Category Archives: History

Spring has … sprung?

You wouldn’t know it from first glance at our front yard. We didn’t get to do our final fall lawn cleanup because our first snow came early here in Boston, so there’s quite a mess awaiting me this month. By late March, we usually have a few croci but I have yet to see one poke up through the ground.

Or maybe I’m avoiding looking at the mess in our border gardens!

This winter kicked my butt, mentally and physically. I was sick most of March and still don’t feel like I have my energy back. That said, I’ve managed to get quite a bit of craft work done while recuperating and hiding out from the snow.

My big project of the season was mastering the tailored shirt:

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

 

Both shirts were created in Pam Howard’s excellent Craftsy class, The Classic Tailored Shirt, which I highly recommend if you have any interest in making (or wearing) custom tailored clothing. One of my strange fascinations is with men’s tailoring … I can spend hours watching YouTube videos about old Sicilian tailors or the future of Savile Row. When my husband and I honeymooned in Italy, I swear I was more excited about his getting a custom tailored jacket in Milan than he was.

A hand-tailored shirt can run into hundreds of dollars, and there’s usually a minimum order, which means unless one has thousands of discretionary dollars sitting around in a checking account, this kind of clothing is out of reach of most ordinary folks. I am definitely “ordinary folk,” but I do have some mad sewing skillz, so this winter I decided to master shirt-tailoring. My ultimate goal is to fit and create shirts for my husband’s wardrobe, and my interim goal is to master the details that go into fine shirtmaking by sewing shirts for myself. The pink shirt was my first attempt. It’s made of linen, which was lovely to press and sew, but a bit too ravel-ly for the flat-felled seaming I had to do. The blue shirt is cotton chambray, and I definitely improved on this second attempt. Each shirt took me about a week to complete; I would spend a couple hours each night on one facet of construction, such as cutting fabric, sewing the collar, or felling seams. This schedule worked out great for me as I never felt rushed or tired, and each night I could see my shirt taking shape.

The pattern, btw, is Kwik Sew 3555, view A.

I have been sewing since I was in junior high/middle school, and although I was always enthusiastic about creating clothing, I was never very good at it, simply because I had no patience and wanted to wear what I was making that night. Cue a lot of wiggly seams and ill-fitting attire. The turning point in my sewing career came when I started knitting. See, it can take months to knit one sweater and a week to knit one sock. However, sewing an item of clothing, even when I’m patient and methodical, can take just hours. Sewing feels F-A-S-T to me now, even when I spread those hours out over a week or two.

Still, knitting is my true love, and I’ve been knitting up a storm. Here’s a peek at a sweater I just finished but haven’t properly photographed:

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I’m using notions and trimmings from my stash, so I decided to go with the plaid, which ended up being a great choice for the thistle color of the wool, don’t you think? Very Highlander. 🙂

Some odds and ends … I have been thinking about a blog post entitled “Buying is Not the Only Way to Engage,” written by Samantha at A Gathering of Stitches. This part really struck me:

“Look at your stash. Yes, right now, go look at it, really look at it. Pretty nice,huh? Wouldn’t it feel really good to just pull it out, piece by piece and start using it? What are you saving it for? Don’t buy more, until you use some of what you have! Buying is dangerous. It is a temporary exchange. Once that thing comes home to you, you adapt to it and become de-sensitized to it, and it is no longer as satisfying as you thought it could be.  So you push that button again and buy something else…. A vicious cycle ensues…. “

I am guilty of this kind of behavior, thinking I can’t start a project because I don’t have the right thread or that my creative life would be so much richer with a Juki F600 on my sewing table. Samantha’s post made me realize how much possibility I have already, and it inspired me to get back into my sewing room and work with the riches I already have.

Next — a couple days ago I got a nasty paper cut on my left hand, which has now gone all itchy. I’m convinced I’ve contracted an MRSA superbug and will shortly be losing my hand … okay, I’ll stop with the drama. My research led me to this interesting PBS news report that a medieval treatment of garlic, wine, and cow’s bile can kill MRSA bacteria. Here’s the video: fascinating!

