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.

6 Reasons I Love My Fine China


Jennifer talks about a range of tantalizing topics, from fine china to bridal registries to teen magazines of yore. If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript.

A couple of listeners have asked what my china pattern is. It’s Noritake Blue Hill. Here’s a picture I snapped a while back:

Noritake Blue Hill

 

 

LINKS:

Lumberjacks & Ladies

A Sparkling Vintage Life (Jennifer’s blog)

TRANSCRIPT: Episode 34: Six Reasons to Love Fine China

Hello, Sparklers. Welcome to Episode 34 of A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era.  I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and it’s February first, 2022, as I record this.

In writing and publishing news, the novella collection Lumberjacks and Ladies comes out from Barbour Publishing on February first, so by the time you hear this, it may already be available at your favorite book retailer. Do check it out, if historical romance set in the deep woods during the nineteenth century sounds like your kind of story.  There’s even an audiobook version available.

I’m also scrambling to finish writing Love’s Grand Sweet Song, also known as “the opera novel.” It’s due to go to the editor later in February, and I could use all of your prayers and well wishes to see me over the finish line. This one has been a challenge to write for lots of reasons, but once it’s done, I think you’re going to love it.

Today I want to talk to you about fine china, the kind your grandmother might have set the table with on holidays. Now understand that, through the magic of podcasting, I can see some of you listeners out there, rolling your eyes. You think that fine china is stuffy, out-of-date, and irrelevant to casual modern life. Well, as you can probably predict by now, I disagree, and I’m here to tell you why.

I own a set of fine china that I collected in my twenties. Back in those days, it was common for young women to choose a china pattern they loved and then register for it at a favorite store. Often they would register for silverware and glassware patterns at the same time. Family and friends who wanted to do so could purchase pieces for her as gifts, usually for a wedding or a bridal shower, but sometimes on other gift-giving occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Eventually she’d end up with a full set or near-full set of fine china, something of a marker of adulthood.

According to Wikipedia, the bridal registry or wedding registry is a service provided by a retailer that assists engaged couples in the communication of gift preferences to wedding guests. The Chicago-founded department store Marshall Field’s first instituted the practice of a bridal registry in 1924 at its Marshall Field and Company Building as a means for the engaged couple to indicate chosen china, silver, and crystal patterns to family and friends. Readers of my first book, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, will remember that Marjorie nearly had a panic attack in the bridal-registry department of Marshall Field’s, but that had more to do with the groom than with the registry.

Selecting items from store stock, the couple lists desired items and files this list with the chosen merchant. The list is then made available to wedding guests, either by the couple’s family or by the merchant. Upon the purchase of a listed item, the merchant updates the gift registry accordingly. In addition to providing valuable information for the buyer, the system helps prevent the receipt of duplicate or unwanted gifts, potentially saving time for both the giver and recipient.

I consulted the New Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Young Living, published in 1971, to see what it had to say about bridal registries. It says “By registering your china, silver, and crystal, duplications are reduced to a minimum, and you won’t have a lot of unmatched tableware. The registry is of equal service to your friends because it makes their shopping easier. It is wise to choose china, silver, and glassware early in your engagement since these are popular gifts for friends to give. Before you select any one pattern, think about how the three will look together. Since these are things you want to keep a lifetime, don’t decide hastily. Your tableware should express your individuality and the ambience you want your home to reflect, whether sophistication, informality, tradition, or a contemporary look.

Those words were written fifty years ago. Brides today don’t seem to be as stoked about china, silver, and glassware, but who knows. Maybe fancy tableware will cycle back into fashion someday, as these things tend to do.

On a cultural note, the New Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Young Living was written by Enid A Haupt, who was the longtime editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. It contains advice on things like making and keeping friends, getting along with your family, dining out with a date, belonging to clubs and sororities, hosting and going to parties, going to college, manners in the business world, and engagement and wedding advice. For kicks I took a look at the current website of Seventeen magazine. The biggest headlines these days seem to go to celebrity gossip, with another huge chunk of real estate to left-wing political causes like Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and Are You Latinx Enough.  The ubiquitous article about getting rid of acne, the bane of teenage existence from time immemorial, is titled “Your Pimple is Officially Cancelled.” And the article called “20 Kissing Secrets to Master the Perfect Smooch” featured a photo of two girls locking lips. Suffice to say, it is not your mother’s Seventeen magazine.

Speaking of mothers, my mother and grandmother also had their own sets of fine china, which they trotted out on holidays and other festive occasions. It helped to mark the day or the meal as special, versus “everyday.” Seeing a table set with fine china was downright mood-altering, signaling that “something special this way comes.”

The world is very casual these days. Most people no longer dress up for church or travel or restaurants or even weddings. Some people seem to pride themselves on foregoing fine china and other elegant tableware, perhaps as a critique of late-stage capitalism or some other statement, or maybe out of sheer laziness and desire for comfort.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love comfort as much as the next person. But I think that in cultivating an attitude of all casual, all the time, we risk starting to think nothing is special, nothing is worth an extra effort. Happily, recent research disagrees.

It’s long been known by behavioral scientists that our thinking affects our decisions about what we do and how we do it. Now, there’s a field of neuroscience called “embodied cognition” that says the reverse is also true: that our environment–what we do and how we do it–can affect our thinking more than was previously thought.

I’m extremely oversimplifying the concept, to be sure, but basically our hearts are affected or influenced by what our physical selves are doing. You can help create a feeling of specialness or happiness about a day or a meal by treating it as such. Pulling out the fine china can seem stuffy and pretentious, or it can seem celebratory and important. It’s all in your attitude. You get to choose.

Here are six reasons why I still love using my fine china.

  1. It’s beautiful. It pleases me to look at it, like a work of art. Happily my taste hasn’t changed over the last forty years. I still like the pattern and the colors. If you’ve inherited china in a pattern you dislike, or your tastes have changed since you first chose a pattern in your teens, you can be forgiven for not loving it. But realize it’s the style you dislike and not fine china in general. if that’s the case, maybe treat yourself to a some new dishes and let the old ones go. One woman’s hideous china from Aunt Louise may be another woman’s charming vintage breakfast set.
  2. China manufactured in recent decades is dishwasher-safe. A reason I frequently hear for disliking fine china is that it requires hand-washing, creating extra work. That may be true for some antique patterns, but my 1980s-era china has stood up beautifully to being cleaned in the dishwasher. I make sure to space pieces so they don’t bump into each other and chip, and I use a gentler cycle and allow them to air dry rather than heated dry, and it’s been fine. One thing that I can’t do with my china, though, is I can’t use it in the microwave. It has a silver metal band around the edge that is not microwave-safe. I understand that more recent china patterns use microwave-safe decorations. Even so, avoiding the microwave seems a small price for the amount of joy my dishes give me. If something needs to be microwaved, I’ll simply use an everyday dish and then transfer the heated food to the china serving dish. No biggie.
  3. Fine china elevates the everyday. Some days are just hard. And if it lifts my mood even a little bit to use a special plate to hold my mundane meal of leftovers, I see nothing wrong with that.
  4. Fine china is affordable, especially these days when it’s largely fallen out of fashion. Stacks and stacks of lovely dishes are available for a song at thrift shops, and on sites like Etsy and eBay. And remember, you don’t have to buy a whole set of dishes. Just a piece or two can elevate your tablescape and gladden your heart. In fact,
  5. You don’t need a matched set of china at all. Different pieces can blend together beautifully, some solids, some patterns, different color combinations all add interest and beauty to your table.
  6. Bringing out the good china is honoring to family and friends. Sure, I love that the people closest to me are fine with paper plates and plastic forks, and much of the time these are perfectly suited to the occasion. But also, once in a while it’s also nice to show these same people that they’re worth the extra effort of setting an elegant table, of ironing a tablecloth or putting together a pretty centerpiece.

