Awaiting the grand reveal: Ukrainian egg making 2013

When Jen brought forward the idea of decorating Ukrainian eggs this past weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.

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I don’t know if it’s just me and my friends, it seems as though many people have had exposure to Ukrainian egg painting at some point in their lives. For me, it was in either grade two or three, when I was living in Sudbury the first time around. My mom and I made a set of three eggs on a mother-daughter craft date. The details of the actual painting aren’t too clear in my mind, but I do know the legacy of those eggs live on. Up until this past week, the eggs were sitting in the display cabinet in my parent’s dining room. Because you don’t empty the contents of the egg prior to painting (the membrane serves as insulation, otherwise the empty shell would become too hot and delicate when you burn off the wax with a candle) they have to be rotated every few weeks until everything dries up inside. Two of the eggs my mom and I painted a decade-and-a-half ago are still going through this drying process, and she has recently taken them out of the cabinet in hopes they’ll receive benefit from better air circulation on the kitchen window sill.

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The original Ukrainian eggs made by Hilary and mom. Bunny ears courtesy of dad.

My egg painting outing this time around was with Jen, and our other friend and colleague, Martha. It was at the Ukrainian Seniors’ Centre in Sudbury. We entered the room where, over the next two hours, a set of medium eggs would be transformed into an intricate display of layered dyes.

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Most of the people attending the workshop were presumably mothers on a  Saturday morning outing with their kids. Jen, Martha, and I look as though we could be anywhere between the ages of 16 and 30, so the two older ladies running the workshop earmarked us as high school students, an assumption likely confirmed as we rebelliously displayed our “free-spirited” egg design techniques over the next two hours.

The entrance of the seniors centre had a map of Ukraine with eggs painted in the style of the region; an Ophelia-esque flower crown, dye from 1997 (!!)
The entrance of the seniors centre had a map of Ukraine with eggs painted in the style of each region; an Ophelia-esque flower crown, dye from 1997 (!!)

The purpose of the workshop was to create the traditional “pysanka” style of Ukrainian eggs. Traditionally, the labrynth-like design was used to trap evil spirits as they penetrated a household. The design relies on the use of symmetry and quadrants and involves the use of a “kystka,” a copper funnel tool you heat in order to melt beeswax, which is then drawn onto the surface of the egg. Using the kystka is a lot of fun, and I love watching the funnelled edge gobble up the freshly melted wax.

The basis of the pysanka design, which was first drawn on in pencil. Traditionally the "arrows" you see on the lines are supposed to be pussy willows, which replace palms on Palm Sunday
The basis of the pysanka design, which was first drawn on in pencil. Traditionally the “arrows” you see on the lines are supposed to be pussy willows, which replace palms on Palm Sunday

The steps of creating a pysanka were extensively detailed in an instruction book the three of us got when we started the workshop. As you can see from the final photos at the bottom of this post, I think our eggs all captured the gist of the traditional style. They do, however, have their own signature – something that makes each distinguishable from the next. This creativity, we discovered, was not in the spirit of what the ladies running the workshop wanted. They were very sweet and well-intentioned, however they did not want us to express any of our personality on the eggs. I understand – traditional Ukrainian motifs should be respected – but we were not treading so far off the path as to dishonour that tradition. We were simply adding wheat where there should have been pussy willows, and additional green dye where there should have been black. Because much of the religious significance is lost on my agnostic-self, I didn’t feel the need to conform with the Christian symbolism. This led to a bit of backseat egg decorating. I’ll leave it at that.

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In the end, I think the two ladies running the workshop were relieved to see our eggs still resembled the traditional pysanka, and that we had some level of competence that was formally doubted. Of course, the workshop facilitators are very talented and experienced egg designers themselves, and created such beauties as these beaded designs:

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The workshop was tonnes of fun and I learned a lot – not only about how to design more Ukrainian eggs in the future, but also about Ukrainian culture and tradition.

In terms of how to create the actual pysanka design, here’s how that worked: The egg is separated into different sections – split vertically à la Greenwich Meridian and horizontally à la equator. That centre point is then intersected diagonally across the egg to create a series of eight triangles in each quadrant on either side of the egg.

