A Sparkling Vintage Life

Podcast

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, the podcast of author Jennifer Lamont Leo. You can subscribe over at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very much appreciated.

3 Favorite Vintage Beauty Products


Take a peek into Jennifer’s medicine cabinet as she shares her three favorite old-time beauty products: items that have been around for decades, even centuries.

If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the episode transcript.

Show notes:

Inspirational Historical Romance Contest, April 8-17, 2019.

Pond’s Cold Cream

Besame Cake Mascara

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap

“The Christmas Robe” is one of the stories included in Songbird and Other Stories

VICTORIA Magazine

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog and newsletter sign-up

Episode 9 Transcript:

Today’s topic is vintage cosmetics. Specifically, I’m going to tell you about three old-fashioned beauty products that Grandma and Great-Grandma might have used, and that I still use just about every day.

This topic came up because I’ve recently finished writing a novel about the rise of a fictional cosmetics tycoon in the 20th century. The working title is Moondrop Miracle. Moondrop Miracle the name of a skin tonic that my main character from very humble beginnings expands into an international cosmetics empire. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but in doing research for this novel I investigated a lot of beauty products and their histories. I thought you might like to hear about three of my longtime favorites that have a storied past.

But first, here’s what’s going on in my writing life. The novel that I just mentioned, Moondrop Miracle, is currently with my agent and making the rounds of publishers. I’ve yet to hear any feedback on that. Hopefully there will be some nibbles soon. I made progress this week on the 1930s Hollywood novel–still writing the first draft of that one. Starting April 8 through the 17th, You’re the Cream in My Coffee will be included in a promotion of Inspirational Historical Romance books through BookSweeps. If you enter that contest, you’ll have a chance win a set of over 20 inspirational historical romance e-books, and even a brand new new eReader. I’ll put the link in the show notes and you can check out that contest.

And now, on to today’s topic. Before I begin, I need to remind you that this show is for entertainment purposes only. I’m not dermatologist or a medical professional of any kind, and this information should not be taken as medical advice. Take what works and leave the rest. Also, I am not paid to endorse any of these products. I’m only telling you about them because I like them and have used them with good results.

Okay, let’s start with Pond’s Cold Cream. I use this every single day. Every evening I smooth it all over my face, and I wipe it off with a warm, wet washcloth. Some people tissue it off, but I prefer a washcloth. I should also state that you do need a washcloth or tissue or abrasive of some kind. It won’t just rinse off with water.

I looked into Ponds and learned that it was invented in 1846 by an American pharmacist, Theron T. Pond. He discovered that extract of witch hazel could heal small cuts. This was called “Pond’s Extract.” A company was formed, and by 1910 both “Pond’s Vanishing Cream” and “Pond’s Cold Cream” were created. The cold cream was for cleansing and the vanishing cream was for moisturizing, so-called because it vanished into the skin and was undetectable.

In the 1920s, Queen Marie of Romania toured the United States. Alert readers might remember that Queen Marie’s tour played a role in my story “The Christmas Robe.” Anyway, Queen Marie loved the Pond’s products so much that she gave them great publicity.  In 1955 Pond’s merged with Chesebrough Manufacturing Company–I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly–which became Chesebrough-Ponds. And today it’s part of the international Unilever brand. Interestingly, while you don’t hear much about Pond’s these days in the U.S., it has a big market in Japan, India, and Thailand.

I don’t know if those of you watching the video or looking at a photograph me can tell, but I have rosacea, which is a hereditary skin condition that makes the skin appear quite ruddy and red.  I find Pond’s Cold Cream soothing and comforting to my skin. I don’t know if it’s actually reduced the rosacea breakouts, but it certainly hasn’t hurt, and I love the way it feels on irritated skin. It also removes makeup very well and my skin feels soft and smooth. So that’s my little unpaid endorsement for Pond’s Cold Cream.

