The August prompt for Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up is Flake. At our old wooden cottage, more than a century old, there are examples of weathered, peeling paint galore. (Seems like we just finish painting the house, and it’s time to start again!) These photos are my flaky interpretations.

This north-facing door bears the brunt of winter storms off the lake – and never seems to hold its paint!

The weathered old shed holds the paraphernalia of summer: swim toys, gardening tools and these peeling paddles and oars.

In the dictionary next to “shabby chic” is a picture of this dresser. My mother is always after me to refinish its flaking pale cream paint, but I like it just the way it is.

Original hardware that’s stood the test of time.

A Muskoka chair past its glory days subsides slowly on the shore.


Oil Lamps and Old Lace

In a favourite chair on a shady deck under the tall pines, I’ve been devouring Bellewether (Simon & Schuster, 2018), the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley.

Set in the present and in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War, the story features a Colonial house on the tidal shores of Long Island. In the present day, the centuries-old house is being turned into a museum honouring one of its owners, a Revolutionary war hero. As she researches the house’s history and acquires artifacts for the museum, curator Charley learns of the local legend of a daughter and her forbidden love, a captured French officer billeting with the family. The 18th century love story is told with plenty of historical detail and atmosphere. I can almost touch the wind-bent reeds and smell the salt-whipped air as I imagine two-masted brigs sailing down the Sound. Privateering and shipwrecks, tobacco and West Indian trade, draft-dodging and slavery all make an appearance, in Kearsley’s concise style. And, as always, suspense and the paranormal are handled perfectly: Charley’s encounters with the house’s resident ghost and a mysterious light in the woods had me shivering deliciously.

An aside: As I wrote this article, long past midnight after everyone else had retired to bed, the “ghost ship” once again slipped eerily past our island. The Wenonah II, a ship modelled after the Victorian-era steamers which once plied the lakes, was returning to the town wharf carrying only a skeleton crew. With no passengers aboard, the large vessel sailed like a shadow, with a minimum of lights sketching its outline. She made barely a sound as she passed and was visible for just a few moments before disappearing through the Narrows into the bay. How fitting as I write about a tragic tale of lost love, old houses, ships and ghosts!

The bookmark I made for myself – a lover of antique keys – uses ivory crochet lace and moss-green grosgrain ribbon, embellished with a key charm.

Our 107-year-old cottage was made for reading. There are Muskoka chairs (also known as Adirondacks) placed at the most scenic points of the island, perfect for a relaxing afternoon read. In the evenings, too, with no television, radio or other distractions, we read. My mother, siblings and spouses spend our holiday together, and a family that stays together reads together. And page-turners need bookmarkers to hold their places whilst lemonade or cups of tea and a biscuit or two are fetched. So, for the female bookworms amongst us, I made some vintage-looking bookmarks of lace and ribbon, finishing each with a small charm to match the recipient’s personality or interest. They’re easy to make and can be hand- or machine-stitched.

This ivory cotton crochet lace bookmark with pale blue grosgrain ribbon and silver-plated heart charm is for my mother.

To make these bookmarks, choose 1” to 2” wide lace that has holes running down the centre, big enough to accommodate the ribbon you want to use. Gauge the length you’ll need from the book(s) you’ll be reading (I used a paperback). Double that length, cut the lace and fold in half, lining up the holes. (The folded end will be the top of the bookmark.) Pin if necessary, and stitch up both long sides. Using a darning needle, thread ribbon (I used 1/8” polyester satin and 1/4” grosgrain) through the holes up one side and down the other, making sure there’s a loop of ribbon at the top end to attach a charm. Trim the ribbon, keeping half an inch of excess. (Optional: singe the ribbon ends carefully with a flame to prevent fraying.) At the bottom end of the bookmark, turn ribbon and lace ends to the inside about 1/4”, and stitch closed, making sure the catch the hem and ends of the ribbon to keep them in place.

Instead of threading narrow ribbon through the holes, you could sandwich a wider piece of ribbon between the layers of lace so that the colour peeps through.

To finish the bookmark, add a lightweight metal charm using one or two jump rings through the ribbon loop at the top (or through holes in the lace itself, if not using ribbon). In addition to the types of charms shown here, you could use an initial, a faux birthstone or a tassel.

These two white cotton eyelet bookmarks were made for nature lovers. I chose an owl charm for my sister and peridot-green satin ribbon to match her August birthstone. The butterfly bookmark with apricot ribbon went to my sister-in-law.

Charms of the Enchanted Wood

It is a well-known fact that the Faeries use our little island on the lake as a portal through which to travel from their realm to ours, and back again.

Since we took up summer residence at the cottage on that island, the Wee Folk, in an act of benevolence, have been leaving little gifts on our doorstep each night. I believe it’s because they acknowledge and approve of the fact that we are stewards of their lakeside domain. Every year, we keep forest paths clear for them, move fallen branches obstructing their bolt-holes, and ensure the landscaping around their doorways remains tidy and groomed.

