The Other Diagon Alley

One of my best memories is after dinner at Grammie and Grampa’s house in Calgary.   There’s was a small house with a huge garden and behind that a triangulated alley with, at it’s heart, a small park.  After dinner, Grammie would do the dishes and I, many times with my three sisters, would lay in front of the television watching the Wonderful World of Disney.  Grampa on the easy chair behind us gently snoring with his false teeth teetering at the edge of his mouth.  This childhood memory evokes a sense of peace, calm and safety.

Macfies

Disney was my introduction to fantasy which later grew into a love of it, as well as historical and sci-fi literature. Among my favourite fantasy characters and in my opinion, the most famous of wizards, Merlin appears in dozens of novels including those penned by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen R. Lawhead and T.H. White.

Other wizard characters Harry Dresden, Allanon, Dr Strange [Marvel], Elminster Aumar, The Crimson King [Stephen King], Gandalf and Harry Potter all have had a place in my library. Since we are talking about Disney, I must give honourable mention to Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice [Fantasia 1940], but I’d really rather mention his boss, the little known, but great wizard, Yen Sid.

Without prejudice to the products from Universal Studios or the fictional Diagon Alley in London, England, both which I would aspire to visit, the alley behind my grandparent’s house was as magical as any of literature or film fame.  From there I swung until I was dizzy, climbed trees, watched Canada Day fireworks, had crab apple fights, raided gardens with kids I met on the block and spent those rare sultry Calgary nights catching fireflies ~ all without the supervision of adults. This memory evokes feelings of independence, trust, strength and wonder.

You can look in your own back yard for a purveyor of fine gifts for wizards young and old ~ it’s called MacFie’s.

I first met Danny McAfee and his wife is Shayna at the Guelph Faery Festival.   Their small business started with walking sticks and wizard staffs.  Shortly thereafter adding wands, potions and apothecary ingredients.  Over the years they introduced owls, runes and even vampire hunting paraphernalia and all of these heirloom quality items are handmade right here in Ontario, Canada.

Macfies2My own Wizardry Kit from Macfies includes a beautiful Red Oak wand, wand bag, wand property card, plush owl, 2 owl accessories (brown owl hat & owl scroll) and one apothecary set (Phoenix Tears, Basilisk Teeth, Griffin Hair and apothecary stand).   Boxed and ready for wrapping, this heirloom can be found at Macfie’s for around $50.00

Shop on-line or Macfies will be at the Western Fair District, Progess Building, London, Ontario Dec 4-7.

#shoplocal

The Giving Tree – a Community Christmas Tradition

I don’t know what happened to the originally filed post, but it is gone in favour of my stock making video.  I have re-written and re-posted this article.

Our mother survived skin cancer, a brain aneurysm and a mini stroke only to die in her sleep in her 67th year.  With those regular reminders of our human fragility, my memories of our mother are very strong.

GivingTreePicThe year before she died, I was out West visiting and we were out for a long walk.  This is something all the women in my family share, a love of long walks, preferably with dogs winding between our feet.  Mom had taken me down to Sandy Beach, a rare place in Calgary with trees and water.  In this place, as children and teens, our Mom and Auntie Joan had floated down the river on inner tubes, skipped school to suntan and smoke, had bbq’s and likely kissed boys.

Not very far down the path, the Christmas snow well trodden by others, we came upon a small coniferous tree covered in all kinds of decorations.   I was delighted.  My mother explained it as the Giving Tree, because it gives people the same feeling it gave me.  Mom said someone starts by placing one decoration secretly and soon others follow.

When we moved to our new house, I chose a tree in one of our local urban forests to start this tradition.  It took weeks for people to cotton on, but now each year the Giving Tree emerges over the first two weeks of December.

How-To start your own tree.

Find a path that is well walked within your own Community.

Choose a Tree that ideally is coniferous, but mostly one that is the perfect size for the small and the tall to reach the branches.

When the snow flies or by December 1st, start with two or three homemade or store bought decorations.  Keep in mind they may be pilfered or broken, so don’t have any attachment to them.

Try not to let anyone see you decorating.

Even if you are not joined, I guarantee it will give an unexpected delight.  To encourage people to join, add some more each day and leak the story to other parents or neighbours.

Take the decorations down after January 7th and put them in a basket, so people can take them back if they wish.  If not keep them till next year, or gift some to others who want to start their own Giving Tree, or donate them.

*This article, nor it’s content, has any association with the book, The Giving Tree.

Kid’s Crafts – The Christmas Elf

If only to hide the evidence, I’m always looking for something to with the many, many corks left over from my favourite vice of wine tasting.  Here an easy Cultural tradition to do with kids.  They will look adorable on the Christmas table or hung on the Christmas tree.  Don’t forget to put the year and the child’s name on the bottom!

