Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

DRINK UP!


I have just finished consolidating food stuff from the farmhouse with food here in town. Our pantry, refrigerator and chest freezer are bursting at the seams. I also have a box of condiments in the garage where it should be cool enough to store them until spring. Needless to say, with the exception of dairy and produce, we aren’t going to need to buy a lot of food for a few weeks (if not months). 

But I just have to get out of the house and into town at least once a week because of “cabin fever,” so I headed into Clarkston yesterday to see if I could find post-Christmas bargains. I wasn’t disappointed: an ornament storage box here, a pair of pajamas on clearance there, a bag of chocolates here, next year’s Christmas cards there, some fresh bananas and milk – and holiday teas.

I had seen the Celestial Seasonings holiday teas at Albertsons last week as part of a special display of holiday items. Well, you know how it is – holiday teas appear only during the holiday season, and I like drinking them from the first of October through St. Patrick’s Day. So, when I see them, I buy a few boxes. I have managed to create quite a stockpile because I’m afraid I won’t find them when I want them.

Now, I need more of these teas like I need a hole in the head, but finding myself at Albertsons and thinking the tea probably hadn’t sold out, I asked myself where store management could possibly have stashed it. “At the front of the store,” I thought to myself, and sure enough, there was a cartload of it on sale for a dollar a box. I simply couldn’t resist – and five boxes went into my cart.

The picture above is my “working stash” of tea. The picture to the right is overflow. I’m running out of places to hoard – er, store -- my stash of tea, but I found a little space on the top shelf of the pantry. Tough as it is, I’m afraid to say what might happen if I see the holiday teas at $.50 a box! But if the store has to sell it at a loss, will the product return next year? Scary thought! KW

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A RETURN TO TOYLAND


Toyland, Toyland, Little girl and boy land,
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joyland,
Mystic, merry Toyland!
Once you pass its borders,
You can ne’er return again.
-- Babes in Toyland, 1903

Certainly I believe it’s true that Toyland is not the same once we grow up. The wonder, the delight, the joy in a new toy just isn’t the same from an adult perspective. The imagination just doesn’t seem to spark the same way as it does for a child. Even so, I think we adults can visit Toyland, and maybe we should.  This is my way of announcing my Christmas gift – “American Girl Molly.”

In 2010 I bought a used and naked American Girl doll, Kit Kittredge, the Depression-Era historical doll. Family members who knew that I was bidding on dolls suggested that I should have a new doll and exactly what I wanted. I didn’t mind that the doll was gently loved and naked. I wanted a doll that would be a model for my sewing creations and didn’t care about the collector value because I think that’s mostly a farce anyway. But I did mind that the seller apparently sold the doll before her daughter was ready. When the seller revealed this, I no longer wanted the doll and offered to relinquish the sale, but to the mother / seller, honoring the sale was more important than her daughter’s feelings. In the end, I didn’t feel good about the purchase.

So, when Mike suggested that he would like to give me a brand new American Girl doll for Christmas, I took him up on it and suggested “Molly,” the 1940’s historical doll. And that’s what I found under the tree – a brand new doll from the American Girl store. Of course, I’m delighted with her but not as a little girl would be. To me, she represents participation in a popular doll fad and a reminder of childhood delights.

One thing I noticed immediately about my new doll – no “new doll smell.” Back in my day, a brand new doll had an aroma just as new cars have “new car smell.” I suppose it was the fresh plastic. Eventually the new smell would wear off, as it were, and the doll was no longer new. Well, this Molly doesn’t have that aroma. Perhaps she’s already lost the aroma by sitting on a shelf someplace. Perhaps she never had it. But she’s clean and she’s mine.

P.S. The American Girl Company provides a contrived history for its historical dolls. I disagree with some of that, but evidently it works for them. I re-named my Depression-era doll, "Shirley Anne, American Farm Girl." Will I rename Molly? I'm not sure. KW

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CHRISTMAS IN REVIEW 2011

Christmas future is far away,
Christmas past is past.
Christmas present is here today
Bringing joy that will last.
(Intro to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”)

Nick and Hallie arrived very late Thursday night (22nd), and we all retired to our beds soon thereafter. 

