Why have I made more than one petticoat this autumn?
Is it texture? Volume? Swishy-swirly goodness?
A latent Miss Kitty* crush?
An elaborate plan to avoid writing?
*Oh Lawsie, do NOT –– as you value and respect the variety of human experience and preference –– DO NOT google "Miss Kitty" + "crush" or "fetish" or "kink."
True story: I was once a 21-year-old editorial assistant in Manhattan. I worked 70 hours a week for a pittance (the word derives from people given money from pity -- which is not actually a stretch for independent book publishers at the time).
I was in the office with William Dang Golding, Susan Freakin Sontag, Roald BFG Dahl, Holy Moly Madeleine L'Engle, Czeslaw Eyechart Milsovic, Polly Amazing Horvath, Maurice Himself Sendak, and Rapmaster Seamus Heaney, to drop but a few of the lifetime's worth of literary rockstars I met.
I loved that time of my life.
My coworkers included people who were famous in literary circles in their own right, as well as actual Guggenheims, a genuine English Lady Somebody–– the kind of folks who habitually went not just to the Hamptons for the weekend, but to Morocco.
A country church-mouse, I was just that tiny bit too poor to afford the subway for trips less than 40 blocks (my rule so I'd hoof it between Penn Station and Union Square daily).
Fancy-schmancy college had exposed me to the other, very wealthy side of the tracks, but still––!
Bonus side-benefit of scholarshipping my way through school: the crippling flush of envy had pretty well burned all the way through me.
And as for blending in to the trés chic Manhattan publishing scene?
Errrm, even a minty-fresh Sears chargecard wasn't gonna godmother me to that ball.
I embraced vintage.
There was a gorgeous Pendleton plaid suit, an old Chanel number from a garage sale, a handful of thrifted cashmere sweaters. I wore my riding boots with skirts, sported stacks of fake pearls from my grandmother, and sometimes I put together outfits that swooped past the line of "costume or not?" with joyous abandon.
Today, fashion historian Morgan Donner might call my choices "history bounding." Or as the cool kiddies put it: #Historybounding
Still and all, fallible me at 21 or 22 saw a tourist descending the escalator to the tracks in Grand Central Station on sultry August day and was struck DOWN with want. She was wearing exactly the item of clothing I coveted. Of all of the many MANY desirable commodities available in the big city, I wanted what she had.
A full, pale, ankle-length skirt with an antique, Edwardian vibe.
That skirt! Lacking that kooky booty seen with late Victorian bustles, this item of mere clothing managed to be curvy but straight, with a sensible, workable air. I thought it made the wearer look interesting and self-confident. It was perfection.
I looked high and low for that skirt. For actual decades. Chasing an ideal.
And even after I had been sewing stuff for ages ——I'm on my third sewing machine, for the love of Captain Pete Obvious! —— it only came me to this year: "Yo! Self! Why not make that skirt yer own dang self?"
And so, dear Reader, I am.
After a rush of creative energy, snipping of threads and hacking my way through historical methods of pattern-drafting, I have what I have longed for: a long skirt with pockets deep enough to double for a handbag.
A few of my YouTube mentors: Bernadette Banner, Morgan Donner, Rebecca at Pocket Full of Poseys, Ora Lin, and Marika at Enchanted Rose Costumes.
I made one walking skirt from denim. I'm making another from a single thrifted yard of pretty plaid wool and the remains of –– as God is my witness –– velvet curtain panels from Ikea.
And under the skirts, a wealth of swirly, swishy petticoats in flannel and cotton lawn.
Really, Planters Peanuts? This is the new packaging.
A few years ago, I read a book with a title something like this. The Book of Dead Days?
The story did not stick with me, but I've adopted the phrase as a description of the time between the midwinter holidays and New Year's.
It's a week for not getting work done. A week to kindle up some fire against the dark and then sit poking the fire with a stick.
But I did mean to share the results of a recent photo safari. It's seasonable to the odd week.
Here's hoping for a bright new year.
While perambulating recently, I was stopped in my tracks by the oddest, most erudite of graffiti.
Strictly speaking, since the message was not written by hand (graph-itti) it might be called a poster or one of those bills nobody wants others to post. Whatever the actual medium, when slapped onto a garage door, the message is both mysterious and unsettling.
A citizen in the 21st Century, I turned immediately to the inter webs.
I will not deny that my first thought was that it was some sort of political code. And perhaps it is...one that might encourage deescalation. I mean, really: people are CHEERING that an 82-year-old got his head bashed in by a home intruder?
Well anyhoo, the formula I known as Euler's Identity. Which sounds like a spy story, but that name is pronounced "Oiler's". So, less international-operative let us say, and more rogue garage-mechanical.
And, she re-phrased with laser-like focus, it's commonly considered the most beautiful of mathematical equations. (I wonder if they have an annual contest with capes and crowns and airbrushed tans).
