Monday, May 31, 2010

memorial day

Another Memorial Day...

Another small-town parade where I swear the participants outnumber the viewers...

Another decorated bunny cage (best one ever, I think);

Another 4-H float (definitely best one ever, since Terzo could ride!)...

Another day not to forget all the sacrifices we are memorializing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

sheep on sunday

By popular request (yes, three counts as popular around these here parts), some sheep shots for you. These are the newest additions to our flock, a mother-daughter pair. Primo and I drove out to Harrisburg PA last Saturday to pick them up.

They are not super happy at our place yet and spend quite a bit of time hiding out in the shed. The mother left her other lamb behind, so I think that was the reason for some of the discontent. The lamb that came with her had scours (sheep diarrhea, but I think the term is so accurately descriptive that we should adopt it for human use as well) so we had to keep them in the barn for a while so we could monitor her feed and treat her as necessary. I think the forced confinement was another thing to complain about.

Unfortunately the only times we have caught the little one, she has either (1) been forcefed medicine with a drenching syringe or (2) been haltered and had cold water shot out of a hose at her nether regions to clean her off before the maggots found her. Naturally, neither of these things has endeared us to her.

This is the most common view we have of her -- luckily, quite useful to see if the scours have cleared up. So far, so good in the past few days.

She needs a name that starts with J, and while we're at it, her mom needs one starting with H. I am thinking Jemima for the lamb but I am at a complete loss for the mom. Any ideas?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

work day

Catherine's comment to my post two days ago got me thinking about does need to change in our way of thinking? What will we need to see as necessary and important, in a way that makes a change not only to the world around us but to our personal search for deeper meaning in our lives? (Am I getting pseudo-deep enough yet? Or just pseudo?)

This holiday weekend, our little village is a ghost town. Clearly the vast majority of residents headed to locations near and far, mostly far, to "get away from it all."

But I started to think about it: get away from what?

Spring is never a time for us to go anywhere. Right now it is critical to get plants in the garden, to tend the ones that are already there, to net a few fruit trees so they can (hopefully, finally) bear fruit this year, to take care of livestock, and other various chores. For me, it would have been incredibly stressful to sit on a beach somewhere. All I would have managed was a constant stew about the volume of work awaiting our return. Instead, it was tremendously relaxing to chip away at those chores... and I will definitely sleep better tonight, in both mind and spirit, as a result.

Is this part of the change we need? To see our homes not as something that needs to be escaped, but as an escape themselves -- a place for us to feed our souls with work that has deeper meaning than the paper pushing we do all week? Don't get me wrong, I am not espousing some "work shall set you free" doctrine of endless self-sacrifice through labor, but instead perhaps a shift in perception. I certainly worked hard today, but it didn't really feel like work. It felt like getting the plants in before they died in their little black plastic cups, and laying the groundwork to feed my family a few fresh vegetables through the summer and (maybe) fall. And as a personal plug, I can tell you that it felt really, really good.

Friday, May 28, 2010

food on friday

A couple of weeks ago, we had a family over for dinner on a last minute basis, and ended up serving pizza. The topic of "which local pizzeria has the best pizza" came up, and they admitted that they rarely eat pizza out as she makes her own.

I am feeling like a slacker all over the place! I used to be one of those people who made her own pizza, including the dough. I decided that I really need to get back to that model. I will try to share my efforts on a weekly basis on Friday, just because I am a sucker for alliteration.

One of my least-favorite chores (and it's a long list) is deciding what to have for dinner every night. I beg my family to give me ideas, just tell me what they want -- within reason -- and I will cook it for them. Most times they are content to remain mum until I put dinner on the table, and then either complain bitterly that they don't like what I made, or point out that we had the same dish about ten days ago. 

Yes, my children do need some education in gratefulness.

Joan, my husband's office manager, is lucky enough to have a son that is a professionally-trained chef. When I am really devoid of inspiration, I will pick her brain about what Josh has made recently. Chances are I have the same ingredients at hand because we shop at the same supermarket and tend to pick up the same bargains.

Like this week. I had a package of sliced mushrooms left over from last week's sale, that I had forgotten to use last week. They needed to be used pronto, and Joan shared this recipe that Josh had made over the weekend.

Mushroom Turkey Burgers
ground turkey (my package was 1.3 lb)
package of mushrooms chopped in food processor
light sour cream (2/3 C or appropriate amount for meat quantity)
seasoned breadcrumbs (1.5 C or appropriate amount for meat quantity)
chopped shallots
chopped celery (1-2 stalks)
salt and pepper to taste

(I have to explain here that I didn't have shallots, because we are not inclined to such fancy food at my house, so I used a small onion. I wouldn't recommend this substitute because the onion overwhelmed the subtle flavor of the mushrooms.)

