Jensen Tall Castle ISO New Home!

Dear Internet,

Hi! I’m a double treadle 24″ Jensen “Space Saver” tall castle wheel with finials (sometimes called half-spokes). I was lovingly made by Jerry Jensen in 2001, from cherry wood with a walnut stain. I’m signed and numbered — JMJ No 5, 10/24/2001.

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My specs:

24″ drive wheel Space Saver,24″ x 16″ x 52″, orifice 25″ from floor, double drive and scotch tension, double treadle, ratios 9:1, 10:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1. I come with 2 bobbins, and can run double drive, Scotch tension, or Irish tension.

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If you were looking for me new, I’d run $1750 and the wait would be 6-12 months from the date of order.

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I have spent my life living with, and being maintained by, professional spinning teachers!

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I can be yours for $1400 plus actual shipping via UPS (or you can pick me up in Lebanon, Ohio). Interested? Just email abby@abbysyarns.com.

Should I Buy This Used Spinning Wheel? (video)

Thinking about buying a used spinning wheel? Doing so can be a great way to save money, but alas, it isn’t always easy to find a used wheel in good condition. If the seller is a spinner, then your odds are pretty good, but sadly, people who don’t spin can’t necessarily even tell if something actually is a spinning wheel or not. So, if you’re looking for your first wheel, my usual recommendation is to not buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner.

Okay… but what if you really, really want to? That’s where today’s video comes into play. I’ll show you my family’s old great wheel, an antique flax wheel with some issues that aren’t dealbreakers, and a modern wheel in good condition.

“This Is Not Your Grandma’s Knitting”

It’s coming around again, as it has probably for time immemorial — the thing where someone who doesn’t knit discovers that there are people who do knit, and some of them are apparently under the age of 90, and then the next thing we know, someone is writing articles or spouting this line on TV or social media or something:

“This is not your grandmother’s knitting.”

Every time someone says this, picture the knitters of the developed world all crying out in unison as they slam their heads into their keyboards, tablets, smartphones, countertops covered in a newspaper, airplane tray tables beneath a magazine… you get the picture. Seriously. Just imagine us all casting our eyes upwards and beseeching the heavens for some sort of answer as to why THIS of all things is the line we’re saddled with hearing from the news media and our non-yarnish friends.

So I just thought I’d take a moment to say this:

Actually, this IS my grandmother’s knitting.

And these are some of her knitting needles. My uncle was kind enough to give them to me right away when my grandmother passed on last year.

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My grandmother Rachel was a painter, potter, weaver, spinner, dyer, knitter, crocheter, sewer, embroiderer, cook, and countless other things. I cannot remember a time before she put yarn and yarn activities in my hands, and there was never a time growing up when I didn’t have plenty of clothes she made for me, in lots of ways. I have many of them to this day, and certainly, lots of household textiles that she made.

My grandmother was also a woman who spent most of her elder years living in Montana, part of the time fairly rurally. Letters from her often started with lines like “Today I saw a mountain lion and her cub out the kitchen window…” or “While I was gathering clay from the banks of the stream out in back of the house…” or “I had a few weaver friends over today, and we’ll spending next weekend at the mall demonstrating spinning and weaving! I hope we get to teach lots of new people!”

Right now, I’m also looking at what my mother told me had been my grandmother’s “summer house loom” — the small loom she kept for weaving with when spending summers on a remote island in the Great Lakes. She gave the loom to her new son-in-law, my father, in 1970, when he became interested in learning to weave. I should probably note the “small loom” is a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width.

Oh and by the way… the folded up pieces of paper in that photo? Among them are receipts for the interchangeable needle set and add-on parts ordered, and for $70 of yarn in 1983, with a note in her handwriting that says “Family heirloom.”

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma's yard, wearing handknit hats

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma’s yard, wearing handknit hats

So yeah. I’m pretty sure that what I do today IS my grandma’s knitting. In lots of ways, in fact. And of course, it’s also my mother’s knitting.

Chris

Lots of things may not be obvious in this photo of my mother holding a 16th century icon, but the only stuff I really want to point out is that my mother sewed that dress (and had me practice embroidery on part of it), and she spun the yarn for the cabled sweater draped around her neck, which of course she knit. So yeah, it looks like this is also my mother’s knitting.

And actually, it’s my father’s knitting, too. It’s too sad for me to take a picture, but I have a small bag that I sometimes open and look at, and think about the contents. It was the bag in which he carried around his last knitting project, which he didn’t finish. They were gloves he was making for me when he succumbed to the cancer that killed him — colorwork gloves with a reinterpretation of one of my favourite Chinchero weaving patterns.

You know what else? It’s lots of people’s knitting all over the world. They look all kinds of ways and might be anybody. Like these gentlemen knitting while watching a presentation at the 2010 Tinkuy de Tejedores in Urubamba, Peru:

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It’s also my great-grandmother’s knitting, by the way, as I was reminded when that same uncle passed on to me a pair of socks that were knit for him by my great-grandmother in the 1960s. And you know, that brings me to the next major point of peevishness about this whole “not your grandma’s knitting” shtick:

WHAT THE HECK IS THE MATTER WITH YOUR GRANDMA ANYWAY?

Seriously, I know a lot of grandmas, and lots of ‘em are really quite cool. Some of my best friends are grandmas. And just yesterday I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who died while my mother was pregnant with me. I never met her, but I grew up on stories about her, and the ever-diminishing number of my relatives who did know her never seem to run out of those stories.

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women's Suffrage League

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women’s Suffrage League, 100 years ago

College educated, the eldest of 9 kids, a cigar-smoking, bloomer-wearing Suffragist, my great-grandmother is among the reasons I can do stuff today like “vote” and “own property and even a business in my own name,” things that she did AT THE SAME TIME AS SHE WAS KNITTING. Heck, you know what? My grandmother told me she remembered her mother taking her to see Red Sox games when she was a teenager… and both of them knitting on the T. That sure sounds like the knitting scene I know today.

So yeah. Not my grandma’s knitting? All I’ve got to say is, dude, you obviously know neither my grandma, nor her knitting. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t know anyone’s knitting, and the number one indicator that’s the case? It was when you said “this isn’t your grandma’s knitting.”

