Wednesday, December 31, 2008


. . . or so the January magazine covers suggest. And that means it's time for me to make my New Year's resolutions. My resolutions are more like plans than goals. After all, I don't want to get into anything that isn't fun!

The first thing I need for this yearly organizational project is a weekly planner, which I use as a sort of diary. My favorite planner for the last four or five years was "Nature's Sketchbook" by Marjolein Bastin published by Hallmark. Last year as I bought the 2008 edition, the Hallmark associate advised me that Hallmark was cutting back on the Marjolein Bastin line. I was disappointed to hear it. The "Nature's Sketchbook" planner was full of lovely sketches and musings and I considered it great value for the money. (I don't always think that of Hallmark goods these days.) But, searching online, I ordered a 2009 Marjolein Bastin "Nature's Journal" published by The Lane Companies. More expensive than its Hallmark counterpart, the Lane edition lacks the volume of sketches and comes with no musings – so I guess it will be up to me to provide my own inspiration.

"I had no idea you were so organized," said Mike. Well, I always try, and it helps me to get busy and avoid the blues in the New Year, but if past years indicate a pattern, I'll lose focus in the spring. Still, I think it's good to take stock – you know, sort of think about what I accomplished over the year just past and what I want to do in 2009. And you're probably glad to hear that I keep my plans to myself. I will say, though, that these winter months will find me planning a spring produce garden -- both here and at the farm.

[The photo was taken of Clinton and Nellie yesterday.] KW

Monday, December 29, 2008


It's over – and I missed it!" lamented a friend. That sentiment expressed so exactly what I had felt for years. I just couldn't seem to hit my stride so that I could both present a wonderful celebration to my family and come through the holidays without an emotional meltdown. And once the extended family Christmas had passed from my experience, I had another adjustment to make.

"We don't like Christmas. We just like to get ready for Christmas," said Hallie some years ago. I fought down some anger at her statement. I felt responsible for failing to make even my daughter understand the importance of holiday traditions. I knew she saw a mother overwrought with taking on too much, then unable to cope, and finally disappointed once again when the celebration failed to meet expectations. But as I thought about her words, I could see that Hallie was right, and there is nothing wrong in perpetually getting ready for Christmas (though I suspect I'm adding a dimension to her words that she didn't mean). I've found that if I treat Christmas less as a destination and more as a work in progress, I get along so much better.

This little "Wonder Book" published in 1952 and titled "Christmas Is Coming" was a favorite of mine when I was little – a favorite of my mother's as well. The story follows a stereotypical family of the day as they celebrate their lovely Christmas. Christmas night, as Bobby and Sally go to bed, they say to one another, "Oh, we can hardly wait till next Christmas." That statement became my mother's mantra.

We had spells of wind and rain today and I understand that Spokane is getting more snow. I wonder what it's like in Moscow -- or wherever you are. We had hoped to get into the farm Friday, but I seriously think it won't happen. It's good we went when we did because we might not get in again until spring.

Today Mike and a helper moved furniture and supplies to the CashTyme location – getting ready for TaxTyme. Funny thing: Mike wore his new flannel shirt purchased last week at Penney's. The helper was wearing the exact same shirt. "J. C. Penney's, right?"

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Yesterday (Sat., 12-27) was a dark and dreary day -- a good day to stay home by the fire. It wasn't so very cold, though, and early morning snow became rain. But -- when we got up this morning, it was 46 degrees and our six inches of snow was already mostly gone. Now the ground is soggy with moisture.

Mike and I finished the last of the Christmas turkey breast for lunch and then went out to renew grocery supplies. First I went to Jo-Ann where I checked out fabrics for the "retro" coat I want to make while Mike went to Costco for business supplies. I'm still in the "thinking about it" phase, so I didn't buy. I also stopped in at the Dollar Tree where all the holiday stuff is half off. "Hurry -- while supplies last," said the sign. But it looked to me like there's still plenty left for all of us.

No special deals at the grocery store. I noted leftover evergreen wreaths and garlands at the front door when in past years those sell out -- it seems to me. And who would want them now, I asked myself. I passed on the bananas and the pork chops but bought chicken for dinner (we eat a lot of poultry, remember) and snack supplies for New Year's.

Mike has our charcoal grill ready and will barbecue our chicken. Ah! such is winter in our valley! KW

Friday, December 26, 2008


"The tumult and the shouting dies,"
The families with their gifts depart;
Now comes the yearly sacrifice,
Taking the Christmas tree apart.
Removing the lovely decorations --
Taking down the outside lights;
Finding places to store the new things --
How dull the scene will be tonight!

But lovely memories linger on --
The Holy Family in its Creche;
The dear old Christmas carols sung --
The hope for better years of Grace.
Then once again we'll gather 'round
To celebrate the Christ Child's birth.
And say in heartfelt unison --
"To men of good will -- Peace on Earth!"

I found this poem amongst the memorabilia that has come to me, typed on a small piece of paper. All I know about it is that it came to me through my Aunt Ethel and the first line is a quote from Rudyard Kipling. (Not all questions can be answered through online searches.)

Having adjusted over the years to a quieter celebration, we had a lovely time. Nick and Hallie arrived the evening of the 23rd. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we visited friends in the neighborhood where Nick and Hallie were able to resolve a few pending computer issues. Our friends (who are great-grandparents) related that they had been the beneficiaries of a "random act of kindness." The husband went to Costco to buy a pumpkin pie, and as he headed for the check-out, a shopper behind him called to him -- "Sir, sir! I'm buying that pie for you." She would not take no for an answer and sent him through the checkstand ahead of her so that she could pay for the pie and send him on his way. Leaving our friends, we said to ourselves that we would remember this visit as a highlight of this Christmas.

After turkey sandwiches for lunch, we headed out again -- this time to the Bernina shop where Hallie bought Foot #37 (1/4-inch patchwork foot), which was on my Christmas list. She said she thought we should patronize the local shop. The friendly clerk there told us that she had been busy enough to make it worthwhile to be open that day, which was good to hear. We also walked through the shopping center where I found a decorative topper for our gift to Hallie -- a vanilla jar candle. It's hard to give Hallie anything. She lives in 600 square feet and wants nothing. And when I offer to get her clothes, she tells me how much money remains on the gift certificates from Macy's and Nordstrom's that she has earned at work.