The mixture smelled heavenly going together.

Because of the addition of the extra ingredients, I ended up getting ten patties out of that amount of meat. Per Josh's recommendation, I froze the extra five.

The burgers smelled even more heavenly on the grill and looked lovely on their little healthy whole wheat buns.

The thought that mushrooms were hiding in those burgers and I didn't have to hear my kids complain about the presence of mushroooms made them even more attractive. I thought they tasted delicious, too. With one exception, my family didn't agree, and helped me remember why cooking for these boys can be such a pain:

Primo (unenthusiastically): “Hmmm, tastes like meatloaf.”

Secondo: “Tastes OK, I guess." (Seeing the look on my face): "Well, pretty good. I guess."

Terzo (my favorite child at the moment): “This is the best burger I’ve ever tasted!"

It would serve them right if I made them Hamburger Helper next time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a little effort

I am sure I speak for almost everyone in the United States (and perhaps even the world) when I say that this oil leak disaster has made me unbelievably angry and sad.

If you are a shepherd, or even if you aren't, you may have heard by now about Matter of Trust's efforts to create wool and hair-filled booms to sop up the oil. Shepherds and hair salons have been urged to send along their spare fleeces and hair trimmings for this effort.

And of course we comply, enthusiastically, because this effort requires basically no effort on our part. Allow the hair salon to sweep up my hair and dispose of it? Well, I do that anyway! And then I can feel good about "helping" with the crisis? Awesome! These are the kinds of efforts that Americans can get behind!

Turns out that BP has not asked for the booms; does not want the booms; and at this point, has stated that they will not use the booms. But that's OK, we console ourselves, because we made the effort, and that's what matters.

Except it doesn't.

What about making some sustained, long-term effort that might actually make a difference by reducing our dependence on oil? Nope, those kinds of efforts we aren't so good at. Give up our gas guzzler, or at least attempt to drive it a hell of a lot less? Commute by public transport or shared vehicle? Try to reuse or do without instead of buying cheap consumer crap from China? Grow more of our own food, or make a conscious effort to purchase locally, and forego tomatoes in December and strawberries in February? Fill our freezers with locally-produced food instead of frankenfood like chicken nuggets?

And my biggest pet peeve, though admittedly the most minor of them all: turn off our g.d. car when we run into a store, doctor's office or bank? (Can you tell this last one drives me particularly up the wall? I have been known to leave notes on windshields about this because: COME ON! It is not that much effort to turn a little key! And if your car heats up/cools down a bit while you're gone, big deal!)

All of it, even a little bit of it... too much effort, apparently.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

and the winner is...

Well, I'll let my random integer generator tell you.

Here he is modelling the hat he chose (before we put the numbers in). Yeah, he's a heart-breaker already.

Here he is, giddy with excitement at the thought of being on my blog.

And here he is, actually generating the random integer.

(Sorry about that insult, Heidi. I have no idea why I said that, since all the commenters were (I think) women. But congratulations on winning the yarn! I think the last little shake he gave the hat was responsible for your win.)

(ETA: I just found out that today is Heidi's birthday! So clearly birthday karma was working in her favor on this one. Happy birthday Heidi!)

Just to clarify about my post yesterday, mostly because my husband was worried that I am yearning to be somewhere else after he read it: I am very happy staying at home, working at home, being at home. He should know that because he has to drag me kicking and screaming anywhere else. Sometimes I just wonder how I can be so happy and fulfilled when, according to the definitions of a lot of the world, it would seem that I am pretty much doing "nothing". Guess it all depends on how you define that word.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

new thoughts

Thanks for all the comments and lovely compliments, which truly I was not fishing for (I swear!) but enjoyed all the same. What a great blogiversary it was! The winner of the skein of yarn will be posted tomorrow; I just need to get my random integer generator working.

My new and improved header gives a clue as to where I have decided to head with this. My life is centered in my home. My husband's practice, where I work, is in our home. I am, technically speaking, a stay-at-home mom, who also runs a small home-based business and a tiny homestead farm. The only thing we don't do here is homeschool our kids.

A hundred years ago we would have been run-of-the-mill. Now we are statistical outliers. Believe me, I do realize how lucky I am but I would like to be more accepting that this is a perfectly valid place for me to be, at least at the moment. That I can be happy being happy here, which I am. Conventional society would have me think that my education has been wasted. I went to a women's college, where "home" and "wife" and "baby" were four-letter words, to the extent they were even mentioned at all, and of course there's that whole law school education. I consoled myself that the most brilliant woman in our law school class was home as well... but then she e-mailed me recently for help with the charitable organization that she is setting up, and mentioned that she had just finished writing a book. She didn't exactly talk about the photo and interview in the New York Times; I found those when I googled her name.

