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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com. And tune in again soon when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Books by Jennifer Lamont Leo:
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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Join Jennifer as she looks back on the legends surrounding Valentine’s Day and suggests some Sparkling Vintage ways to celebrate.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, please scroll down for a transcript of this episode.
Books by Jennifer Lamont Leo:
TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 26: BE MY VALENTINE
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s episode 26, and it’s February 8, 2020, as I record this. I took a break from podcasting in January to polish up my forthcoming novel, Moondrop Miracle, and send it off to the editor. Now it’s with the editor, and until I get it back, I need to keep myself very busy. Otherwise I’ll keep hoping she’s loving the story while at the same time worrying that she’s hating it. Chances are, the truth falls somewhere in between, but hopefully leaning toward the positive side. So, it’s best not to think about it at all until I get her edits back.
Given that Valentine’s Day is coming up in about a week, I’d like to talk to you about that–how it’s been celebrated in the past and how you can celebrate it today. If you aren’t in a marriage or a dating relationship, please don’t tune out. This episode is for you as well.
Who is Valentine? Valentine was a priest or bishop in third-century Rome, during the reign of Claudius II. Claudius had the brilliant notion that men would make better soldiers if they were all single. Possibly he thought that men without family ties would be less distracted from military work, or even that the man wouldn’t leave a family behind if they were killed in battle. As a result of his new theory, he banned marriage for young men. This did not sit well with the young men, nor with Valentine.
Rather than go along with the new law, the friendly priest carried on with performing marriage ceremonies for the young people who sought them. This, of course, did not sit well with Claudius , who as appalled when he found out what was going on, and had poor Valentine executed. But not before, as legend has it, the jailed Valentine was able to cure the jailer’s daughter of blindness. A different Valentine was credited by healing a nobleman’s son who was choking on a fishbone. In some countries they pray to this Valentine to cure epilepsy. In fact, legend has it that Valentine was imprisoned and sent a message to a loved one signed ‘From your Valentine’.
Some believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February because that’s when Valentine was martyred. Another theory says that Valentine’s Day was the Christianized version of a Roman feast called Lupercalia, also held in February. This feast honored Roman deities Pan and Juno and was heavy on fertility rites. Part of the ceremony was to put the names of young women into a box, from which they were drawn at random by young men who would become their special admirers, at least in theory. Early Christians hated this practice and changed it to putting names of different saints into the box rather than young women’s names. So the young men would choose a saint instead of a woman, and aim to emulate the characteristics of that saint throughout the year. Needless to say, this custom didn’t really catch on, to put it mildly, as emulating a church father didn’t hold the appeal of being linked up with a flesh-and-blood young woman.
By the sixteenth century, all eligible young people, men and women, would select a name from the respective box. They would then be symbolically paired for the year, during which they acted as knight and lady to each other. The knight was bound to the honor and defense of his fair one, for which she repaid him in smiles and silk favors when silk was obtainable. The process was carefully watched over by parents and guardians to assure they didn’t become overly friendly.
Eventually, the custom of drawing names from boxes gave way to the selection of one’s own valentine. Writing in the late seventeenth century, Samuel Pepys recalled a custom where the first person you saw on Valentine’s day became your valentine. He tells a funny story of his wife who, wanting to assure that Samuel would be the first man she saw, and hence her valentine, kept her eyes averted all day from some painters who were doing work in the couple’s dining room. She didn’t want to clap eyes on the wrong man and end up with the wrong valentine.
In the February 1929 edition of Modern Homemaker magazine, the editor says this about valentine’s day: “Let us think and say and do the kindest things possible to and of others, rejoicing in their happiness and success as in our own. We get back in double measurement that which we give out in thought and word and deed.”
Sure, you can go out with your sweetheart and spend a lot of money on a fine dinner. But you could also throw a special party for your friends–a “galentine” party, some have called it. In the Feburary issue of 1909 issue of New Idea magazine, Mary Foster suggests a buffet that includes fruit ambrosia salad, creamed oysters in pastry hearts, and an intriguing dish called “Hearts Frozen in Jealousy,” which turned out to be individual ices molded in small heart-shaped molds, then served on pale green plates. A more modest Valentine luncheon menu, better suited for the lean year of 1933, included a fruit cup, creamed chicken in a potato puff, raspberry parfait, and pink and yellow mints.
