Author Archives: Betsy Alspach

About Betsy Alspach

Please see my about page at woolgatheringwithbetsy.com

I’m Sorry

Yesterday and today a few lines from an old John Denver song have been going through my head. My brain seems to have selectively chosen a few lines because most of it doesn’t apply to our country on this day. The mournful tone and a few lines such as “I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be” do for me right now.

I am sorry for our little girls because this country chose to elect a known misogynist and sexual predator. I am sorry for our little boys because he mocks those who are not healthy or 100% Caucasian. I am sorry for them in so many other ways because his hateful and not well thought out campaign promises have the power to change this country and world. We need to resist those intentions each in our own way. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when someone goes lower, we must go higher.

He was elected by an America that I don’t know anymore. Those who voted for him and those who chose to vote for someone other than Hillary said it was ok that a person of this character and intent was elected. I understand voting on principle however the stakes were really big this time and I think the principle was to keep a person of this character out. I know there is a lot of disagreement about that. Others opinions don’t shape my outlook on life.

Be that as it may each of us of whatever political affiliation or none at all who are caring people now must figure out how to live our lives in ways that counter his proposals and views that he models about other human beings. The manner in which we do that is very individual and takes soul searching. It can be action in small ways or on a larger scale.

We must show our little boys and little girls that not everyone values hatefulness. Not everyone bullies and takes advantage of others whenever they can so that they feel better about themselves.

I am sorry. Yesterday felt like a day of mourning. Today for me feels like a day to gently begin to reflect on what we can do for our world, each other and especially our children to help them to develop kindness and a positive inner resourcefulness that will not be modeled by the leader of the free world.Working through grief over the loss of what we had is a slow process. But each of us who do not value mocking the disabled, mocking a mother about her stricken reaction in public because her son had died, and who do not want to purge those who do not look like us can figure out what to do in whatever way we feel fits us. That is how we will make America great again.

A Summer of Flowers, Fiber, Family and Friends Part 1

I knew I hadn’t written a post in a while but just saw that it was three months. I guess I can attribute that to our hot dry summer. Not much energy to do anything when there is humidity.  What I will remember of it though is that it has been full of family, friends, fiber and flowers.

Recently a friend took me to an iris auction. I never knew such things existed. I have some iris that were here when we moved in and she has given me more. Iris aren’t blooming now 🙂  so here are my spring pictures.

I am always interested in how things work and the commonalities of dynamics in different groups. For example, at the auction I learned that there are different types of iris i.e. Siberian,  Bearded, and that experts who create new iris within those areas are well known to the people who enjoy the flowers. Just as in our fiber pursuits we know different sheep breeds and their attributes and know of/have met many of the breeders whose fleeces we know of to be good quality. Just a different medium, that’s all. It was a lot of fun to watch the auction and to feel the good energy that one always feels around people following their passions. We need all of that kind of energy in this world that we can get.

I purchased 3 iris but then had to figure out where to put them. My iris beds are full already. I decided to put in a new bed by the shed. To be honest that means Steve digs it out. Then I decided to move into it the iris my friend gave me and some lillies also given to me a while back. I would usually never show anyone a picture of how a transplanted bed looks right after I create it because the poor plants are often in shock and don’t look their best. But I did here because as I was planting I decided to have fun adding in some meaningful ornaments.irsi-bed-with-ceramics

On the far upper left is a green/brown ceramic looking piece right against the green grass. It was once on the roof of the carriage house at the Harkness estate which is now a state park in my hometown of Waterford CT. We were there one day when I was hosting a family reunion and the roof was being replaced. A pile of them lay on the ground with a sign that we could take one. I love that place and am happy to have this remembrance. It goes in a garden wherever I am living. On the bottom left are brick pieces from an old woolen mill we lived near in Jefferson MA. Just lying on the ground where we would walk. The upper right has a broken flower pot from a couple years ago when I asked Steve to take off part of a side for fairy garden items that I put together for some young girls in the neighborhood. And hard to see but on the right  is my little fairy that I had elsewhere in the spring. In the middle at the top is a piece of pottery found on our property here. broken-pottery-in-yardWe have a house built in the 1830s and the previous owners left us things found here. I have found more through gardening and the chickens sometimes dig them up for me. I suspect that the area by our very old coop might have also been a place they dumped things before the trash pick up that we have now. A tiny archeology site.

