Saturday, July 31, 2010

from the 'thank god for small favors' dep't...

One of the techniques I'm using on our current job, which is promised by mid-August, is the lamination of small bevels and textured glass. As usual, I didn't check my stock of the proposed bevels and textured glass before I waited til the last minute to do the fabrication. I was counting out the 1” x 1” peak bevels I had on hand and found myself to be about 15 short. Great.

Called the wholesaler in town and they were out with the next shipment expected in September. The other wholesaler in town won't do business with me but that's a different story. I could order them from an out of state wholesaler but then I would have to place a minimum dollar amount order and would have to wait a week to get them, a week I don't have. Or, I could use the 1” x 2 1/2” bevels I do have but that would change the look I was going for.

So Friday morning, armed with the yellow pages I sat down to call the local stained glass studios in town and see if I could find them even if I had to pay retail. I logically started with the studio closest to me which was about 8 blocks away. It was a small studio, much like ours, set up in the garage behind the house, one I had never heard of and didn't even know was there til I saw it listed.

Her: “Ferrrell Stained Glass Studio”

Me: “Hi, I was wondering if you had any 1” x 1” peak bevels.”

Her: “I'm sure I do but I don't usually sell (supplies) retail.”

Me: Well, this is Ellen Abbott and...”

Her: “Ellen, sure, how many do you need?”

Well, that sort of took me back.

When I got there, she did look familiar and it turned out I had met her a couple of times many many years ago before she had her own little studio.

Me (whipping out my checkbook): “So what do I owe you?”

Her: “Oh, I don't know. I wouldn't know what to charge you. Just take them.”

Me: “Are you sure?”

Her: “Yeah. You know, just return them when you get some in.”

Wow. I guess I just made a withdrawal from my good karma bank account.

Friday, July 30, 2010

whoa the woes, please

This has been one hell of a month. Our available cash has been cut in half. Wouldn't be such a big thing if we were having a good year but the economic woes seem to have hit us this year after a sparkling last year. We finished up our last big project the end of March and since then, we have had three smallish jobs. We are in the finishing stages of #3, will complete it next week but the installation and designer's percent will come out of the last payment, with nothing pending.

Unfortunately, we had to make two major purchases in July. We had to buy a new lawn mower of the riding variety, something we didn't plan for til next year and we had to get a new central air unit as the 25 year old unit that came with the house was failing, something we hadn't planned for at all.

Most of our immediate problems would be solved if we would just sell the city property, but it is our last ace in the hole. We are loathe to cash it in just yet especially since any kind of investment is unreliable these days.

Now on top of all this, the old computer refused to wake up the other day wanting to know 'where is the hard disc, can't seem to find it'. The first, easiest, cheapest solution didn't work. Now begins the long slog to try and retrieve our data and hopefully, a few programs. I appreciate a challenge but one at a time would be sufficient.

So it seems I'm going to have to make an effort in the marketing area again. See if I can jump start our cash flow. I hate marketing. Without the resources to buy ads and whatnot on a regular basis, don't have a personal rep, I have to rely on personal contact and I've never been very good at that. I'm OK face to face. It's the getting face to face that I have a hard time with, the picking up the phone. I am, at heart, anti-social (yeah, I know, hard to believe, but it's true). And I'm too old far along for the cold call.

I was going to start sending out a newsletter a year and a half ago, a project that got put aside when we got busy. I suppose I'll be resurrecting that idea. We've relied heavily on our website for a few years and I'm wondering now if it was a good idea to get rid of our land line, relying on the cell phone. I've been telling people that we have moved to Wharton but that we still work in Houston. I don't want them to get the idea that they should mark us off their resource list. It's hard for me to know sometimes why work isn't forthcoming, if it's the economy or lack of involvement on my part.