And there you have it, Sparklers: six reasons to pull out the fine china. Do you have any pieces of fine china, either that you inherited or received as a gift or even purchased for yourself? If so, do you use it? Tell us about it in the Comments section at sparklingvintagelife.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating or review at Apple or Google or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very valuable for helping other like-minded kindred spirits find our quirky little podcast. As always, you can email me at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com, or look for me on Facebook or Pinterest. Meanwhile, thank you for listening, and I look forwarding to talking with you again soon on another episode of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

Cruising, Vintage Style


Jennifer takes a look back at the golden age of cruising in the 1920s, when those with the means to do so escaped winter in warm and sunny ports of call.

LINKS:

Lumberjacks and Ladies, now available for pre-order.

TRANSCRIPT:

In writing and publishing news, I have a historical romance novella called “Undercover Logger” coming out February first in a four-author collection from Barbour Publishing. The title of the collection is “Lumberjacks and Ladies,” and the other authors besides yours truly are Pegg Thomas, Naomi Musch, and Candice Sue Patterson.  Each of us wrote a romantic novella featuring a lumberjack, set in different time periods and geographic locations around North America. My story, “Undercover Logger” is set in northern Idaho in the 1890s. Lumberjacks and Ladies is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

I’m also in the final stretch of writing the third book in the Windy City Hearts series. This one is called Love’s Grand Sweet Song and the main character is a small-town waitress who becomes a star of grand opera. Love’s Grand Sweet Song will release later this spring, and I’ll have more to say about it in upcoming episodes.

As I mentioned, it’s January in North Idaho, when the entire world turns various shades of black, white, and gray. On rare days, we also add the blue of the sky and the pinks of sunrise and sunset–but those are uncommon days. We’re much more likely to see gray upon gray this time of year, which looks even grayer when the Christmas lights and decorations have come down.

That’s why, every January, after I take down my Christmas tree, I put up my cardinals. Over the years I’ve curated a collection of cardinal artifacts, some carved from wood, some made of glass, some painted onto a plate or embroidered onto fabric. As I place these cardinals around my home, their cheerful scarlet color relieves all the endless gray and beige and gives me something pretty to look at on dreary days. We don’t get to see cardinals in the wild here in northern Idaho, and I miss them from my childhood in Illinois. Cardinals in winter and fireflies in summer–I miss them both.

But today I’m not here to talk to you about cardinals. The real reason I bring up the dreariness of the weather is that this is the time of year I most wish I could take a cruise to someplace sunny and warm. I have never taken a cruise. Well, that’s not true. I took at overnight cruise once across the Baltic Sea between Stockholm and Helsinki as a teenager. It was interesting and fun, but it was neither sunny nor warm. When I say I’ve never taken a cruise, I’m talking about the old Love Boat kind of cruise, sipping umbrella drinks from a deck chair as a ship carries me to sun-drenched, tropical ports of call.

I understand that this is not the year to take such a cruise, if I were so inclined. Dire articles warn of the dangers of shipboard viruses running rampant on even the most fastidious of cruise lines, and international travel still has too many potential dangers, lockdowns, mandates, red tape and restrictions to seem even remotely appealing to me at the moment.

Even so, the idea of cruising as it was in the olden days, what are euphemistically being called the “before times,”   has me daydreaming this month. Recently I was leafing through a vintage copy of National Geographic from January 1927 and saw a delicious ad from the Raymond and Whitcomb Company, who were headquartered in Boston. The ad described the Raymond-Whitcomb Round South American Cruise. Just listen to this:

“See ALL South America. Inca towns of unknown antiquity and brilliant twentieth-century capitals–Indians in gaudy ponchos and black-eyed Spanish-Americans in Paris gowns–snowy Andes and green jumbles–vast pampas and narrow fjords–Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, and Valdivia; the Straits of Magellan; Buenos Aires, Monevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo.

Two months of luxurious travel. The Cunard liner “Laconia”–large and luxurious–specially chartered by Raymond-Whitcomb, will make the entire cruise from New York back to New York in two months. There will be no changing of ships, no delays or wasted time, no continual packing and unpacking; but instead a carefully planned voyage on a single splendid steamship with visits to the famous historic places and great cities of South America and a rich program of sightseeing ashore. Rates beginning at $975. (Granted in 1927, $975 was a WHOLE lotta money. But still. Two months cruising South America? Count me in.)

At the same time, The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was offering a Mediterranean cruise, sailing from New York aboard the Orca. This cruise promised “enchanting North Africa, the Holy Land, Mysterious Egypt, Constantinople, the ancient splendor of glorious Greek islands, Dalmatia’s romantic beauty, Venice, Naples, and the Riviera. This seventy-day cruise (that’s seventy-day, not seven-day), all inclusive, was a relative bargain at $879.

The French Line steamship company invited cruisers to spend the winter amongst flowers and sunshine. “Tired of winter’s cold? The Longest Gangplank in the World will take you the flowery lands of magic and delight. The moment you step aboard you are in France. That inimitable cuisine, that gracious service, the brilliancy of life aboard ship. It is the very atmosphere of Paris, at once. You’d cruise from New York to Plymouth, England, and from there to Paris, then overnight to the Riviera–a pageant of floral splendour and social distinction. Then, one day across the Mediterranean to North Africa. Glamorous. Exotic. Flaming colour in the sun, or mystic moon-pale beauty. This trip, all inclusive, cost $1350. But you’re worth it, right? To be honest, I don’t know if “The Longest Gangplank in the World” would be a selling point for me. Gangplanks make me think of shiver-me-timbers and walking the plank. But I could probably get used to a pageant of floral splendour or mystic moon-pale beauty. How about you?

I should mention that this particular issue of National Geographic in January 1927 also contained in-depth articles on parts of Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys, as well as a detailed biography of Captain James Cook, explorer of the South Seas. Apparently the editors were really trying to get their readers to think warm thoughts.