Next up, perhaps: I’m going to teach a yoga teacher to knit, so we can conclusively speak to the question of whether or not it’s “the new yoga.”

Half Hitch For Low Whorl Spindles (Video)

Years ago, I did a static-image blog post about how to use a half-hitch on a low whorl spindle. Thing is, I did it really quick, after finishing up a dye day, and I was never happy with it for a million reasons, not least among them that my fingertips were stained from dye.

What’s more, over the years, I’ve refined the way I demonstrate the technique — putting on half-hitches quickly using the spindle holding hand, which is advantageous for several reasons. First, it doesn’t matter how much yarn you have between your fiber hand and the spindle — you can maintain tension and put on half-hitches without risk of tangling, especially once combined with being able to wind your yarn up in a butterfly as you spin. Second, it doesn’t take much practice to get very fast with this, partly because you don’t need to look at what you’re doing. Third, well, you don’t need to watch what you’re doing, so that makes it pretty foolproof.

So, with all of those things in mind, I chose to make a video about half-hitches the start of a series of new short technique videos I’ll be posting much more frequently. Without further preamble, then, here it is! I’d love to hear thoughts about videos you’d like to see, by the way — feel free to share them.

Spinner’s Gift Suggestions, 2014

Abby’s Spinning Gift Guide 2014

Do you have a spinner in your life for whom you’d like to buy a gift, but you aren’t sure what he or she would like? I’ve pulled together a list of some favourite items in various price ranges to help, followed by a few tips on shopping for spinners in secret.

UNDER $10

Spinner's Party Tool

The Spinner’s Party Tool from FBN Plastics. Featuring a wraps per inch gauge, angle of twist gauge, and a bottle opener with a keychain ring, this little gadget is incredibly handy. I have several, in various places around the house, my car, and my luggage. Did I mention it’s TSA approved, so I can always measure my yarn AND open my beer, even when I’m on the road? I also keep one hanging from my wheel next to my orifice hook, and one in my spindle bag. $5.

Spinning Wheel Oil Bottle. If you’ve got a wheel, you need oil for it (typical motor oil works great), and you’d rather have it be easy to apply. I really like these Schacht oil bottles because of the long needle tip that lets you get the oil right where you want it. $8-9

UNDER $25:

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Orifice Hooks. These are used pretty constantly with most spinning wheels, and most spinners could stand to have more of these. Sometimes the ones you have go rogue, and there you are, bending a paper clip to handle an emergency — if you don’t have a few extras lying around. Some spinners really like to have beautiful ones. They can be made from wood, glass, all manner of things. $2 and up, with a lot in the $10-20 range.

A Pretty Diz. Used to pull prepared fibers into their final pre-spinning state, dizzes are more of a hit-or-miss gift, but they’re usually inexpensive and fun. Many people make them or repurpose household objects like buttons, but you can also find really pretty ones. If your spinner has a drum carder or combs, this could be a win for a small gift. Prettier, fancier ones cost a bit more. You want smooth (so fibers don’t snag) and durable (because fibers are stronger than you might think). Around $20.

Fiber! Dude, there is so much fiber in this price range. Omigod, is there fiber in this price range. Sadly, it’s hard to say there’s one kind of fiber that makes the perfect gift. So instead, here’s a short list of a few of the folks whose fiber I personally always find delightful, and whose stuff I use in classes.

$25-$100

Spindle Spun Cottons

A Nice Spindle. At this price point, you can buy some really nice spindles! Some of my favourites are:
Bosworth
Greensleeves
Wildcraft
Spindlewood
KCL Woods
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I have never had a spindle I didn’t really, really like (or more likely, desperately adore) from any of these makers. They’re all unique and individual and worth every penny as workhorse tools that are also beautiful. Even if your spinner doesn’t have a major spindle attraction, these are the spindles that, shall we say, I doubt anybody would kick out of bed for eating crackers.

Hand cards — if your spinner has none, then my choices for all-around hand cards are Schacht curved medium or fine, or Strauch fine, including half-size. Every individual spinner will develop his or her own preferences, so the curved or flat question is pretty much unanswerable. Your spinner won’t know until he or she has used them for a while. So don’t overthink it! If you’ve got a spinner who does not have hand cards, it’s time to remedy that. If your spinner does have hand cards, but only one set, see if you can figure out which set and then call a good fiber shop (like one of the ones linked in various places in this article) and ask for advice on what cards should come next.

Books and Videos! There are so many great resources out there now, many of them free — but I still recommend having an extensive library. The hot new release The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith (you can even get a signed copy). If your spinner doesn’t already have it, he or she probably wants it. Here’s a short list of some other books I recommend:

Take a class! It's fun!

Classes! Nothing helps a spinner get more out of whatever they’ve already got than taking some classes. However, sometimes they can be hard to justify for people, and so they make really great gifts. Contact your local (or most local) fiber shop or weaver’s guild to find out what options exist in your area.

