footage from the town her mom lives in. First, men from the countryside paraded through the streets rhythmically banging cowbells. Following them were the Perchten, scary horned beasts, who would periodically push or shove someone or whip a teenager. Absolutely fascinating. Apparently, there is quite a debate going on in Austria about which region can claim to be the first to come up with the Perchten tradition. Whoever it was, good job. I like it. A lot.

Speaking of liking a lot, check out Heidi's engaging story telling expressions:

*Schnaps is the Austrian spelling and indicates the real stuff, which is good. Schnapps is the crappy American version of Schnaps. Just saying...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow falls upon a small quiet mountain town

When I was a kid I liked snow. In fact, you could say maybe I even loved snow. As a young adult I was loving snow too. I lived my most potent year of young adulthood in my aunt and uncle's cabin alone in central Virginia. It snowed a lot that winter, and I was alway out in it- walking and walking and walking. Tracking animals, visiting neighbors, walking to keep my 19 year old self company. Walking in the snow to make sure I was tired enough at the end of the day. It took a lot of snow walking to get me tired enough back then. But that might have been my last year of loving snow. For approximately the last 15 or so years I have not loved the snow. It is messy, uncomfortable, dangerous and gets on my nerves. You could say Dana + Snow = Frowny Face. People know this about me. If you know me, you might be inclined to call me up when it is snowing and say something like, "Hey Dana- I bet you're having a hay day in this snow!" This is a sarcastic comment, and you are a hilarious joker.
This is background information for my current weather report from the quiet town of Hot Springs, NC. It is snowing a good one. 6 or 8 inches of glorious quiet light white stuff that is just gorgeous. It snowed all day Christmas and today, a soft gentle, steady, but relentless snow that has melted my icy heart and remembered me about what I used to love. This snow is the stuff dreams are made of- fluffy and so light it practically offers no resistence when shuffled through. I was with Jenna today, but I made it out for 3 little short walks to get my thick sugary holiday blood moving and fill the ole lungs with some fresh winter. Walking home tonight the effortless movement of delicate snowflakes through the clean air and the reflection of Christmas lights off the crystalline terrain was an experience to be revered and remembered. This must be what the white Christmas hype is about.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My holographic altnernative option

A few weeks ago my friends and bosses at work, Donna and Heidi, travelled to D.C. for a long weekend of modern art museum visiting. They returned with volumes of photographs of "installations," books of modern "works" and all sort of excited feelings and inspirations about their own artistic endeavors. The morning of the first day of work after their trip, Donna, Heidi, Rachel and I gathered in Donna and Heidi's kitchen. Donna was quite excited to share her photographs of the art with Rachel and I while Heidi was doing some dishes. I tried to engage myself in the excitement and explanations Donna was dishing out, but after a couple minutes I discovered myself more engaged and interested in Heidi's plastic ziplock bag washing technique over in the sink than the art. I was busted of course and laughed at of course, and I just said, "I don't understand a lot of art. I just don't get it." And that is the truth. It's like poetry- most of the time I don't really understand what is going on. With a lot of art I can't understand why someone would spend so much time doing that because what the heck is the purpose?

Later that week, Rachel and I were waiting at the mulch yard to get loaded up (with mulch in the truck that is), and I decided to duck into Gail's Variety and Mattress Shop, which is directly next door to the mulch yard's office. I had always wanted to go into that place. I told Rachel, "I'm just gonna peek in there- I'll be out in 2 minutes." The minute I stepped in the door I felt like a kid walking into a candy shop. There were ugly trinkets, redneck pride tee shirts and little weird shit items everywhere. A paited resin cross-eyed fairy riding a unicorn, a box of tiny plastic pegasuses for $1 each, a tee shirt that reads "Body Piercing Saved my Life" with a picture of Christ's bloody hands nailed to the cross, baskets of plastic flower arrangements. Half of the store was a weird low-tech showroom of mattresses with hand made signs writted in magic marker ink. There was a lady behind the counter who semi-jovially answered the phone, "Good morning. Gail's Variety and Mattress Shop. Can I help you?" I guessed that most likely about 99% of the people who called were all family. 20 minutes later Rachel came in the store to gently tell me it was time to leave, and I realized I was really jacked up. I wanted to show her this and that and then some more this and more that. I had tagged about 10 tee-shirts to show her and of course the fairy and pegasus what-nots. I seriously almost bought multiple items in there, but I stopped myself at the last moment telling myself to think about it and if I still wanted the stuff tomorrow, I would probably be back at the mulch yard and could make the purchase then.
On the way back to the truck, Rachel looked at me and giggled. "What's so funny?" I demanded. Rachel chuckled and said, "That Variety and Mattress shop- That's your art gallery." It was true- that weird little hole in time and space jazzed me up enough to rival Donna's enthusiam for what I call confusing "modern art."