Friday (23rd) was a day of relaxation. We visited the neighbors, carrying jellies, watched a herd of mule deer slowly eat their way over the hill to the south, played table games. I bought a new game this year -- "Fact or Crap." It was mentioned in a Lewiston Tribune review of games and I bought it on a whim. We gave it a try, and the four of us say it will never replace dominoes or Scrabble. And now we have a game we don't like. Pretty much a waste of money. In the kitchen, I made a batch of oatmeal cookies and we had chicken and biscuits for dinner with a small cherry pie for dessert.

The days blur when everyday seems like a holiday. It's hard to remember what happened when and to some extent it doesn't matter. Christmas Eve Hallie went for a run in the morning while Nellie and I followed at a slower pace. I took the above picture of the house and imagined that Ina was bustling around in there, getting ready for a Christmas Eve gathering of friends and family. The gift exchange at my paents' home was Christmas Eve, but now we open stockings and then gifts on Christmas morning. I did prepare a turkey dinner Christmas Eve night, and we had our traditional "Mystery Pecan Pie." Oh! And I made peanut brittle, which began to scorch before I removed it from the heat. Disappointing! However, the family ate it and seemed to enjoy it and when I asked Mike if I should make more, the answer was a resounding, "No! I can't stay out of it!" I will make more, though, perhaps in a week or two. 

"Santa" was so tired Christmas Eve night that packing the stockings was deferred until morning. It was a pleasant, quiet time of watching "A Christmas Story" while preparing playing with the stocking goodies. Nick's brand new stocking looked right at home with our old ones. Mike made waffles for breakfast and we tried various toppings -- real maple syrup, pumpkin butter, and jellies. Afterwards we spent a quiet hour with our gifts.

In the afternoon, Hallie and Nick (but especially Hallie) spent several hours pruning back the canes of the old wild rose bramble bush in the yard. It's sadly overgrown -- so overgrown that the blooms are small and insignificant. Besides that, it's an eyesore, I think, taking up more and more of the yard. The thorny canes were carried by wheelbarrow to a "burn pit" beyond the pond, and Christmas Night we had a bonfire. It was cold -- and a strong wind made it seem colder, but the side to the fire was warm.

Monday (26th) was a quiet day, a legal holiday though that didn't affect our day. It started with calls from son Murray and an old friend of Mike's. Perhaps we felt a bit wistful as Christmas 2011 drew to a close. The memorable event was Hallie's discovery an old dump under the brush on June's place. We brought three jars back to the house and she cleaned them. The oldest was obviously old, I thought, and said "Mellins Food, Boston," on it. Unfortunately it was badly cracked. Of the other two, one was an old canning jar without markings and the other said "Duraglas 1986." We plan to explore that site a bit more in warmer weather -- perhaps clean it up.

Tuesday (27th) was a work day for us. I took the tree down and then moved on to other packing, most notably emptying the refrigerator. Nick and Hallie said good-bye late in the morning. Then Mike and I continued finished our work to winterize and pack the pick-up. At the town house, I spent the afternoon consolidating the food and storing it wherever appropriate. KW

 Friday I took the fir boughs from over the windows and doors, then I used sprays of holly across the curtains and it is so much prettier, so next Xmas I’ll open your box early and decorate with holly instead of fir. Already planning for Xmas you see. Ina Dobson, 1937

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HOLIDAY MENTAL HEALTH


Well, we had a great Christmas, and it helps to pass the winter.
Ina Dobson, January 1, 1933

One year when I was in high school (nineteen-sixty-something), Mother stayed up all night as December 23 became Christmas Eve so that she could meet her preparedness goals.  I had no idea we were so far behind when she told me she would not be going to bed that night, so I volunteered to stay up and help her. While she worked in the kitchen, I wrapped packages. It was probably about 4:00 a.m. when we crept up to bed. After that Christmas, I vowed I had pulled my last Christmas “all-nighter.” In retrospect, I don’t know what she was doing, and that’s the point. Whatever it was we could have done without it. (And I will add here that my extended family is comprised of helpful people, none of whom wanted Mother to be stressed. The demand to meet a certain standard was totally within her own thinking.)
 
