From formal concert choirs to belting out tunes around a campfire with friends and family, research shows that singing as a group is good for us! So why does it seem to have gone out of style? Why do families no longer gather around the piano, or friends break into drinking songs down at the local pub? Jennifer discusses new research into the physical, mental, and psychological benefits of singing as a group, and why we need to bring it back.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to read a transcription.
“The Surprising Health Benefits of Singing in a Choir” (article on Artistworks.com)
Some seventh-inning serenading at a Chicago White Sox game (hear “Na Na Hey Hey” at 1:44)
Here’s a link to the famous Coke commercial that has infected the brains of so many generations. You’re welcome! 🙂
Transcription of Episode 14: Is Choral Singing the New Prozac?
I’ve just come back from a community choir rehearsal. I say “choir” when technically the particular group I sing with calls itself a “chorale.” I didn’t know what the difference was, so I went to Webster’s Dictionary, which defines a “choir” as an organized company of singers, a “chorus” as “an organized company of singers, especially who sing the choral parts of a work such as an opera, and a “chorale” as a synonym for “choir” or “chorus.” Not very helpful. Maybe some of you listeners who are better educated I the fine points of musical terminology can clue me in. At any rate, I choose to call my group a ‘choir” in casual conversation, because when I say “chorale”, meaning the musical group, some people think I’m saying “corral,” the place where you ride horses, and all sorts of misunderstandings ensue.
My community choir is rehearsing a lot these days, because we have a concert coming up in June. To be honest, I don’t always like going to rehearsal. Often I resent having to make space for it in my schedule, and I have to drag myself to the practice venue, and only my highly developed sense of personal responsibility spurs me on. Once I’m there, though, and once I’ve warmed up and am singing, my cares melt away, until the only thing I really care about is mastering that tricky passage that seems next to impossible, or counting the measure correctly. And when we do it right, when the conductor stops casting the evil eye toward my section and heaving deep sighs indicative of great pain and suffering, when he actually looks pleased, when all the parts come together, it feels glorious. I leave rehearsal tired in a different way. Physically tired, mentally fatigued, but somehow buoyed up in my spirit.
It turns out, there are actual scientific reasons for this. An article posted at Artistworks.com says recent research bears this out.
According to the article, which I’ll link to in the show notes, humans bond best when we are making music with each other.
Studies show that our physical health is improved by singing: lower blood pressure, increased blood oxygen saturation, elevated immunity, stronger respiration, and less stuttering. Singing and other forms of music-making also produces measurable changes in the brain!
When we sing, we breathe deeply, as in meditation, with the same good effects like improvements in mood, decrease in stress, depression and anxiety. These effects are even more enhanced in a group setting, compared to singing alone. In other words, singing alone is good, singing with others is even better.
Turns out humans like to have a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, to be part of a larger community. We get that feeling when we sing in a group. And research shows that this deliberate synchronizing with others makes us feel more altruistic, more generous, more ethical, more helpful toward others, and more willing to respectfully listen to others’ points of view. This is starting to sound a lot like “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”–extra points to those of you who are old enough to remember that iconic Coke commercial of old.
No less than the noted researcher and author Daniel Pink writes, “Exercise is one of the few activities in life that is indisputably good for us. Choral singing might be the new exercise.” Pink goes on to cite the following: “Choral singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication.” Similar effects have been found in athletes who must synchronize efforts and their sense of timing, like dancers and rowers.
So, no wonder choir rehearsal makes me feel good … well, most of the time. But with all that good stuff coming out of singing together as a group, why has group singing mostly fallen out of favor nowadays? For example, lots of the older novels I like to read mention families gathering together around a piano to sing, just for fun, or people going caroling at Christmas, or singing folk songs on a hayride or around a bonfire. Workers used to sing together to make the long days pass more quickly. Thus we have a whole treasury of folk songs centered around the railroad, the mine, the forest, the farm … even the prison yard. Maybe today’s professions don’t lend themselves to singing as much as the professions of yore. There are no software-coding songs that I know of.
Schools had songs, and sports teams had songs. Outside of singing the National Anthem, and maybe “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the seventh-inning stretch, or “Sweet Caroline” or “Na-na-hey-hey,” do sports fans sing anymore?
Some writers have put forth theories about why we don’t sing together anymore. One is that we’ve turned from a culture of participation to a culture of performance. We pay to watch professionals perform and keep our own mouths shut. A hundred years or more ago, people also paid to watch professionals perform. Singers like Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind drew crowds. But listening to the pros didn’t stop people from also gathering around the piano at home. So why does it stop us now, if it does stop it? Even some of our churches have given in to this nowadays, disbanding the traditional choir and sitting back to listen to the worship band perform instead of singing together as a congregation.