Lastly, are you watching Wolf Hall on PBS? I had a terrible choice Sunday night: Mad Men or Wolf Hall, and I went with Mad Men because I knew I could watch Wolf Hall later on my PBS app. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Tudor history, and as an adult, I’m still a little nerdy about it. I watched the first episode twice, and next Sunday I’ll probably save Mad Men for another night. I’ve read the book, but have yet to read its sequel. On my reading list …

Another goodbye

 

Yesterday we said a sad goodbye to the last our cats, Phoebe (1998-2015). She had been struggling with thyroid issues for the past couple years, so we knew her time with us was coming to an end. I had told myself that when she was having more bad days than good ones, it would be time … and this week was that week. Very sad but she had a good long life and passed away peacefully while getting her ears rubbed. She was in heaven even before she got there. 🙂

I’ve had to euthanize a few pets in my lifetime. It’s a decision I hate making, but a necessary one as I feel suffering is even worse. I would much rather know that my pet died peacefully and without pain, surrounded by people who loved her than … well, the alternatives. We’ll just leave it at that.

Of course, it was sad waking up this morning without an animal to feed, walk, or water for the the first time in 30something years. On the other hand, for the first time in awhile, I did not wake up in the middle of the night needing to puff on my inhaler. When I was a child, I was terribly sensitive to cat dander … by the time I reached my teens, the irritation seemed to disappear. Now my asthma is back full-force and it occurs to me that the allergens that used to bother me — dust, cat dander, dairy products — are back in play. We shall see.

When we were talking to the vet before Phoebe’s passing, he noted that she was polydactyl, that is, double-pawed, and asked us if we were aware that meant she descended from the Mayflower. He said that a double-pawed cat was brought over on the ship and thus double-pawed cats today are all descended from that cat! I did a bit of journalistic research, and while I couldn’t find specific evidence that polydactyl cats descend from one specific Mayflower kitty, I did learn that polydactyl cats were introduced to New England through ships coming from England and they’re more common here than they are in other parts of the U.S. Through my father’s side I descend from a number of Mayflower passengers — I’m something like a 16th or 17th generation New Englander! — so it’s quite fitting that our beloved cat was a real Yankee, too.

 

A trip to Bath

Next month we’ll be hanging a left for our Mt. Washington climb!

Bath City Hall

I just noticed the sticker on this Subaru Outback!

Beautiful ghost sign on the side of this building

This sign reminded me of what signs used to look like when I was a child in the 70s.

Botanica Mittens, unblocked

Last week while my boys were in Houston — Texas in August? No thanks! — I took a short break and drove about three hours north to Bath, Maine. Bath is home to Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that builds battleships, cruisers, and destroyers for the U.S. Navy. What I didn’t know is that Bath is where the first boat the colonists built to make a return trip to England.

But I’ll be honest … I wasn’t in Bath to look at ships or 19th century architecture. I was there for Halcyon Yarn. I’ve always wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip. What I loved about it was while it was a large shop — they have not only handknitting yarn, but plentiful rug, weaving, and spinning departments — it wasn’t totally overwhelming like WEBS in Northampton can be. (My #1 piece of advice to knitters visiting WEBS for the first time … shop off a list or know what projects you’re buying for, otherwise you’ll wander around like a art-sick tourist in Florence. That’s Florence, Italy, not nearby Florence, Massachusetts.)

What I also liked about Halcyon is that the women working there were very helpful and kind. After I made my big yarn purchase (to be revealed in a future post), I needed a tea break so one of the women spent some time pointing out nearby cafes and other places I should visit. Fortified by a pleasant walk and a cup of very hot chai that wasn’t really appropriate given that it was in the mid-80s that day, I returned to the shop for Round Two, where I purchased some yarn I’d been thinking about during my ambles. It was at this time a sample pair of mittens caught my attention — I liked the colors and the picot edging — so I bought the pattern and the minute I got home, commenced knitting.