But wait a minute. Surely that's not it. Pointless Chinese-made crap strangely displayed in a failing American small business surely can't be all that lights my creative fire (although when I was in China a year ago I did fore-go shop after shop of beautiful bone and wood and jade carved antiques and go crazy about a booth of gaudy vinyl holographic portraits of Chinese nature and deities to the shock and confusion of my mother and friend who had been happily purchasing items of real value all day...)

I was able to blissfully identify another source of creative inspiration last weekend, when I was invited to a live Nativity Christmas party in which the guests were to dress as characters from the nativity story. At first I thought, 'That sounds good,' and I reckoned I could be the donkey or mother Mary. But on the day of the party, I realized that I had a much more appropriate option. I went to the party as Els Unicornilius, who is a unicorn. I vamped out my unicorn helmet in plastic poinsettias, wore all white with blue rain boots, and used a blue green sparkly scarf as a tail. It felt so good to be wearing the unicorn helmet again, and it got me in the spirit to have great conversations with other party goers about god and meaningful seasonal tradition (and our American lack there-of), the transient nature of our culture and all that is lost, the value of repetition in spirituality, and such. A few people asked me to remind them of the unicorn in the nativity story, to which I replied, "The unicorn is the unmentioned beast of the Nativity." A few days later when I was relaying the details of the party to Donna the art appreciator, she was laughing and laughing. She said it was performance art. I told her that the traditional Nativity story with all its traditional characters and portrayals is only one view of a holographic image. If you tilt the picture ever so slighty to catch the light a different way, you will see a completely different scenario all together. This is where you will find the unicorn. Donna laughed and laughed.

I suppose I have always loved holographic images and all things with a hidden option. Those cheap vinyl landscape set me on fire in China. As a kid I used to love those dolls that you could flip upside down and it would become a completely different doll. Little Red Riding Hood flipped upside down became the bid bad wolf. I am fascinated with the contrary meanings of Tarot cards you get when you pull a card upside down.

Tonight I get to go to a Solstice Yule Goat party, which celebrates some historical tradition of some Yule Goat. Anyone who comes to the party as a yule goat gets a prize. Guess who will be arriving as a Yul-icorn? I hope my prize is as subversive as my appreciation for art.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Week's Projects

This week is the terrible weather marathon. From snow to wind to freezing rain to ice to very cold temperatures, we have had it all. The Dirty Hoe went ahead and called the week early on because the it is just pretty much unworkable. I have been indoors more this week than I probably have in all the time combined (excluding sleeping time) since about March. I've been passing the days with moderate levels of industriousness, and it's been moderately fun to engage in these winter activites... Enjoy the show and tell:

#1 "Swedish Jam Shortbread": Jenna and I made 3 batches to share- it is insanely delicious and addictive and keeps for quite a while.

"Swedish Jam Shortbread" Recipe:
Mix together: 1 Butter recipe cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup soft butter
Press that mixture into a greased and floured 9x13 pan
Spread jam of your choice over the mixture- my favorites are apricot and strawberry.
Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes.
Cool and then glaze with:
1/2 cup 10x powdered sugar
2 1/2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp almond extract

Let set. Cut into small squares and serve with holiday breakfast or as a sweet snack.

#2 Multi media Christmas cards: I did the background watercolor and Jenna did the collaging on the foreground. I thought they turned out great...

