Friday, May 30, 2014

lamb mayhem

The sheep have been busy mowing the front lawn this week.

Except for when they are not. Yesterday morning we were woken at 5:15 am by the sound of sheep baa-ing outside our window—most unwelcomingly and unmelodiously—in the back of the house. They had staged an early morning jailbreak. Luckily they tend not to wander too far.

We took the hint and moved them to fresh ground, all the way in the front of the property by the street. These lambs dashed over this morning to join us at the end of the driveway as we waited for Terzo's bus. I have no idea why they thought it was so important to keep us company. Given this particular crew's capacity for mischief, I am surprised they didn't jump the fence and follow him on the bus, taking their cue from Mary's Little Lamb himself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

silk and lace

One last post about Scranton and then I am done, I promise. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention my biggest revelation about the Scranton area: its silk and lace factories.

You read that right. Until the last lace factory closed in the astonishing year of 2002, Scranton had quite the textile industry.  The information boards at the loading dock for the coal mine tour mentioned a silk and lace industry in Scranton, which set me on a mission to find out more.

Silk bobbins on a bobbin winder, used to ply the individual strands together.

The information about this industry is side-by-side with the coal mining history contained in the Anthracite Heritage Museum, located just up the hillside from the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour.

This massive wheel was used to wind long sections of warp for the looms,
so more yards of fabric could be woven before re-warping.

The coal mines were worked by men, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe. This meant a large supply of workers, i.e., the women in their families, were available. Coupled with the cheap fuel supply from the coal mines and an extensive transportation network used to ship all that coal out, a textile industry sprang up to take advantage of these factors.

This silk industry gave rise to a lace industry, and the lace industry ended up lasting longer than the silk factories. These factories were instrumental in producing parachutes and other key supplies during World War II, but they were shuttered one by one in the post-war years.

The Scranton Lace Company, the last holdout, was renowned for its Nottingham lace. The plant was enormous, and in its heyday, included an employee bowling alley, infirmary, and a landmark clock tower. Slowly it dwindled away, until only 50 or so employees were left in the massive factory. One morning in 2002, mid-production, they were abruptly told by the management that the factory was ceasing operations as of that day.

One of the original looms from the Scranton Lace Company,
dating back to when the company started in 1891.

The perforated pattern cards, an early form of computer, visible behind the lace.

Stunned, the employees walked away from looms with lace in the midst of being woven. The factory is now being renovated, though its fate is uncertain. This video contains haunting images of the plant taken before the conversion began, and documents the once-mighty facility and the decay of a dozen years. The loss of this industry was another blow for the city, in a long line of them. It's the story of innumerable towns and cities across the rust belt, but that doesn't help it to be any less tragic. If anything, that fact that it managed to make it so long, decades longer than most, makes it even more heart-breaking.

Monday, May 26, 2014

memorial day parade

I am falling into a rut, but after six straight years I don't think I can stop. Count 'em: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. Looking through the posts, I can't believe how small the boys were when we started to do this, and how much history is contained in the snapshot of each day, from Terzo being too little to walk the whole way to Primo's cardiac scare.

I also cannot believe that this may be Primo's last year, and at the same time that we may have eight more years to go of 4-H in the parade. Trying to take it one year at a time at this point, because I am not doing well thinking too deeply about any of this.

We hit a pretty big snag on Saturday night when our truck went on a major fritz. For the past couple of years, my husband and our truck have been the tow for the club's float. Of course, being in a 4-H livestock club means you probably know a lot of other people who own trucks with hitches attached. Our former driver stepped up to the plate, and we were back in business.

To keep the photo-chronicle tradition going, Primo marched with Dusty again. (Our sheep were on the float, but I didn't manage any good pictures of the sheep or the float.)

Secondo carried the club banner, which has become his preferred station once Oreo retired from parade duties.

Terzo rode on the trailer with the sheep. Upon reflection, I don't think he has walked the whole parade route to this day. Typical third child. Why walk when someone can drive you?

