13 October 2016

A Country Pick'ns Thanksgiving

More years ago than I can remember, we have been going to the Yellow Daisy Festival, and one of my favorite vendors there are a couple named Tom and Jan Messenger out of Kansas who run a craft business called Country Pick'ns. They make little shadow boxes and then the tiny things that go in them, all with a country theme, and sell them at craft shows all around the country. They have several themes: Christmas/winter, camping/cabins, autumn/Hallowe'en, summer/beach, patriotic, sewing, gardening, kitchen/cooking, farm, and homespun/housekeeping. The "shadow boxes" themselves are vertical or horizontal, and some look like bookshelves, but all are in miniature. Over the years, I've bought several sets from them:

Previous Purchases

The "Me" Shelf Completed

In addition, when my friends Mike and Jen got married, they went camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for their honeymoon, and I did a Country Pick'ns shadowbox as their wedding present, with a deer, a canoe, a campfire, a lantern, and a few other appropriate items.

The one shadowbox I've always wanted to make, however, was a Thanksgiving-themed one, but they didn't have one. I've been thinking and thinking about this for several years now, and when we went to Yellow Daisy this year I went through all the items, bit by bit, to see what I could work with. Below is what I came home with.

As you can see, most of the items have a general fall theme. The closest shadow box background that I could find that would work with Thanksgiving, however, was actually a Hallowe'en-themed item and originally had a goofy-looking cat behind the pumpkins. I took the back off and painted it out before I took this photo. Then I went online and found a cartoon turkey (at left) that was the closest I could find that would approximate the Country Pick'ns style. I cut a slit along the top of the pumpkins in the background image and slid the turkey in.

The bread on the breadboard, the pumpkin and "bittersweet" in the pail, the second pumpkin, the corn in the basket with the leaf on it, the pie, and the "harvest blessings" sign I could use "as is," since they all related to harvest and feasting, but the rest would need a little fixing.

The witch hat I sawed the top off, and also the little curl on each side, and painted the whole black with a brown band and a gold buckle to be a "Pilgrim hat." Yeah, I know Pilgrims didn't wear hats like that, despite the pictures, but it's part of the iconography. Even the Mass Pike has the stereotypical Pilgrim hat as a symbol.

The chicken I took and painted its body brown like a turkey and gave it a big wattle. It still looks chicken-y; I guess we can call it a ticken? :-) Or a churky? Whatever.

I took the autumn lady, clipped the brims off her hat, and then painted what was left of her hat white, giving it some bonnet lines with a drawing pen, and gave her a big white collar as in the paintings of 17th century woman, along with black shoes with buckles, plus I darkened her skirt to a darker autumn color.

The "jump in the leaves" plaque I popped the leaves off with an X-acto knife (losing one in the process) and completely repainted, then glued the leaves back on. (I had to buy extra leaves through an online craft store since Michaels quit carrying them. I peppered a few more on the shadow box frame itself.)

If I had it to do over again I would not have used such a wide drawing pen. It doesn't quite look like Jan Messenger's work, although I tried to duplicate her style as much as possible. I think I'm also going to borrow some matte-finish from James so the repainted areas—I only had gloss paint—won't shine so much.

But...here's the result. I have my Thanksgiving shelf at last.

11 October 2016

Happy Hygge!

Do you know about hygge? it's a Scandinavian concept with an "emphasis on the delights of small pleasures slowly taken." There's summer hygge as well, but in winter it comes into its own, "all about candelight, wood piles, open fires, warm socks, felt slippers and cosy blankets...[i]t's also about cherishing the magic of autumn and winter—from wild walks along stormy beaches to stargazing in clear winter skies to celebrating the year's first frost" and then coming home to warm drinks, good food, and the warmth of fire and friends.

Here are some books about hygge:

The Cozy Life

Hygge: The Complete Guide

Hygge is what some magazines today are calling "mindfulness"—to slow down and appreciate all the good things in your life, even if it's something so small as seeing a new bird, watching a beautiful leaf fall, eating a crisp fall apple, or doing some tiny thing. It can be translated into a way of cooking or a way of decorating, but that's not really "hygge"; it's truly the thought that counts. One of my favorite new magazines, "The Simple Things," tries to celebrate the idea of hygge in every issue: a handful of bright flowers in a drinking glass, a simple meal with friends, reading a favorite book, sitting by a fire and sipping tea.

This fall and winter forget the competitive Christmas shopping and enjoy some hygge!

Incidentally, it's pronounced "hue-gah."

