Mixing Up My Media


Remember as a kid the fun and excitement of going to a friend’s house and playing with all their cool toys that you don’t have? That was my weekend.

The friend: Fine artist, writer and photographer Christine Goldbeck

The house: PA Guild of Craftsmen Center for American Craft

The toys: paint, canvas, rubbing alcohol, Liquitex sealer, stamps, putty knives, basting brushes, sand paper, paper towels, tissue paper….the list goes on.

Truth be told, I didn’t know Christine until this weekend. My friend Jessica and I took the Experimental Media Painting class in Lancaster and Christine introduced us to color theory, painting techniques, aspects of focal points all in a few short hours.

I am not a painter. Nor do I intend to be. I signed up for the class hoping to jump start my creativity by experiencing a type of art with which I am unfamiliar. We painted. We scraped and sanded. We Mod Podged, we spritzed with rubbing alcohol and sprayed with water. We colored with oil pastels and chalk pastels. We painted some more. We cut and glued paper and stuck anything and everything to our canvases. I added horse hair (of course) and deer antler pieces. There were angst-y moments of worrying we’d “ruin” our work and also the realization we can always paint over it and start anew.

As you can see, my masterpieces can still use a lot of work but I have every intention of finishing them. Christine insisted. November is my month to do that. In fact, I’m hoping to make November a month creation and hope to create something, anything each and every day. This is payback for the year my husband did NaNoWriMo 🙂

Happy crafting!

Black and Silver on Mullein

I’m so glad the leaf-out has arrived and flowers are blooming. Photography is not my forte and I have an especially difficult time selecting the right background for the item I’m capturing. But incorporate a natural background–a leaf, a flower, a colorful rock– and suddenly the whole picture comes together. Nature seems to give everything a little boost.

Not that this bracelet needed any improvement. It’s bumping along on a mail truck right now on its way to Texas. My customer there is married to her computer 9 to 10 hours a day and she was concerned that beads on the bracelet would bang on the keyboard. Still she wanted a little silver color peeking out. So I incorporated silver chain and it turned out gorgeous.

Yellow Bubbles

Yellow bubbles by Red Tail Designs
Yellow bubbles, a photo by Red Tail Designs on Flickr.

Sent off this custom horse hair bracelet today to a customer in Ohio. The yellow beads look to me like bubbles floating around the wearer’s wrist. Maybe that’s because spring in the air, which means at my house a new box of sidewalk chalk and new bottles of bubbles for the kids.

Adding yellow beads to a black bracelet isn’t a color choice that would have occurred to me, but it turned out gorgeous.  That’s the beauty of creating custom orders: Customers have their own visions that I need to translate and that process, in turn inspires, me to think of new and different ways to create jewelry.

Contact me and we can create a custom piece of jewelry that inspires you!

Christmas Is A-comin’

Christmas is a-comin’ and you have just 5 more days to get horse hair to me for custom pieces. December 10 is the last day I will accept horse hair to be transformed into jewelry and delivered in time for Christmas. At this point a $20 rush fee is added to all orders.

In other financial news, I’ll be raising my prices in January. Sad but true. I haven’t raised my prices in quite a long time, but the price of gold and silver have skyrocketed in the last year. To keep up with the times, I need to raise my prices. So get those orders in before the end of the year to take advantage of this year’s prices.

We cut down our Christmas tree today in the wet, blinding snow. It was definitely the snowiest tree-gettin’ we’ve ever had. Makes it all the more festive. As per tradition, we headed over to Pearly Baker’s for some Boulder Style French Onion Soup afterward. Warms you up fast! The Kahlua in my hot chocolate warmed me up even faster!

I hope you all have a joyous holiday season, no matter what you celebrate.

Horse Tail Rope Halter

Braided horse hair tied into a rope halter with fiador knot and lead rope.

Braided horse hair tied into a rope halter with fiador knot and lead rope.

Setting the knots was the tough part.

Setting the knots was the tough part.

So it really wasn’t a mummy.

The white horse was a model for my latest venture into custom pieces I never dreamed of: a replica rope halter made from horse hair.

Really, folks, I’m as impressed with rope halter as I am with the horse head.