$100-200

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Yarn Handling Tools — often overlooked, these tools actually make an enormous difference in the life of a spinner. Eventually, every spinner probably should have a way to make skeins of yarn, a way to hold those skeins to wind them into balls, and a way to easily wind those balls. So, that’s a skein winder or niddy noddy (for making skeins), a swift (for holding skeins), and a ball winder (for, um, winding balls). YES, there exist tools out there that do double duty, but I’m going to tell you the truth: almost none of them do a truly great job, and in the long run, your spinner will probably be happier with great tools that really work reliably for the purposes for which they were made. So here are my faves:
Schacht Niddy Noddy. Like real antique ones, this niddy noddy is extremely lightweight, making it easy to work with when winding skeins. Unlike antique ones, this collapses and folds up small, and can make more than one size skein. $75.
Fricke skeinwinder. I have both a motorized, and non-motorized, version of this winder, equipped with a rotation counter that tracks your revolutions so you know how long your skein is once you’re done winding. These are probably the biggest time savers of any single piece of equipment I own — no exaggeration.
Swift! The umbrella style is terrific and sturdy and usually repairable, unless you get a really chintzy one (they’re out there — if the swift is half the price of most of the others, I would probably give it a pass). You want one that says it can handle 2-yard skeins. You can get them that clamp to a table or surface, that rest on a surface, or that stand on the floor. I have one free-standing and one clamping, because different circumstances call for different things. I’ve been very happy with the decades of hard work I’ve gotten from my Ashford swift and my Glimakra swift. But counter to what I said above regarding multi-tasking tools, I have only had great experiences with the Strauch skeinwinder, so that makes the list as well. One of the things that’s great about the Strauch ones is that you can get table clamps that work even with those newfangled plastic folding tables that have a lip on them — a perpetual irritation for the fiber artist who wants to clamp stuff to stuff!
Ball Winder. I grew up with plastic ball winders that were pretty great, but sometime this century or so I guess the quality really diminished. I think it was 2004 when I went through 3 ball winders in 3 months, and swore off buying the cheap ones, having concluded that for the price of the three cheap ones with broken plastic gears I could have bought one really good one instead. As it happens, I still have that one really good one, which was a Strauch that I initially expected to be overkill for my needs. Turns out it hasn’t been. The other really fabulous one out there is from Nancy’s Knit Knacks — when Nancy says heavy duty, she means it.
Bobbin Winder. My Schacht bobbin winder is my most reliable and dependable. After the skein winder, the bobbin winder is probably my biggest saver of time and money. With it, and an assortment of cheap plastic bobbins, it simply doesn’t matter how many bobbins I have for which spinning wheel.

Combs! Oh, man, where to start with combs? If your spinner has none, then I’d go with either the double-pitch Valkyrie fine hand combs, or St. Blaise combs (designed by master comber and spinning teacher Robin Russo, and made by her husband Pat). These two are actually the ones I use the most, as generalist combs. However, your spinner may have specific wants and needs and if he or she has combs already, there could be another set that are needed in order to perform specific tasks, in which case, refer to the upcoming advice about sneakily finding out what your spinner really wants.

Blending Board. These have been the hot item in fiber prep for the past year or two, and there are lots of designs. I really like the Clemes and Clemes one and the Ashford one, which can sit on your lap but also feature a keel that you can hold between your knees to keep things steady while you play, or set on a table in front of you.

$200-$400

Captive Ring Spindles

This is a tough price range — it represents a price point where you can often find more expensive equipment used in good condition, and where you start to see the most entry-priced higher-end tools and equipment. However, most of the new equipment in this price range doesn’t wow me in terms of fit and finish, durability, and bang for the buck. If this is your budget, I’d put together a bunch of mix and match stuff from lower price ranges, such as a skein winder, swift, ball winder, and bobbin winder. Or a spindle and a lot of fiber. Or lots of extra bobbins for your spinner’s wheel of choice. Or, see if you can get your spinner to divulge a wish for an add-on to his or her wheel, because you can also find a lot of things like that in this price range.

Another good option might be to pick up your spinner a way to use up some of that yarn, and a great option in this price range is a rigid heddle loom with accessories. I’m partial to my Schacht rigid heddle looms because they’re laid out similarly to floor looms, and because of the range of accessories available (one of my faves is the heddle solution that lets you mix and match so you can do a lot of varied things with your warp). One of the great things about giving a spinner a rigid heddle loom is that it’s going to eat up lots of yarn, and it’s easy to mix and match and combine small skeins and leftovers into cohesive finished projects. I realize it’s a whole new slippery slope, but… you never know, you might just want to give your spinner a gentle nudge. You’ll doubtless be repaid in all kinds of new textile goods.

$400-$800

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Now we’re in the entry priced spinning wheel price range! You might want to take a stroll through my article on choosing your first wheel to help you think this one through. The brands I most recommend are Ashford, Lendrum, Louet, Majacraft, and Schacht. My two top picks for wheels in this price range are the Schacht Ladybug and the Lendrum folding wheel, but all the brands I mentioned are dependable, excellent performers, and well-supported. I recommend finding the closest dealer you can for these, so you can get local help and support for the new wheel.

This is also the right price range for a drum carder. Myself personally, I have three — a Strauch, a Pat Green, and a Louet Classic. They all do different things, and it’s really no coincidence that these are the three I have: these are the ones that I’ve kept after working with lots of others. The Strauch is my best all-around, the Pat Green is the best for superfine fibers, and the Louet Classic is the best for more medium and wild and crazy fibers. Find whatever’s in your price range from one of those brands, and you pretty much can’t go wrong. If I could only keep one of these carders, though, it would be the Strauch, based on over a decade of extensive drum carding experience. My top pick for an entry-priced drum carder is the Strauch Petite, based on almost a decade of working with them in classes.

As another thought for this price range, sending (or taking) your favourite spinner to a class (these can be pretty cheap and local, or they can be pricier with national instructors and involve travel), retreat, or fiber festival would be the kind of gift they’ll talk about for years.

$800-$1200

Abby and the Pat Green Supercard

At this price point you can either buy a heavier duty drum carder, a higher-end spinning wheel, or put together a spinner’s studio package. My top picks for spinning wheels in this price range are: Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Rose and Suzie, Louet Julia, Ashford Elizabeth, Lendrum Complete package. My top picks for drum carders are Strauch Finest and Pat Green Blender/Carder.

For a package that will give your spinner pretty much everything he or she really needs, here’s what I’d do. This list is ordered by priority, based on my experience.
– spinning wheel
– skein winder or niddy noddy (go for the skeinwinder if budget allows)
– books and videos
– swift
– bobbin winder
– hand cards
– combs

$1200 and up

Okay, I’m going to talk turkey here: if you’ve got this kind of budget for gifts for the spinner in your life, you probably shouldn’t be taking the word of some stranger on the Internet, even if it’s me. Chances are good that your spinner already has a wish list of things he or she really, really wants, and you’re going to have to get that information somehow.

