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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: November 8, 2017

Craft Gene Deficiency

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,


No, this column is not about scientific research into gene sequencing or other high-science type topics. It's about the fact that I was born without the gene that enables people to do craft work.

To me, "craft work" is a broad band of activities, for making money or for a hobby, that would include things like woodworking, flower arranging, sewing, decorating, or the artfully-named "repurposing" which is a type of recycling. (Such as buying a rusty old metal gate at an auction, and turning it into a clever decoration by adding paint, artificial flowers and other elements to transform it from a 50 cent buy into a wall hanging someone is willing to pay $50 for.)

Several of my Peshtigo High School classmates are on facebook showing things they've crafted, and I'm dazzled at what they are doing with items I'd call junk. My daughter-in-law excels at decorating, repurposing, and sewing. I have a cousin who buys old wool coats and uses the material to make beautiful mittens. My son turns scrap steel into hand-forged knives and my sister-in-law is a true fabric artist. I admire all of them greatly.

On the other hand, my efforts in this area usually go off the tracks in drastic fashion. I am blaming a defect in my "craft" gene. I've made crooked seamed, lumpy pillows; lopsided clay sculptures; and hideous paintings. (One of the paintings was so bad I hid the canvas in a load of items I donated to Goodwill " I justified the donation by telling myself someone could repaint the canvas over the top of my effort. But I imagined the sorting workers hooting at the sight of my abomination.)

About the only thing I ever made that turned out half-way decent was "plant ghosts." That's what I called water-smoothed pieces of driftwood I'd find along the shores of Green Bay. The long, thin flat pieces are naturally rounded at the ends. Once well dried, each got a coat or two of white paint. Add two black magic marker dots for eyes, and push them into a potted plant. "Plant Ghosts" ready for holiday gifts. I bet you are astonished at my ability, right? Interestingly although I "gifted" these to lots of people I've never seen any of them since. Wonder why?

But recently I saw a craft finished product I thought was really pretty, and seemed low-tech enough (meaning idiot proof) for me to tackle. Plus, I had a plethora of the raw material needed right in my yard " pine cones, nicely sized ones, and wide open.

The project was "beached pine cones." A brief summary of the process was you put pine cones into a 4:1 water and bleach bath for 24 hours. After they finished with the soaking, you let them drip dry. Because the cones closed up tight while in the bleach, you then placed them on a cookie sheet at 250 degrees for an hour after which you removed the natural-looking but bone-white fully opened pine cones from the oven, ready to pile artfully in a wicker basket or tie to a green wreath. The illustrations I saw on line showed them tied to gifts, hung on trees and fashioned into centerpieces for the holiday tables. The pictures were amazing, including the one of the tray of white, wide-opened finished pine cones being removed from the oven. I love pine cones, so I gave it a try.

As usual it was a fiasco.

I selected six perfect and open pine cones, mixed the bleach water using the measuring cup to get the exact ratio specified, put the cones and solution into a sealed container and gave it a few shakes. Then I patiently waited 24 hours.

After draining the cones, I was a little disappointed. They were tightly closed again which I expected from the instructions, but they were also still brown. Well, perhaps the INSIDE parts will be white once they dry out and reopen, I thought. So I lined a cookie sheet with foil and popped them into the oven as directed. After the specified hour in the oven they were still closed tightly so I gave them a second hour " all the while they were baking, the house smelled very strange. I think it was the combination of heated bleach vapors and toasting organic material. The dogs walked by the oven several times with a distressed look on their faces. ("Wow, dinner tonight reeks!")

And the final result was""underwhelming. The pine cones were still closed tight and 5 of the 6 werestill dark brown. One had a little "sunburn" of lighter color, much like I could get by laying a pine cone on the driveway on a day when it's 100 degrees and sunny in Oklahoma.

The pine cones have made their way into the trash can, since they stink like bleach.

If I still wanted white pine cones, I'd grab a can of spray paint and have at it, which is what a smart person would have done in the first place. But I'm not motivated to try again. After all, natural pine cones are beautiful and environmentally friendly, smell nice, and I'm a natural kind of woman. I did get the nature gene, even if I didn't get the craft gene.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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