I have found that walking a labyrinth is very peaceful for me. A good addition to my meditative practice, which is usually not as robust as I would like it to be. But I refuse to stress about my lack of meditation; that seems like two steps in the wrong direction. I’m glad there are some public labyrinths close by that I can use. I can even bike to one in Homestead, when I am ambitious.
I would love to have one in my backyard, but my backyard is too small. I could make the whole space a labyrinth, and it still wouldn’t take much time to walk it. So to have one near me, I bought a finger labyrinth.
Mine is a 12.5 inch bamboo disc that I can hold on my lap or put on a table. One side has a 7 circuit labyrinth and the other an 11 circuit. Both are Chartres based, or medieval. The grooves are too small for my finger to actually fit down inside them, but I can follow the channels with my fingertip without getting lost, even with my eyes closed. You can also trace the path with a stylus or small stick, and there are smaller finger labyrinths which would have to be done this way, but I prefer the tactile feel of using my fingertip. It is peaceful, and easy, being readily at hand. Even just looking at it makes me happy.
There are many different kinds of finger labyrinths available. Just on Amazon, I found sizes ranging from 4 inches to over 18. Most are Chartres based or the older classical or Cretan style. I found bamboo, maple, plastic, pewter, ceramic, and even larger canvas versions. I also found a knitted version on Ravelry…..hmmm.
I have walked a labyrinth here in Pittsburgh that I found on-line using https://labyrinthlocator.com. It is just off the bike trail by the old Pump House in Homestead. I must have gone right by it a bunch of times, but never noticed it until I was looking for it.
It is very flat and the grass is long right now, maybe always, I don’t know. It is medieval, based on the Chartres labyrinth. It has 11 circuits, and is 68 feet wide, according to Labyrinth Locator. There are white stone pavers outlining the path, and a big star in the center. The outside ring is edged in triangles, three different sizes made from three different stones. The size/stone variation represents the three rivers around Pittsburgh, and each stone is engraved with the name of a steel mill, foundry or blast furnace on each river. The site of the labyrinth is where the battle of Homestead, between striking workers and Pinkertons, occurred during the Homestead Steel Strike in 1892. Not a very peaceful beginning, but it is peaceful now.
Because it is overgrown, the path is not always clear. The turns sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. Once, I got distracted and thought I had lost my way. Did I miss a turn? Was I on the same circuit I was on a second ago? Should I turn around and check? Or just keep going and hope for the best? What if I’m wrong; where will I end up? I can’t stay in one spot, but am I going forwards or backwards? Have I missed a big part of the maze? Does it matter? The story of my (anyone’s) life, right at my feet.
I really didn’t need to find out that Haagen Dazs Caramel Cone ice cream is so excellent. Like maybe the best ice cream flavor I’ve ever had. Ever. I can’t afford to buy the amount that I want to eat, but it is really so good — vanilla ice cream swirled with caramel with chunks of chocolate covered sugar cone. So. Good.
Recently I have been walking a labyrinth. It is built in the grass; the path is outlined with stones and rocks and ends in an open center. There is a large tree as an anchor providing shade. It is near a road, so it is accessible to everyone, but that means there is the noise of cars nearby. Somehow, when I am walking the path, it is peaceful. Not that the cars disappear all of a sudden, but my awareness of them does. I usually walk barefoot. The grassy path is soft, with yellow and purple flowers, but sometimes a little sharp with small stones and twigs. Sometimes it is wet, and cold, sometimes dry and prickly. There are wind chimes hanging in the trees nearby, but they don’t ring very often. It is a treat when they do. They are hanging out of reach, so you can’t ring them yourself; you have to wait and hope for it. The path is a simple circling one, that turns gently back and forth, edging toward the center, then back out a little, then all of a sudden in the middle. A small turn about the center starts you on the same path for the way out; the same path with a totally different perspective. There are no false turns, no tricks or dead ends. You are always moving forward on the path, even when circling back or away from where you think you are going or right next to where you have just been. The whole story of my life seems to be in there.
I want to capture this labyrinth in a sweater. I’ve thought about it and have a lot of ideas, and one skein of stone colored yarn, to use as a jumping off point. I’ll add this to the stash of ideas in my head. But this one is in my heart, too.
Another thing I think I want to do is make some quilted pot holders. I think this every time I see my ratty old pot holders that are all stained and scorched. I thought of this last year when I found out that Evan’s school has a craft sale in the church basement right around Christmas time. If I had known ahead of time, I thought, I could have made a bunch of pot holders, table mats, trivets, mug mats, etc. and had a table for the sale. The school gets the money for the table rental, and I would get the money from anything I sold. Sounds great.