In other gardening news, the herb spiral that my son put in for me is growing well. I  am adding rocks to it that I find along the way. I put in two from a beach in S. Thomaston Maine where we visited, Sarah Orne Jewett territory (if you haven’t read The Country of the Pointed Firs get it today if not sooner), one from my son’s place in Freedom Maine and one from my cousin’s house in NY which is the home he grew up in and full of memories for me.

herb-spiral-maine-rocks

The first one on the left and the last three wete recently brought here

Mother Nature is always entertaining no matter what the season. The other day I was watering the basil and took a close look at a bumblebee on a flower. So cute to see it put its whole head in the flower. I let it and the mint and oregano go to flower at this time of year since the pollinators love them so.

bumble-bee-in-basil

Mother Nature also sends hints. The other day while I was cleaning up the herb spiral I found this:

fall-leaf-in-herb-spiral

Fall leaf means fall is coming

I have frozen tomatoes for winter spaghetti sauce and am picking dead marigold heads from here and anywhere else I am allowed to use as a natural dye in October at a workshop we are teaching. Herbs have been dried and a fall beet row planted.

Now if it would just cool off and actually feel like autumn, my favorite season, and rain some, all would be well. It’s pretty good even so.

My Life with Little Libraries

The town I live in, Easton MA, is in the process of putting “little libraries” in 6 spots in town. A lumberyard in town donated the wood, the students at the technical high school in town built them and local artists decorated them. My favorite so far is of course this one that has sheep on it.

sheep pasture lib front

Little Library at Sheep Pasture in Easton MA

sheep pasture lib backIt is at a place called Sheep Pasture which is on the grounds of an old estate where I can go when I need a sheep fix. Wool spinners are nodding as they read this because we all have to have an easy source. Sheep Pasture is owned by the National Resources Trust of Easton and a wonderful spot with trails, woods, farm animals and many events and workshops.

The little libraries hold maybe 15 or so books. Anyone can take a book and leave one, or return it. No computer catalogue, sign out or library card needed. The books will be constantly shifting as people take and leave them. Finding the boxes is a little treasure hunt for me.

Seeing them reminded me of my rich history of spending time in little libraries. Not as small as the ones here of course but pretty little by today’s standards. I grew up in Waterford CT and I distinctly recall my mother taking me to the little town library which was in a small Cape Cod style house on a hill  off of Great Neck Road. I remember the room of books and where the children’s books were in that one room. The far back corner on the left by windows and a window seat. Just now I had fun, with some bittersweet feelings about times and people long gone, researching the history of that library to put dates to my memories. I recognize last names of people involved in creating the first town library in the 1920’s.

I learned that the library books were moved in Feb of 1961.  I was 4 1/2 then which would make that first little library one of my earliest memories. At that time my mother would take me to my brother’s football games and she claimed I looked at books the whole time. I still prefer books to football. He was 13 years older than me.  I distinctly remember the moment in First Grade when everything coalesced in my brain and I knew I could read so I know that I wasn’t actually reading at his games, just looking at my books and being absorbed in the pictures and stories. I also remember how nice my teacher Miss Lyons was at Great Neck School and how encouraging she was about my reading in First Grade. That day I could read was truly like a light bulb going off in my head. “See Jane. See Jane run.”I don’t think I was reading this line in the Dick and Jane series necessarily but I certainly did learn from them.

I do remember when the books were temporarily moved to a larger space, an old post office near the old library building in the section of town called Jordan Village. My best memory there was being 7 or 8 and feeling so grown up one time because my mother actually let me stay there and read while she did an errand or two. I sat at a table near the check out counter and can still see two women working there who sort of kept an eye on me. Sort of because what was I going to do- I was perfectly happy sitting and reading and didn’t need to wander around. My mother knew that when she gave me that responsibility. They told me to let them know if I needed anything but I didn’t- I had it all at that moment!

