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Snow Pretty

26 Feb

My drivewayPhotographer and friend Cary S. Jenkins has captured the quiet, still beauty of our recent snowfall in Arkansas. Click on the link to see all of her lovely photos.

Cary Jenkins Photography

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Sister Suffragette

4 Aug

Written by dear friend Laura Cartwright Hardy, this post about the nature of being a feminist should be required reading for young women under 30. The fight isn’t over, girls. Thanks, Laura.

The Lolly Diaries

"So cast off the shackles of yesterday ..." “So cast off the shackles of yesterday …”

Disney’s Mary Poppins had a lot to do with it, I suppose, but I don’t remember ever not knowing that women had to fight for the right to vote. I was 8 or 9 when our entire family went to see the movie at one of the glorious downtown theaters and 9 or 10 when I was playing “Sister Suffragette” (in my Mary Poppins‘ songbook for piano) and singing along. It really struck a chord with me.

I can still burst into SS and march/dance around the room for my grandkids (OK, just because I feel like it):

“… Political equality and equal rights with men,

take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!

No more the meek and mild subservients we –

We’re fighting for our rights militantly – never you fear! …

So, cast off the…

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A fine edge

20 Feb

Some of the finest knife-sharpening rock is found in the Ouachitas

By Rhonda Owen
    PEARCY — My father always said that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one because the extra pressure needed to cut something with a knife that has lost its edge increases the chances of the blade slipping. So he kept his knives — pocket, kitchen, hunting — micro-sharp, testing their edges by shaving hairs on his arm.
    He had a lot of knives, so it seemed like he was always sharpening one. I recall the biting whisper of steel on stone as he drew a knife toward him, covering the length of the blade with each sure swipe.
    Focused and flowing, the act of sharpening knives seemed like a type of meditation, a Zen-like ritual. Of course, he’d laugh at that, but no doubt he’d agree there was a certain satisfaction in the repetitive task.
    Sadly, I never asked him to teach me how to sharpen a knife. I don’t know why; perhaps I thought he’d remember the time I sliced a forefinger trying to whittle with my Brownie knife and worry that I might cut myself more deeply. Maybe I was simply respectful of his reverie, or so I’d like to think.
   

This four-sided sharpener features four grades of Arkansas stone. (Rhonda Owen/2011)

 My father was old-school, keeping a finely honed edge on his blades with natural sharpening stones that he bought in Hot Springs. While he occasionally acquired other types of whetstones, he preferred the Arkansas stones because “they were the only good ones.”
    Using a whetstone as my father did takes more time and skill than using sharpening products popular today — electric grinders, rabbit-ear ceramic rods, manmade diamond stones, two-sided V-shaped devices that let you pull the blade through carbide and ceramic surfaces, to name a few. These are favored by the kitchen variety of knife users; sportsmen, woodworkers and knifemakers still hone the edges of their blades with stone, although not all use novaculite.
    Sharpening a knife with an Arkansas whetstone is a natural for Arkansans because the state’s generous deposits of novaculite put it first in the country for production of silica stone abrasives, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The dense white-to-grayish-black microcrystalline quartzite stone quarried and cut in mines west of Hot Springs is valued as a premiere sharpening material throughout the world.
 “The Arkansas stone is the only stone on the market that actually polishes as it sharpens,” says Richard Hall, owner of Hall’s Arkansas Oilstones at Pearcy. Hall mines all grades of novaculite from a quarry he leases from the federal government in the Ouachita National Forest in Montgomery County. He says novaculite removes less metal from a knife, or whatever’s being sharpened, than a manmade stone does.
    “Arkansas stone” is a term recognized by hunters, butchers, master knifemakers, cooks and others all over the world, says Dan Kirschman, owner of Dan’s Whetstone Co., also at Pearcy. Kirschman has been in the business of mining and cutting novaculite for personal, commercial and industrial applications since 1976.
    “Arkansas stone has been used for probably centuries and is well known for sharpening capabilities,” says Lin Rhea, blacksmith and knifemaker at Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock. “Among stones in general, the Arkansas has the best cut and qualities. We’ve got Arkansas medium soft, Arkansas translucent, black novaculite surgical … I prefer using it because it’s natural and because I learned to sharpen with it growing up.”
    Hall says he and Kirschman are among only a few businesses still mining their own Arkansas stone today, but at one time there were at least 10. Hall deals in whetstones of all sizes — from “bench stones” that are 4 to 12 inches long to pocket stones that are 3 to 4 inches long.