Christmas Day I mentioned to Hallie that one of my goals for 2009 was to get an iPod. When she saw that I was serious, she began downloading our CDs to iTunes, and this morning the four of us went to Wal-Mart where Mike and I selected and purchased our iPod. I hope I learn this new technology -- just like I hope to learn to use the camera, my organ, my sewing machine, and the car -- my New Year's resolutions.

Hallie and Nick left today forenoon to see Nick's mother in Connell, WA. So, it's just the two of us again. It was a good holiday, we have things to look forward to, and I'm ready to get on with it. KW

Wednesday, December 24, 2008



Hang up the baby's stocking,

Be sure you don't forget,

The dear little dimpled darling

Has never seen Christmas yet.

But I've told her about it

And she opened her big, bright eyes,

I'm sure she understands it,

She looked so funny and wise.

But look at the baby's stocking!

Why anything so small

For such a darling baby

Would just hold nothing at all!

I know what I'll do for baby,

I've thought of the very best plan!

I'll borrow a stocking from Grandma

The longest that ever I can.

And you'll hang it by mine, dear Mother,

Right here in the corner so,

And write a letter to Santa

And fasten it onto the toe.

Write: "This is the baby's stocking

That hangs in the corner here,

You've never seen her, Santa,

For she only came this year.

But she's just the blessedest baby,

And now before you go,

Just fill her stocking with goodies

From the top clean down to the toe.

My Aunt Ethel, my dad's sister, sent this poem to me the year Milo was born (1977). She wrote: "This little song has been in the Dobson family for as long as I can remember and was sung to each baby who had just entered the family circle. I remember we sang it to Vance (my dad) and Shirley (the youngest), and I feel sure it was also sung to me." An online search revealed the original poem was written by Emily Huntington Miller and published as sheet music by Oliver Ditson and Company in 1870. The words are a little different than those Aunt Ethel wrote from memory. KW


Here I sit with my cup of "Sleepy Time" tea. There's a freshly-baked mystery pecan pie on the counter and the aroma of a turkey breast roasting in the oven. The house is straighter and cleaner than it's been in a while. A new teddy bear awaits his stuffing and his face. Packages are wrapped and sitting next to the curio cabinet, the closest thing we have to a tree. A few candles flicker here and there. A cheerful fire burns in the little stove. I'll bet you're thinking I'm going to mention carols. No, it's a football game. Hallie called a while ago; she and Nick will arrive about 9:00. Despite the snowy weather, despite the fact we won't be going to the farmhouse, she and Nick decided to come to this little house to share food, gifts, and a few games of Mexican Train or Scrabble.

And here they are! They say they had no travel difficulties. Nellie is excited and springs to her duties as official greeter. Now there are more gifts "under" the curio cabinet, and Hallie presents me with a gift card that promises a trip to the Bernina shop. Then before bed, she took my laptop and conversed with HP International with the result that she resolved a quirky problem. Before I fell asleep, I listened to a holiday drama from 1950 on the radio. KW

Monday, December 22, 2008


Back in the day, on a certain December weekend, my sister Nina would arrive at our Orofino house to bake and decorate holiday cookies with Mother. Mother baked traditional spritz and shortbread cookies as well as a "delicate" rolled sugar cookie. As Mother creamed the shortening and sugar, she would say, "Just look at that! Isn't it beautiful?" (And let me tell you, you just don't get that same effect when you substitute applesauce for the shortening.) Mother worked laboriously to press the spritz dough through the cookie press. Nina and I would decorate the wreaths and canes with bits of red and green cherries or "red hots." The shortbread dough was rolled, cut into diamond shapes, the edges of which were carefully crimped and the centers decorated with candied cherry bits. We also mixed sugar cookies, rolled and cut the dough into shapes, then decorated them with frosting, colored sugar, "red hots," etc. Mother and Nina spent hours decorating the sugar cookies with colored frosting, adding outlines and ruffles. Even then I thought it was way too much work on something you're just going to eat. (Martha Stewart I am not!)

Still, Christmas in my own home meant duplicating my mother's traditional cookies. I tried for a while, but when I became a working mother I could just no longer keep up. The cut-out cookies were most important to me so that's where I placed my efforts. And finally, even those disappeared from my Christmas "must do" list. The cookie cutters and my cookie shooter are carefully stored in the back of the cupboard above my refrigerator.

Oddly, I love the cookie magazines that appear during the holidays. I used to buy one or two such issues, finding the same basic recipes year after year. Finally I took a solemn oath not to buy another cookie magazine and I've stuck to it. "You can find plenty of recipes online," I tell myself when tempted. "Or, you could look at some of the magazines you already have."

REAL TIME UPDATE: Hallie called from Seattle this afternoon. "How much snow do you have?" she asked. Mike corroborated my answer – six inches. She and Nick are considering whether they should try to come for Christmas in the midst of winter weather. She's going to check road reports and call us later.

[The top photo is of the kitchen corner of the Orofino house in the late 1950s. Seems like we always had snow in winter and plenty of it. The bottom pictures were taken today. To the right, Mike walks along the driveway he shoveled.] KW

Sunday, December 21, 2008


"People don't eat like they used to," my hairdresser explained. "We'll have banana bread Christmas morning. People just don't eat such rich holiday food any more."

"My mother used to make me carry loaves of fruitcake she had baked to homes all over our neighborhood," a church member reminisced. "Folks were always really nice to me when I delivered the fruitcake, but I hated to do it. I didn't think the fruitcake tasted too good."

My mother was a true lover of fruitcake and believe me – she worked hard at the process of making it. In the fall, she would buy the candied fruit at a supermarket in Lewiston because it wasn't available in Orofino. Sometimes she would candy her own fruit, especially the pineapple. Her fruitcake recipe was more fruit than batter – just enough batter to hold the fruit together. Early in November she would bake the fruitcake so that it had time to "age" before the holidays. The baking process involved lining the pans – four of them – with brown paper, and she did that with her usual precision. To serve the cake, she would slice it thinly and arrange on a plate. She especially enjoyed holding her slice up to the light; she liked to see the light shine through the colored fruit – like stained glass.

