A Sparkling Vintage Life

Vintage Living

On Laura Ingalls Wilder, “presentism,” the Victorians, and other random stabs to the heart

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.*

I’m not in the habit of quoting protest songs from the 1960s. In fact, I’m less than enamored with the Sixties, as a rule, my birth during that volatile decade notwithstanding. However … and with deepest apologies to Buffalo Springfield … those are the words that keep springing to my mind recently.

Some sort of shift is taking place, deep inside my core. I feel unsettled and restless, drawn to something I can’t yet name. This sensation could be the result of too much caffeine, or of eating dinner too late at night, or of ingesting seafood that’s gone a bit “off.”

But I don’t think so.

A couple of recent events gave rise to this feeling (I’m making every effort to avoid using the tired, baggage-laden word “triggered.” It’s worn out its welcome.)

The first event was a gut-punch to my midsection when I of the Association of Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association)’s decision to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s book award. According to the ALSC website, “Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.” So, some eighty years after her books were published and sixty years after her death, Laura Ingalls Wilder is to be booted out of the pantheon of American literature for not being up-to-date.

I’d barely had time to process my deep feels of regret over this disappointment when a second incident occurred. A lazy Saturday-morning browse of my local (if an hour away can be called local) Barnes & Noble produced a book that promised a cheeky look back at Victorian manners and morals. Expecting to be both enlightened and amused, I scanned a few pages and thrust it back on the shelf. It wasn’t a book most readers of this blog would enjoy. Instead of offering the reader an interesting trip in the Wayback Machine, it was a snarky, mocking, and thoroughly unfunny skewering of Victorian viewpoints concerning femininity, gender relations, and a host of other topics. What could have been a delightful, charming book, both amusing and informative, failed to do either as it vented its vindictive, mean-spirited spleen against the ideals of an earlier generation.

Now, clearly, I’ve rejected books before. Plenty of them. I’ve placed thousands of them back on the shelf or deleted them from my Amazon cart with regularity and not given them another thought. So why is this particular book still pricking at my mind days later? Because I think these seemingly insignificant events, both of them, are symptoms of a deeper problem.

Have you heard the term “presentism”? I hadn’t either, until quite recently. When I first heard it I was tempted to roll my eyes at yet another “ism” to supposedly confront and contend with. But this one actually clicks with me. According to dictionary.com, presentism is “uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.” In other words,  it means judging people of the past by the standards of today. It’s painting Laura Ingalls Wilder or Mark Twain or Agatha Christie or a host of other authors with the damning stripe of “racist” or “sexist” or “classist,” when their writings merely reflecting commonly held viewpoints and thought-patterns typical of their place and time in history. It means skewering authors of the past (among other people–name your historical hero and I bet there’s some lode of non-PC something-or-other in his or her life, waiting to be unearthed) for not being feminist enough or environmentally-friendly enough or fill-in-the-blank enough to suit their very specific 21st-century standards.

This is what makes me angry: the wholesale slandering of historical figures based on 21st-century standards. Makes me angry enough to … what? That’s the part I haven’t figured out yet. Angry enough to write a blog post: done. But then what? Does Laura Ingalls Wilder need my help? Do the Victorians? I think not.

And yet.

The name of this blog (in case you didn’t know, which you probably didn’t because I’m neglectful at pointing it out)  is A Sparkling Vintage Life. Its mission is to celebrate the best of the past, to enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction, and to incorporate vintage touches into a modern life. To uphold wholesome, healthy, and God-honoring values. “The best of the past” does not mean approving of racism, sexism, and other “isms” so offensive to modern sensibilities. But neither does it mean throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. It means taking what works and leaving the rest. Being a generous enough human to respect fellow humans who went before us for what they did well, and extending grace to (and learning from) those things we no longer accept or condone in this generation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder deserves to be admired as a writer whose stories have been beloved by generations. There are ways to point out what modern eyes see as her failings, without trashing her entire reputation.