A block of quarried novaculite is cut into smaller pieces by a diamond saw. Dan Kirschman, owner of Dan’s Whetstone Co., says the pieces are then processed into whetstones. (Rhonda Owen/2011)

 Kirschman’s novaculite products include whetstones (among them two-, three- and four-sided honers), but he also produces flints for antique flintlock guns, triangular and cylindrical sharpeners for getting into small spaces, black stones used by gemstone companies in Germany for testing gold karat weight, small wheels for polishing diamonds and larger wheels for sharpening tools such as axes.
    His biggest market is the dental industry, for which he makes tiny triangular rods for polishing dental instruments. Companies that make dental equipment buy only the whitest of the translucent novaculite “because it symbolizes purity,” Kirschman says.
    Novaculite has been in use for centuries and longer, he says. Prehistoric American Indians fashioned it into tools and weapons. Arrowheads uncovered in areas throughout Arkansas are made of novaculite from the Ouachita Mountain range. Early settlers used the stone to sharpen woodcutting tools.
    According to Kirschman’s web site, “mining records indicate that settlers … began mining in the early 1800s near Magnet Cove in Hot Spring County” and mining has remained constant since 1885.
    Most working quarries today are in Garland, Hot Spring, Montgomery and Saline counties, but ridges of whetstone quality novaculite are primarily confined to Garland and surrounding counties.
    All grades of novaculite from Arkansas are technically Arkansas stone, but the term refers specifically to the most fine-grained novaculite, Kirschman says. A second category of Arkansas novaculite is the coarser and less dense “Washita stone.”
   

Stacks of novaculite wait to be cut and processed at Dan’s Whetstone, a family-owned operation at Pearcy, Ark. (Rhonda Owen/2011)

   White and black novaculite are the most prized, but the opaque stone is found in many colors (often within the same piece of rock) — pink, gray, rust, blue-black and brown.
    “If two grades of stone are the same color, the general public has a difficult time determining the difference,” Kirschman says, explaining that color typically isn’t tied to variations in hardness or grade of a stone. He also notes that the terms quality and grade aren’t interchangeable when referring to novaculite. In fact, most of the terminology used to describe novaculite isn’t clear to people outside the industry.
    “Grade is the texture, while quality can mean either workmanship or natural variations in the material. We have classifications of grades of the different qualities. People don’t realize there isn’t a lot of difference in the grain size from a coarse stone to an extra fine stone.”
    What determines the quality of a stone is not the size of the grains within it but “density and specific gravity” or the compactness of the grains and the void between them.
    An enlargement of a microscopic picture of the surface of novaculite looks like a piece of quartz — craggy and pitted, with points of all sizes. Without magnification, however, the surface appears smooth.
    All those pits and points are what shave and capture tiny bits of metal removed when sharpening a knife, Kirschman says.
    “An Arkansas stone is a maintenance stone because it doesn’t take off a lot of metal in a hurry. By the same token, it doesn’t deface and scratch a knife up. It actually polishes as it abrades.”
    Novaculite also is unique in that it doesn’t wear down or hollow out with consistent use, he says. But to maintain its surface, it needs to be oiled with a light mineral oil with each use. If treated right, an Arkansas stone lasts for generations.
    “You’d be amazed at how many people have their daddy or grandfather’s Arkansas stone and are still using them.”