But you know, I mentioned to my octogenarian friends that my mother would occasionally work into the wee hours in order to finish something that was important to her, and these two ladies, a generation ahead of me, both said that they had done that and they agreed that what they accomplished by so doing had been meaningful and fulfilling.
 
As rewarding as it may be to some, I cope differently. I remember that both Mother and I were often sick after Christmas, symptomatic of too much stress, too much work.  And I also remember that after Christmas Mother struggled with post-holiday blues and disappointment. Nothing is more important to me than coming through the holidays without depression. I tell myself that no one wants me to have a meltdown.

Here’s my plan for a successful holiday season:

1.  Start early and be realistic about what can be accomplished. And of course, I fail to start early enough or be realistic. So that’s when I must . . .
 
2. Be willing to cross off the list some of what I had hoped to accomplish. If we don’t have six types of traditional goodies on hand – oh well. I’m the only one who’s disappointed – because no one else even knows what I was planning.

3. Take time to enjoy the season, whether it’s a party or a holiday movie, or just a quiet evening as usual with Mike. The time spent in enjoyment of the season is important.

4. And most important of all is determining a post-holiday plan of action that focuses on what I will do when Christmas is over. I believe Ina is right when she says that Christmas should help us pass the winter. My philosophy is: “It’s not over when it’s over.” It’s not too late to bake holiday cookies, finish up that holiday display, learn to make new ornaments, quilt my holiday quilt or finish up that crocheted lap throw. Most of all, it’s not too late for good deeds. Christmas is a beginning, not an end.

And I will say with Ina, “I stood all the Christmas doings just fine.” KW

[The photos are of the interesting winter effects as the sun sets yesterday and today. The first is a view to the north with the grove reflected on June's field. In the second, the barn seems so clearly defined by light as the sun sets.  The fields seem to glow in the third. And the fourth shows Mike hurrying to get into position as Nellie makes a serious point. The postcard is from my dad's collection.]



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

OUR LONGEST WINTER'S NAP


"And Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap --”

That’s just the way it is at this time of year – our long nights are good for a long winter’s nap.  This first day of winter – the shortest day and longest night of the year – seems a fitting time to think about Clement C. Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, now often called The Night Before Christmas.

I wonder how many editions of The Night Before Christmas have been published since it first appeared in 1823. Moore was reportedly a scholarly man who quickly penned this poem and was more or less embarrassed to own it. He simply didn’t see it as important, and yet it is for this that we remember him. 

I have five different editions of The Night Before Christmas – three I’ve had since before I can remember.

 

This one is the “Little Golden Book” edition – and probably my favorite. 




This one, printed by Tell Well Press in 1952, was designed by Bill and Bernard Martin. It included “Santa’s New Whirly-Twirly Toy,” a charming punch-out paper mobile that my dad assembled for me. Unfortunately I lost it in the great wet spring of ’96 when our basement flooded. It’s okay – it was looking tired after 40+ years and the glitter had tarnished.

Apparently mobiles were popular in that era – the ‘50s – because various mobile designs and how to create them are featured in the BHG Christmas Ideas of 1954 – and again in 1957. “Delight your whole family with an eyecatching holiday mobile. Colorful moving decorations are fascinating to put together, intriguing to watch when they’re hanging from your ceiling, a wall bracket, or light fixture. To make a mobile, you don’t need much to start with and you’ll soon find that before you finish one, you already have ideas for another.” 

 Moving to my next edition, this one was probably meant to appeal to a very young child. It was published in 1949 by Whitman Publishing Co. and apparently illustrated by Eileen Fox Vaughan. The book is more like a large leaflet -- no cardboard cover -- and Santa's suit is fuzzy.
 

This one I bought for a pittance at an “after-Christmas” sale at the Hallmark Store in 2001. I was interested in the stated purpose of the book, a tribute to the Coca-Cola Santa, which is credited with forming America's perception of what Santa Claus looks like.
And this Platt & Munk edition illustrated by Holly Hobbie was actually published in 1970, but I missed it, so I ordered it well-used just this year. 


