Jennifer Lamont Leo

A Sparkling Vintage Life

The Rose Keeper, Day 4: Dressel’s Bakery

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara’s favorite cake is a chocolate whipped cream cake from Dressel’s Bakery in Cicero.In a rather melancholy scene at the hospital where she works, “With a sigh, Clara glanced down the hallway toward the break room, then turned away, knowing her presence at the party would no longer be welcome, even though the chocolate whipped cream cake from Dressel’s Bakery was her very favorite too.” (Don’t worry; she doesn’t stay sad forever!)

I ran across this interesting article about Dressel’s Bakery in the Chicago Tribune. Seems I wasn’t the only one who loved it. I do remember the cakes being available in the freezer section of Jewel, although it seems to me the frozen cakes weren’t quite as good as the fresh variety. But they were still plenty good. And then one day they simply weren’t there anymore.

Those who remember Dressel’s cakes seem to fall into two camps: those who liked the chocolate whipped cream best, and those who preferred the strawberry.  A quick survey on a local Facebook group yielded many comments, of which the following are representative:

“I drool just thinking about that cake. Loved it! We had it for every birthday!”

“I used to walk there on Cermak to get my cakes. I loved that store.”

“Oh, man, I’m drooling I loved that cake. Very devastated when then closed the Dressel’s stores.”

“Chocolate whipped cream cake was an absolute MUST for all our birthdays.”

“My choice for birthday cake was always the yellow whipped cream cake with strawberry filling!”

There are a few recipes floating around on the internet, promising to taste just like the original. I’ve been collecting them, but haven’t gotten up the nerve to try one yet. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect in memory only.

What was your favorite dessert as a child? Or now?

The Rose Keeper, Day 5: The Illinois Training School for Nurses

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara took her nurses’ training at the Illinois Training School for Nurses, graduating in 1915. The story shows her starting her first job at the fictional Memorial Hospital. Thirty years later, she’s still there,overseeing the younger nurses in the Women’s Medical ward.

Nursing students in a demonstration class in amphitheatre at the Cook County Hospital. “The hospital amphitheatre offers the best place [for instruction], the raised seats giving a good view to all and plenty of room.” (A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, 1880-1929) Photo source: Cook County School of Nursing records; University of Illinois at Chicago. Library. Special Collections and University Archives Department (Library of the Health Sciences)

The Illinois Training School for Nurses (ITS) was founded in 1880. According to an interesting history of the school written in 1929, “the purpose of the founders was twofold: first, to train young women to care scientifically for the sick, so establishing a new and dignified profession for women and at the same time making available to the public a valuable service; and second, to give patients in the Cook County Hospital care far better than that of the untrained and politically chosen attendents then employed.”

According to the archives of the University of Ilinois, ITS was “the first Nightingale-type nurse training school in the Midwest U.S. The school’s founders included such prominent Chicago women as Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, Lucy Flower, and Margaret Lawrence. These progressive-era women aimed to improve the nursing care of the city’s sick poor while allowing Midwestern young women to prepare for the new occupation of trained nursing. The prestigious new school attracted early nursing leaders to serve as superintendents, including Isabel Hampton Robb and Lavinia Lloyd Dock. The student nurses primarily trained at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.”

In Clara’s day the curriculum would have included anatomy and physiology, hygiene, bacteriology, surgical, medical and gynecological nursing, obstetrics, pediatrics, and care of the “nervous and insane,” and something called “materia medica” (the study of substances used for healing). as well as practical nursing and cooking. Students worked nine hours per day shift or twelve hours per night shift, with a half-day off on Sunday and one half-holiday during the week. Training in contagious diseases and tuberculosis was optional, but the superintendent at the time stated, “as evidence of the earnestness and bravery with which the average nurse pursues her course of instruction, a large per cent of the pupils … elect to pass through this trying ordeal.” Clinics offered in-depth learning of special techniques. Thus “Patients, beds, and appliances are provided and used, leaving as little room to the imagination as possible.”

Clearly Clara had been well prepared for her duties as a nurse at Memorial Hospital. But being a good nurse requires more qualities than just technical skill. How did she fare on the “softer” skills? Read THE ROSE KEEPER to find out!

 

 

 

 

The Rose Keeper, Day 6: MacNeal Hospital

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara works as a nurse at Chicago’s fictional “Memorial Hospital,” which is loosely based on MacNeal Hospital in Cicero’s neighboring suburb of Berwyn. I didn’t use the “real” MacNeal Hospital since certain details didn’t suit the narrative, such as the date of founding. But I would have liked to for several reasons, not least of which is because MacNeal Hospital was my birthplace!

In 1919, Dr. Arthur MacNeal. a Michigan native and graduate of Chicago’s Rush Medical School, opened a clinic in his Berwyn home.  He is credited as being one of the first physicians to use a vaccine against diphtheria and also had one of the first X-ray machines in the country.

Photo source: https://whyberwyn.com

In 1924 the first 3-story hospital was constructed on the MacNeal property, with the fourth story added in 1929. Subsequent expansions and innovations have brought MacNeal to its current status as a 374-bed, well respected teaching hospital.

Today MacNeal Hospital is part of the Loyola Medicine and Trinity health systems, under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

A side note: To celebrate National Hospital Week in, I’m guessing, 1960 or 1961, I participated as a member of the “royal family” of babies born at MacNeal. I don’t remember a thing about the experience, which is probably just as well. Still, it’s a cherished photo of me and my mom.

 

The Rose Keeper, Day 7: Western Electric Company

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara’s neighbor Laurie gets a job at the local Western Electric manufacturing facility called the Hawthorne Works (the town of Cicero was originally named Hawthorne) or just “the Western.” Since the time period is World War II, she’s working on a government defense project that is “hush, hush.”

But for most of the twentieth century, the Western Electric Company was Cicero’s primary employer. It was the chief manufacturer of telephone equipment for the Bell Telephone System (later AT&T)  and other consumer goods, such as electric fans and refrigerators. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Western Electric “pioneered new technologies such as the high-vacuum tube, the condenser microphone, and radio systems for airplanes.”

The sprawling Hawthorne Works was considered a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 1905. At its peak, it employed 45,000 workers.  It closed in 1984 with the dismantling of the Bell System. Today the property is the site of a shopping center, with only the water tower remaining from the original structure.

THEN:

Photo source: Forgotten Chicago

NOW:

Photo source: MrHarman, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

People who worked at Western Electric, including several members of my own extended family, tended to speak of it fondly of it. A 1932 company publication called “Hawthorne: A City Within a City” described it thusly:

“Physically, Hawthorne is a modern industrial plant with 86 buildings containing over 3,000,000 square feet of available floor space. One never suspects in viewing the exterior that behind these buildings is an inner court, beautifully landscaped. There are winding streets and sidewalks, and seas of green lawns dotted with floral islands. Hawthorne is, in fact, a city in itself. It has its own police staff, a fire department, a completely equipped hospital, cooperative stores, a laundry, a railroad, a power house, a gas works, restaurants, and even its own water supply. Each month enough electricity is used to illuminate 450,000 average homes—enough to take care of a city the size of Memphis, Tennessee. In the same period gas enough to supply a city as large as Dallas, Texas, is generated and consumed.”

The company provided many benefits to its employees, taking a paternalistic approach that some today call “welfare capitalism.” Perks included death and insurance benefits, home loans, social clubs, night classes, and sports teams. Even after the ill-fated picnic of 1915, the employee-run Hawthorne Club continued to organize social events like dances and trips to Riverview Park and Wrigley Field.

In 1925, Elton Mayo of Harvard University conducted well-known industrial studies at the Hawthorne Works. One lasting outcome of those studies was “the Hawthorne effect,” in which individuals adjust their behavior when they’re aware of being watched. Industrial scholars continue to debate and discuss the methodology and results of these studies.

Many artifacts and documents pertaining to the Western Electric Company can be viewed at the Hawthorne Museum operated by Morton College in Cicero, Illinois.

The Rose Keeper, Day 8: Cermak Road

 

 

Cermak Road, also known as 22nd Street, is a 19-mile-long, major street that runs east and west from Chicago through the city’s western suburbs. The portion that concerns us runs through Cicero, Clara Janacek’s town in THE ROSE KEEPER, whose border smacks right up against Chicago’s western boundary. It’s where Clara and her neighbors do all their shopping, banking, and other errands. On a trip to downtown Chicago, she reflects, “She didn’t travel to the Loop often. Even though it wasn’t far from Cicero, it felt exotic and strange, like she imagined a foreign capital must feel, having never actually traveled to one. She preferred doing business at the friendly, family-owned shops of Cermak Road to State Street’s elegant department stores and boutiques, where she felt frumpy and out of place.”

Cermak Road was named after Democratic politician Anton Cermak, a Czech citizen who served as Mayor of Chicago from 1931 until his untimely death in 1933. On February 15, 1933, Cermak was shot dead by an assassin who was aiming for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The portion of 22nd Street than runs through the Chicago neighborhoods of Pilsen and Lawndale and the suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn was renamed Cermak Road in his honor, because they were heavily Czech-American at the time. In THE ROSE KEEPER some of the old-timers are still in the habit of calling it 22nd Street. Old habits die hard.

Author Norbert Blei, who grew up in Cicero, described Cermak Road this way in his book Neighborhood: “a river of restaurants, savings and loan companies, bakeries, butcher shops and bargain stores … engulfing everything and everybody. Other nationalities continue to thrive here, but the temper is Bohemian.” He went on to say, “When the old babickas [grandmas] in paisley babushkas, carrying brown paper and black cloth shopping bags, went to the stores on Cermak, they came from the basements, bungalows, two-flats, and small houses north and south of Cermak Road … the meat markets, milk stores, bakeries, fruit and vegetable stands, building and loans, banks, small department stores, shoemakers, many with names they could relate to: Pavlicek’s Drug Store, Ruzicka Kobzina, Sekera, and others for furniture. Sebesta, Shotola, Verners, and many more for meat. Pancner for Bohemian books, Bohemian greeting cards, stationery, Czech crystal, and funeral homes like Clasen, Cermak, Chrastka, Marik, and Svec.”

During Prohibition, notoriety came to Cermak Road in the form of Al Capone, who headquartered his gangster activity at the Hawthorne Inn in 1924. According to an article on moon.com, “During the 1924 municipal elections, Capone turned the town of Cicero into a war zone: he bullied voters, kidnapped pollsters, and threatened news reports into voting for the people who supported his criminal behavior.” An altercation ensued with the cops that killed Al’s brother, Frank. Capone also warred with the North Side gang run by Dion O’Banion. According to Wikipedia, “On September 20, 1926, the North Side Gang used a ploy outside the Capone headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn, aimed at drawing him to the windows. Gunmen in several cars then opened fire with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns at the windows of the first-floor restaurant. Capone was unhurt and called for a truce, but the negotiations fell through.” More years of gang warfare ensued, culminating in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater on February 14, 1929.

By World War II, the main time period of THE ROSE KEEPER, Capone was long gone from the neighborhood. After serving a prison sentence for tax evasion in the 1930s, he was released in poor health, suffering complications from syphilis. He died in 1947 at his Florida mansion.

Nonetheless, his reputation lingered, as did Cicero’s reputation as a rough-and-tumble town. In THE ROSE KEEPER, our heroine awakens to a loud bang. “Clara shot straight up in bed, disoriented, jerked out of a sound sleep by the sharp retort of a pistol. Land sakes, was the Capone bang back in town, trading gunfire in the middle of Cermak Road?”

But for most peaceful citizens of Cicero, Cermak Road was just a bustling, thriving neighborhood thoroughfare of butchers, bakers, banks, and babushkas. Clara and Jerry enjoy hot pancakes on a cold winter day at Seneca Restaurant. For a special occasion, she buys a dress at DeMar’s Dress Shop, which was one of my grandmother’s favorites as well.

Tune in again tomorrow when I’ll share another behind-the-scenes story or fact as we count down to THE ROSE KEEPER!

 

The Rose Keeper, Day 9: What in the Heck is a Two-Flat?

I was well advanced in years before I realized that not everyone outside of the Chicago area understands what a “two-flat” is.  “Two-flat,” like “forest preserve” and “decent pizza,” seems to be an unfamiliar concept to much of the world. So here’s your handy primer to All Things Two-Flat.

The Chicago Tribune amusingly defined a two-flat as “a residential, two-story brick building with a common front entrance and separate residences on each floor. One floor is often reserved, reluctantly, for mother-in-law. Common source of extra income/aggravation for Chicagoans.” In other parts of the world, this sort of arrangement might be called a “duplex,” but in Chicago a duplex means two side-by-side residences connected by a common wall, while two-flats are vertical. The floor of the top unit is the ceiling of the bottom unit.

In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara and Jerry live in a two-flat, surrounded by other two flats. Here’s an idea of what their street looks like. (The taller building is a three-flat, the others are two-flats):

Jerry, who owns the building, occupies the top floor and Clara, his tenant and friend, rents the main floor. They share a common front door and entryway. Clara’s apartment opens off the entryway, while Jerry’s is up a flight of stairs.

In addition, Jerry has built a small third apartment in the spacious basement. You see, it’s World War II, and with workers flooding in to work in nearby defense plants, the industrial town of Cicero is experiencing a housing shortage, so many homeowners are taking in boarders. When Jerry rents the basement apartment to a vivacious young factory worker and her precocious daughter, well, that’s when things really get interesting.

The units in a two- or three-flat are also connected at the back by a conglomeration of stairs and landings that technically serve as a fire escape, but are often euphemistically referred to as the “back porch.” Here’s an idea of what that looks like:

The basement apartment is only accessible through the back. There’s also a small backyard, where Clara keeps a vegetable garden, and a small one-car garage. Her beloved rosebush is in the front.

If you’re interested in learning more about the iconic–and apparently endangered–Chicago two-flat, here’s an interesting article on Curbed Chicago.

Tune in again tomorrow when I’ll share another behind-the-scenes story or fact as we count down to THE ROSE KEEPER!

 

 

 

10 Days Until THE ROSE KEEPER releases! Here’s how the cover came to be

As we count down to the highly anticipated March 15 release of THE ROSE KEEPER, I thought it would be fun to share a behind-the-scenes story or fact for each day. Today we’ll look at where the cover came from.

In the 1915 part of the story, Clara is a fresh-faced graduate of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, starting her first job at the fictional Memorial Hospital. When I looked for images of nurses from that era, I stumbled upon a wonderful image of a Red Cross nurse, not only from that decade but from that exact year–1915! She even resembled Clara in my imagination. And the image was in the public domain, being over 95 years old. So I ordered the magazine cover–yes, the real, actual, worn-and-torn magazine cover–from an Etsy shop and sent it to my designer, who worked her magic to make it cover-worthy.

I also wanted an image from the real-life Eastland disaster at the heart of the story. The Chicago History Museum came through for me, and I purchased the rights to this image from them and, again, sent it to my patient and talented cover designer to place in the background.

Finally, I wanted the cover of THE ROSE KEEPER to resemble the first book in the series, MOONDROP MIRACLE. I think the designer succeeded at doing that, using similar image placements and fonts. I think she did a great job, don’t you?

(PS: Readers have asked me whether they should read Book 1 before Book 2 in the series. I’m happy to say … no! The books are essentially standalones, tied together by theme more than story or character. So they can be read in any order.)

So that’s how the cover came to be! Stop by tomorrow when I’ll post another behind-the-scenes story.

Fresh new fiction blowing in on the March breeze!

March 2021 New Releases, including the latest from Yours Truly! Scroll down to see The Rose Keeper and many other intriguing titles releasing this spring!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website


Biblical:

Miriam’s Song by Jill Eileen Smith — In her eventful lifetime, Miriam was many things to many people: protective older sister, song leader, prophetess, leper. But between the highs and the lows, she was a girl who dreamed of freedom, a woman who longed for love, a leader who made mistakes, and a friend who valued connection. (Biblical from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Contemporary Romance:

Amish Midwives by Amy Clipston — From bestselling authors of Amish Fiction come three sweet stories about new life, hope, and romance. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

A Brother’s Promise by Mindy Obenhaus — He didn’t realize he wanted a family… Until he suddenly became a single dad. After his sister’s death, rancher Mick Ashford’s determined to ensure his orphaned niece, Sadie, feels at home. And accepting guidance from Christa Slocum is his first step. But just as Christa and Sadie begin to settle into Mick’s heart, Sadie’s paternal grandparents sue for custody. Now Mick must fight to keep them together…or risk losing the makeshift family he’s come to love. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired/Harlequin)

General Contemporary:

Facing the Dawn by Cynthia Ruchti — While her humanitarian husband Liam has been digging wells in Africa, Mara Jacobs has been struggling. She knows she’s supposed to feel a warm glow that her husband is nine time zones away, caring for widows and orphans. But the reality is that she is exhausted, working a demanding yet unrewarding job, trying to manage their three detention-prone kids, failing at her to-repair list, and fading like a garment left too long in the sun. (General Contemporary from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Historical:

A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy — Ottilie Russell is adrift between two cultures, British and Indian, belonging to both and neither. In order to support her little brother, Thaddeus, and her grandmother, she relies upon her skills in beetle-wing embroidery that have been passed down to her through generations of Indian women. When a stranger appears with the news that Thaddeus is now Baron Sunderson and must travel to England to take his place as a nobleman, Ottilie is shattered by the secrets that come to light. (General Historical from Bethany House)

The Rose Keeper by Jennifer Lamont Leo — July 1944. Chicago nurse Clara Janacek has spent her whole life taking care of other people. Grumpy yet loveable, all she wants now is to live out her life in peace, tending her roses and protecting her heart. But beneath the gruff exterior lies a story, and when new neighbors move in and shake up her quiet world, Clara must grapple with long-buried realities. (General Historical, Independently Published)

In the Dead of the Night by JP Robinson — Leila is forced back into the shadows when the leader of a German spy ring kidnaps her child, jeopardizing Europe’s fragile bid for peace. (General Historical from Logos Publications)


Historical Romance:

Dreams Rekindled by Amanda Cabot — Though she hopes for a quiet, uncomplicated life for herself, Dorothy Clark wants nothing more than to stir others up. Specifically, she dreams of writing something that will challenge people as much as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin seems to have. But in 1850s Mesquite Springs, there are few opportunities for writers — until newspaperman Brandon Holloway arrives, that is. (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Sing in the Sunlight by Kathleen Denly — Richard Stevens isn’t who he thinks he is. Neither is the woman who now claims his last name. Disfiguring scars stole Clarinda Humphrey’s singing career, her home, and her family, but she refuses to let her appearance steal her future. While attending The Young Ladies Seminary in 1858 Benicia, California, she finds a man who promises to love and cherish her. Instead he betrays her, leaving her with child, and Clarinda must take drastic measures to ensure her child doesn’t suffer for her foolishness. (Historical Romance from Wild Heart Books)

The Curator’s Daughter by Melanie Dobson — 1940. Hanna Tillich cherishes her work as an archaeologist for the Third Reich, searching for the Holy Grail and other artifacts to bolster evidence of a master Aryan race. But when she is reassigned to work as a museum curator in Nuremberg, then forced to marry an SS officer and adopt a young girl, Hanna begins to see behind the Nazi facade. A prayer labyrinth becomes a storehouse for Hanna’s secrets, but as she comes to love Lilly as her own daughter, she fears that what she’s hiding?and what she begins to uncover?could put them both in mortal danger. (Historical Romance from Tyndale House)

My Dear MISS DUPRÉ by Grace Hitchcock — Willow Dupré never thought she would have to marry, but with her father’s unexpected retirement from running the prosperous Dupré sugar refinery, plans changed. The shareholders are unwilling to allow a female to take over the company without a man at her side, so her parents devise a plan—find Willow a spokesman king in order for her to become queen of the empire. Willow is presented with thirty potential suitors from the families of New York society’s elite group called the Four Hundred. She has six months to court the group and is expected to eliminate men each month to narrow her beaus. (Historical Romance from Bethany House)

Rayne’s Redemption by Linda Shenton Matchett — Will she have to lose her identity to find true love? Twin sisters Rayne and Jessica Dalton have been swapping places their whole lives, so when Jessica dies on the eve of heading west to become a mail-order bride, Rayne decides to fill her sister’s shoes. The challenge will be faking Jessica’s faith in God. Can Rayne fool her prospective groom without losing her heart…or her soul? (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press)

Romantic Suspense/Thriller:

Unknown Threat by Lynn H. Blackburn — US Secret Service Special Agent Luke Powell is lucky to be alive. Three of his fellow agents have died in unusual circumstances in the past ten weeks. Luke is devastated by the loss of his friends and colleagues, and his inability to locate the killer feels like a personal failure. He and his team are experts at shielding others, but now the protectors are in need of protection. (Romantic Suspense from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Hours to Kill by Susan Sleeman — Just as Homeland Security Agent Addison Leigh reaches the pinnacle of her cyber investigation into a firearms smuggling ring, she’s attacked and left for dead. Her estranged husband, ICE Agent Mack Jordan, is notified that she’s at the hospital in a coma. He may have let his past military trauma ruin their short marriage, but she never gave up on their relationship, and he remains her next of kin. hen a second attempt to take her life is made, it’s clear something very sinister is going on, and Mack and Addison are in for the ride of their lives. (Romantic Suspense from Bethany House)

Abducted in Alaska by Darlene L. Turner — Saving a boy who has escaped his captors puts Canadian border patrol officer Hannah Morgan right into the path of a ruthless child-smuggling ring. Now with help from police constable Layke Jackson, she must keep the child safe. But can they rescue the other abducted children and bring down the gang…all while protecting a little boy and keeping themselves alive? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired/Harlequin)


Western:

Braced for Love by Mary Connealy — Left with little back in Missouri, Kevin Hunt takes his younger siblings on a journey to Wyoming when he receives news that he’s inheriting part of a ranch. The catch is that the ranch is also being given to a half-brother he never knew existed. Turns out, Kevin’s supposedly dead father led a secret and scandalous life. (Western from Bethany House)

Plus check out these recent additions to Fiction Finder published within the past month:

Seasons of Love by Joan Deppa, The beautiful, western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with snow covered hills in the winter; Lake Superior, as well as inland lakes and numerous waterfalls in the summer; and colorful leaves in Autumn, are the setting for three couples who discover new adventures and enjoy the nature that surrounds them. (Contemporary Romance)

Medicine, Murder and Small Town Scandal by KC Hart, When the meanest man in Skeeterville drops dead at his mailbox, no one suspects foul play until Katy Cross stumbles across a skeleton from his past… literally. (Cozy Mystery)

Hunt for Grace by Tammy F. Kirty, Can two people find peace in the present when faced daily with their pasts? (Historical Romance)

Kate’s Quest by Seralynn Lewis, Sparks fly in this opposites attract journey when a my way or the highway soldier collides with a determined woman on a mission to find her family. (Contemporary Romance)

Starstruck in Willow Falls by Pat Nichols, Heartwarming, emotionally charged saga of a small Southern town’s struggle for survival and two women’s challenge to balance family and career. (General Contemporary)

Matched Hearts by Cathe Swanson, She’s looking for one date. He’s looking for “Happily Ever After.” Is it a computer error or a match made in heaven? (Contemporary Romance)

A Texas Bond by Shannon Taylor Vannatter, Learning he’s an uncle shocks Ross Lyles—but after years of handling his brother’s bombshells, at least this surprise is a blessing. A pair of five-year-old blessings Ross is determined to meet, if he can convince their aunt to give him a chance. (Contemporary Romance)

Episode 32: Random Thoughts on Ripped Jeans

Photo source: 123rtf.com

 


Are ripped jeans just a trendy fashion statement, or a powerful commentary on our values? Join Jennifer as she tears into her least-favorite fashion trend.

SHOW NOTES:

The Rose Keeper will be published on March 15! There’s a special pre-order promotion going on for members of the Reader Community. Visit sparklingvintagelife.com and scroll down to sign up!

TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 32

In publishing news, The Rose Keeper is on track to release on March 15, 2021. The e-book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and I’m even running a special giveaway for members of my Reader Community who pre-order the book. For details visit my website, sparklingvintagelife.com, and scroll down to the Reader Community section to sign up.

I’ve also recently signed a contract with Barbour Publishing to write a historical romance novella to be included in a collection called Lumberjacks and Ladies. That will come out in early 2022. If the “lumberjack” theme sounds familiar, it’s because my story in The Highlanders collection, called “The Violinist,” also featured a lumberjack. So maybe I’m becoming something of a specialist in the lumberjack romance genre.

It’s midwinter here in northern Idaho, and as I do every gray and gloomy February, I enjoy seeing signs of color, light, and warmth in those harbingers of spring–the spring clothing catalogs! I love the colors: the pinks and peaches and robins’-egg blues and grass-greens. They make me happy and give me hope of warmer, sunnier days to come.

Well, earlier this week I opened one such catalog and felt my spirit sink to see page after page of distressed denim, particularly jeans. I had to ask myself why the sight of so much ripped and torn denim depressed me. After all, it’s just a fashion trend that I’m free to embrace or ignore at my will, right? So, as my ruminative mind is apt to do, I spent a goodly amount of time this week thinking about it, and decided to share some of my thoughts with you.

Now, a couple of caveats here. First, I understand that many of my listeners might adore distressed denim and ripped jeans. You might think the distressed look is cute and love to wear it. In that case, more power to you. You do you, and you might want to skip this episode, which is perfectly okay with me, as long as you tune back in next time when I promise to talk about something less annoying.

The other caveat is that I am not in any sense a fashion maven. I am a sixty-year-old woman living in Idaho who writes historical fiction and favors vintage clothing and old-fashioned ways of doing things. So if you’re looking for fashion advice on contemporary trends, you, too, might want to skip this episode, and possibly the rest of my podcast, too.

If anyone’s still with me, thank you, and I promise to make this brief. A moment ago I said that I like vintage clothing. But I don’t like distressed clothing. What’s the difference?

Vintage clothing is sometimes a bit distressed because it’s you know, vintage. A dress that’s several decades old might be a bit sun-faded, or it might need a bit of mending here and there because of its age. That’s natural distressing. And that’s not what I’m talking about.

When I say distressed clothing, I’m talking about brand-new garments, usually jeans, that are intentionally ripped, torn, burned, stained, stretched, and dirtied at the factory. Yes, dirtied, as in having mud or soil rubbed into them. They are often horrifically expensive compared to normal, non-distressed jeans.

I did a little research into this clothing style. The roots of distressed jeans lie in the hippie era of the 1960s, got a big boost during the punk era of the 1970s, and have enjoyed a surge of popularity in just about every decade since. It seems we’re in the middle of such a resurgence now. I keep waiting for the trend to start petering out, just as I’ve been waiting more than a decade for the Amish bonnet fiction trend to peter out, but it just keeps going and going.

At its most basic, superficial level, fashionistas claim that distressed jeans do two things for one’s wardrobe. (1) Strategically placed rips and tears draw attention to one’s positive qualities. So if you have toned thighs or kneecaps to die for, positioning a hole over them will draw attention there. (2) Distressed jeans can be used to dress down dressier pieces so as not to look so perfect and polished.

I have two responses to that last one. (1) No one has ever accused me of looking too perfect and polished. I’m not even sure what that is. (2) Wouldn’t regular, non-distressed jeans do the same thing? If I wear a tailored office-worthy blazer with a regular pair of jeans, isn’t the dressed-down effect achieved without sporting rips and tears? So I think we can dismiss ripped jeans as a flattering objects of grace and beauty.

Once upon a time, wearing ripped and torn clothing signified rebellion against social norms and a spirit of anti-capitalism– a literal tearing apart of consumer goods. Such mangled garments expressed anger toward society, and also a lifestyle that said the wearer had other, higher-minded things to think about than clothing. Ripped jeans are meant to signal creativity and sophistication.

Today, I think the opposite is true. Wearing distressed denim seems inauthentic to me. Maybe at one time it really did signify the rebellious and anti-capitalist values it’s said to represent. But as for rebellion, how is it rebelling against convention if every suburban mom is wearing some version of ripped jeans? How anti-capitalist is it to wear a mass-produced, heavily marketed, environmentally sketchy luxury item? If you want to appear creative, why not actually create something? Why not actually work on becoming sophisticated, if that’s important to you? Why all the play-acting?

Today, paying possibly hundreds of dollars for mangled clothing seems the ultimate in consumerist luxury. Mike Rowe, the former star of the TV show Dirty Jobs, wrote in a Facebook post that distressed jeans “foster the illusion of work. The illusion of effort. They’re a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”

Jeans I’ve worn out myself in the course of living my life are one thing. Those are authentically distressed. Frequent laundering, heavy yard work, or whatever, does wear out denim. I might not love how they look anymore, but I often love how they fit, because the fibers have conformed over the years to my shape. I even love faded jeans, not because they’re faded, but because I love that soft, gentle  shade of blue. Such jeans become like old friends, and I miss them when they’re gone. A farmer or rancher or mechanic’s jeans, worn out authentically in the course of hard work, make sense.

But to pay lots of money for jeans that are artfully distressed, especially with gigantic rips and tears that show a lot of skin, is inconceivable to me. They can even be immodest, depending on the body part that’s being revealed.

Supposedly ripped and dirty clothing confers upon the wearer street credibility and gangster culture. That’s another reason I dislike distressed jeans. They express values that I don’t personally abide by. One website described ripped jeans as being edgy, tough, daring and hip. Anyone who’s met me can tell you that I’m about as far from edgy, tough, daring and hip as you can get.

I read some of the comments in an online discussion about the merits of ripped jeans. Most of the women who liked them gave some version of the “they’re cute” or “they show off my figure” reasons I mentioned earlier. But some of the other comments shot up some real red flags.

“I enjoy wearing them to express the side of me that’s dark and hopeless,” wrote one commenter. Dark and hopeless? Is that what the best-dressed women are wearing this year?

Another woman wrote, “Ripped jeans tell the world I can’t be bothered to give a [expletive].”

A third woman wrote, “Distressed jeans say I’m preoccupied with more important things than what I’m wearing.” Chances are she spent a great deal of money to say she’s uninterested in clothing.

To me, these are all good reasons for not wearing distressed clothing.

And here’s another question to ask ourselves. Do we want to be seen as edgy and rebellious? And if so, why? And how does that honor God? Is God honored by a rebellious spirit? Is God honored by darkness and hopelessness? Is God honored when we celebrate decay destruction and uncleanliness in what we wear? I don’t think so.

And finally, I don’t like distressed jeans because they seem morally questionable.

One commenter on the forum wrote, “I wonder what the dirt-poor factory workers in Bangladesh are thinking when their employers instruct them to rip and tear up the jeans before packaging them for first-world markets.”

A commenter named Emmer wrote, “I’ve lived in various parts of Africa and seeing how hard people work to stay clean and neat and pressed there made me feel a visceral objection to destroying clothing deliberately. It feels so incredibly privileged.”

And it is privileged. I wonder why people who are more Woke than I aren’t yelling from the rooftops about privileged cultural appropriation, and so on and so forth?

For whatever reason, I won’t be wearing purposefully ripped jeans anytime soon, although they may rip on their own, the way a beloved pair once did on a crowded cross-country flight, straight across the backside. And that, my friend, is a funny story for another time.

What about you? How do you feel about distressed jeans? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Let me know in the comments. It’s even okay to disagree with me! I just want to hear from you.

And you know who else wants to hear from you? People who read reviews of podcasts, that’s who. Your rating and review will help like-minded listeners find the Sparkling Vintage Life podcast and join our merry band. So I’d be most grateful if you’d take a moment to leave a review at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. It really means a lot.

And be sure to tune in next time when we discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Cozy fireside reads for February

February 2021 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website


Historical Romance:

The Paris Dressmaker
by Kristy Cambron — From fashion to desperation and haute couture to the perils of humanity, The Paris Dressmaker weaves a story of two worlds colliding years apart—where satin and lace stand between life and death in the brutal underbelly of a war-torn world. (Historical Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan))


A Change of Scenery by Davalynn Spencer — A motorcar accident on a rainy Chicago night steals Ella Canaday’s fiancé as well as her ability to ride. Clinging to the remnants of her independence, she cuts her hair and her ties with her wealthy father and takes a train west as the seamstress with a moving-picture company. Colorado offers the change of scenery she needs. But she doesn’t expect the bold cowboy who challenges her to reclaim both the loves she thought she’d lost forever. (Historical Romance from Wilson Creek Publishing)


A Dance in Donegal
by Jennifer Deibel — All of her life, Irish-American Moira Doherty has relished her mother’s descriptions of Ireland. When her mother dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1920, Moira decides to fulfill her mother’s wish that she become the teacher in Ballymann, her home village in Donegal, Ireland. (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)


Vanessa’s Replacement Valentine by Linda Shenton Matchett — Engaged to be married as part of a plan to regain the wealth her family lost during the War Between the States, Vanessa Randolph finds her fiancé in the arms of another woman weeks before the wedding. Money holds no allure for her, so rather than allow her parents to set her up with another rich bachelor she decides to become a mail-order bride. Life in Green Bay, Wisconsin seems to hold all the pieces of a fresh start until she discovers her prospective groom was a Union spy and targeted her parents during one of his investigations. Is her heart safe with any man? (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press)


When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin — Evelyn Brand is an American foreign correspondent determined to prove her worth in a male-dominated profession and to expose the growing tyranny in Nazi Germany. To do so, she must walk a thin line. If she offends the government, she could be expelled from the country—or worse. If she does not report truthfully, she’ll betray the oppressed and fail to wake up the folks back home. (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Contemporary:


The Orchard House by Heidi Chiavaroli — Two women, one living in present day Massachusetts and another in Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House soon after the Civil War, overcome their own personal demons and search for a place to belong. (General Contemporary from Tyndall House)


The Way it Should Be by Christina Suzann Nelson — Can there be healing after addiction takes its toll on a family? (General Contemporary from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)


Bridges
by Deborah Raney — Facing an empty nest for the first time since the death of her husband, Dan, three years ago, Tess Everett immerses herself in volunteer work for the Winterset public parks, home of the famous covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa. But when former resident J.W. McRae shows up at one of the bridges with paintbrushes and easel, sparks fly—because J.W. was once married to Tess’s late friend Char. Worse, J.W. was a deadbeat dad to Char’s son, Wynn—then a college student—who Tess and Dan took under their wings after his mom’s death. (Women’s Fiction, Independently Published)