So please, hold up there on any more personal challenges if you don't mind. My plate is full. Or my purse is empty. Or something like that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

from the 'no, really, I'm grateful' dep't....

this isn't our stew but it could have been on another night.*

As you know, Marc does most of the dinner cooking around here and he is not constrained by any sort of rules. Last night we were having stew. He hates to brown things so I browned the meat and then fled the kitchen. When he called me to come serve myself, I ladled a spoonful in my bowl and then reached for a second ladleful.

Is that the leftover salad?” I asked him as I peered into the pot. We had had spinach salad the previous night.

Yeah,” he says.


No euwwws allowed.” he said.

It wasn't an euwww,” I replied, “it was an ohhh.”

I was contemplating what cooked cucumber was going to taste like.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

the secret of her life

Well, the media has descended on my little country town. Several weeks ago there was a fire at an egg production warehouse in the next (smaller) town down the road and tragically one of the volunteer firefighters was killed when the burning roof collapsed on him, an event worthy of media attention but not the reason the media has descended on us.

No, the reason for all the hoo rah is a lawsuit filed against his widow by his mother and ex-wife trying to block her from receiving any and all benefits (like the $600,000 death benefits, life insurance and joint property). Basically, they want to run her out of town on a rail.  A little tarring and feathering might not be out of order.  Why, you might ask, would they want to do this?

Allegations have been charged and rumors have exploded.

They were getting a divorce, were living apart, property was settled and they were only waiting for the court date. The widow denies this.

The marriage was not lawful in Texas since she is genetically a man, born as a male with a male name. She claims she was born with a birth defect that was surgically remedied later in life.

The deceased husband did not know about her 'history', that it was revealed to him during a child custody hearing and that was why he was divorcing her. She claims he did know, that the surgery happened after they were married.

And on and on it goes.

Pretty hot stuff for a small town in Texas.

Rather than repeat it all, here's a decent report on what's happening. 

And though her parents claim she was born with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome or AIS*, she was obviously a boy at birth and was raised as a boy as she herself admitted in a video she made in her early 20s, a boy who wanted to be a girl and who started dressing and living as a girl in her teens and who admitted to wanting a sex change operation.

*AIS is a condition in XY babies that makes them insensitive to androgen (male hormone) and are born with outward female genitalia (a blind pocket vagina) but no uterus or ovaries and with testes that do not develop or descend. This condition is not usually discovered until puberty. Sometimes a partial syndrome (PAIS grades 2 – 4) results in both a vagina and a micro penis.

It turns out that this type of thing is not so uncommon. It happens in about 1 out every 20,000 births, with PAIS/1 or 2 happening in 1 out of every 200 births. My son knows a woman who was born with this condition, who is genetically a male with a male brain, but because it is easier to change the anomalous genitalia to female than male, that's what the doctors recommend. And so it is done. They don't know, of course, if the baby is male or female unless they do genetic testing or until puberty so they just rely on social conditioning and upraising to make these babies female. It doesn't always work. My son's friend likes girls just like any hetero male with a male brain. That makes her a lesbian in our society, but she is not, not actually.

There must have been a time in our human history before we became so 'civilized' when we did not make these individuals pariahs and accepted them however they saw themselves. It's a shame that as civilized 'religious' human beings we now strive to make these individuals ashamed and undeserving of human and civil rights.

Whether the widow was truly AIS or was simply (if that can ever be called simple) a complete male with a female brain, whether her husband knew before the marriage or not I suppose will come out in the upcoming court case. Regardless, I don't see her having a future in this town. And although the ex-wife and the mother and their lawyer claim that this is strictly a legal affair, citing Texas law that makes same sex marriages illegal, it is definitely about the money and about the hate and about the fear. It's definitely not about love or about who we know we are.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about's causes, appearances, socialization, treatments,'s an excellent site. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

the last visit

The g'kid has been returned home. The last g'kid week is done. The first two were spaced out a bit but the last two were back to back.

I've had fun. I've gotten to see four movies, I've gone to the beach twice, did some baking, saw fireworks, assisted in the production of several craft projects, been to the local museum three times and reacquainted myself with sewing (that's Autumn in her new dress on the left). There's also been a lot of food involved and the cleaning up, a lot of not swearing and not farting because your g'kids will point it out to you.