Well, now I know ahead of time. I should be making these things now if I want enough to sell in December. I bought some fabric and some of the special batting to make it heat resistant last year when I was all fired up for this idea. I thought it would be a great way to practice different quilt squares; the small items are just one square each. And I could practice my machine quilting. And maybe I could sell something. At the very least the school would get $20. Is this the year? Is it?
I have so many ideas of things to make rattling around in my mind, taking up space. I wish I would realize some of them, get them out into reality. Not only do they take up space in my brain, they take up space in my closets, because I have the raw materials stashed for a lot of them.
One of the oldest projects half conceived and living in my house is a faux chenille jacket. I saw this at a sewing convention in Pittsburgh so many years ago we don’t even host that convention anymore. I thought it was so neat that I bought a pattern and a pair of electric scissors from the designer. The premise is that you take multiple pieces of fabric and layer them all up in a stack. Then cut the pieces you need for the jacket from the stack, keeping all the layers together. Then you sew all over the pieces, through all the layers, in fairly close parallel lines in different patterns, a lot like echo quilting. Next you cut through all the layers, between the stitched lines, EXCEPT for the back layer. That stays intact and holds the whole thing together. Sew up the seams to form the jacket, and probably bind the edges, I can’t remember for sure. Then, when you wash and agitate the jacket, the exposed edges of all the layers fray and fluff up to create what looks like chenille rows. I think you’re supposed to use rayon, but you have to make sure it will fray nicely. Not all fabrics will work. Muslin also is supposed to work, but if you use rayons with different patterns on them, the frayed-up end result is a kind of impressionistic smooshing together of the different patterns, and is really pretty.
In addition to the pattern and scissors, I bought a bunch of fabric to make my jacket. But I haven’t made it yet. I haven’t tested the fabrics to see if they’ll fray. I haven’t layered up the patterns in different orders to see what looks best. And now I don’t like the purplish palette I chose. I keep thinking about this periodically, and want to get back to it. I’d much rather have a nice jacket instead of all this stuff in a pile. Maybe this will be the year. Maybe.
In addition to lectures for your mind and sermons for your soul, Chautauqua abounds with music, art, drama, and dance for your spirit. There are many venues for the different arts, and lots of them are included with the gate pass that you pay to come in. If you are not staying on-site, you can buy admission to individual shows and just come in for specific performances.
The Chautauqua Opera Company was founded in 1929 and is North America’s oldest continuously operating summer opera company. They offer around 40 operatic events each season including fully staged productions (extra charge). This season’s main performances include L’Orfeo, Don Pasquale, and Hydrogen Jukebox.
The Chautauqua Theater Company is a professional theater company offering a season of plays featuring both known professional and emerging, student actors. This year’s shows include Noises Off, Detroit ’67, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as some limited runs of newer plays. Tickets for plays are extra.
Included in the gate pass charge are the (every) evening shows at the Amphitheater, the Popular Entertainment. These events are a mix of entertainment, including symphony orchestra productions, ballet, contemporary dance, speakers, comedians, and other entertainers. The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Dance Program do many of the shows, sometimes with guest soloists, but the Institution pulls in many big name acts every season. On past trips we’ve seen Garrison Keillor and Straight No Chaser. This year’s season opened with Jay Leno. Some upcoming shows include Rhythmic Circus, Rhiannon Giddens, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert, Capitol Steps, Playing by Air, etc. This year, the Pittsburgh Ballet Company is coming, and they are ending the season with The Beach Boys.
It is quite a mix, the things you can do at Chautauqua, and you can stay as busy as you like. Or you can sit on the lakeshore, or the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, or the porch of the Victorian house condo you’ve rented, or in Bestor Plaza, and watch the (small Chautauqua) world go by. You can buy a new book in the bookstore. Or you can knit and crochet and knit some more. You will likely find me in Bestor Plaza with some yarn, doing some of that last thing.
The first thing I have to say about the Chautauqua Institution is that it feels like an island. If I call it an island, I am mis-speaking, because it is not an island. What it is, is roughly a 750 acre rectangle in New York, bordering Lake Chautauqua on one long edge and the highway on the other long edge. It is a closed community, accessed through maybe four different gates from the highway. To be on site, you need to buy a gate pass, and have your pass on you while you are there. They check the pass as you enter and leave, and it’s needed for admission to some of the events. There is a marina, if you have a boat, and they check the pass as you come in off the lake. It is both a National Historic Landmark District and on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is one large hotel, the Athenaeum, which was built in 1881, and is supposedly the largest wooden building in the eastern US. There are lots of condos, and by condos I mean private houses or parts of houses for rent. There are also private houses that owners use for all or part of the season.
