Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Ask Mother to explain how March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."

March has been a bit like this for me. How has it been for you?

More Beeswax Collage with Alice Armstrong

Speaking of classes, our Beeswax Collage class with Alice Armstrong coming up this Sunday filled up so quickly that we've added a second class to the calendar. In this innovative day-long session, you'll learn how to incorporate beeswax both as an adhesive (no glue is used) and as a final coating for your collage projects. Alice says she loves how it softens the look of a collage, and she likes the friendly, non-toxic nature of the beeswax.

The new class will be on Sunday, April 5. To learn more, or to reserve a space in the class, visit the Beeswax Collage class page on our Online Shoppe or call the store at (510)204-9801.

Ollie and Friends

As I write this, our needle-felting teacher Caron Dunn and her students are entering the home stretch on their day-long project, a felted sculpture of Thumbelina sitting on her petal throne. It's amazing to watch them start with a pile of woolly fluff and then -- with simple tools and special techniques and doses of patience and concentration -- see the little fairy girl appear. Here's a photograph of samples from some of Caron's other classes. (Clockwise from the top background, Journal Cover, Delectable Confection, Ollie the Owlet, and Articulated Circus Monkey.)

Caron's next class is this Thursday, when she'll be teaching us how to make the funny little fellow Ollie the Owlet. (You can follow the link to learn more about the class.) Whether you've been needle-felting a while or just want to jump in and learn a new craft, in Caron's classes you'll find her enthusiasm (and talent) contagious.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Castle Quick Craft: Easter Egg Theatre

The latest issue of the Castle Crier is winging its way through the ether to our dear readers as we speak. It features quite a bit of news including the announcement that our Online Shoppe is now offering 30% off and free shipping on all Dresden.

Of all the news, though, I am most excited about our new craft. The ever-talented Ulla Milbrath has created a magical view-egg for this Easter season. Made from a papier-mache form and embellished as only Ulla can do, this is a simple and cheerful project. Peek inside the egg and find a magical little place where Warren and Connie Hopper conspire to bring colored eggs to good children. Ulla found these sweeties in her collection of vintage ephemera and they now seem quite at home in their own delightful miniature springtime landscape. A large image of the original vintage postcard featuring the dear rabbit couple is included with the instructions for the Easter Egg Theatre which you can download at the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Delicious Obsession

Last month when I attended the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, I took the opportunity to stop by the booth for the Book Club of California and join the group. I'd meant to join for years, and now I'm so glad I have. It's a great way to support local artists and bookmakers, and my membership has already brought some lovely new art into my life. Case in point: Recently in the mail, I received the Book Club's "Keepsake 2008," a letterpress and linoleum-block printed folio and broadside that accompanied "A Delicious Obsession," a centenary show celebrating the life and works of writer M.F.K. Fisher.

To call Fisher a food writer would be akin to calling Julia Child a cook. Raised in California and transformed by a four-year study of fine cuisine in France, Fisher blazed through a life filled with art, travel, lovers, and the best in food. She chronicled her passions in essays, novels, screenplays, poetry, and her autobiography, The Gastronomical Me. Her writings were instrumental in the emerging of "California cuisine" in the latter half of the 20th-century. Of Fisher, poet W.H. Auden said, "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose," and John Updike called her "poet of the appetites."

And what a wonderful surprise to see that the illustrations for the folio were created by none other than my dear friend Patricia Curtan. Patricia was a natural for this project. She's famous in Berkeley for her prints and illustrations for Chez Panisse. To me, her work appeals not only to the eye (and to the touch, when printed on fine paper), but triggers the smells and tastes of the food she portrays, such is their beauty.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wandering Wizards Welcome (By Appointment)

Today Mr. Marsh brought some copies of his latest creation, a pack of forms titled Wandering Wizards Welcome (By Appointment). Just like Bilbo Baggins in the first chapter of The Hobbit, Mr. Marsh said he had experienced one too many unexpected parties involving magic-makers who didn't represent themselves as well as they ought to.

Each sheet in the hefty little pad is meant to be given to (or picked up by) traveling wonder-workers, who must then fill in the blanks to give warning about -- for example -- when they would like to come by for tea, how many dwarves or other companions they intend to bring, and any proposed topics of conversation.