In the wake of the failed air conditioner, we headed for the beach once again on Friday. Conditions couldn't have been more different. Last week there was a nice wind, enough and the water was fairly calm, only two sets of small breakers. Our shelter was easy to put up and was stable, some seaweed littered the sand.

Our second visit, the wind was blowing very strongly and the water was much more turbulent with continuous lines of breakers all the way past the last sandbar. Getting the shelter erected was like holding onto a parachute filled with wind. We did get it secured eventually but it flapped fiercely and continuously afterwards. The tide was higher and the beach was covered with a thick spongy mat of the sargasso seaweed that had been washing in all week.

We saw a mermaid stranded on the beach.

While we did see some pelicans, there were not as many. But. I did see a white heron fishing in the shallows. That was the first time I have ever seen a heron at the beach.

We picked up a lot of shells. Most of them were worn smooth, their outer coatings removed to expose the translucent layers of color underneath.

Some of the broken pieces of the larger shells resembled potshards like you would find in an archeological site or in some of the southwest canyonlands.

Earlier in the week at home when Autumn and I were out, a juvenile blue heron (at least I think that is what it was) came to visit our backyard. These pictures were taken through a screen and a not too clean window by Marc.

You can see it's markings in the picture on the right.

Now that all the g'kid visits are done we are planning to get moving on several projects that have been waiting like getting the shop roofed at the very least. All this rain the past month has not done the framing any good. We have a small job to finish next week and I'm really wanting to get started on some new models. Ah, but first I have to put the house and studio back in order.

Friday, July 23, 2010

river vignettes 5 & 6 & 7

We are still without air conditioning. The parts didn't arrive until yesterday and one of them was the wrong one. In the meantime, we considered how much we were going to spend to repair this 25 year old system and that the heating unit was probably going to need some work as well later in the year so we have decided to spend over 6 times as much and replace it. Ouch! Unless we get a big job in (and there is nothing close to the horizon) this is going to seriously set back our plans for finishing the shop.

Fortunately it has been a little cooler this week due to all the rain and cloudiness. Still, afternoons are hot and sticky even with all the fans and since the new unit won't be installed til Monday we decided that if we are going to be hot and sticky, we'll just be hot and sticky at the beach. So we are headed back there today with the last g'girl.

I'm thinking cool river thoughts so here is another (or two or three) vignette.

river vignette 5 – the Pecos

Farther back in the canyon, there is an area of ground that is just humming. The air is practically vibrating. If you pay attention you see hundreds, thousands of little bees swarming around. The ground is covered with little holes. The bees are coming and going in and out of all these little holes in the ground to their underground, immense, hive.

river vignette 6 – Rio Grande

The water is up...8 1/2 feet. The current is moving fast with boils and whirlpools. The weather is beautiful; days sunny and warm with cool, clear, star-filled Milky Way nights and we see lots of shooting stars. The moon is just the barest sliver of a new cycle setting about an hour after sunset.

river vignette 7 – the Pecos

We get to Cold Springs Rapid. We pull over to scout it out and I make my way up and sit on a boulder overlooking the rapid just below the drop. I feel surprisingly serene. Not nervous or anxious. I walk back to my canoe and push off. Enter, drop, a little left, a big right another big right, taking on water but I’m off the rock now, big left, dodge a few rocks in the current and I'm through and just so stoked.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

and another thing...

Another night of sleeplessness, I finally drifted off about 3 AM.

We're having another week of rains. Houston is 8” ahead for the month of July. Every time the g'girl and I get in the truck to go somewhere (bringing her here, to the movie, to my sister's) we pass through torrential rain.

I'm teaching another g'girl to sew. This one is making a sundress.

We're having another problem with the central air. Never had central air (well, except for growing up) before the country house. This unit is old, about 25 years. It had a part short out the first of May and now yesterday another part has gone bad. The one that makes the air cool. The one that has to be sent from Michigan and costs $300. The one that won't be here til tomorrow. Did I mention it's the middle of summer?