The rise of streaming music has also meant a splintering of what we listen to. There is no common body of songs that everybody knows, like the Top 40 of my youth. I remember driving on a highway late one night with my brother and his wife. To pass the time, we sang as many pop songs as we could think of, the ones we liked and even the ones we hated, and we laughed and laughed. Today, with everybody tuned to their own individual downloads, I don’t think people today have a common songbook like that. Do they? It’s hard to sing together if you don’t all know the words.
For whatever reason, group singing seems to have fallen out of favor. Members of community choirs like my own tend to be older, looking, as one wag put it, like a bunch of cotton swabs on stage with all that white hair. As these music-lovers die out, who will take their place? My sense is that, to the younger generation, singing as a group is nerdy and uncool. And that makes me sad. People who feel that way are missing out on all those great physical and mental health benefits mentioned earlier, and the sheer joy of learning new music or pulling out old favorites and singing them together. They’re missing out, and that makes me sad. It makes me want to teach the world to sing. In perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke. And keep it company.
Why don’t you try group singing sometime soon? Start small, maybe with your family, in the car on a long trip. In church, open your mouth and actually sing the hymns with gusto–don’t sit back and let the worship band do all the heavy lifting.
Today’s grace note is a book I’ve been enjoying called The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. It’s historical fiction set in England during World War II. With most of the men away fighting in the war, it’s decided that the choir of the local church should be disbanded. The women in the choir rebel at this, and choose to carry on singing, resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. While most of the novel focuses on the individual stories of the women involved, the common bond of the choir sustains and encourages them during difficult times. If you like books like Lilac Girls and The Nightingale, this might be a good one for you. Unlike many novels set during wartime, this one is not depressing or gloomy, but more about courage and camaraderie. Of course I’ll put a link the show notes, which can be found at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast. You can also leave a comment there.
If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like answered on A Sparkling Vintage Life, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a star rating, or even better write a quick review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that more of gentle souls like you can find it.
From Miracle Morning to Before Breakfast, morning rituals and routines are a hot topic these days. Join Jennifer as she discusses her own preference for mornings and looks at the daily rituals of some notable people of the past.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript.
You’re the Cream in My Coffee eBook is FREE May 13 through May 17, 2019: https://www.amazon.com/Youre-Cream-Coffee-Roaring-Twenties-ebook/dp/B01JD9XJ3S
Mason Currey’s books:
Daily Rituals: Women Who Work: https://www.amazon.com/Daily-Rituals-Women-at-Work-ebook/dp/B07FLNRYNR
Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod https://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Morning-Not-So-Obvious-Guaranteed-Transform-ebook/dp/B00AKKS278
Before Breakfast podcast by Laura Vanderkam https://lauravanderkam.com/before-breakfast-podcast/
Transcript of Episode 13: Joy in the Morning
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 it’s May 12, 2019, as I record this.
This is Episode number thirteen of the podcast–a baker’s dozen.
It’s full-on spring here in North Idaho, and I’ve been enjoying sitting on the deck in the morning with my coffee, overlooking the mountains. My early-morning deck-sitting has inspired me to focus this week’s episode on the unique and special value of mornings. More on that in a minute.
First I wanted to let you know that my first novel, YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE eBook edition will be FREE this week on Amazon, May 13 through 17, 2019. You’re the Cream in My Coffee is the first book in the Roaring Twenties series, a clean, sweet romance set in 1920s Chicago. Small-town girl Marjorie Corrigan travels to Chicago and thinks she sees her first love, believed killed in the Great War, standing alive and well in a train station. Of course she needs to find out whether it’s really him, and if so, why he never came home. Meanwhile, she has a fiance waiting for her to come home as the ticking time bomb of their wedding looms. If that sounds like your kind of story, I encourage you to download it for FREE this week on Amazon. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
And now on to today’s topic about mornings. In case you haven’t noticed, the topic of mornings, especially morning routines and rituals meant to maximize productivity, is having a moment. It’s quite trendy these days for people to talk about how they make the most of their mornings, describing all the things they do after waking up to set themselves up to have a productive day. From Hal Elrod’s book Miracle Morning to Laura Vanderkam’s podcast Before Breakfast, it seems like everyone who’s anyone has something to share about the value of morning. but this is really nothing new. As the old adage goes, An ounce of morning is worth a pound of afternoon, in terms of getting things done.
I love mornings. I love to get up early, watching the sun come up, if possible. There’s something about morning that’s fresh and clean. I feel well-rested after a good night’s sleep, and my energy is as high as it will be all day. I also feel a tremendous sense of optimism early in the morning, like anything’s possible. Psalm 30:35 tells us that weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning. I have found this to be true. Problems that loom large in the middle of the night seems somehow diminished in the light of day.
