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.

Episode 24: A Sparkling Short Story: The Christmas Robe


As a special gift to listeners, Jennifer Leo reads aloud her acclaimed short story “The Christmas Robe.” Grab a warm beverage and your favorite blanket and prepare to be charmed by this bit of vintage Christmas cheer.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.

Show notes to Episode 24: A Sparkling Short Story: The Christmas Robe

“The Christmas Robe” is excerpted from the book Songbird and Other Stories, available in e-book and softcover format, and also in a large print edition here.

Other books by Jennifer Lamont Leo:

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Ain’t Misbehavin’

The Highlanders

Transcript of Episode 24: Stories of the Season: The Christmas Robe

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s December 6, 2019, as I record this, and many people are gearing up for the Christmas season. In the spirit of the season, today, I’m offering you a little gift. It’s an audio recording of a story I wrote a few years ago called “The Christmas Robe.”

Set in 1928, “The Christmas Robe” is a story about a harried clerk who labors in the Ladies Nightwear section of a major Chicago department store –Marshall Field & Co., for you longtime Chicagoans–and a decision she makes that affects her whole outlook on the season. Those of you who’ve read my novel You’re the Cream in My Coffee will recognize the clerk as the delightfully daffy Marjorie Corrigan!

“The Christmas Robe” is a light, quick read. I’m inviting you to take a few minutes out of your hectic schedule to maybe grab a cup of tea or cocoa, put your feet up, and just listen.

[Click here for the full text of “The Christmas Robe”]

I hope that story warmed your heart.

And that’s our show for today. If you have a heart that sometimes yearns for the misty memories of yesteryear, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And tune in again next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

Episode 23: 9 Ways to Ease the Holiday Blues

Photo source: 123rf.com. Photographer: Ivanna Sukhorebra


Jennifer speaks from the heart to those spending the holidays alone, or experiencing the “holiday blues” for whatever reason. If you’re feeling alone–well, you’re not alone in feeling that way! Here are some practical ways to keep the holiday season from bringing you down.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.

Links:

The Highlanders

The “Big Snow” article in the Winter 2020 edition of Sandpoint is not available online as a single article, but can be read in the online flip-through edition of the magazine here. It’s on page 39.

Transcript of Episode 23: 9 Ways to Ease the Holiday Blues

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s November 29, 2019, as I record this, and it’s the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s also Black Friday, when shoppers go crazy. But not me…I’d rather stay in my warm, cozy house and talk to you!

There’s not much to report this week in writing news, just a reminder that The Highlanders novella collection is now available in both e-book and softcover versions. I’ll put a link in the show notes. I also have an article in the current issue of Sandpoint magazine, all about the Big Snow of 1969. Writing that article got me in a rather snowy mood, but there’s no snow on the ground here on this almost-Thanksgiving Day, although it’s bitter cold and windy.

At this time of year we’re bombarded over and over with the message that holidays are meant for families, the bigger the family the better, and if you’re not part of a family, or if your family is far away, the holidays aren’t really meant for you.

This, of course, is bunkum, to use a vintage term that means exactly what it sound like. Single people, widowed people, couples without children, all of us deserve to have a good holiday, and the answer isn’t automatically to attach us to a family so that we feel less weird and out of step. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with nine ways to enjoy the holidays when you’re on your own, for whatever reason.

The first thing to address is your mindset. You are not the only one who’s having a solo holiday, although it can certainly feel like that sometimes. You are not “less than” or inadequate or whatever other lie you’re telling yourself. You need not have a miserable holiday. You may prefer to be with your family, but circumstances are preventing a visit this year. On the other hand, you may NOT prefer to be with your family, but have chosen to go solo or get together with friends who are not blood relations. None of this makes you strange, weird, or worthy of pity.

  1. A corollary to shifting your mindset is to watch what media you’re consuming and temper it if necessary. If you let the messages of too many Hallmark movies or too many sweet stories or songs sink in, to tell you that family is everything, that only relationships by blood or marriage count as worthwhile relationships, or that you are some kind of a loser if you’re alone on a holiday, you’ll be sunk before you start. Counteract some of those holiday specials with mysteries, thrillers, or whatever type of entertainment normally floats your boat.
  2. If you’re spending the holiday alone because you’ve lost someone close to you, give yourself time and space to grieve. Leaf through old photos. Remember the good times, the funny times, the poignant times. Let yourself have a good cry. One advantage to having a solo holiday is you don’t have to paste on a smile and a happy demeanor when you don’t feel like it. Don’t try to force yourself to have a jolly good time when you’re not feeling it. On the other hand, if you’re not feeling weepy or blue, don’t force that either.
  3. Do something for somebody else. It’s kind of a cliché, but the quickest way I’ve found to stop feeling sorry for myself is to do something kind for somebody else. When we moved to a new community and didn’t know anybody, my husband and I volunteered at a community Christmas dinner, and we did that for several years. It felt good to focus on making somebody else’s holiday special, instead of worrying about our own. Those were some of the best holidays I’ve enjoyed. You can minister in other ways, too. I used to recommend delivering cookies to places like police and fire stations where people had to work on the holiday. Sadly I no longer recommend doing this, because in this day and age officers are unlikely to eat food delivered by strangers for their own safety. But you could still deliver cards or other expressions of thanks to the people who work hard on the holidays so we can celebrate. You could also visit shut-ins or people who are too sick or too elderly to go out in cold weather, but might appreciate some cheering up. Call first to make sure a visit would be welcome and convenient for the person.
  4. Keep up some traditions. If you love certain aspects of the holidays, don’t feel you have to drop them just because you’re solo this year. If you love baking and decorating cookies, pull out the flour, sugar, and butter. My mom and I loved to bake cookies together at Christmas. Now that she’s gone, I still bake cookies using her cookie cutters, and I love reliving the memories. But I give most of them away so I don’t overdose on sugar. Maybe you love listening to certain music at the holidays, or watching certain movies, you can do so over and over if you want, without anyone plugging their ears and running out of the room at the opening notes of Buffalo Gals.
  5. Drop some traditions. Another joy of solo holidays is that no one will pressure you to keep up traditions that have grown stale or no longer have the meaning they once did. If you’d rather chew tinfoil than watch George Bailey find Zuzu’s petals one more time, you get to skip the annual showing of It’s a Wonderful Life. If making Grandma’s mince pie is no longer your thing, the Holiday Police aren’t going to show up at your door and arrest you. It’s okay. Let it go.

 

  1. Don’t over-idealize other people’s holidays, or your own past holidays. It’s easy to romanticize holidays of the past, remembering the good parts and forgetting the arguments or the boredom. All over the country, for every family that is truly living out the ideal Norman Rockwell thanksgiving, there’s probably at least one other family where that ideal is falling short. Remember that what you see on Instagram or Facebook is other people’s highlight reels, their best moments. Don’t make the mistake of thinking their whole life is like that. They just may have managed to snap a photo at a moment when everyone was smiling between arguments.
  2. If you’re on your own this holiday, take advantage of it. Set your own schedule. Sleep as much as you want. Eat when you want. Go out if you want, or stay home. Catch up on your reading, or go see a movie. You’re in charge of your domain.
  3. And finally–and this should probably be number one– Remember the purpose of the day is to give thanks to God for all of the many blessings He’s given us. If all you do today is ponder the good things in your life instead of your disappointments and discouragements, you are bound to feel better. If you’re a believer, you’re never alone, because He’s there with you. And with a lack of demands for your time and attention, you can dive deep into conversations with Him,

So that’s it–nine ways to make the most of a holiday spent solo. Maybe you can arrange things so that next year you won’t be on your own. On the other hand, maybe you’ll have such a good holiday on your own that you won’t want next year to be different. Godspeed.

Today’s grace note is a short bit of inspiration written during World War II by Margery Wilson. It’s a postscript to her book The Woman You Want to Be, titled “Adjusting Yourself to Today.” In it she encourages readers to have a positive attitude during some of the privations and straitened circumstances of the war years. I think much of her advice can be applied by those going through a season of the holiday blues as well.

Adjusting Yourself to Today
by Margery Wilson

But how to live beautifully today–on less than usual? Faced with the shortages, priorities and allotments of consumer goods, we must make life and happiness for ourselves. No longer is it to be delivered on our doorstep wrapped in cellophane.

We have more to do–and less on which to do it. Yet down in our hearts we know that we have the skill, the courage, the ingenuity, the imagination and the all-important good taste to make a very fair success of living with the materials at hand.

Take the subject of pleasure. It is entirely in what you make of it. For instance, haven’t you often heard it said that if people work as hard for a living as they do at play that they would think themselves dreadfully persecuted? If you can’t play golf, for instance [maybe because of high greens fees or overall lack of resources during the war], you still have your legs. And it is sheer willful moaning that will keep you from taking the long walks that won’t cost a penny, but will help to keep your figure in trim and your nerves and your liver in order.

