Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Craft Lab

On Saturday, I went to our local Ecology Center.

Now, I didn't know, before last week, that we had an Ecology Center. I live in Orange County, home of Nixon's  Western White House, and one of the most Republican spots known to man. Although there's always been a light sprinkling of surfers and bikers, the majority of the population look, act, spend and vote like they'd tar and feather any hippies who came around talking about that global warming or recycling nonsense.

The Orange County Register is the favored organ of these people. The rag'll tell you  it is a small government, small-L libertarian paper, but when it comes to covering actual living politicians, as opposed to Randian imaginary ones, it is  138% Republican. So it was a bit of a surprise to read on the Orange County Register's web page that there was a 'do' on at our local Ecology Center. The Craft Lab!

So on Saturday we  trooped off to the keeping-chickens-in-the-yard part of town (it's at least 250 yards from the center cross-roads of the city, so I guess ordinances are more relaxed way out there), and found a nice old wooden house set back fifty feet or so from the road, planted all around with demonstration local native plants.  (Local native plants seem to be mostly Century Plant, maguey, yucca, penstemon and Dudleya.) Apparently it's the oldest wooden structure in San Juan Capistrano, which is saying something as the Los Rios district is nearby. It's still surrounded by farmland. About half an acre of it, but farmland nevertheless.

STB and I had booked a whole day of handicraft workshops. We started off with Homemade Skincare, which was a revelation to both of us.  I had made cosmetics from an Edwardian book I found when I was about 12, and mostly found out that things you make of oatmeal and egg whites are very wholesome, but mold thinks so too. I'd never bothered since. I didn't have the heart to tell the workshop leader about it, since my pre-hippie book was very big on using spermaceti, which I suspect would be frowned upon by the Ecology Center. (To be honest, it was unobtainable back then as well.)

We made brown sugar skin scrub, which I'd never heard of. It's made by adding almond oil and a drop or two of essential oils to a mixture of brown sugar and turbinado sugar, which you would then use as an exfoliant. Not right there, in the ecology center, mind you, back home in a shower. The cheery demonstrator used such phrases as "Well, I don't need to explain this bit...I'm sure you're all used to working with essential oils!" We nodded dutifully, and so did the real Real Housewives of Orange County who were attending the workshop with us, although they were telling the truth and we were just lying.

After that it was off to the kitchen to make beeswax candles. For some reason I'd assumed that these would be those wrapped-honeycomb ear-candling type candles, but no! This involved melting real beeswax in a portable gasring double-boiler arrangement that would make OSHA cringe, and pouring it and wicking it (for votive or tea candles) and, later, a very relaxing session dipping our wicks, so to speak, in the wax to make the traditional tallow-candle shaped candles...except being beeswax they smelled heavenly instead of smelling of tallow. We now have a roomful of candles at home that we daren't light as our knowledge of the burn rate of pure beeswax is sadly lacking. I'll tell you who else liked the beeswax smell - the bees! They came flying in through the window to reclaim their wax, but we gamely kept it out of their greedy little mandibles.

We also learned how to make little journals out of paper with mulberry bark covers; holiday cards from magazine snippings and punches, rubber stamps and glue; and terrariums, where we all got chance to make our own and take it with us. At the terrarium-making class, a small boy with angelic curls asked an interesting question about the moss used as decoration/soil cover in the little bowls of succulents. "Why do they call it moss?"

At first I dismissed that as a daft question. ("Because it's moss, that's why!) But I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Either he was a very unusual young man, or kids today have a different approach to the world than we did. I assumed that words had been sort of handed down - not necessarily on stone tablets, and not necessarily by Adam naming everything, but at the very least, from proto-Indo-European. (Yes, I did know about all that at 12.) He seemed to assume that words are chosen for a reason, a sort of innate bow-wow theory, expanded to include moss, which doesn't say "Moss! Moss!" when you call it.  Possibly it's something to do with Xboxes or Facebook.

We also had  a vegetarian lunch made largely out of plants grown on the premises, supplemented by the produce from the farmer's market next door.

This was a fun day out (and a fungi out also, since we bought a box of grow-it-thissen oyster mushrooms from the store). Most of the center's folk seemed literally identical to the staff of the Whole Thing, a wholefood cafe and store in London I frequented in about 1980, not only in terms of granola quotient, but also in facial features, hairstyles and clothing choices. It may be that they are aliens or spirit guides who move on from windmills and solar kilns in one city to rain-water storage and composting in another whenever their disguises are revealed, or just maybe the vaguely counter-cultural in the west have chosen the same look and habits since approximately 1961. One day it could catch on with the rest of us.

Anyway, the next day I used the sugar scrub in the shower, and later my skin felt a little uncomfortable. I diagnosed a reaction to essential oils...whatever they are...but when I got home I discovered a four-inch scratch down my leg. Sugar is sharp. I guess I'm going back to the spermaceti and benzoin skin care.

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