I love the poem, its history, and what illustrators do with it.

How about you? Do you have copies of the poem we now call The Night Before Christmas? KW


Monday, December 19, 2011

Put a Festive Dress on THE MANTEL



No work at all
Decorating a mantel for Christmas needn’t mean that year-round accessories must be removed. A handsome swag of greenery at one side, or both sides, is all you need. Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Ideas, 1954 (10 pages featuring 25 mantels)

The mantel in my parents’ home invited decoration because it was deep enough to create a display. The large mirror provided a great backdrop, and a recessed light created a lovely effect. Often we turned on the mantel light in the evenings while we watched tv in the next room.
 
My first memory of the mantel is as it appears in these photos from 1951. A few years later, my dad framed the mirror with plywood, also encasing the chimney.


Give the traditional Madonna setting a simple, modern look
BHG Christmas Ideas, 1954
Mother had a small collection of madonnas that she loved, and you can see that she displayed two of them on the mantel in 1951. She didn't feature them often at Christmas, though, perhaps because she displayed them all the time.
Nativity scene
A lovely crèche in your home brings you a feeling of spiritual peace. Too, it will remind you that the real purpose of the twenty-fifth of December is to commemorate the birth of a child who brought new hope and faith to the world. BHG Christmas Ideas, 1954 (Would they write this today?)
 
Above left: The picture is off-center, but you can see a '70's madonna, definitely a Christmas piece, sitting in front of the star. Note the little angels soaring in front of the mirror.
The creche featured on the right was probably purchased in the '60s. Originally it was brown, but eventually they painted and antiqued the three figures (Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in a manger). Daddy build a ledge on the window sill in Mother's sewing area off the kitchen, and in later years Mother always put this creche in that window, framed with white lights.

[The postcard above is another from Vance's album.]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

HOMEMADE CHRISTMAS CARDS






The following is Leah's* comment on a previous post. I've brought it forward here so that I could show a few images of her homemade Christmas cards. I'm sorry for the strange configuration. If you've ever worked with Blogger, you understand.

Leah wrote: "Here's the story of my Christmas cards. I began making our cards by hand in 1961. We had money for the stamps (4cents) but not cards. So I wrote a poem of 8 stanzas about Christmas at our house. I was a stay-at-home mom and on my portable typewriter, I typed the poem on 67 pieces of paper, 8½ x 11, folded in half. Then I folded the "card" in half again. On half of the folded paper, I made a tree and candle out of letters typed into these shapes. Before computers (and clip art), we made designs in a more creative way.

"Sending cards that I made by hand began again in the mid 60's. I cut out little pieces, pasted them on a background shaped like a snowman, angel, crown, tree or gingerbread man. It was much more expensive than buying cards and the time involved was enormous. But I loved it and so did our friends & family. These folk art cards ended up on people's trees year after year and I realized that I made a bright spot in people's lives for a brief moment. My son just loved them. Not so, my husband. Our kitchen table was covered with my project pieces for weeks before Christmas as I cut out and assembled them. Felt, sequins, pipe cleaners and ribbon were everywhere. I would send 100 cards each year during this time period.   

"When I stopped (after the gingerbread man's buttons stuck to the envelopes), my son was heartbroken. He was 17 at the time. He begged me to keep doing it. "No one makes handmade cards. They are so special" he pleaded. But I was just plain tired of the hard work & knew that my heart wasn't in it any longer.

"I told Brian that even though I don't make hand crafted cards today, they are still uniquely my own creation. I found a place on the internet that allows me to choose my own greeting. Then I add a special message at the bottom (which they print on the card). Their selection of cards is outstanding, although very expensive.

"I now send 75 cards each year and receive around 40 to 45. I am not disappointed that I don't receive as many cards as I send (although I love getting cards). Some people just don't send cards and that's okay. I send my Christmas cards as a gift to each person. It is to warm people's hearts and remind them that I think of them."



A great point of view on the card exchange, I think. KW

*Leah's mother's half-sister was my dad's cousin. We aren't really related by blood but our paths crossed as we researched family history.

