Day Out at St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market

Approaching the huge St. Jacob's farmer's market

I do enjoy farmer’s markets. I like the variety of great food at good prices, the casual atmosphere, the conversations with the vendors and other shoppers. When the market is outdoors, and the day is sunny and clear, it just gets better. It is an activity I can pace to Nicholas’s speed, and extend or cut short according to his energy level. And how many activities are there where you can take a break whenever you want for a cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll, or a soft drink and a just-grilled Oktoberfest sausage?

We drove to St. Jacobs last Saturday. I was better prepared this time. I had money in small denominations, carrier bags and my packbasket. We found parking by the auction barns, where a crowd of blue-shirted Mennonite men stood, arms folded, watching the animals. We were expecting to meet our friends from up north, also in St. Jacobs for a day trip, so we hurried over to the food court/crafts building and spotted them right away.

Paula, Ella and balloon Tigger

Paula writes her own blog, At Home with Us ( They are a farming family north of Ottawa, and you can find them at the Petawawa Farmer’s Market on Thursdays. They sell farm-raised pork.

The market was very crowded, and there were not as many Plain people there as back in the spring, except for the vendors. I would think they prefer to shop and visit on the Tuesdays and Thursdays the market is open, because Saturday is definitely tourist day. Busloads of people arrived, some of them visitors from other countries. I don’t think I’ve ever been more photographed in one day. We were visibly Plain, and quite the attraction as we walked among the aisles of produce.

A successful shopping day

This is the famous packbasket, which got many comments and questions. (Yes, it is old and Indian made. No, I won’t sell it.) I am wearing the new blue floral stripe dress I made.

A group of young Mennonite girls, between the ages of six and fourteen or thereabouts, had spent some time staring at us as we sat with Paula, her mother and Ella. Finally, three came over and began to speak to us in Deutsch. I haven’t said anything in German since I took a semester of high school German pretty close to forty years ago. Paula hears it more often where she lives, but doesn’t speak it. We got them to switch to rather accented English, and their question was about my beautiful bonnet! When they realized that I was not actually Mennonite, they didn’t quite know what to do. (Although it is a Mennonite bonnet, I purchased it online in the United States – no help to them.) I suppose they went back to Mama and asked her a lot of questions about strange Anglicans who dress Plain. It would help to travel amongst the Amish and Mennonite here if I could speak Deutsch, but aren’t I a little old for learning yet another language?

By the time we had finished shopping, the auction was over, so I wasn’t able to get any photos of the crowd and their buggies. I expect to go back in the fall, when the weather is cooler, the autumn crops are in, and there will be fewer tourists.

Here is the haul, though, back home in the kitchen: those are elderberries which I made into elderberry syrup in preparation for winter colds, melton mowbray pies, and garlic sausage, as well as heaps of assorted vegetables. I am canning in earnest now!

More for Baby

I am just crazy in love with being a (step)grandmother soon. All my girly dress-up instincts come out. While eminently practical in my own garments, I am certain that  babies are meant to be swaddled in little lovelies and carried about like royalty. This pretty much ends when they start walking and talking and making fashion decisions.

flowered dress with blue cap


Why I don’t shop at Wal-mart

I don’t. I did last summer when I absolutely had to, but I haven’t since. except at Christmas.

I didn’t mean to, though. Mother Kay needed to buy a white work shirt for her son. We searched all the other stores for his size, and finally, in desperation, despite it being just a few days before Christmas, we ventured into Walmart, keeping our heads down and sprinting for the men’s shirt department. No, nothing on the peg rack, nothing on the shelves – until I spotted a lone white shirt, tossed into a pile of t-shirts. I grabbed it, checked the size – it was the only one they had, and there was no packaging to be found with it. Obviously, someone had subbed a more expensive shirt in its cello-wrap and dropped this one in a hidden spot. (This is theft, by the way, if you are ever tempted.) “But how will they ring it up?” Kay asked. I steered to customer service/returns where there was just one person in line, while the cashiers were backed up twenty deep. They looked up the price by its stock number on the tag, charged her about $14, and out the door we went, in less than fifteen minutes. I felt like Indiana Jones.

That was the last time I set foot in a Walmart.

