Sunday, May 30, 2010

Women, War & Wool

Memorial Day is upon us and I was particularly struck by a historic photo in the newspaper.  It was a photo of the Dunkirk evacuation dubbed Operation Dynamo by the British.  History is one of my newest loves.  Education does it a great disservice, distilling everything into dates, geographic locations, and famous people.  Real history is the story of people, people like us, in all kinds of situations.

In the photograph were boats, mostly small fishing boats . . . a whole harbor full of boats.  I read the short story and then researched more on Wikipedia.  Hitler's army had trapped British, Belgium, and French troops during the Battle of Dunkirk (WWII).  With nothing but the sea between them and Hitler's army, they were trapped with no escape.  Their imminent plight was only this: to be killed or captured.  They were stranded and the Luftwaffe rained bullets upon them.  Secretly the War Cabinet discussed surrendering to Germany.  Instead, they voted against it and prayed for a miracle.   And the miracle happened.  It came in the form of little fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, merchant marine boats and commercial vessels too.  Men stood shoulder deep in the water for hours waiting for their rescuers.  Between the dates of May 27th & June 4th 338,226 had been rescued from imminent death and escaped the bitter despair of becoming Prisoners of War.  Not all of them were so lucky, 1 in 7 to be exact, were left behind.  What struck me so poignantly about this moment was the thought of all those people who pitched in to save those men. 

 I recalled reading how throughout history women had knitted socks for soldiers in times of war.  A less dramatic yet earnest show of care and support to the men who go to battle.  So I did a little more internet research.  On I found that during WWII, Life Magazine had published an issue on how to knit, along with a pattern for a knitted vest.  It encouraged women to knit as the best way to help the war effort.  Prior to our involvement in WWII, Americans had already been knitting and sending care packages of food and clothes to Londoners who were in the thick of the war.  Many of these WWII knitters had knitted in their youth to help our forces during WWI.  I also learned that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was big on knitting for the war effort and was usually photographed either knitting or sporting her huge knitting bag.  She was referred to as "The First Knitter of the Land" and launched the WWII knitting effort at a "Knit for Defense tea" which was held at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria in NY.  The American Red Cross was designated as the single clearing agency for all war-time knitting at this time.  The war created shortages in meats, fats, sugars, gasoline and wool too.  It also interrupted the shipping of wool.  The Seattle Red Cross responded by teaching it's volunteers how to card and spin fiber to make our own wool yarn.  And here's something I never would have thought of:  knitters also knit cotton 15 to 20 foot stretch bandages.  The bandages were knit all in garter stitch which produced a stretchy bandage.  These were sterilized and shipped to medical units worldwide!  Women have been knitting (and men too) in support of troops all throughout history.  So I wondered, did anyone knit for the Vietnam veterans.  True, it was not an environment conducive to knitted garments, I'm sure.  But what I found out was interesting as well. 

Enter the age of the rebel with needles.  Knitting protesters!  Knitting for a cause!  A call to action during the Vietnam war and definitely a product of the 1960's which embraced the "Peace not War" line of thought.   I found an article about a Vietnam veteran who was very uneasy in the days of the Cold War and the nuclear threat that haunted all our worst nightmares.   He found solace in bridging the gap between countries and governments by starting a company called "Peace Fleece" combining Russian and American wool into thick richly colored yarn that is still made long after the collapse of the Soviet Union.   Then I found a site for "CODE PINK",  a knitting protest group who's motto is "I did not raise my children to kill another mother's child."  They call themselves "Raging Grannies".   And learned about the "Grannie Peace Brigade" who in 2008 set up their chairs within view of the White House to express their opposition to five years of war in Iran by having a "knit-in".  They came from all across the country and sat in front of the Dept. of Veteran Affairs knitting stump socks (aka: residual limb covers) to cover the limbs of amputees, casualties of war.  They also knitted baby blankets for the Iraqi children.

I guess the bottom line of all this rumination on history and wars and the many different faces of valor is simply this:  each and every individual contributes to the whole.  It is the little stories, the small sacrifices, the creative effort to solve our nations issues that all become the waft and the weave of the history of ourselves, our countries and our times.