Consider all your inconveniences temporary–just for the duration of the war [or the holiday season]. Skip over them as you mentally would some obstacle that is going to be removed shortly. And keep your mind’s eye on time to come.

We will be using substitutes for many erstwhile luxuries before very long. Some of us will test our skill in finding something homemade just as good. It’s surprising how often we find the substitute no sacrifice at all.

It comes as a surprise to many of us that one game is about as engrossing as another. It is the sense of contest, of pitting luck and skill against that of the others that makes a game fun. So parlor croquet, table-tennis, charades, twenty questions, rhyming contests, pitching horseshoes and potato races can be made just as amusing for sophisticates as many more expensive and less hilarious games.

Hospitality, good talk and gaiety are the stuff of social happiness. When you are really having a good time, it is not because Mrs. Hostess is laden with her famous gems, or because you are eating from priceless heirloom Venetian glass. You are happy because someone has managed to flash a light of warmth, appreciation, challenge or compliment your way. One of the most telling and touching scenes for me in Gone with the Wind was the picture of Melanie entertaining with gracious charm after the war in her bare little house with broken teacups without saucers–and no one but the feverishly grasping Scarlett noticed the lack.

We may or may not be reduced to similar straits, but even if we aren’t, we shall do as Melanie did–with seeming detachment from all materialism–rising graciously above anything, spiritually whole, and entirely ourselves.

It has never been considered the essence of elegance anyway to depend on luxurious appointments for hospitality. It’s nice to have them–but a charming host or hostess can offer the merest cracker with a natural, gracious and unaffected warmth, with all the true elegance necessary for anybody’s entertainment I have noticed that people who had to depend upon fancy trappings for their fun seldom keep their friends or win secure positions.

Singing is the soul’s expression. It cleans out the corners of the heart and doesn’t let stale emotions pile up. If you can’t sing out loud for fear of disturbing someone or being conspicuous, then sing in your mind, thinking the actual words and tune. Do so going down the street and see what it does to your posture, your walk, your spirits. Sing new songs, old songs, hymns, national anthems, football songs, arias, swing, anything–but sing! Get the neighbors in and sing. Set aside a regular evening for a songfest. A singing nation has heart!

Above all, do not drop out of normal social activities. Be determinedly hospitable. Get out the corn-popper. Have play readings–each of the neighbors reading a part. Reading aloud is being rediscovered today. Alexander Woollcott once said that almost every man has a poem in his vest pocket. And choose your own reading matter carefully. It can be an escape as well as entertainment and nourishment for the mind and soul.

An air-raid warden in London wrote that she reads mystery stories to take her mind entirely from the tragedies that occurred last night and those that may happen tonight. Another woman says that poetry helps her keep closer touch with sane beauty in the harsh duties that tire the body and weary the spirit. Still another devotes herself to historical novels packed with adventure.

The interesting thought was brought out that these tired workers hardly hear the booming of the great guns–one of them even referred to it as a “comfortingly loud barrage” that they sleep through pandemonium and hear only the tinkle of the telephone bell that calls them to duty. Isn’t this further evidence that we can train our sensibilities to register whatever we wish to register and only that?

Consider at this moment you register only the impressions you wish to recognize. It is true.

Consider that when the war is over you can have from all your experiences whatever you choose to bring with you from them. So choose now whether you are going to be embittered, drained, pessimistic and tired–or whether you are going to be disciplined, healthier, better adjusted to reality, more inspired and exalted, and full of plans for the future.

The courage and indomitable spirit of our men and women are going to win this war–and are going to leap into the after-task of making this a better world in which to live. not the least important of your contributions will be bringing to it your full measure of grace, beauty and charm.

(excerpted from “Adjusting Yourself to Today,” the postscript to the wartime edition of The Woman You Want to Be by Margery Wilson, copyright 1942 by Margery Wilson.)

 

And that’s our show for today. If you have a heart that sometimes yearns for the misty memories of yesteryear, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And tune in again next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Episode 22: Sparkling Vintage Football!


It’s football season! Listen in as Jennifer discusses vintage football etiquette for the fans in the stands, what the well-dressed football fan wore in 1943, and more.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.

Show Notes:

The Highlanders preorder: Kindle edition

The Highlanders preorder: print edition

 

“What it Was, Was Football” by Andy Griffith

Transcript of Episode 22: Sparkling Vintage Football!

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s September 26, 2019, as I record this. There’s not much to report this week in writing news, just a reminder that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a  link in the show notes.

We’re officially a couple of days into fall, and less than three months away from Christmas. Up here in North Idaho there’s no denying now that summer’s gone. In fact, according to the forecast, we’re facing an unseasonably chilly weekend coming up. For me, it’s definitely time to pull out the soft blankets and woolly socks and hunker down with a good book and a cat on my lap. But I know for many of you, you won’t let a few skin-searing winds or freezing temperatures stop you from heading to the nearest stadium to grab a spot on the bleachers and cheer your favorite team to victory.

That’s right, it’s football season! And we’ll be taking a sparkling vintage look at football today. For those of you listening outside the United States, I’m talking about American football, those great hulking men in their pads and helmets charging each other across the field, not what the entire rest of the world calls football, which we call soccer.

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not a great football fan. On Super Bowl Sunday I’m more interested in the snacks than in what happens on the TV, except, possibly, if the Chicago Bears are playing. Hometown loyalty leads me to take at least a passing interest in how the Bears are doing. Nonetheless, football and fall go together like salsa and corn chips. American football’s history goes back over 100 years. It has its roots in rugby, a game played in England and brought to these shores. Some major changes in the game are credited to Walter Camp of Yale University, who introduced such key changes as the line of scrimmage and the forward pass. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the glory days of coaches like Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne and Pop Warner. Football’s popularity started in the colleges but quickly spread to professional teams. The predecessor of the National Football League formed in 1920, almost exactly 100 years ago.

So I did a little digging around to find out what watching football was like, back in the good old days.

First of all, perhaps you’re wondering what to wear to the big game. You may think that wearing your team’s colors is quite enough, but not if you were a lady of fashion in, say, 1943. For a taste of mid-20th-century elegance, forego the team jerseys and sweatpants and take a page from Grace Margaret Morton, who wrote a home economics text titled The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance. About “spectator sports” like football, Miss Morton recommends attiring oneself thusly:

“Good taste for any spectator sport calls for clothes which are casual and nonchalant. Textures should be sturdy and practical, without glint or sheen. The girl on a limited budget will choose coats and suits which can do double duty as street clothes by change of accessories. . . . The coat may be an all-season coat with water-repellent finish and zip-in lining, a bulky knit coat of fingertip or shorter length, or a fur-lined cloth coat. It may be fashioned from tweed, cheviot, camel hair, boucle, fleece, suede, or leather. Plaids, stripes, and plain colors are used.

The suit that is tailored of sturdy tweed or similar fabric is an excellent choice. Warm-weather suits made of hopsacking, seersucker, cotton tweed, or cotton cord are appropriate.

The dress suitable for spectator sports and campus wear may be one from wool jersey, washable flannel, cotton jersey, or corduroy. Separate skirts of denim, seersucker, hopsacking, cotton tweed, cotton cord, and linen suiting are correct when worn with matching or contrasting shirts or blouses.

The hat in keeping with this casual wear will be a fabric or felt cap, beret, cloche, or any narrow-brimmed hat. Gay wool or silk is used in scarves or hoods. Your creativity will be expressed in the manner in which you wear your scarf; find an interesting way to wear it.

The shoe is generally flat. One may choose saddle shoes, brogues, moccasins, oxfords, or ghillies. They may be made of calf, pigskin, or buckskin. Pumps with low or medium heels and made of leather, straw, or linen are also proper choices.

The glove worn for spectator sports will be of capeskin, pigskin, or cotton suede. String gloves, gloves with leather palms, or gay woolen or angora mittens are other possibilities.

The handbag that is carried may have shoulder straps. Calf, novelty fabric, or saddle leather are often thought of in relation to this type of costume.

Jewelry must be very restrained in design. Metal, wood, or leather will express a harmonious relationship to the attire for these occasions.”

So there you have it, ladies. Pigskin: it’s not just for the football anymore.

Of course, once you’re properly attired for the Big Game, it’s all for nought if you don’t know how to behave. With gridiron season upon us, let us not neglect our manners. Here are some ways to root without rudeness.

In her 1940 book This Way Please, Eleanor Boykin advised fans on how to conduct themselves  properly. She wrote:

It is unsportsmanlike for the friends of a team to try to rattle players on the other side by booing or shouting personal remarks. Hurling criticism at the referee is both useless and crude. Enthusiasm for your side is a fine thing, but don’t let it carry you to bumptiousness.