The second product I love is old-fashioned cake mascara. I remember my mother using cake mascara from Maybelline that came in a little red case. Mine is made by Besame Cosmetics in California. I’ll put a link in the show notes. What’s great about cake mascara is, not only is it vintage, which right there makes it cool in my book, but it can be used as both mascara and eyeliner. I use this little stiff brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and apply it to my lashes. Or I use this eyeliner brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and use it as eyeliner. I like that it goes on very subtly, more subtly than most eyeliners I’ve tried. You can add more coats to build it up if you want. I’ve also heard it can be used to darken eyebrows, although I haven’t tried it for that yet. Cake mascara is more expensive than some tube mascaras, but if it’s three products in one, that’s a bargain. It’s also paraben-free and cruelty-free and good for sensitive eyes, and has a longer shelf life than tube mascara.

I’ve saved the best story for last. The third old-fashioned product I like very much is Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. The story behind this soap is really interesting. In 1929 a third-generation German-Jewish soapmaker named Emmanuel Heilbronner immigrated to the U.S. Sadly, his parents remained in Germany and perished in the Holocaust. He dropped the “heil” from the name, “Heilbronner,” because of its association with Hitler. He was also not a medical doctor, but a spiritualist. He developed his own spiritual ideology, sort of a unitarian-humanist philosophy about unifying Spaceship Earth. One day he was preaching about his philosophy at the University of Chicago and was arrested for speaking without a permit. Somehow, this incident led to his being incarcerated in the Elgin Mental Hospital in Illinois. Interestingly, I used to drive past that facility almost every day on my way to work when I lived in Illinois, but I never realized its connection to the soap I like so much. Anyway,  after his stint at Elgin, he founded his soap company and printed various writings about his faith on labels of his products. Today Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is a for-profit company run by some of Emmanuel’s descendents. I love the smell of this soap, minty but not overpowering. It’s full of good-for-you things like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, peppermint oil, and sea salt, and it’s certified fair trade. It’s something I feel good about using, and, I must admit, I find its history fascinating. It’s amazing what you can find out about ordinary, everyday things if you just scratch the surface a little.

So there you have it. Three old-fashioned products that I still use today. Do you have any oldies-but-goodies in your medicine cabinet that you would swear by? Drop me at email at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com.

Today’s Grace Note is VICTORIA magazine. If you appreciate the grace and elegance of earlier eras, you must take a look. I’ve been reading this magazine since the 1990s, and it’s one of the few that I still insist on subscribing to in the print edition. It’s filled with the most gorgeous photography, home interiors, flowers, profiles of women running colorful, creative businesses, and great travel features. They tour castles and formal gardens and all the things that are dear to my vintage-loving heart, and maybe yours too. In an age of minimalism when so many fashionable trend seem cold, hard-edged, and gray, Victoria offers a breath of  color and light. I’ll provide a link in the show notes, which you’ll find at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode Nine. You can also leave a comment. You can sign up for my newsletter there as well. As always, I’d love it if you’d subscribe and leave a review at iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

And I’ll be back next week with another topic in A Sparkling Vintage Life.


Spring Cleaning


In the northern hemisphere, as the days grow longer and the sunshine grows brighter, the dust and cobwebs come out of hiding. Join Jennifer as she discusses that vintage, old-fashioned ritual: spring cleaning. Whether you choose to tackle the seasonal housework head on or pretend the grime doesn’t exist, this week’s episode will inspire you to come clean.

If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.

Show Notes:

The episode about Home Ec classes

I’ve been using and highly recommend the HB90 quarterly planning and productivity system for authors developed by Sarra Cannon at heartbreathings.com

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson

Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

Transcript of Episode 8:

Today’s topic is loosely tied to last week’s Home Ec show, because I’ll be talking about Spring Cleaning, which seems like sort of a home-ecky topic. Don’t worry. I’m not going to bombard you with stern admonitions to vacuum all the lampshades. Although, if they need it, as mine surely do, spring is as good a time as any to get it done. Today, what I hope to give you–and myself–is just some inspiration to get some spring cleaning done. If we need to talk specifics, maybe I’ll do so later on.