I don't bake fruitcake. My concession to fruitcake is an old Farm Journal recipe called "fruitcake squares." On the same order as "magic bars" or "hello dolly bars," you start with melted butter and sprinkle graham cracker crumbs, then coconut, then fruit and nuts, then pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the top. I use radiant mix but also raisins and dates. The other day I added some candied fruit to banana bread. KW

Saturday, December 20, 2008


My mother loved to make divinity during the holidays. As Hallie grew, she became a fine helper, lending her strong arm to the stirring process.

"So," Hallie reminisced, "I was describing divinity to Nick. You take sugar and add corn syrup, which means you mix sugar with sugar, and then you cook it. Then you beat the egg whites and while still beating you add the hot syrupy sugar to the stiff egg whites very slowly. It's disgusting when you think of it. It's just sugar and egg white!" So, now that she's thought that through, I guess we won't be making divinity any more. Still, egg white confections are difficult. When the divinity turned out right, we were proud of it.

Back in the day, Mother would fill the dining room table with her divinity batches – plain, nut, seafoam, cherry. Then something happened. The mix wasn't coming out right and the little mounds just flattened right out into discs. It was Nina who figured it out. The folks had changed egg suppliers and the eggs were huge! "Look at the size of these eggs," she said; "those eggs are twice the size of the ones I buy at the grocery store. No wonder it's not working! It's too much egg white." Even so, Mother was reticent to experiment and possibly waste ingredients. Nina finally convinced her to try a small batch treating the white of one "jumbo egg" as if it were the whites of two eggs. That batch was a success and we were back in business.

We don't have photos of those divinity batches. It never occurred to us to take such pictures and if it had, Mother would have said no. Camera use was reserved for special occasions due to the expense of film and processing. But I've posted a couple of photos of the dining room at our Orofino house. Top: Joni with back to camera; Dorothy (my mother); Nina; Charles (or Chuck); Vance (my dad); and Kathy (me). I don't know the occasion or who took the photo -- early 1950s. Lower photo is of my dad lighting some homemade candles prior to Christmas Eve supper in 1956. Note that the dining room has received an update. KW

Friday, December 19, 2008


SPOILER ALERT: The following may reveal controversial information about Santa Claus.

My mother (Dorothy) had a wonderful imagination. Fairies, elves, and Santa Claus were indulged at her house. But – truth and reality were also important to her. I don't remember ever believing that Santa was a person with a home at the North Pole. There was always a little doubt in my mind. So one day, when I was quite small, I asked Mother if Santa Claus was real. She answered me in very serious tones. "Santa Claus is the spirit of giving that lives in each one of us," she said. "And don't ever say there is no Santa Claus." We went round and round for a while until finally I got the picture: We were going to have a wonderful time believing in Santa Claus.

When I was a child, we did not hang our stockings for Santa. Instead, the stockings were laid out in the big bedroom upstairs, and elves would gather there to help fill them. I was still very small when Mother gave me some trinket that I was to put in a stocking. She took me by the hand and led me into the big room just cluttered with Christmas wrappings and ribbons. She showed me the right stocking and had me drop the trinket – whatever it was – into it. Years later she told me she had done that so I would understand how the stockings were stuffed even though we were pretending Santa Claus came.

One year Monica Nunan, my niece, pointed out that people are supposed to hang their empty stockings for Santa. She thought we should comply. Adults – and by that time I was one – were startled. How would we manage? Well, it worked out great. For years the "cousin group" would hang their stockings, then retire to the kitchen to write a letter to Santa and fill a plate with cookies for him. Then, they agreed to go upstairs to bed and stay there – but they mostly had a good time talking into the night. KW

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Just before Christmas in 1947 Vance Dobson and I were married, and he began decorating outside. And that grew, too. Others were decorating, too, and various organizations encouraged lighting and this, too, grew. Vance made shapes, wreaths, and cut different pictures out of plywood. Once there was a horse and sleigh, once a Madonna and child. There were many star shapes at various times. The wreaths changed through the years, too, and the lights that he put up were never in the same pattern. I still did all inside decorating with lights in the windows and the two trees. [The photo of Mother and Daddy was taken in the early '50s.]

Now [that Vance is gone], the children and grandchildren come to help [decorate] and it gets done when they can do it. So we get decorated one way or another.

We draw names for gifts now and I am grateful that most of the children still come for Christmas Eve. Some stay and some go home but we still hang seventeen stockings.

Dorothy's Family
Harriet, Joni, Charles
Kathy and Nina
c. 1953

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


When we got back to Idaho, we lived at 510 Brown. I decorated the windows inside with balls and bows and we had the two lighted trees as usual. The big tree was the largest we could get into the house. Our children got new beds that year. Yes, and there were presents from everyone.

Then we moved to Headquarters where our tradition continued. There was a "bull cook" who took a special interest in the children. He helped decorate the tree and put pictures, paper dolls, and anything else he could pick up around the house on the tree. [The photo to the left was taken in Headquarters. Back row left to right: Grandpa C. O. Portfors, F. A. (Uncle Porkie) Portfors, Harriet Walrath, and Grandma Nina Mae Portfors. Standing in front are Joni, Nina, and Charles Walrath. The photo to the right is essentially the same except that Mother replaces Harriet.]

We moved back to Orofino in 1945 without our husband and father. He died in a logging accident four days after we bought our present home at 534 Brown Avenue.

The Christmas went on and that was the beginning of the collection of decorations and ornaments. Mother Walrath shared her ornaments with us and gave us more every year.

We had two mantels now so hung the stockings again and [eventually] I crocheted granny square covers for them. Finally stockings were hung at both mantles.