And if travel was on your mind in 1927, but you were an American wanting to stay closer to home, you might choose St. Petersburg, Florida. An ad sponsored by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce reads, “Oceans of fun.  Enjoy life this winter in the greatest playground of the Florida Gulf Coast. The entire Tampa Bay region is a wonderful playground and St. Petersburg is its center. The Sunshine City offers boating, bathing, fishing, golf, tennis, roque, lawn bowling, and every kind of sport.”

I had to stop and look up “roque,” which I’d never heard of before. Turns out it’s a variation of “croquet,” played on a hard surfaced court with a raised border, whereas croquet is typically played on a grassy lawn with no borders, meaning you might tap the ball straight into the lake or into the neighbors’ reflecting pool.

But I digress. We were talking about travel.  Not to be outdone by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the Orlando Chamber of Commerce ad reads, “A home ‘mid groves and gardens. Nearly everyone dreams of a beautiful home amid orange groves and gardens in a land of eternal spring-time. In Orlando, “the City Beautiful,” these dreams come true. Here every home, whether cottage or palace, can have its orange and grapefuit trees, guavas, bananas, papayas, palms and flowering shrubs and vines growing all year. Play outdoors all winter. Splendid entertainment and accommodations and genuine hospitality.” Imagine that–Orlando, Florida, and not one mention of the Giant Mouse.

Back to cruising: In 1927, readers on a budget might enjoy a quick 11-day jaunt down to Puerto Rico aboard the S. S. Lorenzo or the S. S. Cozmo for a mere $150. Or cruise to Havana “o’er summer seas to a scintillating foreign capital. Modern sports and recreations against the charming background of Spanish ways and manners.”

Honestly, Sparklers, there were far too many enticing options for cruising in 1927 for me to list them all. If you had the money and you had the time, you could escape winter at any number of enchanting destinations.

And should you be so fortunate, what would you have packed in your coordinated luggage? For advice on this I consulted Marianne Mead’s delightful book, Charm and Personality. She writes, “On shipboard a woman generally wears sport clothes all day, the color and material depending upon the season of the year and where she is going. During the day she wears low-heeled walking shoes, a small, close-fitting hat, and perhaps a sport coat. She need not wear a hat at lunch unless she wishes to. A man may wear a sport costume such as  slacks, soft-collared shirt and sweater, with a cap if he wishes. A woman wears a dinner dress at dinner.[Well, that seems logical.] On the evening of the Captain’s Dinner, women usually wear more formal evening gowns, the men dinner jackets. It is not considered good taste to wear much jewelry on shipboard. On a cruise it is wise to take long an ample supply of play clothes for sports and lounging on deck. If the ship has a pool, remember to take along a bathing suit. A cruise also calls for a supply of informal dancing dresses. Avoid clothes decorated with ships, anchors, etc., as they mark your clothes too obviously as having been bought especially for a cruise.

Miss Meade goes on to say, “Etiquette on shipboard is rather informal, and passengers may go about making friends and having a good time without worrying too much about formal introductions. One should be cordial and friendly, but should not force himself on anyone who seems to prefer being left alone. If your table companions show an inclination to chat, you must of course hold up your end of the conversation. You may also talk to the persons in neighboring deck chairs, unless they prefer to read or commune with themselves. If you are invited to join in a game of deck tennis or some other game, you may do so and feel no obligation to continue the acquaintance unless it is mutually agreeable. But whether you actually make friends with the other passengers or not, you are expected to greet the ones with whom you come in daily contact. All this, however, does not mean you may discard all caution and reserve. You women, especially, should not become too friendly with men they meet in this informal manner, and they should be particularly wary of passengers who are over-friendly or who force their company on others. Late at night, when other passengers are sleeping, the well bred person will avoid making unnecessary noise, and will not indulge in boisterous laughter or conversation and loud singing. Stewards and other members of the ship’s staff must be treated with courtesy. They should be requested to do things, not curtly ordered to do them.

And finally, one more practical bit of advice from Miss Mead: “If you become seasick, try to be as unobtrusive as possible and don’t monopolize the services of the steward or the doctor. Of course, it is preferable to try to avoid seasickness, rather than to try to be dignified when you are seasick. First of all, don’t think about the possibility of your becoming ill, and don’t eat very much during the first day out. If you begin to feel ill or if the sea gets a little rough, go to your cabin, let as much air circulate in the room as possible, and lie flat on your back without even a pillow under your head. Do not try to resist the motion of the waves, but try to make yourself a part of the swaying rhythm. When you feel better, or when the weather is more calm, go to your deck chair and rest. Do not let a temporary feeling of relief tempt you into the dining salon until you are sure you have recovered.”

And there you have it, Sparklers: Our Sparkling Vintage Life cruise into cruising. Have you ever been on a cruise, and what did you think of it? Tell us about it in the Comments section. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating or review at Apple or Google or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very valuable for helping other like-minded kindred spirits find our quirky little podcast. As always, you can email me at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com, or look for me on Facebook or Pinterest. Meanwhile, thank you for listening, and I look forwarding to talking with you again soon on another episode of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

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.

Podcast Episode 31: Where Do We Go From Here?


As 2020 draws to a close, Jennifer discusses what the new year holds for A Sparkling Vintage Life.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll below to find the transcription.

 

SHOW NOTES:

A Sparkling Vintage Life website

A Sparkling Vintage Life MeWe page

 

TRANSCRIPTION FOR EPISODE 31: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jenny Leo, and this is Episode #31.

It’s a few days after Christmas 2020 as I record this, and I apologize for being silent for most of the fall. A big piece of my silence had to do with finishing my next novel, The Rose Keeper, which absorbed nearly every creative morsel of my brain for the entirety of the fall. But it’s in production now, and should be ready for release in March 2021.

And then it was the holidays, and now, here we are, just a few days shy of New Year’s Eve. It seems cliché to marvel, “Where did the time go?” but there it is.

But the other piece of my silence had a deeper, more philosophical, and frankly more troubling reason. Like all of you, I found 2020 to be an enormous challenge. While social distancing and the stay-at-home mandates that were and are being imposed by our government during the pandemic did give me plenty of time and quiet space to work on the podcast, I found myself lacking the emotional and mental bandwidth to do so. Suddenly in the face of not only the pandemic, but so much political unrest, the drama and uncertainty surrounding the presidential elections here in the U.S., so many people thrown out of work and children kept home from school and everyone’s lives completely upended, I found myself weirdly unmotivated to sit down and compose even a simple episode about some arcane aspect of table etiquette or vintage jewelry. It seemed frivolous, somehow, to keep talking about these lighthearted topics in the face of so much bad news.

And yet, I couldn’t quite let the podcast go, either. It nagged at the edges of my mind. So I’ve taken some time at year’s end to reflect on some questions. What do I want A Sparkling Vintage Life to be? And what do you, dear listener, want it to be? What is our shared vision for this podcast and this community? What on earth I can offer to you that will add value to your life, that you’ll need and want to hear?