But before I get into this week’s episode, here’s a brief update on my own writing. I’m still hard at work on the 1930s-Hollywood novel, so nothing new to report there, except that so far this week I’ve been able to keep up with my daily word count goal, which is incredible. Many thanks to Sarra Cannon over at HeartBreathings.com for helping me figure out a solid productivity method for writing books seems to be working for me. Having a system for managing my writing time has helped me corral my easily-distractible brain. I’m also finishing up an article for Sandpoint magazine about the history of our local beach, the oh-so-poetically named City Beach. I love delving into the history of things and spending large swaths of time at our local museum, leafing through old photographs and documents.

And now, on to the show.

Spring cleaning. Did your family do spring cleaning when you were growing up? Do you do it today? In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, in the olden days, spring cleaning was a time when the whole house was cleaned, top to bottom, attic to basement to garage to gardening shed. Upholstered furniture was taken outside and aired in the sun, rugs were taken up and beaten, heavy winter curtains were taken down and replaced with lighter ones. Basically, picture everything you own spread out on your front lawn for all your neighbors to see and evaluate. Except they’d be too busy to spy on your stuff, because they’d be working on their own.

Windows were washed, and so were walls and ceilings and floors. In Home Comforts, her encyclopedic tome on housekeeping, Cheryl Mendelson explains that this thorough scrubbing of all and sundry was necessary because of the way homes were heated and lighted in those days, with coal, oil, gas, kerosene, and candles. She writes, “By winter’s end, everything in the house was coated with a malodorous layer of black grease and grime, the ugliness of which would become ever more apparent as the days became longer and sunnier.”  She points out that modern heating and lighting systems no longer create this layer of soot and grime, so a thorough scrubbing might not feel as necessary. Still, there are cobwebs galore to contend with, and smudges, and mud. Oh, is there mud here in North Idaho. Impossible to avoid it, here on our mountain. Sticky, oozing mud. But it’s not snow, so there’s that.

In the house I grew up in, we didn’t turn the whole house upside down come spring, but I remember certain chores, like removing and washing the storm windows and replacing them with screens. And we had a LOT of windows. The smell of Windex still carries me back to those golden afternoons of wishing I were just about anywhere else, doing anything else than washing windows.

And there was usually a yard clean-up day, with much raking and bagging and wishing I could go ride my bicycle in the warm sunshine. I wasn’t much for yardwork. Or for housework. Or, really, for much work at all. But I digress. The point was, we did some spring clean-up, but we certainly didn’t empty every closet and drawer or scrub every baseboard, the way the housewives of old did, plus whichever offspring they could press into service. Or, in more stately homes, the servants.

As part of cleaning these millions of windows–at least it seemed like millions–we took the draperies off the rods and either laundered them or took them to the dry cleaner, depending on what they were made of. But we didn’t dry them on stretchers, the old-fashioned way. In her 1937 novel Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill, the title character goes about the charmingly antique task of curtain-stretching while enjoying the company of the attractive young man who lives next door. Here’s a Sparkling Vintage Literary Snippet for you, from Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill:

“But Daphne did not wash curtains the next morning, though the sun was shining brightly and she had made her brother bring the curtain stretchers down from the attic and set them in position for her. She had put on a  little blue print dress, one of her plainest morning dresses, and was all ready to go to work, but instead she went to answer a knock at the front door and found Keith Morrell standing humbly on the porch, an eager look in his eyes.

“Good morning!” he said. “Are you very busy? Would I be a terrible nuisance if I asked a favor of you?”

As it happens, the young swain gets roped into helping with the curtains, although he doesn’t seem to mind too much. He gallantly carries the curtains to the laundry room and dumps them into tubs of soapy water. There they need to soak awhile, which gives hero and heroine time to repair to the vine-covered porch where they can continue their mutual admiration society. Later they stretch the curtains on the stretchers that the brother had brought down from the attic. I had to look these up, never having seen one. They looked to be heavy wooden rods with measurements marked on them. These apparently kept the fabric from shrinking and wrinkling before being rehung on the windows.

Anyway, how often is it that in our modern world we can enjoy some moments of innocent flirtation while doing spring cleaning? That would surely make the process move a lot faster, in my opinion.