Chickens in a decorated cage, just because.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who served, most especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My gratitude is nowhere near enough.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

lackawanna coal mine tour

It's not a common bribe, but in exchange for accompanying me on my unplanned trip to Scranton, Terzo was promised a Lackawanna coal mine tour.

This attraction is well-known in local circles, but we had never managed it. We almost missed it due to my fascination with the tuxedo warehouse, but we arrived just in the nick of time to purchase tickets for the last trip at 2:55 pm (if you go: it is open from 10 am to 3 pm).

I didn't let on to Terzo, but one of the reasons we hadn't done it was that I was a bit intimidated by the thought of travelling down into the bowels of the earth. Desperate times, i.e., a trip to Scranton on a holiday weekend, call for desperate measures. This hole in the side of the mountain,which is the only way down to the tour, did nothing to reassure me. Nothing like having a slightly nervous kid in tow to help you put on a brave face, however.

The fully-enclosed car, when it appeared at the end of the hoist rope, was a little more reassuring, though it was still a steep and dark ride down.

The tour guide did an excellent job of bringing the danger and toil of the anthracite coal mines alive. Terzo was fascinated and hung onto his every word, which is not always an easy task for him in a large tour group.

One of the reasons I wanted to bring Terzo was to help him understand the choices one of his ancestors had made. His great-great-grandfather had come from Italy, straight to work in the coal mines in western Pennsylvania. He lasted a week, before he declared that it was so awful that he would never go down again. He pressed on further west, to the factories in northeastern Ohio.

After an hour underground, we completely appreciated his choice. We were thrilled to see the "light at the end of the tunnel" as the car made its way back above ground.

For further reading on this subject, Robbing the Pillars, an article in the Philadelphia Review of Books, provides a more detailed description of the tour and information about surrounding communities and coal-mining history in the region.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

tuxedo trip

Today found me heading up to Scranton to return a tuxedo for my irresponsible eldest son. Why Scranton? Because he is extremely lucky to have a godfather whose wife owns one of the largest tuxedo rental firms in the northeast, based in the Electric City, and provides tuxes to him.

We coordinated the colors for this one. Not.

Being a teenaged boy, he completely does not appreciate this and failed to return the tux in a timely manner. When she called last night asking when he mailed it—and the holiday weekend meant that Tuesday was the next mail delivery date—I decided the only fair thing was to drive it back today.

Of course, Primo had a track meet, the last of his high school career, and was unavailable to do the driving himself.

So after a fair bit of steaming and stewing, I decided to make the best of it and bribed my youngest son to come along with me. You'll have to check back tomorrow to see what I bribed him with (not money and not another animal).

Turns out, it could have been a great trip just to visit her (because she is a completely delightful person) and see the inside of her company's warehouse. By way of background, my favorite part of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was always the giant reel films that Mr. McFeely brought for Picture Picture, showing the inner workings of various factories. To this day, the scale always gets me. Always.*

Her company rents out tuxedos all over the east coast, to their own stores and to small bridal shops. Your wedding party chooses their tuxes out of a book where you bought your dress? Chances are, the tuxes are shipped in from Scranton.

The inventory required to provide this service is mind-boggling. Not to mention the technological task of organizing and tracking all of it. The warehouse has its own dry cleaning plant and in-house tailors to make sure that each special occasion is outfitted just right.

In addition to every sort of black and grey style you might imagine, there is a tux for every taste. Good thing Primo didn't know she carried these.

These cadet suits come complete with military-style hat, gold braid trim and a sword, usually rented for quinceneras. I think Terzo is thinking of getting one for his prom once he found out that you get to keep the sword.

Bags upon bags of shoes.

Acres of just-washed-and-pressed shirts.

A bowtie in every imaginable color.

Or perhaps a necktie instead?

A vest to match.

Don't forget the handkerchief.