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At the top of this photo is the beeswax block used to dip the krystka in. The smell of beeswax reminds me of the mom, who used to make beeswax candles with sheets of wax bought at a flea market north of New Liskeard, Ont.

From there, an eight-pointed star is added on each side to represent the sun god (or Christ, following the advent of Christianity in Ukraine), and other flourishes are added as well. Dye-wise, you dip from lightest colour (yellow) to the darkest (black). The areas you cover in beeswax with the kystka will be immune to the next shade of dye, thereby allowing you to dip the egg in its entirety, while only colouring it in parts. At the end, you burn off the wax using the side of a candle flame, and gingerly wipe the glossy melted bits for the grand reveal. It’s all very exciting, and after two hours of covering the egg in wax and dye, it’s rewarding the see your handiwork transform into a beautiful pysanka.

The same, but different. Jen's egg, mine, and Martha's
The same, but different. Jen’s egg, mine, and Martha’s

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February 14: Annual day of paper crafts and cookies*

*Also known by most as Valentine’s Day.

So here’s the thing. I’m obsessed with Valentine’s Day for all the wrong reasons. I don’t like the phoney (sounding like Holden Caulfield here) romance of it – the rush of people to buy flowers and cakes and fine dinners for their loved ones, because it’s the one time during the year they feel as though they need to make an effort. Is that cynical? I think it is. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Maybe the real reason for my not liking Valentine’s Day is because I once had to use a teddy bear-shaped paddle to spank a man dressed up as Cupid for a television story in j-school. Folks, that footage still exists somewhere. Ten thousand buckets of tears to whomever can uncover it.

What do like about Valentine’s Day is the excuse to make crafts and cookies, treats that I hope are so carefully and lovingly created that they can make up for the fact that I can sometimes be a cynical bum.

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Like Christmas, to me the mid-February affair is more about the lead-up than the actual day – the time before the event when, every night for a week, I’m yanking my craft drawer off its night-table tracks and plopping it down on our gaudy lime green craft table cloth. Valentine’s Day is an invitation to make something – and not just any something, but paper somethings. A time to put my rainbow hued collection of bits and bobs to good use. And unlike birthdays, I don’t get to make just one card, but rather a whole collection for a whole lot of wonderful people. As you can see, I have selfish, DIY motives behind this day, too.

As with all card-making, I very much try and match my creation to its intended receiver. Example: My friend Yoshi who owns Café Petit Gâteau in downtown Sudbury got a little cupcake card, complete with a muffin liner flower on the inside. Ella, my former classmate and fellow Ottawa food-lover, got a card embellished with a whole pile of doughnuts, a throwback to the Capital city’s fairly recent revelation that it is (and rightfully so) in love with the deep-fried dessert. And so on and so forth.

card collage

The cards were mailed off in homemade envelopes (I always get really into making these bizarrely-shaped cards, before realizing that, damnit, they do not fit in any standard postage packages). Out of five cards for out-of-town friends, I managed to create one envelope. Just one. Jen made the rest. While an experienced cutter, gluer, and marker-user, paper folding is an area in which I lack all skill. As a 10-year-old, the only thing I could ever make in my Origami kit was the paper crane, and even then, that was only because I was so determined after reading one of my favourite childhood books, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Anyways, digressing like crazy here, but point is: Jen is far more proficient at envelopes, and made a lovely set of them. Some were two shades of pink, some had zigzag-ed edges. All (except mine) were great.

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And, of course, what would DIY Valentine’s Day be without baking. Actually, what would any night with me be without baking?

Jen, Ian and I had a team effort cookie-making session into the late hours of Valentine’s eve. Here’s how that developed:

1. Hilary decides to bake cookies for work. Because, if nothing else, Valentine’s Day is about showing your appreciation for the friends and co-workers you admire.

2. Jen suggests making a cookie cutter out of a tin can. Hilary hesitates, Jen persists. She proceedds to make an impressive mould out of an old chick pea tin.