Ho Ho Ho

Ho Ho Ho

Tomte, Nisse or Tomtenisse [Sweden], Nisse [Norway and Denmark] and Tonttu [Finland] is generally considered the Swedish and Norwegian version of Santa Claus. He’s about three feet tall with a red cap and like the of Brownies of Irish lore, is a mischievous domestic sprite that can be extremely helpful or, if you don’t leave him butter or other treats, can be very naughty. So if your cow’s milk is soured or you can’t find your best woolen socks, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.

You and your children may have seen the new animated mini series, Over the Garden Wall, whose character Wirt look suspiciously like our sprite sans beard.  Thanks to Sam for introducing me to this charming series which I am going to share this Christmas with my granddaughter, especially the song Potatoes and Molasses.

I used a glue gun, but white glue is great too.

I used a glue gun, but white glue is great too.

What you need:

Scissors

Glue

Corks

Red Felt

Cotton Balls

Sharpie

Bells [Michaels Arts & Crafts, PartyCity and Dollarama in the Wedding Section]

How – To:

Cut 3″ X 3″ squares of Red Felt.

Run a line of glue in a reverse L.

Starting on the Left Roll a the Small part of the Cork to the Right till the Seam meets.

Join the Seam and Press till Dry.

Draw in the Eyes with the Sharpie.

Add Glue to the space beneath the Eyes and Pull off Enough Cotton to make the Beard. Press on.

Clip a tiny Triangle for the Nose and Glue on.

Crimp the top of the Felt Hat and Tie on the Bells.

Add a string for a wonderful Christmas ornament.

Add a string for a wonderful Christmas ornament.

Sammy’s Rock

I can’t tell you how many women I speak with that, like me, find themselves waking at 3:00 a.m., their hearts pounding and their minds filled with anxious thoughts.  We joke about how we should have a 3:00 a.m. chat room.

Most of the thoughts are irrational, like Sammy’s fear of this rock.  I’m not saying the thoughts are untrue, but irrational because in the scheme of things they don’t matter a hill of beans, or they are out of our control so why worry at all.

Off camera the lady picked up and put the rock out of sight in a wood bin.   Immediately Sammy bounded away happy to have saved the park from what we all laughingly saw as an inanimate object with no power except in Sammy’s imagination.  That really got me and I wondered what rocks in my life, either in or out of my control, I was making into a problem.

The only thing that has helped me calm the hamster wheel in my head is Hatha Yoga and mindfulness.  If you are like me, it took many gurus, classes and forms of yoga before I found something that worked.  That and Sleepytime Tea.  If you have tried and given up on yoga, perhaps you have just not found the right class and I encourage you to keep trying.

Till then, we are all still up at 3:00 a.m. CST if you are 😉

Mwha-ha-halloween!

What she said …

Maison Bentley Style

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If you ask my kids what celebration most floats their boats they won’t say birthdays or Christmas..It’s Halloween every time…and I’m not sure it’s just about the unlimited supply of sugar.  For them it’s the drama of being out in the dark with their friends, dressed as something totally alien, doing something that would be utterly forbidden in normal life.  This year Bella went as a wolf..who might have a few cat tendencies..we got a bit confused..

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Charlie was Batman!

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This year we went to a friends for a party..first time I haven’t decorated our house in years..

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Ready for the off, treacle treating bags at the ready..

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It’s not America..but people and their houses do embrace Halloween in SW London..there were some impressive sights..

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We all thought this was a statue standing next to Robin Williams grave….until he went Boo!

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Loved these pumpkins with their noses!

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Returning home..a scariest…

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Patience and The Snail

One of my nicknames is the Queen of Small Things.  I was the one on the hiking trip that stopped every couple of minutes to take a close up of plants, rocks or a slug.  Many times I like to get down on the Earth, to connect, to get perspective.  Like laying on the running path of the park next store, a) because I didn’t want the snail to get crushed on my watch and b) because I wanted to remind myself of how I can zoom zoom and forget to breathe.

There is no Hollywood ending to this clip, just the snail and his-her journey across my viewfinder.   So with me, take a 50 second break, breathe and wonder at the pace of life on all levels.

Elsa

Frozen Ice Princess

Listen or read.

Last January I went to the Halloween show in Houston where there were showing the costumes for toddlers and little girls for Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen.

I’m not really here to talk about Elsa, but I am very interested in why this blonde haired, blue eyed princess is so popular with girls ages 3-7.   Especially that since American Girls pulled several minority dolls from their line-up, parents, advocates and professionals are frothing at the mouth.