[I was interested to read that Mother and Fairly were apparently unaware of the standard American tradition of hanging up one's stocking for Santa's visit until they moved to the South. After all, Clement Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas" in 1822. Apparently, though, stockings had not been hung in either the Portfors or the Walrath home. But Mother readily adopted that tradition and it became one of her favorites. Her stockings were fairly large, and as she said, she made them of white sheeting. When she made the granny square stockings, she lined them with the old white stockings. I believe the picture to the right was taken the first year we had the granny square stockings -- 1977. I helped Mother by making the stockings for my family, but somehow I forgot Mike's, so I hung up a pair of nylons for Santa's visit. You can see it there beside the fireplace tools. The baby stocking with the lamb was for Milo who was due Christmas Day but didn't appear until December 30. No matter -- everyone was happy to give him "baby's first Christmas gifts" all over again in 1978. KW]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Dorothy continues: It seemed no one made much fuss over Christmas until we got to Oklahoma City. My eyes were wide and unbelieving. I have never seen such decorations! The mansions were rimmed with lights and garlands of lights were strung from the rooftops to the streets.

My first attempt at lighting outside ended with my lights stolen. The police said I had put them out too early. They searched the neighboring area but no lights. I went to the service station just half a block from us and just "happened to mention" that we had a detective on the case. The next day we found the strings without bulbs under our shrubs.

It was in Oklahoma City where our third daughter [and fourth child, Nina, 1937] joined us and also the birthday tree became a part of our decorating. My husband found a beautiful little tree, put it in a stand and set it on a low table. We felt the tree was so perfect it didn't need decorations. As I sat on the floor unpacking the boxes from home, when I came to a birthday gift for me (my birthday being December 27), I put it under the little tree. We always had the birthday tree after that. One time it was a white tree with all blue lights. For the years we were in Oklahoma City we also had a small tree on the buffet which sheltered all the food from home.

[During this time period], a very dear friend gave me some white sheeting and I made stockings. We had a mantel now, so we hung stockings. My mother and dad came for Christmas and we hung stockings for them, too. When it came time to fill them, my dad's hung pretty limp. Mother went into his suitcase and filled his stocking with soap, toothpaste, and anything new he had bought for the trip.

[The photo is the birthday tree at the Orofino house. I can't tell you the exact year and to some extent the year just doesn't matter. When the television set landed in that corner, it seemed a natural spot for the birthday tree and that's where it was for many years. Mother eventually decorated the birthday tree with boutique balls she made herself as well as other ornaments that were special to her, for example, the antique bell ornaments that had been Grandma Walrath's. Not only did she make boutique balls for herself but for others as well, especially her grandchildren. KW]

Monday, December 15, 2008


Dorothy continues her story: Things went on much the same until Fairly Walrath and I were married in 1929. We had a small tree in our room. We had Christmas Eve with my folks and Christmas Day with his folks and Christmas dinner with his parents or my parents. When we lived on "F" Street the decorated tree and now a string of lights on the tree were still our only decorations. [The photo of Dorothy Portfors and Fairly Walrath was taken December 25, 1928.]

In 1933 Fairly and I went to live in Tennessee. [The family included Harriet, who was born in 1930.] We moved from the hotel to an apartment just before Christmas. The ladies that owned the apartment hung a stocking for Harriet because we didn't have a mantel. That was a new experience and we were completely ignorant of what should happen. Harriet got a tiny baby buggy with a doll in it – all by courtesy of our landladies.

Another year – another town – and another daughter [Joni, born in 1934]. Our tree was Tennessee cedar and my mother had sent our decorations and they followed us to another town in Tennessee where our son was born [Charles, 1936]. Our Christmas trees grew and our collection of ornaments, too.

[In 1935, Dorothy and Fairly brought their little family back to Orofino for Christmas. They traveled by rail. Mother told me that 13-month-old Joni cried much of the way and she knew travelers complained. She overheard the conductor say, "Well, it's Christmas, and you've got to expect that [the crying] when families travel." The photo above was taken at the Harry L. Walrath home on Kalaspo Avenue in Orofino. Back row, left to right: Fairly and Dorothy Walrath, C. O. Portfors (Papa), Sara and Francis (Porkie) Portfors, Harry L. Walrath, Margaret and Ted Walrath. Front row, left to right: Nina Portfors holds Farroll Joan (Joni) Walrath, Harriet Lee Walrath, and Naomi Walrath holding Margot Walrath. Harriet tells me the photo was taken by local professional photographer, Paul Seifert. I bless the person who made this photo happen.

I asked Harriet if she could be striking her best Shirley Temple pose. She said "probably" and that she received a Shirley Temple doll that Christmas. KW]

REAL TIME UPDATE: It's 17 degrees at 2:30 p.m. The overnight low here was 10 at bedtime and 14 at 7:30. Our day is sunny, bright and cold. How is yours? KW

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Sunday, 10:00 a.m., +18 degrees: We're in the midst of our first winter storm of the season and the onset of a "cold snap" which the weather man says we'll endure for a week or so. Thursday evening as I listened to the weather, I noted the weather girl's rather urgent tone – storm warning, cold temps, beginning at least by Saturday. "We need to go to the farm tomorrow afternoon," I told Mike. He had planned to take a friend and winterize the farmhouse Saturday afternoon. "That's too late," I said. "We should go tomorrow afternoon."

So we did. Friday afternoon we drove up the Clearwater. The sky was dark and getting darker. It was 3:15 as we turned down Dobson Road and "spitting" snow. Mike immediately set to work – draining pipes, removing shower handles, starting the 4-wheelers, etc. I also set to work. I found the "book" of holiday CDs left there -- a priority on my list -- and tossed it into my traveling laundry basket. It's a good thing I still have cassette tapes and a tape player. Then I went upstairs to the vintage sewing room and began to pull patterns off the bulletin board and toss them into the basket together with other patterns and fabric. "What are you doing?" Mike called up the stairs. "Uhh – getting things I need," I answered innocently. "I have a list," I add lamely. "Do you need me to help you?" He answers in the negative. I drug the box with my quilt top out from under the bed. It's a given I won't be sewing at the farm for some months. I also picked up little "Ginny and Mary" and cushioned them in the fabric. By the time we left I had managed to pack the laundry basket, a box, and the quilt box. "Well," I said to Mike as he watched me piling stuff into the pick-up, "we might not have room for this stuff at Christmas – IF we even come for Christmas."