Two nights later, I had my own pair of Botanica Two-Way Mittens, which look very preppy in green and pinks. The mitten on the right was knitted by following the instructions exactly, by creating the picot edge in the round, which I found rather fussy. So with mitten #2 on the left, I knit the mitten flat until the picot edging was complete, then joined the yarn to knit the rest of the mitten in the round. I also knit this mitten on DPNs. I normally knit in the round on two circulars, but I do have to admit my stranding looks better when I use DPNs. This picture was taken before blocking; after blocking my stitches look so much neater.

I’ll post some pictures of my yarn haul in another post. I told my husband I hemmed and hawed about driving to Maine by myself — I worried about leaving our geriatric cat alone, worried about the car breaking down, worried about…what a wuss I’ve become! — then finally decided to heck with it! I’m going! And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful visit. Next time, however, I’m bringing my boys with me. They can look at ships while I entertain myself with more yarn. 🙂

Last day of June

Hard to believe that July 4 is almost upon us. I must have mentioned before that my absolute favorite holiday of the year is July 4, which puzzles a lot of people, especially those who love Thanksgiving and Christmas with a passion. For me, Independence Day is the perfect holiday — summer foods like salads and fresh veggies are abundant, parades where you get candy thrown at you, bagpipes, floats, sunshine and warmth … what’s not to love? Plus it’s my father’s birthday, so we always have a delicious cake to anticipate. July 4 always seems to be gloriously sunny and warm, unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, which fall at the darkest and most dreary time of year.

This year, O will not be celebrating the 4th with us in Connecticut as we dropped him off at camp yesterday:

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I look so much like my paternal grandmother from the side, it’s scary!

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This is the second time he’s been away to camp, but it’s also the longest — a full week. At this camp, it was the last year where he could go for just a week — next year, when he’s 13, it’s a two-week stay (oh, and I hope he wants to go back. The possibility of two weeks of maternal freedom has me almost giddy!) We were lucky in that his best friend since first grade was able to join him (you can see his friend’s feet in the bottom photo) because O was not at all enthusiastic about camp until L was able to go. But the night before we left and were packing, O seemed pretty excited, and when we arrived he seemed to hit it off with a couple of the other boys in the cabin. We really liked the two counselors assigned to the cabin, one of whom is a World Cup fan. He told O he would keep him informed of all the scores and plays this week; I, on the other hand, am his Wimbledon contact, although he’ll have to wait for my letters to hear how Andy Murray and friends are faring.

When I returned home from dropping him off, my husband predicted I’d be missing O by the end of the evening. He lost. I am enjoying the quiet house immensely! I have, however, already written and posted the world’s most boring letter to O. The nice thing about camp is they don’t allow campers to bring cell phones and iPads — instead, communication with parents it through the mail (or, God forbid, an emergency call by one of the counselors).

The camp is in Connecticut, so I’ll be heading to my parents’ house on the lake Thursday night, spending the 4th with them and celebrating my father’s 75th (!!), then picking the boys up early Saturday morning and bringing them over to Grampa and Grandma’s. O wants L to meet Carolina, my youngest brother’s golden retriever, and show L how he can drive my father’s pontoon boat so Saturday will be a busy day. Let’s hope the glorious weather holds out!

I do have some finished knitting projects to show but it means dragging my dressform outside for good light. I have some interesting thrift shop finds to show you, including a crocheted blanket that I picked up for $5. I’ve also returned to biking on my two-wheeler and this week alone biked 55 miles. On Saturday I did a 30-mile trip to Cambridge and back:

Made it! Charles river, Cambridge

View of the Charles, June 28, 2014

I was beat that night and suffered a nasty headache and sunburn on my lower thighs, but I was proud that I made it, especially since just six months ago I was struggling to stand up without yelping in pain. 🙂

My goal this summer is to re-read all of Jane Austen’s novels. The first I’m tackling is Mansfield Park, which I’m enjoying immensely. I forgot how decisive Austen was in drawing these characters; her touch here was not as deft as say in Pride and Prejudice. Fanny Price’s goodness can be a bit tiresome, but I’m still enjoying the re-read and noticing things I didn’t get the first time around.

