Monday, June 29, 2009

Our day at the Kutztown Festival

On Saturday, we made our yearly pilgrimage out to Kutztown, PA to visit the folk festival. This was the first day of the event, and the busiest, too. I saw several tour buses and heard a lot of New York accents, so there were people galore. The Mister and I like to go every year, shop some of the vendors, enjoy a nice supper, and see the quilts and farm machinery demonstrations. Also, one of my favorite things is (just indulge me) visiting the petting zoo.

This is the Mister feeding a goat. The goats are a lot of fun, and probably more for us since we don't have any. When people who have goats tell me their stories, it really makes me second guess their cuteness.

The llamas in the petting area are always ill-tempered. Last year one got ready to spit at us, and this year one kept baring its teeth. I don't know what that means, but it didn't look good!

It was a nice day, warm with a lot of sun. One nice thing is that most of the vendors come back every year and are in the exact same place, so if you buy something good that you like one time, you can come back next year and get it again from the same people. There is a stand that sells natural herbals soaps, remedies, health products, and so on that I really like and visit every year. There are also several tents that are set up to serve Dutch meals family-style, and we go to the same one every year. The fare is pretty standard: Ham, Chicken, Mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, shnitz und knepp (apples and dumplings), chow chow, and bread with apple butter and schmeer kase (like cottage cheese).

At one place they do an ox roast, which is interesting to see but doesn't really whet my appetite!

The festival also has one of the largest quilt sales in the country. All of the quilts are made regionally, and I notice that most of them are hand stitched. Every single one of them are outstanding.

This is a picture from inside the quilt barn. It's even more massive that it looks.

Some of the most exceptional quilts are actually awarded prizes and then go to auction. The starting bids are well over a thousand dollars. Seeing all these quilts really makes me want to pick up a needle and get to quilting, though it would be impossible at this time of the year.

Wall hanging- Amish made, I'm certain.

Making apple butter the hard way. Someone has to be stirring this pot at all times.

There were a lot of good demonstrations. Some old-style carpentry building, roof thatching, soap making, and quite a bit of entertainment. Another interesting thing is that it is one of the few places where you can hear the PA Dutch language being spoken outside of an Amish or Old Order Mennonite community, and a lot of the signs are in the language.

It's always a nice day out. If you ever have the chance to go, it's definitely worth the trip. For us, it was a nice break from the endless renovation work and garden chores that take over at this time of year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Mustard Seed: Planted and Grown

...If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matthew 17:20)

Someone gave us a few mustard seeds in an effort to illustrate a point of Scripture. We took them home and I grew them into seedlings, and then they matured into this:

This weekend I cut and cooked them using this recipe. I feared they would taste bitter like collards, but they are actually quite tasty and more closely resemble spinach. You can't imagine how pleasantly surprised the seed giver was when I told them what happened to the two seeds they gave us.

This past weekend we celebrated our niece's third birthday. There was much food (barbecued pork, macaroni and cheese, salads) and a cupcake tower instead of a cake. It was amusing to watch my niece Katie eat the icing tops off of two and a half cup cakes while her mother tried to negotiate with her to eat the cake part. Each time, Katie would agree that she would, and then abandon the cupcake after eating the icing. Also, I'd really appreciate it if someone could explain to me why the greeting card industry insists on making cards for the four and under crowd. And why parents insist that they be bought for their children? Every year I watch toddlers throw the unopened cards, forgotten, on to the floor before tearing in to the wrapped gifts.

It also seems every year I nearly miss the strawberry season. This is partially why we have started growing our own. This year I found it almost impossible to get any within the narrow time frame because the crop has not been very good. Some of the produce stands are bringing them in from elsewhere, and all of the U-picks are closed. At the last minute, someone told me of one stand that might have them for one more day. I went and actually had to wait in line to pay close to five dollars a quart. Of course, I gladly did because it's the only way to taste a true strawberry anymore, unless you've made peace with those hard things shipped in from California, which I hope I never do.

Yesterday when we were taking a walk around my husband's parent's property I saw all of these wild blackberry bushes, thorny messes of them with green and ripening berries. We wouldn't pick them- they are far too bitter and seedy. I ate one last year and it crunched in my mouth. But it brought back many memories of the bushes that grew along the wooded area where we lived when I was a child. All of the children loved eating the fresh berries off of those branches, and they tasted so good. Looking back on it, I have to wonder whether they were really that good. Considering we also thought honeysuckle was a treat, we really weren't all that picky.

On the Table: Barbecued sausage and hamburgers, grilled asparagus and mustard greens, and pistachio pudding pie (which was quick, easy, and made with what I had on hand.)

In the Garden: Peas and spinach are done, and pole beans have been planted. Last night we had a hilarious conversation when I informed the Mister that the packet of bean seeds advised startlingly tall twelve foot stakes for the beans. The Mister's stance was one of having grown "every sort" of pole bean and never having seen one grow twelve feet high. My stance was, well do you think they wrote that on the packet just because? Also, we're already getting some jalapeno peppers. It's a little early for them yet. I like to get the peppers at the same time as tomatoes to can salsa.