Then I heard the rumble of a familiar-sounding motor, and there was the UPS man driving up our lane. He delivered the parts for the LG HDTV set. "I'm glad I found you," the UPS man said. Was that sarcasm in his voice? At least we have the comfort of knowing the parts are there and protected, but if the weather unfolds as they say this next week, it's doubtful we'll be able to get in for next Friday's scheduled repair. We just have to wait and see.

As we drove out at 4:15, it began to sleet in earnest. The trip down the grade wasn't too bad but the river road was terrible – raining and lots of oncoming traffic all the way to Lewiston. It was good to be back to the snug little house where we ate leftover homemade pizza for supper. The local newscaster reported snow in Moscow and I thought of Aunt Chris. And Saturday afternoon as it commenced to snow and the wind picked up, we were glad we had already made the trip to the farm. The wind blew all night and this morning Mike had to re-attach our Christmas lights. KW

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The above postcard was sent to "Master Francis Portfors" (Uncle Porkie), Weippe, Idaho, postmarked from Orofino on December 23, 1916. "Hope Santa fills your stocking full." Signed: Harold and Clarence. I can only guess this might be the same Harold and Clarence (Willis) from the moon photo. The handwritten message reads: "Your grandma called on me the next day after Thanksgiving. Was real glad to see her. Hardly knew her -- she is so thin." Signed: Mrs. C.N.W. So, it seems as though Harold and Clarence's mother was acquainted with my great-grandmother, Alice Mary Stinson Sanders. What do you think?

Dorothy and her boy doll, "Albert," Headquarters, Idaho, 1917.

And a photo of Francis and Dorothy Portfors.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Dorothy writes: As we became teen-agers, we took an active part in Christmas. My brother and I went out on the hill and brought home a tree. I helped decorate it and we began putting it in a day or two ahead of Christmas Eve.

[Mother used to tell of a year when prior to Christmas the Clearwater froze over so that skating was possible. Someone was teaching the kids to skate, but Mother and Uncle Porkie couldn't participate because they didn't have skates. That year they received skates for Christmas but by that time the river had thawed, never to freeze again while they were in school.

I found this Christmas card at the very bottom of Mother's old box of tags and stickers. I don't recall ever having seen it before. The card is beautiful and on quality stock, but the illustration is certainly not seasonal. The card isn't dated but since it's signed "Francis and Dorothy Portfors (brother and sister), I would date it Christmas 1926. They would both graduate from Orofino High School in 1927 (graduation photo). KW]

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Dorothy writes: One year, near Christmas, I was in the garage and noticed a fat package on the workbench. I poked it and my finger went through the thin wrapping paper. I had wanted a white "roughneck" sweater and there it was. I was disappointed that this had happened but couldn't figure anything to do about it. Christmas Eve there was no gift for me. No, not one! Everyone exchanged gifts and I got nothing. To this day I don't know who suffered most – my parents or me. Late Christmas Day they gave me my sweater.

[I dunno. The whole gift on the workbench thing smacks of a set-up to me. Grandma Portfors wasn't above that sort of thing. When I was 3 or 4, I stayed with Grandma one afternoon near Christmas. She took me upstairs to the bedroom that had been my mother's room when she was growing up. I "helped" wrap Christmas gifts and well remember plastering stickers all over one package. In the course of things, something was dropped on the floor and rolled under the bed, and Grandma invited me to pick it up for her. And there, under the bed, was my Christmas present, my "ranch style" metal doll house. Even then, I thought Grandma wanted me to find it. And if Grandma did set Mother up to find her Christmas gift and Papa punished her for the "indiscretion" of poking the paper, I bet Grandma did suffer as much as Mother did.

Perhaps the sweater Mother wears in this photo was the one mentioned in this entry. The photo was taken above the Clearwater between Orofino and Ahsahka. That light ribbon in the background is the river. The photographer? Emon Olson. He had a camera and would take pictures of the kids, Mother said. I was amazed when she told me. Who knew? Emon seemed such a withdrawn little man. Admittedly the quality of this photo is not good, but I consider we're lucky to have it. The photo lab at the University of Idaho saved it from oblivion. KW]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


We moved back to Orofino when I was eight. That was during the First World War and there was a scarcity of everything. My best memory of the next few years was Christmas in the [Orofino] Mercantile. There was a long table near the center of the store filled with toys of every description. As soon as school was out we hurried down town to "play with" the toys. There weren't any decorations in town but that toy table was enough. [I remember Mother saying that one year her Christmas gift was new ribbons for her hair.]

About 1920, we moved to Brown and "C" Streets, [which continued to be the Portfors' home until 1965].

One Christmas Eve in the early '20s, we came home from church and without any explanation our mom and dad got out our gifts and gave them to us. So, we brought out our gifts to them and ever after that our gift exchange was Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. [When I was growing up, we used to have a light supper Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. When Mother and Daddy decided to switch Christmas Dinner to Christmas Eve, Mother dreaded telling Papa (Portfors), thinking he would object. To her delight, he welcomed the idea. "That's the way we did it in the old country," he said. KW]

REAL TIME UPDATE: In considering the photo of the kids on the moon (see Day 8), Mike and I wondered if the two Willis boys might be relatives of our neighbor, Harvey Willis, who grew up in Weippe. I caught Harvey before he left for work last night and showed him the picture. "My grandfather's name was Clarence," he said. "That's crazy!" The boys in the picture were Harold and Clarence, but Harvey said he didn't know of a Harold. I'm going to take him a copy of the photo and he's going to talk to his dad about it. KW

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Dorothy's Christmas history continues:

When I was five we moved to a farm six miles from Weippe. Christmas Eve was the time my dad went out to get the tree. It was set up and decorated after we went to bed. We knew my brother would get the pop gun he wanted the Christmas we heard someone playing with it. Santa always brought the presents and they were under the tree in the morning. That same year I got the doll I wanted. I would like to have had it be a girl doll but my brother said he wouldn't play with me if it wasn't a boy so I named it "Albert."

