Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Crafting We Will Go

The holidays are upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with a visit to the Holiday Open House at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Owings Mills, Maryland?  I have served on the board of directors of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. (SDCI) for almost ten years now, and in my capacity as vice president of the tiny nonprofit Friends group, I organize this annual fete. It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year.

In conjunction with Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park, which houses an aviary on the site to rehabilitate injured, non-releasable raptors and other animals through its “Scales & Tales” program, SDCI hosts an annual open house in December to entice children and adults into the Soldiers Delight visitor center and onto its trails to learn about the unique ecosystem that comprises a geographical phenomenon known as the serpentine barrens.  It is our ongoing mission to encourage people to interact with nature  in an up-close and personal setting.  Oh, yes, and we take the opportunity to offer baked goods and tasty beverages, too!

Sunday, December 15th, was the date of this year’s Holiday fete.  But I started preparing for the day months in advance. By September I had designed a flyer and begun to put the word out. In October I started recruiting helpers to organize our annual bake sale and to assist me in the auditorium where I would be overseeing a variety of holiday crafting projects. In November I posted flyers all over town and emailed them to friends and acquaintances.  And since the beginning of December I have been collecting and organizing a plethora of natural and holiday-themed materials.
Each table featured a different craft
Glue stations await crafters
On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week I spent hours arranging and then decorating long banquet tables in our visitor center’s auditorium and exhibit hall.  Eight sets of tables, arranged in pairs in the auditorium, would offer different craft options. I sheathed them in festive red tablecloths and set up separate stations for gluing, spray-painting and glitter-sprinkling.

Jugs of hot chocolate, spiced cider
and mulled wine were set up
 to entice visitors
Paula's homemade Baklava tempted
many, including me
In the exhibit hall I arranged long tables end to end.  These would display what I hoped would be a bounty of home-baked sweet and savory goods, the sale of which would shore up our conservation group’s thinning coffers. And then I set up a table for a “bar” where I hoped to collect a small fortune in donations for a trio of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Making "edible" birdhouses for the
yard was a big hit with the kids
An Austrian diorama known as a Kripp
was also a popular craft, in this instance
fitted inside a plastic laundry scoop
Meanwhile, the little guest house on my two-acre property in Baltimore County took on the appearance of an event-planner’s lair. It was a chaotic scene. I designated cardboard boxes for my crafts and stored in each the materials needed to create a different ornament adorned with natural materials, along with typed instructions and a sample of a finished piece.  I couldn’t be at all eight tables all afternoon on the day of the event; these simple tutorials would enable my helpers to become instant experts in each craft’s assembly and decoration.

Filling a clear glass ball with natural
materials was popular with children
and adults alike
Dwight staffed the registration table
for my craft program, supervised by
an elderly female screech owl
At the same time, cauldrons of scented liquids simmered at my stove in the main house.  Red wine mulled slowly with brandy and a heady potpourri of crushed cardamom pods, whole cloves, peppercorns, oranges, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks and other spices. Gallons of apple juice bubbled with oranges, cloves and cinnamon.  My house smelled wonderful, although I had little time to savor the heavenly scents.
Paula Becker baked a batch of
whoopie pies in addition to baklava
and other tasty treats 
I even found a way to bake a treat to offer at the bake sale; the first time I’ve ever attempted such a feat. Those of you who follow my blog know that baking is not a forté of mine. You also know that l spent my summer experimenting in the preparation of several simple, low-calorie pastries in an effort to reduce my intimidation about baking. For the fundraiser, I chose a simple cranberry-pear crisp, topped with a crunchy layer of rolled oats and pecans. It was simple to prepare and, I hoped, would be quite tasty.

Joe and Susan Thompson share
bartender duties as their daughter,
Becca, looks on 
The morning of the open house was hectic.  A longtime park volunteer had recently exhausted her supply of oyster shells and milkweed pods, both of which serve as appropriately-shaped angel wings for one of the craft ornaments I’d be offering. I had stopped to chat with the owner of a local seafood restaurant a few days before the open house, only to find out that he had closed his business and was retiring.  Still, the good man endeavored to locate some oyster shells for me, and on the morning of my event he called to say he had a bushel of them waiting at his restaurant – a bushel of stinky, grit and oyster remnant-filled shells.