The members of a visiting team are your guests. Treat them like friendly enemies, and show them the courtesies you would like to have shown to your team on a return visit. When a player is hurt, forget sides. Give him a cheer and all the assistance he needs.

Back up your cheerleaders. Some stirring Rah! Rah’s and choruses at the right time are not an affront to the opposing team, and they put heart into the schoolmates you have chosen to arouse school spirit.

And from an article in Seventeen magazine back in 1971:

“Lots of words have been written on the subject, but good sportsmanship still depends on how you play the game, no matter what game you’re playing. Whether you cheat on an exam or on a court, it’s equally dishonest and distasteful to others. Whatever the game, follow the three “Be’s.” BE fair. BE a good loser. BE quick to congratulate winners.”

Now that you’re dressed to kill and have bowled over the opposing team with your exquisite manners, nothing beats an epic tailgate party, which takes place in the relatively neutral ground of a parking lot or nearby field. Typical picnic fare–burgers, brats, sandwiches, potato salad–is served up from the tailgates of vehicles ina  spirit of good sportsmanship. But it can be fancier. One suggested tailgate luncheon menu from an old Lexington, Virginia, cookbook included baby mint juleps, cheese lace, cold cour-cherry soup, cold fillet of beef with sour cream, rice salad, hot rolls, and banana bourbon cake with banana creme anglaise! How do your game day snacks stack up against that feast?

So the next time your favorite team hits the field, be sure to dig up your pigskin gloves and jaunty beret before you politely cheer them on in the spirit of good sportsmanship. May the best team win!

And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.

Today’s grace note is a link to a delightful recording that’s been a fall classic in my family for years. It’s called “What it Was, Was Football,” and it was recorded by Andy Griffith way back in 1953. Many of you may remember Andy Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and later was the star of Matlock. Well, when he was just a young comedian starting out, he recorded this piece, in which he portrays a country bumpkin who accidentally stumbles across a football game, which he’s never seen before. I’ll play just a little snippet of it for you, so you can get a taste.”

“What it Was, Was Football” is currently available on YouTube. Look for a link in the shownotes at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 22.

And that’s our show for today. If you have a heart that sometimes yearns for the misty memories of yesteryear, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And tune in again next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Spa

Episode 21: 7 Reasons I Love Downton Abbey


To celebrate the release of the Downton Abbey movie, Jennifer shares the top 7 reasons she loves Downton Abbey.

If you would prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript of the episode.

Show notes:

The Highlanders preorder: Kindle edition

The Highlanders preorder: print edition

The 1928 Jewelry Company: Downton Abbey Collection

 

Transcript for Episode 21: 7 Reasons I Love Downton Abbey

It’s September 16, 2019, as I record this, and as the Downton Abbey movie is scheduled to release later this week, I thought I’d share with you the seven reasons I love Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is the epitome of a sparkling vintage life, and while it’s not everyone’s fine china cup of tea, it certainly is mine. However, if you’re not a fan, you may feel free to skip this episode as it will simply annoy you.

I only have one bit of writing news to share this week, and that’s that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a  link in the show notes. My own contribution, a novella called The Violinist, is set in 1915, which happens to fall in the time period of Downton Abbey. But that’s just a coincidence. I promise.

I was a great fan of Downton Abbey from the beginning. For those who might not be familiar with it, it was a British television drama that aired in from 200X to 201X on PBS. Created by Julian Fellowes, it followed a similar pattern as a much older series called “Upstairs, Downstairs,” chronicling the lives of wealthy British people living lives of luxury juxtaposed against the servants who toiled for them below stairs. I loved watching these ways of life that were so foreign to me, both the nobles’ lives and the servants’ lives. Like all the best TV, movies, and books, it gave me a chance to escape my own reality and dream a little, in this case for an hour a week.

In anticipation of the movie being released later this week, I’ve broken down my appreciation for Downton Abbey into seven reasons.

  1. First of all, it was set in my favorite time period, the early twentieth century. From the first episode set in 1912 through the 1920s, it was an era filled with drama. One of the things I love about history is not only learning the facts about historical events, but learning how these events touched the lives of individual people and families. For example, long-ago events World War II or the Korean War seem so much more real and vivid to us when we hear how they affected our fathers, uncles, or grandfathers who fought in the war, or how our grandmothers coped on the homefront with rationing and shortages and war-bond drives. Well, in the same way, Downton Abbey lets me see historical events through the lens of one household. They got the ball rolling with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which kicked off Season One’s storyline. We saw the impact World War I had on different characters in different walks of life. We watched the wild spirit of the 1920s roll in, and all along, the various technologies: electricity, the telephone, the radio, the phonograph. One of my favorite scenes was from Season One where the dowager countess, Lady Violet, declares she will never have electricity in her house because of the damaging rays. Well, some people actually felt that way, and some still do feel suspicious about every wave of new technology that comes along. So my number-one reason for loving Downton Abbey is the time period.
  2. The stories! Downton Abbey is great storytelling, pure and simple. There are mysteries. There are murders and suspicious and inconvenient deaths (poor Mr. Pamuk). There are jilted brides, sibling rivalries, conflicts and betrayals and treacheries of all sorts, punctuated by sweet and tender moments, sometimes from characters you’d least suspect of being capable of sweet and tender. And there’s romance and heartbreak and more romance and more heartbreak and more romance and even some happy endings. There’s good character development, with characters who grow and change over the course of the series. So my second reason for loving Downton Abbey is the storytelling.
  3. The costumes ! The costumes. The dresses. The hats. The sparkly headbands and slinky gloves and luxurious jewelry. I could watch the series with the sound off and just enjoy the costumes. Even the outfits I hated, I loved.
  4. Good values. In Downton Abbey, a person’s character wins out over their social status. In a world where rich people are often vilified like cartoon villains simply for being rich, and poor people are often considered virtuous just for being poor, Downton Abbey showed a world where rich people could be good and kind and generous, and the lower classes were not necessarily saintly just because they were poor. To be sure, some of the wealthy characters were disgusting human beings–hello, Larry Grey. And many of the below-stairs people were, of course, men and women of sterling character. But most of them were a mixed bag: clever Lady Mary and snobbish Lady Mary. Kind Lady Edith and revengeful Lady Edith. Treacherous Thomas and vulnerable Thomas. Most of the characters are multi-dimensional, which means they’re human, like every one of us. We can relate to them. And multi-dimensional characters also point back to good storytelling. I appreciated the fact that, at Downton Abbey overall, a person’s quality of character mattered more than their social status.
  5. Good manners mattered. Downton Abbey shows a type of civility that our world sorely needs today. To express anger with words, not fists or guns. To wash your face, get dressed, fulfill your commitments and keep your promises, even when the world around you is shifting. That’s what good manners are. When everyone knows what behavior is expected of them and what to expect from others, things tend to run more smoothly. Good manners aren’t all about using the proper fork at dinner, although that, too, has its place. At their core, good manners about treating other people with respect and kindness, no matter who they are. Carson the butler was often joke-worthy in his insistence on a proper way to do everything. And yet there’s something reassuring having clear ideas about right and wrong, proper and improper, good and bad. In today’s world where many people think everything’s relative and there are no absolutes, such ideas are comforting. So, reason number five is good manners.
  6. Downton Abbey is a multi-generational family saga, meaning there are storylines for characters of all ages, from the elderly dowager countess to the youngest child. (The dowager countess, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith, could constitute a reason all on her own.) I love a series that has interesting and even romantic storylines for older characters as well as those in the bloom of youth.
  7. Reason Number Seven: Top-notch production values. From the décor of the interiors to the English scenery, British accents, and great casting, and aforementioned fabulous costumes, Downton Abbey is a treat to watch.

So there you have it: seven reason I love Downton Abbey. I’ll check back later, after I’ve seen the movie, to share my impressions of it.

Today’s grace note is the 1928 Jewelry Company, and specifically their Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection. You’ve heard me mention the 1928 Jewelry Company before. They’re not a sponsor, and I’m not an affiliate, but I do like their jewelry.

According to the company’s website, the Downton Abbey Collection was inspired by the Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry worn during the time period of Downton Abbey. It was created in collaboration with 1928’s designers and the shows costume design team in England through an exclusive licensing agreement. From the earrings and necklaces, down to the bracelets and hair accessories, the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection features authentic details and motifs from the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.

As I write this in September 2019, they’re having a sale on their Downton Abbey collection. I don’t know how long the sale will last, but here’s a link to the company.

If you would be so kind to leave a review of this podcast at iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, I would so appreciate it. It feels awkward sometimes to ask for a review, sort of like fishing for compliments, but truly, nothing raises the visibility of a podcast like a healthy number of good reviews. So in the interest of helping other like-minded vintage lovers find this podcast, I’m asking you to leave a review, if you please. Remember that you can find the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com under episode 21. And while you’re there, you can sign up for my newsletter and be notified whenever a new episode is available.