But this tale has a sad beginning. The rope halter is made from the tail of a horse named Matador. He died recently of colic. He was a beauty. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I shed a few tears when I got his tail in the mail. A small reminder of my loss of Saint in April (horse…dog, it’s a loss no matter how small or tall the friend).

A fiador is a round knot under the chin, which makes a loop where the trainer can clip on the lead rope.

A fiador is a round knot under the chin, which makes a loop where the trainer can clip on the lead rope.

Learning how to tie a rope halter with fiador was the first task. Not as hard as I suspected. Next, I had to shrink all the measurements to make it a smaller size. Again, not as hard as I suspected.

Then it was making the rope from Matador’s tail: all 7 feet of rope. Matador had an impressively long tail, but I still had to make 16 pulls to weave them all into a 4 strand braid.

Seven feet of braided horse hair.

Seven feet of braided horse hair.

Now came the hard part: tying the rope halter with the horse hair. Horse hair is flexible, but stiff. It will take the shape of anything, but sometimes it has to be forced into that position and held there for quite a while.

All of the knots wanted to come undone when I tied them, so I had to set them by weighting the halter. With the fiador tied, I hung it from a lamp with a horse bit (how appropriate) and a candle in a cup that looks like a cappuccino (thank you Secret Santa ’07) . No rhyme or reason here, just heavy stuff that was available.

A few days of hanging set the fiador knot and I tied the rest of the halter. While that was hanging to set the knots, I moved onto the horse head.

If you look closely, you can see the horse's eye.

If you look closely, you can see the horse's eye.

The rope halter looked like a jumble of knots without something to give it shape, so I conceived making the horse head out of what was, again, handy…newsprint, freezer tape and glue. The muse of the horse head guided my hand through a box of glue to Elmer’s wood glue. It gave the paper a hard exterior almost like paper mache. Elmer’s regular glue made it a bit soggy.

So now the horse head and halter are headed across the country to California. In a few days a man will be opening a box and remembering his faithful companion.

Girl in Braids, 1982. Girl in Braids, 2009

My Girl in Braids watching the horses at Duck Harbor Pond.

My girl in braids watching the horses at Duck Harbor Pond.

Last week I slept in my bed exactly 2 times. Every other night was spent sleeping on the ground somewhere in Pennsylvania with my kids, husband, family and friends.

We packed 3 camping trips into a week and a half, and my kids still didn’t want to come home. That makes me smile. I’m glad they enjoy the outdoors as much as I do.

A few of those nights involved a trip down memory lane as the kids and I camped with my parents at a lake in Wayne County.

Our connection to this lake reaches way, way back. My mom vacationed there as a kid. When she had kids, she brought my brothers and me to the lake, as well. We refer to it as “going to the mountains.” My son is the first to question why we call it “the mountains.” He also wanted to know if there would be snow there. Not in July.

We do the normal stuff you do on an outdoor vacation…boating, fishing, hiking, hitting trees with sticks, playing lots of games (Traffic Jam, badminton and chase being the favorites right now), catching lightning bugs and picking flowers.

Of course the bugs love us, too. As I write this, a mosquito bite on my big toe is particularly itchy. And this time we had an unfortunate encounter with ants.

One other game we play is guessing how many deer we’ll see as we drive around each night looking for all manner of wildlife that may be moving about at dusk. This tradition started out many years ago as a way to scope out deer for the hunters in my family.

As we drove about the bucolic areas of Wayne County looking for deer and rabbits (we even saw an egret!), watching one farm melt into another, I realized the origins of my fascination with farms. Maybe this is why I long to live in a stone farmhouse or converted barn. This is where my admiration of stone fences came from. This is why I love horses and cows and sheep and all things animal.

The lake where we play is home to a bustling horse farm and a cow farm. As a kid, daily I walked down the dirt road to the horse farm to check on the foals. This is where I stole a pat on the head from a horse curious enough to come to the fence.

As I got older, I worked hard at home to earn money to buy a $13 trail ride from a another farm a car ride away. I scooped dog poop and painted, mowed grass and picked up sticks (awful job!), just so I had enough money to take a trail ride or two in the week we spent at the lake.

I still remember the day my mom got on a horse and proceeded to get right back off. She was NOT going to ride a horse. That farm still has horses, although the house we called “Little House on the Prairie” is gone, and it doesn’t seem they give trail rides anymore.