Apparently cummerbunds are on the way back in. They brought back fond memories of my own prom only twenty-some odd years ago, when my mother made my dress and my date's bowtie and cummerbund to match.

* The link explains that the films were designed to educate the little viewers that a process has a beginning, middle and end.  I had no idea that I was supposed to be learning about a process; my takeaway was an abiding appreciation for the might of American mass manufacturing and the choreographed beauty of a mechanized line.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Despite being done with work for two weeks, things have been pedal-to-the-metal in the usual way around here. Plus I am trying to catch up on four months of not getting things done. I am chipping away at the various tasks. One of them was my poor girl cave.

A long-neglected project was missing in action, never mind the fact that I was unable to move around or locate the vast majority of my needles and other tools. I found myself working out how much quicker it would be to drive to the yarn store and buy a new set of needles instead of finding the two sets I already own. I came to my senses and decided to spend the time cleaning up a bit.

Around the time I could finally see the floor, I came across the tearsheets for my latest published pattern and realized I forgot to share. I have a pattern in the Summer issue of Knitscene!

Datura is a fairly simple linen head kerchief, that works up very quickly with less than one skein of yarn. The attached i-cord edging is carried down both sides for easy tying in the back.

I love this picture of the scarf on the dark-haired model; it shows off the symmetry of the design so well.

Confession time: every Barnes and Noble I have visited in the past month or so (I am really behind on this announcement) has found me at the magazine rack, checking out Knitscene and reveling in the fact that I have a pattern in there! So far I have refrained from turning to the person next to me and pointing out that hey, this is mine, this is really me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


This past Sunday was a big event at our local historic house/park, and we were asked to bring a few sheep. So early that morning we chose our victim—this year it was Jasmine, who had the unfortunate luck of being the first candidate caught—and carefully checked eartags to make sure that we had nabbed the correct lambs. Nothing worse than penning up a ewe with the wrong lamb, or even more awful, leaving the wrong lamb behind without a mother for the day. We did a nose-to-nose check before loading them to make doubly-sure we had the right ones. Secondo and my husband dropped them off before church.

After service, Secondo, Terzo and I headed down to the park. I had been asked to demonstrate spinning and Secondo volunteers for the park, so his usual station is by the sheep pen to answer any questions. Terzo was along for the ride, as the third one frequently is, because my husband was picking Primo up from his post-prom party weekend down the shore. (Don't ask. I don't want to think too deeply about it.)

Basically the only spinning I get done all year,
on someone else's wheel,
producing something I have no use for.

It is a beautiful spot, and it was a fairly nice day with the exception of a few sprinkles. I stationed the house's wheel near the sheep pen so I could keep an eye on the boys, and take over on the sheep questions once Secondo had to leave to study for his biology test.

Secondo on the other side of the sheep pen.

What I didn't anticipate was that Terzo would want to stay with me once Secondo left. He checked out the various displays and activities, talked to the cabinetmaker, kept me company between visitors, and listened as I chatted with people. On the way home he asked me, "So, who did you talk to who was interesting today?" He astutely picked up that sometimes the people who stopped to visit had more interesting tales than the ones I was telling over and over again.

The head ranger is a lovely woman who cooks a feast for the workers and volunteers on these event days. One of the reasons I think Terzo stayed was unlimited access to her home-baked cookies. He parked himself and his apple snack in my chair when I left for my lunch break.

Apparently what he had also been doing was listening to my spiel. I came back ten minutes later to find him holding forth to a crowd about the process of turning raw fleece into yarn.

He even demonstrated how to use a set of hand cards! All I need to do now is teach him how to spin, and I won't even have to go down. Or maybe I will sit in the house all day and eat the cookies.

Monday, May 19, 2014

perfect buttons

It took me almost five months and innumerable stores, but I am happy to report that I finally have buttons for my favorite cotton sweater. Of course, they were completely different from what I thought the perfect button would be. Pre-conceived notions have such a nasty habit of rarely panning out.