It's been likened to a Shakespearean sonnet, and my favorite starry-eyed quote about the formula is that it "is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it and we don't know what it means, but we have proved it and it must be the truth."
But wait, she said plaintively, what the Euler's identity DO in the world? Short answer: math stuff that I cannot, for the life of me and the love of light, manage to keep herded up in my brain for long enough to summarize. Dang. We REALLY don't know what it means.
Ah, but wait. Plot thickens: there's Euler's Identity, Euler's Constant, Euler's Four-Square Identity (okay, check this shiznit: double the sum of 4 squared numbers and the result can be expressed as the sum of four squares whaaaaa), Euler's Number, Euler's other Number (a cavitation number in fluid dynamics), and Euler's Theory, and, Holy Bologna on a pony –– Euler's Lucky Numbers. Which are, btw, a series of prime numbers that, well, geek.
Ooh! electronic music based on it can be seen here.
And of course there's a Euler's Society.
And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street.
There's a bit of reentry shock –– whoa, did you know that reentry culture shock is enough of a thing that the State Department has prepared this white paper on it? I am going to say the same applies when returning to the pro-growth, population-exploding, overextended state of Florida.
Where was I? Yeah: coming back to Florida after a summer at the Would-Be Farm. The differences are few, in truth, though they shock us: the rate of travel, the volume of humankind, a factor larger of generalized chaos.
We don't leave our keys in the car. We look both ways at a roundabout. We schedule our supply runs to avoid the angriest hours. Instead of counting deer crossings, we keep track of how many times we are startled by vehicles weaving through traffic at near-100mph. (I'm TRYING to watch out for you, motorcycles. Jeesh.)
But the flip side of the reentry shock is the sense of slipping right back into the balmy waters of home: family, fishing, and, naturally, the next sailing challenge.
The 2.4 Meter boat is about 8 feet long. I have described my favoite skipper's appearance in the diminutive vessel as a man sailing his own boot. Or possibly if Paul Bunyan were sitting in the companionway of a classic racing sloop...
He's been competing in the boat for a couple of years, primarily in preparation for the 2.4 Meter World Championships. which our home club has the honor of hosting for 2022.
Never mind that we've been trying to hold the event for several years and have been thwarted by various world events...The regatta will be held November 5-11, 2022!
I'll be keeping watch from the comfort and familiarity of a chase boat. Himself specifically requested that I devote the boat to him and his modest needs for the regatta. I'm officially the beer-and-sails-boat for Team Linton.
I keep hoping to find a "conchie" in my family history. That's what conscientious objectors were called, mostly with disdain, by their contemporaries in WWI and WWII.
If your religious beliefs or your individual conscious said, "do not pick up arms and fight," you could end up in jail. Or be executed for cowardice and shirking.
St. Maximilan of Tebessa gets the title as first to suffer this punishment for conscience in modern memory. Back 200 CE, hell no he won't go was followed by a prompt beheading. Capital punishment for being unwilling to kill –– oh the irony! –– has only recently receded from the world of modern military regulations.
More proof that we humans aren't actually supportive of outliers from the herd. Or even for folks who exemplify the beliefs we think we hold dearest. Turn the other cheek –– oh no you DON'T.
But so far, I've uncovered garden-variety military ancestors from the start of European settlement in North America: veterans of the Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812. Survivors and victims of the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both WWI and WWII, et cetera. These are folks who gave time, limbs, life in exchange for their country –– of their idea of the country, right?
A few during were batting for the other team in the 1770's; and in the 1860's, I trace slave-owners and abolitionists, North and South, Rebs and Yanks in about an even sprinkle across the family tree. Can't choose your ancestors.
My dad's father, Bompa (for some of the grandchildren it's "Bampa." Weird.) was a genealogy fan. According to my possibly faulty memory, he commissioned a history of the family and then composed his own written narrative about Smiths and Fessendens in that wild northern corner of Pennsylvania.
The writing is 100% the way I remember Bompa: it's careful, arch, correct, and as I recall, all of the ancestors were upright good citizens. For my purposes, it's not much use, as, sadly, the original source material is never cited, and again, as I remember, the professional genealogist's report was lost.
Still, it's a document in and of itself, revealing a certain mid-Century privileged mindset. It's also not terribly accurate (take note, cousins! Bompa's Enoch Smith seems to combine facts from Enoch Jr (1791-1871) and his father Enoch, Sr. (1771-?). Totally understandable, name like Smith.
Anyhow, where are my conchies? Was their unpopular view a one-way ticket out of our family memory or do we simply have none? My best bucking-the-tide guy so far? Aaron Augustus Chase, who seems to have had a steely grip on moral north, as least as regards the mining strikes of his day.
But I'll keep looking.
If never have you ever flipped open the cover of a new book –– or an old one, I'm not judging –– and taken an appreciative sniff, just keep scrolling.