I generally wake up around five a.m. and putter around for an hour, reading and writing in my journal. If I want to have a peaceful morning I find it helpful not to plunge into email and social media first thing, but it’s hard to resist that temptation sometimes. Another key is that, while I like to wake up early, I do not like to socialize early, nor do I like to get dressed and leave the house right away. I like to float around in solitude and ease into my day. After I’ve been up around an hour or so, my husband and I meet up for coffee on the deck in summer or in front of the pellet stove in winter. By then I’m awake enough to be suitable company. We talk about everything under the sun, and we have our daily devotional and prayer time together. After that I do my morning routine of house chores and exercise and then settle down at my desk. I try to reserve mornings for creative work, when I’m still fresh and rested. After lunch my energy flags, and I find that’s the best time to do more administrative or marketing tasks, or to run errands or see friends. But mornings are for writing and creativity, and I really try to protect that time, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. By evening time, I might have a second burst of creativity, but more often I’m mostly brain dead and will need a full night’s sleep to recharge.
Because I like to look back at how people in the past lived their lives, and I know you do too, I looked around for how others have spent their mornings and found the work of Mason Currey. Using biographies, autobiographies, diaries and letters, Mr. Currey studied the daily lives of creative people–artists, writers, musicians, inventors, scientists–through the ages, looking for clues to how they spent their time. A surprising number of these productive individuals were morning people. I of course was most interested in the writers. Octavia Butler, for example, finds 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning the best time to write. Like me, she started writing early because she was working a day job and found she was too tired to write in the evenings, but after sleep she was ready to write.
The famous playwright Lillian Hellman lived on a farm. She got up and 5 and helped with milking cows or cleaning the barn, then she had breakfast and got to her writing work.
Margaret Bourke-White was a pioneering photojournalist in the mid-20th century. In her autobiography she noted “I am a morning writer. The world is all fresh and new then, and made for the imagination. I keep an odd schedule that would be possibly only for someone with no family demands–to bed at eight, up at four.”
In the early 20th century, Edith Wharton wrote fiction each morning while still in bed, writing longhand on sheets of paper that she dropped onto the floor for her secretary to retrieve and type up. A visitor recalled that she wrote with “her writing board perilously furnished with an inkpot on her knee, the dog of the moment under her left elbow on the bed strewn with correspondence, newspapers and books.” Mason Currey notes, “Wharton always worked in the morning, and houseguests were expected to entertain themselves until 11 a.m. or noon, when the hostess would emerge from her private quarters, ready to go for a walk or work in the garden.”
And one of this podcaster’s favorite people, the doyenne of etiquette, Emily Post, woke at 6:30 a.m. and, while still in bed, set immediately to work. Her son remembered, quote, “She had improvised an arrangement which enabled her to get her own breakfast as early as she wished and while remaining in bed. A thermos of hot coffee, another small one of cream, butter in an iced container, zwieback and the dark buckwheat honey she loved were placed on a tray on her bedsitde table every night. She would breakfast and then, remaining in bed, write, edit copy, and plan her correspondence. .. No telephone calls, no visitors, no household interruptions were permitted to break in on her working time. After twelve she rose, dressed, and was ready and hungry for luncheon punctually at one.”
And the well-known Southern writer Eudora Welty also liked to write first thing, usually still in her nightgown.
For those creatives who were also parents, many of them got up early to get some work in before their children were awake. Others hit the desk as soon as the children left for school. Either way, they made the most of the limited time they had available.
Of course, not all of us are cut out to be morning people. A sizeable segment of the population are night owls, preferring to work late into the night and to sleep in late.
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (Ecc. 11:6). In a note about this verse Pastor John MacArthur reminds us, “The world is full of things over which one has no control, including the purposes of God. There is no virtue in wishful wondering, but there’s hope for those who get busy and do their work.” And I’ll add, whether you do it in the morning or evening or middle of the day. As for me, I’ll take the morning.
How about you? When do you prefer to do your most important tasks? Are an early-morning lark or a late-night owl? Drop by the show notes, or visit me on Facebook and leave a comment.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a topic you’d like me to address on A Sparkling Vintage Life, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. Also, if you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a star rating, or even better write a quick review, that will help raise the visibility of this little show so that more of our kindred spirits can find it. And I’ll be back in a minute with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is the work of Mason Currey, whom I mentioned earlier. Specifically his two books, Daily Rituals and Women Who Work. Daily Rituals describes the working habits of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks.