And that’s it for today! I’ll be back soon to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

Here Come the Coeds! College Women of Yesteryear


As we celebrate back-to-school time, join Jennifer Leo as she looks back at the life and times of college women in decades past, including Literary Snippets from Lucy Maud Montgomery and more.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.

Show notes:

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Avolea

Anne of the Island

Daddy Long-Legs

Campus Melody

Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s novels:

Ain’t Misbehavin’

 

Transcript for Episode 20: Here Come the Co-eds! College Women of Yesteryear

As it’s back-to-school time, I thought it would be fun to talk about college…specifically, what college was like for women in our favorite time period of the early- to mid-20th century.

But first, a brief update on my writing life. I’ve just returned from a wonderful three-day writing retreat in Post Falls, Idaho, only about an hour’s drive from my home. I went with several other members of my monthly critique group and it turned out to be a time that was both refreshing and productive. We alternated lots of writing on our own with time spent together, cementing our friendships. For the most part we spent our days writing, interspersed with a nap here or a hike there, and then gathered at mealtimes and watched movies together in the evening. If you enjoy writing, I highly recommend taking a writing retreat, either on your own or with other like-minded writers who are serious about getting stuff done. I think the same could be said about just about any art, from painting to quilting to scrapbooking. Time away can be refreshing as well as productive. Since I live in a quiet household anyway and have few interruptions other than those I impose on myself, I don’t know why I’m so much more productive on retreat, but there it is.

In other news, my historical-romance novella “The Violinist” will be published in November in a collection called The Highlanders. As the title indicates, each novella in the collection features a Scotsman. I took my Scotsman and I brought him to North Idaho as a logger in 1915. The other authors in the collection are J’Nell Cieselski, Naomi Musch, and Janet Grunst. I hope you’ll watch for The Highlanders and give it a read and a review. When it’s time for a sneak peek at the cover, I’ll post it in the show notes over at sparklingvintagelife.com under Episode 20.

My 1930s standalone novel, Moondrop Miracle, alas, has not yet been able to find a home with a publishing house. However, I believe in this story so much that I’m now planning to indie-publish it through my own company, Mountain Majesty Media. I’m making some final tweaks and it will go to an editor this fall, and I’ll also be auditioning cover designers soon. If all goes as planned, expect to see Moondrop Miracle in early 2020. And I’m still writing the first draft of the yet-untitled novel set in Hollywood in the 1930s. I took a break from it to get Moondrop Miracle ready to go to the editor, then I’ll be back at it. And finally, I’m polishing up a proposal for yet another novel, this one set around the capsizing of the Eastland excursion boat in the Chicago River in 1915. The working title of that one is currently, very unimaginatively, Eastland. If you have a better idea, let me know. The proposal and sample chapters will soon go to my agent to see if any traditional publishers might be interested in publishing it. I’m still open to entertaining a traditional publishing deal even though independent publishing is seeming more and more attractive on multiple levels.

And if you happen to be in the area, I’ll be speaking at the Idaho Writer’s League Annual Conference in Sandpoint, Idaho, on September 20 and 21, 2019.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. Now on to our topic, which is what college was like for women, several generations ago.

I’ve had great fun researching this topic. For the most part, I enjoyed my college years. There were some bad things that happened during that time, to be sure, but there were very good things too.  So you need to know that my opinion of college is colored by my own overall positive experience, but I have very little firsthand or even secondhand knowledge of what college life is like today and how it compares. Those of you who are in college now or have kids in college would obviously know more about that than I do.

Another thing I want to say up front is that I no longer think college is right for everyone, especially in this day and age when so many alternatives are available.  Of course, for certain careers one needs to credentials and the contacts that only college can provide. But I think nowadays specialized training, trade school or apprenticeships or online learning or other ways to prepare to earn a living are just as valid and often more practical, depending on a person’s life ambition. I’m also a strong proponent for self-education and lifelong learning no matter what path a person’s formal education takes. So don’t take this nostalgic look back at vintage college life and turn it into a blanket endorsement of college for everyone, because it isn’t.

All that said, let’s promenade back to peek at college women’s experience in the early 20th century. As I said, I had so much fun researching college life in that era. Sometimes it sounded like one chafing-dish party after another. Chafing-dish parties were all the rage in women’s dorms in the 1910s. Here’s some of what I unearthed.

First, rather than “college woman,” you’d be more likely to hear “college girl” or even “co-ed,” which was short for “co-educational.” Prior to the early 20th century, most colleges were segregated by gender. The majority were men’s colleges, plus a smaller number of women’s colleges. Women were more likely to attend finishing school, if they were from wealthy families, or to either get married or get a job straight out of high school if they weren’t. I’m planning to say more about finishing schools in a future episode of this podcast, so we’ll table that topic for now.

But back to colleges. In the late 19th and at the turn of the 20th century we had the land grant colleges which were now opening up coeducationally. It was still much rarer for women to attend college, and rarer still for them to attend colleges right alongside the men, the land-grant colleges notwithstanding. So when the first co-educational colleges came along, the female students themselves were called “co-eds” while male students were called “students.” You’d see magazine articles written about “Fashions for the Co-Ed” or “Study Tips for the Co-Ed.” In some places, female college students were still called co-eds right up into the 1960s, although by the early ‘80s when I graduated the term was no longer in use anywhere. We were all just “college students.”

I looked up some old student manuals to see what college life was like. It was interesting to see what was deemed important. For example, a women’s college in the American Southeast in 1927 devoted an entire section on the use of electric lights. Students had to be in their rooms with doors closed and lights out at 10:30 p.m., except on Saturdays 11:30 p.m. However, they were allowed two “light cuts” a week when they could keep their light on until midnight for studying. I’m wondering if electricity was so relatively expensive at that time that it had to be carefully regulated.

That same 1927 manual prohibited walking on the roofs of the buildings, making me wonder if that was a thing. It also prohibited smoking within a radius of ten miles of the college. First offense earned a reprimand. Second offense earned suspension. I have no problem with prohibiting smoking, especially these days when we know how harmful it is to our health, but the ten-mile radius seems a bit excessive, as does the punishment, especially because they didn’t have the Surgeon General’s Warning about tobacco back then. Interestingly, this particular college was located in Virginia, heart of tobacco-growing country.

Students were also only allowed to go for walks in groups, and the size of the group determined where they could go. For example, two or more students together could walk to certain places, while only six or more could walk other places. And the destinations were very specific: from this farm to that person’s house, or through Dr. So-and-so’s gate as far as the bend in the stream.

Needless to say, gentlemen callers were highly restricted at this college in that era. Men were allowed to call at the college on Saturday evenings between 7:30 and 10:30 and on Sunday afternoons from 3:00-5:45 and 8:30-10:00. Apparently they had to find something else to do with themselves between 6 and 8.

Chaperones were in high demand. “There are no evening engagements off campus unchaperoned,” the manual intones, “for safety, to protect students from being misjudged and to safeguard the social good of the college.” A list of approved chaperones was supplied. I think an entire future episode on chaperones, what they were, and what became of them is warranted, don’t you?

At this school in 1927, students wore white blouses and dark skirts to classes, but they had to change into a dress for dinner. They could, if they wanted, give the impression of a dress by wearing a white skirt with their white blouse, or a dark blouse with their dark skirt, but no wearing a white blouse and dark skirt to dinner. That was daytime wear. Also, “girls costumed in knickers or trousers for hiking do not use the front hall after 6 p.m.”

At another school several years later, in 1935, students were prohibited from dancing in public places, although presumably they could do so at private functions. They needed written permission from their parents to ride in an automobile. Their use of electric lights was not so restricted, but if they brought a radio from home they had to register it with the dean’s office, pay an extra fee for it, and have it taken away if they played it too loud.

It would be interesting to see how these rules and regulations compare to the types of activities that are permitted and not permitted on campuses today.

Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve brought you a Literary Snippet, so I want to close out this episode with a few insightful literary snippets about college life fifty or a hundred years ago.

In Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, published in 1912, Anne Shirley earns her teaching credential at Queen’s, a school that’s close enough to home that she can go home every weekend. Then in Anne of Avonlea she begins her first teaching job. At the end of Anne of Avonlea, she’s preparing to go to Redmond College to further her education. Before she goes, she meets her neighbor, Mr. Harrison.

“I s’pose you’ll be starting off for college in a fortnight’s time?” [said] Mr. Harrison. “Well, we’re going to miss you an awful lot, Emily and me.”

“Yes, I’m going. I’m very glad with my head…and very sorry with my heart.”

“I s’pose you’ll be scooping up all the honors that are lying round loose at Redmond.”

“I may try for one or two of them,” confessed Anne, “but I don’t care so much for things like that as I did two years ago. What I want to get out of my college course is some knowledge of the best way of living life and doing the most and best with it. I want to learn to understand and help other people and myself.”