I don’t love spring cleaning. But I do love the results of spring cleaning. The fresh carpets, the sparkling clear windows, the knowledge that all science experiments have been expelled from the back of the whistle-clean refrigerator, the polished cherrywood table just waiting to receive a vaseful of colorful tulips. Something about spring cleaning is as restorative for the soul as it is for the house.

What are your thoughts about spring cleaning? Do you love it? Loathe it? Do it at all? Why, or why not? No judgment here. If you have a spring-cleaning routine, I’d love to know  what sorts of chores you tackle. Does the whole family get involved?  Or do you shoo the family out so you can work uninterrupted? Do you have any tips to make it more fun, like playing upbeat music or rewarding yourself with a nice dinner afterward? I’d love to hear about it. I need all the inspiration I can get.Just leave a comment below.

And I’ll be back in a moment with this week’s Grace Note.

This weeks’ Grace Note is the book I mentioned at the beginning of this episode: Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson. First published in 1999, this thick volume covers everything you could possibly want to know about cleaning and caring for a home, from scrubbing and dusting to cooking to laundry to household safety. The author goes in-depth, maybe a little too in-depth for some, and even addresses how to care for specialized items like pianos and books. There’s even a section on domestic employment laws, should you be in a position to be hiring help. Ms. Mendelson happens to be a lawyer as well as a domestic maven. If this all sounds dry as, well, dust, it’s not. It’s a well-written book I truly enjoy picking up to read when I need some housework inspiration. The problem is, I’d rather read about cleaning than actually do it. But to paraphrase an old song, “Sunshine on my cobwebs makes me itchy.” I’d better go plug in the vacuum.

And that’s it for today, my sparkling friend. Have a lovely week, enjoy the changing seasons wherever you may live, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.

What the Heck is Home Ec?


According to several reliable sources, home economics classes are being added back into the curriculum at a number of schools. What is home economics, where did it go, and why is it now coming back? Tune in as Jennifer waxes nostalgic (or not) about her own middle-school home ec class, and lists five reasons why home economics matters.

If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.

Show Notes:

Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping by Miriam Lukken

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

Transcript:

Today we’re talking about home economics, which is making a comeback in some schools after being basically ousted as a field of study for a couple of decades. What’s that all about? Grab your saucepans and your seam rippers and find out.

But first, a little news. My short story collection, SONGBIRD AND OTHER STORIES, is now available in paperback in addition to the eBook edition. This is especially gratifying for me, as this was the first book my husband and I self-published under our new imprint, Mountain Majesty Media. It was a learning experience and took longer than expected due to hiccups along the way. But it’s here now! So hop on over to Amazon or wherever you buy books and grab your copy. If you’ve not been introduced yet to my fiction, the short stories in SONGBIRD are a great way to sample my writing and see if you like it. It’s also a lot easier to give someone a print book as a gift, rather than an eBook. Hint, hint.

Also, You’re the Cream in My Coffee and Ain’t Misbehavin’ are getting some good attention with their spanking new covers. So check them out as well.

And now back to our topic:  What the heck is home ec?

If you’re of a certain age, or if you talk to your mother and grandmother, you know about the home economics classes girls took in junior high or high school. It was also offered as a college major in some universities–one of the first college majors available to women. More on that in a minute.

The dictionary defines “home economics” as “the theory and practice of homemaking.” Wikipedia expands that definition into “a field of study that deals with the relationships between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.” That’s so broad as to be virtually useless. In essence, if you manage a dwelling of any type, within a community of any type, you are practicing home economics. Over the years it has been called by various other names. My school called it “Home Arts.” My grandmother told me her high school called it “Domestic Science” back in the 1920s. But it was all basically the same thing: classes meant to teach young women how to be homemakers. Boys in those days were assigned to shop class instead, where they learned sturdy things like carpentry and welding and fixing engines.

Now, before we go any further, I must confess that I was a home economics failure, with a capital F. I attended middle school in the waning days of home ec, as it was being phased out of the curriculum.