Too bad for my little budding horse lover.

Still, she watched the horses eat hay and waited for a passing pat last past week. As I watched my daughter wait patiently by the fence I saw myself in her. Not just in the braids and love for horses, but in my dreams. As I kid, I wanted to be a jockey and ice skater (just like Dorothy Hamill). Tall dreams for a short, fat little kid. My daughter says she wants to be a “horse rider” and ballet dance. Maybe not too far off for a tall, skinny kid…

P.S. Don’t forget you need to pre-register if you want to attend Sunday’s horse hair jewelry class at the Museum of Indian Culture. Click here for more details.

Fruit Cordials


See all that yummy juice at the bottom? Relaxation in a jar.

Sometimes I think about those cordial glasses. I wish I’d kept them. We came across the colorful collection of tiny glasses while cleaning out the my husband’s grandparent’s house. The glasses were tiny and dainty, stemmed, widely hued, on a little tray .

I didn’t drink cordials. Bleck! Overly sweet stuff. The cordial glasses were odd and fun and I thought about keeping them.

But I was trying to be restrained and practical. The pack rat in me wanted to take every treasure from that house and stuff it into every every nook and cranny of my house “just in case” I needed it sometime in the future. I’d already acquired a sewing machine and dining room ensemble, china and funky green mixing bowls, plus a myriad other things from their 90 years of life.

So I put the cordial glasses in the “to sell” box, so as not stuff them into some nook and cranny of my house. How I wish I kept them “just in case,” because just in case has come.

About 2 years ago in the middle of winter a friend gave me a small glass of strawberry cordial. I took it to be polite since Bleck! cordials are overly sweet alcohol.

It was the best drink I ever had.

Despite the chill outside, I could feel the June sun warming the straw-covered field, the scent of strawberries in the air.  I was hooked. The best part was she made the cordial herself.

Since that fateful day, I’ve been making fruit cordials with summer’s bounty. I just made my first batch of strawberry cordial for the year and I’ll be making more. Last year, the strawberry cordial never even made it to the liquor cabinet. Upcoming will be peach, blueberry, raspberry and cherry cordial.

Once you see how ridiculously easy this recipe is, you’ll wonder why you never made this before.

Strawberry Cordial



  • Strawberries
  • Sugar
  • Vodka
  • Large wide-mouth jar


1. Wash and hull strawberries, then slice in half or quarters. If the berries are small, no need to cut them.

2. Place a layer of strawberries in the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle sugar over top. Layer more strawberries, then more sugar. Repeat until you get to the top of the jar.

3. Pour vodka into the jar slowly until it reaches the top of the jar. Put lid on tightly and store in a cool dry place for 2 weeks.

3. Strain out the strawberries and put in freezer for future use (more on that in the next post). Enjoy the cordial. If the cordial is too sweet, stir in more vodka. If the taste is too strong on the alcohol side, add more sugar.

There are no quantities for this recipe because you can do this with any size jar and any amount of fruit, be it strawberries, peach, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or any other fruit you want to try.

Last year's collection of cordials in the works: peach, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. Sadly, they are all gone.

Last year's collection of cordials in the works: peach, cherry, blueberry and raspberry. Sadly, they are all gone.

Horse Hair Bracelet Class Coming Soon


Next class: 4-strand round horse hair bracelet

Sunday’s Porcupine Quillwork Classes went off without a hitch. We had a small class, which let everyone ask lots of questions and really get a feel for quillwork.

We even had visitors. A box turtle moseyed by before class started. During class a pair of red-tailed hawks screamed overhead. We have the class outside in the pavilion where we can enjoy some fresh air, see the equestrians and runners out for some exercise on the path and log some nature time.


Surprise guest: A female box turtle, ready to lay her eggs, wandered through class.

The participants had such a great time that they asked for a horse hair bracelet class next!

Details are still sketchy, but right now, I’m looking at July 26, August 2 or August 30 for the class. I know some of you out there are interested in this class, so please e-mail me with the date(s) that works best for you.

All supplies for classes are provided, but if you have a horse, you are welcome to bring your own horse hair. I’ll give you instructions for cleaning it in advance of the class.

Will Weed For Food

This daisy, which opened its petals yesterday, was a result of my Darwinian Gardening. But I'll save that story for another day.

