Social Distancing 101: A “Restorative” Video

Today’s Social Distancing tip is to relax and watch magic for a half hour. Christine McConnell—gothic artist, creator, restorer extraordinaire—has released a half-hour episode on YouTube in which she gives new life to an old gramophone. I wouldn’t call this a ‘restoration’ as she doesn’t do anything to the actual working parts, but she performs real magic on the horn and cabinet. This was originally intended only for her Patreon supporters, but she felt we could all use a distraction. I can’t think of a better way to spend half an hour, now that I’ve watched as many of “The Repair Shop” episodes as an American is able to see. Relax and enjoy.

Need more Christine McConnell? Subscribe to her channel on YouTube.

Social Distancing 101: Deep Dive Organizing

I have recipes. Lots of recipes. Some are aging, crumbling newspaper clippings. Some are printouts from websites. Some are PDFs on my hard drive. Some are cut out of magazines. Some are beautifully written on perfect cute cards by my mom, who’s handwriting approaches calligraphy. And some look like this one:

Yes, that’s two cards badly taped together. Amazingly, I can understand the recipe, if I squint and stand on one leg. I got it from someone, possibly a friend or maybe a relative, either a decade ago or a few years ago, I have absolutely no recollection. And I’ve never actually tried the recipe.

I’ve made many attempts to organize my recipes over the years, but have never once achieved the goal of a perfect system containing everything. The goalpost has moved over the years, too. Way back, the goal was to re-copy all recipes (after testing them) onto perfect cute little recipe cards. But with advances in technology, now my goal is to scan everything into PDF files, then toss out the newspaper and magazine clippings, the printouts, pretty much everything except heirloom recipe cards written down for me by family. Those I’d tuck away with other memorabilia.

Having everything in PDF form means I can send a recipe to my tablet for ease of use in the kitchen. I can quickly share it with friends and family. And I can have a vast amount of recipes filed in an array of sub-folders on my hard drive, making it easy to find whatever I want.

Sounds like a great project to tackle now that I am housebound!

I’m betting you have a project you’ve been meaning to get at. Maybe it’s scanning and archiving old family photos. Maybe it’s finally figuring out how to transfer all those home movies from VHS tapes to something else. Maybe it’s organizing your workshop or garage. Maybe it’s arranging your designer shoes in alphabetical order by brand. I won’t judge.

Hey, if I can read that recipe card, YOU can tackle one project. Just one! When it’s all done, you’re going to feel so good about it. Just one less bit of stress/guilt to be carrying around.

And, you’ll probably have fun!

Social Distancing 101: Enjoying The Arts

If you’re able to pull up the internet on your smart TV or a good-sized monitor, you can continue to enjoy cultural experiences from home. Yesterday, CNN published a good resource article: All the virtual concerts, plays, museums and other culture you can enjoy from home

Artnet News offers more choices in this informative article, Travel Plans on Hold? You Can Visit 500 International Museums From the Comfort of Your Own Home Thanks to Google

My friend Bookworm also mentioned her own local art museum.
Minneapolis Institute of Art

I like CNN’s advice to ‘class it up’. Make these tours special and memorable by blocking out any interruptions, and settling in with snack trays and festive beverages. And why not pull out the good china and glassware for your globe-hopping adventures?

My personal recommendation is Jeff Wayne’s 2006 War of the Worlds musical. The entire live performance is available on YouTube.

If you know of a good arts and culture virtual experience that isn’t mentioned in that CNN article, I’d love it if you’d post a link to it in the comments here.

Social Distancing 101: Free Literature

Staying home means more than trying to stretch your food so you don’t have to shop so often. Today’s advice is all about fun.

Read a Book! There’s no better time than now to catch up on your to-read pile. If you don’t have a stockpile of books already, there’s lots to read for free online. If you have a Kindle, many Amazon authors offer free books, usually as a lead-in to tempt you into following the rest of a series. I’ve discovered some excellent authors this way.

Your local library may have online resources too. Mine offers checkout services for digital books, movies and music.

I’ve got some of my short stories, printable coloring pages, and a collection of Steampunk adventure YouTube movies at The Brassbright Chronicle. Look for the “Free Fun” menu tab near the top.

And last but certainly not least, Mims House books has a fantastic offer for parents needing children’s books. Here’s their announcement:

NOTICE: To support families during the COVID-19 outbreak, all of our ebooks and audiobooks are free. We guarantee that you’ll be able to open these on the device of your choice. To get it free, ADD TO CART. The price will be zero.  Check out as usual. (Be sure you selected the ebook or audiobook version. If you see an amount other than zero, you chose a paperback or hardcover book. Remove it from the cart and instead add the correct version.) To narrow down your choices, click on the category below.