Since I opened my costume business in 2010, princesses in general were passé.  I could not give the gowns away.   Then the Frozen came out and I was asked by Disney to give away some free passes, which I did, and people [meaning mothers and teen girls] were very interested.  They liked the movie.

Then the summer came and people called asking where they could get the damn dresses for their daughter’s birthday parties. I mean not even the Disney store could keep them in stock.  I wondered if the little girls were asking for Elsa character or if the mother’s just liked the Frozen party theme.  Mostly I was wondering whether I should have carried the dresses.

As an Anthropologist, I started thinking about this princess and where the blonde interest was coming from.  A little background. Since 1989, we’d enjoyed a series of hair colours all in the brunette range.  1989, Ariel, red hair.  1991, Belle, auburn hair.  1992, Jasmine, black hair.  1995, Pocahontas, black hair.  1998 Mulan, black hair.  Then almost 10 years with no princess and we had in 2009 Tiana, black hair.  Twenty years and, excepting Rapunzel in 2010, no blonde princesses.

Keep in mind that in the past five years, even the Cinderella and Aurora princesses were not in demand.  Was there something wrong with blonde haired, blue eyed? What were the intersections of consumer, manufacturing and politics that where brunette princesses reigned for twenty years, but yet costume demand after movies was nothing like demand for Elsa.  Also keep in mind that no-one wants to be Anna, her red headed sister.

I remembered working for a major party company and that they sold lots of blonde wigs to little girls.  So when I did the purchasing for my own company, I did the same thing, bought lots of blonde wigs.  But my wigs are sitting there gathering dust and I wondered why.  It occurred to me that one of the reasons may be that the demographic of the residents of the party store were different.  I woke up and went aha they were of Southern Asian descent and that the demographic of the business I now own is far more mixed.  In other little girls with black and brown hair like the idea of blonde hair, but like me being blonde why would I buy a blonde wig.

That doesn’t explain though, Elsa popularity through all demographics.  So I am back to the consumer politics of supply and demand, but I am thinking about my own kids, born in 1990 during this reign of brunette princesses.  I have a picture of my son in nursery school .  He’s wearing a purple shirt, not bad, but also wearing a pink tutu and, on his head, a band with a tinfoil unicorn horn.  He’s holding a mirror and his smile is rapturous, saying I am beautiful.  He’s now 24 and living with his girlfriend and I’m thinking this story and photograph would be great for his wedding.

Would all parents and teachers be so open to letting a little boy explore, not necessarily his feminine side, but his beauty.  My daughter didn’t really play with dolls.  She had a couple of Barbies including Pochahantas and a black baby doll.  Both my kids are adopted and adoption ideas are enmeshed in our daily lives.  One day my daughter said, “When I become a mommy, I’m going to adopt a black baby girl.” Later on that doll showed up and I can’t remember who got for her.  She didn’t play with it either.

So I am thinking now, like the Midge Barbie doll that I had with auburn hair and freckles, I don’t know if the push comes from manufacturing, or the parents, or the children, or the Culture of politics.  Did the little girls during those 20 years free of blonde princesses, long for golden tresses.  Were little girls hushed when they reached for the blonde, but applauded when they asked for the doll of colour.  Seriously, I don’t remember if that’s all that was available or what I reached for because it was more socially appropriate or if it’s what my daughter wanted.

I guess I should, as my sister says, land the plane.  I wish … I wish I could ask Disney why 1989 to 2009 was dominated by brunettes, but in the end I think people are just fickle.  I don’t think this is political, or about a lack of affirmative action or the death of feminism.  We all want what is new ~ that is firmly entrenched in our consumer society and it’s been a blonde dry spell for princesses, so that’s new.  I also want to point out that from 1990 to around 1998, the world was reacting to the changes from the fall of the Berlin wall.  Globally speaking, there was a huge surge in international adoption from China, India, Russia including children of Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Koreans, Chechen and Turkic groups were adopted and from Romania including Roma, an ethnic group of Indian origin.  This subject was in the daily news and what mother, with a baby girl adopted from China, would not take the opportunity to buy a cool doll that looked just like her daughter.

We all also enjoy what is beautiful, what is rare in our world.  It doesn’t mean that a drab coloured wren has any less worth than a yellow house finch, yet I get excited I see those little yellow birds at the perch because they stand out and they are rare.  Elsa’s frosty blonde hair contrasts perfectly with her piercing blue eyes and sparkly gown.  Who wouldn’t want to be that, even for just one day?  Isn’t that what free play, dress-up and even Halloween is for, a space where for one moment where we can explore another self and not be judged by society.  Like my son who for one day in nursery school traded Batman for a tutu wearing unicorn and learned to appreciate beauty in a whole new way.