Mr. Marsh said he was happy that not everyone has the same trouble with wizards dropping by unexpectedly as he does. For the rest of us, Wandering Wizards Welcome (By Appointment) can be used as a pack of invitations to your next Hogwarts class reunion, Middle-Earth theme party, or outing to the Renaissance Fair.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The City Doll's Kitchenette

I was upstairs in the Castle in the Air studio today, sorting through our collection of vintage clippings, photographs, postcards, and other what-not to make some ephemera packs for the store. One of the most charming pieces was a folded sheet of paper titled The Little Delineator, the children's supplement to a March 1923 edition of The Delineator, a popular women's magazine. Here's something for the kids to do on a rainy March day using a cigar box and some other household rubbish. (Click on the images to get a closer look.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Her "X" Mark

While I was researching the history of letter-writing today, I found an interesting article on "X-mark" signatures. These are sometimes found on old contracts and other documents, and mean that the person who made the "X" was unable to sign his or her own name because of illness or illiteracy. The clerk would then write "Her" (in the case of the signer being female) above the "X" and "Mark" below, then the first and last name of the signer on either side of the mark. There are a number of variations on the "X" -- the mark could look just like the upper-case letter, a cross, or even an upright line with three short marks across it.

Interestingly enough, a forthcoming project from Dromedary Press features an "X-mark" signature in its climactic chapter!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Felting with the Girls

I spent yesterday with my girls, who had the day off from school. When we have free time like this, we sometimes work on making felted squares. We learned felt painting from Caron Dunn, who teaches classes in it at Castle in the Air.

Here's a picture of nine squares we've finished. You can see what a nice quilt they will make one day! And three cheers to whoever can name the little fellow in the middle square.

And this is an auspicious day -- this is our blog's 100th post!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Little Girl Who Walked in the Forest and Spied a Gnome Home

by Raphaella

Once upon a time there was a girl who liked to walk in the forest. One day she came upon a large tree with a little door in it. Looking closer she saw that it also had a window.

She decided to knock.
Knock, knock knock, Knock, knock, knock, upon that door.
Eventually a little gnome opened the door.

"What a surprise," said the girl. "Are you a gnome?"

"Yes I am," said the gnome.

"Well how did you come to be here in the forest?" asked the girl.

"I came by way of kangaroo all the way from Australia. My mother is a leprechaun from Leprechaun Country and my father is a gnome. At least I think that is right. I forget who is who and what is what. Could be my father is a leprechaun and my mother is a gnome. You see, it is so easy to get these things confused."

"Well that isn't right," sighed the girl. "A little gnome should know these things. Certainly you should be able to tell leprechauns from gnomes. Especially since you are one! Let me help you. We will go find your parents and sort this out."

So the little wee gnome led the girl upstairs into his house. It was a magical house full of lovely, tiny things.

Upstairs in a large room sat his parents working. The little gnome's mother was sitting at her sewing table working on the most delicate green coat, which was covered in all sorts of fancy stitches. Next to her she had a pair of embroidered blue jeans, which she had just finished.

Across the room the gnome's father had sat at a workbench carving a man made of crystal, which he had found in his mine.

"Hello," said the girl.

"Hello," said the parents.

"I have been invited to help your son tell the difference between a leprechaun and a gnome. He says he doesn't know which is which and what is what."

The gnome's parents laughed.

His mother said, "Why, I am a leprechaun."

"Do you s

"Yes, I swear."

"And I am a gnome," said the father.

"Do you swear?" asked the girl.

"Yes, I swear."

"Well then it is settled," said the girl turning to the wee gnome. "Your mother is a leprechaun and your father is a gnome. Should you ever forget you only have to ask, but you have it on their honor what is what and who is who."

The End

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mad March Hare

"For though this summoner were wood as a hare,
to tell his harlotry I will not spare."
--Chaucer, "The Friar's Tale"

With winter's rains behind us, maybe for good, Berkeley's quickly falling under the spell of spring fever. There's a fidgety March Hare who lives in the back room at Castle in the Air, and he came leaping out a few days ago to frolic and play in the sunshine and make strange faces when no one is looking. The prim Easter egg vendor near the front of the store pretends not to like him, but I think she does.

His reappearance got us wondering about the origin of the phrase "Mad as a March Hare." Apparently, the first popular use of the phrase was in the quote above from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The "harlotry" spoken of in the poem is probably a comparison to the antics of British hares in their mating season, which lasts from February to September. During that time, hares of both sexes can be seen leaping straight up in the air and boxing at each other. (It's said that the females will sometimes push away frisky males with a quick shove of their forelegs.)