Mr. Harrison nodded.

“That’s the idea exactly. That’s what college ought to be for, instead of for turning out a lot of B.A.’s so chock full of book-learning and vanity that there ain’t room for anything else. You’re all right. College won’t be able to do you much harm, I reckon.” (excerpt from Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery)

In the next book, Anne of the Island, Anne goes off to Redmond. Her love interest, Gilbert Blythe, is also going to Redmond, although they aren’t yet an item at this point. In a conversation the night before they leave, he says, “You look tired, Anne.”

“I am tired, and worse than that, I’m disgruntled. I’m tired because I’ve been packing my trunk and sewing all day. But I’m disgruntled because six women have been here to say goodbye to me, and every one of the six managed to say something that seemed to take the color right out of life and leave it as gray and dismal and cheerless as a November morning.”

“Spiteful old cats!” was Gilbert’s elegant comment.

“Oh, no, they weren’t,” said Anne seriously. “That is just the trouble. If they had been spiteful cats I wouldn’t have minded them. But they are all nice, kind, motherly souls who like me and whom I like it, and that is why what they said had such undue weight with me. They let me see they thought I was crazy going to Redmond and trying to take a B.A., and ever since I’ve been wondering if I am. Mrs. Peter Sloane sighed and said she hoped my strength would hold out till I got through; and at once I saw myself a hopeless victim of nervous prostration at the end of my third year; Mrs. Eben Wright said it must cost an awful lot to put in four years at Redmond and I felt all over me that it was unpardonable in me to squander Marilla’s money and my own on such a folly; Mrs. Jasper Bell said she hoped I wouldn’t let college spoil me, as it did some people; and I felt in my bones that the end of my four Redmond years would see me a most insufferable creature, thinking I knew it all, and looking down on everything and everybody in Avonlea; Mrs. Elisha Wright said she understood that Redmond girls, especially those who belonged to Kingsport, were ‘dreadful dressy and stuck-up,’ and she guessed I wouldn’t feel much at home among them; and I saw myself a snubbed, dowdy, humiliated country girl shuffling through Redmond’s classic halls in coppertoned boots.

Anne ended with a laugh and a sigh commingled. With her sensitive nature all disapproval had weight, even the disapproval of those for whose opinions she had scant respect. For the time being life was savorless, and ambition had gone out like a snuffed candle.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery).

So that passage gives you some idea of the various ways people thought about college education for women in those days. Those were several of the common objections people had to women going to college.

After they arrive at Redmond, Anne speaks to her friend and fellow “freshette,” Priscilla. In the book a “freshette” is a female first-year student, the female equivalent of a freshman. They talk about how overwhelmed and insignificant they feel as newcomers to campus. Anne says, “I suppose the trouble is we can’t forgive big Redmond for not being little Queen’s… When we left Queen’s we knew everybody and had a place of our own. I suppose we have been unconsciously expecting to take life up at Redmond just where we left off at Queen’s, and now we feel as if the ground has slipped from under our feet. I’m thankful that neither Mrs. Lynde nor Mrs. Elisha Wright know, or ever will know, my state of mind at present. They would exult in saying, ‘I told you so,’ and be convinced it was the beginning of the end. Whereas it is just the end of the beginning.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery)

And then finally, after a few weeks, Anne gets fully into the swing of student life a Redmond. “For the next three weeks Anne and Priscilla continued to feel as strangers in a strange land. Then, suddenly, everything seemed to fall into focus–Redmond, professors, classes, students, studies, social doings. Life became homogeneous again, instead of being made up of detached fragments. The Freshmen, instead of being a collection of unrelated individuals, found themselves a class, with a class spirit, a class yell, class interests, class antipathies and class ambitions. They won the day in the annual “Arts Rush” against the Sophomores, and thereby gained the respect of all the classes, and an enormous, confidence-giving opinion of themselves. For three years the Sophomores had won in the “rush.” That the victory of this year perched upon the Freshmen’s banner was attributed to the strategic generalship of Gilbert Blythe, who marshaled the campaign and originated certain new tactics, which demoralized the Sophs and swept the Freshmen to triumph.” (excerpt from Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery)

She goes on to describe many other fun doings of college life in that era.

Another delightful book that describes the college experience is Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster, published in 1912. Daddy Long-Legs is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s written in the form of letters. In it, an orphan named Jerusha Abbott has been sponsored by an anonymous benefactor to go to college, under the stipulation that she write to him regularly, keeping him informed of her progress.

So in her letters, when she first gets to college, she says:

The Letters of Miss Jerusha Abbott to Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith [she calls him Daddy Long-Legs because she doesn’t know who he is, but she saw him from a distance once and knows he is tall].

Dear Kind-Trustee-Who-Sends-Orphans-to-College,

Here I am! I travelled yesterday for four hours in a train. It’s a funny sensation, isn’t it? I never rode in one before.

College is the biggest, most bewildering place—I get lost whenever I leave my room. I will write you a description later when I’m feeling less muddled; also I will tell you about my lessons. Classes don’t begin until Monday morning, and this is Saturday night. But I wanted to write a letter first just to get acquainted.

To Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs

1st October

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

I love college and I love you for sending me—I’m very, very happy, and so excited every moment of the time that I can scarcely sleep. You can’t imagine how different it is from the John Grier Home. I never dreamed there was such a place in the world. I’m feeling sorry for everybody who isn’t a girl and who can’t come here; I am sure the college you attended when you were a boy couldn’t have been so nice.

My room is up in a tower that used to be the contagious ward before they built the new infirmary. There are three other girls on the same floor of the tower—a Senior who wears spectacles and is always asking us please to be a little more quiet, and two Freshmen named Sallie McBride and Julia Rutledge Pendleton. Sallie has red hair and a turn-up nose and is quite friendly; Julia comes from one of the first families in New York and hasn’t noticed me yet. They room together and the Senior and I have singles. Usually Freshmen can’t get singles; they are very scarce, but I got one without even asking. I suppose the registrar didn’t think it would be right to ask a properly brought-up girl to room with a foundling. You see there are advantages!

My room is on the north-west corner with two windows and a view. After you’ve lived in a ward for eighteen years with twenty room-mates, it is restful to be alone. This is the first chance I’ve ever had to get acquainted with Jerusha Abbott. I think I’m going to like her.

Do you think you are?

Later…They are organizing the Freshman basket-ball team and there’s just a chance that I shall get in it. I’m little, of course, but terribly quick and wiry and tough. While the others are hopping about in the air, I can dodge under their feet and grab the ball. It’s loads of fun practicing—out in the athletic field in the afternoon with the trees all yellow and red and the air full of the smell of burning leaves, and everybody laughing and shouting. These are the happiest girls I ever saw—and I am the happiest of all!

There’s much more to read about Jerusha Abbott and her college experience, including the fact that she changes her name from Jerusha to Judy, because she’d like to fit in better. So I do recommend, if you’ve never read it, Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.

My final college-related literary snippet is from Campus Melody by Anne Emery. Published in 1955, Campus Melody tells the story of Jean Burnaby, who has received a scholarship to attend Overton College to study piano. I love the description of the campus:

“Jean’s room was in Houghton House, the oldest of four women’s dormitories at Overton College. An old brick building with high ceilings and Victorian woodwork, the floors slippery with age, the stairs grooved and creaking, it had the prettiest setting of any of the dorms, overlooking the new library, the older campus buildings, and the curve of the Ohio River, beyond which lay the Kentucky hills.

Jean loved everything about the college and her room, including the pink-and-blue curtains she had dreaded. They had turned out to be a dusty aqua with accents of coral and brown in impressionistic squares. The bedspreads were brown corduroy, and Melissa had contributed six lounging pillows covered in coral. Twin bookcases flanked twin study desks with coral blotters, set in the bay window, and each girl thought the other’s collection of books looked fascinating. Jean and Melissa spent the first week together listening to orientation lectures, filling out questionnaires, attending discussions on possible careers and courses of study. They had gone to two parties for freshman girls, had bought two record albums at the Campus Book and Record Shop, had had one of the famous milk shakes at the Sweet Shop, the favorite village hangout for students, and finally stood in line with two hundred other freshman girls in the big gymnasium to register for classes.”

At first all goes swimmingly for Jean. She has an active social life and keeps up with her classes. At first. Then she runs afoul of the housemother of her dorm, a stately lady with lavender-tinted gray hair. Jean and Melissa come in late one night.

“The girls ran up the flight of steps to the first floor as fast as their failing wind would permit and found themselves breathless and gasping, facing the housemother who had their cards in her hand.

“You didn’t sign out,” she said with a smile which was meant to be kind and patient. “That is our first rule, my dears.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jean, trying to think of an excuse and unable to. “I’m afraid we forgot.”

