Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Addie Connection

My father's brother Uncle Harry married a Norwegian woman from Lake Telemark, NJ named Adelaide before I was born. They lived an interesting life - first in Germany where he worked for the U.S. government in the late 1950's and then as the Press Secretary for a few different congressmen. Later, one of his bosses Barber Conable became President of the World Bank and Uncle Harry traveled the world as his advance man. Uncle Harry, Aunt Addie and my three cousins lived outside Washington, DC for all my life and we would see them a couple times a year when they came to visit Gram. When I was a teenager, they bought a farm in upstate New York not too far from Saratoga where my sisters and I would visit during the summer.

Addie was a beautiful woman with thick, strong hair. She was tall and slender and always looked well put together, almost in a Audrey Hepburn kind of way. Addie was extremely intelligent and probably the first woman I ever knew who was an intellectual. And Addie was a needleworker. At almost every family occasion, she would be knitting. I remember being envious of her kids' beautiful handknit sweaters covered with intricate cables. I loved to watch her knit and she was always encouraging to me, passing on the wise words that "Yes, Kris, you can do this too." I will never forget that. Addie was always extremely kind to me, in her stand-off-ish Norwegian way. When we first began our sheep flock, we named one of our first lambs Adelaide after her. As Addie got older, she developed emphesemia and had to tote around an oxygen tank. She developed a fondness for lavender. She grew it and made woven lavender wands that she carried with her. She said the lavender helped her breathe easier. 

Addie was always interested in history, politics, the arts, and wool and all kinds of textiles. She spent all her summers on their farm in New York - she loved it and the real country life. She loved to "junk" before it was popular and furnished her farmhouse with antiques she bought at local auctions and yard sales. When The Farmer and I got into the sheep business, she was fascinated and once again encouraging. One day I got a call from her, saying she wanted to buy some sheep to help her graze her lawn in NY for the summer. By this time, Addie was using her oxygen tank. The Farmer gave her advice on what kind of sheep to buy and the portable electric fencing she would need. My brother-in-law David, the Dairy Farmer, had a side-line fence business and she struck up a telephone relationship with him. One Saturday she arrived at the farm, oxygen tank in tow, to pick up her fencing. We were up in the woods working and I heard a loud noise. Up the path roared David on his ATV with Aunt Addie and her oxygen tank in tow. I will never forget the site. We all sat around and talked about farming, fencing and sheep. Soon, Addie left the farm with her fence and oxygen tank. She got two sheep that summer and they grazed outside her farmhouse all summer long. I always had the best time in my mind imagining Aunt Addie in her slim pants, beautiful thick gray hair and her oxygen tank moving her fence and sheep around their pastures and lawn. We got letters from her about her sheep that I still have somewhere. 

Addie passed away a few years after her sheep summer. When Uncle Harry was cleaning out her things, he gave me an antique wooden wool winder and some of her lace-making and tatting tools. Every time I stumble upon the tools in my jewelry box, I think of Aunt Addie, the kind words she used to share with me, and her late in life sheep. 

This past fall, The Farmer met another Adelaide at a farmer's market. She grew up in northern Vermont and has lived here in the Valley for over a decade. Her partner Dan and she run a business called Real Pickles in Greenfield. They recently were awarded a national Good Food Award. But Addie is interested in raising sheep. She worked on a sheep ranch in Idaho for a few months. This winter she is helping out with lambing chores and learning along the way. She comes to the barn a couple mornings a week. Last week, I was there too, taking some photos for you. 

Here you can see the greenhouse barn that we use for lambing. It was a beautiful day full of blue sky and cold sunshine. You can see that except for the lambs and ewes in the pens, the sheep are outside. Sheep prefer the outdoors - even in a snowstorm. 

Here's Addie putting an elastic tail band on a day old lamb. 


We use a tool called an "elastrator" and thick green rubber bands. Lambs are born with tails that are about eight inches long. In a couple weeks, the bottom part of the tail will fall off. We do this as a precautionary measure. In the summer, if a sheep has diarrhea or the poop doesn't fall away from the sheep, flies will lay their eggs on the sheep's butt. In a day, the eggs will become maggots and they will eat away the sheep's flesh. We really have to watch this in the summer. A sheep can die in a couple days if the maggots happen and they aren't attended to. Not a pleasant sight to say the least.

After the tail is docked, we spray-paint the sheep with its Mama's number. Green numbers mean the lamb is a twin, blue numbers mean the lamb is a single. The paint wears off as the lamb ages and it will wash out of the wool. Addie also puts eartags in the lamb's ears. Each lamb gets the number of its Mama and it helps to keep everything in a bit of order. Addie is really enjoying working with the lambs. Dan, her partner, isn't so sure about the manure on her boots when she comes home.