Hard to believe Memorial Day is here…

Every time I wanted to post in these past few weeks, my blog was suffering a denial of service attack, which resulted in my service provider having to shut down my WordPress login. But yay, today I could get in so here I am.

Spring here in Boston has been cold and rainy. I’ve even cranked up the heat a couple times; I normally shut off the heat on April 30 and suffer through the occasional chilly day, but this spring has tested my internal thermostat.

We’re heading to Connecticut this holiday weekend. My son is attending summer camp for a week in early July, so we’re going to the open house on Saturday, then spending the rest of the time with my family. Forecast? Rain. Although on Monday it looks like it may be sunny and high 70s.

I’m almost done with my Mind the Gap socks … I’ll probably finish them tonight and photograph them over the weekend. Any time I’ve been caught knitting in public, someone always comments on how colorful they are. One benefit about living in New England is that people tend to mind their own business and comment only when they have something nice to say. Only once did someone speak disparagingly to me about “some older lady” knitting in public (at a school graduation). He didn’t realize that I was the one who had been knitting, and when he figured it out, he looked chagrined … probably more about insinuating I was an “older lady” than anything else. 😉

Last night while I was whirling my way down the foot of my Mind the Gap sock, I watched a BBC documentary running on PBS about Queen Victoria and her children. I studied the Victorian era in college (history/literature/politics), but the extent of my knowledge of Queen Victoria’s private life is that she was devastated by the loss of her husband, she spent almost all her reign mourning for him, and that her children were married off to various branches of the family in Europe. I did NOT know what an overbearing and needy mother she was until I watched the show and some of her letters were read aloud. She even mocked the looks of some of her children and in one letter wished that the Prince of Wales would die before she did because he was such a disappointment as a future king. (He ended up being quite a good king, despite his playboy reputation as a youth.)

It made me contrast Victoria with the present queen, Elizabeth. They reigned under different circumstances (the British Empire no longer exists, Elizabeth has had the support of her husband), but I wonder if in 100 years, Elizabeth will outshine Victoria in history? I think so. Unlike Victoria, she has accepted if not embraced change and kept the monarchy relevant for the majority of her subjects.

OK, enough rambling. Off to knit. Knock wood, I’ll be able to get back to you with a picture of my finished socks. 🙂 Have a nice long weekend if you’re stateside!

Thistle stole

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(Photos posted with kind permission of Mary Scott Huff)

Like most knitters on Ravelry, I am constantly adding patterns to my queue. The problem is there’s not enough time in the world to knit everything I would like to knit.

But now and then, a pattern comes along that stops me in my tracks, and I tell myself, “I must knit that NOW. If I get to my deathbed without having knit that, I will enter the afterlife with a very unhappy soul.”

Thistle by Mary Scott Huff is one of those soul-stirring patterns for me.

Huff is one of my favorite knitting designers, so it’s not really a surprise that I fell in love with this gorgeous stole. She specializes in colorwork, and her patterns are stunning. I’m pretty sure the pattern for Wedding Belle in her book The New Stranded Colorwork got me back into knitting.

What I love about the stole of all stoles: obviously the colors–the bright green edging, the multi-shades of purple. But that it has thistles, the national flower of Scotland, made it irresistible to my Anglophile sensibilities.

Huff writes in the pattern headnotes, “Legend has it that during the King Haakon’s Viking invasion of Scotland, the Norsemen tried to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness, the invaders removed their footwear. As they crept barefoot, they came across an area of ground covered in thistles and one of Haakon’s men unfortunately stood on one. Shrieking out in pain, he alerted the Clansmen to the advancing enemy. The Scots then defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Largs, saving Scotland from invasion. The important role the thistle played was recognized, and it was chosen as Scotland’s national emblem.”

And while I’m not a huge fan of tassels, here they work. My stole shall have tassels, too.