(The quotes in the first paragraph are from the September 2016 issue of "The Simple Things.")

01 October 2016

30 September 2016

Autumn Poetry

"It's September"
by Edgar A. Guest

It's September, and the orchards are afire with red and gold,
And the nights with dew are heavy, and the morning's sharp with cold;
And the good old-fashioned asters laughing at us from their bed;
Once again in shoes and stockings are the children's little feet,
And the dog now does his snoozing on the bright side of the street.

It's September, and the cornstalks are as high as they will go,
And the red cheeks of the apples everywhere begin to show;
Now the supper's scarcely over ere the darkness settles down
And the moon looms big and yellow at the edges of the town;
Oh, it's good to see the children, when their little prayers are said,
Duck beneath the patchwork covers when they tumble into bed.

It's September, and a calmness and a sweetness seem to fall
Over everything that's living, just as though it hears the call
Of Old Winter, trudging slowly, with his pack of ice and snow,
In the distance over yonder, and it somehow seems as though
Every tiny little blossom wants to look its very best
When the frost shall bite its petals and it droops away to rest.

It's September! It's the fullness and the ripeness of the year;
All the work of earth is finished, or the final tasks are near,
But there is no doleful wailing; every living thing that grows,
For the end that is approaching wears the finest garb it knows.
And I pray that I may proudly hold my head up high and smile
When I come to my September in the golden afterwhile.

Rudolph Day, September 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Christmas in the Crosshairs, Gerry Bowler
"There's a war on Christmas!" has been proclaimed now for several years by groups angry about stores saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" or state governments forced to take state-funded creches off state property, etc. Is there really a "war on Christmas"? Well, yes, says Gerry Bowler—but then there always has been.

Christmas has, believe it or not, been a bone of contention since 4 AD (or 4 CE, if you prefer). The early Christian church sanctioned no Christmas celebration and in fact, over the years the most vociferous opponents to Christmas merrymaking have been Christians themselves. "We should not be celebrating the birth of the Christ child as if he were some King Pharaoh," thundered early Christian leaders. The Puritans pointed out that nowhere in the New Testament was "Christmas" mentioned, just a weekly day of rest and prayer, and those were their only days of rest practiced in their meeting houses. The new Protestant religions, especially the Calvinists and Presbyterians, post-reformation rejected "Popish" Christmas celebrations while others pointed out that most of our Christmas customs derive from earlier pagan practices (mistletoe, the evergreen tree, the Yule log), other old time practices (feasting due to killing of livestock that couldn't be fed during the winter and gifts which came from Roman custom of giving gifts at the New Year), or involved wicked events like dancing and singing of songs that were not hymns and—heaven forbid!—men dressing like women and vice-versa. Other religions, as well as nonbelievers, were tired of stores being overwhelmed by Christmas carols and decorations from late November, and worse, their non-Christian children being forced to make Christmas ornaments and sing religious songs.

Bowler neatly and sometimes humorously recounts the history of the holiday, and the protests against it, from the Christian rise which overtook the pagan religions (and absorbed so many of their customs) all the way up to the protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, the ACLU, and various organizations who feel there's just too much Christmas in December. Since I collect books on the history of Christmas, this was a welcome find. I have Mr. Bowler's World Encyclopedia of Christmas and I'm off to find Mr. Bowler's book about Santa Claus now; Christmas in the Crosshairs would make another good-reading addition to my library!

What if we make something for Christmas? Many craft projects should be started now:

"Better Homes and Gardens" Christmas Crafts

"Country Living" Christmas Crafts

"Parents" Christmas Crafts for Kids

Cross-Stitch Christmas Free Patterns

12 September 2016

Autumn Poetry

My Autumn Leaves
By Bruce Weigl

I watch the woods for deer as if I’m armed.
I watch the woods for deer who never come.
I know the hes and shes in autumn
rendezvous in orchards stained with fallen
apples’ scent. I drive my car this way to work
so I may let the crows in corn believe
it’s me their caws are meant to warn,
and snakes who turn in warm and secret caves

they know me too. They know the boy
who lives inside me still won’t go away.
The deer are ghosts who slip between the light
through trees, so you may only hear the snap
of branches in the thicket beyond hope.
I watch the woods for deer, as if I’m armed.

25 August 2016

Rudolph Day, August 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

A Yorkshire Christmas, George Collard
This is another in Sutton's line of Christmas books, either from English shires (their equivalent of a county) or during a certain time or literary period. Having picked up one (Worcestershire Christmas) at a book sale, I've collected one or two at the time when I can find them inexpensively (not to mention Surrey Christmas turned up a year later at the same book sale).