# 3 Rag rug, pound cakes and linden blossom mead: The rag rug is an ongoing winter project. I plan to keep expanding it as long as I can keep coming up with fabric that loosely coordinates with my projected color scheme of my future house interior, which is the colors of the luna moth (put that in your pipe and smoke it.)
The pound cakes are some Christmas baking.
The linden mead is something Sally and I made this past summer. Check out the most bodacious labels made for me by Heidi in Deutsch. Bottling the mead was a somewhat involved process. First I had to soak the collected wine bottles in hot water and soap so that I could then scrub off their original labels. Then I ran the bottles through the commercial dishwasher at the Mountain Magnolia to sterilize them. Next I siphoned the mead from the fermentation vessels into each bottle. I learned years ago that you cannot bottle wine and then go to work- siphoning the wine by sucking the tube (which is my technique) inevitably involves swallowing substantial amounts of wine in the process. Once at the garage apartment I got up early in the morning and starting working on my Things to Do list before leaving for work. First on the list was to bottle some homemade wine. I started sucking the siphon and bottling several kinds of wine. Before I knew it I was stumbling drunk and it was about 7:30 in the morning. I had to sober up before I could go to work at about 11:00! At least my schedule was flexible that day.
Anyways, after I bottled the mead I went down to Kinkos and made some labels (via color copies and laminate label paper). It was an ordeal, but I am tickled pink with the way the labels turned out. Thank you Heidi!

Maybe tomorrow I can get out for a walk or something.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spring Creek Polar Bear Club

It has one member that I know of. If there are others out there, show your faces. Yep, I did it this morning. I got out of a warm bath and thought to myself, "Geez I'm hot." There was only one thing to do. I grabbed my bathrobe and my towel and headed out the back door and down the snowy path to the bank of Spring Creek. I had to bust a layer of ice with my bare foot in order to wade in and lie down in the shallow water up to my neck. I was quickly up and gasping and hollering and grunting from deep in my primal gut. You see, in case you don't live around here, it was ungodly cold today. The kind of cold you just don't even want to be in. And I loved my polar bear dip- every one second of it. It was my winter tonic*- to invigorate the spirit and get the blood flowing, wake up the dulled over cabin fevery senses and break the monotony of the days like busted ice. I hurried inside and bundled up and drank hot ginger tea to keep the circulation going. It was good. Real good.

* Note- I would never dip in the frozen water on a crazy cold day like this if I felt physically compromised in the least. I knew it was a good tonic for me because I was feeling robust, but craved a little invigoration.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On writing

Over five years ago I decided I wanted to write more. You see, I love stories, and I love telling stories and hearing them and then relaying what I have heard-you get the picture. Some people had been telling me I should start writing some of my stories down. I decided I wanted to do that, but I wasn't doing it. My dear friend Meg, who lives in Texas, sent me a brand new composition notebook and a large bag of M&Ms for writing inspiration. I sat down in the floor in front of the heater one night in the garage apartment and wrote about half a story about Hopey (the plott hound under the Christmas tree for those of you who don't know). I wrote until my hand was stiff and I needed to go to sleep. The next morning I got up and looked at what I had written, and it seemed dumb. I ate up all the M&Ms in a couple of days and never wrote another thing in that notebook.

Maybe it was that same winter or maybe it was the next, my friend Rosemoon told me I should start a blog. I thought the word blog was downright dumb, and after all the whole thing sounded pretty complicated. I told her I couldn't do that because I didn't know how to do that kind of thing. She kept telling me to start a blog and finally when she showed me how to do it, I said OK.

I have been keeping a regular blog ever since. Being practically a neo-Luddite my own self, I don't know why this format works so well for me. I really don't. I am a fan of all things that are going out of practice. Longhand cursive, face to face conversations, cake walks, letters, library research, tea and talking, made in USA, # 2 pencils, what have you.

I have a drawer full of #2 pencils, and I have been wanting to use them bad lately. I have just been craving that feel of a sharp graphite point on a tangible piece of paper. What? I messed up? No sweat- I will just erase that part with the handy rubber eraser and move on. It is wonderful. The wood, the mineral, the rubber- a trinity of underappreciated usefulness.