Way for me to feel like a slacker!

Even my kids are stumped by what I do. A recent kindergarten project asked the kids to write a book about their family. Dad is easily pigeon-holed, of course. Mom's page went blank while we wrote the rest of the book, then Terzo dictated:

A few weeks later, Secondo, while reading through the dictionary (anything to avoid doing his homework!) exclaimed "I got it! I know what you are! You're a girl Friday!" as if the categorization had been troubling him as well.

In the spirit of stretching my brain muscles just a little bit more than folding the laundry requires, I want to try to reflect more on the home connection. I have no idea at this point where that might go and perhaps the answer is absolutely nowhere. Of course I reserve the right to tell completely off-topic stories and put up funny pictures of my kids, though chances are that the stories will have something to do with our home and the kids do live here after all.

Plus sheep photos as well, of course. But then, they live here too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

happy blogiversary to me!

Yep, two whole years since I started this thing, and I think that the people in my life are heartily sick by now of hearing me say annoyingly bloggy things like "I put pictures on the blog" or "check out the blog" or "I wrote all about it on the blog" or "this will be a great story for the blog!"

Heck, I'm sick of hearing me say things like that.

But after two years of doing this, I plan to keep on doing it because it does have value for me and I'm selfish that way. I love the bit of creativity it requires (granted, it could use a little bit more); I love the brain flexing needed to come up with the perfect word or a good turn of phrase (granted, it could use a little bit more of that, too).

Also, it gives my dad something to read in the morning.

In connection with this milestone, I have been doing some long (!) hard (!!) thinking about where this blog has been and where it is headed, and I do have some thoughts and perhaps even a direction after all this time. I need some help, though.

So my question for you, my loyal readers (and hopefully there are still some of you out there besides my parents), is: what would you like to see more of? Or less of?

Blurry pictures of my garden/knitting/whatever strikes my fancy?

Cute, or not-so-cute, stories of my kids?

Icky sheep procedures?

Videos of the dog?

Musings on outdated textile patterns and their feminist significance?

I am going to leave this up for a few days so please be brutally honest with your thoughts. To encourage your suggestions, I am offering this skein of beautiful mmmmMalibrigo in Sealing Wax Red to a randomly-selected commentor:

If yarn is not your thing, then I will come up with a suitable substitute.

Thanks for hanging in for the ride so far.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


While I was pondering the knowledge that was contained in the booklets I bought, my interest was piqued by one pattern in particular.

It is a beautiful, unbelievably intricate pattern titled "Mrs. Coolidge's Great-Grandmother's Counterpane". Now, Calvin Coolidge served as president almost 100 years ago. And this is allegedly from his wife's great-grandmother, so that is some seriously old knowledge. Just how old, I had to find out.

I quickly discovered that Mrs. Coolidge (nee Grace Goodhue) was a knitter, so chances were good that she obtained it from a family member. I started with Mrs. Coolidge's family tree. There are no birth and death dates listed for Mehitable Knight Goodhue, her paternal great-grandmother, but she had to have been alive in 1818 when Grace's grandfather was born. That would make this pattern about 200 years old. Turns out that may or may not be true -- it may even be a little older -- but the family tree was a red herring, because this wasn't actually a pattern that came from her family.

Nope, more interesting than that.

The pattern was one that she discovered while her husband was in office. Mrs. Coolidge was a popular and lively First Lady, in marked contrast to Silent Cal. She was also a dedicated needleworker. An article from the Detroit News, dated November 21, 1926, gives this background information:

Handiwork she loves. Back in their struggling days, she knitted primarily from necessity; now that the White House offers release from economic strain, she may indulge in creative artistry to her heart's content. Mrs. Coolidge knits as an artist paints and is constantly on the lookout for some lovely old patterns or inventing new designs of her own.

Wow, someone actually recognized -- and at that time, no less -- that knitting could rise to the level of creative artistry?

It seems her tendency to look for old patterns led her to this particular one. The article she wrote, titled "Directions for Knitting Counterpane Given by First Lady of the Land" and also published on November 21, 1926, gives the back story. The wife of a Virginia congressman of that time was involved with a home for Confederate war widows in Richmond. The congressman's wife saw a counterpane on the bed of one of the war widows, and learned the pattern. She subsequently taught the First Lady; other Washington wives saw Grace working on it and wanted to borrow the directions for themselves. I have to wonder if this is one of the first documented examples of a viral pattern.