Of course, the most famous mad March Hare is from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. His jaunty outfit in John Tenniel's illustrations is topped off with some straw on his head. This was thought to be a sign of madness in Victorian days. Between his eccentric dress code and his conviction that any time of day is the perfect time for tea, we could probably all learn a thing or two from Mr. Hare.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Freethinkers' Pictorial Text-Book

One of our flea-market gnomes came into the shop a few days ago with an incredible find -- an 1898 edition of The Freethinkers' Pictorial Text-Book. Freethought is a philosophy that rejects authority and dogma -- most notably that of organized religion -- in favor of conclusions reached by rationality and science.

We love this collection of prints and explanatory texts not because we believe the Church should go the way of the dinosaur, but because it is a 110-year-old artifact calling for separation of Church and State using artwork and terms that still read so thoroughly modern. The line drawings bring to mind the work of 1960s cartoonist Robert Crumb, and the arguments are just as fresh as any you'd find on today's op-ed pages.

A botanical note: The symbol of the Freethought movement is the pansy, whose name is a derivation of the French word pens
e, or "thought." Pansies are thought to resemble the human face, and in the summertime they nod their heads forward as if they were thinking deep thoughts!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hedgehogs for Sale

We are simply beside ourselves with joy at Castle in the Air today, because today a little litter of half a dozen hedgehogs nestled into the store. These are a rare breed of New Zealand hedgehog -- they don't eat much and they make amazing pets. Although they're often shy at first, they warm up to you once you show them a little love. You've really got to see them to believe them. Here's a video we made of one of the litter -- Schpike -- waking up from his nap in the palm of my hand.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leprechaun Field Notes from Reg

Yesterday's post about the Lucky Leprechaun's Shoe prompted a reader to comment and ask if there is a history behind the fairy's shoe.

We did some research in the Castle in the Air library and found that the leprechaun's name is thought to come from the Gaelic phrase
leith brogan, meaning "maker of one shoe." This fairy cobbler is in fact always working on a pair of shoes, but he hides one of them such that he only has to carry one shoe when he's spotted by a mortal. You could think of yourself as the leprechaun as you work on yours! The leprechaun is also obliged to tell anyone who catches him the location of his hidden crock of gold. He can be very tricky about how he gives this information, though, and at the first chance, he will disappear, along with his shoe and all his treasure.

We were thrilled to get an email this morning from fairy expert and gnome-hunter extraordinaire Reginald Bakeley in response to our blog post. We love Reg -- he's such a pragmatist:

"Was incredibly agitated to see your item about the Leg of Leprechaun," Reginald wrote. "Vile, secretive creatures, leprechauns, but the dark flesh of their legs and haunches is delectable. They're about the easiest sort of fairy to notice in the field, but they're also one of the quickest to vanish once your gaze wavers. Had one by its scruffy red beard just last summer -- caught it beneath a dead hazel shrub in Leinster -- but the boggart blew snuff all over my face and in the fit of subsequent sneezing my grip eased to where he slipped off. Bother leprechauns. And gold, for that matter. I only wanted a morsel off the blighter's thigh, but some things in life are not meant to be. And now to see your recipe for an ersatz Leg of Leprechaun. Well, I'm going to make one and fill it with poteen-soaked suet and take it back to that same spot, see if I can't attract the knobby cobbler into my net and roast him up with heaps of garlic and snails."

Strangely enough, a treasure-seeker came to Fourth Street yesterday and made off with a crock of gold from our neighborhood bank. He could have learned a thing or two about hiding his hoard, as the Berkeley police caught him and recovered the loot later that day.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Castle Quick Craft: Lucky Leprechaun's Shoe

Today at the store we sent out the March edition of our email newsletter. Every issue has a seasonal craft, and I wanted to share this month's with all of you in case you aren't on the Castle in the Air mailing list.

The Lucky Leprechaun's Shoe in this picture is the invention of John B. McRae, and it ingeniously brings together several simple materials to make a delightful little goodie-bag for your Saint Patrick's Day party.
You can download the instructions for the Lucky Leprechaun's Shoe and pick up several of its components at the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe. Luck abounds!

Friday, March 6, 2009


We've been having fun peeking in an 1879 copy of Decorum (subtitled A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress, with no author listed) recently. It's interesting to see how times have -- and haven't -- changed over the last 130 years. From the chapter on "Conversation":

Let your conversation be adapted as skillfully as may be to your company. Some men make a point of talking commonplaces to all ladies alike, as if a woman could only be a trifler. Others, on the contrary, seem to forget in what respects the education of a lady differs from that of a gentleman, and commit the opposite error of conversing on topics with which ladies are seldom acquainted. A woman of sense has as much right to be annoyed by the one, as a lady of ordinary education by the other. You cannot pay a finer complement to a woman of refinement and esprit than by leading the conversation into such a channel as may mark your appreciation of her superior attainments.