I did all right at the cooking part of home ec. I have some good memories of making applesauce, chocolate pudding made with cornstarch, and Cornish game hens. My Cornish game hens were a great triumph, as I recall. But sewing was a complete and total disaster. I couldn’t sew a straight seam to save my life and spent many tearful hours with a seam ripper in my hand. I now know that I have real issues with spatial perception. I can’t envision at all how the pieces of a pattern are supposed to fit together and was forever attaching sleeves upside down or a neckline inside-out. Also, at age 12 or 13 or whatever it was, I had the patience of a gnat, and so rebelled at the tedious work of pinning and basting and hemming. Today I fervently wish I could sew, so I wouldn’t be limited to wearing the clothes that are available in stores, which are often poorly made and rather ugly besides. I’m terribly envious of those who sew well. (Is the word sewers? Because that looks like sewers when it’s written out. Are they still called seamstresses? Sewists? Anyway, people who sew. I envy them.) But even the words “inseam” or “facing” or “mercerized cotton thread” are enough to make my blood pressure spike.

When I reached high school, home ec classes were elective. So I elected to stay as far away from them as possible. Sadly, that’s been to my disadvantage, as I’ve had to learn so many homemaking skills the hard way over the years.

Over the centuries, of course, these skills were usually learned at home from mothers and other female relatives. Home economics as an academic field of study got its start in the 1800s as a means of teaching girls how to cook, sew, and manage a home economically. At that time it was assumed girls would be homemakers and boys would become breadwinners of the household. The field got a boost by the Morrill Act of 1862, which started the so-called Land Grant colleges to teach vocational subjects like mechanical arts, agriculture, and home economics. In the early 1900s home economics was organized into a formal field of study. Prominent women such as Catherine Beecher and Ellen Swallow Richards were at the forefront of the movement. Richards helped form the American Home Economics Association, today called the Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Catherine Beecher was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister, for those who are curious. Harriet, of course, was the author of the landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Beecher and Richards and their ilk organized Home Economics around seven areas: cooking, child development, elementary education, home management and design, sewing, budgeting, and health and hygiene. I only recall studying cooking and sewing at my school, although it’s possible we touched on other subjects that I simply don’t remember. I do remember one memorable unit on how to buy a bra, with a bright pink booklet issued by one of the major bra manufacturers, like Maidenform or Playtex. I kept that booklet for a long time.  Wish I still had it; it might fetch a pretty penny on eBay. I also remember all of us girls laughing at each other as we applied beaten egg white to our faces, so I suppose there must have been a unit on skin care. But mostly I remember cooking and sewing. I definitely don’t remember discussing child development or elementary education topics.

But back in those early years, home economics emerged throughout the early 20th century as a movement to train women to manage their households and to sort of professionalize job of homemaker. Some schools had “practice homes,” where students would live together and work in actual homes. Some childcare classes were taught using infants temporarily borrowed from orphanages, or from daycare centers set up at the schools for mothers who worked. At the same time, more and more consumer goods were becoming available to the general public. Interestingly home economics moved from an area of production–producing things for the household, such as cooking, sewing, and gardening,–to consumption–how to buy things and become an expert consumer.  

After World War II, the so-called Second Wave Feminism led first to home economics classes being opened to both women and men, and later pushed them out entirely as being sexist. Vocational courses in general declined during this period as high schools focused on preparing students for college instead of vocational work, and especially for taking tests in the “No Child Left Behind” era. Then as now, homemaking in general was derided as being somehow less important or less valid than pursuing a professional career outside the home. First of all, that’s hogwash. Homemaking is extremely important to our families and society at large. Witness the range of problems, from childhood obesity to fractured family relationships, that come from a devaluation of homemaking and caretaking. And–newsflash–even professional career people need to make a home, unless they live in a hotel and eat all their meals in restaurants, which is unlikely. So getting rid of home ec to guide women into careers was a bit short-sighted, in my opinion.  

But now, some schools are incorporation home economics back into the curriculum, often rechristened as “life skills.” They’re teaching kids of both sexes how to balance a checkbook, how to boil an egg, how to sew on a button. They’re teaching good nutrition, personal finance, and basic childcare, as well as topics like environmentally responsible house cleaning methods that weren’t a “thing” back in 1955. One downside is that there seems to be a lack of qualified teachers working in the field. With home economics eliminated as a college major, in many areas the demand for teachers outstrips the supply.