This daisy, which opened its petals yesterday, was a result of my Darwinian Gardening. But I'll save that story for another day.

I am a Darwinian Gardener.

There. I admitted it for all the world to see. And this year I’m going to embrace my role as a Darwinian Gardener.

What is a Darwinian Gardener, you say? We are the people who don’t plan gardens, but rather spontaneously create then, on the spur of the moment, without very little forethought or attention afterward, so the garden becomes an experiment in survival of the fittest.

Here’s how it works: One random day the sun is shining and I think, “I have 2 hours to plant some seeds.” I dig into my seed jar that has seeds from my previous residence (circa 1999), pick out some seed and plant it.

Is it past the frost date? Who knows?

Did you remember to water the starts? Water? Isn’t that why we have rain (even though we haven’t seen a drop for 3 weeks)?

Does it need full sun, partial sun or shade? Huh?

Lettuce doesn’t like heat. Hey, you’re only a quitter until you try planting lettuce in June.

Are those two going to cross-pollinate? Maybe I’ll create a bigger, better more amazing hybrid that will take over the world! Bwah-ha-ha (that’s my evil Darwinian Gardener laugh).

Lamb's quarters getting a drink of rain this morning. And look! Some onion grass, too.

Lamb's quarters getting a drink of rain this morning. And look! Some onion grass, too.

I didn’t become a Darwinian Gardener on purpose. I grew up among 3 enormous gardens. My mom is an amazing gardener who had many things to teach me, but I ignored her because, while my body pulled weeds, my mind dreamed of playing in the woods. And I complained a lot about how hot it was and how hard it was to bend over. Complaining takes a lot of effort.

It’s not as if I couldn’t be a good gardener. I could, if I put the time and effort into it. But right now, my time and effort are spent elsewhere, raising kids, running a small business, maintaining a 100-year-old house and being the craftiest girl on the block.

Oddly enough everyone thinks I’m a good gardener. In my wildlife rehabilitation days, I nurtured all sorts of critters back to health, from red-tailed hawks and great blue herons all the way down to bullfrogs and baby bunnies. So people assume I’m as careful and attentive to plants. I’m not. But that doesn’t stop them from asking me for advice.

My advice: “Put it in the ground and see if it grows.”

And really, I want to have huge, lush gardens. I want to live off the land and say, “I grew that and fed my family.” I dream of vegetable gardens and cutting gardens, terraced with rocks, flowing with fountains, erupting with interesting vegetative textures and colors, filled with whimsical garden ornaments.

A rather funny dream since my yard is barely big enough to accommodate 2 kids, 1 dog, 2 adults, a couple of pea plants and a massive amount of toys.

I have not given up these dreams, but this year I’m letting go of the expectations for big gardens. I’m letting go of the guilt of not getting my peas in by St. Patrick’s day or my lettuce in by… whenever lettuce was supposed to be in the ground.

As my friends discussed seeds and starts, height of pea plants and when the radishes will be done, I realized that Darwinian gardening isn’t just about survival of the fittest plant, it’s about embracing opportunities as a gardener. Two of my grand gardening friends have huge, beautiful gardens and they could use a weeder. A few more friends dove into the deep end without life preservers, signing up for large plots in the local community garden. They’ll definitely need help.

Rather than struggle to get my own garden in, I’ll show up at their gardens with aWill Weed For Food” sign around my neck. I’ll help them be great gardeners and be paid in cucumbers and eggplants.

The opportunities in my “weed patch” abound, as well. The progeny of last year’s pumpkins and tomatoes always sprout up and the birds plant sunflowers up and down the yard. Uncultivated areas are rife with lamb’s quarters, a local weed that is also edible. Think native spinach. Yum.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be throwing seeds in the ground to see who survives. But this year, I’ll do it with pride as a Darwinian Gardener.

Unexpected Gifts

mushrooms1Aren’t these mushrooms just the coolest thing ever?

mushrooms2Even better…they showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep today, a Mother’s Day Gift from my sister-in-law’s family. When the husband says, “Did you know there are boxes from Plow and Hearth on the porch,” you don’t walk, you run to find out what goodness can be awaiting.


Thanks Kris & Co! This made my day…no my month!