I don’t shop at Walmart for the obvious reasons. Almost everything they sell is poor quality, and imported from thrid-world countries where the workers are paid less than a living wage, live in dormitories for years away from their families, and are virtual slaves. They are lured away from their rural villages or city communities by promises of steady work, but they gain nothing.

Most of the stuff at Walmart is pretty close to useless. It doesn’t last long, it is made of nonrecyclable materials and so much of it is no more than ornamental junk. Walmart rides every fad that comes down the pike, until it drops dead under them, and then dumps the stuff they couldn’t sell at a deep discount in landfills.

We don’t need more stuff, and we don’t need useless junk imported at great expense in huge container ships burning lots and lots of oil, polluting as they go.

Packaging is not environmentally friendly; it is designed to make selling quicker and easier, to make the product look better than it is, and to facilitate stocking while preventing theft. Most of the packaging can’t be recycled.

Walmart encourages the poorest to spend their money on stuff that doesn’t last, on food that has no nutritional value, and to desire what they simply can’t afford. Walmart will throw out a few loss-leaders in their brochures eahc week: mac and cheese, 3/$1; tuna, $.70 a can; but the rest of the food and goods are no better priced than the supermarket and are sometimes higher.

Walmart destroys small towns. People spend more money driving to the Walmart than they save, on a presumed economy. Meanwhile, local merchants who charge a little more lose customers to the ‘cheaper” prices at Walmart. Things get put on sale regularly at Walmart, but they are often things no one wanted anyway; people get a sense of triump in finding these supposed bargains, even if they don’t need the merchandise. Eventually, there is no choice but to buy the trash can/wall paint/underwear somewhere else. Every other store has closed.

Walmart doesn’t care if the food and goods they sell are locally produced. They are looking for the best wholesale price, and if a local producer is willing to take a huge cut in profit, they might be able to stock at Walmart – but not likely, if it doesn’t fit the Walmart profile.

Working conditions at Walmart are marginal for their employees. No one makes a good salary even after years of employment. The day is regimented. Employees are part of an international corporate machine.

I do not want to support a corporation that is mostly concerned about profit for a few, while exploiting many.

Baby Things

pink baby dress and pantaloons

I did a lot of sewing this summer, mostly for babies and little girls.

blue baby dress with pink pantaloons

I also cannot seem to photograph stuff on the floor without getting boot tips in the frame. There is such a thing as cropping, but I don’t know how to do it.

fancy blue outfit with cap

This little outfit is embroidered and trimmed with lace. It’s just about the fanciest little dress I’ve ever made. I made several little caps like this to go with outfits.

Abbesses and Abbacies

We’ve recently come across ordained women who are styling themselves “Abbess” as a head of a parish. “Huh?” was our reaction. As ordained women, we are priests, ministers, and pastors. Only those who head an abbey (are elected to an abbacy, and confirmed to the office by a bishop) are abbesses.

Some Roman, Anglican and a very few Lutheran convents are designated as abbacies. The head of that order of women is an abbess, as the male equivalent would be an abbot. The more common title would be Mother Superior. Abbesses, though, had the right to a crozier and a pectoral cross which the head of a convent would not have.

But ordained women seem to balk at the title “Mother.” I don’t understand why. We can’t wait to hear it from the lips of our infants. We greet the first utterance by our children as a wonderful moment. “Mother” is not a negative word. (If your own mother was not a wonderful person, I’m sorry about that. Most of us aren’t as wonderful as we should be.)

“Father” has been an acceptable form of address to a male priest for millenia; I’m not going into the argument about Jesus forbidding anyone being styled Father on earth. His meaning was different, and it’s a subject for another post. It would be acceptable to call an ordained woman “Father”, in a way (and if she finds it acceptable.) It denotes an office and role in the church community, not a gender identity or a biological fact.

I used to be addressed in our small community as “Matuschka,” Slavic for “Little Mother.” I liked it. It seemed appropriate. My Anglican community called me “Pastor” after their Lutheran neighbours and antecedents. Some Anglicans seem to think this belongs exclusively to a bishop, though, but I disagree. I raised sheep, and I had a shepherd’s crook, although it wasn’t a crozier. (God has a sense of humour, but I doubt if He would play such a big joke on me and the Church as to make me a bishop.)