 I think there are several good reasons that home economics needs to be fully reinstated in schools under whatever name. Aren’t schools supposed to prepare for adulthood? What better way to prepare than to learn the practical details of taking care of yourself and those you love? Here are five reasons.

1. Things all adults should know. There is no benefit in not knowing how to feed yourself and your family, or how to wash dishes or do a load of laundry.

2. Eco-friendly. Kids should learn how to fix things vs. replace them, to replace a button or repair a torn sleeve rather than buying a whole new shirt. It’s also better for the environment if they learn how to care for a home without using harmful chemicals.

3. Budget-friendly. Kids can learn how to save money by fixing things or making them instead of buying them. I think home economics went off track when the focus shifted from household productivity to household consumerism. Let’s bring back the production angle: to grow food, sew clothes, be well prepared and resourceful instead of running to the nearest big-box store for everything. Along with learning how to save money, we can also teach kids financial literacy, from how to balance a checkbook to how compound interest works.

4. Practical, applied use of other subjects, particularly math and chemistry. Working in the kitchen or at the sewing table teaches practical application of fractions or geometry or physics in a way that textbooks don’t. How do you follow a recipe, or a sewing pattern? How do you halve or double that recipe, or adjust that pattern to fit your particular body? What happens when you mix various elements of salt, fat, and heat, as a popular book addresses? These are practical applications of scientific and mathematical principles.

5. Safety. There are a lot of latch-key kids coming home to empty houses these days. They should know how to do so safely. How to cook a simple meal without starting a fire. How to handle the fire extinguisher if that first option fails. How to prepare and store food properly without getting sick. How to handle a sharp knife. And so on.

Those are just five reasons I think home economics should be reinstated in schools.  What do you remember about home economics classes? Do you think they should still be part of the curriculum? Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast. Look for episode 7, where I’ll also leave the show notes. And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.

Today’s grace note is a fun book called Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping, by Miriam Lukken. The jacket copy describes it as “a delightful  compendium of homespun advice, cleaning, and etiquette tips, traditional recipes, and Southern wit.” In it you’ll find vintage cleaning hints, kitchen and laundry tips, social advice, and ideas for entertaining, drawn from a variety of old-timey sources. In the spirit of this very podcast, the book promises “Now you can bring the wise, unhurried ways and charm of an earlier time into the 21st century.” Isn’t that what we’re all about?

And that’s it for today. Have a lovely  week, enjoy the spring sunshine, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.

For the Love of Antiques Shops


Do you enjoy browsing antique and vintage shops? Join Jennifer as she thinks about what draws her to surround herself with old things, and also hear her review of the Amazon Originals series Vanity Fair.

This is a podcast episode. If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.

Show notes:

More about VANITY FAIR

GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc.  Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My CoffeeAin’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names at the end of the day on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to jennifer@sparklingvintagelife.com or jenny@jenniferlamontleo.com.

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

 

Florence Lindsay’s painting “Song of the Lark” and my mother, Patricia
My cat Lucy, taking over my reading chair. I miss him very much.

TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 6

I’ve just returned from a short overnight jaunt to a small town not far away from me called Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  I visited a couple of antiques shops while I was there, and the feelings I got while I was in those shops inspired today’s topic.

But first, a bit of personal news. I’m sad today because we just lost our cat, who passed away this morning. He was nineteen years old, which is elderly for a cat, but still, my husband and I are going to miss him very much. We weren’t blessed with children, and while I won’t pretend that raising a cat replaces raising a child, he did fill a little bit of that nurturing instinct in our hearts. I know some of you have lost beloved pets, too, so you know what that’s like. But life goes on.

And now on to our topic for today, which is antique shops. I love them. I love how they smell, that musty, fusty odor. I love the hunt for just the right treasure to bring home. And I love the memories that are sparked when I see a set of dishes that look just like Grandma’s, or a china shepherdess figurine like one that she might have had in her house. Usually just looking at it is enough to satisfy that nostalgia urge. I don’t necessarily need to buy it and take it home with me.  But at the antique store, I get to “visit” it.