So here's the funny thing. I got an e-mail the other day from a woman named India who is a faithful blog-reader. Here's what she wrote:

"Hi Kristin- Would you consider mentioning in your blog Warm Hats Not Hot Heads, the knitters' campaign to restore civility in politics? There's a group on Ravelry and we're also on Facebook. The idea is to knit hats--which embody the concept of every stitch working for the common good--for every member of Congress and every Senator, to illustrate our desire for our representatives to put down the poison pens and take up the business of crafting solutions to the various problems and challenges facing our country. This campaign was begun by your fellow knitbloggers Twinsetellen ( and SpinDyeKnit ( Thank you! India
p.s. Thanks, also, for mentioning Real Pickles a few months ago. My niece, Addie Rose Holland and her partner, Dan Rosenberg, are the people behind the pickles. 

I try to keep the politics out of my blog. It's not something I like to include so I was a little reticent to say yes. But I delved into the website a little more and discovered that this wasn't a political statement as much as a statement that politicians should listen to both sides of the story and perhaps meet in the middle. I promised India I would give the project a shout-out here.

Last night, I listened to the "On-Point Interview" with Tom Ashcroft about knitting. And who do you think was the first caller? It was India! Tom gave her the chance to talk about the Warm Hats Not Hot Heads Project. Awesome. If you didn't get a chance to listen to the show, you can find it here.

I guess I could have said this all shorter.... but it wouldn't have been so much fun for me.... Harry marries Addie and they live outside DC. Arch marries Nancy and I am born. Addie encourages me to knit. I do - and have a career. The Farmer and I get some sheep and name a lamb Adelaide. Aunt Addie buys fence and grazes summer sheep late in her life. I start writing a blog. A young woman named Addie comes to our farm to help out with lambing. A blog-reader named India asks for a a little publicity help with her project Warm Hats Not Hot Heads and happens to be Addie's aunt. I hear India on NPR.

That is my "small world" story of the day. Check out the Warm Hats Not Hot Heads project to sign up here. Good day everyone!


Dianne@sheepdreams said...

How great that your aunt Addie didn't give up on life, but kept learning new things and having new experiences (even with her oxygen tank in tow!). I love that those of us in the fiber world live such connected lives. I just posted yesterday about the Warm Hats, Not Hot Heads project because I'm convinced the knitting community has the power to be a positive influence in such negative times.

Allabitrandom said...

The long version was much more fun! Thanks for sharing!

Martha Saatjian said...

How observant of you to be able to tie these connections of persons in your life together. If we would all foster this skill, we would see that decisions made and words said do influence others and ultimately come back to us. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you explained the WHY of tail docking. When I read your earlier post, I was thinking "that sounds painful and unnecessary." Now I know better! Thank you.

Sallie said...

Interesting and informative blog today. Thank you for taking the long way around the story.

AlisonH said...

Thank you so much for mentioning our project!

And I love your description of your Aunt Addie. She reminds me of my great-aunt Betty, whom I got to see for the last time when she was quite elderly, in a wheelchair, and attached to an oxygen tank too. My cousin's wife was giving a concert and Betty wasn't going to miss it.

I asked her how she was doing, and she declared with an impish grin, "ALIVE, and ready to kick!" Loved it!

gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

Great post! My personal philosophy is there are no coincidences, it is all meant to be.

twinsetellen said...

So many connections! And even more - seeing bloggers who I've read for years in your comments. Thank you so much for mentioning the WHNHH project, but especially for this wonderful tale of people knit together.

KnitNana said...

Thank you so much for mentioning WHNHH - but particularly for the manner in which you mentioned it. I've had some negative feedback about the "we don't do politics" point that you address. And I LOVE your answer to it. (and the rest of your story is really neat, too!)

Lynn said...

Tthis is a most delightful post! I got drawn in as soon as you said "My uncle Harry"...because I have an Uncle Harry who I love dearly (age 92) who I write about on my blog from time to sheep at our house, nor any oxygen tanks, but I FOUND YOU, the other day at our public library. Well, I found your book COLOR and fell in love with the heart baby blanket.
I am trying to do the fair isle knitting, but so far have one very wonky heart square, more hour glass shaped than square, and a second one maybe a tad better???
I will keep trying. I may wind up with a very very wonkyfied heart quilt/blanket but it will be cute for our new to be grandbabygirl.
I am not using wool as it must be practical to be washed often...tell me this though if you will...won't the baby get all tangled up in the loose back strands of yarn? Would it make sense to back the squares with fabric? Wouldn't it be cute if they named the baby Addie? ;-) ♥
I will be your 419th follower!

Cory said...

love the pics. what a wonderful life with those lambies....

Jill said...

Wonderful story snd I agree you tell it so beautifully. Thanks for all the informative links - the npr show was really great. Glad you found some local help for some of the tough lambing work. Sounds like it works for her too!