I have to wait until January to begin this project as I have so much holiday knitting/sewing to plow through in December. I’ve sent my mother a picture of the pattern, and I’m sure I’ll be getting a gift certificate for yarn in return. My mother is such an enabler; I, on the other hand, encourage her! 😉 Meanwhile, I continue knitting up my Christmas gift list of cowls, boot socks, and hot water bottle covers and dream of Thistle.

If you’re a redhead, we’re related

ginger hair

 

There’s no question I’m a carrier of the redhead gene: my hair is auburn, my brother has carrot red hair, my paternal grandmother and her siblings all had red hair, and their Scottish grandfather certainly looks as though he could be a redhead in pictures. And while my father has dark hair, his facial hair, when it grows, is bright red!

My husband’s family, however, was a mystery, but when I popped out a redhead, it became evident my husband was a gene carrier for red hair. (Since the redhead gene is recessive, both parents must be carriers for its expression.) Since O was born, I’ve found out that my husband’s ancestors hail from Yorkshire in northern England, where red hair is fairly common.

I just read about a DNA test from ScotlandsDNA that will tell you if you carry the red hair gene. They say every person who carries the recessive gene is a direct descendant of the first person to ever have red hair. Which means my husband and I are distantly related, I guess. 😉 Six to 18 million people in the U.S. have red hair, more than any other country on earth, and there are more gene carriers here, too. I guess that’s a good thing since people here don’t seem to mind red hair as much as they do in other countries, where redheads are often bullied. I know my brother hated people commenting on his hair all the time (“Hey big red!” or “Where’d you get that hair?”) but that was the extent of it. O was a strawberry blonde when he was younger, but now it has gotten darker and more red. People don’t call him “Red” or anything like that … they mostly tell me they wish they could get that color out of a bottle.

And boy, so do I!

Additional reading here.

The Great British Sewing Bee

Dropping in briefly here to say if you live stateside/Canada, have you checked out the new series running on BBC2 in the UK called “The Great British Sewing Bee”? I found the first episode on YouTube; the second will be airing tonight so fingers crossed we’ll be able to keep up with the show. I like it a lot! The judges are firm, but kind, and I love that the clothes are “wearable,” unlike the fashions that are designed and sewn on Project Runway. Let’s just say that Nina Garcia’s definition of wearable is far different from mine. 😉

I was very sad to hear of Margaret Thatcher’s passing yesterday. I actually saw her briefly, once, during a trip to London. I happened to be at 10 Downing Street when she was getting into her car to fly up to Manchester after the Kegworth air disaster (I just looked up the date; it must have been January 9, 1989 as that’s when she gave a speech about it). I remember her hair being more red than I thought it was and she waved at the small group of us tourists as her car passed. That is it.

Today I saw my first snake of the season, a 2′ long garter snake sunning itself in the path of my bike. I am so proud of myself for not freaking out and driving off the path and into the ditch. I calmly navigated around the little fellow, then stopped my bike to look at him. No pictures, sadly … I was afraid to turn my back on the beast. 😉

English king’s remains found

One of my favorite Shakespeare plays is Richard III. One of the few lines of Shakespearean drama I can remember years after college is the king’s dying cry on Bosworth Field: “A horse, A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Scholars have long searched for this medieval king’s remains, and today the University of Leicester, along with the Richard III Society and the Leicester City Council announced that remains excavated from underneath a city parking lot are indeed the remains of the last English king killed in battle. Mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton was matched to a Canadian man who is a direct descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York.

The video above explains how the remains were discovered. A friary once stood in place of the city parking lot. The king’s body was rumored to be buried in the choir area of the church. Since researchers knew the geography of the former church, once they started digging and found location markers, they were able to figure out where the choir would be. Luckily, the rumors were accurate! One thing I’ve never thought about is how often archaeological remains are found and we never know much about the person they once were. In this case — what a story!

My long-lost Scottish grandfather

Before O was born I got sucked into researching my family, thanks to my mother, who used to spend her weekends researching our Norwegian ancestors at the LDS library near her home in Connecticut. Since my mother’s side of the family was covered, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about my father’s family. When I was in my early teens, my paternal grandmother shared many stories about her childhood, replete with servants and one nanny whom she adored. She had some framed photographs of my great-grandmother, a beautiful blonde-haired society girl named Lulu. One of the photos was of Lulu’s enormous wedding party, dressed in their Edwardian finery. It was definitely not a budget affair.