The ways of the Victorians deserve to be respected, studied, and learned from, not mocked and ridiculed. Yes, they had their oddball quirks, to be sure, and it’s fine and good to point out where we disagree, to see how far we’ve come as a society in certain respects. But there are things we can learn from them, too. Things that are worth preserving,worth bringing back. It’s arrogant and prideful to think our society is so much “better” than theirs. And anyone who thinks our generation doesn’t have just as many oddball quirks, if not more, is simply delusional.

Oh, dear. I believe I’ve gone off on a  ramble. If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these feelings churning about in my psyche. I just know that the past must not be painted over with politically correct Day-Glo. There are things worth saving, conserving, preserving, bringing back.

What can I do about it? Maybe nothing. Or maybe something. What it is ain’t exactly clear. Stay tuned.

And thank you for living out your own  juicy, generous, and joy-filled Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

*For What It Is Worth lyrics written by Stephen Stills, © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

What is style?


Style is not applying make-up in public, indulging in a passion for ornament, or rushing out to purchase the latest design in a fashion product. Nor is style the ignoring of social conventions, such as going without a hat or gloves on city streets or other places good taste indicates they should be worn. Style is not wearing slacks or shorts, or head scarves, or going without hose on these same city streets. Style is not wearing our evening finery during working hours. Style is not wearing hair curlers and unattractive garments among family members so that one can be a ravishing beauty for strangers.” (Grace Margaret Morton, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, 1943)

Some days I think thank goodness those days are over. Who wants to feel they have to wear hose to be decently dressed? Other days I think how far we have fallen. It will come as no surprise to readers of A Sparkling VIntage Life that much of modern life grates on my last nerve. I think tight yoga pants worn outside of the yoga studio without something draped over top are pretty much an abomination on most human shapes. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to vintage-style clothing and attitudes. And yet, my own wardrobe too often contains the drab, the unflattering, and the shabby, because I’m “too busy” to think about clothes or “too comfortable” to rouse myself to put on something with a proper zipper.

What are we saying out ourselves as a society when we not only give our own selves a pass on slovenliness, but admire it in others as some sort of virtue signaling?

I don’t have the answer. Just a question that’s been banging around in my head recently. Feel free to weigh in.

H is for Harmony

…as in, does anyone harmonize anymore?

In this article, Tim Challies makes the point that the demise of hymnal use in church, in favor of projecting the lyrics on slides, has had a detrimental effect on people harmonizing in church. No doubt the decline of music education in the schools has had a similar effect on the general population. Here’s a clip of a congregation singing in harmony together, if you’ve never heard it done.

But do we even sing at all anymore, anywhere, much less learn to harmonize? I sing, but I belong to both a church worship team and a community choir, and I’m rather an oddball besides. 🙂 These days it seems we leave singing up to the paid professionals, as if ordinary mortals can’t find joy and satisfaction in singing just for fun.

I’ll leave you with these heartening clips of families harmonizing together here and here.

Do you ever sing in harmony just for fun?

 

3 Sparkling Treats for Late Winter

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it feels like the longest. Endless gray days punctuated by violent storms do little to lift my mood. Here are a few things I’ve found that are making the doldrums pass a little more quickly.

*Enjoying a lively discussion of A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux over at the Modern Retro Woman Reading Club. First published in 1964 and reissued in 2003, this little book is subtitled “For every woman who wants to be well and properly dressed on all occasions.” It makes me amused, happy, and sad at the same time, seeing how women’s sense of style has changed (yea, fallen) since the days of white gloves and girdles (although now we have Spanx to corral our avoirdupois, so maybe some things haven’t changed so much, after all).

*Getting my “granny” on! One thing I’ve been adoring this winter is this Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown from The Vermont Country Store. I got it for Christmas and it’s my go-to garment for comfort and warmth in on cold winter nights. Like wearing a hug!

*Loving the podcast What Should I Read Next by Anne Bogel, the avid bibliophile behind the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. Anne discusses books and makes recommendations for her guests. I keep a notebook nearby as I listen to jot down interesting-sounding titles.