SHARP ADVICE
    Here are steps and advice for honing a knife using an Arkansas stone — also called an oilstone because it requires oil — provided by Lin Rhea, Dan Kirschman and Richard Hall.
    “The single most important thing is the consistency of the angle of the knife,” Hall says.
When sharpening a general purpose knife (most knives), the knife edge should be held against the stone at a 22 1/2-degree angle. A thin filet knife should be sharpened at a 15-degree angle.
    Kirschman’s whetstones are mounted in wooden frames that provide a guide for the most common angle. Hall describes how to establish an angle without a guide:
    “Lay your knife flat on the stone, then look at the width of the blade from the sharp part to the top part. You want onethird of that blade off the back of the edge of that stone. Then lift the back end of the knife about one-fourth of an inch. At that point, you can get your pointing finger on the edge.”
    Once an angle is established, pull the knife right to left across the stone, moving the knife so that the length of the blade is sharpened with each swipe. “Start closer to the handle of the knife and cover the entire stone and entire length of the knife blade,” Kirschman says. Pull 10 times on one side, then flip the knife to the other side and pull it across 10 times. The point is to sharpen the edge evenly on both sides of the blade.
    Always apply honing oil to the stone before use (honing oil is usually included when you buy a stone).
    “Oil will float the microscopic pieces of metal that come off with every stroke. It floats them up and away and allows the stone to cut better,” Rhea says.
    After finishing a sharpening session, wash the oil off of the stone with soap and water.
    When sharpening a knife, you can either use only the medium grade of novaculite or use medium and fine. The medium stone will sharpen the knife; use the fine stone next to refine the edge.
    Anytime you sharpen a knife, you’ll establish a “burr,” which is “a little foil edge waiting to be removed,” Rhea says. The average knife user probably wouldn’t finish polishing the knife to remove the burr (which would come off during normal use) but knifemakers and others would do so using a third tool — a leather strop that has been coated with a polishing compound.

A version of this article originally appeared Dec. 11, 2011, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Serenity in motion

10 Feb

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I spent an evening at a couple of casinos at Tunica, Miss. I’ve never been a fan of casinos — the energy is wrong.

Tension that pierces the nerves like glass needles, over-the-top emotions, desperation, despair … that even more than the gloomy haze of cigarette smoke tightens my chest and steals my calm, my breath. And I just know some of the glassy-eyed people slumped at the slot machines had slipped way, their spirits lost in some soulless triple-line exchange. Made me wonder if there was a body detail lurking behind some door, waiting to slip in and scoop up the dead losers while the ones still breathing were distracted by a frantically wild craps shoot.

Many might consider the drive back to Little Rock through the winter-bare Delta to be a bleaker experience, but that’s where the beauty lives, the energy feels right, I’m able to focus and breathe, recapture calm.

Setting things right were sweet moments of serenity in motion like this on Hwy. 70 near Brinkley, where we happened upon a flock of geese resting in a flooded field.

What casinos?

Catching a breath

Serenity in motion

Do you believe in magic?

23 Nov

I wish I still believed in Santa. When I was a child, I barely slept on Christmas Eve, which made it difficult for my parents to get all the presents under the tree without me knowing they, not Santa, were the gift-bringers.

After fighting sleep for hours, my excitement growing with each little real or imagined noise in or outside the house, I drifted off for two or three hours. When I awakened, usually about 5:30 a.m., I would run down the hallway to the living room to find toys and wrapped gifts arranged carefully under the tree. One year, there was a little round table and chairs. Another time, a red tricycle. There were Barbie dolls, red cowgirl boots, storybooks and baby Thumbelina.

Magic. Pure, blow-your-mind magic. Every year. But the gifts weren’t the magic — it was the fact that they were there, that they had appeared while I slept, that they came from someplace I could only imagine.