Or give it a try. Page-sniffing is a thing.
I don't know how others turned into readers. The conversion interests me, seeming to divide the world into two groups (yeah, yeah, those who divide the world into groups and those who don't?). A hard binary system of readers and non-readers.
My sister is a reader. She wasn't for a while, and then in around fifth grade, she suddenly was.. I think it was a biography of Miss Harriet Tubman that swallowed her up during –– was it a car trip?
I want to remember the name of the paperback book Freedom Train, but I was a bystander, and this only my recollection. Did she read it over and over? I think she did.
So perhaps when I found a book that worked its wormy magic on me, I was only following her steps.
There I was, awake in a hospital bed, contemplating the small but disgusting remnants of my appendectomy, bored at age 8 as I had never imagined being bored.
It's a signifier of years under my keel that back then I spent 5 days recovering in the hospital. After the first dramatic 18 hours, the novelty of ginger ale, a nurse on call, limitless Jell-O, and four industrial-green walls wore off quickly.
Mrs. Horack, fourth-grade teacher and all-round civilizer of the savages we were, brought a small bouquet and a get-well package of cheerful messages from my erstwhile tormentors and classmates and –– oh joy! –– books from her latest Scholastic order.
A small stack of cheap paperbacks.
There was a Disney movie novelization called The Mystery in Dracula's Castle.
And one of Clifford D. Hicks' Alvin Fernard series –– Alvin Fernard's Secret Code perhaps?
A third that might have been another Disney novelization. I'm not sure. The Parent Trap with movie stills of Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara, maybe? Anyhow, forgettable fiction.
And...tahdah! Walter Farley's The Black Stallion.
The story of Alec, a boy who tames the heroic black stallion. While marooned on a desert isle. And who brings the wild creature home to Queens.
It surprises me a little that –– it appears –– nobody has based an academic dissertation on the works of Mr. Farley. The storytelling was like a barn fire: a smoulder for maybe the first sentence, followed by a five-alarm blaze for 18 chapters. Action! Horses! Danger! A Big Race!
The Black Stallion was published in 1941, the product of a college boy who knew and loved horses (it shows), which means it's had 80+ years to percolate through popular culture. The movie version, thank you Francis Ford Coppola and crew, is gorgeous.
I believe that JRR Tolkien produced the granddaddy of all modern fantasy novels in his Middle Earth (not that there weren't ancestors before then, but still –– not one Dragon, not one Dungeon, not one Song of Fire or Ice but which can trace its ancestry...) Anyhow, I likewise believe that The Black Stallion is, if not the first (hello, Anna Sewell's 1877 masterpiece, Black Beauty, not to mention Smokey the Cowhorse by Will James, which won the Newbery in 1928.) then it's the ideal exemplar of the horse-story.
The Black Stallion went on to sire a whole line of descendants. Not just look-alikes when kid meets horse, kid tames horse, horse and kid win big race, but Walter Farley wrote close to 20 sequels, and a son continues to produce new books in the series.
ANYHOW, I veer from me me me and my experience. The Black Stallion was the book that gave me my first immersive escape from physical surrounds. I dove into the dark and salty ocean with Alec and the Black while their tramp steamer foundered, forgetting about the discomfort an IV needle and the too-tight bedclothes, the scent of infection and Lysol, the hunger and weariness. It was magic.
The experience of reading and immediately re-reading the novel ––the pages of my copy are watermarked and foxed, scarred by tea and littered with petrified toast crumbs –– made me into a reader.
Of course I had pretty specialized taste at first. Researching for this blog sent me to a Pinterest page showing column after column of vintage horse-story books. So many old friends among those covers!
Horses and books, books and horses. Not all my book friends had horses, but a surprising number of friends know this two-pronged hayfork: Mumsie herself of course, and Cousin Shirley (Hiya!), the gang of Jill and Sheryl and Megan, plus Robyn, Jekki, Wendy, Arial, and more.
Decade after decade I crack open a book or swipe the Kindle awake, press the delta of "play" for an audiobook, absolutely certain that I'll be visiting a new world between the covers of one book or another. Right now there are two SF novels beside the bed, the latest Robert Galbraith/Cormoran Strike audiobook on the phone for Mr. Linton and me, and a handful of who knows what options on the Kindle. In fact, I should go update my Goodreads list.
Gentle readers, name the book that made you part of this strange clan. Or say what book you're reading now. Or which one bucked you off like rodeo bronc.
You know, talk bookly to me...
If the internet has taught us nothing, it's that there are more random activities to generate human joy than anybody can shake a keyboard at.
It's just a hop, skip, and a jump from hand sewing a pirate shirt to creating cordage from plants, right? A mere matter of, oh, 400 or so centuries into the past.