Mrs. Coolidge was eventually asked to write out the directions to share with the world at large. She was not allowed to speak out on political issues, and she hated any intrusion into her family's personal life. Though she had refused all interviews with the press to that date, she relented for the sake of fellow knitters. She explained in her article:
I so keenly enjoyed its mysteries that I wanted to share my pleasant pastime with other knitters, and for that reason, I have written the directions during some of my leisure minutes this summer, hoping to touch the spring which would set us all at work to make Great-Grandmother's Counterpane.*

It seems that it was Mrs. Coolidge who titled and dated the pattern, not because it actually came from her great-grandmother, but because she had some reason to think it was a pre-Revolutionary War pattern. Without an advanced degree in textiles and/or a heck of a lot of research that I don't have time for tonight, I can't verify if that's true or not. I'll just have to take Grace's word for it.

Her appearance in print represented a long-standing break in White House tradition. Even something as innocuous as her sharing a knitting pattern was a news-worthy item. The St. Petersburg Evening Independent explained on November 22, 1926:

For a president's wife to appear in print directs attention to her views and many naturally assume that the president has shared them either originally or through his wife's persuasion. No president wants any suspicion of petticoat influence to be fastened to him.

No fear of that if she's just sharing a knitting pattern, which the president presumably cares nothing about.The Evening Independent agreed.
Though technically the tradition has been broken by Mrs. Coolidge, she has not violated it in reality as her article is only a bit of household lore.

Well, that opinion hasn't changed much in the intervening years. But thank goodness that Mrs. Coolidge -- a First Lady who carried her knitting bag "when she is seeing friends, dictating to her secretary, or resting on the summer vacation trips" (I am honored to have such a precedent!) -- recognized the significance, and risked censure to preserve it for us.

* The article stated her intention of leaving the counterpane she made behind in the White House, but a Google search (hey, I don't have time to travel down to DC and properly track this thing) didn't turn up any record of the piece. The closest I could find was a press release from Calvin Coolidge's birthplace museum in Vermont, noting that in 2002 they received a knitted counterpane from a Virginia congressman's grand-daughter. Unfortunately no picture accompanied the article so I couldn't ascertain if it was the same work, but the connection to the Virginia congressman leads me to think it may be related.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


While I was browsing through the pictures I had taken at the Book Garden last weekend, I noticed a curious thing.

This booklet (which I did not purchase):

was printed in 1944, so it is roughly the same vintage as these:

I found the former as shown, carefully categorized and preserved in a plastic sleeve, with no stray marks on the front page. I found the knitting booklets indiscriminately tossed in a plastic shopping basket, with the prices ranging from 10 cents to $1 marked in permanent marker on the front.

In fact, the vintage knitting booklets are worth every bit as much, if not more, than the farming pamphlet, though the marker on the front does reduce their value. A copy of the "America at Work and Play" booklet recently sold for $21. I could not find any original copies of the other two for sale, although one of them is reproduced on a CD for $13. One seller has taken a copy of Anne Orr's knitted bedspread book and is selling copies of the individual patterns for $6 apiece, plus shipping. These things are a veritable goldmine to someone so inclined. Not to mention the obvious fact that the pattern books contain instructions for objects that can still be made and used, decades later.

So why would the assumption -- from an experienced seller, no less -- be that a piece of farming ephemera is worth more than vintage knitting patterns?

I can tell you what the professors at my women's college would have to say about that. Although the tide seems to be turning a bit, the fact remains that "woman's work" is not still not viewed as a valuable enterprise, let alone one that would lend itself to dedicated collection and preservation. I'll leave the thoughtful examination of the reasons behind such thinking up to the scholars.

Me, I'm just happy that I lucked into such a treasure trove.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

what didn't get picked

Looking at the pictures of what I picked and what stayed in the basket, the obvious gender bias became apparent. These were left behind:

because despite the attractive copyright dates in the early fifties, I knew there was no way that any male in my family would be caught dead in an argyle vest, even if a pipe or power tools was involved.

There was also a clear chronological cut-off. Late sixties and early seventies, um, NO, for obvious reasons.

The eighties also brought back particularly painful fashion memories. I don't care if they are coming back into fashion, I refused to jump on the leg warmer bandwagon. Though if I am perfectly honest, I must admit that my pre-teen self would have LOVED the design on the left with the rainbow hearts. I think I owned about ten other pieces of clothing that would have been a perfect match, hearts and all.

The desire to knit and presumably wear this fruity number remains inexplicable to me, despite my own design attempts of that general time, which included various smiley face patterns.