Believing was so easy then. Now it’s harder. Even after I found out there was no Santa, I still believed in magic, in things unseen and unknown. I still do, but I find the belief hardest to hold on to during the time of year when it would seem to be most present.

Here it is the day before Thanksgiving and all I feel is dread for the coming six weeks. I’m not a grinch and it’s not even that I dislike Christmas or the holiday season. But there’s much too much expectation, too much frantic merrymaking, too much food, too much shopping, too much noise, too many versions of “Silent Night” blaring from speakers everywhere I go. Too much, too much, too much. The magic is lost in the cacophony of the season.

Last week, a friend asked me what I want for Christmas. I didn’t know what to say at the time. I stumbled around and said I’d think about it. So I did.

What I want for Christmas is more security and less stress, more time with family and friends, more time to enjoy the old and new things in my life. I would like to live the moment without having to remind myself to do so.

I want some silence and peace and good will. I want people to slow down, see the beauty in their lives, feel gratitude and be mindful of the gifts that can’t be found in any store. Why is everyone in such a rush?

I want simplicity. And magic. Pure magic.

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How ’bout them “pigs sunny side up”?

7 Nov

Sunny side up

Every day, WordPress provides me with a list of the search-engine words and phrases that directed people to my blog. Some make perfect sense while others are cryptic. Some are downright hilarious.

Here is my Top Ten list to date:

1. “campbell’s cream of tarantula soup”

2. “pig sunny side up”

3. “siamese dogs by the tail”

4. “mean pomeranian”

5. “small breed dogs with bare legs”

6. “winsome bluebird”

7. “frogs dead”

8. “shotgun ammo apocalypse amount”

9. “how not to be a fangirl musician”

10. “charley horse in pectoral muscle”

Today’s resolution: Spinning a dizzying low

30 Oct

My world has been spinning for a solid week now as I fight vertigo resulting from labyrinthitis brought on by who knows what. A virus? Upper respiratory infection? Gremlins? BPA in my water bottle? A lack of hops?

I feel like I’m walking on the Titanic  and when I’m stationary, my head’s still a top on a string. So I haven’t been writing and I’m sorely missing it. I feel out of touch with reality, with imagination, with life, with the words that are the tools for my connections and how I keep things sorted. Every word puts something in the right spot, regulates flow of meaning like rings on pistons. Or something like that. As I said, spinning here.

My good news this week is that the venerable NPR radio show for Southern writers, Tales from the South, has accepted my story “Tony’s Gift.” I’ll read it on the Nov. 8 show at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock.

I sent the story in last month as a exercise in moving beyond my comfort zone. I figured if that went well, I would proceed on the next phase of pushing even farther outside the C-Zone. So now I’m out here, thrilled and terrified and hoping I don’t stutter.

Fortunately, I’ll be in the good company of fellow writer Tim Bennett, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more than 20 years.

If you’re inclined, please come to the show and buoy me and Tim with positive vibes, all that good stuff. Tickets can be purchased here.

Now I feel the need to spin off in another direction… the inner ear provides a wild ride. But I know my friend Laura would add a song if she were writing about vertigo, so here you are — U2-Vertigo.

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Creating light with a soda bottle. Genius!

23 Sep

Please watch this video. You’ll be inspired.

Today’s resolution: Relaxed productivity

3 Sep

When working for oneself, it’s hard to take time off. The home office has many advantages — no commute, kitchen privileges, office dog, no need to wear a bra, among others — but the downside is knowing when to quit working. And, frankly, most of the time I’m on deadline pressure that dictates my working hours. But sometimes deadline pressure eases and I have the flexibility to take off in the middle of the day and go for a walk.

Two Rivers Bridge

Yesterday, my friend Cici (who also works for herself, cicisartshop.com) and I decided to check out the Two Rivers Bridge and take a walk along the River Trail. We felt fortunate to not only be able to leave our offices midday, but also to have such a lovely locale only a short drive away in which to enjoy nature. Today, I’ll have to work in my office to make up for the time off yesterday, but that’s OK. I have that option.

