Sunday, August 30, 2009

Naughty Nellie: Brothels, Baths and Beer

Nellie Curtis was an interesting woman. She ran a brothel out of the LaSalle Hotel in Pike Place Market for about 10 years during and after WWII. It was reportedly visited by some pretty important public figures from the Seattle of that time, along with a multitude of lonely sailors who walked up to the Market from the waterfront. During her lifetime, Nellie Curtis had 13 aliases and ran a number of different hotels that were mysteriously profitable.

The Pike Brewing Company was later established on the site of the old LaSalle Hotel. Its owners were taken with the story of Nellie Curtis and named one of their fine artisan beers after her: Naughty Nellie Ale. I use this lovely golden brew to make my Naughty Nellie Soap. Why beer in soap? It makes the lather more frothy and creamy and adds complexity to the scent. My Naughty Nellie Soap is scented with the rich floral essential oils blue lavender and palmarosa, mixed with the hoppy scent of the beer. It's a very nice soap...appealing to both men and women. It makes a nice shaving soap, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Piobaireachd is ancient, classical bagpiping music. It's not the type of music that you would hear in a pub, or probably tap your foot to. It's the type of music that would make you cry and remember your Scottish ancestors...even if you have no Scottish ancestors, like me. Any lucky traveler who happens upon a piper playing Piobaireachd on a foggy Scottish hillside might think they've died and gone to heaven. Literally. It's very haunting.

Like much of jazz, Piobaireachd is a variation on a musical theme. It starts with a relatively simple melody line (the ground) and then adds new and more complex embellishments and variations with each repetition. The number of repetitions can go as high as 20 in some cases, which makes Piobaireachd pieces quite long, compared to other pipe tunes.

The word Piobaireachd means "piping music" in Scots Gaelic. The Gaelic term preferred by most pipers is Ceòl Mòr, which literally means "big music" opposed to Ceòl Beag (little music), which describes most tunes you may have heard played on the pipes. Piobaireachd is kind of a hard word to pronounce. It sounds something like peebrokd, with some fancy back of the throat noises going on.

I grew up as the stepdaughter of a McLeod. The MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers to the chief of Clan McLeod of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye and were considered to be the preeminent practitioners of Piobaireachd (couldn't resist) in Scotland for many generations. There's even a great children's book all about the beginning of the MacCrimmon line of Pipers to the Chief. When I was young, my stepfather was the director of the Coeur d'Alene Summer School of Piping and Drumming, and Piobaireachd which was sponsored at the time by the Spokane Piobaireachd Society. I spent a part of most of my summers growing up listening to world class pipers and high quality Piobaireachd. I loved it and was marked indelibly by my experiences there.

All of this is the intro to the fact that my friend and bandmate Tyrone Heade just won the World Amateur Solo Piobaireachd competition in Scotland this past week!! It's no small feat, and we're quite proud of him!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cozy Soap

"Does soap get cold?" I was asked this recently at a craft fair. Valid question, since I do sell Soap Sweaters that fit my round bars. Maybe the name 'soap saver' would be more accurate. My Soap Sweaters are beautifully crocheted by my friend Dawn of Scary White Girl Designs, here in Seattle. Don't let her shop name fool you...the only thing scary about Dawn is how scary fast she seems to crochet. She also commutes to work on the bus (awesome!) and has lots of time to keep her hands busy crocheting crafty creations.

Soap Sweaters are a variation on a soap saving method that my grandmother used. She would put the ends and pieces of soap bars into and old sock and hang it in the shower. The sock acted as a washcloth, of sorts, and allowed all the little pieces to get used and not wasted. That's what a Soap Sweater does. It also helps to exfoliate the skin and hangs nicely on a hook in the tub or shower. And the soap never gets cold...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Head, Heart, Hands & Health

I love 4-H. Most people mistakenly assume that the organization is only about animals and farming and can only be found in rural areas. Historically, it's been true that the vast majority of clubs were organized in small towns around themes that were agricultural in nature, but the 4-H umbrella is MUCH larger than that. At its heart, 4-H is really about giving young people the chance to learn through hands-on experience about topics that are practical and engaging.

Many clubs around the world (yes, 4-H is a HUGE organization with clubs in over 80 countries) give young people the opportunity to learn how to raise animals, grow food, sew, cook, do mechanics, work with electricity, protect the environment, and build name just a few. The 4-H Pledge which is spoken at the beginning of each meeting goes like this: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world." Service and stewardship are important components of 4-H. Through the structure of the organization, kids hone their public speaking skills, learn how to organize information and make connections with others around the world.

My father participated in 4-H throughout his school years, traveling to state and national fairs to show projects that he'd done on electricity and forestry. I have another friend who participated in 4-H all the way through college and actually did an exchange to South America when she was just out of high school.

We started a new 4-H club three years ago when my kids entered elementary school. We call our club 4-H F.A.S.T. (Frontier Arts, Skills & Technologies). We don't specialize in any one topic, we sample. So far we've tried gardening, woodworking, sewing, baking, the science of sound and hearing; and small business. We also take a camping trip to Idaho each summer. This year we built a survival shelter, learned how to make butter, planted 150 willow trees to help reclaim a creek bed from overgrazing and erosion, fished, swam, cooked and learned how to build a proper campfire. It was great!

Having grown up on a ranch in a family that knew how to 'do stuff', I think that it's terribly important for my kids...all kids, city kids in particular, to be more in touch with the land and have the knowledge and the confidence to do things for themselves. They should know how to grow food, how to care for animals, how to fix machines, how to cook, sew and most importantly... how to ask questions, learn through trial and error and go through the critical thinking process it takes to master a new skill.

Support 4-H... join a club, be an "expert" who teaches a lesson, give money, give time, or start your own club. You won't regret it.