The second volume: Daily Rituals: Women Who Work, covers similar territory but specifically focused on women. Mr. Currey found that often the male achievers in his first book benefited from the support of wives or assistants who carried the burden of making daily life run smoothly so he was free to do his work. Women generally were the ones who provided that support for others, making sure that everyone gets fed and has clean shirts to wear and So the working lives of women creatives looked different enough from the men’s lives to warrant a second book. I’ll put links to both these books in the show notes, and hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
And that’s our show for this week. Have a lovely day, and tune in next week when I’ll discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
We have a winner! In the recent giveaway on the Sparkling Vintage Life podcast, the winner of the beautiful rose pin (pictured above) from 1928 Jewelry Company is Jenny Manzke! (I’m afraid mispronounced the name in the podcast…my deepest apologies!) Thank you to Jenny and to everyone who entered the drawing. There will be another giveaway soon, so stay tuned in to the podcast. Meanwhile, subscribe to my newsletter at right so you know when the next one’s coming up!
Join Jennifer Leo as she considers the elegant dress and deportment of the traveler of yesteryear, while contemplating her own upcoming encounter with the blood sport that is modern air travel.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for the transcript.
Turns out there’s a World Tiddlywinks Championship. Who knew?
A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux
(Scroll down to see the Rose Pin giveaway!)
Episode 11 Transcript: The Well-Dressed Vintage Traveler
Today’s topic is Travel. I’m about to embark on a trip to the Chicago area to visit my father for Easter. In preparation, I thought it would be fun to look at travel from years past in comparison to today’s rather inelegant proceedings.
It’s been a quiet week here in northern Idaho. I’ve been working on the audiobook edition of Songbird and Other Stories. I know that there is some debate as to whether authors should record their own audiobooks, or should hire voiceover talent to do it. I think that in fiction the author’s personal voice is important, so I’ve chosen to record this one myself. My publisher did hire a reader to record the audiobook of You’re the Cream in My Coffee a couple of years ago, and I thought she did a competent job. But I’d like to try recording this one myself, and so I am. That’s one of the advantages of independent publishing, that I can maintain control and make these sorts of decisions for myself, for better or for worse. If in the end I don’t like the results, I can try something else. If you listen to audiobooks, do you have an opinion whether you prefer books read by the author or read by a professional voice artist? It probably depends on whether the author is a competent reader. I suppose that just because a person can write, doesn’t mean they can do a good job reading aloud. But I think I’ll do okay. Anyway, that’s my plan. The audiobook version of Songbird should be out in early May. The cover design is already done and we’re just waiting for me to finish recording the stories. Otherwise, since I’ll be traveling this week, I probably won’t get much writing done, although sometimes planes and airports turn out to be good incubators for creative activity. I’ll be prepared with my writing materials, just in case.
And now on to today’s topic. It’s no secret that while travel has grown in speed, efficiency, and affordability, it has declined in grace and charm and, in some cases, even basic civility. As I set off on my trip I’m not looking forward to the government-sanctioned assault on my person that is the TSA pat-down, or the cattle-car atmosphere of the airline cabin. I don’t appreciate being nickled-and-dimed for every convenience, from checking a bag to having enough room to move my legs. But I will appreciate getting from Idaho to Illinois in hours versus the days that it would take by train or car. In preparation I thought it would be fun to look at some travel advice from long ago to see how travel back then compares to today’s experience.
Writing for teenagers in 1948, Eleanor Boykin had this to say about travel: “There are so many ways to travel now that no one need remain always on home base. … Don’t start even a bus trip to Uncle David’s, though, unless you can bear up under an engine breakdown or a fidgety seatmate. People who cannot adjust to the unexpected and unwanted had better play tiddlywinks by the fire. But if your disposition is elastic, if you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open–not your mouth–travel will rub off some of your prejudices and will make you a more interesting person. It will not only broaden our tolerance as travelers but also enlarge our goodwill to the stranger within our gates.”
Well, that’s still true, isn’t it, as a general rule, that travel exposes us to different types of people and ways of living, which in turn makes us more interesting to talk to? Although I wonder how many listeners will understand the reference to tiddlywinks or remember playing it. Tiddlywinks is a game that involves flipping little discs into a central container some kind.
Miss Boykin goes on to say, “When traveling, ask the man in uniform–the station guard, policeman, or other person authorized to give information. Don’t ask advice or aid of strangers, except in serious emergencies. A girl traveling alone should be especially reserved with members of the opposite sex. If not, her attitude may be misunderstood, and she may find herself in a situation she will not enjoy. The best advice that can be given inexperienced travelers of either sex is to be very discreet in the matter of acquaintances.” That’s good advice in any decade, don’t you think? As to plane travel, Miss Boykin writes, “You may find yourself on the verge of taking a trip by air. You know that you must travel light. The aviation companies suggest that you let it be known when you are making your first trip by plane, in order that special attention may be given to your comfort. Meals which are substantial enough under the conditions will be served you without charge. You can feel free to call on the stewardess for information or advice. On most lines, there is a policy of no tipping. At your journey’s end, it will not be out of place for you to express appreciation for their good services to either pilot or hostess.”