While certainly not poor when I knew her, my grandmother wasn’t living with servants like she did as a child, so once I asked what happened to all the money. The distant look in her face faded away and she said, “My father lost it all.” She seemed annoyed by my question, so I dropped it. Knowing that my grandmother was born in 1918, I assumed the family fortune disappeared in the Market Crash of 1929. Further questioning on my part was fruitless. No one in the family wanted to talk about my grandmother’s father; my own father knew very little and, in fact, had never met him. All he could offer was that his grandfather had died “downstate.” My father is a Vermonter, so anything south of him is “downstate,” including Brattleboro, the Everglades, and South America.

I got a few more clues from my great aunt and great uncle in the late 1990s. My great-grandfather’s name was John “Jack” Forrest and he’d worked as an executive for Remington Typewriter. That was enough to get me started. I eventually found out his full name was John Prescott Forrest, and he was the youngest child of a prominent Canadian minister and scholar, the Reverend John Forrest. Rev. Forrest was president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served until shortly before his death in 1920. His wife, Annie Prescott Duff, had come from an equally prominent Canadian family; her father, William Duff, was a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister like her husband.

The only thing I knew about Reverend Forrest’s parentage was that his father, Alexander Forrest, was an M.D./surgeon and Scottish immigrant. Back in the late 1990s and early 00s, I spent hours scouring microfiche and computer screens at the New England Historic Genealogical Society searching for info on Dr. Forrest, but to no avail. The older members of my family were interested in my research and gave me as many clues as they could, but eventually I had to put the research aside and focus on other projects — one being the birth of my son in 2001. Since then, my great aunt and great uncle passed away, taking with them any last clues. Or so I thought …

Fast forward to last week. Every now and then I type my gr-gr-grandfather’s name into Google to see what pops up. I was surprised when one of the top hits was a blog that had mentioned his name. My mouth just about dropped open when I started reading the blog and figured out that one of my cousins, C–, had gotten into genealogy and done an enormous amount of research on the family. I quickly added a comment to one of the blog posts and within minutes he e-mailed me.

If you’re at all interested in the Forrest family of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I urge you to check out C–‘s well-researched blog — I don’t want to repeat what he’s written there. Today I just want to talk about my gr-gr-gr-grandfather Alexander Forrest, the Scottish surgeon.

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Some months ago I blogged about a movie called Burke and Hare starring Simon Pegg, a film based on the true story of two Irish graverobbers who murdered and sold their victims’ bodies to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. (Cadavers were hard for doctors to obtain, so they often relied on unscrupulous sorts to get them the bodies they needed for dissection and study.) I speculated that Dr. Forrest was probably studying medicine in Scotland about the time of the West Port murders, although I suspected he studied in Glasgow. C’s research confirmed that Dr. Forrest studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1823 to 1825. However, he then went on to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1826, and obtained  his medical license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in December of 1827, the same year Burke and Hare started selling bodies to the University. Yikes, I was closer than I thought!

Dr. Forrest opened a private practice soon after graduation, and also served in the Royal Navy, before marrying my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Barbara Ross McKenzie (a Highlander!) and leaving Scotland for Nova Scotia around 1832.

It’s fascinating to learn that my ancestors played parts in history. Now I have a (tenuous!) family connection to an unsavory crime that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act in Britain, which provided legal access to human cadavers for medical study. I have family who fought in the Revolutionary War, others who were chased out of Boston for being British sympathizers, a gr-gr-grandfather shot and killed by Irish nationalists, a cousin who was the American ambassador to Germany shortly before Hitler grabbed power (letters reveal he was not impressed with Adolf), and a gr-grandfather who was friends with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The stuff you find out just by digging around! I’m so happy to learn more about my Scottish ancestry, since I already know quite a bit about my British, Irish, and Scandinavian family. How about your family? Any historic connections or wild factoids?