As Promised: I love summer and on Monday June 22 I'll have my summer giveaway up! So check back!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Photo Albums: A Rescue Story

Recently, I became aware of two old photo albums from the 1930-1970's being sold (for the second time) that had belonged to a woman named Irene Stauffer. Irene had been a Mennonite school teacher at a mission in Florida, and later a teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite School. She was also a noted genealogist. She never married, and had no children. Her personal photo albums had been sold once at a family auction to an antique dealer, and were on the block again. No one was particularly interested in buying them. The current owner told me that the family just wasn't interested in them, and wasn't into genealogy. He may have been right- I could not find anyone who wanted to claim these albums.

Now, some of my readers know that I have problems understanding how and why personal family photographs show up at yard sales, flea markets, or out by the curb for the trash truck. I truly just don't get it. Maybe it is because some of my ancestors would never have sat for a photograph, and I will never know what they looked like. When this is the case, it makes family pictures just a little more precious.

As I mulled it over in my head again and again, a different explanation started to form. One in which Irene's life was meaningless because she made unconventional choices. She did not marry, did not produce children, and so what? Was her legacy worth far less? It made me sad, and I admit, a bit angry that this has been the fate of this woman's treasured photographs. I had a great aunt myself who lived roughly the same years as Irene, who never married. In a fantastic coincidence, her name was also Irene. And when she passed on, our family wanted every scrap of her treasured papers and pictures. Why wouldn't Irene's great-nieces and nephews feel the same? I kept thinking about those albums, thinking about their uncertain fate, and how unappreciated they were as they changed hands from seller to seller. How no one could see the unique history and experiences that Irene carefully documented, such as pictures of her brothers in a conscientious objector camp in Tampa. And a brother who served in the army during the war. What a shame. Real history.

I don't mean to be so hard on the family. It could be that the very person who will appreciate these is not yet old enough to, or has not yet been born. So I wanted to figure out a way to make these accessible to that next generation.

And so, I bought them. I made up my mind to at least get them off of the market and paid a hefty price, with the plan being to donate them to the Lancaster Menn. Historical Society where they could be preserved in their archives. If they wanted them. Thankfully, they want them very much. They have some books Irene wrote in their collection, and with the economy being the way that it is and them being a non-profit, it was unlikely that they could have purchased them right now.

When I got the albums, a funny thing happened. I thought that I would feel sentimental about the pictures, and see them through the lens of my heart almost as an extended family. But that didn't happen. They looked like unwanted strangers, waiting at a train station for a train that never arrives. They all looked that way except for the pictures of Irene, who was starting to feel strangely familiar and comforting. Was she the black sheep of her family? You and me both, sister.

So before I take these precious pictures over to LMHS, I thought I would share a few with my readers.
I love that there were pictures of dogs throughout the albums. This one was from 1929, and the name was "Rover."

You've heard of Nickel Mines? These four young women were posing on the slag heap in the mines.

Mennonite (and one Amish?) CO's in Florida

Posing with a peacock.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What Do You Do All Day?

Thanks to Beth, for the lovely blog award, which I've posted on the right side down below. This post is for you, fellow librarian, and anyone else who wonders what exactly we do all day. You may be surprised.

When people find out that I am a librarian, it is always amazing to hear their often outdated and usually incorrect assumptions of what they think a librarian does.
“That’s wonderful! You must get to read all the time!”
(Well, no, I have less time for reading than you think. And if I was found reading at work I’d be in trouble because there is so much actual work to be done.)

“Oh, who is your favorite author?”
(Huh? Apparently most people pick a favorite author and read everything that author writes, and that is all. I’ve been working in reverse all this time- I pick stories or subjects that I might find interesting and then I read those. Regardless of who wrote them.)

“Do people still check out books?”
(In droves. Our book circulation increases every year.)

Believe me, you don’t spend a few years working on an advanced degree so that someone will hire you to read books all day. Truthfully, all modern librarians work far more with computers than they do with books. We understand algorithms, database design, and how to find places on the “deep” web that search engines can’t pick up. In short, we know how to find information. That’s not to say books aren’t important, they are. People come to our library for leisure reading, to become better informed, and to find information that is only available in printed form that you can’t find anywhere else. And then there’s the aspect of dealing with the public. Everyone from people with visible mental shortcomings to parents who openly admit that they “…haven’t been in a library in twenty years” who make requests for the obvious, the colossal, or the plain impossible.
Now that you know what a librarian in a public library might do, let me show you what one actually does! Follow me through a typical day at work, which might begin at 9:30 in the morning, if I am working the day shift…s

9:30 Arrive before library opens, drink coffee at desk, check work e-mail. Send book recommendations that I have written to two local newspapers, to be published in their weekly sections. I actually do work with books somewhat more than the average librarian because I specialize in something called Readers' Advisory. But I also check web page content on my library's website, and edit it to keep it current.

