Weave Creative Expression into Your Well-Lived Life

In a simple life well lived, the pursuit of art and craft within one’s life is an important element of peace and happiness. And the long dark evenings of late winter lend themselves to this pursuit. Working with your hands to make something beautiful and useful for your home can be extremely satisfying.

At Cow Hill Cottage, I weave rugs. I have been weaving traditional rag rugs for about five years. I find the weaving process to be both creative in design and color as well as technical in the loom’s setup, treading, and maintenance.

I began my weaving journey with a visit to a woman rug weaver who is a member of the plain community here in the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania. She gave me some basic insight into the weaving process and direction as to where to find a suitable loom, including in the want ads in local and national plain community publications. Within a few weeks, I answered an ad, and the loom I have today was found just a few miles from my home.

The loom is a Weavers Delight, four-harness, semi-automatic fly shuttle loom that was built in January 1945 by the Newcome Loom Company of Davenport, Iowa, and was shipped to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be used by the Society for the Blind. At some point in the 1960s, the loom was sold to a member of the plain community in Belleville, Pennsylvania. Over the years, it was used by various members of the Amish and Mennonite communities and now resides in my weaving studio working as well as it did in 1945. I researched the history of the loom based on a single serial number stamped on the wood frame, and with it, I contacted a woman who maintains the records for the Newcome Loom Company. She also maintains a small manufacturing operation that her husband had run that makes replacement parts for the loom.

The semi-automatic portion of the loom allows the weaver to change the harnesses and throw the shuttle from side to side using the beater bar. This allows for slightly enhanced levels of production over traditional hand-weaving techniques. Many weavers used this slight improvement in production in their home-based rug-weaving business. They wove rugs of their own creation or allowed members of the community to provide their rag strips that the weaver then made into practical, long-wearing throw rugs for the home, charging for the weaving on an hourly basis.

Community members often prepared the rag strips at what is known here in Central Pennsylvania as a frolic or work party. Friends and neighbors would gather to help cut strips of cloth from worn household linens and clothing and sew them into long strips. The long strips of cloth would be sorted by color and texture, assuring an attractive rug, and wound into softball or larger sized balls of rags that can often, even today, be found at country auctions and antique shops. Also, these balls of rug rags are often mentioned in the historical record of bridal dowries, indicating their importance to the foundation of a household. The weaver would use these mismatched bundles of rags to weave what is known as the Hit & Miss pattern that allowed the weaver to vary the different cloth strips within the same rug resulting in a multicolored and pleasing-to-the-eye result.

For my rag rugs, I use new cotton fabric, as the old-time process of cutting, sewing, and sorting the various linens and clothing costs more in time than the cost of new material. I cut the cloth into strips of various widths as required by my designs.

What inspires me to continue with this age-old craft is the almost unlimited results that weaving allows for when it comes to colors and patterns. Also, the actual weaving process is very meditative and allows one to become almost lost within the process. I find that when I make an item that is both practical and an artistic expression, it adds joy to daily life.

Often, when I say I weave and make rugs, many are surprised by my involvement as a man. But traditions show that weaving was a meaningful way for the head of a household to make a living. Although women could spin fiber into thread, only men could use the loom, and this convention was enforced through the use of laws and the powerful influence of the guilds that flourished in the old country. Within my community, a strong history of male weavers exists, and only within the past 30 years or so has rug weaving been taken up by women. Even today, when I speak with local weavers or families that have a rug-weaving tradition, they often talk of fathers and grandfathers who did the weaving, with the women of the family producing the cloth strips that supplied the rug-making endeavors. Although I do not subscribe to limiting the craft of weaving to men, I am proud of my involvement and the revival of a male perspective within the craft.

I encourage each of you to explore and find a creative endeavor that is of interest to you. Not only will it bring joy and happiness to your life, but it will also help to preserve the traditional arts and crafts that the modern world has pushed to the very limits of extinction. These age-old skills cannot be left to die out but require our attention to bring them back to our shared experience.

I look forward to hearing stories about your artistic pursuits and encourage your comments below.

Three Traditional Favorites: Potato Candy, Chocolate Fudge, and Good Wishes

The cold and damp weather hanging over Cow Hill Cottage this past week has kept me close to the warmth of the kitchen stove and the crackle of the fire in the living room hearth. As I pondered my progress with Christmas holiday preparations, a flood of memories transported me back to my childhood. And, with fondness, I contemplated the ghosts of my Christmases past, although I realize that these nostalgic memories are no doubt fogged by a youthful perspective and the dimming effects of time.