I had tucked the sweater into a spare corner on the way down to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, though there weren't too many of those to be found in the packed pick-up cab. A break on Saturday allowed for a quick scout around the fairgrounds and I happened on Melissa Jean's booth. What beautiful, wonderful, unique buttons. She had yellow buttons that I thought would do the trick, but when I brought the sweater back, they were nowhere close to the right color. I turned to the white buttons... cream buttons... no dice.

Melissa pointed out that the sweater is more orange in tone. Her assistant picked up the brown spirals, and held them up. Perfect. I never would have thought to try them. I pointed out to Melissa that her helper had quite a talent, and she readily agreed.

The sweater and a long sleeve t-shirt were the perfect match today for the wool socks that I am still wearing in May. I am always so happy to be getting one last use out of them before summer swelter sets in. It makes me feel like I am cheating Mother Nature.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

new niece

My little niece arrived early Wednesday morning. This meant I had to put the knitting in overdrive on her knitted gift.

I had started a little dress on Sunday morning and the first part had just zoomed along, so quickly that I decided I was only going to knit small baby items from now on for the instant gratification thrills. A whole bodice and waist in one day, including color changes? Amazing. Life-changing, even.

All photos taken on a lovely car seat background,
but not because I was finishing it on the way to meet her.

Then I hit the miles of stockinette in the gathered skirt, and decided that I was only going to knit baby cardigans from now on. Or tank tops. Or hats. 

Today we were going to visit her, so the deadline was set. I finished and bound off at Secondo's track meet this morning (hence the car seat background). My new system is to weave in ends before a project is finished. Sometimes even weaving in ends is preferable to miles of stockinette. This is a great system, because when you are done, you are are really and truly done, and the thrill and excitement of finishing is not diminished by the thought of having to weave in a zillion ends. I am surprised and grateful every time I do it.

So when I was done binding off, I flipped the dress inside it to see this mess:

Less than one minute later, with a pair of scissors that I didn't have with me when I wove in the ends (I carry darning needles in my purse for emergency situations, but not scissors):

Amazingly enough, I had one tiny purple button in my button box. I have no idea where it came from, but I wasn't looking a gift button in the mouth. Even more astonishing, I had matching thread.

All set and ready in plenty of time. OK, so I didn't have time to block it, but I hope the recipient will forgive me.

At least by the time she's old enough to complain about it. With any luck, I will have trained her to know the difference.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

expository essay

I have been working on my very best patient attitude here (and pretty much failing miserably) as my husband migrates my barely-working computer to one that can get the job done a bit more efficiently. Since I am working from home now, this was a very necessary transition. My old computer was so old, however, that the process has required more than a simple snap of the fingers. I am typing this on the new computer. I cannot print it, even if I wanted to. More to the point for a blog, I cannot upload pictures from the new computer yet, because they aren't on here. So no pictures today.

Instead, more stylings of Terzo, this time his recent expository essay on the theme of sibling cooperation. I am not using fancy descriptors here; he refers to this type of writing as an expository essay, which for some reason I find quite amusing.

Do you and your siblings fight all the time? Mine sometimes do but over the years it's slowed down. (Side note from mom: No. It hasn't. Only the insults have changed.) I personally think that kids should play together more. They won't always be around, it makes a better relationship and it won't take those 5 minutes to go somewhere to see them. (Side note from former SAT tutor: For crying out loud, they are teaching 4th graders how to write an essay in acceptable SAT format?) That's why siblings should play together more.

One reason that it helps you to play together more is because it makes a better relationship. For example I once was always fighting with my brother but over years of playing together we get along fine. (Side note from mom: This may be an imaginary brother.) Once I was talking to Ashley and she said that she was playing on her tablet then she started playing with her brother and now they get along fine. That's only one reason you should play with your siblings more.