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“CRUSHED IT” – Jenifer Norwell

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3. Sugar cookies are made.

From here, the decorating was improvised step-by-step. I originally planned to cut another mini heart inside the heart cookie, and melt Jolly Rancher candies inside, through which creating a stained-glass effect. However, liking the unusual chick pea can heart shape so much, I decided against it, and turned these into little mouse (or some other animal of your choice) cookies. The discovery of decorations was swift.

“Hmm, what can I use for the nose?” A: Why, those “pretty bubble” pink dragées that I bought two years ago at the fancy kitchen store near my Ottawa house.

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“Uhh, what about the eyes?” A: Easy, chocolate chips. Bake the cookies without them and put them on immediately after, so they melt to the top.

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“Okay, but it needs ears.” A: OH, I just happen to have this tube of red icing sitting in my closet. I was going to use to make the laces on a baseball cake in the summer. (note: it was too late to make homemade icing. I only have so much energy on Thursday nights)

icing-collage

It all worked out. I think, anyways.

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Oh right. Here! Have a Valentine’s Day kitty. I love you, Norbert.

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Living the life of leafsure (fall wrap-up, Halloween, and orange chocolate yogurt cake)

Forgive me for that pun.

An end-of-Fall blog post seems inappropriate at this point in November.

Most parts of northern Ontario have already had their first encounter with a snowy friend, and leaves that once clung to the maple trees in our front yard have since drifted to the ground. Fallen, rotten, raked. I am justifying this blog post now on the presumption that it is still autumn in the community where you’re living. Also, a slight Halloween wrap-up post is totally necessary because I believe my frugal AND seasonally-appropriate costume choice must be shown to the world.

But first: fall. Jen and I spent a few hours raking the front and backyard two weekends ago. Ian had done the same just days earlier, however many more leaves had fallen since, creating a matted gold carpet atop the grass.
I’m not a particularly effective raker, however I do happen to be an accomplished leaf-jumper. I am of the belief that no pile of leaves is complete without being collapsed in at least once. Jen and I did our part to ensure this.

Since our front yard clean-up corresponded with the last weekend before Halloween, I was also faced with the task of finding a costume for a get together at my friend’s place that night. I inherently leave Halloween until the last minute every single year, and had already used my procrastination-heavy, improvised-as-hell costume idea last year when I paired my rainbow screen inspired Douglas Coupland shirt dress with a pizza box and donned pipe cleaner antennae. Thats another thing – I’m not a fan of slutty or uncreative Halloween costumes. For the past three years I’ve taken pride in my costume being something you’ve probably never see before – something a little bit kooky. That normally translates to my costume being difficult to understand for anyone who has been drinking. Case in point: I was a California Roll in third-year university, and people kept asking me if I was a soap dish. A soap dish!!! Really??!? Is anyone ever really a hand sanitation holder for Halloween? Anyways, Halloween is something I give no thought to until the day of the party, when, in typical Hilary fashion, I go completely bananas with panic.
The Hilary of Halloween’s past: harajuku girl and a California Roll
And so, with no Halloween costume at 2 p.m. on the day of my party, I set out to transform myself into a leaf bag. I had already been inside one of the bags, after all, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Head pieces also prevail when designing my last minute costume. Be it a tiny cardboard sushi headband or pipe cleaner antennae, I’m going for the head-to-toe look. So naturally I used a needle and thread to sew freshly plucked leaves onto a headband. Matched with these earrings I made in September (see, this costume was as totally meant to be), I was all set.

Jen and Ian also took a last minute approach to Halloween, and came up with equally as creative and downright topical costumes.

Locked out NHL player and a Quebec protester
THE FOOD PART
And because I like to include something food-related with every blog post, here are a few pictures of an orange and chocolate marble yogurt cake I made sometime around Halloween. It was super moist (thanks, yogurt) and paired perfectly with a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.

And because every blog post nowadays seems to end with a picture of Norbert…

I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you

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Homemade paper and Mod Podge coasters

When Jen and Ian moved into their new home, they bought a beautiful dining room table.