I went back to my original plan for A Sparkling Vintage Life. Thirty episodes ago, I saw the podcast as a way to encourage women who appreciate tradition and nostalgia and wish to bring back at least some of the old-fashioned ways of doing things and preserve a way of life that is quickly vanishing. I wanted to share what I’ve learned about past ways of life. As an author of historical fiction, I do a lot of research on the past, and wanted to share the interesting tidbits, tips, and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. I wanted to suggest ways to incorporate appealing elements of the past into to a modern woman’s busy life.  I still want to do all those things.

But now I feel a renewed sense of purpose that goes even deeper than that. I believe there are forces at work, strong forces, that want to erase the past entirely and rewrite it to suit a different narrative. And to that, I need to push back.

I’ve said several times that this is not a “religious” podcast, per se, and I’m sticking to that. I’m not a biblical or theological scholar, and I’m not going to lead you in a Bible study or a sermon. And yet my daily life is so deeply intertwined with my faith in Jesus Christ that I find it quite impossible to separate the two.  My beliefs are foundational to all that I think and do. So while I’m not going to preach to you, I am going to be less shy about sharing aspects of my faith going forward. After all, no doubt I’d share these aspects in any normal, heart-to-heart conversation with a good friend. And I consider you, my loyal listeners, as good friends.

This has also never been, and will continue to never be, a political podcast. There are scads of podcasts out there that handle political topics. I want A Sparkling Vintage Life to be a sanctuary from all that, a safe place where you can come and find a quiet respite from the screeching and squawking going on outside our parlor windows. That said, I occasionally come under fire from listeners who equate all “vintage values” with things we would never accept today. For example, some proponents of vintage style draw a clear distinction between vintage style and vintage values. I understand where they’re coming from. They don’t want to promote outdated concepts that were widely accepted years ago, for example, the blatant racism of the Jim Crow era. Well, I certainly don’t want to do that, either. But to equate all things vintage with the gross injustices of the past would be equally closed-minded. Racism was wrong in the past and it’s wrong today. A Sparkling Vintage Life is about preserving and uplifting the best of the past, not everything of the past. Just as we can’t, nor would we want to, return to a world of hoop skirts, no antibiotics, and no air conditioning,  neither would we revert to denying people full legal and economic rights. Admiring a cameo pin or a pearl necklace is not the same thing as advocating for separate drinking fountains. That’s ludicrous. Instead, our goal here at A Sparkling Vintage Life is to dust off some good values that may have grown musty from disuse. Values like honor. Duty. Loyalty. These kinds of values know no color.

A true Sparkling Vintage Life is neither elitist nor divisive. In fact, we promote things like common courtesy, which is the polar opposite of elitist or divisive. Treating one other with courtesy and kindness, no matter who we are, helps establish a strong sense of community and lubricates social interactions among people of many different ethnicities. It helps us all get along. And isn’t that a worthy goal, really?

I found a paragraph in the introduction to Linda S. Lichter’s book, Simple Social Graces, that pretty much sums up how I feel about A Sparkling Vintage Life. Writing in 1998, Lichter says, “America is hurting. We are rich in goods but poor in spirit. Public life is splintered, crude, and violent. Too many private lives are a shambles of broken relationships, broken homes, and stressed-out, time-squeezed families. We search frantically for quick fixes to fill a deep internal void that we struggle to describe. The answer lies neither in sixties-style government programs nor fifties nostalgia, and certainly not in accumulating more high-tech toys. To continue buying the constantly recycled versions of these solutions is to invest in damaged goods.” Lichter goes on to look to the Victorian era to recover more viable solutions. My taste runs to a slightly more recent time period, the early 20th century roughly from World War I through World War II. But the intent is the same: to preserve and restore much of what was valuable in generations past, and to leave the rest behind.

So we’ve talked about what A Sparkling Vintage Life is not. If you’re still with me, let’s talk a minute about what it will be, heading into 2021.

A Sparkling Vintage Life is for you if:

You hunger for an earlier time when more people lived with grace and dignity.

You’re drawn to watching old movies or reading old stories because you enjoy imagining safe, civilized public spaces, stable, intact families, and simple good manners.

You long for the beauty, grace, and charm of an earlier era. You miss some of the quaint customs, traditions and rituals that others might scoff at or ridicule.

If this describes you, then you and I are kindred spirits, and I look forward to discussing many aspects of A Sparkling Vintage Life and continuing to celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era.

Happy new year.

If you enjoyed listening to this episode, I would greatly appreciate it if you’d subscribe and leave a review at Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. Reviews are a huge help in growing the community and helping other like-minded listeners find us. You can also leave a comment at sparklingvintage life.com, or email me directly at jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com. I also have a brand new social media page on MeWe.com, and I’d love to see you there. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

And I’m looking forward to next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Episode #30: The Great American Road Trip

 


Summertime is when many families hit the road for vacation. Even in an age of social distancing, people are getting away for short day trips and jaunts in the countryside. In this episode Jennifer takes a nostalgic look back at the history of highway travel in America.

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

SHOW NOTES:

 

The Drive in ’65 by Sandra Lynne Reed

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Episode 30: The Great American Road Trip

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 30. It’s August 2020 as I record this. It’s high summer here in North America, and with all the travel and social-distancing restrictions still in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought a number of you might be taking road trips, probably just with just your immediate family, maybe for just a day or two, maybe longer, maybe camping along the way.  You might even stay within the boundaries of your own  state. Still, a getaway is a getaway, and it can benefit both mind and heart to get out and see something new and unfamiliar after so many months spent self-isolating at home. This got me to thinking about road travel of the past, how our Sparkling Vintage ancestors might have hit the road back in their day.

The topic of this episode was inspired by a new book that just came out called The Drive in 65 written by Sandra Lynne Reed. This engaging book is part family memoir, part travelogue, part historical narrative. The year was 1965, and Sandra was a young teenager when her family set off set off from Alaska to tour North America in a ramshackle Chevy van christened the Wayward Bus. And so we see national events unfolding through the Sandra’s eyes as she ponders some words and ideas foreign to her sheltered Alaskan upbringing. All knit together with vivid details of life on the road and a rollicking cast of characters. I’ll link to the book in the show notes, or just search for it at your favorite bookseller: The Drive in 65 by Sandra Lynne Reed.

Reading The Drive in 65 inspired me to pull out some old photos of trips my own family took back in the 1960s and 1970s. Then I began to wonder about what road trips were like even further back than that. I remember my mother talking about a memorable car trip out West she took with her family during, I believe, the 1940s, when driving with the windows open meant a constant stream of grasshoppers leaping onto her lap. She  surely must have seen many interesting things on that trip, but it seemed that the main thing she remembered was the grasshoppers.

The road trip has long been a popular family adventure, but before the 20th century, the idea of taking an excursion in your own motorized vehicle would have been preposterous. Prior to 1900, for example, those who crossed the country did so in wagons and stagecoaches pulled by horses or oxen over wretched roads–if you could even call them roads. If people back then had a hankering to travel far distances, especially for leisure travel, they would have done so by railroad. Only a very few courageous and adventurous souls would have put their shiny new automobiles to the test by driving them any distance before 1910.