There’s always coming right out and asking, but if you wanted to be less direct (so you can definitely surprise someone), you might consider contacting the fiber or yarn shop that he or she frequents, and asking if they know your spinner and whether or not there’s anything the folks at the shop think he or she wants or needs. That’s also a way to find out what’s new, what’s hot, and that sort of thing. Your spinner also might be a member of public fiber arts groups online, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest stalking someone on the internet, you might well find that a public forum contains posts where your spinner has outright stated what he or she most wishes they had. It’s been known to happen. Lastly, it’s possibly slower to get answers, but watch your spinner doing what he or she does and see if anything seems slow, cumbersome, or awkward. Then ask if there’s something that solves that. For example, “Hey, that niddy noddy thing seems kinda slow. Is there a faster way?” You’ll probably hear “Oh, yeah, there are skein winders, but they’re $100 and up and I can’t warrant spending that.” And then you’ve broken the ice! Then you can simply say things like “Wow, I had no idea there were so many things like that! Tell me more about some other interesting ones!” and there you go, you’ll probably hear more than you ever imagined.

Cardzilla!

Wrapping Up

Believe it or not, I get asked this question pretty regularly: “If you were going to set someone up with a really awesome spinning studio for the best bang for the buck, what would you get?” As with all things spinning, the answer is really “It depends,” but if this were some sort of game show which I’d win by just handling that question, I’d budget $1500-1700 and go this route:

  • Lendrum DT Complete – $790 OR Schacht Ladybug – $650
  • Fricke Skeinwinder – $142
  • Ashford Umbrella Swift – $145
  • Strauch ball winder – $170
  • Schacht curved hand cards – $85
  • Valkyrie fine double pitch combs – $95
  • Start Spinning by Maggie Casey, book and DVD (about $40) if it’s a brand new spinner
  • 5 pounds of assorted fibers – up to $200

That pretty much does it for this by-price-point gift guide! Please leave your comments and let us know if you have suggestions I’ve missed.

2015 Class List!

The fall teaching schedule is always jam-packed and exciting, and when I get home — usually just before Thanksgiving — I tend to have a huge email backlog from being on the road, and a staggering to-do list that I always expect to complete in the relative lull (well, at least it’s a travel lull) of late November to early January. Topping that to-do list is always “update the class list.”

Throughout the year, I keep notes about the things people ask me to teach, and the things I hear people asking. In November, I do outlines and descriptions and materials workups for the new classes, check out all the details and work out pricing, all that sort of thing. I’m always amazed — even though I should know — at how much longer this takes than I expect! But, I’m done for the year! Huzzah! Here it is.

FranquemontClassesPolicies2015

You can also use this permalink, and it’ll always be the most current class list, so even if I add classes halfway through the year, they’ll be in this list:

http://abbysyarns.com/contact/class-list

It’s a PDF and there’s a ton of information in there! So I figured I’d summarize things a bit. My class list allows for three main ways to hire me to teach for you (although there are always unique considerations and special cases). First, in what I call the “hosted model,” you can hire me and pay my flat daily rate, plus travel and lodging, and then I’ll show up and teach while you promote the event, deal with registrations, and fit things into your pre-existing routine. This usually works out well for guilds, shops, and some festivals and retreats. Second, in what I call the “grassroots model,” you can have me handle registrations and collect an all-inclusive per-student fee, while you find a location where you are, do some on-the-ground logistics and advertising (like arranging for the location and telling your friends). This tends to work out well for informal groups or for a group that doesn’t have a pre-existing structure for holding classes. Third, you can come where I am with a small group, and we can put together a retreat with me at the Golden Lamb, where we’ve held Stringtopia retreat events over the past few years. This can be done either paying me the flat rate to have me deal with the logistics at this end and for you to show up with up to 7 of your friends (more by quote), or it can be made into a grassroots model retreat which I host and handle registrations and so forth.

Spinning For A Purpose at SOAR 2008

The hope behind having three ways to do this is to try to have as many ways as possible to be as accessible as I can be to the widest range of people in the widest range of places. Of course, next year I’m going to finally have developed the online automated quote generator system with date scheduler and a robot that handles everything. I say that every year, but somehow, I never seem to do it. So if you’re interested, just email me — abby at abbysyarns.com — and we can go from there! And if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments for all to see.

Looking forward to seeing lots of you this coming year — and beyond!

Dear Chris

Dear Chris,

A year ago I got up and, looking out the window, realized that the winter’s first snow had fallen overnight. It wasn’t much, but it was on the early side for southwestern Ohio. I thought about how I wasn’t ready for winter, and about how you were probably, at that very moment, waiting for a flight from Lima to Cusco. I wished I was there, and not only because of snow.

I didn’t know then — wouldn’t for another day — that it would be the last day of your life. That the next time I’d see you, you’d be gone.

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, summer 1972

It isn’t fair.

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Yeah, I know. Nobody ever promised fair. But still. I had this amazing mom. And I’m too young for this shit. I expected at least another 25 to 30 years. All your grandmothers and aunts and great-aunts living well into their nineties led me to believe it was a foregone conclusion that you would, too. How come there are people who don’t even *like* their family that get to keep them until old age, and I gotta be in my early 40s and they’re all gone?

Summer 1975

Summer 1975

I don’t know if you ever fully believed it, but all my life I so desperately wanted to measure up not only to you and all the things you were, but to all the things that in hindsight I realize were your hopes for your firstborn little girl.

Do you remember that one recurring nightmare I used to have? The first one — the one that started when I was five. We all got up in the morning in our house in Chinchero, and set out to go to the other side of Antaquillka, to look at a refrigerator. You said if we could have a refrigerator then we could do lots of things with it and it would help everyone in town. Ed said we had to go look at it because who knew if it would really work, and since there weren’t any refrigerators in town it was a big decision.

Well, when we got to the other side of Antaquillka — I’d never have expected it — everything was all pink and white stripes. The sun was high in the sky and all our feet were covered in dust, except Molly, because you and Ed carried her. But as we went downhill, the pink and white stripes gave way to foliage and the only real dust was on the carretera. You could see the tracks where trucks and buses had gone, and would go. And then just inside a mostly-open courtyard, there was the fridge.