Happy Memorial Day everyone. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I find that the older I get the more I want to go back to simpler things.  Not that I don't love my computer!  It's the greatest thing since sliced bread!  Especially because I can use it to find and connect with local artist, local farmers and local craftsmen that I would never have known were out there!  I recently subscribed to a site called "".  It's great.  It emails me about local foods, farmers markets and events that I may never have heard about.  As a matter of fact, my last notification told me about a festival to be held in Unityville, PA at the Worthington Acres Alpaca farm.  This is a little over an hour from where I live.  They offer many services to local Alpaca farmers, they will process wool in bulk quanities and they sell spinning wheels.  You can also buy their spun yarns and felted soaps.  More importantly . . . you can take lessons to learn how to SPIN!!!  Eureka!  My first lesson is in June.  I can't wait.  In the meantime, I plan on attending the Alpaca Shearing and Spinning demo festival on May 22nd!  Just Google Worthington Acres Alpacas and you will find their site.  Prior to this serendipitous email, the only place I knew that offered spinning lessons was Mannings near Harrisburg which would have been a much longer drive and much harder to get there.

I also have to plug my friend, Andzia, who sells Baltic Amber jewelry.  Her website is and  her shop is right on Main Street in Scranton.  Andzia doesn't just "sell" Amber . . . she "lives and breathes" Amber.  Before I was tutored by her in the amazing history and properties of Amber I just thought it was a pretty yellow stone.  If you don't know about Amber, you need to either go to her site which has a lot of time and effort put into it so that you too can learn about Amber, or else go and talk to her.  Be cautioned however, I've gone from thinking it's "just pretty" to feeling that I will not be complete until I get my own Amber! 

I also found out about a cool home delivery service on the Internet, called EIO (as in "Old MacDonald had a Farm).  They deliver Hillside Dairy milk, butter, ice cream and other local products such as cheese, bakery bread, cage free organic eggs, organic meats, and now they offer locally grown vegetables and fruit!  How wonderful, I'm supporting local farmers, getting fresh wholesome foods, saving gas because it's delivered to my door . . . and because I can order online and I'm not running to the store all the time for these staples, I have more time to knit, crochet, and soon spin!

On Craigs List I found European Treasures.  They were looking for distributors for their Summer Hill Botanicals soap and other bath and body products.  Once again, locally made!  These soaps are wonderful.  Natural ingredients and aromatic scents combined to make soaps and lotions that feel wonderful, make your skin soft and supple while offering aromatherapy at the same time.  I haven't bought a commercial bar of soap ever since I used my first lathery bar of this stuff.  You can find European Treasures in Exeter at the Warehouse Shoppes and on the web at  You can also buy Polish and Spanish pottery there at great prices.

A little further up the road in Exeter is my friend, Dom's farm.  He hasn't gotten into the whole Internet thing, his niece is working on getting him going in that direction.  Now here's a guy who has felt the sting of the "warehouse mentality" that, in my opinion, is the ruination of America.  Yah, their stuff is cheap . . . but so is the quality.  I see people loading up at Dollar stores with all these little chintzy chotchkies or hedgkey medgekies (I don't know the spelling, I just know it means decorative junk you could live without!).  But to go and spend a few bucks for some quality flowers feels like an extravagance.  I walked through Dom's greenhouses the other day and took some beautiful pictures.  As I walked around I noticed that I was surrounded by the scent of earth and sweet flowers . . . not the smell of pesticides and fertilizers that I would get at Lowes.  I was not bombarded with "attention shopper, blue light special, security to front desk" announcements.  Instead I was serenaded by birdsongs, some butterfly wings beating against the greenhouse walls and an occasional bee as it droned by.  If you'd like to enjoy some real flowers in a real greenhouse, you can find Dominic Culver's Greenhouses on Packer Ave. (across from the Fox Hill Country Club).  To get there, take Route 11, turn on Tunkhannock Ave. which will take you to Packer Ave.   If that's too far, please visit a real greenhouse and buy real flowers from people who have worked and toiled to bring you the best quality plants and vegetables grown locally. 

