Monday, May 4, 2009


We're getting into the colonial spirit. A handsome fellow like the one below (shown displaying in front of our house) lost a wing feather and Clem turned it into a quill. To journal with. In the car.
I quail at the thought of Clem writing with a turkey feather and ink in our rental car. The horrible inconvenience of quill pens caused Mike to wonder at the history of the pen.

Any such foray into history always proves fascinating.

(Amusing aside: do the words pen and pencil share their etymology? No. Pen is a truncation of pinna, the Latin word for feather. That makes perfect sense. Pencil on the other hand comes from an Old French word for paintbrush which derives from the Latin word for "tail": penis. )

So, back to the history of the pen. In the 953 the caliph of Egypt was already fed up with feather pens. He wrote:
"We wish to construct a pen which can be used for writing without having recourse to an ink-holder and whose ink will be contained inside it. A person can fill it with ink and write whatever he likes. The writer can put it in his sleeve or anywhere he wishes and it will not stain nor will any drop of ink leak out of it. The ink will flow only when there is an intention to write."

And metal nibs for fountain pens were found in the ruins of Pompeii.

And yet the U.S. patent for a fountain pen was only filed in 1867. And it was not until 1953 that Lazlo Biro, a Hungarian who had fled the Nazis to Britain, filed his patent for a ball point pen. That answers my long held question of why ballpoints are called biros in England.

I had to scrap the idea of camping on our trip. We have too many stops. To get in the rustic spirit I plan to read to the kids each night at bedtime by candlelight.

And we'll occupy ourselves in the car with colonial era handicrafts. I have two small looms for Clem and Greta. And Evelyn will knit. My mom will be with us. We'll get her to crochet.
Ok. I hope you are all sitting down at your computers, because I knitted something. I am an avowed non-knitter no more.

Mike is calling it the $700 Ball because it took me so many hours to make.
To really get in the colonial spirit I should be knitting socks. But I won't. I liked knitting my ball and I think I'll knit a few more. After all, this whole adventure is about having fun with history.
And socks are too hard.


AM said...

Your mom's not crotchety, is she?!

Kat said...

I love your preparations! The ball will be great for those ever so many rest stops. :) Or for hitting the driver if he (she) gets drowsy.

Susan said...

Kat, thanks! I was thinking the same thing. It is so soft they can even toss it around the car without hurting anyone. Unless it makes me swerve off the road!

Kat said...

I'm a little slow. I just read your side bar with all the stops you are making. You are actually making me excited! (Weird I know you don't know me from Adam.) I took a couple of cross country trips with my Dad and brother as a kid and one of them included Christmas Eve in Williamsburg on down the coast to Florida (starting out in Utah and driving in every state possible up and down on the way but that is beside the point.) Another was across the country from Utah up to Toronto & Quebec and down to Boston. The point is I just started reliving my memories and I am very excited for you and your kids. You will have an awesome life changing time I think. :) Anyway, I'll quit babbling now...I really hope you have internet access along the way because I'll be looking for the updates. :)

Stefaneener said...

Yes!!! I can think of nothing more perfect than a quill in a car. Now, if you were traveling using appropriate colonial transportation, it would make more sense, but who cares?

Hooray for your ball!! And you can hit Mike in the head with it for that comment (although I applaud the valuation of your time).

Have so much fun.

Susan said...

Kat, I'm so glad you'll be joining us virtually! Christmas Eve in Williamsburg, wow! Let me know if you think of any things you did on your trip from Williamsburg to Florida or in Boston were so memorable we should make sure to see them.

The impetus for this trip was my 5th grade class trip to Williamsburg. It was such an EVENT. I wanted my kids to see it when they are young enough to really enjoy it.

Susan said...

Stefaneener, our reading has shown just how impossible our trip would be in period transportation.

According to the picture book "Conestoga Wagons" by Richard Ammond the 70 mile trip from Philadelphia to Lancaster, PA took 5 days. Stagecoaches driven hard could do it in a day.

To go from Orlando to Boston in the 37 days we have we'd have to ride 12 hours/day every day. And that presumes the roads all along are good.

I am pleased as punch with the ball...I learned how to increase and decrease and much, much more!

Kristin said...

It's not easy to write with a quill, is it? Susan, I like how you've come up with such great things to occupy the kids on the car ride, but ink in a rental? Sounds dangerous to me too. I can't believe you managed to obtain a quill from such a local source; that puts the slow food movement to shame. I'm excited for you all.

Susan said...

Kristin, thanks for your concern! Not to worry, I am kinda crazy sometimes, but not crazy enough to actually let Clementine wield a quill and open bottle of ink in a rental car.

Why no, she can do it in the hotel room. In the bathtub. With the shower curtain closed. Maybe by candlelight if she insists.

We do love the local source of quills (so attractive, too). When we were house hunting turkey feathers in the backyard made this the only house we looked at that the kids liked.

patricia said...

Thanks for the pen/pencil etymology. Fascinating stuff.

And I love the $700 ball! Maybe you can throw it around the rental car--less dangerous than ink! If you don't want to knit socks on the trip, surely you could try a hat. That would be perfectly colonial. And easy. You'll already have a mentor in the backseat.

gina said...

What fun! We spent Monday at Old Sturbridge Village (a living musuem that focuses on rural life in Massachusetts in 1830's) and now Shaye is determined to visit all of the living musuems in New England over the next few years. :) It was fun and the kids absorbed so much information- as is evident in their play Monday night- today....

The Stone Age Techie said...

Susan, I love your blog!
Have you ever heard of a book called Time Sweep? It is for perhaps ages 8 or 9 and up, about an Australian boy, living in the 1970s (or 80s?), who gets transported through time and space to London, England, and befriends a boy who lives in that city during the 1800s. It is a great read and I mention it because ballpoint pens figure prominently in the book.
I'm looking forward to reading about your trip!

Susan said...

Tricia, the pencil etymology was particularly curious to me in light of a family story. My grandfather, in his late 70s or even 80s, by this time long separated from my grandmother, tipped back a raw oyster, swallowed, and announced, "Puts lead in your pencil!" My father, never one to let a joke pass, even at the expense of his father-in-law, said, "Who are you going to write to?"

Gina, we're going to Sturbridge! Any tips? And the next day we're going to Hancock Shaker Village. Have you been there?

Karen, welcome and thank you! I've really been enjoying your blog. I am going to check out Time Sweep, thanks for the tip.

Hey, anyone heard of a book about a girl who lives in Williamsburg in modern times but thinks its 1775?

Kat said...

You probably have all my favorites on your to do list. But some that stick out in my mind are Mt. Vernon, The Old North Church and Stone Mountain (Georgia)