10:00 Quickly fill up large, lighted book display as the doors open and crowds swarm in. Believe it or not, some people have been waiting outside in the rain for us to open!

10:15 Spy outdated and worn book on “New Books” shelf. Remove and check for others.

10:30 A friend in working in another department needs help- can I lend a hand sorting through blankets that were donated for the homeless shelter blanket drive?

11:00 Read professional articles which are e-mailed to me daily to keep current on what is happening in the library world, try new online research tools and databases so I am aware of them and can use them when conducting research.

11:15 A volunteer has arrived, do I have anything she could work on? I give her some printed bibliographies to fold.

12:00 Compile web statistics.

12:30 Return phone call.

12:35 Am accosted by man asking if I work here. I do, but am hesitant to admit it as he is wearing mismatched shoes and has hair sticking up in different directions. He also appears frantic and has a request for something that is both so specific and convoluted; one might be able to easily turn his request into a full scale doctoral project. I direct him to a help desk.

12:45 Check e-mail again.

1:00 Lunch!

1:25 Running into the building so as not to be late for my shift.

1:30-5 My shift on the reference desk. The desk is manned by two librarians, and a third in reserve for back up. The reserve librarian quickly disappears, and you wouldn’t blame her. Three phone lines constantly ring while we handle complaints about computer print jobs not printing out, the change machine stealing money, and various situations where the patron insists that a book listed in our catalog is not on the shelf. All the while, I'm trying to read pre-publication reviews of books that will come out months from now and place orders for them.

There is usually at least one comical request (Do you have the book “How to Kill a Mockingbird?”)

There are various homeschoolers in the library this afternoon, which I love to see. Homeschool kids are often the best behaved, and more impressively, they know how to use the library. There is an old man asleep in a chair, and several of our unemployed regulars who are diligently using the computers for job searches. There is one man using a legal database, and another woman tracing her family history. There is a woman insisting that she needs assistance with the copy machine because she is pushing the “copy” button and nothing is coming out. While trying to help the lady with the copier, a man points at some stairs that visibly lead upstairs and asks, “Do these go up?”

At the same time, both phone lines ring and a line starts to form at the desk. Several people need to use computers, and one man sitting at a computer even has his hand raised as if I am a teacher and should come right over to help him. A man who smells like cigarette smoke needs a car repair manual. The smell of him gives me an allergy attack and I try to show him how to use a database between sneezing fits. I receive one ten minute break, which is accepted with the gratefulness one might express if they were to win a free vacation in Hawaii.

By the time five o’clock arrives, I am so exhausted I can hardly put on my coat- but more than ready for the solace of being in my quiet car for the ride home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heirloom Peas

I am so grateful that it is June already. I love the warm weather, the greenery, and the flowers blooming. There is always so much to look forward to in the summer. Things are more open, laid bare, no blankets of snow covering it up. And my bare feet will be permanently dirty until November.

But this post should really be titled "I love a good mystery" because mysteries abound.

First there are the neighbors who were whisked away one night after an enormous black touring bus pulled up in front of their house. A man in a suit stepped out to greet them while a television crew filmed the encounter. Shouts of "Congratulations!" filled that air, as the couple boarded the bus and departed. The next day, their house was cleaned out, furniture with signs that said "FREE TAKE ME" lined the driveway, and a "FOR SALE" sign sat on the front lawn. Now, we have no idea what that was about, but obviously it was BIG.

Then, there is this mysterious package that my cousin has been planning to send me. He said it includes many important family documents and a few other things. What could it possibly contain?

Oh, and less romantic is the dead squirrel I encountered in the front yard this morning. What happened to it? How did it get there? I left a note for the Mister to draw his attention to it. I was hoping he would contact me immediately with a theory for the squirrel's demise, but all he said was that he moved it. Well, better him than me.

In the Garden:
These are the heirloom variety peas we grew, just to see what they are like. They are smaller and crisper than conventional peas, but the sweetest I have ever tasted. Perfect for all the salads we have been enjoying. I don't know how old this variety is, but they could easily be the peas that your great-grandparents grew.

At the logging expo, the Mister took a class on Shiitake mushroom growing. It was something he tried once before, but dropped the ball on. It involves filling a log full of holes with some sort of spore and then sealing it with wax, waiting a year, and then dunking the whole thing in water. We'll see.

In the Kitchen: Lots of fresh salads with lettuce and spinach, and strawberry rhubarb pie. The latter, as Twila pointed out, is almost impossible to pull off with your own garden harvest since rhubarb is done right as strawberries are just starting. But they sure do taste good together. Also, getting ready to can cherries.

Thinking About: Our trip to Ohio next month and what we should see and do. Ideas are welcome! We'll be in Holmes/Wayne/Tusc etc.


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