Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happiest of New Years

It's been a busy and productive year at Castle in the Air, with a lot of changes for the store and many, many new friends and acquaintances. I hope you can say the same about your year, and that 2010 is greater still. The shop will be closed this coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for our annual inventory, and when we open our doors again you'll be able to see us transformed yet again, this time for a brand new decade. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Commonplace Mouse is Here!

Callooh! Callay! After many adventures, Commonplace Mouse has arrived at Castle in the Air! Today a large truck pulled up alongside the store and a couple of nice fellows helped us unload box after box of the brand new book, the latest publication from our publishing company, Dromedary Press. We're still getting our little hero situated, but soon you'll be able to take this heroic story of a brave little mouse home with you. Hooray!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Night of Miniature Marvels

In the midst of all the wrapping paper and visitors and the flurry of everything else that happens around the holidays, all of us at the shop take one evening each December to share a nice meal and have our annual ornament swap, white elephant style with numbers drawn from a hat and rambunctious trading. Here are some pictures of half a dozen treasures from the big night. I took these photos at home of the ones Duncan and I took to the dinner, and of the ones our family brought home. The ones we didn't capture were just as whimsical and fun.

The mother and child ornament at the top was my contribution to the evening, a combination of felting and other fiber arts with some doll faces and hands. Julie brought us an adorable cotton batting bird this year. The little peep has a baguette under her wing because she's heading to Paris next year!

Shari felted a sweet star ornament, and as luck would have it, my younger daughter opened it, much to both her and Shari's delight.

John's candy box ship, finished with crepe paper and Dresden trim and flying an iridescent sail, was the first ornament to be opened. It was also at the center of the final surprise of the evening when my older daughter nabbed it after nearly an hour of patient and polite plotting!

Mr. Marsh added to the pile a handmade (and fully loaded) bill holder that could come in handy on a rainy day, and Duncan was glad to take it home.

As for Duncan's gift to us, he brought a precious miniature tea house made of balsa wood and topped with a fresh layer of mica snow. Inside the house an electric tea light flickered, enchanting everyone so much with its cozy glow that this ornament was one of the most actively swapped all night.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Joy

Somehow, not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart's possessing
Returns to make you glad.
--John Greenleaf Whittier

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do you see what I see?

As you might have guessed, this week is the shop's busiest time of year. We get so many visitors coming through the door, each person looking for something special. Some people who only come around this time of year think we're only a holiday shop! The air is full of glitter, gleeful shouts of children, oohs and ahs from victorious treasure seekers, and the grumbles of those who have run out of holiday spirit.

A big part of keeping one's sanity at this time of year is knowing where to look, and what you're looking for. This is true when looking for holiday gifts, but it's also a good rule to follow in life in general. So when the clouds over Berkeley gave Fourth Street a little sprinkle this afternoon, we stood with our backs to the sun and took this picture to best remember the day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Will the real Santa Claus please stand still?

This afternoon at Castle in the Air, I kid you not, the real Santa Claus came in to do a little shopping. I won't tell you what he bought, as that might give away the surprise to some deserving reader who has been good all year. Who knew that the real Santa Claus wears a green top hat when he shops?

What was just as strange as Santa's visit was what we found right after he left. Two other customers had been testing pens at different ends of the store. As they walked away, they left behind these sketches. Were they looking at Santa as they drew? It looks like one artist is putting Santa on The Nice List, the other has him down as Naughty!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A real troll? (Part 2)

Last week, when we received the puzzling message from Nils Hiekkalinna, who thinks he might have snapped a photograph of a real Finnish troll, we knew just the person to bring in to help us solve the mystery. Reginald Bakeley is Castle in the Air's fairy identification expert, so we forwarded the photo on to him at his home in Wales. Here's the reply (and the slightly clearer photo) we got back from Reg this afternoon.

"Most intriguing! My personal 'expertise', as you are calling it, extends mainly to the real world which involves the sense of smell. And it's quite a good thing that Mr Hiekkalinna was traveling at highway speed when he got his shot in. Had he been standing in the path of an oncoming troll the scent alone could have knocked him senseless. Perhaps we can borrow a scrap of his clothing and see whether by chance it picked up any trace of the troll's earthy musk??

"HOWEVER: I won't leave you high and dry here. My colleague Professor Marcus White (Inverness curator and archivist) has an unfathomable love of all this email and computer mumbo-jumbo, and he got straight to work on sorting out this odd photograph business. He's got all the latest high tech, and is especially keen to use it regarding questions of fairy sightings.