In prehistory, plain cordage (aka twine, yarn, two-ply thread) was used for snares, nets, for lashing x to y, and, step by step, into fabric. Many plants –– nettles, willow, basswood, berry brambles, burdock, rhubarb, etc., etc. –– grow stringy fibers known as "bast."
It's a thing I missed learning as a kid, though I was fascinated by wildcrafting in general.
The Would-Be Farm has enough bast-on-the-hoof to keep a schoolbus full of crafty cordsfolk busy until the next Ice Age.
And so during this summer's regatta roadtrips, I have been spinning straw into gold. Rapunzel and that patient sister with the enchanted swan siblings? They got nothin' on me.
Wither went I, along came the bundle of dried plant, a glass of water, and piles of chaff. My technique improved with each ell.
Regardless the state of the world, and the awful things that are going bump in the daytime, the Would-Be Farm is full of urgent and pleasant chores.
It's the first thing on my spring chore list: Clear trail. Which means cutting up fallen logs (both emerald ash borer and something that might be pine beetles are burning through the woods).
Much farther down the list, but equally important for navigating is to locate the two critical culverts in the big field. Because nobody likes to slip into the ditch.
The grass is more than 4 feet tall in places, so there's an element of fun and danger in scouting the way in the 4WD mule.
There's other tidying to do, like sweeping up pollen and other detritus at the –– still critter-proof! –– gazebo in the woods.
And installations! Last December, my favorite skipper constructed two bat houses and a barred owl nesting box for me.
It wasn't chinchy to get this first one mounted on a 20-foot pole and then –– like the mother of all mast-stepping moments –– raising the pole upright and settled into its post-hole, but the result is magnificent.
We hope the bats find it and make it home. The local populations are –– we hear –– rebounding from white-nose-fungal colony collapse.
Sadly, since we are only part-time farmers, and because poultry are not notable for excellent traveling habits, we don't plan on adding chickens to the mix.
Good thing we have good neighbors who could not walk past that stock tank full of tiny chicks this spring at the feed store. And you do have to buy six at a time.
In addition to being unable to resist the charms of chooks, the neighbors have a 6-year-old granddaughter who has nothing more pressing on her to-do list than to hand-tame the chickens. I'm thinking about sewing them (and her) matching tutus.
This summer's largest project hones Jeff's carpentry and patience both. Without the camper trailer to protect, the shed suffered a bit of a breakdown, or possibly a depressive episode of some kind, drooping visibly and listing downhill.
The strategy that seems to work for us (QED, baby!) when this kind of thing occurs in our lives, is to get help, get to work, and find new meaning.
Transforming the shed into a barn has meant shoring up the structure and adding a concrete floor.
Followed by enclosing the space and helping it to a new identity by color.
And when not holding metal panels in place while Mr. Linton does his drill thing, I have about a thousand daffodil bulbs to re-arrange.
I started in 2015 by transplanting "Scrambled Eggs" a fluffy double-flowered daffodil, from where the previous owner of the farm had bedded them by the old farmhouse. I wanted them where I could see them, so I stuck them hither and yon. They are prolific and have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in number.
As some may remember, my sweet mother-in-law and I put in 200 or so jonquil bulbs a few years ago. They too have multiplied and started to crowd one another.
Plus she gave me dozens of bulbs to start in Florida this winter. It's not a kind climate for jonquils, so those bulbs also came to the farm.
I transplanted or replanted maybe 200 bulbs last week. Digging up the plants, feeling for the bulbs amidst the other roots and rocks, removing them feet first through a chunk of turf, then putting each chubby knob back into its own neat divot...I don't know what else will come next spring, but I thoroughly expect to have a glorious crop of flowers.
It's not a fancy camera, but it does allow me to take a very close (if not entirely focused) close-up. It's often a surprise when I put the images onto my laptop to see just what turns up in these photos.
This sweet green plant is a wild garlic (aka "ramp"). I was interested in how the droplet of water holds itself together within the fold of the leaves.
Forget Paris, we'll always have midden.
The Would-Be Farm has at least two separate dump piles full of jetsam. We cleared out a trailor-load this spring, hauling away one and a half broken pot-bellied wood stoves, a white enameled cooking stove (such an eyesore!), miles of metal and wire scrap, and cubic yard after cubic yard of disintegrating plastic junk.
The next layer down revealed a surprising number of unbroken glass items, including this prescient cough medicine bottle.
The former inhabitants of the Would-Be farm were brand loyal to Pepsi and Jim Beam, for long enough for the Pepsi bottles to evolve from one shape to another to another. I suppose they also had diabetes.
It's known as mud season; moving even the 4-wheel-drive mule across a field is a slippery clay adventure in the spring. As each shoe grows its own brick of mud, a person develops a sort of "Big Lick" walking gait. It's part of the inspiration for my rock stepping stones.
Still, looking up, the season also has its crystal-clean moments.
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