And this one (though I missed the fact that Lily Chin wrote one of the articles, which may have made it worth buying):

If I am going to knit something that ginormous, I may as well go ahead and make something from this book, copyright 1941 (which I found in the Book Garden about a year ago):

Any one of these would be preferable, though I don't think I could ever bring myself to throw it on a bed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

what i found in the garden

By way of background, I have to start by saying that this kind of book:

is a source of endless fascination to me. I picked this up at a church rummage sale during my college years, and despite a gazillion moves since then, have never been able to part with it. I am reasonably sure that I will never need to know twelve different ways to repurpose a man’s shirt into children’s play clothing or a woman’s blouse but I like knowing that I could if I needed to. Even better yet, that there was a time when such skills were held in high regard.

So when I went to check out the knitting pattern basket at the Book Garden, I was excited to find it overflowing with a considerable collection of knitting pattern books which spanned the last seventy years. My heart started to go pitter-pat when I saw this one on top, dated 1942.

Here's an example of the patterns, several of which I would consider knitting today. Note the promotional poster in the background! The recommended yarn is Chadwick's Red Heart Wool, in the days before Red Heart became the scourge of the acrylic yarn world.

This booklet was another must have, even though I know I will never make a thing in it:

Every barnyard animal pattern has a little poem, most of which relate to production in terms of the war. The pig's poem talks about trading coupons for ham, the goat's poem about how he gave up his tin cans to the salvage board. The black sheep's poem is the best in this shepherd's mind.

It reads "The black lamb on this farm is proud / And holds his head above the crowd. / He has a right to be elated / For let it here and now be stated / The clothes of all the battling forces / Are made from wool which he endorses."

Then into the post-war years, with less patriotism and utility and a lot more glamour:

The sizing is a revelation. Look at that woman's waist in the right-hand photo! That belt must be about 12 inches long. I would have to knit a size 18 in these patterns to fit me, and I'm not exaggerating for effect, as the chart below proves.

I also picked up a few books from the early sixties, mostly because I couldn't resist the hair-dos.

Though I doubt I'll be knitting this hair-don't any time soon.

Tomorrow I'll reveal what I left behind...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

the book garden

One of my all-time favorite stores, The Book Garden, is just a few miles down the road from us. The name derives from the fact that it is a combination used bookstore and florist. To all of you who think this is somewhat of an unusual union: I know.

But the more time I spend around small businesses, the more I have come to realize that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work for everyone. The owner has gotta live with it, intimately, so the business better fit into his/her lifestyle and interests. As our nation advances toward completely homogenized status -- it seems you can find a strip of McDonalds-Walmart-RiteAid-Barnes & Noble-Home Depot-Kohl's-etc. wherever you might go -- I have come to realize that there is absolutely no fun in that particular model. And I have also found that the only real way to show your appreciation of out-of-the-box unique stores is to support such businesses with your dollars, on a frequent basis.

How else are we going to stand up to all the blandness and blahness?

So I try to do just that with the Book Garden, as much as possible. I have converted my kids to think it is a cool place too, because that's what you get to do when you have kids. Brainwash them, until they eventually rebel and refuse to read anything that isn't on a iPad.


The interior is very unprepossessing but amazing fun to poke around in if you are a cheapskate triviologist (OK, I made that last word up) like me. Secondo and I wandered in on Saturday and hit the mother-lode. I'll share the treasures I found tomorrow.

Monday, May 10, 2010

april down, may to go

Here I am, true to form, celebrating the completion of my April sweater:


Details: 3TimesChic, in a cotton/acrylic blend (reputedly with some repurposed soda bottle content) purchased from Little Barn at Rhinebeck in (I think) 2007

I had a devil of a time with the seaming, which is why I tend to avoid sweaters that require use of the skill (or my lack thereof). All three sweaters done so far this year were knitted in the round with minimal seaming required. I was folding laundry last Thursday when it hit me that I was folding laundry as an avoidance tactic to not face seaming. I made myself march upstairs, pull out the darning needle, get down to work and I produced: this pathetic shoulder seam.


That was supposed to be the right side. Out it came. I tried again and produced a slightly more attractive seam, but this time with a not-so-attractive hole.


Sigh. The third time finally looked acceptable and by the time I made it down the sleeves (wondering the entire time why I had not converted to pattern to knit it in the round), I was getting fairly proficient at it.

I sucked it up and finished this afternoon, thanks to my lucky sweater-finishing earrings (thanks Marta!). They have worked every time so far.


Now onto May... I am a little slow out of the gate on this one, but I busted out my new ball winder this afternoon (thanks Mom and Dad!) and got down to business.