*Finishing up one of my favorite books, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, in The Sparkling Vintage Ladies Reading Circle. In March we’ll be reading The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (author of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series for children), which will surely bring about some smiles.

*Cleaning out my overstuffed craft room/guest room/gift-wrapping room/stash-it room. In itself, decluttering is not a particularly sparkling activity, but the results are cheer-inducing.

How are you passing these late-winter days?

With the right lipstick, who needs a time-travel machine?

I don’t do a lot of product reviews on this blog (well, except for books, lol) but I feel compelled to share something that has gladdened my vintage-loving heart, and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it, too.

It’s a cosmetics company called Bésame, out of California. Founded by artist and cosmetic historian Gabriela Hernandez, Bésame produces cosmetics that replicate shades and formulas from the early- to mid-twentieth century (updated to today’s product-safety standards, and all products are cruelty-free and paraben-free).

I’d heard about Bésame a while back, but held off purchasing because the prices seemed a little high for my admittedly modest make-up budget. But I joined the mailing list, and it turns out they offer some great deals now and then that let me try some products without straining the piggy bank. I suppose I should mention here that I have no connection to the company, and any product I review, I purchased with my own money.

The items came packaged with a fun faux-“newspaper,” the Bésame Bugle, that describes not only the products and how to use them, but other newsy tidbits. For example, an article introducing their 1937 “Snow White” collection explains how the color palette was chosen based on the original animated film. Another article tells about Adriana Caselotti, the teenage Italian-American opera singer who voiced Snow White (described as “the perfect mix of child-like innocence with a strong operatic singing voice”). There’s even a word-search puzzle that had me hunting for “Evil Queen” and “True Loves Kiss”! Be still, my heart. These “newspapers” are a great example of how a company can promote its products and philosophy without being sales-y.

Back to the products. First off, the packaging is lovely–burgundy and gold in an Art Nouveau floral motif. Just looking at them on my shelf makes me happy. Two shades of lipstick I’ve tried are Victory Red (a vivid patriotic red–I believe it was a special edition, as I no longer find it on the website) and American Beauty (a softer berry red). The formula is more matte than glossy, which is good for me because gloss never seems to last too long on my lips. The instructions explain how to apply with the angled tip and blot with a tissue, which is exactly how I remember my mother applying her lipstick, back in the day.

I also remember my mom using cake mascara before the advent of the applicator-in-a-tube. Hers came in a little red box from Maybelline and was applied with a tiny brush that looked like something a doll would use. Bésame’s comes in a red-and-gold tin containing a cake of mascara and its own tiny brush. So far I’ve been a little too clumsy with the brush to make a success of it on my lashes, but I’ve found that I love using it as eye liner. I wet a narrow brush with water, brush it over the cake, and apply a thin line right next to my lashes. Works great!

Next I tried Cashmere Foundation in True Beige. It comes in stick form and takes a bit of blending, but I like how well it covers the redness in my face. I tend not to apply it all over, just in the areas where it’s needed, and I blend, blend, blend (sponge or fingers work well). Then I set it with Vanilla Brightening Powder, which comes with it’s own darling little puff. although I prefer a fluffy brush. It’s a finely-milled powder in a light, translucent color with a delicate vanilla scent. There are, of course, multiple shades to choose from, even color-correcting rose and violet. There are several cream and powder rouges available, too, but I usually skip rouge because of the aforementioned redness.

Finally, I picked up a sample set called “Decades of Fragrance.” The set contains six sample-size vials of colognes named–get this, vintage lovers–1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, and 1960! According to the company website, each scent “uses familiar ingredients from each period to create an impression of a decade of time.” (Note: The vials came packaged in a small cardboard box, not in the red velvet bag shown in the photo above. The bag is my own–but what a cute way to package them for Christmas, dontcha think?)

