Monthly Archives: June 2017
Anyone who knows me, knows I am mad about the Outlander series, first the books and now the television series. And not just because of a hunky Scott… Oh shame on you for thinking it… No, it is mostly because I love history, especially Scottish history. I love reading and discovering what everyday life was like, especially for women and especially regarding textile production. It is not by accident I chose the Shetland breed of sheep to raise, or love to listen to Celtic music. I even took up the fiddle at age ten. And choosing to live in a 100 year old house has a special charm to me as I sometimes speak to the ghosts within its walls to ask advise or just enjoy the companionship.
This fascination with fiber began back when I took a weaving class in highschool, at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. My teacher, Betty Johnson has no idea what treasure she brought to me, what world she opened up. It began a quest of self study, that has become my life’s work.
Now to the phenomenon of Outlander… The cool thing about it is that the central character does what I have been trying to do for decades, experience another time, smell the smells, see life through other eyes in another time. That is what learning how to knit and spin, animal husbandry, weaving, embroidery is all about for me, experience the fiber past, but in my own time.
During the colonial period, since England refused to allow colonists to purchase yard goods from any country except England, it became expensive. So many households went into production for themselves and their neighbors, growing flax, raising sheep, and processing the fiber, then creating clothing, bedding, curtains and most of the everyday needs of the household. We don’t know a lot of the details because these tasks were mostly left to the women and children and recording their tasks, how and what they did to contribute was not considered important history. Of course we know it is important. Often the economy of a village was based on bartering of these home produced goods. An excellent book was discovered then formatted with additional information called “A Tale of a Midwife” . One of my favorite books. This diary was discovered in a Maine archive and it chronicled a midwife named Martha in her daily chores of attending to the doctoring of her town and her fiber business she ran with her daughters during the late 1700’s. It was mostly in the form of record keeping, but what a wealth of information! I stumbled upon this book over ten years ago in a little Charlottesville book store during one of my little anniversary weekends with my husband.
So at times, I feel a kindred spirit in Martha. I juggle two careers as well… Instead of midwifery, I am a travel agent, and I own and operate a little fiber business… For my family and community, growing, processing and manufacturing clothing – mostly socks for the family and general public, and baby things for all the new additions my family is experiencing.
And I am like Claire in Outlander, living in a different time, but not needing to fall through stones to do it. And I get to learn and experience a little taste of what so many women before me had done… Keeping their families warm with their skill and their ingenuity and hard, yet satisfying work.
I have been seeing a repetitive post on Facebook that you click on to see when you will retire. It struck me that the notion of retirement means that one wants to stop what they are doing at some point. So maybe if I am doing what I love, retirement is either not necessary, or I am retired. And if I am retired, then there is a lot of stuff to do to keep me busy… Not the idea most would have about retirement. But that is farming.
In days when this country was more agrural, the notion of retirement did not exist. It was not until after World War II that the term come into the mainstream, and something we all aspired to. Probably not a coincidence that office work was on the rise. I was one of those folks with an office job in a high rise building.. In a cubicle… And I felt my soul utterly dying a slow death every day. I kept myself motivated by saving my money and reading about farming and business ideas. The thought of spending the majority of my working life, and in essence my life, in an office working for someone else dictating my schedule, just a waste of a life, or at least not conducive to a meaningful life.
It is hard to describe my journey to where I am now, and too tedious to go into at length. The essence of it is that I did trust the journey and trusted my guides. And each stage was a learning platform, even that dull office job at a trucking company. So here I have landed, a shepherd and a yarn producer… And yes, a travel agent for large corporations I can do from my home, that provides me the needed steady income. But it is the farm that provides the most challenge, the most energy, the most problem solving skills, the most time. Some days after inoculating and hoof trimming or working on the garden, or shoveling rabbit manure into the compost pile, or fence mending, or assisting in shearing and wool sorting…. covered in grime and sweat…that I ask myself… Is this what I wanted?
I compare how I feel after those tough farm days to taking 80 customer service calls in canned air sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen all day and my answer is, hell yeah!!! I am in control of my days, I keep my body moving in the outdoors in all kinds of weather, I feel alive, not slowly dying. And the rewards of building something, a farm and a business is invigorating. And it is scary…and there are problems to solve… And there are sad days… Yet always lessons to be learned in those tough days to store in my arsenal of farm knowledge. But I keep coming back to the notion about feeling alive.
Now the tasks do mount, and I am in the throws of learning I can’t do it all. It does take a tole on my body, and mental state. So during this last year, I am delegating and paying some folks to get some problems and chores done, as dealing with a 100 year old farm house also has its challenges. I am putting my college student son to work on the gardens, I hired some really good guys to fence in my back pasture, and I now have a great house keeping company coming out once a month (woo-hoo!) and those living in my household contribute to paying for the house upkeep.
This allows me to work on the farm business, developing a stellar American Shetland yarn (Hilltop Shetland) that I can produce consistently and reliably and work on marketing it. And producing, on a small scale, an end product for that yarn, our 1910 socks.
And… As a knitter and spinner, I have too may works in progress waiting for me to tackle… Hoping for more time for these, otherwise I would need to put these in my will.
It has been a long journey, and I have a ways to go still… so retire? Why?
I never aspired to stop something, I aspire to do, to create, to grow… And in essence… to live. My grandpa lead busy career in the steel industry. He worked very hard up in Pennsylvania and finally retired to Jeckyl Island Georgia for a life of golf and beach combing. I think he lasted a year, maybe two. Not sure if retirement killed him, he was a smoker… But not sure if he thrived. He was a doer by nature, and in fact was always looking to do, to feel productive. I share that compulsion.
So, as I look at my farm to do list, and decide what I will tackle on the day God calls the day of rest, I figure that I don’t have time to die… Too much to do.. to much smelling fresh air while I do it, too much hearing birdsong and frog croaking, to much feeding and tending to my fiber animals. And at the end of the day, might take a dip into my God tended swimming hole, that spring fed pond at the bottom of my hill, that adds to my view in my workplace. I will float to the middle and take stock of my blessings in this world. My thought will be that heaven has a lot to measure up to, as there is nothing like having an 8 acre pond to yourself except for the fish, frogs, turtles, and geese.. And yes, an annoying beaver. Too much to do, and yes also enjoy to leave the planet anytime soon. So I guess I am foregoing the notion of retirement..what is there to retire from?