One other important reason to play with your siblings is, if you think about it people won't be around your whole life. Was [sic] talking to my friend Chase and he said, "Sometime later I will be at college and he and she will be gone,". Also I have 2 older brothers; one is a freshman in high school and the other is a senior in high school. (Side note from former SAT tutor: Semi-colon misuse was once the bane of my existence. Now I can laugh it off.) Soon they will be gone because of these things college, get married and, then move away. (Side note from mom: I can only hope that it happens in that order, but hold out no illusions.) So since my brother is going to be gone we are trying to have the most fun ever.

My last reason to play with your siblings more is because you don't have to go somewhere to see them. Also parents would love not to go somewhere to worry about these things traffic, weather and paying for gas. (Side note from mom: True dat. But usually not when I have to drive 5 minutes.) Later on I said, "It's so easy because there [sic] right there all the time," and my mom agreed. So as you can see not having to go somewhere can be really helpful.

As you can see playing with your siblings is very important. This is why, it makes a better relationship, they won't always be around and last but not least you don't have to go somewhere. If you never played with your siblings you are missing out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

happy mother's day

To all mothers and mothers-in-law and stepmothers and mother figures and aunts out there, you know who you are, a little fourth-grade classroom card goodness.

For the first time in I don't know how many years, we had nothing planned. In part this was due to the imminent arrival of my niece. We were hoping that she would oblige us by appearing in time for us to make a really appropriate mother's day out of visiting her.

She did not cooperate. Is it too early to accuse her of a difficult personality?

The other problem is that Primo is sick, and we couldn't truck him all over the state. We batted around several ideas, but since all of them required some sort of travel and walking combination, they didn't pan out.

Also, it must be said that I am completely hopeless at these holidays that require heavy lifting in the expectations and obligations departments. I have struggled with it for years and continue to run up against the brick wall of a complete lack of whatever it requires to make these things mean something. Really, if my offspring values me as a mother, then I hope (sometimes in vain) that they will make that clear on a semi-regular basis. I try to do the same for my own parental figures, probably in vain as well. But this "it is a day set by the card companies and you must spend the day with me and furthermore do whatever I want"—yeah. I just don't get it. I have pretty much given up on ever getting it. I know this makes me really, really weird and completely out of step with the rest of the universe. I'm used to it.

So we spent a few hours at Six Flags with my youngest*, because we have season passes and it was something quick and easy to do.This theme park is the absolute armpit of the universe, as far as I am concerned, but hey, it made my little guy happy, and I think that may be what this holiday is all about. It is mostly what motherhood is about, anyway, so close enough.

After such a sweet card, proving that he knows me oh so well, with the possible exception of the vibrating bed part, it wasn't too much of a stretch.

* Primo stayed home. Secondo took Primo's ticket for a concert this afternoon/evening. I had no problem with either one. See above.

Friday, May 9, 2014

good dog

Finally! A spring-worthy header photo. My father will be thrilled. He has been complaining about the unseasonably snowy weather at our farm for at least a month now.

It was one of the many, many tasks I was finally able to get to today. I always had Fridays off—well, almost always, except on the weeks that I had traded my day off for another due to my required presence at home on a different day. But somehow today felt different. Maybe because it felt less like a mad scramble in a futile attempt to catch up, but more of a maintenance of the status quo. Whatever it was, it made all the difference.

I was even able to get to chores this morning, mostly because I knew that whatever didn't get done in my husband's office could be taken care of whenever. One of the biggest tasks was to move the electric fencing to new grass, while keeping their access to a shelter should a storm roll through. A lamb got out again this morning, Henrietta's spotted ewe (third from the left in the header photo). I was working by myself, because my husband was out for his run. It's not easy to get one escapee back in by yourself, because you have to lift the fence and move the sheep all by yourself, and they are not inclined to move toward you without someone pushing them that direction. Also, if you try to open up the fence, the others rush out.

I did have the dog's help, however, and every so often he can be invaluable.