Friday, December 16, 2011

HOMEMADE GIFTS




In 1954, the editors of Better Homes and Gardens included a section on homemade gifts in their Christmas Ideas edition. “Knowing what to choose [and] when and how to present gifts requires talent. Study the interests and hobbies of each person on your list – then let these be your guide to wise selections, dramatic presentation.”

Continuing, the editors preface the homemade gift section as follows: “If you can paint, sew, glue, or hammer, you’ll want to try your hand at making some of these smart gifts. And once you get started, you’ll work up other clever ideas of your own. However, don’t confine your talents to your family alone. Friends, too, will be delighted with attractive handmade presents – each of which carries a warm message that says ‘just for you.’ In addition, these gifts have another plus – all are easy on the pocketbook.
“Set up your own workshop and begin right now. Keep in mind any special interests of those on your gift list. If Dad likes to take hold of the spoon occasionally, a sturdy apron with a clever pocket is just the answer. Your junior cowboy will go galloping around house and yard on an easy-to-handle hobby-horse. And teen-age daughter who likes to read will appreciate a case for her books."

My research seems to indicate that at mid-century the homemade gift was not really popular and should be given with care, yet I come from a tradition of making gifts, and I can name several friends I believe are also from that background. When I was a child, especially in the ‘50s, we made gifts. My parents encouraged me to think less about what I wanted for Christmas and more about what I could do for others.  I still prefer to think of gifts for my loved ones than to ask what the recipient wants.

Mike startled me when he said, “I don’t remember ever receiving a gift from my grandparents.” My first thought was, “How sad!” Then I thought of my grandparents and realized that while I did receive small gifts from them, they did not provide keepsake gifts. Grandmother Ina – well, we know from her letters that giving gifts was important to her, but she had to search her cupboards to do it. If she spent money for a gift, it was to satisfy a need. And my old-world but self-made Grandfather Portfors limited what he would pay for the obligatory gift, but he would slip a few dollars to me now and then – and he helped educate all of his grandchildren.

Going back even further to my great-grandmother Dickson, she said, “I’ll send you something but don’t expect much,” and the something she sent was a postcard, which was then cherished. 



Well -- whatever -- individuals and families work through gift giving issues according to the factors involved. As for me, I'm still making gifts. 

[The postcard is from my dad's postcard album -- a gift to him from Aunt Ida Patchen.
The mittens were made by our own friend and follower, "Aunt" Chris, about 50 years ago. I still treasure them.
One of my sisters said she would like as many machine lace ornaments as she could get, so guess what I'm giving her.
The shirt for Emmy was such fun to embroider. I've had the designs for several years, just waiting for her to be old enough to get the joke.
And I love the Christmas floral design on the white pillowcases.] KW

Thursday, December 15, 2011

HOLIDAY GREETINGS -- AND HOW TO USE THEM IN YOUR DECOR



 “In some of your holiday decorations, plan to use the greeting cards you’ve saved from last year. Maybe you kept them because they were handmade and carried a very special message for you. Or, perhaps they were just too pretty to throw away. Whatever the reason, seeing them will bring back memories for you, and give everyone who steps inside your door a chance to enjoy them.

“Endless are the ways in which Christmas cards can be used. The six ideas here are only a start, but you can see how attractively they can trim a door, wall, table, or stairway. After NewYear’s, paste the choicest cards in an album to look at all year. Or select several of the most attractive, frame, and hang for year-round enjoyment.” Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Ideas, 1954

I was supposed to keep the cards? Display them next Christmas? Put them in albums? Frame them? I didn’t know . . .

When I was growing up, the cards were a very special part of Christmas with my parents. (I’m sure I’ve written about this before.) The routine at our house was for my dad to make the daily trek to the post office. When he brought in the holiday mail, the Christmas cards would be separated from the remainder and set aside. After supper, we would open and read the cards together. Mother would update the address book as we went along. Then the cards were handed to me to be displayed. I taped the first cards to door frames, and when that was accomplished, I started up the stairs.