Skip Byrd, right, shows Rachel Wafle-
Tabacchi how to gaze at the sun
safely using a solar filter
Lydia Gregg holds a red-shouldered
hawk which has been recuperating
from injuries sustained after being
struck by a vehicle
There was no way I could inflict such odiferous bi-valves on innocent children and call them angel wings!  I struggled for a quick solution. I couldn’t hose the lot down outside in my yard with five inches of snow on the ground and my hoses all put away for the winter.  So I dumped the bushel-full into colanders and ran them through my dishwasher, then dried them with a couple of blow-dryers. My house suddenly took on an entirely different smell; one not quite so reminiscent of gingerbread and candy canes.  At the visitor center I put the shells in a basket and kept them outside the auditorium.  Those who chose to make an oyster-winged angel had clean shells to use, and any malodorous smell inside my crafting room was kept, mercifully, to a minimum.

The new "animal wall" at the Soldiers
Delight Visitor Center
Volunteer Chad Moore
dishes up a bowl of chili
for a hungry customer
I transferred the last of the bubbling cocoa from my stove to gallon-size glass containers, loaded up the car and drove up the road to Soldiers Delight. The park ranger in charge of the natural environment area was busy putting the last touches on a new “animal wall” in one of our classrooms, a collection of hand-painted dioramas created to house a variety of native amphibians and reptiles.  I set my beverages on hotplates, arranged the last of my crafting supplies and prepared to greet the masses I hoped would venture through the door.

Sawyer Warren, left, and his father,
Travis, decorate birdhouse ornaments
constructed from cereal boxes 
Landon Oldham, left, gets a helping
hand from his grandmother,
Marnie Pierce, as they create a
nativity scene inside a laundry scoop 
Good friend and former board member Joe Thompson and his lovely wife, Susan, acted as bartender and cashier for the bake sale, as they have for several years now, while fellow board member Dwight Hendrickson worked the cash box for my craft program.  State biologist Paula Becker, volunteer coordinator for Maryland’s Wildlife and Heritage program and a baker extraordinaire, had rallied her troops to bake a plethora of treats including Paula’s famous baklava, which sold out right away, while SDCI board president, Laura Van Scoyoc, brought a crockpot of steaming vegan chili to warm the hearts and stomachs of guests and volunteers.
Volunteer Jesse Turner, left, helps
Allison Bald of Sykesville,
Maryland, glue the finishing
touches on her pine cone animal
Bryce Green, left, gets a helping
hand from his mother in decorating
an "edible" birdhouse
Longtime park volunteer Ed Johnson entertained visitors at Red Dog Lodge, a small stone hunting cabin on the property with a storied history, while noted author and invasives expert Dr. R. Wayne Tyndall led hikers on an interpretive walk across the snowy barrens to show off a bit of Soldiers Delight’s fascinating ecosystem.  Hobby astronomer Skip Byrd, of the Westminster Astronomical Society, regaled visitors with a solar telescope set up in the parking lot, although the cold sun didn’t show itself too often amid gray, wintry skies.  Scales & Tales volunteers and talented medical artists Fabian de Kok-Mercado and his wife, Lydia Gregg, gave tours of the aviary, while a hardworking group of fellow SDCI board members and volunteers assisted me in the craft room.
Becca Thompson fills her ornament
with interesting shapes and textures
gathered from nature
The Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area had a good turnout for its annual open house.  We sold hundreds of dollars worth of baked goods and beverages, and a lot of happy children left my craft room with bags full of handmade ornaments.  I am exhausted but encouraged by the enthusiasm I felt from visitors and volunteers alike. It was a splendid way to spend a mid-December Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. Lynell, what a beautiful and fun event you orchestrated! So much attention to detail and delight. I will have to try to drop by next year.