I started by moving the fence and feeding the rest of the flock first, so they would be distracted. This caused the escapee to go crazy, because she missed out on her grain breakfast, but them's the breaks for bad behavior. I called Dusty to help me, but instead of coming around the back of the ewe as I anticipated, he came toward me (he is a good dog, but not necessarily a mind reader) and scared her even further away.


I moved  him to block her escape down the driveway, and put him into a sit-stay. Usually the sheep move away from him, but she promptly ran and hid behind him. Right behind him, so close that she was peering around him at me. Very unusual sheep behavior. Still sitting, Dusty gazed at me with a "what now, boss?" look.


One command that Dusty knows very well is "get in" and its opposite "get out," to move him into fenced areas or through gates. I lifted the fence, told Dusty to "get in," and she dashed right behind him into the pasture. OK, it was a bit unorthodox, but since I got the result I wanted, I'll take it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home 
and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.” 
― Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road

Well, that was quick. Today was my last day at work, almost exactly four months after I started. Turns out even two days per week was unmanageable given all that goes on here on a daily basis.

I thought it could go on without me.

I thought wrong.

The good news is that I didn't lose the job altogether. I will be working from home now, not quite as many hours per week, and definitely no commute. Much better.

I was holding my breath the past few weeks, as the ewes-and-lambs have been in the electric fencing. This usually means a break-out from time to time, at which point I am summoned from my husband's office to deal with sheep on the driveway or lambs in the patient parking lot. I almost made it... but then two separate incidents today. I didn't need any more reasons to know for sure that I belonged at home, but it was yet another sign.

Many, many pots of gold here.

Taken by my husband, 
around the same time I was photographing the double rainbow in Maryland.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

marylands past and present

Yesterday afternoon, on my way home from work, I passed an embankment of bare leafy spikes. It's been a few days since was at work, and the last time I saw that spot, it was full of sunshine-yellow nodding daffodil heads. Turn away for a moment, and they are gone.

Special moments are a lot like that embankment of daffodils. You enjoy them as they happen, no doubt about it, but you don't quite appreciate them as much as you do when they're gone. Like my boys not coming with me to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this past weekend. I mourned the whole weekend that I hadn't taken the time to appreciate them enough while they were there with me. I tried not to be too melancholy but it was tough.

OK, so there wasn't a ton of room for them.
But I would have made it work.

So I tried my darndest to enjoy my parents while they still want to come with me!

My dad, helping put up the sign.
That's Debbie, captain of the Coopworth booth, in the front.

My parents might disagree about the amount of quality time, because it is difficult to even talk to anyone while the booth is operating at full tilt. It is also difficult to talk when your daughter is cracking the whip and making you help.

My mom, pressed into grid assembly.
This is one of the many moments when we really, really missed the boys.
They are a wonder at putting these blasted grids together.

I did get away a couple of times with my mom on Sunday to do a little yarn shopping. Not a lot, dear husband, no worries, but there is a baby niece on the way and pink things must be knit. I also enjoyed a post-meeting conversation with them over a glass of hotel room wine, compliments of my favorite dad, after a long, long day in the booth on Saturday.

One of the most glorious parts of a fiber festival is various friends, from all walks of the fiber world, dropping by to say hello. Lynne from New York, and Christina who was-from-New-York and is now in North Carolina, and Jessica from Maryland, who sat next to me in my Franklin Habit class at Vogue Knitting Live in January. And an even newer one! ShoreSpinner, a frequent reader and sometimes commenter on this blog, who used her detective powers to search me out and stop by for a quick chat. How wonderful to put a face to the name.

The weather was beautiful, with one tiny exception. The American Coopworth Registry annual meeting was all set to begin on Saturday evening when a storm descended out of nowhere. Luckily most booths, including ours, had already been shut up for the evening and were able to withstand the brief but powerful torrent of driving rain and punishing winds. And afterwards:

Pretty much sums up the weekend, even if my boys couldn't be there.