Central to my holiday memories are the rich assortment of holiday foods and treats that both grandmothers, as well as my mother, prepared each year for our family’s enjoyment. Familiar aromas, like ham and turkey roasting or endless batches of cookies being pulled from the oven, fill the house and can still transport me back when I notice their presence in the air.

Among my many favorite holiday treats I wish to share with you are two recipes that, in my mind, are central to an enjoyable Christmas season.

The first, Potato Candy, was made by both of my grandmothers, Anna Kelly VanScyoc and Ada Pheasant Ewing. The genesis of this simple but delicious confection has been attributed to both an old-country recipe brought over by Scottish and Irish Immigrants that settled throughout the Appalachian Mountains and a frugality required of those who survived the hardships of the Great Depression due to this recipe’s affordable ingredients. No matter which story (or both) you subscribe to, this candy will stir the childhood memories of many and will, no doubt, become a holiday tradition in your home as it has in mine.

The second is a beloved Fudge recipe that Anna Kelly VanScyoc was known for, and her daughter (my mother) continues the tradition during the holiday season by giving away many batches to family and friends. This recipe is most likely from the early part of the twentieth century, as it relies heavily on Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Cream as essential ingredients. Its creamy consistency and unrivaled flavor will make it a favorite in your home as well.

Potato Candy

Peel and boil one small waxy-type potato until well done.

Allow to cool, and mash well so that no lumps can be found.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk to the mashed potato, then begin to add confectioners’ sugar a little at a time, kneading until the mixture resembles a smooth pliable dough.

Portion the dough into manageable pieces, and roll out with a rolling pin until approximately 1/8th-inch in thickness, dusting your board and rolling pin with confectioners’ sugar to prevent sticking.

Spread a generous coating of high-quality creamy peanut butter over the rolled dough.

Roll the dough and peanut butter into a log as you would for a jelly roll. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least six hours.

When ready to serve, cut each log into coins.

Note: The vanilla and milk are additions I have made to enhance the recipe, but they were not included in the original form, which only called for sugar, potato, and peanut butter.


1 Pound Confectioners’ Sugar

1/2 Cup Milk

4 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder

1 Tablespoon Vanilla

Mix the above ingredients and bring to a rolling boil for no more than one minute.

Turn off the heat and add the following, beating well:

18 Ounces Peanut Butter

8 Ounces Marshmallow Whip

Pour into an 8 1/2-inch square pan, smooth the top, and allow to cool.

Cut into pieces.


Before I am called away to tend the needs of the cottage fires, I would like to raise a glass to the good health of you and yours and wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best throughout the New Year.

God Bless,

The Peasant Bon Vivant

Come Join Me—Workshops Here and There

A simple life that is well lived means spending time engaged in enriching pursuits that give joy and provide a sense of accomplishment and well-being. My culinary adventures and cultivating the soil give me a sense of accomplishment and connection to the past as I work to master the nuances of traditional food and craft. All of this provides a deep soul-enriching experience so essential to a life well lived—as does meeting interesting people who share in my enthusiasm.

I have always wanted to develop these essential relationships through travel adventures and workshops—to bring like-minded people together as we explore the rich tapestry of life and the creativeness that makes up the warp and weft of that tapestry. That’s why I invite you to join me!

Travel Adventures
This fall, I will begin to offer day trips to local farms, wineries, brewers, and cooks. These trips will be intimate with no more than 10 guests at a time. I will also be planning trips to the larger urban areas of our state for us to experience the diverse products and purveyors at the Philadelphia Italian Market, Reading Terminal Market, and the Strip District of Pittsburgh. As we build both enthusiasm and a base of interested participants, I plan to offer longer trips to Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Hudson River Valley, and New England.

In the near future, look for workshops that will bring together creative people to experience and explore traditional crafts, foraging, cooking, and gardening. These events will feature talented guest speakers and instructors and will allow for many hands-on activities as well as opportunities to develop relationships through shared meals and conversation; exploration of local makers, purveyors, and markets; and time to explore nature through leisurely walks, picnics, and other outdoor activities.

Again, I invite you to join me as we share knowledge and experiences and enrich relationships. I look forward to meeting many of you as we travel the back roads and byways of this great land. Stay tuned for updates and information. I promise I will not keep you waiting for too long.