My mother did not particularly enjoy reading books but as always helped me to do the things I liked even when not sharing them herself. I also remember at a young age that occasionally she would let me read books at church during the service rather than go to Sunday School. 🙂

Waterford built a lovely large library soon after which I avidly used until I moved out after college in 1979 and married. In 1982 we moved to East Glastonbury CT and much to my delight were close to a little branch library which was in an old 2 room schoolhouse. When I was pregnant with my first I walked a mile each day and often walked there.  Glastonbury itself had a large beautiful main library and I remember that the first place we took our second child to was that library when he was a few weeks old. Going to choose books for myself in the stacks, alone, in peace and quiet for a few minutes while my husband stayed with our sons in the children’s section are memories I still hold dear.

In 1987 we moved to Holden MA, a town which became home for 25 years. Okay, I knew when we moved there that the library was being expanded and renovated and that a little old meat market was housing some of the books and functioning as the library for a couple years only. Even though I knew this intellectually the first time I went in my heart sank. It was just so small and had no big children’s room. Of course I adjusted and now a memory my second son and I share is going there when he was 4 on a field trip from nursery school and being taken behind the scenes and seeing books stacked in old meat bins that were once refrigerated. So funny to us.

Holden soon opened the doors to the expanded library and it became a weekly stop for pretty much the rest of the time we lived there. I remember the excitement when each of our children were 6 years old and could get their own library card. I still have one.

A rite of passage. kyle lib card

After they left for college I became active with the Friends group and stayed that way until we moved, making dear friends, again a little bittersweet as now some of them are also gone. I was so lucky to have known them. holden lib bag

So now I have sort of come full circle and am enjoying a different kind of little library than the one in Waterford 54 years ago. My husband was not surprised when I went to the first one in the Queset Garden at the back of the Ames Free Library in Easton and started organizing the books so all could be seen and would stand up straight. I used to do that at the large and sadly now closed Tatnuck Booksellers in Worcester which is next to Holden. I would neatly arrange the knitting books and even sometimes feature one if there was space for the cover to be shown. I figured if they didn’t like it someone would tell me to stop and no one ever did. Why would they stop someone who was doing their work for free.

Now I get to discover all the little libraries here in Easton!

 

 

June is Bustin’ Out All Over

I started writing this a few days ago before being saddened by the recent act of mass murder, this time in Florida.  John Donne wrote long ago “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.” I see that of course as “any person’s”.  Once again we are all diminished because an unstable person was able to obtain an assault weapon.

I find comfort in our increasingly violent and also materialistic world in living things that don’t know about and are not affected by these things. Animals are top of my list, both domesticated and wild. Plants are next. So, I continue to happily engage with animals and plants and put the rest of this world in the back of my head when I can. I come out of it refreshed and a little more ready to cope.

I am helped by the fact that June is really busting out all over.

yellow irisiris

I have always loved musicals and even ones I haven’t seen for years leave their songs in me. This blog title is a song from Carousel which was set in Maine making it even more endearing to me.

Our growing season isn’t all that long here in Massachusetts which doesn’t bother me because as much as I love to lose myself in gardening,  I am ready for the change of season to fall when it comes.

more irisBy the same token I appreciate the opportunity to grow things when spring arrives. The explosions of color do feed the soul. Most of the iris were already here except for the dark purple ones that were given by an iris expert friend.

Before we moved here I had only seen the house once. I told myself that I would plant a peony bush here because I had one at our other house and loved its old timey appeal.peonies

After we moved in I found there were already 10 peony bushes! lupine

I planted lupine last year because we were once lucky enough to have a house on Prince Edward Island and they were everywhere up there. This is their first year blooming.

I plant annuals too. I had just put these in so they weren’t acclimated but I was transfixed by their shadow on the shed wall.windowbox shadow

I couldn’t resist this cute little fairy. My over active imagination likes to think she flies around when I am not looking. In fact I am sure she does. Maybe she shape changes to one of the hummingbirds at our feeder sometimes. fairy

well Each year when I put a flower pot by the well I think about the first woman who lived here, Julia Ann Storey, in the 1830s. She must be shaking her head when she sees that I have the time and frivolity to use the well for decoration, not for lugging buckets and buckets of water from it each day as she likely did.