Going back further, to 1938, the more worldly-wise Marianne Meade disagrees with Miss Boykin about advertising the fact that it’s your first plane trip. She says, “When you are taking your first airplane trip, do not advertise the fact that it is your first trip, and expect the hostess and fellow passengers to be sympathetic with your nervousness or thrilled with excitement as you probably are. If they are novices themselves they won’t be interested in your story, and if they are experienced air travelers they will be bored. Maintain your poise, do what is expected of the seasoned air traveler, and enjoy the trip as much as possible.” It doesn’t sound as if Miss Meade was a big fan of airline travel, does it? She continues, “Adjust in your ears the plugs of cotton which the hostess will give you. Chewing gum may also be distributed. Both items are to prevent your ears’ being affected at high altitudes. Most passengers remove their coats, and a woman may remove her hat if she wishes. It is permissible to chat if your neighbors if they seem so inclined. Many passengers prefer to sleep or read a book throughout the trip, and under such circumstances you should not insist on carrying on a conversation.”
Here’s a totally outdated concept: “Before lighting a cigarette, it is courteous to ask your neighbor if the smoke will annoy him and then ask the copilot if smoking is permitted. In some planes a notice is posted in the front of the salon when smoking is permitted, but at other times and on other planes smoking is strictly forbidden.
“Do not wear heavy perfume in the confined space of a plane, and when your corsage wilts, have it disposed of to avoid nauseating the other passengers. Do not try to talk to the pilot or explore any of the compartments not open to passengers, and don’t take it upon yourself to open the plane door when you land.”
Some of these inappropriate behaviors would get you arrested today!
I was surprised to find tips for plane travel going that far back, to the 1930s. For some reason I thought airplane travel only became commonplace for the general public after World War II, as opposed to just the military personnel. But clearly enough people were flying before the war to make such etiquette rules necessary.
Writing in 1934, Hallie Ermenie Rives sounded a little more enthusiastic about air travel in her book on etiquette. She says, “Today the great, luxurious airplane glides through the air as smoothly as the most perfectly equipped automobile takes to the road. The airlines plan everything for the passenger’s comfort. As soon as he enters the terminal, his baggage is stowed away in the plane, to be forgotten about until it is claimed at the end of the trip. Aboard the plane, the same efficiency and courtesy prevail. An attendant places the passenger’s belongings on a rack above his head. Just before the take-off, the stewardess hands him a package of chewing gum and some cotton for his ears. The passenger remembers that he must not smoke until he is in the air; but once aloft, the stewardess passes cigarettes and points out the convenient ash tray. The plane affords a generous assortment of magazines and newspapers, and at various intervals refreshments are served by the stewardess. Reclining chairs, individual ventilating systems and in some planes motion pictures all provide for the traveler’s comfort.”
If you were wondering what to wear on your travels in 1934, Hallie Rives would have come to your rescue. “A woman for traveling should select a simple, unostentatious dress. Dark colors are preferable to light, as they are less conspicuous and more serviceable from the standpoint of dust. The traveling clothes of the well-dressed woman are admirable in their severity of cut and design. A close-fitting dark hat, preferably one with a flat back, so that one may lean back comfortably, a tailored dress and smart topcoat, little or no jewelry, and sensible footgear, mark the experienced as well as the fashionable traveler.”
In the 1940s, Veronica Dengel agreed. “Take clothes that won’t crush easily. On your trip, wear tweed or cloth suits or wool frocks with heavy coats, rather than dressy silk things.”
A couple of decades later, in 1964, Genevieve Antoine Dariaux had even more to say on the topic. In her book A Guide to Elegance, she writes, “If you consider that when you are far away from home and surrounded by strangers, you are judged entirely on the strength of your external appearance, perhaps you will realize the importance of being flawlessly well dressed whenever you travel. Which means that your clothes should be perfectly adapted to your role of traveler and not give the impression that you are on your way to a wedding with a veiled hat and fur stole, or at the opposite extreme, toward the conquest of Annapurna with a knapsack on your back. On the excuse that travel so often leads to a holiday resort, there is a dismaying tendency today to set forth already dressed for that first sun bath.” She say, “In trains, planes or cars, if you are traveling from one city to another, you should wear a city outfit. With this basic ensemble you will need really very little in your suitcase if your accessories have been carefully planned. In the winter your black pumps, black purse, and coat will be just as appropriate for all your evening wear. In the summer your bag and shoes might be beige. A lightweight coat and a dressier stole in a neutral color will combine attractively with the two or three little dresses in your luggage. During three seasons out of four, a suit is the mainstay of your wardrobe. It can be warmed up by a blouse or sweater or it can be worn alone when the weather is mild.”