We did have another beautiful sunset last night though.

I bought another dragon kite last week. I had been eyeing it for months. I finally decided to get it and the one on display was the last one they had.

Another family event is coming up in Dallas the end of this month. The eldest brother-in-law is having a surprise birthday party. Right now, I really don't want to go. It's a four hour drive each way and a lot of gas. I know that once there we will have a good time but the getting there and the coming home are daunting.

We have another workshop coming up in August but I don't think it's going to make. As far as I know no one has signed up yet. It's not our usual glamorous workshop where the students make two pieces of glass but rather a focus on model and mold making. We thought it would be a good idea for the serious glass caster. Apparently no one else thought it was a good idea.

I have found another piece of art I want for my small collection. We went to the opening of this show because several people we know are in it and we have been absent from the art scene for a couple of years now and wanted to remind people we are still here. We have known the artist for nearly 15 years. She and her husband moved out to the country several years ago but farther out than us, over two hours away. They are looking to move back to the city now. She feels too isolated out there. Anyway, this particular piece is a woven bracelet of spear grass with a silver clasp. It is just so very cool, the best piece in the show I think. Totally unwearable. We've been wanting to trade for years so maybe if it doesn't sell, we'll do a little deal. If I currently have anything she wants in return.

And so ends another post with no pictures because the g'girl, who was up with me all night, is still asleep in the room with the computer that has Photoshop on it. Still haven't gotten a version for the new Mac.

Friday, July 16, 2010

on the gulf

Today was Robin's last full day. We took off after breakfast on a lark and headed down to the coast at Matagorda. It's been a couple of years since I have been to the beach. We grabbed a tarp, some chairs and a cooler and headed south, about an hour's drive. They still let you drive on the beach at Matagorda and being a weekday, it wasn't crowded. We fashioned a shelter with the tarp off the side of the truck and spent the afternoon. We swam, built sand pyramids, looked for shells. A small blue crab was in the shallows settling itself into the sand and we rousted it out shrieking and dancing and laughing as it scuttled off. The sargasso seaweed was washing ashore. The powers that be used to scrape it off the beaches in the summer because it smelled and people didn't like it. Then the sand dunes became unstable. They've stopped doing that now and the dunes are once again healthy. Going to the coast has great restorative powers for me. It's so calming. I spent many summers and holidays on the beach while I was growing up.

Robin in her new clothes and shoulder bag 
that she made with a little help from me.

The Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda.

Our shelter for the day.

Small bits of shell on their way to becoming sand.

The pelicans patrolled the shore in groups of three to eight, sometimes settling onto the water in their clumsy fashion to fish. The indistinct smudge on the horizon line is an off-shore drilling rig. I counted seven in all, faintly seen.

Robin on the beach.

Sargasso seaweed. This stuff is very cool. It's a little eco-system usually. It's not unusual to see little shells and other small organisms taking shelter on it/in it. The sun was so bright I was having a hard time seeing the image on the viewer so most of the time I wasn't sure it was in focus.

This frumpy little alien followed me around all day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

panting in the heat

insert picture I don't have here

I am bereft. My camera battery has died and I left the charger in Houston. Just when I was trying to get a picture of the crop duster flying low over the cotton fields. Back and forth, back and forth. These two weeks of rain (10” - 16”) we had has raised concerns of boll weevils. They also applied some sort of plant growth regulator to keep the cotton from growing too fast. Who knew growing things was so complicated?

Dirt, seed, water, sun. That's all it takes, right?