Among these intrepid souls were H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker, who made the first North American transcontinental trip by automobile in 1903 In a 1903 Winton Touring Car, the pair, plus a dog named Bud, traveled from San Francisco to New York in 63 days.

The first woman to cross the American landscape by car was Alice Huyler Ramsey. In 1909, with three female passengers, Ramsey drove from  Manhattan to San Francisco in 59 days (make and model of car unknown).

In those early days, tourists wealthy enough to afford the earliest automobiles liked to putter through the countryside, stopping to picnic or camp by the side of the road. One attractive reason for doing this was, of course, the beauty and serenity of unspoiled countryside, especially during the summer when cities were at their most crowded, dirty, and hot. Another motivation for taking road trips was the freedom to start and stop one’s journey at will, freed from the inflexible schedules of railroads. There were some serious downsides, though. In addition to the lack of suitable roads and the hazards of rain, rocks and mud, there were few filling stations, garages, mechanics or even restaurants outside of the large cities. Drivers who chose to hit the road needed to be independent and self-reliant types, skilled at everything from fixing flat tires to shoveling cars out of thick mud.

Even so, most American families could not yet even afford an automobile, which cost between $650 and $1300 in those early years when a typical annual salary was around $500. That began to change when Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908–an affordable automobile that an average family could afford.

The Model T, plus new forms of payment plans available for buying one over time, plus rising wages plus lower prices on used cars, put automobile travel within the reach of the average American.  Loading up their cars with everything from camping gear to gasoline and water cans, tire chains and spare parts, they set off to see the world.

Very soon, entrepreneurial types in small towns across the country saw dollar signs in this new tourism industry, and started opening garages, gas stations, roadside cafés, and motor hotels, shortened to “motels.” These new enterprises paid to advertise in guidebooks produced by organizations such as AAA, and service stations stocked up on maps covered in oil company logos, and handed them out for free.

Meanwhile, governments dedicated tax dollars to improving the roads. The number of pothole-ridden gravel roads fell, while the number of smooth-surfaced and well maintained highways increased, making motor travel that much more efficient and pleasant. Plans for the famous Route 66 between Chicago and California were approved in 1926, and it was completely paved by the end of the 1930s.In 1956 the Eisenhower administration passed the Federal Aid  Highway Act, which led to the construction of today’s massive Interstate Highway System.

With the growing popularity of road trips over the twentieth century, I just knew there had to be guidance on how to conduct a good road trip, and I was right. In her book This Way Please, published in 1940, Eleanor Boykin had this sage advice for America’s youth:

“Reserve riotous renditions of ‘Sweet Adeline’ and hilarious whooping for highways bounded by fields or woods. Even then, there is the danger that the driver’s attention to his job will be distracted and that he will lose control of the car. In an automobile, rowdy behavior can become criminal conduct. Don’t try to get a thrill by racing another car–the speedway, not the highway, is the place for racers. When you are a passenger, don’t chatter too much to the driver. Blow your horn as a warning,w hen necessary, but don’t be childishly rude by uselessly tooting it when there is a tie up in traffic. Don’t scram out abuse to pedestrians and other motorists. Don’t impersonate Gabriel and announce your arrival at a house by loud horn blasts. Unless you are rheumatic, don’t sit still while a feminine guest climbs in the car. Get out and open the door for her, then close it after her. Stretch your muscles again when she is ready to get out. Girls may wait for this attention.”

Interestingly Miss Boykin seems to assume that the person at the wheel must be a male. How times have changed!

The same assumption was made by Marianne Meade. Writing in 1938, she wrote, “A man driving his own car should open the door for women guests, assist them into the car, and see that they are comfortable before taking her own place at the wheel. He should not open the right hand door, climb across into the driver’s seat, and let his woman guest get int the car after him, closing the door herself…. The driver with guests in his car should consider their comfort in the matter of speed, taking chances, and swearing at other drivers. Do not force guests to endure speed if it spoils the ride for them. If they are nervous, don’t show off by cutting in and out of line, squeezing between cars with onlya  small margin of safety. Of course it is ill-bred and childish to snarl and swear at other drivers for the style of their driving or for real or fancied invasions of your rights. And if passengers ask you to stop the car along the road, do not drive miles beyond, trying to convince them that they don’t wish to stop. So many men have a peculiar aversion to stopping, for example, if their wives wish to purchase some fresh eggs or farm-grown fruit from a farm house advertising such things. Brakes are very simply operated, and they were put in cars because people sometimes wish to stop, so if a passenger requests it, be gracious and stop.

Passengers must refrain from backseat driving. They should not tell th driver how to drive, call his attention to the fact that the traffic lights are red or green, or emit nervous little shrieks or gasps when they feel the occasion calls for it. The hostess should consult her guests’ preferences as to having the windows of the car open or closed. The guest  on a motor trip should take as little luggage as possible. He should be especially careful not to embarrass his host by bringing more luggage than the car will accommodate.”

Please bear in mind that, while I’m recording this episode in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m hoping that by the time you’re listening, especially those of you who are listening in the future, the worst will have passed and things will be returning to normal as far as requirements for social distancing and face-covering. But if not, be sure to respect the mandates of whatever region you happen to be visiting, and if the COVID-19 rules seem too restrictive, it might be smarter to stay home this year and postpone your trip for a later date. With that in mind, here are some Sparkling Vintage and a few not-so-vintage tips for planning a great road trip.

  1. Navigation. Even if your car is equipped with a global positioning system, get yourself a good printed travel atlas or paper map of your route. Not only are paper maps fun to look at, if you’re fond of that sort of thing, but even the best GPS can fail you. We once had a GPS try to send us on a detour around supposed road construction. When we realized the detour would take us four hours out of our way, we devised our own much shorter workaround using a printed map. Had we obeyed the GPS we would have gone four hours out of our way unnecessarily. So enjoy a good GPS system, but have a paper map handy, just in case. One caveat is to make sure that your paper map is up-to-date. Vintage maps may look fabulous hanging on a wall as a decoration, but when it comes to finding your way in the real world, only an up-to-date map showing all the current roads will do.
  2. Entertainment. Before you go, definitely download your favorite music and audiobook playlists to your smartphone. But for a vintage touch, tune into the radio now and then as you pass through different regions. It might be fun and enlightening to hear what the locals like to listen to.
  3. Exploration. If you’re not in a hurry, take the road less traveled. The interstate highways may be faster, but smaller highways and byways are typically more scenic, with more interesting towns and places to stop and stretch and see the local color. Roadtrippers, which is both a website and a mobile app, can help you find interesting things to see and do.

When planning what to see, keep your interests and those of your traveling companions in mind. Don’t feel you have to see things just because they’re so-called “tourist” activities. If you don’t love museums but you do love bookstores, make your choice accordingly. Just be sure to keep everyone’s preferences in mind. If you love winding mountain roads but they make your trip-mate carsick, have some compassion and stick to the straightaways where possible.