How does that description stack up next to the apparel sported by passengers on your most recent flight?
Finally, Hallie Rives offers us some advice for train or plane behavior that we’d do well to heed today. “It is just as objectionable to annoy others by loud talking or boisterous laughter or by other unnecessary noise when in a train or plane as when in a private home. To wander up and down the aisles, to open conversation with strangers, except as man to man, perhaps, in the freer atmosphere of the smoker, to call attention to oneself by eccentric behavior, are badges of ill-breeding or of the self-conscious and inexperienced traveler. A train or plane is not the place in which to hold forth upon one’s personal affairs. Neither is it courteous to discuss one’s fellow passengers or to point out peculiarities of appearance.”
Goodness. I can’t wait to see how well-behaved the general public will be on my upcoming flights. Maybe it’s time for the tide to turn and good manners to come back into fashion. But, I won’t hold my breath, lest I pass out and require smelling salts from the congenial air hostess.
A reminder from last week’s episode that there’s still time to enter the giveaway of a beautiful porcelain rose pin created by The 1928 Jewelry Company, visit jenniferlamontleo.com/podcast, click on Episode 11, and leave a comment that you’d like the pin. Or, even better, leave a review of the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you leave a review, please alert me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll put your name in the drawing. Winner will be chosen at random on April 30, 2019. I’ll also post a photo of the pin in the show notes so you can see it. You can find the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 11.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a topic you’d like me to address, drop me a line at email@example.com. If you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a positive review, that will help raise the visibility of the show so others can find it.
And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, one of the books I quoted above. Originally published in 1964, this book was reprinted 2004 and copies can still be obtained through Amazon. Some of the used copies available there are quite inexpensive, or see if your local library can obtain it. Madame Dariaux was a Frenchwoman who was considered quite the fashion guru back in 1964. She wrote A Guide to Elegance as a primer on being well dressed and developing grace and poise. It consists of 91 short articles arranged alphabetically, from Accessories to Zoology. The Zoology chapter covers using live animals as accessories, a trend which apparently was having a moment in 1964. Madame Dariaux writes, “Making a public appearance with a baby panther, a tame crocodile, or an orangutan, even a very intelligent one, should be reserved for starlets in need of publicity, for it creates a circus atmosphere that is quite incompatible with the discreet behavior of an elegant woman. However, the situation is quite different if one’s animal companion is our most faithful of friends, the dog.” That sounds like something worthy of a future episode.
Nostalgia–what’s the point? Isn’t the present better than the past? What about dressing vintage? Jennifer answers listeners’ questions. Plus a special 1920s-inspired giveaway just in time for Mother’s Day.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for the transcript.
Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube are also great sources of vintage inspiration.
Episode 10 Transcript
This is Episode number ten of the podcast, which I can hardly believe. The weeks have flown by so quickly. To mark our tenth weekiversary, today’s episode will be a Q&A with some questions listeners have emailed in.
On the writing front, I turned in my article on the history of City Beach here in Sandpoint, Idaho, and that will appear in the Summer 2019 issue of Sandpoint Magazine which will come out in a few weeks. I’ve had a few freelance editing jobs to complete, including a couple of novels and also exhibit labels for an upcoming exhibit on railroads at the Bonner County History Museum in Sandpoint. If you’re a train buff and you find yourself in or visiting the Sandpoint area this summer, you’ll wanting check it out. And above all, of course, I’m continuing to write the first draft of the 1930s Hollywood novel. It’s not progressing as quickly as I’d hoped, but it is progressing.
And now on to our very first Sparkling Vintage Q&A episode. Remember you can always email me questions and topic ideas for future episodes to firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise to read and respond to every email and maybe even address some on future Q&As here on the podcast.
Our first question today comes from Elisabeth. Elisabeth writes, “It seems to me that the world is better off today than it has ever been. Women especially were so oppressed back then and had so few options in life. Do you really wish you lived in the past?” Well, the truth is that, no, Elisabeth, I don’t really want to live in the past. Not permanently, although I’d sure like to visit sometimes. My husband and I sometimes joke that I’d last about ten minutes in any era that didn’t offer hot baths and indoor plumbing. When I say that I do, saying I wish I lived back then or that I were born in an earlier era, it’s a sort of shorthand meaning I regret missing out on certain aspects about an era, or feeling like I missed out on some element that sounds cool but that was no longer being done by the time I came around. You could say I suffer from “vintage FOMO,” fear of missing out on older ways of life. I don’t want to live in fear of cholera or TB or polio, or to have to travel around on horseback or grind my own wheat. I love air-conditioning. I love the Internet. Above all, I know God placed me here on this earth in this time and place, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He put me here on purpose. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look back and admire what has gone before.
The dictionary defines “nostalgia” as a wistful or sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place and time. I’d say that definition defines my approach. I’m not a professional historian. But I do want to counteract certain misconceptions.
You say in your letter that women were totally oppressed in earlier decades and had fewer options in life. That’s a huge topic that we’ll probably tackle another day. I’ll just say that my research is not turning up women whose lives were unending parades of misery and entrapment. Some things needed to be corrected, of course, but everything in the culture did not need to be tossed out and stomped on. All women were not miserable. In fact, some were quite happy and content. While there were always women who were dissatisfied with their lives in the past, many with quite valid complaints, there are a lot of women today who feel angry and dissatisfied today as well. Modern life is no panacea for the ills of the human heart. For me the answer lies in reaching back for what did work and bringing it forward, not to continue demolishing it with a hammer just because it’s old. I do not agree that whatever’s new is always better. I do not always think old is better, either. The point of A Sparkling Vintage Life is not to recreate the past wholesale. Clearly that’s impossible, and undesirable besides. But it’s to preserve the best aspects of the past, to study what worked and how to bring it back while leaving the bad aspects behind. I hope that that somewhat long-winded answer clarifies things somewhat. I’d love to continue this discussion, as I think it’s an important one.
Catherine asks if I dress vintage in real life. No, I do not, although I would love to. I love to read blogs of women who dress vintage, and it looks so fun! I’ll put a couple of links in the show notes. First of all, as a plus-size woman, frankly I’m too large to fit most authentic vintage clothing, which tends to be available mostly in small sizes. There are a few reasons for this. One is that women, and men too, tended to be smaller in past eras, both shorter and more slender. As a rule we’ve grown taller, bigger boned, and stouter with each generation, at least here in America. Another reason vintage clothing runs small is that those larger-sized garments that did exist have gotten snapped up over the decades, not only by people who wear vintage as a matter of course, but by theater companies and school drama departments and other people looking for costumes. The smaller sizes that fewer people could fit into have not been snapped up quite so quickly and thus they are still around today. What I do wear a lot of are things like vintage handbags, jewelry, scarves, which aren’t so size-dependent. Also, there are vintage reproductions that are made in larger sizes. But then of course they aren’t genuine vintage. I do own a few reproduction, but not enough to call it a whole wardrobe. I do hope to wear more and more vintage styles as time goes on, since I like them and they seem to suit my personality. I always feel good and get lots of compliments when I do wear something vintage-inspired.
Another hurdle is that scouting out genuine vintage clothing takes time. Not only is it hard to find garments in my size that I love, but there’s time, effort, and often cost associated with cleaning the old fabrics, doing repairs, and caring for the clothes in general. As for actually wearing them out in public, I’m clumsy. I spill things. I’m not as careful as I should be, and many old fabrics are quite fragile. I’m pretty tough on clothes. But, again, some of the modern reproductions can capture the styles without the headaches that come with authentic vintage garments.
All that said, would I wear a vintage dress or gown if the right one came along? Absolutely! Often the quality of the fabric is better, and the quality of the workmanship. You’ll find things like fabric-covered buttons and hand-smocking and details like deeper hems and more generous seam allowances that are hard to come by these days. Plus many of the styles were more becoming to the feminine figure, with seaming and darts meant to flatter curves. These details cost more to make so many manufacturers skip them nowadays to keep costs down. Also, some people have a problem with wearing clothing that others have worn before. I have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I love to imagine who might have worn a garment before I did. To me that’s part of its allure.
Ginger asks, Will you ever have guests on the podcast? I’d love to hear some conversations with like-minded ladies. Yes, Ginger, I do plan to start inviting guests on the show now and then in the future. I have a few hurdles to get over first, mostly having to do with mastering all the technical aspects of putting together the podcast before I add more people to the mix. I figure that if I mess something up, it’s just me. When I have guests, then my mix-ups may inconvenience them as well. But, yes, having guests on is definitely something that’s on my radar for the future.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a topic you’d like me to address, drop me a line at email@example.com. If you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a positive review, that will help raise the visibility of the show so others can find it.
And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is The 1928 Jewelry Company. If you like vintage-inspired jewelry and accessories and don’t mind if they’re not genuine antiques, the 1928 Jewelry Company is the source for you. They create modern replicas of designs from the past including Art Deco, Renaissance, Victorian, classical Greece, and more, check out The 1928 Jewelry Company. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Thanks for listening, and come back next week when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
Take a peek into Jennifer’s medicine cabinet as she shares her three favorite old-time beauty products: items that have been around for decades, even centuries.
If you’d prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the episode transcript.