I have planted some tomatoes and plan to get the rest of our vegetables from a great Farmer’s Market a mile away. There are other plants here that will feed us, some eventually. This elderberry bush that our son put in for us was 24″ tall when he planted it. Six weeks later it is 38″ tall.elderberry

He and I also put in an herb spiral that will grow both in number of plants and spiral over time.

herb spiral

My sea kale is coming along. I don’t expect to eat much of it this year, maybe a little in the fall, because like many perennials it is around for permanence, not for quick growth. sea kale June

The chickens aren’t left out either. Of course they would rather eat their garden than admire it. I hope what I see as cuteness isn’t torture to them! The plants in their garden must truly be hardy New Englanders because the hose doesn’t reach this far so they don’t get watered as much and it gets a lot of shade. In here go plants I transplant from other parts of the yard and ones left over from the annuals. It is never the exactly same year to year. The three chickens watch my every move when I am working in it and comment to each other.chicken garden

June is busting out all over with the help of gifts from the past of peonies, iris, the old well,  hen house and shed with window boxes, gifts from others of plants and time like the purple iris, elderberry bush and planting of elderberry and herb spiral, maybe the magic of a little fairy and as always watered by happy sweaty labor of the gardener, me.

There are even more plants with stories and I appreciate what each one brings to my life. I hope everyone who loves to garden is getting the same chance to enjoy it and that those who don’t can fully enjoy their own passions.

little rose bush

Little rose bush who flourishes despite not enough attention and too many bugs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May!

May is great month, second only to Autumn in my mind. It is a month of revitalization.Trees and perennial flowers are blooming. Gardening really gets going.  This year for us it also includes being the lucky receivers of a permaculture plan for our property that our son is developing for a class. I find permaculture hard to define. It has many different levels to it but in a general sense it means working in harmony with nature while achieving resilience by using natural patterns.  Because of his interest we have also been motivated to do some things we think about but haven’t seemed to get done. I have been inspired to finally start some perennial kale plants which is called Sea Kale. Once they are established they will come back every year. They fit into the permaculture model because they will come back over and over on their own and be a ready source of food. I am happy to see the new leaves growing.

sea kale

A perennial kale called Sea Kale

Our son gave me an elderberry plant for Mother’s Day and planted it too.

kyle plating elderberry

Elderberry Bush May 1 2016

I like to measure dramatic things like the amount of snow during a big storm and found that when he put it in on May 1st it was 23″ tall. Today it was 28″ The reason it interests me to measure it is that it will get to be 10′ tall and 8′ wide . It is a resilient bush,  won’t need help once it gets established and its berries can be eaten..

I grew up on the coast of Connecticut and for me there is nothing like water. I crave seeing it and luckily we are only 35 minutes away from towns on Buzzard’s Bay and another 10 from the Cape. But I want more of it in my life so I finally this May bought a small fountain after talking with our son about a water feature.  I can hear it (right now) from a room in the house where we sit and read, and can hear it when I am working in the backyard. A silly little thing but I like it! The plant hadn’t started growing when we placed it there but it adds to the quirkiness of it.

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Fountain

He gave his permaculture presentation of our plan last weekend in Portland Maine at the inspiring spot where he took this course and one before it. Back among old industrial buildings there is a revitalization going on that we see in many towns throughout New England in spots that have been or still are down on their luck. The setting for his workshop is in a place called the Resilience Hub. Next to it we found the Maine Library of Tools which we had to see. This is a place that lets out tools that people may need for a project but don’t want to or can’t afford to buy. Not only were there chain saws and the like but also things like large kitchen mixers. Such a good cooperative idea. I was gratified to see spinning wheels on their wish list! I didn’t expect to see that.

Since we were there we went to the waterside of course since I couldn’t leave without time there.I like to make water pictures big so I can really look into them.

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Portland Maine wharf May 2016

Of course not a day goes by in any month that I don’t do fiber related activities. As part of our Eagle Lake Fibers tiny business we took a free two hour workshop on Legal  Considerations for New Business Owners.