And finally, of course, what would Valentine’s Day be without the exchange of cards? With the advent of cheaper postage, the custom arose that people of all ages, men and women, should exchange cards and letters, either comic or sentimental.
Inside London’s British Library, there is a manuscript of the first printed Valentine’s message. Fast-forward a couple hundred years, and Valentine’s Day cards started being mass-produced in their thousands. In 1840’s America, cards were being manufactured with lace, ribbons and other pretty decorations. There are now around one billion Valentine’s Day cards purchased each year, of which some 85% are bought by women. This shouldn’t be a great surprise, as women do most of the card-buying for the family. While a man may buy a card for his wife, she in turn will buy one for her husband, as well as her children and grandchildren and other random relatives and friends.
And that brings me to my point today, which is that nowadays, Valentine’s Day belongs to everybody. No longer is it simply a holiday for romantic partners. I encourage you to spread some love to your friends and neighbors, perhaps a lonely teen or elderly person of your acquaintance. Buying cards and candy is big business this time of year, but you don’t have to participate in the buying frenzy if you don’t want to. Design and write your own cards, bake some homemade bits of goodness to share. Or don’t buy anything at all, but make a phone call to brighten someone’s day, or do an act of kindness or of service to make someone feel cared for and cherished. Recently I saw a suggestion to visit and animal shelter on Valentine’s Day and give the animals some love and attention, and maybe a donation of toys or blankets or food. Being an animal lover myself, I think that’s a lovely idea.
If you observe Valentine’s Day, what’s your favorite way to celebrate? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 26.
Today’s grace note is a poem called An Old Valentine written by Grace Noll Crowell. It appeared in the February 1933 issue of Needlecraft magazine, and it struck me as something that would appeal to all you Sparkling Vintage spirits out there.
An Old Valentine
by Grace Noll Crowell
No shop today holds anything as fine as this old valentine.
The years have yellowed its frail lace,
But still–a shepherdess with airy grace
stands tiptoe at the water’s brink.
Her hair is gold, her cheeks are pink,
her fluted ruffles, blurred by time, once were
a lovely lavender.
Dainty and sweet she stands, and there across the stream,
with outstretched hands,
A shepherd boy
with laughter on his lips, his hair a-toss,
is reaching eagerly to help her cross.
Years come and go–loves flame and die,
and many a silver stream runs dry.
But never this…the stepping stones remain.
These two are sweethearts still.
The rust and stain have left undimmed the luster and the shine
of young love, in this sweet old valentine.
Happy Valentine’s Day. And thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcasts. And check back soon when I’ll share another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
Join Jennifer as she talks about “olden days” Boxing Day and muses about New Years resolutions.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.
Rock’Em, Soc ‘Em Robots are still around! Go figure.
Jennifer at The Daily Connoisseur shared an amusing-yet-horrifying story about the purported return of visible underwear.
Transcript of Episode 25: Boxing Day
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s episode 25, and it’s December 26, 2019, as I record this. In some countries, mostly those with ties to the United Kingdom, it’s Boxing Day! My mother was Canadian, and she always declared how she enjoyed Boxing Day almost more than Christmas. The pressure was off, the feast was over, the presents unwrapped, but we still had plenty of delicious leftovers to eat and a schedule free of obligations so we could play with our toys and put the house back in order in a relaxed, peaceful way. We didn’t yet have to go back to work or school, so it was just a lazy day of rest and recovery. Which is mostly what today has been for me.
When I was very young I thought “Boxing Day” had something to do with the sport of boxing. In that era there was a popular children’s game called “Rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots” in which robot figurines would pummel each other in a boxing ring. I imagine this sort of thing has been deemed too violent for children nowadays. I can’t remember if my brothers owned one, but I certainly saw plenty of commercials for it on our old black-and-white rabbit-ear TV. Anyway, my mother had to correct my misconception and explain that, no, Boxing Day didn’t involve anyone hitting anyone else. On the contrary, the focus was on charity and giving to those less fortunate.