After Christmas, it was my job to take the cards down and sort them. If the card could be re-used as a package tag or in making ornaments, it was saved. The others were tossed. Yes, I know!!! --What were we thinking?

I know exactly what we were thinking -- that we just couldn’t save all that. Back in that day, my parents received many Christmas cards! Postage and cards were inexpensive, and people sent cards liberally. It was an age when you remembered anyone of your acquaintance – well, almost – with a card. And there were cards from special friends they had known earlier in their lives.  Perhaps I never would have known much about their past experiences if it hadn’t been for this time of sharing.

Sending cards was a big event for almost everyone, I think. They were properly hand addressed, and many people included personal notes and letters. A few people sent blanket letters. I remember a piano tuner and his wife – both blind – sent an exceptionally interesting letter. As we opened each card, we read the message on the card itself and as well as letters.

I remember this quiet activity with my parents as a very special tradition. When I left home, things changed quickly. Gradually the volume of cards decreased. Mother put them in a basket and invited me to look through them. Just wasn’t the same. And I was never able to duplicate this tradition in my own home either, though I have always displayed the present year’s cards as they come in. KW

[My mother clipped the "lady with muff" from a card but never used it. It's just the kind of image Mother loved. The "mailbox" is just the front of a '50s card, trimmed to serve as a tag. Mother embroidered the nativity and finished it as a card. And "Peace" is actually a recycled card made by a friend of mine from "previously used" cards.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

HERE'S RUDOLPH (UPDATED)


Cater your decorations to the younger set because Christmas is really for children. . . . Christmas began with a family; that's why it has such a hold on the heart, why it's important to endow children with memories of family and home they will treasure. Better Homes and Garden Christmas Ideas, 1957


Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
Had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

I thought that readers were imagining that they saw Rudolph in the picture of Mike and Nellie on the previous post. Turns out I'm the one with the fertile imagination. However, now that the correct photo has been pointed out, yes, that's Rudolph peeking over the counter at the Christmas cookies. And here I thought he was just placidly awaiting his bath and a press job on his red velvet ribbon. Instead he was participating. Here's that picture again in case you missed Rudolph, too. 

So, it's time to talk about Rudolph.
Mike and I attend several parties during the holiday season, mostly related to organizations and commercial interests. It seems like this is the way of Christmas parties these days – at least, it is for us.

A few years ago, we attended a party given by a member of the bicycle club. The house looked great. The tree cast subdued lighting in the living room, and the whole effect with other decorations was one of a Christmas fairyland. I remarked to the host that his wife had done an excellent job with the decorating. “It must have taken a lot of time,” I observed.

“What! This?” he replied. “It doesn’t take time. Everything comes out of storage bins from the garage. And when it’s over, it all goes back in the storage bins.”

Instant decorating! I had never thought of it that way. While I was laboring long with ‘50s ceramics, others were tossing stuffed animals and bigger, non-breakable items around the room to make it merry in a hurry.

Yes, and I can hear you saying, “But that’s just not your style,” and you’re right. Nevertheless, when I see a stuffed animal / character that strikes my fancy, I buy it. And I have a storage bin for them, and maybe I should think about getting another. And they do make a room look festive in a hurry.

Another thing – it awakened me to what holiday stuffed animals I (and Hallie) already had. Hallie had one of those dogs that barks Christmas songs. She also had a holiday “Puff-a-Lump.” Remember “Puff-a-Lumps”?

And I – well, I had Rudolph. He’s old and tired – and I remember him as always old and tired. When I was growing up, many of my toys actually belonged to my older sisters, so one day (when I was an adult) I asked Mother where Rudolph had come from. “Rudolph is yours,” she said in some surprise, as if I should have known. He had been given to me, she said. She didn’t remember the details.

A couple of years ago, the Lewiston Tribune published this old picture of a shelf-ful of “Rudolphs” at Montgomery Ward in Lewiston, 1949. Of course, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was a Montgomery Ward promotion. Well, the timing was right for that Rudolph to be mine. KW

[The postcard is from Vance's postcard album and was his gift from his grandmother, Lucy Dickson, Christmas 1910. He was five years old.]