Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Sunday Serenade: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

A popular gospel song in the early years of the 20th century was “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Here’s a version I like (yes, that’s Andy Griffith a.k.a. Sheriff Taylor on the far right, standing next to the bride who, if memory serves, is Barney Fife in disguise).

According to Liz Tolsma at Hymn Sing, “Anthony Showalter was leading a singing school in an Alabama church in 1887. When he returned to his boardinghouse room one night, two letters awaited him. Both were from former students, and both men told of the recent loss of their wives. Mr. Showalter wrote back, seeking to comfort the young men in the midst of their grief.

“But what to write? When he came to the end of each letter, he wanted to include a Bible verse. He picked Deuteronomy 33:27, ‘The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms ….'”

And that’s how “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” came to be. Have a blessed Sunday!

Retro Recipe Wednesday: Startling Stuffing Recipes and a Poem to Carve By

As you take a break in your Thanksgiving preparations, I hope you get a chuckle out of these rather unique stuffing recipes from the November 1936 issue of Delineator magazine. Clearly the writer had a romance going with her can opener–indeed, she writes, “In addition to being a gastronomic delight, [stuffing] is such a practical method of inexpensively stretching costly poultry . . . It’s not a nuisance; not anymore. Not if you have a good can-opener and a well-stocked pantry shelf.”

In her defense, in 1936 the country was still suffering through the Great Depression. It’s quite possible that canned goods were more affordable and “stretchable” to feed a family than fresh ingredients, unless a homemaker were able to grow and can her own garden produce. (That still doesn’t account for the canned spaghetti, though.)

Regarding these recipes, I guess I shouldn’t laugh at them until I’ve tried them. But I don’t think I’ll be trying them anytime soon.

Spaghetti Stuffing: From the can to a duck in practically one operation. To a number-two can of spaghetti with tomato sauce, add one egg, unbeaten, salt, pepper, celery salt, onion salt or a minced onion, one tablespoon drippings and one-half cup crumbs. And that’s all there is to it.

“Corned Beef Hash Stuffing: Mix a number-two can of corned beef hash, a can of ready-to-serve mushroom soup, a minced onion, a minced green pepper, a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce, an egg and sufficient bread crumbs to fill the bird. Add a little milk, if the dressing is dry.

“Baked Bean Stuffing: Just open a can of baked beans with tomato sauce, add chopped onion that has been sauteed in two tablespoons shortening, an egg, a quarter cup milk, one cup bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce to taste.

“Chili Con Carne Stuffing: Blend a cup of flaky boiled rice, a number-two can of chili con carne, a minced green pepper, an egg, celery, onion, and garlic salts to taste and enough cracker dust to make firm enough for stuffing. Thin with  a little soup stock if needed.”

After you’ve prepared one of those, er, innovative stuffings–and if  your family still agrees to come to the table–here’s a delightful poem from the same issue of Delineator. Read along as “Uncle Dudley” compliments his niece on her first turkey and instructs his nephew on the fine art of carving the holiday bird:

 
A bird, m’dear, of which to boast!
Now for dissection by our host.

Tut, tut, what dreadful massacre, my son,
‘Tis not by force that many a battle’s won.
Such brutal strength but makes the gravy splatter.
Let Uncle Dudley show you what’s the matter.

Keep two things sharp to lead a happy life,
Your wit, my dear, also your carving knife.
And, note, I place this gustatory sight–
His neck upon my left, tail on my right.

With fork firm in the breast (the topmost point),
slice off the thigh, just so–right at the joint.
Then poise your trusty carving knife on high
and sever, thus, the drumstick from the thigh.

Next, slip the knife between the breast and wing
and make a sharp incision with the thing;
Lo, with a manly twist of gleaming blade
A gap between the bird and wing is made.

White meat–ah, there is art in deftly slicing
thin, snowy morsels, dainty and enticing
from just above the wing, these tidbits would
be fit, I vow, for an archangel’s food.

Two crosswise slits in poor Sir Gobbler’s rear
(above the sewing)–stuffing doth appear.
Fold back the skin and scoop it out, like this.
Egad, dear niece, what epicurean bliss!

Forget the thanks, my boy, for I am bent
on tasting of this turkey succulent.

Happy Thanksgiving, Sparklers! Let’s be thankful for all of God’s good gifts to us, whether they come from a can or an organic farm, from the most well-appointed state-of-the-art kitchen or the humblest pantry. His grace and provision know no bounds.

Charm School: Velvet Voice or Vocal Fry?

My mother and I have a little code that passes between us when some aspect of modern life slaps us in the face. The code is “W. H. T. G. L.,” which stands for “Whatever Happened to Gracious Living?” Over the years “W. H. T. G. L.” has been applied to everything from offensive language to sloppy table manners to modern modes of dress. Lest we sound like a pair of mean-spirited killjoys, understand that we only wish that society would realize that there is a time and a place (and, indeed, such a thing as) “company manners.” (And since there’s always room for improvement, a “W. H. T. G. L.” moment often serves as a warning to ourselves just as much–and perhaps even more–than a critique of other people.)

In the spirit of W. H. T. G. L., I’ll be offering an occasional “Charm School” lesson for modern readers. This observation is purely my opinion and you are free, as always, to take it or leave it. But I hope you will consider the merits of these “antique” manners before completely dismissing them as outmoded and useless.

Here we go!

WHAT WE SAY AND HOW WE SAY IT, PART I: VOICE

I’ve noticed a trend, particularly among young women, to cultivate a raspy, hoarse voice. Think of the last time you had laryngitis. That’s the desired sound: thick, croaky, phlegmy.

At first I thought that I was imagining things, or that perhaps there’d been an epidemic of sore throats or pack-a-day smoking, but recently I discovered that this is an actual trend called “vocal fry” or “creaky voice.” Ladies are even offering each other advice on how to achieve this wondrous effect. (My personal favorite tip: Scream into a pillow until you are hoarse.) Who cares if it wrecks your vocal chords as long as it sounds cool, right?

To my ears, this vocal quality sounds harsh, tough, and unattractive, but of course I am an Old Person. I’m also personally burdened with the flat, nasal tones of the Midwest and so have no call to criticize. Still, I can’t help but contrast this “vocal fry” trend with the soft, melodious voices valued by earlier generations.

Here’s what the inimitable Emily Post had to say about ladies’ voices in the 1922 edition of Etiquette, her classic tome on proper behavior:

“First of all, remember that while affectation is odious, crudeness must be overcome. A low voice is always pleasing, not whispered or murmured, but low in pitch. Do not talk at the top of your head, nor at the top of your lungs. Do not slur whole sentences together; on the other hand, do not pronounce as though each syllable were a separate tongue and lip exercise.

“As a nation we do not talk so much too fast, as too loud. Tens of thousands twang and slur and shout and burr! Many of us drawl and many others of us race tongues and breath at full speed, but, as already said, the speed of our speech does not matter so much. Pitch of voice matters very much and so does pronunciation—enunciation is not so essential—except to one who speaks in public.

“Enunciation means the articulation of whatever you have to say distinctly and clearly. Pronunciation is the proper sounding of consonants, vowels and the accentuation of each syllable.

“There is no better way to cultivate a perfect pronunciation; apart from association with cultivated people, than by getting a small pronouncing dictionary of words in ordinary use, and reading it word by word, marking and studying any that you use frequently and mispronounce. When you know them, then read any book at random slowly aloud to yourself, very carefully pronouncing each word. The consciousness of this exercise may make you stilted in conversation at first, but by and by the “sense” or “impulse” to speak correctly will come.

“This is a method that has been followed by many men handicapped in youth through lack of education, who have become prominent in public life, and by many women, who likewise handicapped by circumstances, have not only made possible a creditable position for themselves, but have then given their children the inestimable advantage of learning their mother tongue correctly at their mother’s knee.”

Later we’ll tackle part II of “What We Say and How We Say It””: Content. Until then, sparkle on!

Down to Business: Vintage Advice for the Working Girl

In a spirit of getting back to business after a weekend of fun, Monday morning seems like a fitting time to chat about the workplace. Whether “going to work” takes you to an office, a hospital, a factory, a store, a classroom, or your very own kitchen, many tidbits of advice from days of yore boil down to plain, old-fashioned common sense. When it comes to the work world, women may have “come a long way, baby” in many ways. However, along with those gains has too often come a loss of something precious: a sense of a woman’s natural grace, dignity, and femininity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. An earnest quest for the corner office needn’t mean completely abandoning our Sparkling Vintage selves. A solid work ethic doesn’t depend on acting crass, rude, or pushy. We can be savvy businesswomen without losing our charm. In fact, a gracious manner simply makes  good business sense, helping us build better business relationships and please bosses and customers alike. Try it and see!

Here are a few handy tips from 1913 for getting along in business as a woman, taken from Good Form and Social Ethics by Fannie Dickerson Chase.

“When starting out to earn your own living, don’t think you know it all; there are a few who know very nearly as much as you do.

When you enter an office or business house for the first time, do exactly as you are told; use your eyes to see what is to be done.

Be on time–if you lose an arm to do it; get to business on time above all else; don’t be two minutes late.

If you promise to do a thing at a certain time, do it; do as you promise. Thousands of dollars have been lost because someone failed to do as he agreed.

Don’t have friends constantly calling you on the telephone; the instrument was put into the office for business, not for visiting.

Don’t think that because your employer is sitting at his desk and apparently doing nothing, he wants you to talk to him; sometimes his mind is on a weighty problem, and he doesn’t need your help in planning it out.

Be pleasant as soon as you step inside the office; nobody wants to know about your troubles. Your time is not your own; it belongs to your employer, and he doesn’t hire you to look gloomy.

From the time you enter the office until you leave it, attend solely to your duty. When you have finished attending to your duties, leave the office. The habit of lingering after business hours to chat with the young men in the office is a bad one.”

You see? Every one of these suggestions applies just as well to today’s workplace as it did in 1913.

Next week we’ll look at some more Sparkling Vintage tips for getting down to business.

 

On Preserving Civilization

Margery Wilson (1896-1986), a silent-screen actress and director and author of advice books for women

Hmm, preserving civilization . . . could I choose a more ambitious topic for a Thursday morning, fellow Sparklers?

As you begin to incorporate tiny, vintage touches into your daily life, some people will question your seriousness or even your sanity. They will question your desire to preserve the finer points of civilized life when so many more serious problems in the world need our attention.

It’s my firm belief that far from being trivialities, the little comforts and small courtesies of a bygone age do much to ease conflict and facilitate good relationships. That’s why, in the face of naysayers, I will continue to pursue a Sparkling Vintage Life.

Along those lines, the following passage is taken from The Woman You Want to Be: Margery Wilson’s Complete Book of Charm, first published in 1928 and updated several times. My copy was printed in 1942, when women on the home front were struggling through World War II.   In this case it sounds like Miss Wilson’s wisdom applies as much to today’s unstable world  as it did back then.

WOMEN MUST PRESERVE CIVILIZATION
by Margery Wilson

“In the coming years we shall need all the charm, aplomb and philosophy we can get. It will be the task of women to keep the world from despond, to keep the prettier gestures of good living going with meager materials. . . . Under the most trivial, be-curled, made-up and high-heeled female there burns a desire to be needed. All the talk of our softness and laziness will fall meaningless, blunted on the fact that close under the surface of the average woman is more strength of purpose (when it isn’t needed, it’s called stubbornness), fierce loyalty (no lioness can equal it), and capacity for comradeship than the modern man even suspects.

“In commending Clara Barton, one-time clerk in the Patent Office, who started the American Red Cross, [Abraham] Lincoln said of women in general, ‘If all that the poets have ever said or sung were gathered together to describe the women of America during the war, it could not do them justice.’

“WE WILL NOT FAIL IN ANY CRISIS TO COME. To the extent of our ability we will keep the torch of civilized home-life burning. We will create beauty with whatever materials are at hand. We will fan the embers of kindness in a brute-stricken world. We will hold high the gains of learning, decency. We will heal and hold to our hearts the wounded, the young, the needy. It is a great privilege to be a woman today.”

So there you have it, Sparklers. There’s no reason we can’t both work hard to change the world AND maintain the simple pleasures that make life worth living. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Retro Recipe Wednesday: It’s Kaffeeklatsch time!

Cinnamon Coffee Cake“Come on over for a cup of coffee!” Those words can brighten even the most dreary, blustery morning.

One lovely Sparkling Vintage tradition that deserves to be revived is the gathering of  friends over morning coffee and good conversation. The “kaffeeklatsch” (German for “coffee” and “chitchat”) was a standing custom in many neighborhoods fifty-plus years ago. Friends would drop in for coffee and often a pastry, and get caught up with each other’s lives around the kitchen table.

Less formal than an afternoon tea, morning coffee warmed women’s hearts as well as their palates. It provided a nice break from housework and helped weave strong friendships that benefited the entire neighborhood.

Why not give a kaffeeklatsch a try with the women in your neighborhood? If you don’t know your neighbors well, it’s a great way to get acquainted. In today’s crazy-busy world, it’s a real treat to slow down and honor this old-fashioned custom, gathering informally with friends over a pot of coffee (or tea or cocoa) and some freshly-baked treat. If nobody’s home in your neighborhood during the week, schedule it for a weekend. Who knows–maybe it will become  a cherished neighborhood tradition!

Here’s a recipe for a very simple Cinnamon Coffee Cake, pictured above, that is the perfect pairing to morning coffee. This recipe comes from a church cookbook published in 1959. It tastes best when eaten the same day, so plan to pull it from the oven shortly before your friends arrive.

(The notes in brackets are mine. Like many of her generation, the lady who submitted the recipe assumed a certain basic level of cooking know-how on the part of her reader–for instance, what size pan to use.)

CINNAMON COFFEE CAKE

1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbs. butter, melted
1/2 c. milk
1 beaten egg
extra sugar and cinnamon for topping

Sift all dry ingredients together, then stir in the melted butter, milk, and egg. Place in a wide shallow pan [I use a greased 8-inch layer cake pan] and sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon. Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit until golden brown and cake springs back when touched lightly in the center.

Serves 5-6

This recipe couldn’t be simpler and probably uses many ingredients you already have on hand. You can also vary this recipe by adding chopped apples or pears or pecans.

Enjoy!

What’s So Great About Gloves?

My first memory of white gloves involves wearing them to church. It was an Easter Sunday when I was three or four years old. I was all spiffed out in a new outfit–a robin’s egg blue coat, as I recall, and a hat to match, with an elastic band that went under my chin to keep it on my head. The final touch was a pair of white cotton gloves. We must have been running late that morning, because my hapless older brother was assigned the herculean task of putting the gloves on my hands during the car ride to church.

Well.To hear him tell the tale, getting the gloves onto my hands was akin to stuffing a live squid into a tube. Or maybe ten live squids, one for each finger. All I know is, by the time we got to church, dire threats were being uttered lest I should dare to remove the gloves from my hands before lunchtime. I did not dare. Unfortunately, all of us children were given special treats that day during Sunday school. Chocolate treats, of the kind that melts both in your mouth AND in your hands. White gloves plus melted chocolate equaled one hot mess. But let the record show that I kept my promise not to remove my gloves.

That incident spelled the end of my white-glove-wearing days until a few years ago, when I found a sweet pair of vintage white cotton gloves in an antique store. I had to have them, and then, naturally, I had to wear them. So I did, on an Easter Sunday, to church (no chocolate in sight, alas). I received a few comments, but one really stuck out to me: “I love your gloves! I wish I were brave enough to wear something like that.”

Now, honestly. “Brave” are soldiers fighting for our country. “Brave” are first responders rescuing people from burning buildings. When “brave” gets applied to wearing a couple of pieces of flimsy cotton on one’s hands, it seems that we’re setting the bar rather low, don’t you think?

While I don’t consider myself “brave” for wearing gloves, I do love them. Look at all the things they’re good for!

Gloves keep your hands clean. In a germ-conscious age, instead of slathering antibacterial lotion on your hands every five minutes, why not cover your them with gloves and then toss the gloves in the washer at the end of the day?

Gloves make a handshake more comfortable. No more clammy-hand concerns. Yours or theirs.

Gloves look elegant. Think Jackie O. and Grace Kelly (above). Gloves add an elegant touch to any nice outfit.