The term “Boxing” in this case refers to the literal boxes that were used to pack up the remains of the feast and other items to be given away. It was the custom for the poor to go around begging the leftovers of the Christmas feast. Some English churches handed out bread and cheese and ale. At least one church discontinued this practice when rioting broke out among the recipients.
Boxing Day was, and remains, a servants’ holiday, when they were given the day off after being run off their feet to serve the nobles’ their Christmas feast. Gifts and food were distributed to the servants, the peasants, and those who worked the land. Even when the gifts became money instead of objects, the term “Christmas box” remained in use.
In some countries Boxing Day was also when tradesmen like butchers and bakers made the rounds of their customers, collecting their annual Christmas box or tip. This was done into the twentieth century, although I understand it is no longer practiced. Not the showing up on people’s doorsteps, anyway.
December 26 has also been called St. Stephens Day, a tradition dating from the Dark Ages. I learned in my research that there were two St. Stephens. I knew of one–the Stephen of the Bible whose story is told in the book of Acts. Stoned to death for his steadfast faith, this Stephen was Christianity’s first recorded martyr. The second Stephen lived in the 800s and shared the gospel in Sweden. He, too, was martyred for his faith. Apparently this second Stephen loved horses, and so horse-racing became a tradition observed on Boxing Day in some parts of the world. In addition to horse racing, other popular Boxing Day activities are football (American soccer) and cricket–but not, as it were, the sport of boxing.
St. Stephens Day might ring a bell for those who remember the carol about Good King Wenceslaus, who looked out of his palace “on the feast of Stephen.” This song whose lyrics tell about a rich king helping the poor was written in 1853 and reflected the Victorian respect for almsgiving and the charitable focus of the day.
Coming up next week, of course, will be New Years’ Eve revelry and the New Years’ Day and the making of resolutions for 2020. I no longer make New Year’s resolutions. They never seemed to stick, anyway. These days I make “prayer intentions” for the new year–an idea I got from author Rachel Hauck. I pray about those things I’d like to see happen in 2020, the things I want to do and the person I want to become. By praying about these things instead of “resolving” them, I acknowledge that I’m not in charge of my life. God is in charge. I don’t make things happen under my own power. I have no power. God has all the power, and I submit my will to his. That doesn’t mean I don’t set goals and align my efforts to make them happen. I do set goals, and maybe I’ll talk about that process in a future episode. But I also understand that only God sets the true course of my days. Only he knows how my day, my year, and my life will play out in the end.
How about you? Do you set goals for the new year? Are you happy, sad, or indifferent to see 2019 go and 2020 arrive? Does your family observe Boxing Day? Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under episode 25, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is a short article about New Year’s resolutions written in 1920 by Barbara Ellison. Being as it was published in Inspiration, the magazine of the Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, it’s no wonder that the resolutions have less to do with personal character and more to do with one’s wardrobe. I think you’ll get a kick out of her advice, much of which still applies today.
Buy wisely, and unless you have definite use for an article, do not buy it. Wait until your wardrobe is definitely assembled in your own mind and everything “fits in,” hat, shoes, gloves, purse, not to mention stockings and slips.
Be slim by being trim, be attractive by being immaculate. See that the seams of your stockings run straight and the heels of your shoes never run over. Keep your gloves clean. Never allow spots to mark your clothes nor perspiration to deface a gown. And never allow your shoulder straps to protrude. You can keep them out of sight by sewing one end of a ribbon or a piece of bias tape to the shoulder. Fasten it with a snap at the other end; then snap it around the straps of your undergarments.
One of the greatest virtues of the right clothes, rightly worn, is that they enable us to forget them and ourselves. When they are right enough for us to do this, we become our most likable and natural selves and, even if your features are not perfect nor perfectly assembled, we may someday hear of ourselves in one of those sibilant whispers that so audibly clothe a spoken confidence, “What a charming woman!”
Thanks for listening! Check back soon when I’ll share another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
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
Other books by Jennifer Lamont Leo:
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.