I'm learning a lot living out in this agricultural community. My own food garden has been left to it's own devices for now, it's just too hot to be out and I don't get up early enough. Two weeks of rain and being in the city for the second week of rain plus an invasion of stink bugs has left my tomatoes in ruins, rotting on the stems.

insert another picture I don't have here

I planted everything too close together. The first two rows of green beans are a total tangle, so thick it's almost impossible to delve into them to find the beans. The second two rows planted later, a different variety, bloom and put on baby beans that then fall off. I've gotten only a dozen or so beans off those. Meanwhile, the first two rows are covered with little beans but they don't seem to be getting any bigger. The squash I pulled up after the squash vine borers got to them. My three beautiful cantaloupes, getting close to ripening before we left for our week in the city, were ravaged when we got back. One was missing altogether, the second was broken open and half eaten and the third looked whole but when I picked it up, ants had invaded it and came rushing out at me! The banana peppers are like the hand mill cranking out salt and I don't know the magic word to get it to stop. This growing food business is harder than it looks.

I've sort of lost my enthusiasm for it now that it's so hot and I'm trying to decide if I should just pull it all out, wait til it's time for a fall garden to start over. Obviously, the garden needs to be a bit bigger and I need to read up a bit.

About the only chore that gets done outside now is mowing and it's never neat and tidy even with a brand new riding mower. We bought a used one last summer hoping it would last through this summer. Ah, foolish wishes. This spring it needed more in repairs than we originally paid for it. And here, mid-summer, it refuses to work again. Clearly our judgement needs some work when it comes to riding mowers. Today we acquired a brand new mower. I don't get it. It did the same half assed job as the old one.

Regardless, the drone of mowers is the summer song and the dog days approach.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

sewing lesson

Back at the country house with the youngest g'girl for her week. Robin, 9, wants to learn how to sew so we went out and got a pattern and she picked out some fabric to make a top and some shorts.

It's been a very long time since I did any sewing, much less made any clothes. I made a lot of my clothes when I was in high school and college (1965 – 1971, that would make me 15 - 21). Wild colorful prints with long fringe, blousey sleeves with 6” cuffs, mini-skirts. I made my prom dress, a swirl of blue, purple and orange floor length voile with an empire waist and long flowing sleeves, very 'out there' for the times. I even made my wedding dress the first time around.

I not only made this one, I wore it...out in public...more than once. It barely covered my ass. I might have been wearing this one or another one just as short with my long hair walking to art class one day when I heard a crash behind me. A guy had rear ended the car in front of him. I turned to see and another student, male, was walking toward me and as he passed me he says...'that's your fault, you know.'

I learned to sew when I was about 9 or 10. My mother had a sewing machine and she made a lot of my and my sister's clothes when we were small. I know she made our Easter dresses for many years and I always wanted mine to be just like my big sister's and our mother would make us matching dresses. It used to make my sister so mad because the last thing she wanted was to be wearing matching dresses with her little sister. She was three years older than me. One summer I decided to make some clothes for my Barbie doll. I rummaged around in my mother's scrap drawer and set about to fashion these clothes. One of the things I made was a felt coat with sleeves. Set-in sleeves. My mother was pretty impressed with that.

In junior high school back in those days all the girls had to take homemaking which consisted of a semester of sewing and a semester of cooking. By the time I was required to take it, somewhere around 13, I already knew how to sew, had already made some simple skirts and things. I ended up helping a lot of the other girls and threaded a lot of the machines.

These three are the only items I have left of all the clothes I made in that 5 year period. I didn't give up sewing altogether til after both kids were born. Well, that's not entirely true. When they were small, I would buy their clothes at Weiner's department store and then sit down and re-stitch the major seams or else they would start to fall apart after a few washings and I made all our costumes for the Renaissance Festival and I made the kids Halloween costumes til they were out of junior high themselves. Bunny suits, clown suits, tree suits, big bird, superman, vampire, witch doctor, barrel of toxic waste. barrel of toxic waste? Yeah, one of my better efforts.


I haven't even had a sewing machine for at least 10 years. I have always had one of my own since I was 15 even if I didn't use it. My sister has had mine all this time. Hers broke down so mine went on permanent loan. I finally got it back after she bought a new one and mine's been cleaned and oiled. It took me a while to remember how to thread it.