When I left Dom's yesterday, I took the long way home which took me past Hillside Farms in Dallas.  Up on the hill were about 20 to 30 cows wandering around in the pasture.  I smiled to myself and thought . . . that's where my milk comes from!  Its not from cows that are lined up like prisoners and force fed antibiotics and hormones.  They were happy cows . . . which made me happy! 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"M" is for the many things she taught me . . .

This Sunday is Mother's day so now I have a reason to brag about my mother (not that I need one).  With all my heart, I wish that she were still here with me.  I think about her all the time.  She passed away in 1984 at the age of 52.  But she is always in my thoughts.  She came from such humble beginnings.  I was torn between posting this picture of her to show off her beauty or the picture of her looking like the poster child for the "For a Dollar a Day you Can Feed this Child" campaign.  She grew up poor and in that particular picture she is in a dingy little shift, barefoot in the dirt, looking kind of forlorn.  I love this picture of her because if you knew my mother, you would never guess she came from such poverty.  My mother self-taught herself in everything, and was a gifted artist, seamstress, knitter, gardener, culinary expert and she was extremely well read.  She did what used to be known as "tole painting" long before Donna Dewberry gave it the name "One Stroke Painting".  She knit and crocheted little outfits for my Barbie dolls.  They were very sophisticated little garments too.  She sewed lined coats and tailored suits for the family.  She even made ties for my father.  She loved the outdoors and somehow educated my sister and me to know all sorts of things about trees and birds and plants, passing on her love of all things nature.  I remember one particularly lonely summer around the time I was going into 5th grade.  We had just moved and my sister had gone off to college, leaving me alone for the first time.   My mom kept me contented by suggesting books to read that I would get from the local library:  Nancy Drew, Dr. Fu Manchu and even Tarzan novels.  How many mothers even know what a good read Edgar Rice Burroughs is?  Her enthusiasm to learn was contagious.  I think about how she would love the computer now and all the things you can learn and all the people you can meet.  She would have been in her glory.  No doubt she would've been selling on Etsy, keeping up with friends and family on Facebook, writing her own blog and ordering copious quantities of fabrics, yarns, and all things crafty from the internet.

Unfortunately, as life does, events occurred that drove us apart and then drove us at each other.  I hooked up with my soon to be husband/soon to be ex-husband in my senior year of school and that created major turmoil in our relationship.  At the same time, my father decided he needed to move to Akron, Ohio for a different job.  My mother felt that she had to quit her job, the first one she had since before she was married, and follow.  This caused her to spiral into a life of misery and bitterness.  Then came the cancer like a thief in the night. 

Our last few years together were tumultuous at best.  A small steel-town on the shores of Lake Erie, Lorain, Ohio, would be the place where possibilities for the future of both my mom and myself waxed and then waned in a very short time.  My father's penchant for changing jobs that usually moved us between Ohio and Virginia repeatedly meant a very isolated life for my mom . . . and a rather miserable one for me.  My mother was relegated to a very home centered life.  When I think about how she didn't have any friends other than my father's business associates, it seems very sad to me.  But she did it without ever complaining (at least that I'm aware of).  In Lorain, however, Mom stepped outside of the box/house and got herself a job.  She was hired at the local newspaper and did advertising layouts.  What a transformation.  Suddenly, instead of reading the paper and fixating on all the bad things going on in the world, she skipped right past all that and was only interested in ads and how they looked.  Not just her ads, she studied the other papers for their ads.  She had friends for the first time since I was little.   I remember when she went to a Cat Steven's concert with a friend and later confessed that joints were being passed around.  We would go to the only good place in Lorain . . . The Lorain Creamery, and get ice cream sundaes and talk about everything.  I remember I actually confessed to her that I was interested in a boy who was crazy about another girl.  I can still hear her say, "You shouldn't settle for Second Fiddle".  Craziest thing we ever did was sign up to take Roller Dancing lessons together.  Do you know how hard it is to do ice-skating moves on four wheels?  That didn't last so long, she gave herself one heck of a bruising when she fell at her last lesson.  It was so great to have my mother as a friend for that short time.  I like to think that if she were still alive today we would be friends again, sharing confessions and eating ice cream together.