A Necklace To Fan Over

A long time ago, I moved from Seattle to New Jersey. It took a while for me to get employed and back on my feet, so I frequently shopped at (or sold things to) a nice second hand shop. On one of my visits to the shop, I noticed an unusual necklace and it was love at first sight. I paid five dollars for it. Not a lot of money, I suppose, but at that time it meant I’d have to skip dinner. But I had to have it.

I wore it a few times, but it really did look dirty and sad, and the clasp was loose. So, it’s been tucked in the bottom of my jewelry box for… eons. This week I decided it was well past time to try to restore it to its former beauty. Here’s the ‘before’ pictures.

Damascene Necklace
A bunch of googling tells me this necklace was produced by the Amita Company of Kyoto, Japan, in the very late 1930s or sometime in the 1940s.
Damascene Necklace
It’s well-worn and shows its age, but nothing is broken. The clasp got a little loose, but it’s just a wedge of metal. I found out it was easy to bend by hand to get a tighter fit.
Damascene Necklace
I can see Mount Fuji in the background, and some cozy homes up front. I’ve now learned that what I thought was black stone is oxidized steel. Sadly, the hanging tassel is really scuffed up. It may be the first piece of the necklace I try cleaning up.
Damascene Necklace
There’s that easy-to-bend clasp. Each side of the necklace has four fans featuring birds, butterflies, and village scenes.
Damascene Necklace
I can’t wait to start cleaning this necklace up. I hope it sparkles!

Can I get a drum roll please! Here come the ‘After’ pictures! After doing lots of research, I used Q-tips, plain warm water, and ivory soap. My method: Dip the Q-tip in water, rub it on the bar of soap, then gently scrub each fan. I went over the entire necklace (including the clasp) three times. Those Q-tips looked disgusting, which I found encouraging. For a final step, I heavily soaped up my hands and picked up the necklace to give it a gentle soapy massage. Then it got a final rinse in clean water. I pinned it to a cork board overnight to air dry, and this is what I woke up to. It’s a very sunny day here, and it just glistens in the sunlight! I’m very happy. I’ll be looking for a reason to wear it VERY soon.

Restored Damascene Necklace
The large fan really cleaned up well. All the details of a fishing village in the shadow of Mount Fuji are there. The silver will always look muted, but now it stands out more clearly.
Restored Damascene Necklace
The tassle is much better. Before cleaning,the three flowers didn’t look like flowers. It’s still not perfect, but I didn’t feel comfortable scrubbing it any more than I did.
Restored Damascene Necklace
Everything shines!
Restored Damascene Necklace
A view of one side, and the clasp fastener. There are four different scenes, which are repeated in the same order on the other side. The second fan from the top has a muddy Mt. Fuji and part of the silver fan wouldn’t clean up. I notice the metal ‘handle’ isn’t shiny either. I wonder what happened to this fan?
Restored Damascene Necklace
This side, and the clasp cleaned up quite nicely. The chain looks a lot better too. Just soap and water, who knew?

If you are interested in learning more about Damascene jewelry (I know I am!) here are some links to get you going.

The History of AMITA Co., Ltd.
About Damascene Jewelry (with pictures of the process)
Vintage Damascene Jewelry
Damascene Jewelry – Art and Science in Two Hemispheres
Vintage Damascene Jewelry: Three Key Traits


On Saturday, August 24, 2019, the largest tree in our yard, a Black Locust tree that might have been as old as our Eisenhower-era home, changed its stance from vertical to horizontal. Enjoy the ride – and click any pic to imbiggen it!

Friday, August 23, 2019. Last known living photograph of the deceased.

The intrepid team of After Hours Tree Service spent some time wandering the back yard, deciding where they wanted to lay the tree down. And darned if they didn’t put it EXACTLY where they planned to. They made it look easy. Chainsaw out a wedge facing in the direction of the fall, then go around and make a deep cut right behind that, and let gravity take over. The tree cracked twice, loudly – and the cliches are correct! It sounded like gunshot. I don’t have words to describe the sound of it slamming onto the lawn.

After The Fall: Comes the Chipping. Much less exciting and glamorous than the CRACK CRACK THUMP part. The guys cut small branches off the felled tree and fed them into an industrial chipper, which shot the chips into the back of that white truck.

The chipper was super-impressive… until it jammed. They had secret meetings, poked it a lot, drove off, came back, and then it was working again!