To wrap up, I feel like this company really “gets” me, as a customer and a fellow lover of all things vintage. I’m eager to try other products as needs arise and the coffers allow. Even if I’d just bought one lipstick, I would have enjoyed feeling transported back to the grace and elegance of an earlier era, connected somehow to generations of ladies who came before us. If that sounds like your kind of travel, visit Bésame and check out what they have to offer.

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Chautauqua: End of an Era

Chautauqua Amp: Final Days

This article from David Steele at Buffalo Rising makes me sad. The iconic Chautauqua Ampitheater in New York will be torn down this week. In  Steele’s words,  “It becomes what it is over time, imbued with the mark of many summers and many generations. This magical place will soon be gone.”

For years, traveling companies took Chautauqua to cities and small towns all over America. But the Ampitheater in New York hosted the granddaddy of all Chautauquas. I know times have changed. I know the Ampitheater has been used for different things and is no longer what it once was. That doesn’t change the fact that my heart hurts.

Source: http://www.buffalorising.com

Source: http://www.buffalorising.com

Once upon a time I wrote about the Chautauqua movement at Writing North Idaho.

What buildings or other structures have you been said to see torn down?

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Grace Note for August 18, 2016

003“There would be cool blue shadows on the north porch where the pines were thickest about the hotel, a wonderful spot to come with a book before the world was generally astir. There would be the aroma of coffee, honeydew melons and toast, hot rolls just out of the oven, and a hint of brook trout frying in deep fat.” (Grace Livingston Hill, Happiness Hill)

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Sparkling Vintage Life: What to Bring Back from Yesteryear

One more Lilly Jarlsson video… (Yes, I’m letting her do my speaking for me today, lol. She does it so well.)

I’ve often said that I don’t wish to simply turn back the clock and live in the past. There is much to love about modern life, and much to loathe about days gone by. Still, there are ASPECTS of the past, particularly in regards to public life, that we would do well to bring back.

In this video Lilly reflects on things from the past that she wishes we could bring back from the past, including:

Patience
Politeness
Chivalry
Quality over quantity
Local shopping
Artists with talent
Good grooming

What would you bring back from the past, if you could?

Sparkling Vintage Health: Steps on the Journey

tennis2Last week I wrote about wanting to improve my health and what the pre-World War II ladies magazines call “vitality.” I looked up “vitality” in the dictionary. The first definition is, “the peculiarity of distinguishing the living from the nonliving.” That’s telling it like it is!

So far my old-fashioned approach has been two-pronged: walking a lot and choosing fresh, unprocessed food as much as possible. In the May sunshine, walking is pleasant and I actually look forward to it, but making time for it can feel like a hurdle. Twice in recent days I’ve been stuck “in town” between appointments (“town” being about 15 miles away from our rural home) and have used that time to walk in a park. I told myself I didn’t need workout clothes or athletic shoes (although, note to self: keep a pair in the car). I was already wearing comfortable flats, so off I went.

Walking in the park is fun for two reasons: (1) the terrain is flat–a nice break from the steep hills around my home. (My husband figured out that walking from the bottom of our property to the top is like climbing eight stories!) and (2) there are people around! Baseball and lacrosse teams, kids and moms on the playground, tennis players, other walkers . . . such fun to people-watch. I love to nature-watch, too, and soak up the peace and solitude of the woods surrounding my home, but for a literal change of pace, it’s enjoyable to switch to the park. Bonus: I felt like that interval between appointments wasn’t wasted.

Feeding myself well is harder. It’s so easy to grab whatever’s at hand and call it a meal. I’ve made a deliberate effort to concentrate on protein and vegetables and limited carbs. A typical breakfast is coffee, an egg, and a quarter of an avocado on toast. Lunch is soup or salad and a sandwich (trying to limit to half a sandwich). Dinner is meat or fish and vegetables for me, plus bread or potatoes for my husband. And water, water, water.