Here are some photos from our out-of-office experience.

A tired runner takes a break in the shade. The young man told us he'd been on the trail for 2 hours, 45 minutes. He assured us that he was fine, just cooling off before heading back to the parking lot.

Surprisingly, this turtle didn't pull his head into his shell when we approached to take its photo.

Now that's a green space... but don't step on it unless you can walk on water.

Today’s resolution: Beads. Beans. Beauty.

19 Aug

I start making jewelry on a whim in 2000 after wandering into a bead store in California. The beads, stones and metals dazzled me with their colors, shapes, textures. I loved the look and feel of them. I wanted to take them all home, but ended up with a few inexpensive ones that I used to make my first pieces, stretchy ankle bracelets that my sister and I wore to a pool party.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the craft and have made more than a thousand pieces of jewelry. The visual and tactile experience is quietly enriching; one in which I lose myself for hours.

I love color, texture, shimmer. (2011/RO)

Every year, I make a pilgrimage to a bead market where there are mountains of glittering, glimmering, shimmering natural and manmade beauties in rich, bright and muted hues. I feel such delight from simply looking at the beads and stones, even the findings and tools, that touching them and choosing what to take home makes me breathlessly dizzy.

The last couple of years, I haven’t been able to work with the stones as much as in the past. For one thing, I started my own writing/editing business, which currently takes up most of my time — start-ups require intense dedication and attention if they’re to ever be more than start-ups, so I’ve had to let some things slide.

A bigger problem has been that I have arthritis in my hands, which makes it impossible to spend long stretches pinching tiny objects between thumb and forefinger. All the typing I have to do for my work wears them out so that I rest them whenever possible. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

My grandmother had the same problem. Like me, she worked with her hands — she gardened, then shelled beans, shucked corn, cored tomatoes and peeled peaches to cook and preserve. She also knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewed. She went through so many crossword puzzle books that we had a hard time finding new ones for her.

I can see Grandmother stretching her fingers, kneading the air to keep them limber — not easy to do for inflamed joints knotty with calcium deposits.

“I have to keep working them or they’ll be stove up,” she’d say.

It took me a while to realize why she always insisted on washing her dishes herself, even when it got to the point that she had to half-sit on a stool because she could stand for only a few minutes at a time — the hot water was soothing and eased the pain.

I think about her a lot as I stretch my fingers, knead the air, do the dishes. I’ve also got a hot paraffin bath for my hands; some days, I dunk my hands in it three, four times. Keeps the joints moving. Right now, they’re so sore that I keep having to stop typing and give them a break. I’ve gotten used to it.

Like Grandmother, I take a heavy-duty prescription anti-inflammatory drug and natural supplements. If I didn’t, my fingers would be stove up, too stiff to move. As it is, some days they feel like they’re twice as big as they look.

Pinto beans

Grandmother eventually had to quit sewing and crocheting, but she shelled beans to the end of her life at age 86. It was a simple thing, something a lot of people would find boring and tedious, but being able to shell a bowl of pintos was satisfying, fulfilling even. As the bowl filled with beans, she’d sink her hands into them, bring them up and let the beans flow through her fingers. She liked their look and feel.

She found pleasure from their smoothness, their mottled pink and white coloring — an occasional all white, green or red one making its way into the mix. She even liked the shells plump and bumpy in their fullness before being stripped clean.

This wasn’t where I thought I was going when I started writing. I was merely going to mention that I’m setting up the jewelry table this weekend, spreading out my glorious finds from the last bead market so I can start making fall and winter pieces. My hands will hurt and I’ll have to stop often, but I’ll keep doing it. Creating beauty soothes and satisfies.

I’ll run my hands over the stones and beads, pick up a few and hold them warm in my palms before letting them slip slowly from my fingers onto the velvet beading board. I like their look and feel.