This one is a particularly happy find because so many familiar writers are contained within. The Brontes were from Yorkshire, so both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre supply Yuletide passages and the family is heavily represented. Charles Dickens apparently wrote most of A Christmas Carol in Malton, and Scrooge's office was based on the office of Dickens' friend. Lewis Carroll, Winifred Holtby (from her famous book South Riding), and James Herriott also supply seasonal literary passages. Historical events taking place at Christmas, such as King Arthur's Christmas in York, the defeat of the Duke of York by armies commanded by Margaret of Anjou (the wife of kidnapped King Henry), William the Conqueror's victory over King Harold on Christmas Day, and others are also included. The best readings are nostalgic memories of old Yorkshire customs like the Waits, Lucky Birds, frumenty and fluffin, the amazing Yorkshire Christmas pie, charity by the rich to the poor, simple gift exchanges (oranges or figs, small toys, the custom of families knitting, travel by stagecoach, and instances of deep snow.

The volume is liberally illustrated with vintage illustrations and photographs from 1900 through the 1940s. The passages are all short and can be read one or two a night before the holidays.

* * * * *

For a classic story, but on the American side of the Atlantic, none is more heartwarming than Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," here read on stage:

05 July 2016

Already Anticipating Christmas!

I'm the guest blogger today at Joanna Wilson's "Christmas TV History":


04 July 2016

25 June 2016

Rudolph Day, June 2016

Hurrah! It's Leon Day! Only six months until Christmas! Have you begun your Christmas shopping yet? Don't let the holidays leave you with another enormous bill in January; start buying now, as soon as you see something you know a friend or family member would like. These can be hidden in boxes under beds, in the dark corners of closets, if they are not perishable in the high corners of the garage or the attic, etc. Gift cards from established stores can be purchased now and put away. Don't be afraid to shop clearance sales—some beautiful items can be found marked down and they can be stored away for the next five months.

Summer already on your last nerve? Yeah, me, too. Here are three Christmasy pictures to cheer  me  you up:

1001 Christmas Facts and Fancies, Alfred Carl Hottes
This is a grand little book about Christmas that I first read at the library and then found an inexpensive copy online. It is the sort of Christmas book I like, with chapters about different aspects of Christmas: the history of Christmas celebrations, customs in different countries and traditional foods in those countries, kinds of Christmas trees, legends and stories of Christmas, etc., all illustrated with black-and-white scratchboard and pen-and-ink.

The chief draw of this book is that it was originally published in 1937. My edition is postwar, from 1946, but the text remains the same, so that "current Christmas customs" have no mention of synchronized singing-and-dancing house lights, computer graphics, and other 21st century garnish. Indeed, the author shows a slight scorn for artificial decorations and plays up fresh greens and real trees. He even opens with a definition of Christmas that includes Santa Claus leaving gifts in stockings and on (not under) the Christmas tree, which was the original custom,  for everyone who's ever puzzled about "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the line about "presents on the tree." (I read a story taking place in World War II which had a man in his twenties questioning that line, which I knew was wrong; a man that age would have remembered when gifts were hung on the Christmas tree. Books published in the late 1940s still mention this custom.)

(Another old custom which I has vaguely heard of Hottes quotes as common: leaving a red candle [specifically red, in a green candle holder] lighted as a Christmas decoration. I thought that was solely an Irish custom, but apparently it was popular in the United States as well.)

In the 1930s the fascination with medieval Christmas feasts seemed to have still been in effect, because there is a lively chapter about a Yuletide banquet in a medieval castle, with its odd foods like peacock served in its own feathers, bread trenchers used as plates, traditional games like Hot Cockles, etc. Another chapter dealing with Christmas music includes the original English translation for the now classic "Silent Night," words different than we know them today. The stories about Christmas in other lands come directly from descriptions written by people who were there observing them, so they are different than the usual canned narrations used in other books.

People interested in vintage Christmas customs will probably enjoy Hottes' compilation. It can be read in chapter order, or one can dip in and read what interests them. And, thankfully, it doesn't contain any dialect-heavy "happy memories of plantation life" stories like many of these older books.

24 June 2016

04 May 2016

Should Old Customs Be Forgotten...