Mystery:


Death and a Crocodile
by Lisa E. Betz — Sensible women don’t investigate murders, but Livia Aemilia might not have a choice.??Rome, 46 AD. When Livia’s father dies under suspicious circumstances, she sets out to find the killer before her innocent brother is convicted of murder. She may be an amateur when it comes to hunting dangerous criminals, but she’s determined, intelligent, and not afraid to break a convention or two in pursuit of the truth. (Historical Mystery from CrossLink Publishing)

Thriller/Romance/Suspense:


Tides of Duplicity by Robin Patchen — Private investigator Fitz McCaffrey went to Belize on a case, bringing his teenage sister Shelby along with him. They have no good reason to leave the resort and hurry back to the harsh New England winter. They lost their parents, he lost his job as a cop, and they both need time to heal. Besides, when Fitz meets and spends time with the beautiful and charming Tabitha Eaton, he falls hard. But minutes after Tabby’s flight leaves, Fitz is summoned by a mobster who believes Tabby broke into the hotel safe the night before and made off with half a million dollars’ worth of jewels. The clock is ticking as Fitz scrambles to recover the jewels. If he succeeds, it’ll cost the woman he’s come to care for. If he fails, it’ll cost his sister’s life. (Thriller/Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)


Glimmer in the Darkness
by Robin Patchen — Cassidy Leblanc worked hard to shake off her tragic childhood. As a foster child with a mother in prison for murder, she was an outcast in her small New Hampshire town until she met James. But she and James’s sister, whom she was babysitting, were kidnapped. She escaped, but Hallie didn’t survive, and everybody assumed Cassidy killed her. Like mother, like daughter, after all. With public opinion and the authorities united against her, young Cassidy fled. Now, a decade later, another little girl has been kidnapped, and Cassidy may be the only person who can find her. (Thriller/Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)


Obsession by Patricia Bradley — Natchez Trace Ranger and historian Emma Winters hoped never to see Sam Ryker again after she broke off her engagement to him. But when shots are fired at her at a historical landmark just off the Natchez Trace, she’s forced to work alongside Sam as the Natchez Trace law enforcement district ranger in the ensuing investigation. To complicate matters, Emma has acquired a delusional secret admirer who is determined to have her as his own. Sam is merely an obstruction, one which must be removed. (Thriller/Romantic Suspense from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)


Ben in Charge
by Luana Ehrlich — Operation Concerned Citizen will be Ben’s first assignment as the primary officer in charge of a mission. When Titus learns it’s a simple mission with a clear objective but requires a complicated plan, he questions whether Ben will be able to handle it. When he discovers there are underlying circumstances, he questions whether he’ll be able to let Ben handle it. When the simple mission proves difficult, Titus discovers he’s not the man he thought he was, and he’s not the man he wants to be. He’s a man learning to live out his faith while living in the shadows, and sometimes those shadows aren’t shadows at all.
(Thriller/Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Amish Romance:


The Heart Knows the Way Home by Christy Distler — Janna and Luke, a widower struggling to balance business and family responsibilities, reacquaint as Janna assists his grandmother and cares for his son. Her self-protective independence and his conservative principles put them at odds, but the difficulties they face draw them closer.?When long-lost friendship rekindles into unexpected love, will either be willing to make changes so they can be together? (Romance: Amish from Avodah Books)

Plus check out these recent additions to Fiction Finder published within the past month:

Writing Home by Amy R. Anguish, As they grow closer through their written words, the miles between them seem to grow wider. Can love cross the distance and bring them home? (Contemporary Romance)

The Rancher’s Legacy by Susan Page Davis, Matt Anderson’s father and their neighbor devise a plan: Have their children marry and merge the two ranches. The only problem is, Rachel Maxwell has stated emphatically that will never happen. (Historical Romance)

A Heart’s Gift by Lena Nelson Dooley, Is a marriage of convenience the answer to their needs? (Historical Romance)

Daisy’s Decision by Hallee Bridgeman, She soon finds herself in a full-blown relationship with hearts on the line. She can’t keep her secret much longer. Daisy has a decision to make. (Contemporary Romance),

A New York Yankee on Stinking Creek by Carol McClain, Two women. Two problems. Each holds the key to the other’s freedom. (Contemporary)

The Amish Baker’s Rival by Marie E. Bast, Amish baker Mary Brenneman is furious when handsome Englischer Noah Miller opens up a bakery right across from hers. Now she must win a local baking contest just to stay in business—and beat know—it—all Noah. But somewhere along the way, Noah and Mary’s kitchen wars are quickly warming into something more. (Contemporary Romance/Amish)

Rekindled from Ashes by Cindy M. Amos, Based on the true story of the Starbuck fire of 2017 that ravaged western Kansas–and area ranchers who demonstrated vulnerable resiliency in its aftermath. Strength for the day…with eyes on the Almighty. (Contemporary Romance)

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