  1. Scheduling. Try to not be in a hurry. Plan your itinerary loosely so you can change your mind, stay longer in a place that captures your fancy, or at least not get overly stressed out by a traffic snarl or a mechanical issue that disrupts your schedule. On the other hand, you might want to book ahead for popular attractions during high tourist season. Even so, plan with enough slack in the timetable so that sticking to the schedule doesn’t become a point of tension on your trip.
  2. Division of labor. If you’re traveling with others, divide up the tasks in a way that makes sense. Someone who loves reading maps is a better choice for navigator than someone who doesn’t know north from south. Maybe the non-map-reader is mechanically inclined for keeping the vehicle in good working order, or maybe he or she can be in charge of planning meals and lodging.
  3. Speaking of meals, plan to carry a cooler filled with water and healthy snacks, and replenish it at grocery stores along your route. Taking all your meals at truckstops, roadside diners, and fast-food restaurants won’t do any favors for your stomach, your energy level, or your pocketbook. Spreading out a blanket and enjoying a roadside picnic in a quiet, attractive spot is a very Sparkling Vintage thing to do.
  4. Cleanliness. Cleaning out your vehicle before, during, and after your trip will make it a more pleasant experience for everyone. Make liberal use of disposable wipes and hand sanitizer, and toss the trash at every gas station or rest stop.
  5. Safety first. Be sure to tell someone back home where you’re going, and let them know if you change your route or itinerary. If a planned route or destination starts to feel sketchy for any reason, trust your spidey sense and choose another route. Sign up with a roadside assistance service like AAA. Before you leave, get your vehicle checked out and make sure you have basic equipment like jumper cables, an inflated spare tire, wiper fluid, and motor oil. Carrying extra gallons of water and gasoline is a good idea, too.

Above all, if you take a trip this summer or fall, stay safe and have fun. If you enjoy this podcast, I’d appreciate it from the bottom of my heart if you’d leave a review at Spotify or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very important to help a little podcast like this one get noticed by like-minded listeners. You can find read the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com  under Episode 30. You can also find me on Facebook as Jennifer Lamont Leo, or send an email to jenny@sparklingvintagelife.com. And tune in again soon when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

 

Episode #29: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands


As workers scrub graffiti off the Lincoln Memorial in the wake of racially-motivated protests, Jennifer looks back at another historic moment that took place at the Lincoln Memorial memory–the groundbreaking 1939 concert by Marian Anderson.

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

Jennifer’s Books

SHOW NOTES:

Moondrop Miracle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlanders

 

 

 

 

 

Songbird and Other Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcript of Episode 29: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

In this episode I want to talk to you about a woman of the past whom I admire very much, a woman who was a fine example of grace and courage and of prodigious talent used for good. But first, a few updates.

We’re still practicing social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic, but here in rural northern Idaho, restrictions are gradually loosening. We have now entered the third stage of a four-stage reopening process throughout the state. Restaurants and hair salons are back open while following certain safety guidelines. Even though I’m a natural homebody, it feels wonderful now to go out to places like church and the local history museum. I have a feeling I won’t be taking these kinds of opportunities for granted, as I did before.

I also want to share with you the happy news is that my new novel Moondrop Miracle is now published and available for purchase in e-book, paperback, and large-print editions. Set mostly in the 1930s, Moondrop Miracle is the story of a pampered socialite named Connie Shepherd who lives the kind of glossy life other women read about in the society pages. Engaged to a handsome financier, she spends her days and nights in a dizzying social round. When eccentric Aunt Pearl, an amateur chemist, offers her an unusual wedding present–the formula for a home-brewed skin tonic–Connie laughs it off. But when disaster flings her privileged world into chaos and throws her back on her own resources, will Aunt Pearl’s strange gift provide the key to survival? By turns heartbreaking and hope-filled, Moondrop Miracle tells the story of an extraordinary and unforgettable woman whose determination to succeed changes her life forever. I’ll put a link to the book in the show notes. And if you’d like to be notified of future books and other authorly news, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. And now, on to today’s topic.

This week as I watch damage being inflicted on many American cities in the wake of the murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer, I was particularly struck by the damage inflicted on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. It seemed ironic to me that damage was done in the name of racial inequality to a cherished memorial to the president responsible for bringing an end to the institution of slavery.

Now, compared to violent conflagrations happening in other places, the damage to the Lincoln Memorial was relatively mild, just some angry words sprayed in black paint on a portion of the memorial. But seeing it carried my mind back to another act of racial injustice that took place a little over eighty years ago. The difference was, at that time, the Lincoln Memorial was the site of a step forward in race relations, instead of a step backward. And at the center of that historical moment was a courageous African American woman named Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson was born in 1902, into a poor but loving Christian family in Philadelphia. The local church was at the center of family life, and even as a very young child, Marian loved the music best of all. When she learned to read, she used to beg the choir director to let her take home sheet music so she could memorize the words. The director recognized her innate musical ability and encouraged her to sing with the choir. As she grew she developed a very rich contralto voice. Contralto is the deepest of the female voices, close to tenor in the way voices are classified. It’s a distinctive sort of voice that made Marian stand out from the crowd. So much so that her fellow choir members took up a collection to fund her early music lessons.

As a young woman, Marian entered a singing contest and won the prize out of 300 contestants. But it wasn’t just any prize; this one proved to be life-changing. The prize was to perform as a featured soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. After that experience, a whole world opened up to Marian in the field of classical music. She went on to win other contests and fellowships that funded her continuing music studies. I find it noteworthy that even though she was born with natural talent, she still understood the need to study music, to continually refine and polish her abilities over many years. In order to achieve success, natural talent takes us only part of the way before hard work needs to take over.

In 1930 at age 28 Marian went to Europe to study and to sing in many of the world’s leading classical music venues. Several European opera companies offered her roles in opera, but she declined these offers, citing her lack of a theater background or acting training. She would, however, sing arias from the operas in her concerts. And she also continued to sing the beloved African American songs and spirituals from her youth. Her varied repertoire helped expose sophisticated international audiences not only to the rich heritage of African American music, but to the message of the gospel through the lyrics of the songs.

In 1935 the brilliant conductor Arturo Toscanini heard her sing and told her, “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.”

But when she returned to the United States shortly thereafter, this internationally renowned musical star was continually shut out of concert halls because of the color of her skin. Nonetheless she didn’t let prejudice stop her. She remained gracious in her demeanor and was described by one journalist as having a “warm, expansive spirit.”

And here’s where the Lincoln Memorial comes in. The most defining moment of Marian’s career happened in 1939, when she was at first invited, and then disinvited, from giving a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. You see, the hall was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Friends all over America protested this injustice, but the most notable of these was Eleanor Roosevelt, who at the time was first lady of the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and also arranged for Marian to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead. It proved to be an unforgettable Easter Sunday concert, drawing seventy-five thousand supporters and millions more radio listeners.

