Category Archives: crafting

The Monday Book – The Last of the Tinsmiths

The Last of the Tinsmiths – Sheila Douglas

Jack gets to do the Monday Book this week –

I should start by saying that I knew both the author and subject of her book. Sheila Douglas was an academic expert on the life of Scottish Travellers and their culture. Her house in Scone was a meeting place where Travellers were frequently brought together with visitors from all over the world.

Willie MacPhee was one of her favorite source singers and interviewees; I met him many times, sometimes at her house, often at traditional music festivals and also at his trailer outside Perth. When he passed away I attended his funeral at a small Church on the banks of Loch Lomond.

The book grew out of Douglas’s research for her PhD, but there’s nothing dry or academic about it. It’s very obviously a labor of love. Willie was a singer, a piper, a tinsmith and a storyteller and closely related to many other notable carriers of those traditions. The author pays due attention to them as well throughout.

Included are a number of his stories. Douglas has been careful to set them out exactly as he told them. She also describes his life in his own words and keeps her observations quite separate.

I first met Willie at the parking place on the road to Fort William where he entertained the tourists dressed in full highland costume and playing his pipes while his wife sold bunches of white heather. Every time I’ve been back, since his passing, I still see him in my mind’s eye.

I enjoyed this book and can recommend it without reservation.

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Filed under book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Combined Interests Increase Interest

Almost a year ago now my “it’s complicated” sister Nora talked me into joining a gym–and then actually going to the classes. It turned out to be both fun and useful, which is a pleasant combination.

This one is Mullein

This past January, I signed up for an herbalism course. (I like my pastimes to be fun and useful.) I don’t talk about herbs online because, after waxing eloquent about the joys of canning food grown in my very own garden, people assumed I was a prepper. Why feed that fire?

No, today I would like to talk about how to combine interests for maximum benefit. About midway through my HIIT aerobics class (which stands for something like High Impact, Intensity Terminal) my energy was flagging. My brain, seeking a way to keep me engaged, came up with “Ever notice how much this workout resembles herbal foraging?”

For instance, that kettle weight we swing up in the air above our heads, then down between our knees in a controlled movement? Have you ever had a basket full of meadowsweet you’re trying to shake loose from bees? Up, down, gentle, don’t overdo it, bye bye bee. Perfect!

Then there’s the speed skater exercise, also a very controlled movement, yet swift. You flex one leg and touch the ground with one hand, the other extended high in the air. Immediately I knew what this was: Is This Goldenseal? The move is so quick, the other hand so distracting, you could swoop in and harvest the elusive stuff before anyone noticed, not alerting them to the presence of this endangered herb. (Dear herbalists, yes, I know. Let it go, k?)

The Side Dumbell exercise (a gentle deep squat with weights in each hand, arms straight, slow and steady to an upright stand, then down again) is actually the I Have Two Baskets Full of Berries and There is a Bear Coming. You lower the baskets to the ground, stand, and back slowly in a reverse high knee march. (Two exercises in one!) The bear eats the berries instead of you. All is well.

This one isn’t

Perhaps my favorite Aerobics-cum-Foraging moment is the Mountain Climber. This is a frenzied movement in which you jog while pretending your hands are scaling the Eiger without benefit of ropes. Nay, gentle friends. We are not simulating determination to scale a peak because it is there; rather it is the frenetic dance of some amateur whose friend checked the plant ID app and declared of some non-flowering small spring thing,”It’s 82% likely to be Mullein.”

The rookie stuffs a leaf in her mouth, just as her phone-bearing pal says, “Oh wait. It could be Foxglove.” The Climber exercise is then performed by both forager and friend, as the latter tries to beat off the resulting attack once the plant is confirmed as Mullein.

See? Combining interests maximizes utility and enjoyment. You’re welcome.


Filed under crafting, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch