A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: January 2013

Charm School: Wielding Your Weaponry at the Table

Is rudeness ruining your job opportunities? Corporate etiquette consultants are doing a brisk business these days. Why? Employers are learning that while many of their best and brightest new recruits may be brilliant at their jobs, they are washouts when it comes to knowing how to behave over lunch or dinner with a client.

Too often, the table manners that used to be taught at home no longer are. Families too rushed to eat together and drive-thru dining are just two of the factors contributing to this decline. In case you missed out, or need a refresher on how to handle tableware,, here’s some commonsense Eleanor Boykin has to say on the topic in her book This Way, Please, published in the 1940s:

“When a person forces you to notice his table manners by jabbing a sausage, guzzling his soup, making a bib out of his napkin, or doing something else unpleasant, you very naturally wonder “who fetched him up.” It is hard to excuse bad table manners, because it is so easy to have good ones. The important points can be boiled down to these three: Be tidy in your eating, handle your implements in the most convenient way, and avoid any act that might be disagreeable to others.”

She continues, “Use your imagination and common sense, and you can work out your own rules. Begin with the A.B.C. of eating, the handling of the knife and fork. Grab them as you would a spade, and you will find them awkward to manage. A stranglehold on the blade and prongs is no better; and you may get your fingers greasy besides. But place your hands gently over the handles, and you can wield them with ease and grace. . . . Most people know that the knife has but one duty–to cut foods that will not yield to the fork–and that knife-blade and one’s tongue never, never meet.”

Regarding the fork, Miss Boykin writes, “Don’t treat it like a pack horse and load potatoes and peas on its back atop a piece of meat. Don’t take more on your fork than enough for one mouthful. . . . Don’t pat your food tenderly or shape it into mounts with your fork–this is child;s play. So is marking on the tablecloth with the fork prongs and toying with your implements.”

For fun, here’s an old film clip that describes good table manners at home: http://youtu.be/_1imRX9n7hE

How are your knife-and-fork skills these days? If you’re not sure how well you’re wielding your weaponry, paying a little attention would be a very Sparkling Vintage thing to do!


Down to Business: Clocking In


station clock

More sage advice for the vintage working girl, from Personality Unlimited by Veronica Dengel:

“If nine o’clock is the beginning of the office day, be there at that time at your desk, ready for work. Don’t arrive at nine and then spend fifteen minutes fussing with your hair or refreshing your make-up. If the trip from home to office is so long that such things are necessary, then arrange to get in early. On the other hand, don’t leave your desk at a quarter before five to anticipate the five o’clock closing. It stamps you as a clock-watcher and one lacking zeal or interest. Naturally, when promotions or salary increases are made, you can hardly be justified in expecting to be remembered.”

True as it ever was!


On Camp Fire Girls and “13 in 13”: Getting a bead on old fashioned, practical skills

camp fire girlsI adore perusing old books, especially those that give clues to vintage style, home life, work life, traditions, manners–all things vintage, really.

One of my favorite finds is a 1925 edition of The Book of the Camp Fire Girls, published by the national headquarters of The Camp Fire Girls, Inc. (now called  Camp Fire USA), Glancing through the manual, I’m amazed at some of the skills these young ladies were encouraged to accomplish. Flying in the face of the popular misconception that girls were trained for little but housework, Camp Fire Girls were encouraged to study state-of-the-art technology (“Construct a crystal radio set.”  “Be able to send and receive 10 words a minute in the International Morse Code.”), care of children and the sick, care of pets and farm animals, first aid, signalling and knot-tying, fire lore, outdoor cooking, camping out (“Pack a horse and tie a squaw hitch.),” map and trail making, weather lore, backwoods craft (“Cure the skin of a snake or of a furred animal”) and handcrafts such as basketry, dyeing, bookbinding, leather work, photography weaving, carpentry, and metal work. There were nature units (plant and bird identification, astronomy, wild animal study), business skills units (including thrift and what we would today call recycling and “green” living), citizenship and patriotism, and faith (“Attend any religious service ten Sundays in three months.” ) As a reward for fulfilling tasks, the girls earned colorful beads which were sewn onto their uniforms (similar to Girl Scout badges, I imagine).

How different this approach is from today’s emphasis on training for specialized careers and not much else. After all, with a good income we can simply hire someone else to take care of the practical business of living–can’t we? It may be time to rethink our outlook on self-sufficiency.

We’ve become a nation of incompetents, unable to fend for ourselves in such matters as repairing instead of tossing, making instead of buying, and relying on cleverness instead of cash.  To truly thrive, we would do well to restore a lot of the skills and knowledge our ancestors took for granted. With a dour economy and a volatile world situation, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to manual, practical skills like those listed above–some would say “vintage” skills–in order to become more self-sufficient and stretch my resources. These are skills our great-grandmothers and -grandfathers knew, like carpentry, sewing, baking, gardening–pretty much all of them easily recognizable by the Camp Fire Girl of 1925.

These useful, practical skills are not necessarily the doomsday preparations some folks make them out to be; they just make good old-fashioned common sense.  This very day in rural North Idaho we are being pummeled by a blizzard. Having the skills to prepare for such an event and not have to worry about an empty pantry or a cold house makes all the difference.

After moving to this rural area six years ago after a lifetime spent in a  major metro area, where all the conveniences of “town” were a short walk away, I’ve been slowly adding to my “vintage” rural-living skill set, sometimes with great bursts of enthusiasm. But what about those times when I’m less than enthusiastic about learning something new?

Back to the Camp Fire Girls and their beads. That got me to thinking . . . wouldn’t it be great if adults could earn beads or badges or some sort of pat on the back for learning new skills? The skill is its own reward, of course, but how much more fun would it be to learn how to, say, raise chickens or sew a skirt if we received tangible rewards that we could accumulate and brag about?

Hurrah! That’s where “13 in 13” comes in. “13 in 13” is almost like a bead or badge reward system for grown ups. Developed by the Survival Podcast, 13 in 13, according to the website, is “designed to help people learn skills and improve their independence, self-sufficiency and marketability in a society rapidly losing touch with such things”

After creating a profile at 13skills.com,you choose which 13 skills you want to work on (there’s a lengthy list at the site’ you can also suggest your own), then you report back throughout the year as you achieve each skill. When you do, the white stars on your profile turn to red. You collect red stars as a Camp Fire Girl collects beads! You’ll also be encouraged to participate in a forum of like-minded individuals and families, all seeking to add 13 new skills to their lives by the end of 2013.

What does “achieving the skill” mean? You get to set your own criteria. For example, to someone accustomed to eating fast-food meals “achieved”  might mean learning some basic cooking techniques. To someone else who already knows his way around the kitchen, it might mean taking cooking to the next level, experimenting with new techniques or ingredients.

There’s a lot more information at 13skills.com. Check it out today, and let me know what you think.

As for me, my thirteen skills will include canning, fitness, nutrition, home maintenance, organization, plant identification, foraging, sewing, gardening, carpentry, hiking, herbal remedies, and learning how to shoot a gun. I’ll say more about each of those areas as we go along, and keep you posted on my progress.

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