After that extraordinary concert, Marian Anderson continued to open doors for many other young African American musicians and artists who came after her. In 1955 she became the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. That was the only time in her career that she sang a role in an opera.

She worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a “goodwill ambassadress” for the U.S. Department of State, giving concerts all over the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s by singing at events, including the March on Washington. She received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Kennedy Center Honors, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She died in 1991 at the age of 89.

Through all the ups and downs of her life, Marian remained a humble woman of faith, giving God the credit for her musical ability and success. She lived her life by the words she sang in one of her most famous songs, “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands,” as she always believed that God directed her life and career.

So, here in the late spring of 2020 as I watch workers clean up the graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial, I can’t  help but wonder. Who will have the greater and more lasting impact on improving race relations in our hurting country? The violence and destruction of property perpetrated by angry mobs? Or the grace, dignity, and steadfast faith of a Marian Anderson?

Just something to think about.

This week, I’m praying for my country, and I urge you to do the same. I’m praying for peace, and for the restoration of justice, and for reconciliation among all people. But I’m not discouraged. I’m not losing heart. Because, like Marian Anderson, I too, believe that God does, indeed, have the whole world in his hands.

Episode 28: 10 Top Tips for Working from Home

 


As the COVID-19 virus continues to rage and many listeners find themselves working from home for the first time, Jennifer offers her 10 top tips for working from home successfully. Not to depart completely from the topic of vintage living, she includes advice from that doyenne of mid-20th-century manners, Amy Vanderbilt.

SHOW NOTES:

The eb00k of Moondrop Miracle is now available for preorder on Amazon. If you’d prefer a print or large-print edition, those will be available starting May 1.

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 28: COMING SOON

12 Sparkling Vintage Ways to Tackle Tough Times


Whether it’s the COVID-19 virus, a major storm or natural disaster, or some other unwelcome development, sometimes we find ourselves forced to grapple with a situation we didn’t expect. Join Jennifer as she discusses twelve “vintage” ways our grandparents and great-grandparents survived, and even thrived, during upsetting times in their lives.

If you prefer to read instead of listen, scroll down for a transcript.

I’ve since been told that the videos of Italians singing on their balconies are fake. I still think it’s a delightful idea.

Books by Jennifer Lamont Leo:

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlanders

 

 

 

 

 

Songbird and Other Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcript of Episode #27: 12 Sparkling Vintage Ways to Tackle Tough Times

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 27. Today I want to talk to you about weathering a storm, whether that’s a literal, physical storm causing blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, flood conditions, loss of power, or whether it’s a pandemic like the COVID-19 that’s keeping us isolated and indoors as I record this in the late winter/early spring of 2020. Or some it’s some kind of relational or emotional storm that’s wreaking havoc in your personal life: a job loss, a relational break-up, a serious illness or accident. Whatever the case, something has rocked your world and life is not proceeding as normal, at least temporarily.

Here in rural North Idaho we’re forced to be pretty self-reliant year round. While some scoffers laugh and call us “preppers” in a sort of derogatory way, North Idahoans, for the most part, tend not to panic because we’ve already got a good supply of toilet paper, a pantry lined with canned goods, etc. This is not necessarily because we’re expecting the Apocalypse at any minute, but because we live in a remote mountain region. Storms can brew up at any time, roads can be washed out, and some of us live many miles from a town or even a highway.  This past weekend, on top of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, we experienced a major snow- and windstorm that knocked out power to thousands of local households, including ours. Falling trees damaged many houses and even injured several people as they sat in their homes. We were fortunate, as it could have been much worse, but that sort of thing is pretty typical of our neck of the woods. That said, it’s not as if we have a lock on how to do preparedness “right.” (Right in air quotes). It’s just that being prepared is more or less a normal way of life for us.

Information (and misinformation) abounds about how to prepare to hunker down during a crisis, so I’m not going to repeat all that here. It’s widely available from the CDC and other reliable sources for those who want it. What I want to share with you here are some are ways people of the past, our grandparents and great-grandparents, weathered the crises of their day. After all, they made it through the privations of two world wars, the Great Depression, and plenty of life’s ups and downs between then and now. And they didn’t have the communication or mobility access we have today. I thought they’d have a few words of wisdom to offer. Some Sparkling Vintage suggestions, if you will, for weathering any storm.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a doctor or medical professional of any sort. I’m not a theologian or a psychiatrist. I’m sharing with you some ideas from decades past that helped people conquer their fears and muddle through. So seek your own counsel, consult your own professionals, choose those ideas that work for you, and leave the rest.

12 Sparkling Vintage Ways to Tackle Tough Times

  1. People of the past leaned on their faith. If you’re a person of faith, remember that God is in control. This is not a religion podcast, and I don’t aim to make it one now. But I’ve also made no secret of the fact that I’m a Christian, and I firmly believe that, whatever the crisis, God is in control. He’s the one who created the universe and keeps it spinning. Not the governments. Not the leaders and law makers and experts, but ultimately God. That doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the experts and the leaders. We do. But ultimately, we trust in God. Don’t be too proud to get down on your knees and ask Him for help, if you want to find peace in this topsy-turvy world. It’s what people have done for millenia to find true peace. For those of you who say you never have time to read your Bible, now’s your chance. You’ve been given a gift of time. Pick up a Bible or a Bible app on your phone. If you’re new to reading the Bible, don’t think you have to start on page one and read all the way through. You don’t. I suggest starting with the gospel of John and the book of Psalms. Just read it, and as you read, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand who God is, and who you are, and who Christ is and what he did for us. Think about the words you’re reading and what they mean.

The fact is, if we never go through tough times, we will never grow stronger. I’m reminded of the often-told story of the moth struggling to break free of his chrysalis. If you see the moth struggling and you try to help him along by opening the shell for him, his wings won’t develop normally. Turns out the process of struggling is a necessary process for his wings to strengthen. Take away the struggle and you take away the strength. So it is with us. God gives us challenges so we’ll grow in strength, depend on his strength to get us through. He also designed us to live in community, to help our neighbor and to accept help when we need it. I’ll say more about that in a minute, but my #1 suggestion is to remember that God is in control. And remind yourself, always, that God is in charge.