So where does the “vintage” part come in? Eating fresh, minimally processed food and walking have been human activities since forever. I don’t need a gym or any special gadgetry (although I got a nifty fitness band for my birthday that tracks my steps and heart rate–definitely not vintage, but kind of useful). The foods I’m eating are not much different from what a woman would have eaten 100 years ago.  My fitness is centered around typical human activities: walking, bending, stretching, putting some muscle into housework and yardwork. Drop me into 1916 and my food and activity wouldn’t look that different. Except, of course, from jumping on the Internet to talk about it!

First week’s results: two pounds down, high energy, and rosy cheeks from being out in the sun.

Sparkling Vintage Health: Shaping My Future

Hikers, 1940s.

Hikers, 1940s.

This is going to be one of my more vulnerable posts, but I’m sharing it with you because I know that at least a few of you struggle with a similar issue: health and fitness. My doctor, my scale, my own eyeballs in the mirror, my recent birthday, and the summer clothing I’m pulling out of hibernation (not necessarily in that order) have convinced me for the umpteenth time that it’s time to Do Something About My Health.

I lost a few pounds last summer, but over the winter they came wandering back. They missed me! So now I’m back to having plenty of pounds to lose, if the standard BMI calculators are to be trusted, which I think they are, more or less. But I also know that my weight is not the real problem, but a symptom of other problems. Middle age and its attendant physical changes have hit me with a whallop. I’ve also become increasingly aware that the foods many of us eat these days are quick, convenient, tasty . . . and detrimental to our health. A heart-to-heart with my doctor, plus research into the way most Americans ate and moved 50 or 75 or 100 years ago vs. today, has gotten me interested in pursing a “vintage” lifestyle of smaller portions, more seasonal and local produce, and fewer processed foods.fat ad

As far as exercise goes, I’m not a gym rat. In fact, I’m about as far from a gym rat as you can get. I’m one of the most uncoordinated people I know. My muscles seem improperly strung and most standard gyms make me feel profoundly ungainly and out-of-place. Plus, I live on a mountainside surrounded by steep hills and endless trails, literally outside my front door. There’s fitness in them thar hills! So for now, with the weather turning nice, rambling over the hills will be my main exercise, along with some simple bodyweight exercises thrown in for strength and flexibility. At some point I may need to join a gym to gain access to certain equipment (and a swimming pool!) but maybe I’ll think about that in the fall. For now, dickering over the gym question would just be one more way to procrastinate.

"Exercise With Gloria" Source: Kevin Dooley via flickr.com/Creative Commons

“Exercise With Gloria”
Source: Kevin Dooley via flickr.com/Creative Commons

My earliest memory of exercise was as a preschooler, moving along with my mom as she watched “Exercise With Gloria” on our old black-and-white TV. I only remember doing this a smattering of times, so I don’t think it caught on with my mother, who was naturally slim and not much of an athlete, although she walked a lot and enjoyed dancing and swimming. Still, I remember the joy of swinging my arms and legs and moving my body, and I did enjoy ballet classes as a very young child, until I switched teachers to a fearsome woman who yelled a lot, and that was the end of my ballet career.

I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I found “exercise” to be fun. School gym class is something I do my best to forget, Nevertheless there are a million and one reasons to “just do it,” as the Nike people say.

fat ad2Because I’ve been immersed in vintage reading materials, doing research for another project, I’ve decided to take a journey this summer, researching old-fashioned health and fitness advice–the good, the bad, the laughable, and the downright cuckoo (tapeworms, anyone?)–and adopting those practices that make sense to me and my doc. I would love to have some companions on the journey! I should state right now that I am not a doctor, nurse, health specialist, exercise guru, nutritional know-it-all, or any other type of professional. Just a woman interested in approaching health and fitness the way it used to be, when it was less of an obsession, and seeing what I learn along the way. If you’d like to join me, or even just offer a word of encouragement, comment below or e-mail me privately at jennifer (at) jenniferlamontleo (d0t) com. Once in a while I’ll report in on this blog and let you know how it’s going.

 

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