"I attach his _slightly_ clearer version of the picture. Goodness knows how he's able to do this sort of thing. Hope this helps...I'll keep you up to speed as I hear more from Prof.


Friday, December 11, 2009

A real troll?

Ever since we started the Castle in the Air weblog last fall, we've received emails from people who never would have heard of us otherwise. They often want to know more about the products and classes we offer, and sometimes they have questions about how to use a particular sort of craft material. Occasionally, though, the messages fall into the "special case" category. Here's one such note we received this morning:

To Whom It May Concern, I am writing to you from Finland and have something to tell you about that you may find interesting because your website is about the gnomes and trolls and such things as this. I always laughed when I heard of these creatures, even here where there is so much of them in the folk stories. But today I didn't laugh when I was driving through a part of the highway in Kurikka, because there I can tell you I saw something strange. A picture I have put in this email is of what I saw. I am very sorry for the quality because it is not very good, but I think what I saw might be one of the trolls of this country. I thought it was a bear maybe but it moved like no bear I have seen. Can you show it to your experts and tell me what they know of it? Maybe you can solve this strange mystery. I thank you!!! A new believer, Nils Hiekkalinna

Of course, Castle in the Air does have a few "experts" on hand in the field of troll identification, so we've sent Nils' picture on to them and will report back as soon as we can. Mysterious indeed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Marvelous Marolin

You may be surprised to learn that, among all the glitz of the season, one of our most beloved collections at Castle in the Air is the beautiful and understated work of the Marolin company. This family business has been making the finest paper mache sculpture -- including this exquisite nativity scene -- for over 100 years in Germany. Their pieces have been part of Castle in the Air since the store opened.

Our visitors always notice the Marolin nativity scene in December, of course, but throughout the year we also display the company's fairy tale characters and other historical figures (we currently have Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Adam and Eve, among others), and our teachers often incorporate Marolin doll parts into their classes. In fact, Marolin brought the parts shown here out of retirement exclusively for Castle in the Air. Our store is he only place to find them. We loved these expressive faces and sweet little arms so much from the moment we saw them, that there was no way we would let them vanish into memory like so many other lost treasures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Frost

There's a little frosty painter
Who soon will come around
To put a silver edging on
The grasses on the ground,
Upon the window pane he'll paint
A fairy landscape, strange and quaint,
And some cold morning you'll awake
To find he's frosted Mother's cake.

A certain seasonal visitor has been making the rounds this week in Berkeley -- Jack Frost! I suppose it's closer to the truth to say that Mr. Frost is a winter visitor in many parts of the world, but that it's rare for him to show up in our town. But just yesterday Duncan saw three inches of snow piled atop a car that drove down from the top of the Berkeley Hills, and when I visited one of my neighbors this morning her children were breaking half-inch sheets of ice off the top of puddles.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shooting Stars and Silver Bells

This Thursday night we will have our final class of the year in the Studio for the Imagination, the second of John McRae's Heirloom Christmas Ornaments class (Two seats left as of this writing.) John is bringing in some vintage silver ball and bell ornaments and a trove of glittery adornments (including bullion, tinsel, scrap, and other goodies) for them. Take a look at these photos of the ornaments John and his students made last at last week's class. I'm sure the ones this week will be just as dazzling.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Roll Up for the Wonderful Snow Baby Box!

If you're on the Castle Crier email list, you have already heard about the newest little friend to be found at Castle in the Air -- The Snow Baby! This cutie sits atop a glittery snowball, one that is secretly a box that opens to reveal candies or whatever other holiday treats you put in it.

The Snow Baby Box project was sparked by my visit to the awe-inspiring Golden Glow of Christmas Past convention this summer, where over 1000 aficionados of antique holiday ornaments get together to swap stories and vintage items. There were so many little Snow Babies there made of cotton batting and wire. I knew I'd have to try my hand at making one when I got home.

We've posted the instructions for making your own Snow Baby Box at the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe homepage. You can also pick up the Snow Baby Box Kit there -- enjoy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The First Light of Advent

This morning was a special one at my house, as I'm sure it was in the homes of many of my friends and customers -- the first day of Advent! Our Advent calendars and other traditions mark the procession of days to Christmas Eve. One new Advent item we've got at the shop is the Advent candle. These white tapers are over a foot tall and have a festive Christmas tree printed up the side. There is a number and an ornament for each of the 24 days in Advent. Sitting with one of these Advent candles is surely an antidote to all the hoopla that's part of the holiday season.