It’s made of mango wood and was apparently imported from Vietnam. It also has two wings you can add in, making it a whopping eight plus feet long. Medieval feast parties? Totally do-able.

The one thing about buying a new table is that you want to be good to it. Care for it. Wipe it, dry it, love it. My mom and dad also bought a new table for our kitchen, after at least five years of searching for the one. As a result, my mom is hyper-attuned to what’s going on within a metre radius of that table whenever I visit. No glass may sit directly on said table, lest its cold content exude itself into a permanent, circular ridge in The Table. My laptop must sit atop a placemat before going on The Table. The Table must be wiped with a well-squeezed damp cloth, and then wiped carefully again with a dry one. These are the Sacraments of The Table.

But I digress.

Point is, I both understand and appreciate how beautiful and sacred new tables can be. It is, after all, the place where families and friends come together. Where they eat, play board games, and make crafts.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Jen and Ian needed coasters.

And so, in typical form, we set off to create our own.

The journey started with a trip to the local Home Hardware in search of some sort of cork board backing. Luckily, it was sold by the foot, and the clerks kindly sliced it up into smaller squares so I could cram it into the laptop pouch of my backpack.

Next, a trip to the craft store Michael’s found us in possession of some beautiful paper. Printed paper is such a weakness of mine, and had I been the type to have started scrap booking when I was in seventh grade, I would surely be broke today. Michael’s has an entire aisle dedicated to coloured paper, a collection that made me long for the creaky floors and Scotch tape price tag corners of The Papery in Ottawa. Jen, Ian, and I spent at least 20 minutes looking and deciding on our purchases, before coming away with what was a surprisingly cohesive set of colours. Highlights of pale pinks, blues, and greens, collaged with images of flowers, newspaper print, and birds (that’s right, we put a bird on it!).

I also bought some nature-inspired (some more literal than others) paper for the next time I decide to make an outdoorsy birthday card. I couldn’t help myself.

On Sunday night the three of us gathered around the dining room table (though it was covered with a $2 lined tablecloth), and traced, sliced, and Mod Podged the craft ingredients into something that resembled a coaster.

And voila! Glass guarding and crafty creativity.

YOU NEED:
– 1 foot (approximately) cork board backing, $4
– 1, 8 oz jar of Mod Podge (matte), $5 (we had a 50% off coupon!)
– Cheap paint brushes, $3
– Beautiful paper of choice (anywhere from free to $10, depending on what you want and in what variety)
– Fun friends

Unrelated, but cute: Norbert has now taken ownership over 2/3 of my bedroom.

Experiments with colour and paper

When compiling a list of my favourite things, paper crafts will always be right near the top.

My extensive coloured paper collection is perhaps topped only by my button collection. Each occupy a special part of my bedroom, be it several drawers in my desk or glass jars that used to hold my favourite spaghetti sauce.

A paper drawer explosion that resulted from an episode of birthday card-making

I’ve always liked paper.

In my second and third year of university, my pick-up line for boys or friends was “want to come see the paper tree in my bedroom?!” No, that’s not somehow a crude innuendo. I was actually ridiculously proud of each individual piece of paper that I cut up and stuck to my wall with scotch tape. I wanted to show it off. That’s just the type of person that I am.

Ottawa paper tree, circa 2009

I also created a more lame-sauce version of my Ottawa paper tree on my door in Sudbury, but had to take it down awhile ago since it was faded by the killer evening sun. And so my door was plain and white for sometime. And that wouldn’t do.

So the other night I created a more grown-up, Things Organized Neatly paper arrangement to go on my door.

I got to use some of the four dozen paint chips that I took from a hardware store in Ottawa.

I punched out circles in each chip and carefully arranged them by shade.

Then I messed around with the leftovers to make a fun colour pinwheel.

Back to the circles – I neatly stuck them to my no-longer-bare bedroom entrance. And voila, new door art! I like it because it looks like two rows of colourful elevator buttons, which appeals to me and my lifelong desire to be a character in the book Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.