It was offered by another commendable organization based in MA called the Center for Women and Enterprise. They offer on-line classes as well as those that can be attended in person. Many have fees but a few are free as was this one. Lots of good information was provided. It was held in their Central Mass office in Westborough in an old -you guessed it- revitalized mill building. Lots of charm. As we were leaving we went down a hall and came upon:spinning wheel at mill

bobbin and spinning wheel at mill

Spinning Wheel and Bobbin

I of course had to gently touch it and analyze missing pieces.

 

 

 

 

As far as creating goes this month, this is a table runner that I just wove on my rigid heddle loom using a cotton warp (the threads that go up and down) and my handwashed, handdyed hand combed and handspun yarn from Romney, Kerry Hill/Border Leicester and Cotswold sheep.Not in finished form here.

table runner

Handspun wool weft and commercial cotton warp

gradient batt

Gradient Spinning Batt

I have also been trying my hand at creating gradient batts which means the color of the fiber goes from light to darker. This one has rare Wendsleydale wool, alpaca and mohair in it  and it is in our Eagle Lake Fibers Etsy shop.

 

Finally, a helpful retort found in a Portland coffee cafe and memorized:

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Housekeeper for Chickens

Recently we completed the once a year task of cleaning out the hen house. It takes a few hours and I have learned to do everything except the bedding on the prior day so the whole thing is less overwhelming. We need to be home all day since I also scrub the concrete areas that were under the most dirty bedding and that takes time to dry.

We only have 3 chickens and get so many eggs from them that we don’t need more.

IMG_0655

Our Buff Orpingtons

Caring for them takes just a few minutes each day so the only real work is their spring cleaning.

I come from a line of chicken farmers and even have the distinction of having an uncle in the Nebraska Poultry Hall of Fame. 🙂    I did not grow up with these people so they did not influence or teach me anything. Like spinning it just came from within. They were farmers and I am not. They probably rolled over in their graves when they saw the care these 3 get. When Lilac, Marigold and Daisy-Dandy (named by children on the street since historically we have called our pets Kitty and Bunny and are trying to reform) stop producing eggs I won’t eat them. They will live out their lives as pets. I don’t claim to have a farmer’s mindset.

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Chicken Tetherball

A farmer does not occasionally set up activities to keep chickens from getting bored. This picture was taken before they reached their current size.

Like any cleaning it is tedious but there is satisfaction in the freshness that results. Another benefit of cleaning is that I get to see two dates written in concrete. We know their home is old and that previous owners were allowed to keep it closer to the property line than is usually allowed because they said it was “historic.” The inside has wide boards which are typical of older structures but we have never researched to find its age.Being a New Englander with a proclivity for history helps me to enjoy the time I spend in there because it is a connection to the past. Our house was built in the 1830s as was the barn/garage so this hen house may also be old. I love the doors.

coop doors

Our Buff Orpington

Here are the dates. I wish the pictures were better. They aren’t old but we can see that the previous owner who was here for 60 years wrote October 1953. I put S + B 2014 when Steve added more concrete elsewhere.

our date in coop

October 1953 date in hen house floor

our year in coop

Our 2014 date in hen house floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we have so many predators we can’t let them free range. I would love to see them out there on their own but they wouldn’t last long. So, Steve made what is called a “Chicken Tractor” so we can wheel them around the yard so they can forage safely. Talk about being spoiled. In this picture it is the part that is up against their outdoor run.

coop and tractor

Hen house, run and chicken tractor with Lilac

After they started laying I gained a better understanding of the feeling that people speak of that we and the chickens are working together to provide food for us. Their manure is composted and helps our flowers and vegetables to grow but beyond that are the eggs that keep coming and coming. We give most away because we don’t need a dozen and a half a week. With their efforts we can bake at will and continually have a ready source of protein.

eggs

Courtesy of our chickens

All I know is that it feels very natural to me to be caring for them and enjoying them. For those who aren’t familiar with chickens, I can say that they are very amusing and have unique personalities. I know if I sit down with them that Lilac will jump on my knee and Daisy-Dandy will avoid being touched. I know Marigold will peck at my leg if she feels I am taking too long to get their treat out. Who wouldn’t be in a rush to eat dried mealworms and corn. They are very curious like me and carefully check out anything new in any of their enclosures. We know their many different vocalizations and what they mean just from being around them.  Also like me they don’t like change or disruption. Earlier two were complaining because we have men doing work on our house that includes drilling. They got used to it. One day last winter they were putting up a ruckus so Steve looked out and saw them squawking at a deer in the yard.