Cutting branches loose from a tree this large reminds me of sharks feeding off a dead whale. Sorry, I watch a lot of documentaries.

And when they went to cut the main trunk in half, BOING! The tree had other plans. I had no idea it was a spring-loaded tree, but that was fun to watch.
We’d requested that a few feet of stump be left intact, for future creative purposes. Incidentally, directly under that felled trunk are a bunch of hens and chicks plants. About half survived, and the other half were turned into Has-Been Hens and Chick-en McNothings.

Yep, that’s a rotten spot in the stump’s center. No worries, we have a cunning plan. It involves expanding foam. 😀 But first we’re going to let the stump dry out and settle. The roots are still trying to ‘feed the tree’. This may take a while. Stay tuned.

The view from my Girl Cave was a BIT different that day.

Chives watched everything from a safe spot with a great view. As you can tell by his body language, he was quite distraught. (He didn’t even flinch when the tree cracked and slammed onto the ground! That boy is fearless!)

A California Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there were six little cousins. The eldest, most wisest of them all was Sherrie the Trailblazer.  Successor to her throne was Sharon the Serious. Following down the line of succession came Lori the Befuddled, Lonnie the Stoic, Dave the Adventurous, and Donie Who-Must-Be-Doted-Upon (the baby always gets that role).

The cousins were ruled by those in true power: the Almighty Parents, and the Ever-Indulgent Grandparents. All would gather together for the High Feasts; Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  These holidays were celebrated at one of the three Mighty Fortresses each year in rotation, and so each location was featured every three years. These Fortresses were the Tower of Torrance, the Palace of Pasadena, and the Domicile of Duarte.

For a time, the three princesses were inseparable. The older two princesses took it upon themselves to teach the youngest one the ways of the world. With a little help from Gramma, of course.

Gramma taught the princesses many important things, like how to knit, how play Chinese Checkers, how to appreciate a well-laid-out pickle platter, and how to play the national sport of the land, shuffleboard. There was nothing that Gramma couldn’t do.

Gramma and Granapa’s home, The Palace of Pasadena, was filled with mystery and adventure.  The Hollow Walkway of the Front Porch seemed to echo with exotic voices from the other side of the world, while the Geranium Ramparts behind the palace, encircled by a short brick wall, simply begged to be scampered around, and around, and around upon. Behind the Ramparts was the door to the Heavenly Kitchen, from whence emanated the Smells of Wonderment and Delight. To the left, one can see the window into Granapa’s Office, a realm of fun with rubber stamps and other office supplies.

Of course, the princesses would sometimes fight over the Throne of Power, but it always ended in a tie.

And of course, every princess knew that swimming in the moat was *strictly* forbidden. Except, apparently, Princesses Lori and Sherrie.

For a time, the Enclave of El Monte was also the scene of many medieval burger banquets and raucous revelry.

On special occasions, Princesses Lori and Sherrie (shown here in matching royal ballgowns), were escorted to a Magic Kingdom in Anaheim by Gramma, the Grand Matriarch.

While exploring the Magic Kingdom, the two princesses took a trip to Wonderland, where they had many fine adventures with Alice. A haughty but helpful caterpillar acted as their conveyance.

Then accompanied by Snow White, they boarded a fine watercraft and bravely journeyed through the gaping mouth of a whale, emerging into an Enchanted Storybook Land.

Time Passed, as it does, and the princesses found themselves more often exploring the world on Grand Adventures of their own. However, their bond was strong, and having grown up together, they would always have a shared understanding of the world.

And of course, they sometimes found time to dance the hula.

The Palace of Pasadena, the scene of so many mad romps and adventures, continued to be a refuge, with Granapa and Gramma offering their unconditional love and support.

Princess Sherrie was a gift to us all. From her, Princess Lori learned that a woman could be strong and outspoken. She learned that a woman could lead. For as long as she was able, Princess Lori followed her role model.

This week, Princess Sherrie needed to leave us to travel to a far-off palace, one that she could never return from. But she left those who loved her with remembrance of good times, laughter, smiles. And Princess Lori was given the best gift of all, a delightful childhood filled with happy memories.  Thank you, Princess Sherrie, you will always be remembered and loved!

~ ~ ~

Bonus Feature! An early photo shoot with Princesses Sherrie, Lori and Sharon, in which Princess Sherrie really shows off her charms, as well as a talent for funny faces. Take that, Lucille Ball, here’s the real crazy redhead.

And then Granapa showed up to bring some class and decorum to the scene.

Of course, Gramma had to get in on the fun, too!