I've got Robin practicing sewing in a straight line. She doing pretty well so she is working on her first project which is a lined bag with a shoulder strap. I'm doing the starts and stops for her since reverse on this machine is a pain even for me, but she's doing all the other sewing. Oops, well, the little minx just did it herself.

I still love going in fabric stores. I could spend hours in one just looking at all those bolts of cloth...cottons, linens, voiles, brocades, velvets, flannels, batiks...running my hands over them. When I was young though, I was sensitive to the sizing they would put in the fabrics and by the time I left my eyes, nose and throat would be burning. It didn't stop me from looking at every single bolt of cloth in the store though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

13. starting over

It's been a while since I posted an installment of 'becoming a glass artist'. You can review, or if you haven't read it you can catch up here. Be sure to read from the bottom up for chronological order...

In 1994 we started running out of money and had to go back to work. I found myself making cold calls and trips to designers’ offices to promote our work and studio again, trying to reconnect with or forge new relationships. Designers who I had done work for in the past had moved on to other vendors. Designers who I had pissed off in the past gave me the cold shoulder. The folly of focusing on architects to spec work in the past came home to me. We made new contacts, re-established some others and begged trolled for work. Now that we were not supporting employees our income needs were different and slowly work started trickling back in but still, we teetered on the edge for several years.

The best thing that came out of that time was that we decided to learn how to do the pate de verre technique of casting glass after seeing pictures of the work done in the late 19th century in France and also the work of Doug Anderson in the 70s. We wanted something to do for ourselves, something where we had only ourselves to please. We learned that Dan Fenton (a very knowledgeable fellow on glass casting techniques) was in town doing a workshop at a local stained glass supply, he had a week to kill til his next commitment so we arranged, with a friend, to have him do a private workshop for us and a few others. Mostly what he taught us was how to make frit (crushed glass that is essential to the pate de verre technique) but he also allowed us to connect some dots in our own knowledge. There is a detailed tutorial/explanation of this technique on this page of our website.

We spent the next two or three years making frit, experimenting with mold materials, casting small hearts and other shapes, learning to work in wax. We used cheap crystal from K-Mart, we made frit from fusible sheet glass, we bought cheap fusible frit from a company in California but their supply was iffy. We tried out kiln schedules and kilns we borrowed or built. We bought any books we could find that had even related material to what we wanted to do. We dedicated Fridays and weekends to this pursuit. Eventually we felt accomplished enough and started making small bowls, 6” x 3”, using the lost wax technique, reproduction molds and two part press molds. Fortunately around this time, Bullseye Glass, who made the fusible sheet glass we had, started selling fusible frit. I say fortunately because if we had had to continue making our own frit we probably would not have continued to pursue this technique.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

noble house

When we first bought the country house, and even before when we were just contemplating moving, I thought I could never leave my house, the one in the city. So much of my life happened there. I bought that house when I was between, between one marriage and the next, and I was just starting out on my life as an artist. I had already met my real husband when I moved in though we weren't yet living together.

It was a beautiful house in an old inner city neighborhood. An old house, nearly 100 years old on pier and beam but well kept up with it's little porch on the front, it's hardwood floors, it's 10' ceilings, it's diamond pattern double hung windows with weights, it's claw foot tub in one of the bathrooms and the single wide porcelain sink and tile counters in the kitchen, it's deep eaves that shaded us in the summer.

I bought it from the widow of the man whose father had built it way back when. During WWII, she had divided it up into a duplex straight down the middle, turning the one big bathroom into two and making the kitchen smaller in the process and adding another bedroom on the back of one half, off the kitchen. The utility room/mud room became the second kitchen of the smaller side. I had two back doors then. It had been converted back into a single dwelling by the time I bought it.

It had it's charm but it also had it's quirks. Like really old plumbing and really old electrical wiring. It was not uncommon to blow the breaker when I vacuumed if too many other things were on. Like the shiplap and molding that was so old and hard that you couldn't drive a nail into it without drilling a hole first. Like no closets except for a very small one in the most recently added bedroom off the kitchen and a storage closet also off the kitchen. And if you were in the back of the house on one side, you had to go all the way to the front of the house to get to the other side, unless you wanted to go out one back door and in through the other. Oh, and it was drafty in the winter with no insulation. We spent a lot of time huddled around the space heater.