So those of you who are styling yourselves “Abbess” with no abbey behind you: Stop it. This is confusing to ordinary people. You have no authority to do so. “Abbess” is not the equivalent of “Abba,” Aramaic for father. “Amma” is Aramaic for mother. Abbess belongs to those elected and confirmed to that office, a long and arduous journey that few have the fortitude to take.

The Phone Wars

I don’t have to tell you that cellphones are ubiquitous. Everyone has one. Even Amish teenagers and people who live in the African bush have cell phones, and I do not exaggerate. Most of the world has some form of cheap cell phone coverage. Those of us in the so-called developed countries pay dearly for our phone/wireless/internet/televsion connections because we can; mo t of the world can’t and their costs are lower. And someone still makes money.

I’ve been phone free for a while. I use other people’s phones when I need to, but I am not a phone-talker anyway. Now I’ve run into a snag, and a call got missed due to a message phone being out of service, and I had failed to give a backup number. The little call-me/callback  waltz is getting wearing as well. It may be time.

I can get a “stupid” phone for not much money here; I can get pay-as-you-go calling, with no contract. I buy a card, load the minutes on my account, and use them until they are gone. We’ve done this before and it cost about $20 a month for us – the phone was for quick messages to each other and emergencies. (We lived in the woods and had the worst cell phone reception. To call out, I would have to stand on the cab of the truck.)


It is yet another piece of electronics with all its waste and worry; we have our old phone but the battery is several years old and doesn’t hold a charge for more than a day; I don’t want to start the cycle of using up phones again. We had a drawer full a few years ago, along with other outdated and dead electronic devices. We sold the good ones and recycled the bad ones and breathed a sigh of relief. We got off the ni-cad and plastics carousel, and now we will have to get back on.

I knew it was inevitable.

You know what I want? My great-aunt’s old black Bakelite phone, bolted to the wall because it weighed as much as a small child, with $10 a month for basic phone service and 30 cents a month to rent the phone, with the extra charge for long distance only when they used it. It  hissed and crackled, but it never failed. It was good enough for country folk. You could call the doctor or the vet, and distant relatives wrote with a date to call you so you could have a phone visit. It wasn’t pretty, but it sure didn’t rule their lives, and since they had the same phone for decades, it certainly didn’t contribute to the waste cycle.

I don’t mean to sound hopelessly nostalgic, but I am not sure I want to go back into the phone culture.

Food Waste Friday, either a week late or a day early

We`ve had some busy days around here, but despite a refrigerator full of produce (farmer`s markets!) and houseguests, we haven`t had much food waste. Last week a big green pepper went all soft and mushy and slimy in the produce drawer, and earned itself a good scolding before it went into the trash. This week, I had to sort through a large bowl of blueberries (highbush local berries) and pick out about a half-cup of gooey ones. I was afraid that the whole bowl had gone off, but I caught it in time.

The rest of the berries, along with some sliced peaches and strawberries that hadn`t made it into fruit salad, ice cream topping, or cereal bowls, went into a very,very delicious sauce for cheesecake. I put all the fruit, along with the accumulated juices, in a saucepan (it must have been about a quart or so) and added a cup of white wine, about a half cup of sugar, and the juice of half a lemon. I cooked that over medium heat until it came to a boil, and let it simmer until it thickened – no cornstarch necessary. The lemon juice and sugar jelled the natural pectins in the fruit.

At this time of the year, with lots of fresh food around, I check the refrigerator every other day and use anything I think has gotten past ripe. There`s no junk food in the house – we snack on fruit and cheese instead.

The Cost of Plain

A thread came up on facebook about the cost of dressing Plain, in the traditional sense, with Plainers, modest dressers and traditional Quakers chiming in. Is it expensive to dress Plain?

At first I had trouble affording Plain dress, so I modified and adapted my own clothes. This wasn’t hard for me, since I was working clergy, and I had a lot of basic black in modest cut. I bought a few compatible secondhand pieces, but put off cape dresses for several years. While three of my black dresses are still going strong – one is about fifteen years old – some of it wore through, particularly the denim. Denim dresses got made over into aprons, but even they have given up the ghost now. I decided to get cape dresses, and a pattern – a major investment for me. I wanted the dresses and particularly the capes and aprons to see how to make them. I’m glad I did that, because the dressmaking process is a bit complicated, and I’m still in  the midst of it!