You and Ed opened it up, inspected it, checked it over fully. Some sort of discussion of technicalities happened. There were pros and cons. I wasn’t interested in the discussion, really, until Ed said, “Come on over and take a look, Abby. Whatcha think? Will this do the trick?” I straightened right up then, realizing I had to take this seriously and offer an opinion. I walked around the fridge and looked at the back. It had a cord coming out of it, with a plug. I thought it looked like a plug should look, so I walked back around to the front and opened the door. It was a white door, with rounded edges and a big silver metal handle like a lever. I looked inside. There were shelves, and a small silvery box, like a freezer but with no frosty ice around it. It was all empty, and it wasn’t cold inside it, because fridges are a thing you plug in, to electricity. But it looked like it would work. So I closed the door and turned back to tell you guys I thought it looked okay.

You weren’t there, though. I was shocked to see you were out at the road, about to head away to the left. We’d come in from the right. “Wait!” I hollered, and ran to the carretera. Ed had Molly in a kheparina on his back, and you’d unsnapped your down vest and braided your hair. You both laughed, a friendly happy laugh, and I thought, allright, I’ve gotta run and catch up, then. So I did.

By the time my feet hit the road though, you guys were already running down it, ahead of me. I ran after. You kept going, all three of you. Molly turned around and looked back and waved. You kept getting farther away, and you were laughing and smiling, all of you guys. I kept running but I couldn’t catch up. My legs got tired and my breath came ragged and you never stopped to wait, none of you guys. Molly just waved. It wasn’t funny. I was getting left behind and I couldn’t stop getting left behind, and you guys wouldn’t stop either.

Franquemonts, 1977

Franquemonts, 1977

But when I woke up you would be there. You, and Ed and Molly, and you’d hold me and tell me it was okay. Just a dream. Just a bad dream. It’s not true. It isn’t real. And it wasn’t. It was just a bad dream.

Man.

So, it turns out it is real. You guys are all off and gone now and I’m left behind. I feel like I’m left standing in the road, trying to figure out how best to get a fridge from the road somewhere down the other side of Antaquillka, home to Chinchero, through absurd pink and white stripes all over the side of a mountain, without you guys. And then what? That was always the scary part of that dream — and then what? First I got left behind, and you guys knew I got left behind, but you went anyway, so then what was I supposed to do?

That really does sum up the past year. You wouldn’t believe — actually, you know, you would. You always would. You would believe the outrageous was impossible, and in the best possible ways. You believed all chaos was survivable. You believed in the amazing stories, and you just… did the amazing things, and you took all the rest of us along for the ride. I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but I do.

“Motherless children have a hard time, when the mother is gone”

Your brother’s moving closer to us. That’s a great thing, though the sad thing is, of course, that he can do it now your mother’s gone too. I saw her just this April. Her hands were strong and we talked about knitting sweaters. And then a month later she was gone too.

I guess pretty much everyone figures Molly is gone. I know you’d never give up hope. Not even on the hardest hard scenarios. Somewhere you’d always find hope. So I tell myself, well then, I’ll find some hope. The only thing is it’s hard to figure out what to hope for. So I guess every so often I just… hope random things. Like that someday we’ll know for sure. Or maybe that we never know. I don’t know.

It’s all been one blow after another. It’s been a year of bad dreams that stay bad dreams when I wake up, and the whole year, my mother’s been gone. And you know what really sucks about that? (Yes, I see you rolling your eyes because even after I told you the jazz etymology for ‘sucks’ you don’t like it) What really sucks is, I can’t even call you up and just whine about it.

Also, I was at a fantastic concert. It was one of those things that could happen when you’re a mom, and I know you understand. We’d gotten the tickets to send your grandson and his date to see Trombone Shorty, but then it turned out the two of them had a band competition, so his dad and I went instead. But then they played “St. James Infirmary” and I broke down and couldn’t stop crying.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her, whereever she may be…

And the minor tones like funeral bells. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sing that song again myself, if I can’t even hear it played.

You know your book won an award, right? I can’t believe you died without signing a copy of it for me. The very nerve.

Another good thing is I’ve been catching up with a lot of people, and lots of them with each other too — folks from the farm, folks living all over, you know? I like to imagine you’ve seen all that, been there somehow.

I hope that you are resting well, at the bosom of Our Lord of Earthquakes, sleeping beneath the apus, celebrating September 8 with the Virgin in Chinchero. You have earned a rest. You have done so much for so many. And none of us can really quite believe you’re gone, let alone gone a year. Nilda’s having a mass said, this Friday, so everyone can be there.

I wish I could have made this a better letter. I’ve read a lot of old letters you wrote, since you’ve been gone. I’ve read old letters I wrote to you, too. I don’t know what to say about it all, except to say how badly I miss you, although even there, I can’t find the words.

Rest well, and in good company. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of another, and try to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with this fridge I know you’d have wanted to see handled. And someday, who knows when, I hope I’ll see you again. I miss you.

So very much love,

Abby

To Investigative Journalists Everywhere

It’s been a long year. Like, a really really long year. The kind of year I wouldn’t wish on anyone ever, actually — a year that has really tested and tried my ability to stay calm and keep things together. It’s been the kind of year where I’ve stopped thinking “At least this must be as bad as it can get,” and instead started to wonder, every time some new blow lands, what’s coming next and how much more surreal it could possibly get. There remain things about this year which I won’t speak of publicly, but I’ll talk about a few things — things that became public regardless my family’s wishes about if or how such things might become public.

When my little sister disappeared, that was pretty bad. It’s hard enough to just have a loved one missing. But it got harder when we learned her disappearance was classified as being under suspicious circumstances. Then it got harder when my mother, my niece, and I were all asked for DNA samples — not, as my mother put it at the time, because they think that she’s dead, but because the police said it was “routine at this point in such an investigation,” and that obviously, the reason to have DNA samples would be to identify a body.

When my mother died suddenly in Peru, her body found in a hotel, that was covered by the news media in Peru. They’re not really governed by the kind of rules journalists in the US are, I figured, as I read news articles which misspelled her name, and which featured photos — hopefully stock photos — such as a black bodybag thrown haphazardly into the back of a pickup truck. I scrutinized those photos, wondering if that was really her, and concluding it wasn’t, because my mother was not tall and could lay down flat in the bed of a typical Toyota pickup, and that body was too tall. My God, I remember thinking, I have to put out something that people can read that informs them of her death, before things like this spread around the Internet.