One Christmas we got up with the usual excitement but found no gifts under the tree. There was a note my dad read to us. Santa had had trouble with his reindeer and would have to deliver the gifts on foot. Sure enough! He came walking up through the orchard through the deep snow. Mama hurried and lit the candles on the tree and Papa met Santa at the door. He gave me my doll and an erector set to my brother and was distributing the gifts that came in the mail when Papa opened the door and shoved Santa headfirst out into the snow. His beard had caught on fire from the candles. We felt sure that wasn't a real Santa Claus but no one would ever tell us who he was. The hired man, I suspect. Mama didn't light candles on the tree anymore though we did put them on the branches.

Since we didn't live near a church we went to the schoolhouse on Christmas to a school play and program. Santa gave us a little bag of candy.

[The first photo above was taken in Canada when our grandmother, Nina Portfors, took her young children, Dorothy and Francis, to visit her mother. Aunt Muriel (Muriel Saunders German) holds the reins. There are only a few photos of Mother in childhood, and I have copies of only two or three. The Dobsons, by contrast, had a camera and experimented with photography.

The photo on the right is of Mother and her doll, Albert. At some point the family put items into storage, including her doll and a tea set, and then the storage facility burned. I think this happened as they were moving from Weippe to Orofino. The doll and dishes were not replaced and Mother felt that loss. You can see from the photo that she loved the doll. KW]

Monday, December 8, 2008


[During this advent season, I will post excerpts from my mother's story, "Christmas as I Remember It." Mother prepared these notes for a presentation at the Clearwater Historical Society, c.1990. As she reminisces about Christmas, she gives us a brief chronological history of her life.]

We came to Orofino in 1910. [She was born in Troy, Idaho, December 27, 1909, and the family moved to Orofino when she was six months old.] We stayed with the Theodore Fohls at Kalaspo and D Streets. Then we moved to the second house in the 600 block on Kalaspo, then to the house next door, which was built for a barn but not used as such. After that we moved to Weippe, then back to the house on Kalaspo.

I do not remember our first Christmases but as I grew older I can remember what seems to be my first Christmas. Our tree was small, on the library table, and had few decorations. Candles were placed in little holders that clamped onto the branches. There were tinsel garlands and a few small balls. The tree was put in the house on Christmas Eve and taken out on New Year's Day. We each received one present. My first memory is a sled my brother and I shared. There was always snow at Christmas. Grandmother [Sanders] usually sent a box with handmade gifts. I remember mittens and was especially delighted when I received a dust cap like my mother's – a round piece of white material with elastic and lace around the edge.

There was always a program at the church on Christmas Eve. A big tree was decorated and the Sunday School presented a play, recitations, and songs. My special memory was when I pantomimed Silent Night while one of the ladies sang.

[The kids in the photo are: Francis (Uncle Porkie) Portfors; Harold Willis; Dona McRoberts; Volney McRoberts; Dorothy Portfors (my mother); Clarence Willis; c.1914.]

Sunday, December 7, 2008



Saturday, December 6, 2008


Two weeks ago Mike scheduled an appointment to meet a tech at the farm for repair to the LG HDTV set. We went to the farm Thursday afternoon expecting to stay through the weekend. We hoped the tv would be repaired. Mike would watch football and hunt birds while I decorated, baked, studied, and finished gifts. Unfortunately temps took a dip and my feet never got warm.

We spent Friday morning making phone calls and worrying about whether or not the tech would come. He arrived early afternoon. We were relieved that he was American with a good grasp of the language, a loud talker, friendly, accommodating, and a dog lover. However, the simple fix he thought would work failed (but at least he stayed long enough to find out that it didn't work) and he had to order parts. He will come again Friday, Dec. 19. We are disappointed as we will miss at least two holiday events in town that day, which is the last Friday before Christmas, but the tech was firm: he only travels to outlying areas on Fridays and next week would be too soon. You see, sometimes you can't do what you want to even when you are retired.

The tech left at 2:15. "What do you want to do now?" I asked Mike. We looked at each other for a long moment, both of us realizing that without television, it would be a long, cold weekend when we could make better progress with our Christmas preparations in town. So, within half an hour we were packed and heading back to town. As we traveled we enjoyed the spectacular December sunset.

Today Mike put the Christmas lights on the house while I searched inside for holiday treasures I've tucked here and there. I'm organizing "Kathy's Retro Christmas Advent Historical Blog," and to my immense pleasure I have found a number of misplaced goodies – some articles lost ever since we moved – to share with you. And, as Ina would say, "And I hope you may like it!" KW

[This year I convinced Mike to light about half of the back of the house -- 2nd photo. Nellie just hates when Mike walks on the roof!]

Friday, December 5, 2008


This rather long but (I hope) interesting post is an excerpt from Ina's letter to Vance of January 12, 1936. I thought "Ghost Hunters" Hallie and Nick (and the rest of you blog followers) might like to read what Grandma Ina had to say about the spirit world. Shirley Jean, Ethel's daughter, was born in June of 1926 and thus is nine years old. Apparently Ethel had written Ina (her mother) about this experience, and the letter is being passed through the family with the understanding that Grandpa Jack is to be left out of the loop.

"Well, I'm so glad that you got to read of Shirley Jean's strange experiences! Write me what you think, but remember Dad doesn't know anything about it, though I see no reason why he shouldn't but Ethel asked me to not let him. He'd never peep and would take it in the right way, if you follow me. I waited till I could be alone before reading it and then was thrilled and fascinated. It is hard to express one's feelings in the matter. I don't doubt what she saw and heard in the least and don't think it exists only in her imagination either. Her imagination couldn't carry out such things. That one of us should contact the spirit world that way seems rather overwhelming, doesn't it? I think Ernest and Ethel are being very sensible about it. I think it will be better if Shirley Jean outgrows this gift. You never can tell where such things will lead not what burdens they may bring – broken health and a broken life, maybe, but it isn't in our hands. I've known of such cases before but never such a clear experience and so much of it.

"Charley Gurnsey used to see events that happened many miles away. This was when he was no older than Shirley Jean, if as old. He'd become hysterical, laugh and cry and then tell of something he saw. Later his folks could verify it. They never talked much about it, and used to try to get him over these spells as soon as possible. His foolish sister and the one next younger than she used to see a black cat asleep on the foot of their bed. The foolish girl tried to make it go away. No one else in the family could see it except the younger sister. Well, this was when they were along about Shirley Jean's age and if any of them ever saw things when they grew older, we never heard of it. Charley used to tell some tall stories about "hunches," but we never believed him, though of course it may have been the truth.