Eventually we made our own changes, enclosing the small back porch to make a hall that connected the two halves of the house in the back. We took out the more modern tub in one bathroom and had it replaced with a tiled stand alone shower. We got rid of the the storage closet, making the boy's room a little bigger and giving him a way in that didn't include having to go through his sister's room. We laid insulation in the attic. We planted the magnolia tree in the front yard.

So much life. So many memories. We got married in that house. We raised our kids in that house. We made art in that house. It was our home and our studio. It sheltered us and our kids and sometimes our friends. We buried our pets there. We loved and fought there and fought for our love there. We welcomed our grandkids there, their other home. It was a sanctuary for all life, a no kill zone inside my fence.

Eventually, the kids grew up and made homes for themselves, the grandkids were growing up and making lives of their own that didn't revolve around us. The neighborhood we knew and loved was changing. And we, we were older and realized that if we were ever going to do something new, something different, now was the time to do it. So we cast about until we found the country house.

Pulling up my roots was a slow and painful process and set adrift we bounced back and forth for nearly three years. We sorted through all our stuff, took most, left some behind. Now when I go back, when we go back to do the fabrication on jobs, it's depressing. It only contains the left behind stuff and I see how run down the place had become, something that was well hidden when it was full of our life. The paint is stained and peeling inside and out; the wood floors, so beautiful when we moved in, are now worn and dirty. The cords holding the weights in the window frames have all rotted and the weights have fallen so that now the windows need to be propped open. The skirt on the outside of the house, removed when we had it leveled, was never replaced and shows the foundation on the piers. The plumbing is so clogged now in the kitchen it backs up quickly. And termites are slowly eating it up.

This once beautiful house that has stood for over a century is slowly crumbling, fallen into such disrepair. This house that sheltered us from storms and gave us refuge needed more care than we could give it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

surprise balls

When I was a little girl growing up, my parents had friends in New Orleans. They would go visit several times a year and my mother would always bring back two things...pralines from The Green Orchid and surprise balls. Well, she only got the surprise balls once a year and they were always in our christmas stocking. It was always one of my favorite thing to get.

When my mother finally needed 24 hour care and moved up to Washington state to live with my brother, my sister and I were left to sort through all her belongings. One of the things we found was two of these delightful little toys and we had fun remembering all the ones we had torn apart. I still have them.

If you don't know what these are, and as far as I know they were local to Metarie LA, hand made by Charles Gregor Creations Inc. (a google search turned up only two references, both auctions for these rare toys on ebay), you are missing out on a delight. These hand wrapped hand painted decorated crepe paper balls concealed small toys inside that were revealed as you unwrapped it. As the label says, 'the toy you destroy to enjoy' which is why they are so rare. (oops! I just did a search for surprise balls and see that there are many available, although not the Charles Gregor ones).

Several years ago, I made some for my grandkids for one of their holiday gifts. It was as fun for me to make them as it was for them to unwrap them. So while my g'girl Jade was here, she wanted to make some for each of her siblings and her parents. We went out to the dollar store for toys and crepe paper and to the grocery store for the quarter toy machines to get our prizes. It wasn't a great selection of prizes, Wharton is a very small town after all, but she was happy with her selections and so we came back to the house to put them together. We both wrapped them with me doing the last final wrap and then Jade did the faces with stickers she had made herself from the sandblasting stencil tape and rafia for hair.

So here is how we made our surprise balls.

start with a slinky, wrap with crepe paper

next, two balloons and a different color crepe paper

pencil erasures

necklaces (or skeleton ring)

foam animal in gelatin capsule (as you can see, we change the color of the crepe paper with each surprise)


initial stickers

the final wrap with white

the face

the hair and their names

the finished surprise balls

They took us several hours to make and were unwrapped in less than five minutes.

*picture of the toys via