I have met people, though, who detest antique shops that, as one woman declared, “are filled with dead, useless things.” I don’t think antiques are dead at all. Nor are they useless. But, to each her own, I suppose.

As I get close to sixty years old, I’m in a mode of downsizing my possessions more than I am adding to the clutter in my home. I’m becoming a lot more minimalist in my thinking than I used to be. But once in a while something catches my fancy and I do have to buy it.

A few years ago in an antique mall near my house, I fell in love with a painting. Actually it’s a print of a painting.  It shows  a young girl looking at a bird. She’s dressed in what looks like 1920s or 1930s clothing, with her hair and ringlets, and looks very much like a childhood photo of my mother. I found an image of the print online, so I’ll put both it and the photo in the show notes so you can see what I mean by the resemblance. Anyway, the print was a little out of my reach financially, but I liked to go into the antique mall occasionally and “visit” it. It always gave me joy. Well, one day I went in and it wasn’t there. There was just a big empty space where it had been hanging. Well, I tell you, I almost burst into tears right there, that someone else had purchased my beloved picture. But to my great relief, as it turned out, it hadn’t been sold, only been moved to another location. But I figured that if I had that strong of a reaction to the possibility of losing it, I should buy it, and so I did. It now hangs in the room where I write, and it gives me joy every time I see it.The point of this story is, one of the joys I get from browsing in antique shops is just that thrill of finding the perfect thing. Even when I come away empty-handed, I feel richer for the experience of looking at so many beautiful old things. And of course it’s good to actually buy things once in a while, when they’re the right things, to help support the store owner and keep the shop open for future browsing.

But sometimes I feel a pang of sadness as I look at things. It’s a feeling of loss, as if something precious has been lost and we can never get it back. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s a feeling I get way down in my gut. It often happens when I look at old sepia-toned photographs of people, knowing this was someone’s loved one at one time. Maybe the photograph had a prized position on a wall or piano in a home. Maybe it was given to a sweetheart or to proud parents or grandparents upon an occasion like a graduation. Maybe it’s someone’s wedding photo, capturing forever a special event that no one left on this earth remembers firsthand anymore. I find myself feeling lonely, missing the people, even though I never knew them.

Another thing that makes me sad in antique shops are the inscriptions in books, say from a mother to daughter or from one friend to another. I don’t think people give books as gifts as often as they used to, although as an author, I think of course that they should. Even when I do give someone a book that I think they’ll enjoy, I tend not to inscribe it, in case they want to return or exchange it. I could do a whole episode just on interesting book inscriptions I’ve come across. Maybe I will do that sometime.  

But the thing that makes me saddest of all in antique stores is the sense of loss to our culture, our society, of certain ways of living. Maybe sad isn’t the right word. A better word might be wistful. I’ll see things and think, the times just aren’t like that anymore. Once in a while that’s a good thing, but sometimes the thing we’ve lost seems precious to me. I’ll see a set of formal china dinnerware, and that will lead me to think about big family Sunday dinners people used to have, and that will make me wistful for a more gracious era when such things as china and silver mattered and people made the time and effort for big Sunday dinners. I understand that fewer brides nowadays even choose patterns for china and glassware at their weddings. They don’t ask for these things as gifts anymore. Family dinners are much more casual, and even entertaining has gone the way of paper plates and cups and sitting on the floor. Our more casual lifestyles have their good points, to be sure, but at the same time, something precious has been lost that so many of us have stopped making special occasions out of meals by bringing out the china and crystal. Do you ever feel that way?

I also love looking at feminine frippery like hats and gloves and jewelry. So many people today mock things that are dainty and feminine. They treat them as jokey, or cheesy, declaring they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing or using such things. When I was looking for podcasts similar to this one, I found so many that make a joke of femininity, or give a derisive third finger to traditional  womanhood.  And so, as a result, I started the podcast that I wanted to hear.  You’re listening to it (or reading the transcript).

As I browse in antique or vintage shops, I think, why does all this gentle graciousness have to be over? Why can’t we turn back the clock in certain small and thoughtful ways? We can adopt some of the calmer, gentler, slower behaviors and customs of the past. I believe they will serve us well even–or maybe especially–today. And taking home that china plate or that crystal goblet or that tarnished locket might just be the first step.