The experience of having a lifelong family friend call me from Peru to tell me she found my mother dead? Answering the phone call from the US Embassy a few hours later? Traveling internationally to retrieve my mother’s autopsied body from the third world morgue in which it awaited me? These are all experiences that would challenge anyone’s ability to describe them, let alone endure them. Fortunately for me, I faced those things with the support of not only my family, but the extended community in which I was raised, and mostly, after the immediate flurry of Latin American press had died down.

With my mother dead, many things fell to me — many hard things, most of which remain private: concerns about the wellbeing of immediate family members, my mother’s estate, and all of this on top of being a self-employed small business owner. How to handle these things is not something you can google. There is no “Dummies’ Guide To Handling International Death And Probate With A Missing Beneficiary And Other Major Issues.” I made lists of the things I could identify that needed handling, and set about making phone calls, writing letters, informing lifelong family friends and the entire extended family of where things stood. Of course, it also fell to me to become the main point of contact regarding the investigation into my little sister’s disappearance.

One moment of surreality occurred while I was at the supermarket with my husband, and my cell phone rang. It was the detective leading the investigation, and he was calling to bring me up to speed on where things were. Walking through the aisles and picking up dish detergent and paper towels, I can remember saying, “So after the state crime lab finishes building the DNA profile, what are the next steps?” and “Is the expectation that remains will be found?” I realized a stranger was staring at me. Don’t worry about it, I thought to myself; she probably figures you’re talking about an episode of some crime drama show. “I understand,” I told the detective. “We still can’t really discuss this whole thing widely, so we don’t compromise the investigation.”

These are sentences I don’t think anybody ever imagines they will have cause to utter. Then there are terms you don’t expect to learn in your early forties (unless you’re an estate lawyer, in which case you learned them earlier, in law school, I presume). By the time you have a day in which you discuss DNA evidence and know what “per stirpes” means and that GAL stands for “guardian ad litem” and what that means, and by the time you’ve explained stuff like that to your husband and son, the surrealism has ratcheted up even further.

Then comes a moment when someone asks you how you’re doing. What do you say? To a casual acquaintance you smile and say “I’m good, how are you?” and hope the acquaintance isn’t really asking in earnest. To a close friend you say… what? “I’m doing as well as I think I could be, considering,” was one thing. “I’m in one piece,” has been another. “It’s been hard, and it’s not over yet,” still another. And everyone wants to help but there isn’t really anything anyone can do. I tried to think of things someone could do, and again and again I’d come up short. Again, no guidebook, no checklists, no known etiquette.

There’s nothing that tells you how to think about putting family stuff in boxes because your sister would want it. I thought about those women found in Cleveland after being held captive for ten years. I imagined my sister being found after some such horrible ideal, and what she would want or need. I asked myself over and over, what if she is never found? What if we never know what happened to her? Rationally you know that people endure that, but how will you? How will I? What should I say to someone who was there when my sister and I were babies, toddlers, little girls, teenagers — how do I explain that right now, all we can do is wait for the next steps in the investigation, and face people wondering why I’m not doing something more? How do I not feel let the pain and anger about it all derail me but good?

When complete or relative strangers become involved, in the most well-meaning of ways, then whether they’re really helpful or not, you just express your appreciation. The list of things to be handled is so long you develop new worlds of skill at simply letting go of things that don’t get handled, or are handled poorly, or which someone else handles in their own way. You just put one foot in front of the other, go back to your list, and pick an item from it to see if you can handle it. If you can, you do. If you can’t, you move on to another item. You try to not drop any more balls than can’t be helped. You try to remember to eat healthy and you try to sleep. At least, that’s what I did — except I’d wake up in the middle of the night, often after some strange and perturbing dream, with memories swirling in my head or else plagued by doubt as to whether I’ve done everything right, done everything I could, battered by to-do lists and hopes and fears. It’s June now, and I haven’t slept through the night since November. Every new hair growing in on my head is grey.

My cousin and I are action item people. Something happens, or there’s a question, and she and I are the type to formulate lists of action items and start going through them. So naturally, I’ve talked with her a lot about all of this. The other day, I told her that probably the only thing keeping me from having a nervous breakdown is that I have no idea what the action items are that let that happen. I wouldn’t know where to start. I asked her to run through a checklist for me as to whether or not that was an indicator I was already having a nervous breakdown. We went through the lists and concluded that, sadly, no, I’m still stuck soldiering on. But neither of us said “At least it can’t get worse from here.” We’ve learned it really can. So now, instead, we start wondering at what point Godzilla will rise up from the pond across the road and start smashing his way through the countryside. It doesn’t seem any less plausible than most of what we’ve already faced.

In early May, my grandmother took a sudden and major downturn at the nursing home where she’d resided for many years. This was hard in so many ways. Because of her advanced senility, she no longer really recognized anyone, and had been unable to process that her daughter had died. The time we spent with her was bittersweet — always wonderful just to have those flashes of the amazing woman she had always been, though they’d last a minute or so at best. Her hands were strong the day I last saw her, in late April on my sister’s birthday. We talked about knitting, and spinning, and I handed her my spindle and some silk. I made her a little piece of silk yarn and she wound it through the arms of her walker, stroking it, and saying that it was soft. What was it? she asked several times, and silk, I told her. “I used to knit lots of things,” she said, wistfully. “Like sweaters.” I thought about the hats and sweaters and mittens and so many things she had knit for us all over the years. “I used to knit sweaters for my granddaughters,” she said. “I am your granddaughter,” I told her. “Who is?” she asked, surprised. “You are? Whose granddaughter? Mine? Mine are little. What day of the week is this?” And so it went on, as we sat in the sunshine and shade on the patio of her nursing home. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know her son, my uncle, who had taken me there, who would go see her many times a week.

The diagnosis came in: she had many kinds of cancer, and aggressive treatment did not have a favourable outlook considering her age and mental condition, and it would be painful. They recommended end of life care. My uncle and I agreed. It wasn’t long; she died the Friday before Memorial Day. Now my uncle and I shared the common experience of apparently being the last one left of the family in which we were children.