Subjects to be Avoided
In talking with ladies of ordinary education, avoid political, scientific, or commercial topics, and choose only such subjects as are likely to be of interest to them.

Talk to People of their own Affairs
Remember that people take more interest in their own affairs than in anything else which you can name. If you wish your conversation to be thoroughly agreeable, lead a mother to talk to her children, a young lady of her last ball, an author of his forthcoming book, or an artist of his exhibition picture. Having furnished the topic, you need only listen; and you are sure to be thought not only agreeable, but thoroughly sensible and well-informed.

Avoid talking too much of their Professions
Be careful, however, on the other hand, not always to make a point of talking to persons upon general matters relating to their professions. To show an interest in their immediate concerns is flattering; but to converse with them too much about their own arts looks as if you thought them ignorant of other topics.

Remember that all "slang" is vulgar. It has become of late unfortunately prevalent, and we have known even ladies pride themselves on the saucy
chique with which they adopt certain cant phrases of the day. Such habits cannot be too severely reprehended. They lower the tone of society and the standard of thought. It is a great mistake to suppose that slang is in any way a substitute for wit.

Using Proverbs and Puns
The use of proverbs is equally vulgar in conversation; and puns, unless they rise to the rank of witticisms, are to be scrupulously avoided. There is no greater nuisance in society than a dull and persevering punster.

Do not be always witty, even though you should be so happily gifted as to need the caution. To outshine others on every occasion is the surest road to unpopularity.

Interrupting a Person while Speaking
Never interrupt a person who is speaking. It has been aptly said that "if you interrupt a speaker in the middle of his sentence, you act almost as rudely as if, when walking with a companion, you were to thrust yourself before him, and stop his progress."

Avoid Unfamiliar Subjects
Never talk upon subjects of which you know nothing, unless it be for the purpose of acquiring information. Many young men imagine that because they frequent exhibitions and operas they are qualified judges of art. No mistake is more egregious or universal.

The interjection of such phrases as, "You know," "You see," "Don't you see?" "Do you understand?" and similar ones that stimulate the attention, and demand an answer, ought to be avoided. Make your observations in a calm and sedate way, which your companion may attend to or not, as he pleases, and let them go for what they are worth.

Conversing with Ladies
If you are a gentleman, never lower the intellectual standard of your conversation in addressing ladies. Pay them the compliment of seeming to consider them capable of an equal understanding with gentlemen. You will, no doubt, be somewhat surprised to find in how many cases the supposition will be grounded on fact, and in the few instances where it is not the ladies will be pleased rather than offended at the delicate compliment you pay them. When you "come down" to commonplace or small-talk with an intelligent lady, one of two things is the consequence, she either recognizes the condescension and despises you, or else she accepts it as the highest intellectual effort of which you are capable, and rates you accordingly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Name on the Wall

I've spent the past week grappling with many things, not the least of which is trying to find a fitting way to memorialize my father, to let the world know who he was. My searches and struggles led me to a book written by Diarmid's father, Charles Richard Cammell, or rather I should say they led the book to me.

The Name on the Wall is my grandfather's ode to the blue plaques that appear here and there on the sides of buildings throughout London. Each plaque gives the name, dates of birth and death, and occupation of the noted person who once lived there, sometimes with the dates of their residence. Charles' book highlights ten such locations, the one-time homes of poets John Dryden, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron; painter Lord Leighton; and poet, craftsman, and Socialist William Morris, among others. In each chapter, Charles writes of the person's life, their work, and remarkable anecdotes about their time at the dwelling-place.

A passage from the chapter on painter and poet William Blake struck a chord with me. For now, this is something very close to how I would like my father Diarmid to be remembered.

"To understand Blake one must understand, above all else, his visionary character. Blake (as all who knew him knew) was no madman, no crazed enthusiast; though to common minds his claims to seerdom appeared at times to be insane, for in talk he was at no pains to explain, and he was easily irritated into making reckless statements if contradicted. But behind his visions lay a deep and sacred philosophy."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

From living into myth - I love you

Diarmid Victor Charles Cammell
July 21, 1945 - February 27, 2009

Where Everything is Music

Don't worry about saving these songs!

And if one of our instruments breaks,

it doesn't matter.

We have fallen into the place

where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes

rise into the atmosphere,

and even if the whole world's harp

should burn up, there will still be

hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.

We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.

The graceful movements come from a pearl

somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge

of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive

from a slow and powerful root

that we can't see.

Stop the words now.

Open the window in the center of your chest,

and let the spirits fly in and out.


Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne