Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Monthly Archives: October 2015

Go Mad for Plaid (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 30)

plaid adPlaid fabric has long been associated with fall for a very good reason: it’s warm and cozy as the temperature drops! Weather in Scotland, where plaid originated, can notoriously blustery and harsh. During the 1500s, a “plaid” simply meant a kilt or blanket meant to keep the wearer warm. “Tartan” refers to a specific, unique pattern in the weave of a plaid that signified a particular clan, group, or home territory . . . “team colors,” you might say. Highlanders wore, and still wear, their tartan-bearing plaids with great pride. In fact, the wearing of tartan was banned by the English government for a time in the 18th century, as it was considered sign of rebellion against British rule.

Clan Lamont tartan--my family's plaid. Source: tartanregister.gov.uk

Clan Lamont tartan–my family’s plaid. Source: tartanregister.gov.uk

Buffalo plaid shirt, favored shirt of lumberjacks and grunge rockers. Source: bustle.com

Buffalo plaid shirt, favored shirt of lumberjacks and grunge rockers. Source: bustle.com

During the 19th century, American importers and manufacturers applied the term “plaid” to any tartan-patterned fabric. “Buffalo plaid,” the red-and-black fabric long associated with lumberjacks and other hardy outdoorsmen, is distinctly American, first produced by the Woolrich company in the mid-1800s. Oregon’s Pendleton Woolen Mills began mass-producing their iconic buffalo-plaid shirt for men in 1924 and for women in 1949.

Plaid enjoyed another flirtation with rebellion in the 1990s, when it was favored by grunge rockers.

The fashion world has once again proclaimed plaid “new” again. But this classic never really goes out of style.

 

Take a Hike (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 29)

fall woods

Source: hdwallpapers.ca

 

Autumn is the perfect time to take a walk, whether through the woods or down a city street lined with colorful oaks and maples. Walking is good for you! In Personality Unlimited (1941), Veronica Dengel says, “Walking is good exercise for the legs, and when indulged in out of doors, encourages deep breathing and better circulation.” While Miss Dengel agrees that strolling on city streets is “better than nothing,” she goes on to say, “Hiking should be done in as clear, fresh air as you can find. . . . Exercise will help to improve the digestion of your food and promote better assimilation of it, so that you get more nourishment from everything you eat.”

I’d say a walk in the woods nourishes more than the body . . . it nourishes the mind as well. When I walk, I let my mind wander where it will . . . to think, to pray, to work out some knotty problem in my novel or my life. In Younger By the Day, Victoria Moran recalls a particular walk she took one October day. “In the company of squirrels and skateboarders, toddlers and Scrabble players, students and lovers, the arch and the fountain, I walked through the park. I read a plaque about Garibaldi, bought water from a guy with a cart, and then sat on a bench and watched and listened. I felt more alive than I had in a really long time.”

The deep woods may not yield quite the same things as a city park does. The squirrels are there in force, but I see no skateboarders or Scrabble players. Just a chipmunk and some deer, perhaps an eagle if I’m lucky. But what Victoria Moran says next still resonates with me. “Sometimes, to remember when you’re old and revel in right this minute, walk in the part–or something on that order. Do it before the winter comes. Once you get in the habit, you just might want to do it then, too.”

Lace up your walking shoes. There’s a world of wonder out there.

 

Bake an Apple (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 28)

baked apple2When the weather’s dreary and chilly, nothing beats a baked apple for comfort. In her book One’s Company, author Barbara Holland describes a baked apple as the perfect remedy [f]or October, when the days are getting shorter and your coat smells of mothballs.” While she mentions that an apple (with butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar) can be baked in the microwave in four minutes, she notes, correctly, that “it smells better that way and warms up the kitchen” to bake it in a 350-degree oven for an hour.

If you want to do it great-great-grandma’s way, here’s a baked-apple recipe from 1917:

Baked Apples

4 apples
8 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter

Select apples of uniform size. Wash and core. Place in a pan; cover the bottom with water. Fill each cavity with sugar, a dash of powdered cinnamon, and a tiny lump of butter. Bake for thirty minutes in a hot* oven, basting occasionally. Serve around a platter of pork chops.

I suppose you could add raisins to it, as the photo suggests, or chopped nuts, or even a piece of caramel candy to make sort of a hot caramel apple. But I’m a purist and like mine with the ingredients above, plus nutmeg, plus a dollop of real whipped cream. Yum!

*(Note: A “hot” oven would be about 400-425 degrees Farenheit or 200-220 degrees Celsius.Back in 1917, much baking was done in a wood-burning oven without precise temperature controls. My Grandma Ruby, an accomplished baker, could tell when an oven was ready by opening the door and thrusting her hand into it. I don’t recommend this method, but for Grandma, the way the heat felt on her skin told her what she needed to know.)

Make a Pear-Apple Compote (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 27)

pearsI love pears even more than apples. I remember how, as a thrifty college student studying in France, I would buy a bag of the most delicious, juicy pears at the market and practically gorge on them back in my tiny, cell-like room. To this day, the distinctive flavor of pears transports me back to that time and place.

I was thrilled to stumble upon this extremely simple compote in French Women for All Seasons by Mireille Guiliano. (Compote dates back to Europe in the Middle Ages, and can either refer to either a dessert of fruit soaked and/or cooked in syrup, or to the dish that holds such a dessert.)

Mireille Giuliano’s Pear-Apple Compote

1 lb. apples
2/3 lb. pears
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey

Peel, core, and dice the apples and pears. Pour lemon juice over them and toss. Into a heavy pan pour 1/2 cup water and the fruit mixture. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking or burning.

With a fork, crush the fruit coarsely while continuing to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until the excess water evaporates. Remove from the heat, add the honey, and mix gently. Serve lukewarm or cold (if you store it in the fridge, take it out 30 minutes before serving.)

Create a Fall-Themed Collage (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 26)

fall collage2I have a glass-fronted shadowbox that I like to keep on our mantel. In the last few years, I’ve started changing out the items in the shadowbox to reflect a seasonal theme.This is a really fun way to fill a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon.

The photo above shows my autumn shadowbox “in process.” I simply gather scraps of paper, bits and bobs that remind me of fall, photos from magazines, etc., then play around with them until I’m pleased with how they look. Then I glue or  pin them in place. This shadowbox includes assorted scraps of paper left over from card-making, a few leaf embellishments, foliage, pumpkin and fruit stickers, and a bit of extraneous sheet music. In about a month, I’ll exchange these items with Christmas-themed ones.  It’s a low-stress way to use up scraps and add a little bit of seasonal decor to your home.

Sparkling Vintage Reads: An Interview with Susie Finkbeiner

susie finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner

When I met Susie Finkbeiner at the 2013 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference, I immediately felt that little “click” that happens when you meet a kindred spirit. (We laughed at each other’s jokes–always a very good sign!) Since then, we’ve grown better acquainted on social media, and I admired her novels, Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile. Now Susie’s brand-new novel is releasing this week! Set in the 1930s, it seemed like a perfect choice to feature here on A Sparkling Vintage Life.

a cup of dustA Cup of Dust tells the story of ten-year-old Pearl as she and her family struggle through hard times during the Dust Bowl. The last thing they need is more trouble, but that’s exactly what they get when a mysterious stranger rolls into town, bent on revenge for something that happened long ago. Join Pearl as she unfolds the mystery that where you come from isn’t who you are.

At the end of the week I’ll be giving away 2 free signed copies of A Cup of Dust…get a chance to win one simply by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook author page. Meanwhile, here’s a chat I had with Susie. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her better, and so will you!

Jennifer: Welcome, Susie. First, the basics. Where are you from and all that good stuff?

Susie Finkbeiner: I live with my husband and three kids in the beauty of West Michigan. We’re close enough to the Big Lake that we often drive over in the summer for a picnic dinner and to watch the sunset. I don’t know that I’d want to live anywhere else.

We don’t have any pets. For now. I’d love a dog, but we don’t have space for all of us in our house, let alone a fuzzy friend. Maybe someday. I believe Christmas might mean fish for the kids. Sigh. We’ll see. For now I count our neighborhood turkeys, squirrels, and skunks as my pets. Not bad for city living.

JLL: Tell us briefly about your writing journey and how you got started as an author.

SF: My writing career didn’t happen over night. Not at all. In fact, my first novel, Paint Chips, was published after decades of writing, submitting, rejections, and a few published tidbits. Fun fact: before I became a novelist I had a full length play published.
It’s taken a good long time for me to get where I am now in my writing. I don’t regret my pre-published years at all. I’m grateful for them. They strengthened me as a writer and as a person. Failure is good for the soul.

JLL: How did you get inspired to write A Cup of Dust?

SF: Twenty years ago I read The Grapes of Wrath. Ever since, I’ve been intrigued by the Dust Bowl Era. I knew I’d eventually write the story. I was just waiting for the right time.

JLL: Why did you choose to set your story in the 1930s?

SF: The 1930s were a time of trial and great growth. It tested the strength, character, and faith of those who lived through it. I love the stories my grandma told me of her life growing up in the 30s. I know I’ll revisit the Depression Era in future novels.

JLL: Tell us about your research process for A Cup of Dust.

SF: I’ve been researching the Dust Bowl on and off for twenty years. No joke. I read books, watched documentaries, wrote countless short stories set in that era. The first play I ever wrote and produced was set in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl.

I guess the best way to define my research process for this and other novels is that I have this curiosity which must be quenched. That is what inspires the stories I write.

JLL: Did writing A Cup of Dust reflect your own life and/or faith journey?

SF: Yes. It sure does reflect a bit of my life and faith. I don’t want to say too much, though, for fear of spoilers!

JLL: What 3 people have had the greatest influence on your writing, and why?

SF: First is my husband, Jeff. He encourages me, does the dishes as I type, reads what I write, believes in me even when it’s unreasonable.
Second is my agent, Ann. She doesn’t let me whine. She tells me the truth in kindness. She puts up with my neurotic little self.
Third is George, my college literature professor. He told me years ago that he thought I had a novel in me. I didn’t believe him at first. I’m glad he saw potential in me (even though I was a punk 18 year old).

JLL: Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life?

SF: Oh, that old jerk the inner voice. Pops up when I least need discouragement. It takes prayer and good friends to chase that critic away.

JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded?

SF: You know, this is a great question. It’s easy to get all floaty, right? I happen to have a great church and great community. I hear sermons weekly which inspire, convict, and encourage me. I leave feeling spurred on to doing good works. Those good works are often done sitting at my desk or at Starbucks, clicking away at a story.
I also have an incredible community. Some are writers, some are not. But I have friends who pray for and with me, who speak the truth in love, who share life-giving words.
The whole “hermit author” thing isn’t good for my soul. I thrive on being part of a family, a body. My hope is that I give to them as much as they give to me.
JLL: What reading material is next to your favorite reading spot?
SF: Okay, first off I need to tell you that my favorite place to read is in my van. It’s comfy, I can easily stay warm or cool depending on the weather, I’m able to adjust my seat. Perfect. And I’m currently reading West for the Black Hills by Peter Leavell (an Idahoan, I believe).

JLL: Yes, he is! Big Peter Leavell fan here, as well. What’s on your music playlist?

SF: Debussy. Always Debussy. I also like to listen to movie soundtracks such as from Schindler’s List, Last of the Mohicans, True Grit (the more recent one), Legends of the Fall. Otherwise, I have an eclectic taste in music. It’s all according to my mood.

JLL: Are there any can’t-miss blogs, podcasts, vlogs, etc., that you’d recommend?

SF: For writers I recommend the Breathe Writers Conference blog. There are posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday full of inspiration and encouragement. I also catch the Vlog Brothers posts. This is John Green and his brother Hank. I typically tune in for John’s segments. He’s a geek and I love that.

JLL: What do you do for fun?

SF: It depends on what company I’m keeping. By myself? I like to read. Sometimes I paint my nails and watch TV or documentaries. With my family? We like to hike and visit zoos, go to the beach and swim (when it’s warm enough). With my husband? We like to play cards or Scrabble. With friends? Get coffee and browse the shelves of a bookstore.
I’m not so exciting, but I have a fun life full of belly-busting laughter.

JLL: What’s the next project coming up from Susie Finkbeiner?

SF: I’m working on a sequel to A Cup of Dust. After that I might play around, writing a memoir (a funny one) while I research the Vietnam War for another project. Then I’ll work on more projects I have on my list of future novels to write.
Thanks, Susie! Everyone, you can learn more about Susie by visiting her website or connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter. And enter for a chance to win a signed copy of A Cup of Dust just by leaving a comment below. 2 winners will be drawn at random on October 30.
 (Giveaway powered by Rafflecopter.)
Edited to add: I’ve just posted my review of A Cup of Dust on Amazon. You can read it here.

Read (or Write!) an Autumn-ish Poem (31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 17)

come little leaves

My Grandma Ruby (born 1898-ish) used to sing me this song. The poem is credited to George Cooper. I haven’t heard the tune in ages, but I was thrilled to find a copy of the words online. I found several videos of song versions, but they are not the tune my grandmother used to sing, which I remember very distinctly.

Another poem I remember from childhood is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Autumn Fires”:

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Do you have a favorite autumn poem?

Autumn in a Mug: Apple Cider (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 16)

apple cider label“Cider on beer, never fear; beer upon cider, makes a bad rider.”

~ English Proverb

For many of us, the taste of apple cider is the taste of autumn. Available in both both nonalcoholic and alcoholic (hard cider) varieties, cider-drinking has been a hallmark of harvest time for centuries.

The making of cider dates back to Roman times, and became especially popular in England following the Norman conquest in the eleventh century. In areas where the climate was less than ideal for growing grapes, fermented (alcoholic) cider was often a replacement for wine. Cider was also easy and inexpensive to make, thus a well-loved harvest-time drink of the common people. Even the humblest farm boasted one or two apple trees. Colonists brought cider-making to America. and it was a very popular drink among the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries. In a letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Malt liquor and cider are my table drinks.”

What’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice? Experts hold various opinions on the exact distinctions, but most agree that juice has been strained of pulp and solid matter, while cider has not.

Cider served plain is delicious, but spiced cider is a sip of heaven. You can buy spiced cider ready-made, but for real cider-power (and a house that smells heavenly), it’s easy to make it yourself. Heat a gallon of cider over low heat (or in a slow cooker) with cinnamon sticks and cloves mixed in, and even a bit of brown sugar if you like it very sweet (I leave the sugar out). You can also drop in a cut-up apple or orange for extra zip.

 

Decorate for Fall (31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 15)

I don’t have much in the way of autumn decorations–just a few candles, leaf garlands, a leafy wreath for the door. Historically the homes I’ve lived in have had limited storage space and thus not a lot of room to store seasonal decorations. But frankly it doesn’t take all that much to celebrate fall’s beauty and embellish a room with seasonally-appropriate grace notes. Victoria editor Phyllis Hoffmann DePiano, over at the Ribbon in My Journal blog, offers up some great ideas for vintage-inspired fall decorating, such as making the most of the warmth of wood and putting family heirlooms to good use. I might have to take a second look at that soup tureen I keep tucked away!

…and More Pumpkins! (31 Days to a Sparkling Vintage Fall, Day 14)

october image bettinaMost American home cooks have a favorite recipe for pumpkin pie, perhaps handed down through generations. I confess (gulpingly) that I’ve never made one from scratch. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, making the pie has always seemed to be someone else’s job. But this year, I’m planning to try my hand at it, perhaps using this old-fashioned (1917) recipe from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband. As with all the recipes in this charming vintage cookbook, the pumpkin pie recipe comes with a little story about newlyweds Bettina and Bob, who served individual pies (placed on doilies)  at their Halloween party–an extravaganza that included bobbing for apples, making popcorn balls, and roasting marshmallows over candles!

Bettina’s Pumpkin Pie (makes 8 individual pies)

For the Crusts:

2 cups flour
2/3 cup lard
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt

Cut the lard into the flour and salt. Add sufficient water to make a stiff dough on a floured board. Roll into shape one-fourth inch thick. Place in tin muffin pans, making individual pies, filling with the following mixture and baking 30 minutes in a moderate oven [I’m thinking “moderate” means 350 degrees F. jl].

For the Filling:

1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin (or pumpkin puree)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Mix the ingredients in the order given, and fill the pie crusts two-thirds full. Bake as above.

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