Unless, of course, my sister were to be found. It has been a long year of hope and despair and fear, on that front. Ever communicative, the detective in charge of the investigation would keep me up to date. There was no reason to believe she was alive, necessarily, except perhaps that she hadn’t been found dead yet, and so I’d think again about women held hostage in basements, women sold into slavery overseas, all kinds of horrible things that could have befallen my sister and what I could do to help her when she’d escape. Because whatever else, my sister was always smart and resilient and able to find a way to survive. She had fantastic survival instincts. If someone were to survive some horror of captivity or something, surely it would be her. Or maybe she’d suffered a memory loss. Maybe she was somewhere not knowing who she was — somewhere thinking, like our grandmother about her knitting, how she had always loved growing plants, wondering what day of the week this was.

How twisted is it, I thought, that a comforting notion is that maybe my sister is being held hostage in a basement? How does one even speak such thoughts aloud without the world thinking you’re crazy? How is this something reassuring I can say to loved ones wondering what we’ve heard about Molly? Is it? Isn’t it? Does it really make me feel better? Should I be saying “My sister is” or “My sister was?” I realized over the past year that I’d gradually, and not really consciously, shifted to saying things about her in ways that avoided that question, like “My sister was always crazy about plants,” instead of “my sister loved plants.”

The word from the detective was that they were close to being able to take next steps in the investigation — more involved search, more involved questioning, different warrants and charges and stuff. He told me a lot of the background, in general terms — which was enough — and with us all understanding, hey, this can’t get spread around everywhere because there’s an ongoing investigation. “What do I tell people when they ask?” I wondered, and the best we could do was “The investigation is ongoing, right now they’re working on a DNA profile at the state crime lab, then there’ll be more things they can proceed with, and that’ll be sometime sooner rather than later.” But the more I heard the more certain I was that I should probably start practicing saying “Molly was my sister” instead of “I am Molly’s sister.”

On Thursday, June 5, I set my cell phone down on the counter and went to do something, then came back to see “MISSED CALL + VOICE MAIL: ALAN HARNETT.” My husband was starting the grill to cook dinner and my son was playing a video game. I listened to the voice mail: there had been developments in Molly’s case, and could I call him back? So I did. I did, and standing on my back deck remembering standing there with Molly when she’d come for Thanksgiving one time, I listened to a story unfold. They had finally gotten to where they had warrants both for a full search of the suspect’s house, and for his arrest for Molly’s homicide. The plan was to bring him in and question him while searching the home.

“Holy shit,” I blurted, then apologized. “It’s okay,” he said, “I’ve heard it before.” He went on to say that they had gone to the suspect’s home that morning to serve those warrants, and unlike times when they’d visited him in the past, he didn’t immediately open the door and speak with them. In fact, he yelled from inside for the police to leave, threatening them. “Holy shit,” I said again. “That’s an understandable response,” the detective told me. He went on to explain that then, after 20 minutes, two teams of two officers forced entry via the front door, and found the suspect barricaded behind a locked bedroom door in the back of the house. He shouted that he was armed and intended to shoot. After some minutes, he emerged carrying a long gun (which is to say a rifle or shotgun — not a handgun, basically) and ran to another room in the house. For 35 minutes the officers followed him as he did this, shouting threats; and then he ran for the back door, at which point one officer hit him with a “less-lethal” rubber baton, which did not stop him. At this point, the suspect raised the long gun to a shooting position towards the officers, who shot and killed him.

“Holy shit,” I said again. “Holy shit.” There was more, lots more. I was shocked.

“Please,” I said, “please tell the officers that my thoughts are with them in what I’m sure is a tremendously difficult time for them. I don’t really know what to say, and I’m not sure what to think, except that I hope they all go home to their families and that my thoughts are with them.”

Nobody wanted things to go this way. And then I realized… “So,” I said, “I… I imagine this will be on the news.”

“Yeah,” the detective told me. “Pretty much any Bay Area news outlet. Shooting at Fair Oaks and Maude. Yeah.”

I thought about how many times I’d been through that intersection when I lived blocks away. I’d looked right at that house. One year there was a pair of shoes hanging from its laces over a traffic light pole next to the homeless shelter next door, and we’d talked with our preschool son almost every time about how those shoes could have ended up there. I thought about my son’s kindergarten and elementary schools, right near there. I tried to picture all this happening, and knew I’d look at the news. But first, I hung up, and explained everything to my husband and son.

The news stories were mercifully brief. Nobody was named. But I knew that was just a matter of time.

I called family. I had a drink, and then I had another one. I sat on my patio and listened to birds singing. It was an absolutely beautiful evening. The lilies were starting to bud and even bloom, some of them.

Suddenly I got three voice mails on the work voice mail. They were all from reporters. I swore. This, then, must be the pond across the road burbling like Godzilla’s about to surface. Then I had a couple of new emails — also from reporters. “I’m not doing shit about this tonight,” I said. “I don’t have any idea if I want to talk to these people or not.” What would they say if I didn’t? Nothing I didn’t know. I went to bed.

I woke in the night, not from dreaming, but just with a sense of malaise. I was wide awake and it all was right there at the surface. Finally I slept again, and woke in the morning, and with my coffee, began to look at my email (more reporters) and the news (with videos even, and I guess I should have realized they wouldn’t know how to pronounce Franquemont). Friday. This was Friday, I told myself. That’s what day of the week it is.

By afternoon, one news organization stood out as having not been rude, manipulative, and horrible. I called them back. They had some questions, but the only ones I really could speak to were the simple facts: when did my sister move to Sunnyvale? When was she last seen? Were the police in contact with you about the investigation? 2000, March of last year, and yes, yes they were. In fact all I really have to say is that our whole family’s hearts go out to the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and others involved in the investigation and difficult events of yesterday. I sent the news network three family photos and told them how to pronounce our name. That night, this story ran.

Kudos to KGO TV for contacting me in a courteous and respectful manner, speaking civilly and without being pushy, for taking time to check names and facts, and for a pretty non-editorialized piece of reporting.

To the rest of you… not so much. Like especially not so much to whoever it was who contacted my previous business partner, with whom I hadn’t spoken in a year, and asked her to contact me and tell me “they think they’re about to find your sister’s body.” Seriously? Talk about manipulative and false. Same to “We just want to tell your sister’s story!” on my voice mail. No you don’t. You have no actual interest in my sister’s story; you want to put grief and heartbreak and stress out there on prurient display. You want someone to break and make exciting TV. Also no points to “We are contacting everyone named Franquemont who we can find any information for,” and “We’re calling every Franquemont in the phone book,” when you just called an unlisted cell phone number.

I think, though, that the Facebook message I woke up to this morning takes the cake. Being of greater conscience than the news media, I have elided the name and contact information.

azenith

Let’s just step through this, shall we?

Let’s start with “I believe you are Molly Franquemont’s relative.” Hey, if you went to the trouble of tracking me down on Facebook, you could also go to the trouble of reading things I’ve posted publicly and figuring out whether or not I’m Molly Franquemont’s relative. Who else did you ask? How widely did you spam this message? Do scores of Franquemonts now have in their Facebook messages this stellar example of media sensitivity and thorough research?

“I’m sorry for all you’ve been through.” Unconvincing; after all, you only THINK I’m Molly’s relative, right?

“As you may have heard – police shot and killed the man Molly was living with and they believe he had something to do with her disappearance.” Yes. Yes, I may have heard that. You know why I may have heard that? Because the police actually did their job — exactly as I came to expect of them when I lived in Sunnyvale, and exactly as they have continued to do, with diligence, respect, and sensitivity even in life and death matters such as this. And one of the things that is their job is sensibly, reasonably, and respectfully keeping family informed. Along with knowing who the family is.

“Wanted to reach out to Molly’s family to find out more about her.. “ Ah, no. That’s what you want me to think you want to do, but it isn’t. You’re not interested in Molly, unless perhaps you discover there are salacious details of her life that you can serve up without concern, at least until the next thing you can imagine might be shocking enough to grab viewers comes along. What are you expecting me to believe you want to know about Molly? Her favourite colour? Was she a cat person or a dog person? You didn’t even google very hard, because I’ve blogged about Molly before and she’s had an interesting life.

“how do you feel knowing the person who may know something is dead?” Ah, here comes the truth. Here comes what you really want, right? You want to pour salt in a wound, or pick scabs to see if things’ll still bleed. I imagine you sent the same Facebook message to the suspect’s family, except saying things like “How do you feel knowing the police shot your apparent relative when he had a BB gun?” Do you have templates that you can draw from to stir up a frenzy on web forums where people rage about the police? What other angles are you working on this?

“Would like to help.” Okay. How? What are you suggesting you can do that is help? When you contacted the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, what help did you offer them?

And more to the point: what help are you offering, RIGHT NOW, to someone whose sister only just disappeared? How do YOU feel about your job and how you do it? Did you ask yourself what impact your messages could have on the recipient, or whether you might be breaking this news to someone who didn’t know it yet, who might be fragile about a loved one’s disappearance? What if Molly were your sister, your mother, or your daughter? How would YOU feel, and what would YOU say?

And the real crux of the matter might be this: do you feel that your questions and approach would give me a sense of confidence that you would treat my sister’s story in a way I’d want to see plastered around the public eye? What would inspire me to trust that you would present my sister, or myself, or our entire family, in a light anyone could find remotely comfortable?

When I started this, I didn’t mean to single you out, and I still don’t, really; it’s just that your messages are such a perfect example of the type of media contact my family has mostly received in the past several days. You might, however, be the only one to come back like this from a non-response:

azenith2

” I saw you saw my note and wanted to reach out again to see if your family members want closure in this case and are holding out hope your loved one is alive..”

I really only have two things to say here. First, are you fucking kidding me? And second, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Now, I realize that technically, that’s only one thing, but I felt it was salient enough to say twice.

(Okay, I got that rhetorical construct from an episode of Red Dwarf, and wouldn’t want it to go uncredited, as that would really be poor form.)

Also, I lied: I have more to say, now that that’s out of the way. It’s this: do you honestly imagine that if law enforcement and judicial authorities feel there is sufficient evidence to issue a warrant for homicide, it isn’t based on some pretty substantial probable cause? Do you really think something like this goes down and the authorities have not been in contact with the next of kin? Because if you do, wow — that sounds like a story that’s really worth digging for. The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t bleed. It won’t potentially break down on camera and allow you to capitalize on the pain and suffering of real human beings. It’s probably not as straightforward to manipulate as some people with whom you interact must be.

I feel for a lot of people. You don’t know them, or have any interest in them. I feel bittersweet relief my mother didn’t live to be plagued by the news media these past few days. I feel for family members who I won’t mention because being hounded won’t help them with their grief and doubt. I feel for the family of the dead suspect. I feel for the officers involved and their families, and for all the authorities who worked hard on this investigation, and who are continuing their search for answers about what happened to my sister, and whose jobs are now that much harder. And you know what? I even feel for you, because I’d hate to have a job that either made me so jaded to basic humanity that I could send such messages and not think twice, or required me to do it no matter how it made me feel.

Most of all I feel for my sister. You didn’t ask, but she always did love plants and green growing things and she had the most amazing green thumb. She was an artist and a person of tremendous sensitivity. Did you know English was actually her third language? That she graduated from middle school in Japan, speaking and reading enough Japanese to do that and withstanding the pressures a gaijin girl faces there? She was smart and funny and she loved so very, very deeply; she worked hard, and she tried hard, and even when she did not succeed she never just quit. She took a lot of hard knocks in her life and she always got back up and kept going. Except apparently this time. And she deserves to be remembered not as a victim, but as a living woman who was a daughter, sister, friend and more. I don’t want to tell you how she ended up down on her luck. I don’t want to tell the world about the demons she faced. I want to tell you that she loved life, and that I miss her, and will always miss her, and that more closure from knowing more won’t change that. I want to tell you about her life and why she changed mine and made me a better, stronger person.

So Molly, this song goes out to you, because I remember you would always sing along with it. Wherever you are, girl, don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing’s gonna be allright.