"Do you remember that once when you were young, I think four to six or even seven years old, you were alone in the twilight at the old house. I was up at the old hen house, and the rest all out somewhere. You came to me and told me of seeing a woman at the house. I asked you where she was and you told me. It was over in the southeast corner, though you didn't describe it that way. I asked how she was dressed and you said in white. Remember? I just passed it off, as I didn't want you to think anything of it. Once, when Earle was I think about seven, and we all slept in the main room, he saw a woman all in white sitting on the side of my bed and looking out of the window. The head of my bed was in the southwest corner then and he was sleeping in the trundle bed. He was badly frightened and hid under the covers. Next day he asked me if I'd been up in the night. Well, I couldn't be sure I hadn't been but thought I'd not, but I was purposely vague to him and passed it off. It was not the rule for me to be up at night and yet I occasionally was up to see after the cat or children and never recall their being frightened, so I always thought it a little queer. Of course this was several years before your experience and I don't know that you'd ever heard of it, for I tried not to let things like that be talked of before youngsters and tried to carry off Earl's woman as nothing anyway. Well, there a lots of queer things in the world, but why should anyone be skeptical about a spirit world that we all profess to believe in? I don't believe in spiritualism as it is generally practiced, though I've always believe there was something in it, but so often the evil creeps in and see how Shirley Jean was tormented. You know Joe and Eula Hill had to leave an apartment in Los Angeles because the spirits caused such a disturbance, made so much noise, etc. Mr. Hill told us that confidentially after he and Mrs. Hill came back from California. Well, we are all curious about the spirit world, but from all I can learn those professed spiritualists are not doing themselves nor anyone else much good. However, I don't know a great deal about them but have known some rank characters who were 'good spiritualists.'"

"Well, it is too large a subject to discuss on paper anyway."

I'm pretty sure I can hear my dad chortling away. KW

Thursday, December 4, 2008


A few years ago, it became obvious that I had to adjust our Christmas celebration to fit our new lifestyle. I hated to think of it as scaling back. I realized that I needed something to keep my enthusiasm up – some inspiration to get me through the season. That's when I decided to adopt a "retro" theme for the holidays and now that interest spills over into other areas of life as well.

Of course, my Christmas isn't truly a retro celebration at all. I decorate my pre-lit artificial tree with my growing collection of Hallmark houses and such other ornaments as I choose. The advantage is that the tree goes up quickly and more importantly – it comes down quickly. Nick and Hallie helped me put up our farmhouse tree the day after Thanksgiving and now I'm here to enjoy it with hot gingerbread spice tea and a warm fire. (Okay, I admit it. My feet are cold!) Anyway, I'm not a "retro" authority nor am I a fanatic about it. I still like what I like. I'm just celebrating with less opulence.

When we arrived at the farm at 10:30 a.m. it was 30 degrees. Mike was looking forward to taking Nellie hunting since the ground was frozen. However, it warmed to 38 and the frozen ground turned to mud. So, it is cold. The fire is nice but it's still cold in the corners. I baked a cake this afternoon to add whatever heat I could to the house. I added a cup of pumpkin puree left over from Thanksgiving pies to a spice cake mix along with a cup of water, 3 large eggs, a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and ½ cup walnuts. Cream cheese frosting will complete it. I'll bake crab casserole for our supper. KW

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Today marked the fulfillment of a five-month dental implant process. My dentist recommended either an implant or a bridge to replace a problematic bicuspid crown and left the choice to me. I preferred an implant over hooking a bridge to other teeth which might weaken them. Despite discomfort and the length of time involved, I feel good about the result. When I left the dentist's office, I treated myself to shopping. At Safeway I replenished my supply of holiday tea, especially my favorite, "Ginger Spice." At Costco I bought two lovely fresh wreaths -- one for the town house and one for the farm -- and two packages of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. "Can't go wrong with Martinelli's," said the door greeter.

Things continued to go well this afternoon. I set up the Bernina and on Aunt Chris' recommendation, I oiled the bobbin runner. I had mentioned to her that my new machine is noisy, and she said they need plenty of oil – every two hours. Sure enough, the machine settled down to some smoooooooth mending. I was worried about the machine, so I feel relieved.

And I have to tell a little joke on myself. The wreath hook in the closet just wouldn't fit over the door. I sure thought it was the wreath hook I had used previously. I was so disappointed that I couldn't hang our new holiday wreath. Well, after thinking about it a while, I realized I had probably only attempted to hang one end of the hook – the wrong end! Sure enough, the other end fit over the door. The photo was taken after dark so isn't quite centered. But you know how it is: "The prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door." I was careful to spray the wreath with some water so that it stays fresh as long as possible.

Thanks to all of you who have been searching the internet for retro wreaths and stencils. Debbie found wreaths, stencils, and cheaper window wax. What fun! I'll keep you apprised of my orders. KW

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


The presentation was really not a big deal. The "big deal" came from the fact that I agreed in July to develop the character and the skit for a Christmas party. I have been preparing for it for the past four months. I defined a character: "Ina, the Ghost of Hard-Times Christmas." I developed a skit for the character – just reading a letter that Grandma Ina wrote to my dad on December 21, 1932, in the midst of her Christmas preparations. I titled the presentation, "No Skimpy Christmas Here." I searched for a dress, a housecoat or "frumpy frock," and decided to make one. I bought an authentic housedress pattern copyrighted by the McCall Pattern Company in 1931. Making it was a trial that inspired me to sew again and learn more about pattern alteration. In my mother's button box, I found bright red vintage plastic buttons for the gray cotton coat-styled dress. I made a muslin apron and tucked Grandma Ina's poinsettia hanky into one of the pockets. I crocheted a simple triangular shawl of red yarn and anchored it over my shoulders with a large safety pin. Today was the day that I dressed in character and presented the skit. I believe it was well received.