Just steer clear of the chocolate.

A Cameo Appearance

I love cameos. I have only three of them, so it may be a stretch to call myself a collector. But I love to look at them, hold them in my hand, and wear them on a chain around my neck or pinned to my jacket. I’m not sure what the attraction is . . . only that I love the delicate carving, the contrast of a pale image against a darker background, and the feeling that I get when I wear one. They’re vintage and classic. Something about a cameo evokes a sense of grace, femininity, and elegance. Maybe I enjoy cameos because, somewhere deep down inside, I’d like to be That Kind of Woman–a woman worthy of having her likeness carved on a cameo.

Of course, as Christian woman I take my cues not from a piece of jewelry, but from the Word of God, which tells us that a woman’s worth comes not from her appearance, but from her faith and how she lives it out. She should adorn herself “in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire [or, one can assume, cameos], but with what is proper for women who profess godliness–with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:9-10. ESV).  If push came to shove, I’d rather bear the image of Christ on my life than the most beautiful image of  a stranger carved from bit of seashell or ivory.

That said, I do love my cameos. Here’s some more interesting information about this intriguing art form.

 

A tribute to Tasha Tudor, and a challenge to myself

tasha tudorI’ve always been intrigued by the late Tasha Tudor. While raising a family and pursuing a successful career as an illustrator, this remarkable woman somehow managed to arrange her life as if she were living in the 1830s. Here’s how her children describe her life:

“Her Vermont home, though only 30 years old, feels as though it was built in the 1830’s, her favorite time period. Seth Tudor, one of Tasha’s four children, built her home using hand tools when Tasha moved to Vermont in the 1970’s. Tasha Tudor lived among period antiques, using them in her daily life.  She was quite adept at ‘Heirloom Crafts’, though she detested the term, including candle dipping, weaving, soap making, doll making and knitting. She lived without running water until her youngest child was five years old.

“From a young age Tasha Tudor was interested in the home arts. She excelled in cooking, canning, cheese-making, ice cream making and many other home skills. As anyone who has eaten at Tasha Tudor’s would know, her cooking skills were unsurpassed. She collected eggs from her chickens in the evenings, cooked and baked with fresh goats milk, and used only fresh or dried herbs from her garden. Tasha Tudor was renowned for her Afternoon Tea parties.”

Now, just to clarify, I’m no Tasha Tudor.  I appreciate modern conveniences including, but certainly not limited to, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and the Internet. And my favorite time period skews less toward the 1830s and more toward the 1930s. Still, I admire Tasha Tudor’s willingness to “buck the system” and create a life that celebrated the values that she cherished most, no matter what others may have thought.

We don’t always have control over the circumstances and the people God places in our lives. Even so, each of us makes innumerable tiny choices every day that affect our quality of life. If you are drawn to elements of the past, why not incorporate them into your busy modern life?

That’s what “A Sparkling Vintage Life” is all about. I’m writing it to encourage myself, as well as you, to live a Sparkling Vintage Life . . . to design our lives on our own terms, insofar as it is in our power to do so. If you love vintage clothing, wear vintage clothing. If an entire outfit of vintage looks too theatrical, then pin an antique brooch to your business suit, or sling a lacy scarf over your no-nonsense winter coat. Pass up the chipped, stained, trade-show-freebie mug and pour your morning coffee into a pretty porcelain cup. Choose to surprise and delight a friend with a chatty handwritten letter, stamped and mailed, instead of an e-mail.

See what I mean?

I’m not just talking about material objects, either. A Sparkling Vintage Life includes practicing good old-fashioned manners and habits. Like gathering the family around the dinner table, instead of grabbing fast food before everyone heads off in a different direction.   Taking time to help a neighbor. Reading to a child instead of handing him the TV remote. Growing your own vegetable patch, or supporting local farmers, instead of settling for the anemic produce available at the supermarket. Developing old-fashioned skills of self-reliance: cooking, baking, canning, gardening, sewing, carpentry, just because they’re interesting and you never know when they might come in handy.

In other words, a Sparkling Vintage Life means not settling for mundane modern mediocrity, if your heart is yearning for something different. That’s what a Sparkling Vintage Life is all about. Won’t you join me?

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