Do you like to browse in antiques stores or vintage stores? How do they make you feel? Feel free to leave a comment at jenniferlamontleo.com/blog.

Today’s grace note: I’ve been binge-watching and highly recommend the Amazon Original series, Vanity Fair. It’s beautifully done, with gorgeous costumes and delightful acting. Above all, the story drives home the message of the futility of striving for things in this world that don’t matter. It’s a message that seems as timely these days as it did when William Makepeace Thackeray wrote it in 1848. At that time he wrote, “Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions.” That sounds like it wouldn’t be very fun to watch, but on the contrary, it’s very entertaining. The main character, Becky Sharp, played masterfully by Olivia Cooke,  is not a heroine in the traditional sense of the word. True to the name “Sharp,” she’s an amoral, scheming social climber–conniving, brilliant, and cold hearted, in contrast to her saintly friend Amelia. I’ve read that her character may have been Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, to give you an idea of what she’s like. Again and again, Becky Sharp and other characters must face the consequences of their rash and ill-considered behavior, but it never comes across as preachy or didactic…just good fun.

Set in England against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair is a story full of intrigue and scandal, and yet it’s not disturbingly graphic. Much is left to the viewer’s imagination, which is a great relief nowadays, so kudos to Amazon for that. If you enjoy historical fiction and costume dramas, I highly recommend it. You’ll find it on Amazon Prime.

Episode 5: What is Charm? part deux


In this follow-up episode to “What is Charm?”, Jennifer shares a list of twenty “shortcuts to charm” written by actress Arlene Francis in 1960. Surprisingly, these tips are as relevant today as they were almost sixty years ago, focusing on kindness, respect, and courtesy.

GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc.  Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My CoffeeAin’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to jennifer@sparklingvintagelife.com or jenny@jenniferlamontleo.com.

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

 

Episode 4: What is Charm?


She’s charming. He’s a charmer. Prince Charming. When you hear someone described as “charming,” what images does it bring to mind? Listen in as Jennifer tries to dissect what writers of the past have said about the quality of charm, and what it means for us today.

GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes (or, if you don’t use iTunes, leave a review wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc.). Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Ain’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to jennifer@sparklingvintagelife.com or jenny@jenniferlamontleo.com.

Jennifer’s blog

Episode 3: Swearing – Yea or Nay?


Using foul language is increasingly popular these days. Some even say that swearing is a sign of superior intelligence and creativity. But does cussing add value to A Sparkling Vintage Life? We’re guessing you know our thoughts on the answer.

Article: Psychologists urge folks to be friends with those who swear a lot

Book: F You Very Much: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness and What We Can Do About It by Danny Wallace

Book: No Nice Girl Swears by Alice-Leone Moats. This rather tongue-in-cheek tome, published in 1933, was written by an accomplished journalist. Moats, who was 25 years old when she wrote No Nice Girl Swears, traveled the world as a foreign correspondent for Collier’s Magazine. Later she was a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also wrote for the National Review.

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

Episode 2: The Woman’s Institute and Mary Brooks Picken

Options to consider for my “afternoon dress,” as opposed to my scruffy morning bathtub-scrubbing outfit.

Vintage Notions by Amy Barickman

Project Gutenberg, a resource for online editions of public-domain works, many of which are out-of-print or otherwise hard to obtain. Search for “Woman’s Institute” to see what booklets pop up. Only a few titles are available currently; hopefully more will be added as time goes by. Still, they give you a flavor of the era (especially those on cookery. Ha!)

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

Episode 1: Introduction


This episode is an introduction to a new podcast called A Sparkling Vintage Life Host Jennifer Leo explains how she came to love all things vintage and sometimes feels as if she was meant to live in an earlier era. Through A Sparkling Vintage Life she’ll be celebrating the best of the past and discussing ways to incorporate vintage elements into a 21-century woman’s life. She welcomes kindred spirits to join her on the journey!

(And, yes, the sound quality needs work. “She” is still learning… appreciate your patience!)


The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’

Jennifer’s blog

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Jennifer Lamont Leo