“Being sorry doesn’t help matters much, does it?” Mrs. Buxton smiled cheerily. “I am responsible to your parents for your morals, your conduct, and your study habits. And the only way I can cope with such a heavy responsibility is to have careful attention to the rules. Because,” she said happily, with a gleam of inspiration, “minor infractions lead to major infractions. We must not weaken the foundation lest the walls crumble.”

“We’ll remember next time,” Jean mumbled, feeling like kindergartner.

“I’m sure you will,” Mrs. Buxton agreed amiably. “We’re not surprised that freshmen find it hard to get used to our ways,” she went on, as if freshmen had had no upbringing before coming to Overton, “but we do feel that the sooner everyone is accustomed to cooperation, the happier life will be for everyone. Don’t you agree?”

Melissa had regained her breath. “We agree entirely, Mrs. Buxton,” she said obligingly. “Thank you so much. Good night.”

Mrs. Buxton looked pleased, if puzzled, at the thanks, and Jean wondered, giggling with Melissa as they climbed to the third floor, if it was hypocritical to agree with someone you disliked about rules you didn’t believe in. And what else could you do?”

Well, soon Jean is given a rush by the big man on campus, and adventure ensues from there. If you feel like a fluffy, lightweight read that will nonetheless immerse you in another place, time, and way of looking at the world, look for Campus Melody by Anne Emery.

Today’s grace note is a copy of my own book, Songbird and Other Stories. This is a collection of four short stories set in the Roaring Twenties, mostly in Chicago and one in northern Idaho. These stories feature characters from my Roaring Twenties series, so if you haven’t read that series, this is a great way to get introduced to those characters and to the types of books they are. They’re clean and wholesome and fun. I hope you would like them very much. So, to enter in a drawing for a copy of Songbird and Other Stories, simply go to sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast, click on episode 20 and leave a comment. In the comment I would like you to share a favorite memory from your schooldays. It could be college, high school, or elementary school. Just one memory you remember fondly from your schooldays. And in about a week or ten days, I will choose a name at random from those who have commented and you will have your choice of a print book, a large-print book, or an e-book copy of Songbird and Other Stories.

And that’s it for our show today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll across the college campus of yesteryear. If you have a favorite memory from your college days that you’d like to share, or a favorite novel set on a college campus that you’d like to recommend, feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Wave! 31 Vintage Ways to Beat the Heat


If you’re wilting in the hot summer weather, here are some time-tested ways to keep your cool. Visit http://www.sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast for show notes and other information.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript.

Show notes:

Here’s a link to Episode 17 about porch life.

Sea Breeze Astringent

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

 

Transcript #19: Heat Wave! 31 Vintage Ways to Beat the Heat

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and this is Episode number nineteen.

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a couple of weeks. I’ve been fighting quite a bad summer cold. You might still hear it in my voice, but I’m well on my way to being mended. Summer colds always feel like a bit of an insult. We sort of expect to get colds in the depths of winter, but in summer when the sun’s out and the weather’s warm and we want to be out doing things, getting a cold seems particularly out of place.

It’s been an extra-hot summer in many parts of the United States and the northern hemisphere, so today I thought we’d talk about some good old-fashioned methods for keeping cool. Of course we have air-conditioning now, but did you know that widespread air-conditioning has been available for less than 100 years? In some areas, considerably less. And some of us don’t like to depend on air conditioning if we can help it.  So here are some tips I’ve found in my research of old books and magazines of ways our ancestors beat the heat.

You get a head start if you’ve designed your home to help you stay cool. This is understandably more common in the steamy South than elsewhere.

Traditional southern porches are shady and cool. We talked about porches a couple of episodes ago. If you want your porch to be a refuge in hot weather, you want a deep eave or roof, and preferably near shady trees.  You also want high ceilings in your home, because heat rises, and you want to ventilate with tall windows and wide, airy hallways.

Of course few of us can actually design our homes to stay cool, nor would we want to if we live in a climate that’s only hot a few weeks out of the year. There are plenty of temporary things you can do to cool down your home.

  • Turn off lights and electric appliances you aren’t using
  • Roll up heavy rugs and replace heavy curtains with lighter ones, maybe muslin or cotton.
  • Close blinds to darken the room. You can also dampen the curtains to cool the breeze as it passes through.
  • Cover dark, heavy furniture with lightweight slipcovers
  • Put away decorative objects and clutter. Clear, smooth surfaces feel cooler than busy ones.
  • Plants and ferns that cast shadow and shade
  • Bowl of ice in front of an electric fan.
  • Replace sheets with cotton sheets. On really hot nights, put the sheets in the freezer before putting them on the bed.
  • Use linen rinse water or linen spray, esp. lavender or orange blossom.

For cooling down yourself:

  • Cool shower or bath
  • Hot shower or bath
  • Include Epsom salts, herbs, dried flowers, milk, essential oils in your bath water.
  • Run wrists under cold water, cold wet cloth on back of neck
  • Witch hazel or other toner.
  • Don’t use talcum powder for health reasons, but use cornstarch or arrowroot powder instead.
  • Blotter paper.
  • Whether to use moisturizer or not: Humid? Skip it, or maybe just use in areas that really need it.
    Dry? Definitely use it.
  • Put skin-care products in the fridge.
  • Also put metal jewelry in the fridge.

 

  • Pin up hair to get it off your neck.
  • Avoid blow-drying or curling irons, or use them at night.

Dressing to Stay Cool:

  • Skirts are cooler than pants, and loose-legged pants are cooler than tight ones.
  • Loose clothing in general is cooler than tight clothing.
  • Lighter colors, and natural fabrics that breathe.
  • Sandals and strappy shoes rather than heavy ones.
  • Accessories: brimmed hats, sunglasses, paper fans

 

  • Hydrate regularly, and water is best. Fruit in water.
  • Avoid salt, alcohol, caffeine, and fatty foods
  • Eat lightly: salads, fruits, vegetables.

 

  • Read “cold” books: Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher, Dr. Zhivago, Call of the Wild, favorite Christmas stories.

 

  • Serene vs. frenetic schedule. Move slowly and gracefully rather than dart around.

How about you? What are some of your favorite time-tested ways to beat the heat? You can let me know in the comments at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 19.

Today’s Grace Note is Sea Breeze Astringent. I was addicted to this stuff when I was a teenager and had terribly oily and acne-prone skin. But as an adult I’d moved on to different products as my skin became less oily. I still liked to use it as an after-bath splash, though. It worked the same as witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, but smelled nicer. It was heavy on the menthol, which is a fragrance I happen to like. What I didn’t know was that the original Sea Breeze formula I’d known and loved, which had been around since 1908 as a remedy for cuts and scrapes, had been discontinued. Apparently it was considered TOO strong. It actually stung people. Wimps. Well, the good news, for me anyway, is that the original formula is back on the market. So if you shop for Sea Breeze now, you’ll have your choice of Original Formula or Sensitive Skin formula. Sea Breeze is not a sponsor of this show and I don’t get anything for recommending it, and I am not a dermatologist, nor a medical professional of any type. So be forewarned. I just remember liking it a lot, especially in summer, and thought you might, too, since we’re talking about ways to beat the heat. Just keep in mind that it is very strong, and if your skin tends to react badly to alcohol-based products, you’ll probably want to steer clear and stick with good old witch hazel.

And that’s our show for today. Tune in again next time when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Courtesy in a Violent World


This “bonus” minisode tackles the topic of common courtesy, which is so much more than using the right salad fork. If we’re ever going to solve the problem of hatred and violence in our world, we’ve got to start with treating each other with basic respect, kindness, and dignity.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.

Show notes:

Civility by Stephen L. Carter

 

Transcript of Episode 18.5: Courtesy in a Violent World

This is a quick minisode–I’m calling it Episode 18.5–about the role of good manners in society. This is maybe a slightly more serious topic today than I normally talk about, but a few distressing things have happened lately in the news. I know distressing news is not unusual, and normally I don’t watch a lot of news for that reason. But a couple stories have come across my newsfeed than broke my heart.

First, there was a brawl that broke out at that supposedly happiest place on Earth, Disneyland. Even worse, this brawl broke out in the Toontown section, which I understand is where the youngest children go. So who knows how many people  including some very young children had their visit ruined by having to be unwilling witnesses to this brawl that broke out among adults who were angry with each other and couldn’t manage to settle their differences peacefully, without shouting and cursing and physical violence.

I was still reeling from that story when the second story hit. This one happened much closer to my home. It happened in a small town quite near to me, where two teenage girls beat a third teenage girl, allegedly with a baseball bat, and put her in the hospital. This is normally a quiet, almost sleepy place, and to have something like this happen here just … there are no words.