My problem has been, I have had all these brand spanking new #2 pencils sitting around (most of them have a Halloween theme- thanks Mom), but I have had no pencil sharpener and a kitchen knife just wasn't "cutting" it. I kept meaning to pick up a handy little pencil sharpenerwhen I was out and about, but then I would always forget until I was home and wanting to use a pencil. I guess it's just the type of thing that's fairly easy to go around forgetting.

Well, my pencil troubles were all unexpectedly resolved yesterday during a snowy visit to my grandmother's house I made with my sister (another dying trend- visiting with family for no good reason.) We were taking her some sweets we had baked- a little something to make the snow storm a little more palatable. She started asking us what we wanted in our stockings this Christmas, and I couldn't think of a damned thing. I wanted to say "no stinky bath products please," but finally I thought of one silly little thing. "I would like a pencil sharpener for Christmas." She chuckled the chuckle of someone who is humoring someone who just said something dumb, but then I saw her lovely hazel eyes light up with a revelation.

"You want a pencil sharpener? I have an extra one. I just bought several the other day because they were on a fantastic special!" She disappeared into the other room and re-emerged after a few moments with this beauty.

Perfect. The Duel Hole Sharpener. Love the Chinese. Love the grandmother who buys extra Duel Hole Sharpeners because they are on a fantastic special. Love the #2 pencils. If the internet crashes, perhaps I will pull out my old composition notebook, wipe the dust off, and finish that story about the dog. If I re-read it and something sounds dumb, I will erase it and try again. When I am finished, maybe I will brew some tea, invite a few people over, turn off the cell phones, and read the story right off the page. Wouldn't that be lovely...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

D&J's Day Together

aka: Candy Roastarama

Let's see... Today it snowed in Hot Springs- pretty much all day long. We were going to go to Asheville, but we nixed that plan and stayed in. Our mom gave us a killer candy roaster* to bake, and unfortunately I did not take a picture of it before we started. It was a real beauty. We cleaned that bad boy out, cut it into sections, and baked it with a little water. Then it was almost lunch time, so I went ahead and whipped up a little coconut squash soup.

My recipe:
1) Sautee some celery, chopped onion and garlic in a soup pot for 10 minutes in coconut oil.
2)Scrape about 4-5 cups of winter squash meat out of a pre-cooked squash and add to soup pot.
3) Add a can of coconut milk, 2-3 tsp coriander, 2-3 tsp tumeric and whatever other spices you like. Fresh grated ginger would be good.
4) Puree with an emersion blender or even a regular mixer.
5) Add salt and pepper to taste.

After lunch we commenced making whoopie pies with some of the remaining candy roaster meat. I found a Martha Stewart recipe that tasted good, but the little half pies spread out and got too thin for my taste in the oven. I added ground up chocolate chips to the batter for shits and giggles. We made a cream cheese frosting for the middles of the pies and assembled them late this afternoon. Check them out.

The fun wasn't over yet, and we did a little laundry then headed out to the closed in front porch sun room to decorate Jenna's Christmas tree. We realized this was the first time we had decorated a Christmas tree without our mother's participation, and we are hoping she likes the job we did. If not, oh well...

We did a good job today, if we do say so ourselves.
Love, Dana and Jenna

* Did you know? It is believed that candy roaster squashes originated in our fair state of North Carolina.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Forest and Lily, 10 months

One of the sweetest things I think I have ever seen in my entire life was the sight of Forest and Lily holding hands while simultaneously nursing my dear friend Julie. The twins are healthy and happy. So are the parents.

Julie and Jeremy have taken to parenthood like natural champs. Forest and Lily are well adjusted delightful little chips off the old block. They have a daily schedule, and they eat, nurse, nap, bathe and go to bed at the same time. It works like a charm. The babies are smiley and I think I heard each one cry one time in three days. It is very exciting to see the personalities begin to emerge from each one, Lily the laugher- always ready for a joke and pretty wild about slapstick humor, and Forest, watchful and mellow, yet determined. They are seeming quite different from each other, and the household is full of good times.