Other than when remarking on affronts such as those, they are very peaceful. I feel peaceful just sitting here watching them out the window and writing about them. I have no complaints about being a housekeeper for chickens.

Fiber and Family Trip

Our trip to Colorado and Wyoming was full of fiber and family which is perfect in my mind. This is the trip that Steve masterminded after I told him last fall that I don’t need more “things” for gifts. I have more than enough stuff and would prefer experiences.

He got on the ball by looking in one of my Spin Off magazines and at Christmas proposed that we take a trip to Colorado and Wyoming as my gifts for 2016. The timing was centered around Interweave’s Yarn Fest in Loveland CO and our children joined us for parts of the trip.

The day he and I arrived we went first to Boulder so that I could visit Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins. I have always wanted to go there because it is run by Maggie Casey who is well known through her workshops and DVDs, and her partner. I knew it would have many spinning and weaving items as well as yarn and I wasn’t disappointed. After browsing extensively and finding a few treasures to take home I walked deeper into the second room, turned a corner and stopped with a small gasp when I saw:

wheels in boulder

Spinning wheels for classes at Shuttles Spindles & Skeins

These wheels are used for teaching in a huge classroom. I was among my own people. 🙂

The next day I took a day long class on Fiber Prep with Esther Rogers, another well know spinning teacher. I enjoy Fiber Prep as much as and maybe a tiny bit more than spinning. I knew that she would give tips on creative out of the box ways to use fiber prep tools and I wasn’t disappointed. I learned different ways to use the drum carder and blending board to create unique fibers to spin. One fun thing she did was to literally cram as much diverse fiber onto one little drum carder with long teeth as she could to produce art rolags. Art means the rolags will have many textures from different fibers and will be colorful. The yarn spun from them will have those characteristics too. It won’t be a smooth predictable yarn.

esther's art batt

Filling the drum carder super full

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

art rolags CO

Art rolags by Esther Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One night we had dinner with cousins from Denver. We were able to meet my cousin’s young grandson for the first time and figured he would be my third cousin but our sons first cousin once removed following genealogy terms. All we will probably retain is that he’s a cousin. A very nice cousin.

Then on to Laramie Wyoming to visit another cousin (first 🙂 ) I was so lucky to be able to visit her in part because we share some family heirlooms. Our Burnham grandmother was a Nebraska farm wife during the depression and was a very talented quilter. We did not know her as she died in 1944.  Here is Dell’s quilt:dell's quilt

 

Here is my quilt:

my quilt

My quilt from my grandmother Burnham. The lighting isn’t so good.

I took individual pictures of many of the squares on Dell’s so I can find the common fabrics. Here is one of hers:

quilt square

Quilt square from Dell’s quilt

Here is one of mine with the same flower material. Mine is more faded.

rose pattern like dells

 

She also gave me a bowl that had belonged to our grandmother. It says Western Stoneware Co. on the bottom and is quite heavy. I couldn’t resist getting some of my sourdough starter going in it the very day we returned home.

Nebraska bowl with sourdough

Grandmother Burnham’s bowl with my sourdough starter

Then, just to show how bizarre life can be, Dell took us to this monument:

ames monument

Ames monument Laramie WY

Steve had told her that the shovels used to dig the original railroad were made in our town at the Ames Shovel Factory which is now condos. She said there was a monument to the 2 Ames brothers who we knew in addition to providing shovels were also in charge of completing the intercontinental railroad at the behest of President Lincoln. We had no idea the monument existed. Several town buildings including the high school and library  in our town were named for the Ames family and their historic homes are now parks and we know their history well. So, we found ourselves sort of in the middle of nowhere (I say that fondly) looking at a picture of North Easton MA containing a building we recognized. ames plaque WY

C me Dell WY

My son Christopher, myself, and my cousin at Ames Monument in WY

At the end I was ready to get back to my cat and chickens. I missed seeing their little faces every day even though I knew they were being thoroughly spoiled by a neighbor.

We were blessed with a wonderful trip.