I’m not going to go into detail on either one of these stories, nor am I going t link to them. I don’t want these kinds of topics on my page. The only reason I’m even bringing them up here today is that I feel they point to and are indicators of what can happen when people forget, or perhaps are never even taught, how to be civil to one another. Call it what you will–call it good manners or proper etiquette or civility or decency–those are all facets of the same thing. These acts of violence, as well as many others that take place here in America and all over the world, are symptoms. They’re symptoms of people losing their ability to get along with each other for the good of the community.

Sometimes people are amused by or even ridicule my longing for a return to good manners in society today. After all, who cares which fork you use for your salad or whether or not to chew with your mouth closed. Well, they’re right. It’s not about the forks. It’s not about the table manners. When you’re talking violence, these things don’t matter much. As many commenters have pointed out, people who do these sorts of things are steeped in dysfunction and violence and maybe mental illness. No amount of “please” and “thank you” can fix that.

But at its essence, above everything else, practicing good manners is simply a social lubricant that reduces the friction that occurs when people rub up against others or encounter people who rub them the wrong way. It’s a balm for wounds to keep them small and avoid letting them blow up into bigger problems.

Manners help people of different viewpoints and backgrounds and experiences to get along when they’re in the public square or at any type of gathering.  Mannerly behavior and civility give people a framework within which they can try to work out their differences and a standard of behavior to treat each other with respect and dignity, not to beat someone to a pulp because they said or did something someone else didn’t like. At the very least, if differences cannot be resolved, good manners provide a way for each party to walk away, to maintain their own space, and to avoid interacting for their mutual benefit, if that’s the only way to keep the peace.

I’m not talking about glossing over problems or putting a fake happy face on them. But I am talking about using what used to be called common courtesy or basic courtesy to allow us to overlook the petty grievance or unintended slight instead of taking offense, or to resolve it in a way that leaves both affected parties with their dignity intact before the situation devolves into a brawl. Civility also assures that others don’t get drawn into the disagreement, either as unwilling witness like the innocent tourists trying to enjoy a day at Disneyland, or even those who are initially not involved but whose emotions are ginned up to the point where they take sides in the fight.

In his excellent book Civility, Stephen L. Carter writes, “Civility as a moral proposition begins with the assumption that humans matter, that we owe each other respect, and that treating each other well is a moral duty. Civility so understood often requires us to put aside our own interests and desires for the benfit of others–which, as the ancient philosopher Erasmus understood, is what civilization is all about.”

In short, civility teaches us to discipline our desires for the sake of others.  In short, it’s the Golden Rule: to treat others as we would want to be treated. To love one another, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

So, no, I’m not naïve enough to think a few charm-school lessons are going to solve the deeply rooted problem of violence and incivility in our world. But I’m not going to sit idly by, either. I’m going to do my part to restore dignity and grace to the extent that I can, within my sphere of influence, one person at a time. Won’t you join me?

 

Front Porch Life


Sitting on the front porch, visiting with family and friends or just catching a cooling breeze, used to be a regular part of summertime life, before air conditioning and television sent us all scooting back indoors. Come and sit awhile and reminisce with Jennifer about the front porches of yesteryear. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to dust off that old wicker rocker–the one that creaked so soothingly as you watched the fireflies in the dusk.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of Episode 18.

Show notes:

NPR series on front-porch culture

The Andy Griffith Show

God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea by Rose Chandler Johnson

Jennifer’s Fiction

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Songbird and Other Stories

Transcript of Episode 18: Front Porch Life

Hello, Sparklers! Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and this is Episode number eighteen.

I’m so happy you’ve stopped by to spend a few minutes with me. It’s the first week of July as I record this, so I’m wishing a slightly belated Happy Canada Day to our neighbors to the north, and a Happy Fourth of July to my American listeners.

Today I want to talk about front porches. And in this case you can translate “front porch” however you like. It could be a flight of cement stairs in the city, maybe a set of lawn chairs or a blanket on the ground in the front yard, a little balcony, or anything at all. For my purposes,I consider a front porch anything that (a) brings your family out of the house and (b) faces the street or the sidewalk or any place that potentially brings you into contact with your neighbors and people who are passing by.

Front-porch culture used to be a regular summer pastime in many parts of the US. Families would gather on the porch in the warm twilight and talk about their day, or maybe the adults would just sit and relax, watching the children play tag or chase fireflies on the front lawn. Mom or Grandma might bring out a pitcher of lemonade and tray of tall frosty glasses, or dishes of ice cream, maybe hand-cranked like we talked about recently, or something fun like popsicles. Maybe someone would bring out a guitar and strum gentle tunes (I got that idea from The Andy Griffith Show, set in that quintessential small town, Mayberry. I have a memory of Sheriff Andy bringing his guitar out on the porch in the warm North Carolina evening and singing some quiet song to Aunt Bee and Helen Crump in the moonlight. It’s possible he only did it on one episode, but that vision stuck with me all these years).

Because front porches faced the street, people could greet their neighbors, who likely were also sitting out on their own front porches. Maybe they’d wave you over, or you’d wave them over, and you’d make room for them to sit and visit a while the kids played together. You’d at least wave or smile at people passing by. And there were people passing by, taking walks after dinner, catching a bit of fresh air before turning in for the night. If the porch had a roof, and it usually did, you would be shaded from the sun, and could even sit outside if it was raining.

People enjoyed their front porches even as the seasons changed, just adding sweaters as the cooler evenings of autumn settled in, until the autumn chill became downright cold and chased them back inside for the winter.

Porches were also the setting for many a romance. Those hard wooden porch swings and metal gliding sofas might have been less than comfortable to sit on, but you’d forget all that if the right person was sitting on them with you. Even my own novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee , set in the 1920s, features a romantic conversation set on a porch swing. As I understand it, concerned parents might switch the porch light on and off, or tap on the windowsill, to signal when it was time to say goodnight to one’s beloved and come inside.

Whatever happened to front-porch culture? Well, several things. Air conditioning, for one. After World War II a steadily increasing number of households added air conditioning, which made staying inside a cool house more comfortable than venturing outside. And then television also kept people indoors. A radio could be heard through an open window, but a television actually needed to be watched. I suppose a television set could be brought out onto the porch and plugged in by a cord through the window, but that seems like a lot of trouble.

Also, sometime in the fifties and sixties, outdoor culture moved to the back of the house instead of the front. Many people, including my family, built patios and decks off the backs of their houses instead of the street side, and children played in the backyard instead of the front. While this certainly increased privacy and was perhaps a little safer than letting your children play in the street, it was also less neighborly. I suppose you could still wave at your neighbors if they were in their backyards, but quite probably there was now a fence separating you. It was no longer easy to just wave them over, and you weren’t likely to wander over there without an invitation. Maybe the rapid rise of the automobile played a hand in moving outdoor culture to the back of the house instead of the front, because if you lived on a busy street it was no longer as pleasant to sit out front as it was when most of the traffic was pedestrian. I don’t know if that’s true, but it could be.

Another factor in the demise of front-porch culture, sadly,  is the rise in crime. Frankly, you can’t safely sit out on your porch in areas where you’re likely to get shot at, which is something that happens far too often in far too many parts of our country. Years ago, people out on their porches served as a deterrent to crime, sort of like an informal Neighborhood Watch. But that worked mostly with petty crime like break-ins and vandalism, not drive-by shootings and gang warfare.

Back in 2006, National Public Radio did a series about front-porch culture, connecting it with debate and democracy. As a transitional space between the privacy of the home and the public nature of the street, the porch was a sort of middle ground where people could become acquainted and enjoy good fellowship with one another and talk over the issues of the day or of the community. For a while there was even a Professional Porch Sitters Union, dedicated to bringing back the best of front-porch culture, but recently I wasn’t able to find any current information about it, so I don’t know if it still exists. I’ll put a link to the NPR series in the show notes.

How can you bring back front-porch culture in your community? If you have a front porch, or a scrap of lawn or even a sidewalk, and if it’s safe in your area to do so, go outside and sit there. Smile and wave at people who pass by. Have an extra chair or to so that if someone stops to talk, you can invite them to sit. If you live way out in the country, as I do, you may have to be a little more deliberate about actually inviting neighbors over to share your porch, as they aren’t likely to even see or notice you otherwise. And if you live in an apartment building and don’t have a porch? Maybe set up a few chairs on the common lawn area, or in a nearby park. In the end, porch-sitting is not so much a reality as a state of mind. A state of mind that’s friendly, curious, and content to just sit for a spell, as the Mayberry people used to say, and watch the world go by.

How about you? Do you remember front porches? Do you have one? If so, do you ever use it? If you have memories of front-porch life, or even stories from your parents and grandparents, I’d love to hear them Leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com under Episode Eighteen, or send me an email at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com

And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.

Today’s grace note is a little book called God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea by Rose Chandler Johnson. This is a devotional book. It could be used as a daily devotional or just for when you need a little encouragement. It seems tailor-made for early mornings on the porch. Rose Chandler Johnson has a friendly, warm writing style, and reading her book feels a little like a friend talking to a friend. I’ll  put a link in the show notes.