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/08/2e/56/082e566d14386d6a097a8978fe135a81.jpgIf you read as many books about Christmas customs as I have, you'll discover several writers quoted quite commonly. Charles Dickens, of course, is one, and Marjorie Holmes, from her At Christmas the Heart Goes Home, is another. But for Christian celebration customs, one writer is mentioned more than the rest: Francis X. Weiser, a Jesuit priest who wrote the classic The Christmas Book. Lesser known is Weiser's The Easter Book, which was written a few years later.

This is a very plain book, no fancy color illustrations or slick paper (there are line illustrations at the beginning of each chapter), just Weiser's lively narration about the Easter season, starting from the very first Easter (and tracing some of the pagan aspects greeting the spring that still remain in the celebration) and tracing ancient and modern celebrations from preparations before Lent through the Ascension. (I was amused at the revision of the tale of the Maypole, which was originally a pagan fertility symbol.) I learned several things here which I had never known before, one being that the word "quarantine" comes from preparations for Lent ("quarantine" referring to the forty days of Lent) many years before it was used for restrictions due to sickness. Also, there was always the joke when I was a schoolkid that it was really called "Length" because it lasted so long. Actually the word "Lent" does sort of mean that: it comes from Anglo-Saxon Lengten-tide (springtime), "lengten" referring to the days lengthening as the summer solstice approaches. Not to mention that the Sunday after Easter is "Low Sunday" because Easter Sunday through "Low" Sunday is all part of Easter week, with Easter being the "High" Sunday.

This book was published in 1954 and the one thing you wistfully wonder when you read it is if 62 years later the charming customs Weiser details so lovingly—sprinkling water in Hungary and Germany on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, not washing clothes on Good Friday, skipping rope in one English village, red eggs only in Greece, wearing mourning or at least dark clothing in Poland during Lent, etc.—are still kept. Even before I left home in the 1980s, it was no longer common to see Septuagesima Sunday, Sexagisima Sunday, and Quinquagesima Sunday listed in our missalettes (not to mention the aforementioned Low Sunday), although they were delightful tongue-twisters to a word-worshiping child. This book will make you nostalgic for seemingly innocent days when children reveled in finding home-made Easter baskets and you could hold open house where any stranger could walk in and not worry about being attacked.

A good edition to anyone's holiday library if you can find a copy at a decent price. This was the first one I found that wasn't over $50!

And I've finished this review just in time because tomorrow is Ascension Thursday...

25 April 2016

Rudolph Day, April 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

An Old English Christmas—for some these are magical words, having read books about classic Christmas celebrations in Regency, Victorian, and wartime Britain. The streets of 20th century London can be seen here. Even older celebrations exist: wassailing of apple trees, mince pies baked for good luck, choral singing, church bells, Royal Christmas trees.

London still glitters today:

Image result for London Christmas


A London Christmas, edited by Marina Catacuzino
This is a lovely entry in Sutton Publishing's line of "A ____________ Christmas" series—one for each shire, some specialties (A Jane Austen Christmas, A Victorian Christmas, A Wartime Christmas, etc.), and of course this one, for the capitol city. They are collections of excerpts from nonfiction ranging from diaries (like Pepys and Swift) and police reports and memoirs (including children's writer John Garfield), and fiction from George Gissing and Charles Dickens (yes, of course from A Christmas Carol). There are descriptions of Christmas markets groaning with food, the rich going Christmas shopping, and a man mourning the Victorian fashion of children's Christmas parties. However, not all is jolly: poor costermongers going "a-Christmasing" describe their hard work, the bitter "Christmas in the Workhouse" appears, and two bleak holidays are described by Gissing. Historically we visit William the Conqueror's crowning, frost fairs on the Thames, London in the Blitz, medieval banquets at the Middle Temple, and the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

Certainly color photographs would have been much better, but these are decorated with vintage black and white prints and engravings that complement the text. Great for nightly readings before Christmas or, like today, as a respite against already sultry temperatures. If you see one at a used bookstore, give it a try!

27 March 2016

Happy Rankin Bass Easter!

I believe these are all available on DVD now! Buy these restored versions for yourself!

And my favorite of all:

22 March 2016

Something to Hold You Through the Long, Endless Summer

William Stanley Braithwaite

THERE is music in the meadows, in the air —
     Autumn is here;
Skies are gray, but hearts are mellow,
     Leaves are crimson, brown, and yellow;
Pines are soughing, birches stir,
     And the Gipsy trail is fresh beneath the fir.

There is rhythm in the woods, and in the fields,
     Nature yields:
And the harvest voices crying,
     Blend with Autumn zephyrs sighing;
Tone and color, frost and fire,
     Wings the nocturne Nature plays upon her lyre.