My findings: EBay is a good source for secondhand, wellmade and wellkept dresses and caps. It is no more expensive than a city consignment shop, although a little more than expensive than the Sally Ann store. I learned a lot from the pieces I bought.

As to the cost of fabric – well! Here in Canada, a metre of good cotton can cost CAN$10-$15, and a cape dress takes about four metres for me, if the cape and apron match the dress. One solution was to buy a more expensive fabric for the dress, and a lighter weight contrasting fabric for the cape and apron. Remnants can sometimes supply enough fabric for the apron or even both cape and apron, if there’s a couple of metres of the same. Remnants here run about CAN$2 a metre, sometimes less. I unbundle the remnant and examine it before purchasing, so I don’t find a big stain, tear, or join in it when I get home. (If I’m not taking it, I refold and roll it back into its elastic or sleeve. I worked in a fabric store when I was young – the remnant bin was always the bugbear!)

The back racks and bargain rooms of most fabric stores will yield good fruit when alloted enough time. I’ve had to be a bit flexible on what I get – few solids make it to the bargain bin. I’ve bought some prints now, in subtle tones and patterns. Think “Little House.”

In Maine where I used to live, the Amish and Mennonite women would arrive at the discount stores by busloads to buy fabric. A little detective work might find a discounter who buys mill ends or outdated fabric store bolts. In Maine this was Marden’s. I know that most metropolitan areas have such a warehouse discounter, and if a group of friends set a date, they could carpool there and bargain hunt for fabric and notions. (Plain girls day out!) Len’s is the go-to discount fabric store here in Ontario, but Fabricland and Fabricville across eastern Canada have bargain rooms and remnant bins. Certainly don’t overlook the remnants to make waist aprons and bonnets!

For little girls and big girls who aren’t so Plain, a not so great fabric can be improved with an inexpensive trim, making a discount fabric a much better buy. I do this with the children’s clothes I make. It can lengthen a skirt a bit – pillowcase edging, which is often beautiful cutwork, can add an inch or more.

Let me know if you have more ideas on the frugality of simple dress.

Shorn Hair

I get a lot of inquries about cutting one’s hair, especially from women who have sojourned with or joined sects that follow a strict Biblical interpretation of appearance. What is shorn hair? “Shorn” means it is cut close to the scalp, or very short so that the shape of the head shows. “Shorn” is the past tense of “to shear”, and shearing is what we do to sheep. We take off most of the fleece, not quite to the skin, because poor sheep need some protection from the sun and insects; shearing follows the contours of the sheep’s body.

Do we mean when we interpret the admonition from Paul that women should not cut their hair at all? No. Trimming is not shearing. Paul meant that women should have long hair, as a covering when they are naked, and to appear as women and not to try to pass as men. He called for women to honour their feminity by having long hair, revealed only to their husbands, and that they weren’t to cut it so short that they could dispense with covering. Covering protected the hair as well as protecting the modesty of a woman; her hair was not an object of beauty to be admired by all. (And those who think this is ridiculous, that uncovered hair can’t be immodest – well, what do all the product advertisements tell us? That we should have silky, shiny, sexy hair, that men will be attracted to our beautiful uncovered hair and other women will be envious. That sounds immodest and vain to me.)

Must a woman’s hair be uncut? I don’t think we should treat the teaching as a superstition. Some women will need to cut their hair for health or safety reasons. Some women will find their hair easier to care for if the ends are trimmed neatly. I believe the covering is more important than the state of the natural growth of hair underneath, since that is personal and between a woman and her husband. My own hair is uncut, not even trimmed, and past my waist. It is a goodly length of hair. I find it manageable.

I do not cut my hair because this is my personal sacrifice to God, that my hair will be as natural as possible and without any ornamentation. Most women my age cut their hair above their shoulders and colour it. My hair is completely natural, and I am not concerned about the colour or how good it looks. My husband has always been satisfied with this, and prefers the natural look of my long hair to anything styled or coloured. In this way, I am as God made me, without any anxiety as to how others view me. My air is covered in public, and through most of the day in the home.

In Plain dress, uncut hair and headcovering, I have no anxiety about whether my appearance is pleasing.