I also want to remind you that you can subscribe to A Sparkling Vintage Life at Apple Podcasts or iTunes or just about any place that offers podcasts. That way you won’t miss any episodes. If you’d be kind enough to leave a review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that like-minded kindred spirits can find it. And if you care to read my blog or subscribe to my email newsletter, or simply leave a comment, you can do that at sparklingvintagelife.com.

And that’s it for today. Stop in again soon when we’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Time for Tea!


Afternoon tea and conversation…the perfect combination! Come sit down, pour yourself a cuppa, and let’s dish about the delight that is afternoon tea. If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript.

Show Notes: Brambleberry Cottage

Tea and Tattle podcast

Peanut, warming herself on my printer.

Jennifer’s fiction:

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Songbird and Other Stories

Transcript of Episode 16: Time for Tea! This is Episode number sixteen of the podcast, and today we’re talking about tea and tea parties.

But first, a quick update on my writing. I’m closing in on finishing the novel set primarily in 1930s Hollywood. I should have that done in a few weeks. Then it will go to an editor, and then to my agent to see if he likes it and want to represent it to publishers. If he does, I’ll leave it with him and start on my next book. If he chooses not to represent it, which could happen for any number of legitimate reasons, then I’m going to explore other options, like publishing it myself. I’m a little scared of self-publishing a novel, as the process seems daunting. But I did self-publish a short-story collection earlier this year, called Songbird and Other Stories, and that process went smoothly. The agent is already representing a different novel of mine, featuring the rise of a businesswoman from the ashes of the Great Depression, but that one has not found a buyer yet. I’m also still planning on producing large-print and audio editions of Songbird. So I’ve been pretty busy on the writing front.

And now on to today’s topic, which is tea. A few days ago I went to afternoon tea with a dear friend. Our tea date has become a tradition that we try to follow at least once a year. This is not just your typical Starbucks run, although I love those get-togethers, too. Afternoon tea is special. My friend and I use the occasion to get all gussied up in our favorite dresses. We drive to Spokane, Wash., which is about ninety minutes away from where we live. Our preferred spot is called Brambleberry Cottage, which is an old house that’s been turned into a tea cafe. Each room is beautifully decorated, and the staff is warm and friendly. You get to choose your tea from a long menu of types and flavors, and it comes to your table in little individual pots. The tables are decorated with antique linens and fine china, all different patterns and colors, and there’s soft instrumental music playing. The food comes on a tall, multi-level tray.

I recently learned that the name for this three-tiered structure is a “curate’s assistant.” Unable to find a reason for this name, I have to assume it has something to do with church services, possibly the serving of communion.

Anyway, back to our tea, the food includes everything from little cucumber and chicken-salad sandwiches to scones and crumpets to desserts. There’s something for everybody here, and the exact menu varies with the seasons and the cook’s whims. These morsels are dainty in size, but there’s plenty of them, and we always leave the table satisfied. But best of all is the conversation, the unhurried time to catch up one-on-one with my friend, both during tea and on the drives there and back. One time when the weather was too nasty to drive to Spokane, I invited my friend over to my house for tea. I pulled out my prettiest linens and china and made a variety of special things to eat, and of course I brewed tea. It was lovely and fun, but it was also a lot of work. I’m just as happy to travel to the tearoom and let them take care of us for a couple of hours.

I got to thinking about what it is that makes going out for afternoon tea so special. I decided on six reasons, in no particular order.

Reason #1: It’s a time to dress up. In today’s uber-casual world, and even more so I think in a rural area, it’s hard to find reasons to dress up. It’s also increasingly hard to find people who even like to do it. Many take pride in their extremely casual appearance, as though it’s a badge of authenticity or down-to-earthness, or I-don-t-care-what-anyone-thinks-ism, or even mild rebellion. I like to dress up, and to spend time with people who also like to dress up. Afternoon tea gives me that excuse, if I need an excuse, which I don’t always. I should add that I also love the feeling of changing back into casual clothes when I come home, so I get the joy of doing that, too., when I go out for tea.

Reason #2: It’s a time to enjoy being a lady. You don’t see a lot of men at the tearoom. Not that men aren’t welcome there, and you do see the occasional male, but they always look slightly ill-at-ease among the delicate china and frippery. I’m not saying it’s a good thing for men to be ill-at-ease. I’m just saying that it’s nice once in a while to visit a place that’s so over-the-top feminine. I also like that the setting brings out everyone’s best manners. At home I may slouch and slurp my soup, but at the tearoom I sit up straight and mind my manners, and I’m reminded that I’m capable of being a more polite person.

Reason #3: Tea time is time off the clock. Once we’re seated at our table admiring the gracious surroundings and sipping our tea, we have no worries about where we need to be and what time we need to be there. I deliberately schedule a generous amount of time for tea so we don’t have to rush.

Reason #4: It’s time with my friend. We don’t see each other very often, and when we do, there are usually other people around: other friends, her family, my family. For just the two of us to go out and enjoy some deep, meaningful conversation in an unrushed way–that’s really special to me. It’s like we’re saying to each other, You’re worth spending time with. You deserve my attention, and I’m interested in your life and in what you have to say.

Reason #5 to love tea-time: It feels literally like a step back in time. From what I’ve read in old magazines and books, afternoon tea used to be observed a lot more regularly by women. There are recipes for tea cakes and patterns for tea gowns. Before World War II, our small-town newspaper used to report on tea parties: who hosted them and who the guests were, and who poured. It was considered an honor to pour. Often the guest of honor was given that duty.

I got curious about this, and about the etiquette of teatime in general. I learned that the time of day usually considered teatime is four o’clock, and it’s meant to be a late-afternoon break between the strenuous hurry and preoccupation of the day and the formality of a later dinner, at least in traditional upper-class households. For middle- and lower-classes teatime was more often to be what in my house, growing up, was called an after-school snack.

If you’re hosting tea in your home, the atmosphere is important. If it is winter, a fire in the fireplace and a few lighted candles are nice.  In the summer if the weather’s nice, you might want to serve the tea outdoors, in which case it veers into the garden party, a concept which deserves its own episode, and will eventually get one. I also found out that there is considerable difference between “tea” and “a tea.” The latter, “a tea,” is a party and calls for, as one etiquette book put it, pretty decorations and one’s best afternoon gown and white gloves. A tea will likely include from several friends to a whole community of women, such as a club tea or church tea. It might also be called a “reception.” By contrast, an invitation that says, “come for a cup of tea on Tuesday” usually means a quiet corner, an intimate talk, and the restful atmosphere which teacups for two always suggest. Also, for those who may be wondering, “high tea” has nothing to do with status or level of formality or, heaven forbid, snootiness. A high tea is merely a more substantial tea that’s more like a light supper, with heartier food but less than a full-on dinner party. In the olden days, high tea sometimes preceded a game of bridge or an informal dance.

For those of you wondering about the custom of raising one’s pinkie finger while drinking from a delicate china cup, I’ve heard that the custom resulted from a princess, one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, who’d broken her finger and was thus unable to bend it. As often happens, the ladies of the court imitated her, and the custom spread. A less colorful but more probable explanation is that the handles of most teacups, unlike the hefty mugs out of which we drink our coffee, do not accommodate all of our fingers. The pinkie is extended to balance the cup in the hand. Whatever the reason, most etiquette experts agree that obviously lifting one’s pinkie while taking a sip is an affected and silly gesture.

The sixth and final reason I love afternoon tea is that it is rare. Not much happens in the way of tea parties anymore. Do little girls still have them? Maybe afternoon tea fell out of favor because so many women have careers outside the home now, so afternoon social events of any kind aren’t really practical. Or maybe it’s because we’re so much more invested in spending time with our kids that a quiet, adult-centered activity like a fancy tea is out of the question, at least while the kids are young. Or maybe it’s just too fancy, too formal, for most modern women’s taste. But when I go to afternoon tea, I feel like I’m participating in a sisterhood that goes back thousands of years.

How about you? Do you enjoy the occasional afternoon tea? Or is that a little too much frou-frou for you?  You can let me know in the comments.

Today’s grace note is another podcast. In keeping with today’s topic, I’m recommending the “Tea and Tattle” podcast. This is a sublimely interesting podcast, hosted by the articulate and very British Miranda Mills, that’s mainly about books and authors, but also about creative women in general, doing all sorts of interesting things. The conversations are fun to listen to, and I always learn a lot. You’ll find the Tea and Tattle podcast at teaandtattlepodcast.com, or search for it on your favorite podcast host. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like answered on A Sparkling Vintage Life, feel free to send me an email at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com. Also, if you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a star rating, or even better write a quick review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that more of gentle souls like you can find it.

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Jennifer Lamont Leo