Here's an excerpt from the letter: "Well, you see, our Christmas has cost next to nothing for what we bought was necessary anyway, but we've had a big time this hard times Christmas. Everything looks different when you look at it from Robinson Crusoe's standpoint – surrounded by a sea of depression and things show up at a more real value. We appreciate the actual values of things. So we're going to have a very merry Christmas. No skimpy Christmas here!"

Mike set up our video camera (which we haven't used in years) and recorded the presentation. We haven't previewed it yet. KW

Monday, December 1, 2008


I love my Vermont Country Store catalog and never more than during the holidays. What I don't love are their prices. My mother had some of those little wax candle figurines. She bought them at the five and dime for – well, a nickel or a dime each. Now that bit of renewed nostalgia would cost me $14.95 for a set of three. I would love to have a bottle brush wreath. Back in the day, you could hang one on your door if you didn't want to go to the expense of some other type of wreath. Now they sell for $30.00. Or how about $20.00 for that paper nativity? It just ain't right.

But I did buy a bottle of window wax which comes with a half dozen stencil designs which were hardly reminiscent of the designs of the '50s. I was delighted last week when I discovered a packet of those old window stencils tucked in with my childhood advent calendars. Yes! My internet research has revealed that these old paper stencils have disappeared – are not available anywhere – but I have a leftover packet with stencils like new, carefully cleaned and stored by my mother. What luck! Now I could put Santa and eight reindeer on my kitchen window. (My packet never had the nativity, though back in the day some folks had that one.)

Now, when I was a little girl, my mother applied the designs to the windows by carefully dabbing the window wax over the stencils with a sponge. She did the work; I was deemed too young to handle a sponge. And guess what! I'm still to young. "Where's your mother when you need her?" I asked. It took me a while to figure out the technique, and when all else failed I read the directions. It's best if the sponge is dry, and do shake the bottle of wax before pouring it onto the plate.

I had a good time working with the stencils while Hallie watched. After all, I'm indulging my memories, not hers, and she was searching the internet for a cheaper bottle brush wreath. In the end, the window decorations were not showy, but I'd had some fun and kept myself out of trouble. KW

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Even if you don't watch a lot of television, chances are you have some favorite program. Maybe you just like to sit with your feet up for a while. Maybe you and your sweetie like to share a program as a "together" activity. Maybe it seems a little silly but you like it anyway. Mike and I have our favorite reruns, which we record and watch together before bedtime. Brother Chuck watches old Perry Mason episodes which come to him on the BYU channel commercial-free at 10:30 p.m. But I was a little surprised to learn that Hallie enjoys Ghost Hunters on the SciFi Channel and even more surprised at her interest in pursuing a little ghost hunting herself. While she and Nick were here over the Thanksgiving weekend, she bought a digital audio recorder, and Friday evening they headed over to the Gilbert Cemetery to sit in the dark and the cold, waiting for some sign from a departed relative. I tried to tell her – as did Harriet – that our Dobson family ghosts would not stick around the cemetery when they could haunt the house, but she was undeterred. I don't think she gained proof of definitive ghostly activity at the cemetery, but she and Nick seemed to enjoy the evening outing.

Is the house haunted? Or, to put it another way, have we noticed odd, inexplicable happenings around the house and grounds? Odd, yes. Inexplicable, no. And when I walk through the door of the house, I don't sense a presence. But, I think a lot about the family that built the house and lived there – perhaps more than I should -- so sometimes I do feel as though they haunt me. That's using the word "haunt" as a figure of speech. I know, for instance, that my dad approves of the work Mike and I have done at the farm and so does my mother. I don't have to communicate with them to know that. However, I struggle with Grandma Ina over rights for "woman of the house." I'm there and she's not, so I win, but that doesn't make it easy.

Even though I am not a believer in ghosts, it was hard not to say, "Hallie, don't stir them up!" KW

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


They say the longer you keep something, the harder it is to get rid of it. Here are a couple of broken-down old boxes that are truly a case in point. They belonged to my mother. We couldn't toss them when we cleaned out her house, so I took them. I couldn't part with them when Mike and I moved from Broadview, so they have kicked around out in the shed, gathering even more dust. Last Christmas I resolved that I would review their contents, then throw the whole works away. So, one January afternoon I tried to follow through but just couldn't do it. I tried again a couple of weeks ago to no avail.

"The boxes are shot," I said to myself, "so if you care about the contents, you have to at least find new boxes." It wouldn't be easy -- these boxes were particularly suited for their contents. The square one is the size of the old flat-fold wrapping paper box, though it says on it "Delray of Boston" and "A Rexall Product." You don't know about flat-fold wrapping paper, you say. Well, wrapping paper used to be mostly flat-fold, as I recall, and personally, I think there was something to be said for that – more variety, easier to handle, easier to store. But I digress. The larger, rectangular, box is decorated with flower carts and nosegays. It makes me think of a tablecloth box, but a tiny tag says, "Cosmo H&H, LILAC, #4-4PC." Perhaps it held a fancy set of sheets.

So, what's in these boxes anyway? You ask. The square one was Mother's Christmas tag and sticker box. I think she spent more time adding to it than taking from it. One card dates back to her high school years while the stickers are surely from the '40s and '50s. I'm sure Mother liked these things – sweet-faced Santas and angels with eyes twinkling mischievously. I like them! And as the years went by other tags, keepsakes, bits of this and that were added to the box until it's practically a timeline in itself. The larger box is even more precious to me, containing every advent calendar I ever had. Mother loved advent calendars. Yes -- most all of the contents are paper, most of it "mine," all of it saved by my mother.

I've told you how I love boxes and containers. If a store, such as Ross or JoAnn's, carries boxes, that's where you'll find me, wondering if I can sneak yet another box into the house to store photos, fabric, old dolls. If Mike notices, he says nothing. After all, his interests also involve lots of paraphernalia, some of it unsightly. I leave him alone.

So yesterday, I counted myself blessed to find at Ross two sturdy cardboard boxes in Christmas designs to replace the broken-down old ones. I was especially grateful to find the larger one which is adequate to the need. And today I made the switch. Trips down memory lane can be wearing, but I didn't linger long over the task.

And I have to tell you – I was so excited to find my window wax stencils. But that's a post for another day. KW