  1. Speaking of strength, get some exercise. People of the past didn’t need to be told to do this. They got a lot of exercise in their daily lives, performing manual labor or households chores without the abundance of labor-saving devices we enjoy today. Studies show that physical exercise burns up stress-related chemicals, helps you think more clearly, bolsters your immune system, regulates your energy, and helps you sleep better. These are all things we need during times of trouble. I’m not normally one who gets excited about exercising. I’m about as unathletic as they come. But I do like the way exercise makes me feel, so I’ll go for a walk or bounce on my rebounder or dance to some tunes. just to get the blood flowing and to lift my mood. During this time of pervasive illness, you may want to steer clear of the gym or public pool, or you may have to skip it if these facilities shut down. But there are plenty of exercises you can do at home. Go for walks or runs, or use simple at-home equipment like a rebounder or hand weights. Your own bodyweight can be effective for strength-building exercises. Look on the internet for videos demonstrating exercises you can do at home. Or do what I do–put on some music and dance around your house!
  2. Another way to build muscular strength might be to do some of those chores around the house that you’ve been meaning to do. If you live in the northwestern united states as I do, you might well be shoveling snow. If you live in a warmer climate, do the yard work and prepare the garden for spring planting. Hang laundry on a line outside the way Grandma used to. That’ll give you both exercise and sunshine. Sunshine is a powerful mood-lifter and also a natural disinfectant.
  3. Speaking of sunshine, spend time outside in nature. Our ancestors got outside a lot more than we do. Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are all so good for you. In the cities, find a park to walk in. Feel the grass under your feet. Watch the clouds go by overhead. If it’s springtime where you live, watch for those first buds, for the shoots of early flowers as welcome signs of hope. if you’re headed into fall, enjoy the changing colors, the nip in the air that can be bracing and energizing. So suggestion #4 is to get outside as much as you can.
  4. Eat properly. Our bodies are designed to eat good, nourishing food, minimally processed. Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, lots of water … you don’t need me to tell you what constitutes nutritious food. In times of stress it’s tempting to hunker down with your favorite snack foods and comfort foods to make yourself feel better in the short term, but doing so will make you feel lousy in the long run and won’t help you to keep up your strength or your immune system.
  5. While we’re on the topic of food, if it’s spring where you live, think about starting your garden. That’s #6: start a garden. Digging in dirt and watching things grow is incredibly beneficial for your health and your mood. If it’s fall where you live, put up a harvest of healthy food to get you through the winter. If the skills of gardening and preserving food are unfamiliar to you, maybe use some of this forced isolation time to study up on them, maybe order in some seeds or canning equipment. Above all, be thankful for your meals, even if they are by necessity very simple or not quite to your liking. Now is not the time to be super fussy, but to be grateful for whatever food you have. Earlier generations prayed before meals as a matter of course, but many of us today have fallen out of this habit, if we ever had it to begin with. Take time to thank God for the food and also thank whoever got it for you and prepared it. And if that person is you, be thankful that you have that ability.
  6. Be a good neighbor. God didn’t design humans to be loners. Think about what living in a community means now. In these times when we’re encouraged to keep physical distance from one another to avoid spreading germs, stay connected by phone, text, Facetime, Skype. Write old-fashioned letters to one another–what a thrill to get an honest-to-goodness letter in the post! Ask those who are elderly or caring for small children if there’s some way you can help them–maybe run errands or share some of your food or supplies with them. If they need help with some task and you can safely help them without putting yourself in too close proximity or other danger, do it. At the very least, make the call, send the card, or write the letter. Often it’s a great help just to know someone is thinking about us and cares enough to contact us, especially when we live alone.
  7. Get your rest. Sleep does all sorts of wonderful things for your body, including building up your immune system. If you search online you’ll find an abundance of tips for good sleep hygiene. Of course, our ancestors didn’t have to worry about too much blue light or screens from their phones, but sleep was still sometimes an issue. I’m now going to read you a passage I found in a 1925 edition of the Camp Fire Girls handbook. It says,

“When preparing for sleep, remove all your clothing, as it has been absorbing the impurities from the skin all day, especially the clothes worn next to your skin. Hang up your day clothes or place them on a  chair where plenty of fresh air can get at them. Wear night clothes that do not bind or press against the body at any point. Tight bands and strings may impede circulation or cause disturbed sleep. We hardly need to add that you should not go to bed before you have opened one or more windows in your room. You need fresh cold air. If you are fortunate enough to have a sleeping porch, use it by all means. Be sure the bed clothing is warm and of lightweight material. Heavy weight clothing weighs the body down and does not invite refreshing sleep.” That was advice given to the Camp Fire Girls in 1925 that still holds true today. So suggestion #8 is get your rest.

  1. If you’re stuck at home, think of some creative, old-fashioned ways to amuse yourselves. Take a page from the generations before you who didn’t have TV and video games. Read books, play board games, try out some new card games. Talk to one another. Practice the art of conversation. Do puzzles. Make up stories. Go for hikes. Do crafts. Make cards for people who are housebound. If you need inspiration for things to do, read some stories or novels that are set in earlier times. What do the characters in the stories do for fun? In the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, what do the Ingalls family do for fun? What do the Waltons do for fun, if you’re familiar with that series? Maybe take a cue from them.

10: Sing! Singing is good for the heart, the soul, the mind, and even strengthens the lungs. Sing along to music videos or MP3s. Teach your kids some old favorite songs you remember from your youth. Writing in 1942 in the depths of World War II, Margery Wilson wrote, “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 for fear of disturbing someone or being conspicuous, then sing in your mind, thinking the actual words and tune. Sing new songs, old songs, hymns, national anthems, football songs, arias, swing, anything, but sing! A singing nation has heart.” Those are some wise words from Margery Wilson. Recently we’ve seen the power of singing in action in the tremendous videos of people confined to their homes in virus-ravaged Italy, singing to and with each other from their balconies. If you haven’t seen those inspiring and heart-lifting video clips, they’re worth searching for on the Internet.

  1. If you’re stuck at home, learn and practice some useful skills, especially old-fashioned ones. I’ve already mentioned gardening and food preservation like canning, but there are so many others. Learn to cook from scratch using raw ingredients. If you’re already an accomplished cook, you can still experiment with new recipes. During the pandemic we’re not eating out as much or at all, so avoid food fatigue by learning new recipes. Learn how to make yogurt or sourdough bread or cheese. Learn to sew or do woodworking or carpentry. Study a foreign language or some other topic that interests you or that will be useful to you in your work or your life. Do those things you always say you never have time to do. If you’re isolated at home during the pandemic or for any other reason, you’ve been given a gift of time: use it wisely.
  2. Clean something. This one always works for me, when I remember to do it. If your mind is out of sorts, if you’re having trouble concentrating on anything, step away from the news media and go clean or organize something. One drawer. One cabinet. One tabletop that tends to attract clutter. There’s something about putting things to rights, making them neat and clean in a tangible way, seeing them come to order right before our eyes, that untangles our thoughts as well. You don’t have to tackle a whole closet at once, or heaven forbid, a whole basement or garage. Just take it one sock drawer and one tool kit at a time. Listen to music while you work, or to an audio book or a podcast–something cheerful and uplifting. Avoid the doom and gloom. As your hands put things in order, your spirit will rise. Isn’t that what traditional spring cleaning is all about?

That’s it for today. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay warm. If you have questions, if you have some other suggestions for how to survive and even thrive through tough times, or shoot me an email at jenny@sparklingvintage life.com. I’d love to hear from you. You are not alone.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave a rating and review at Google Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. And I’ll be back soon to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.

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