As payment, they have generously bestowed upon us tiny tokens from the shore and woods. These charms of the Enchanted Wood have been preserved in vials ranging from 1.25″ to 3″ tall, and each nestles comfortably in its own little wood-and-leather coffer.

Pixie Pillow • Hardworking hobgoblins and constantly flitting faeries need to rest their heads on a nice, soft pillow after a long stint of magick-making. Cushy moss is ideal material for a billowy pillow.

Crystallized Pixie Tears • If the Fae don’t find lovely soft bedding to sleep on (see above), they are liable to become rather grumpity. (Whenever you encounter a put-out pixie, it is highly recommended that you beat a diplomatic and hasty retreat.) Dried pixie tears solidify instantly into semi-transparent and opalescent crystals. Extremely rare, these gems are considered very lucky, and should be carried on one’s person at all times.

Flotsam • In a cove at one end of the island, there is a small beach where all manner of treasure washes up on the sand. Faeries are particularly attracted to the iridescent nacre found in freshwater clams (they use it for jewellery just like Humans do), and of course there are pretty little stones of pink feldspar and driftwood of all shapes and sizes to be found.

Magick Mushrooms • Deep in the forest on be-dewed mornings, the Wee Folk busily harvest the choicest mushrooms which have sprung up like magick overnight. Dried, powdered and sprinkled around a wooded glade, these fabulous fungi help to conceal from prying eyes the legendary Faerie Circle Dance.

Baby Dragon Scales • I’ve never seen a Common Brown Dragon (Draco communis), but I know they exist, because here is a vial of their scales. Baby dragon scales in particular are highly valued for their confounding mixture of flexibility and toughness. Essential for protection against sneak goblin attacks.

Faerie Berries • Have you ever smelt the fragrance of juniper “berries” (cones, really) as they cook? There’s that ginny aroma, for certain, but also a sharp, fresh scent that fills the kitchen with woodberry delight. These faerie berries, hand-picked and dried by the elves who live along Lighthouse Lane, are especially good in Sylvan Stew and Goulash à la Gnome.

Spell Parchment • Faeries can’t always keep a litany of enchantments straight in their ethereal little heads, so from time to time they must write the receipts down. What better way to record those arcane spells than with a duck feather quill and birchbark scroll? Perfect for the scriptorium.

Five-pointed Protection

A small pentagram made from reclaimed pine branches

The pentagram (or pentacle, if it is surrounded by a circle) is an ancient symbol which has been used by many cultures and belief systems. It is a positive symbol of light and love, nature, connectedness and good, white magick. Its five points represent north, south, east, west and the spirit (the topmost point) as well as the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and life energy. In some cultures, the points represent wood, earth, water, fire and metal.

Used as a talisman or amulet, the pentagram is thought to protect the wearer and banish negative energies. Some believe that the material the symbol is made from further enhances its power. A silver pentacle, for example, might be associated with the Moon; a gold one is linked to energy and mental clarity.

I made this large 10-inch pentagram of juniper, one of my favourite woods. Tied securely with twine, it protects my bedroom at our cottage.

Pentagrams fashioned from wood evoke the natural world. They are easy to make using branches reclaimed from the forest floor or your garden. I took a ramble through the little wood at our island cottage and gathered species with ancient Celtic meaning:

A 5-inch red pine pentagram

Cedar – arborvitae, or the Tree of Life; protection from harm
Pine – hardiness; purification
Juniper – to attract love and discourage thieves
Oak – the King of Trees; protection, strength, success and stability

I built the rustic pentagrams starting from the bottom left point – the way you’d draw a five-pointed star without lifting your pencil from the paper. Each of the five sticks is laid one atop the other, with each juncture tied tightly with string or twine. There’s no need to use glue or nails – just keep readjusting as you work until you get a pleasing shape. (It might help to have someone hold the pentagram while you wrap and tie.) Tie three more times where the sticks cross in the centre to completely secure the structure.

This 6-inch pentagram is made from gnarled old cedarwood, the Tree of Life.

The pentagrams can be placed anywhere you wish for security or protection, or to evoke magick. The largest one shown here hangs on a wall inside the cottage as a house blessing. I placed the four smaller pentagrams in the same species of tree from which they were made (for double the magick). Ranged along the lakeshore to the north, south, east and west, they serve as the property’s protective guardians.

A pentagram of hardy oak stands guard over the southern shore.

Life is a Bed of Roses

Happy Sunday! Today I’m celebrating a couple of things: the 2-year anniversary of this blog, and the start of some R&R at the family cottage. I still have to commute to work for a few days here and there, but I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the forest — my kind of cathedral!

Rose Garden • 5” x 7” washable marker on watercolour paper © 2018 V. Barrett

Fantasy Landscapes

Back in 2016, I posted a couple of my attempts at “art” using inexpensive washable markers (Crayola, Elmer’s) and a water mister. I’d seen some examples on Pinterest, and Crayola had this idea (for kids!) on the back of their boxes. I already had some markers, watercolour paper and a mist bottle (for hot flashes!), so I thought I’d give the technique a try. I also tested out another Pinterest idea using melted crayon.