The ‘season’ is a 9 week period in the summer when Chautauqua really comes alive. Each week has a theme, and there are speakers, presentations and activities throughout the Institution revolving around each theme. Some of the themes this year include “The Human Journey: Origins, Exploration and Preservation, In Partnership with National Geographic“, “A Crisis of Faith?”, “Geopolitics Today: A Partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies”, “Comedy and the Human Condition”, “The Nature of Fear”, and “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food”. The themes are quite varied, with hopefully something for everyone. The week(s) you can get away for vacation might not match up to your favorite theme, but they do a good job with each topic and they are all interesting.
Every day (Monday through Friday) in the morning, the main lecture/presentation occurs in the large amphitheater, newly renovated. Guest speakers come from all over the world, experts in their field, and the lectures for the week all tie into the theme. Lectures are about an hour long, with question sessions following. There are other lectures, presentations, discussions, and activities at different, smaller venues throughout the grounds, again revolving around the main topic of the week. These happen throughout the day.
Staying true to the beginnings of the Institution, which started as adult education for Sunday school teachers, there continues to be a religious presence at the Institution. There are ‘houses’ on the grounds affiliated with different religions and denominations, as well as different worship sites. There are daily Interfaith Lectures at the Amp, also with weekly themes coordinated with the lecture themes.
Saturdays are quieter, with no main lectures, but Sunday has many choices of worship services, both denominational and ecumenical, and there is no gate fee on Sundays. With just these choices, the weekly themed lectures and interfaith series, you can be as busy as you want to be. But there are even more things to do, and another aspect that Chautauqua is well known for…
For two years Evan has gone to the Children’s School while we were on vacation at Chautauqua. The Children’s School is for kids 3-5 years old, generally pre-school aged kids. The school was started in 1921 and has been periodically renovated and expanded through 1994; it now has 6 classrooms, up to 30 students each. The hours are 9-noon on weekdays, so parents get a true vacation break every morning.
There are weekly themes at the school that coordinate with the weekly themes at the Institution (more about that on another day). There are guests and speakers who visit the school, and they take field trips around the Institution. These visits and trips often highlight dance, music, drama, and art. We walk Evan to the school, but there is also bus service to gather the little ones. There are play areas on the grounds of the school, and these can be used by anyone whenever school is not is session. It’s really a nice place for the youngest Chautauquans.
While Evan has been there, the school’s been visited by some of the orchestra members with their instruments, and some of the ballet dancers. He’s seen a harp up close, and some horns, woodwinds, and drums. The kids also visited the ballet dancers during a practice at their studio, and took a trip to the bell tower to see how the bells work. They played “Twinkle, twinkle little star” while the kids were there, and you could hear it all over the grounds. The dancers said Evan was jumping and leaping will all the male dancers, so I think he enjoyed it!
When the kids are older, they can go to the Boys and Girls Club, usually just called Club. This is for 2nd through 10th grade, and is considered the oldest day camp in the US. Kids are grouped by age and there is a morning session and afternoon session with a break for lunch at ‘home’. Most of the activities are active outdoor play, including watersports, as well as some arts and crafts. Some examples: canoes, kayaks, swimming, field sports, gym time, music, crafts, hiking, sailing, volleyball, and tennis, all done in a guided and safe environment by age and ability. Mostly all the kids ride their bikes to club, and are more or less independent. It seems super popular, and I think Evan will enjoy it.
In between the Children’s School and Club is a one year transition called Group One, for kids entering 1st grade in the fall. This is where Evan will be this year. There are 2 classes of 36 students each, and it is a full day program (morning session and afternoon session) like Club, but the morning session is at Sheldon Hall by the Children’s School and the afternoon session uses the B&G Club facilities. The kids stay with the same teachers all day. It looks like a good way to ease into Club, because the 5/6 year olds get to be there in the afternoon, but Club is a lot bigger and more active than the school, so they shouldn’t get overwhelmed in just 2 hours, plus they are with grownups that they know well from the smaller morning sessions.
Overall, great programs for kids at Chautauqua, and they give a real break to parents, so they can enjoy the adult programs on their own (more later!).
I am so looking forward to going to Chautauqua for vacation again this year. This will be the third year in a row that we have gone. It is not that far for us, we can drive in just about 3 hours or less. It is self contained, and if you pack right you never have to leave for anything. Of course, if you run out of food you might want to go out for a decent shopping trip, which is available near by. And it is that kind of place where you can make the experience all your own. If you want to go out and explore around, there is a lot to do and see. If you want to stay on-site, you can do that. And while staying within the gates of the Institution might seem limited, you can be as busy or relaxed as you choose. There is plenty to do, but also enough space to relax and do nothing at all. I usually have to make a bit of an effort to not get too busy, and I’ll write for a few days about all the options available. Dreaming of my trip…