Let me emphasize that I am not an artist – but I do love nature, and trying new things – so I call these pieces “fantasy landscapes”.

Storm’s Comin’ • 8” x 10” washable marker • Inspired by Ontario lake-scapes, this was my first attempt at using the “spritz” technique – laying down broad strokes of water-based marker on watercolour paper, misting lightly with water, then tilting the paper so the colour fans out and blends. I added the trees last, using very little water in order to retain some detail.

September Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • Colours will bleed into each other if laid close together or touching, or if sprayed at the same time or with a lot of water. Squiggly border lines form when enough pigment flows to the edge of an area and dries there.

Autumn Mist • 5” x 7” washable marker & watercolours • I let the colours blend too much on this one and lost some definition, but it’s a good example of the misty, feathering effect and map-like edging that can be achieved.

Blowin’ in the Wind • 5” x 7” washable marker, watercolours & ink • With the spritzing technique, you never quite know what you’re going to get! This take on a poppy field was an attempt to salvage an experiment gone wrong. Let’s call it ‘whimsical’!

Hot Mess (detail) • 8” x 10” melted crayon on paper • Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing fabulous works of melted crayon art! Trying to melt broken crayolas with a heat gun (a hair dryer doesn’t work) onto paper was ridiculously laborious, not to mention dangerous, and just blew the bits around – and all over the room – in ugly globs of colour. This detail of a very abstract piece is really the only half-decent part of the end result.

Heather Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • After a long hiatus, I got out my markers and paper again to make this recent picture. In addition to a spray bottle, I found by happy accident that a raindrop effect can be achieved by dropping or flicking water onto the pigment, whether wet or dry. Unhappily, I discovered that glitter washable marker does not blend well when wet (but could be used to highlight dry areas) – but I was sufficiently pleased with the overall result to give this one as a gift to a family member.

Billow • 5” x 7” washable marker • To me, this picture, which took hours to make, looks sort of like batik. I was careful to work section by section, allowing each to dry sufficiently before starting an adjacent area or colour. I kept most colours separate, or layered pigment wet-on-dry, and used white space to enhance the composition. In addition to a mister, I used an eyedropper to add water to specific areas and push it along as needed. This allows more control over the final result than just spritzing.

Practical Magick

This simple Himalayan salt diffuser is perfect for summer. It’s small and portable and doesn’t use water or electricity or add humidity to the air – just a gentle waft of fragrance. You can set it on a bathroom or kitchen counter, bedside table, coffee table, desk – wherever you want a delicate aroma to calm and relax, refresh or wake you up!

You only need three items: a few drops of your favourite essential or fragrance oil stirred in to a handful (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup) of coarse pink Himalayan salt in a glass or ceramic container.

A small dish works best to diffuse the scent. I found this cute little bowl at a dollar store. An old teacup would be a pretty touch! You could also put the salts in a small jam or mason jar so that you can close it up when not in use to preserve the fragrance (and take with you, if you’re on the go). Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a dedicated container that will not be used for food later.

Himalayan salt is mined in Pakistan near the Himalayas, not from the mountains themselves. Like common table salt, it contains up to 98% sodium chloride; the remainder is made of trace minerals and elements such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and copper, which give the salt its pink colour. Himalayan salt is generally less processed than table salt, which leads to claims of it being the “purest” salt available. Find it at health food stores, some pharmacies, online and, if you’re lucky, at your local bargain store. (After splurging on a box at a health store, I found a bottle of perfectly good stuff at the same dollar store where I bought my dish.) Some Himalayan salt comes pre-scented (e.g. lavender, eucalyptus, cedarwood, citrus); choose the unscented variety if you want to add your own fragrance. And fine-, medium- and coarse-grain all work for this project, but I think the coarse pink salt looks prettiest!

Use your favourite essential or fragrance oil in the diffuser, either a single note or a blend. I used a few drops of strawberry fragrance oil. Every few days, I give the bowl a bit of a shake to revive the aroma. Simply add a few drops more oil when the scent has completely faded.

Here are a few suggestions for summery scents – use these essential oils singly or in a blend of your own:

Citrus:  bergamot  •  grapefruit  •  lemon  •  lime  •  mandarin  •  sweet orange  •  tangerine

Floral:  geranium  •  jasmine  •  lavender  •  neroli  •  palmarosa  •  rose  •  ylang ylang

Blends:  bergamot + jasmine  •  grapefruit + jasmine + ylang ylang  •  lemon + lavender  •  rose + lemon  •  sweet orange + sandalwood

When you want to change out the blend, don’t throw the old mixture away! If you’ve used skin-friendly essential oil (not fragrance oil) such as lavender or rose, scoop up a little of the salt for a scrub as you wash your hands, making sure to rinse well. You can also sprinkle a handful into your bathwater for a nice relaxing soak.

You can pretty this idea up even further by nestling a small candle amongst the salts in your heatproof container. (I suggest a small jar for this.) The warmth of the candle will help release the fragrance.

Caution: Keep out of reach of children and pets.