“The Christmas Robe” is one of the stories included in Songbird and Other Stories
Episode 9 Transcript:
Today’s topic is vintage cosmetics. Specifically, I’m going to tell you about three old-fashioned beauty products that Grandma and Great-Grandma might have used, and that I still use just about every day.
This topic came up because I’ve recently finished writing a novel about the rise of a fictional cosmetics tycoon in the 20th century. The working title is Moondrop Miracle. Moondrop Miracle the name of a skin tonic that my main character from very humble beginnings expands into an international cosmetics empire. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but in doing research for this novel I investigated a lot of beauty products and their histories. I thought you might like to hear about three of my longtime favorites that have a storied past.
But first, here’s what’s going on in my writing life. The novel that I just mentioned, Moondrop Miracle, is currently with my agent and making the rounds of publishers. I’ve yet to hear any feedback on that. Hopefully there will be some nibbles soon. I made progress this week on the 1930s Hollywood novel–still writing the first draft of that one. Starting April 8 through the 17th, You’re the Cream in My Coffee will be included in a promotion of Inspirational Historical Romance books through BookSweeps. If you enter that contest, you’ll have a chance win a set of over 20 inspirational historical romance e-books, and even a brand new new eReader. I’ll put the link in the show notes and you can check out that contest.
And now, on to today’s topic. Before I begin, I need to remind you that this show is for entertainment purposes only. I’m not dermatologist or a medical professional of any kind, and this information should not be taken as medical advice. Take what works and leave the rest. Also, I am not paid to endorse any of these products. I’m only telling you about them because I like them and have used them with good results.
Okay, let’s start with Pond’s Cold Cream. I use this every single day. Every evening I smooth it all over my face, and I wipe it off with a warm, wet washcloth. Some people tissue it off, but I prefer a washcloth. I should also state that you do need a washcloth or tissue or abrasive of some kind. It won’t just rinse off with water.
I looked into Ponds and learned that it was invented in 1846 by an American pharmacist, Theron T. Pond. He discovered that extract of witch hazel could heal small cuts. This was called “Pond’s Extract.” A company was formed, and by 1910 both “Pond’s Vanishing Cream” and “Pond’s Cold Cream” were created. The cold cream was for cleansing and the vanishing cream was for moisturizing, so-called because it vanished into the skin and was undetectable.
In the 1920s, Queen Marie of Romania toured the United States. Alert readers might remember that Queen Marie’s tour played a role in my story “The Christmas Robe.” Anyway, Queen Marie loved the Pond’s products so much that she gave them great publicity. In 1955 Pond’s merged with Chesebrough Manufacturing Company–I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly–which became Chesebrough-Ponds. And today it’s part of the international Unilever brand. Interestingly, while you don’t hear much about Pond’s these days in the U.S., it has a big market in Japan, India, and Thailand.
I don’t know if those of you watching the video or looking at a photograph me can tell, but I have rosacea, which is a hereditary skin condition that makes the skin appear quite ruddy and red. I find Pond’s Cold Cream soothing and comforting to my skin. I don’t know if it’s actually reduced the rosacea breakouts, but it certainly hasn’t hurt, and I love the way it feels on irritated skin. It also removes makeup very well and my skin feels soft and smooth. So that’s my little unpaid endorsement for Pond’s Cold Cream.
The second product I love is old-fashioned cake mascara. I remember my mother using cake mascara from Maybelline that came in a little red case. Mine is made by Besame Cosmetics in California. I’ll put a link in the show notes. What’s great about cake mascara is, not only is it vintage, which right there makes it cool in my book, but it can be used as both mascara and eyeliner. I use this little stiff brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and apply it to my lashes. Or I use this eyeliner brush, dampen it, run it over the cake, and use it as eyeliner. I like that it goes on very subtly, more subtly than most eyeliners I’ve tried. You can add more coats to build it up if you want. I’ve also heard it can be used to darken eyebrows, although I haven’t tried it for that yet. Cake mascara is more expensive than some tube mascaras, but if it’s three products in one, that’s a bargain. It’s also paraben-free and cruelty-free and good for sensitive eyes, and has a longer shelf life than tube mascara.
I’ve saved the best story for last. The third old-fashioned product I like very much is Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. The story behind this soap is really interesting. In 1929 a third-generation German-Jewish soapmaker named Emmanuel Heilbronner immigrated to the U.S. Sadly, his parents remained in Germany and perished in the Holocaust. He dropped the “heil” from the name, “Heilbronner,” because of its association with Hitler. He was also not a medical doctor, but a spiritualist. He developed his own spiritual ideology, sort of a unitarian-humanist philosophy about unifying Spaceship Earth. One day he was preaching about his philosophy at the University of Chicago and was arrested for speaking without a permit. Somehow, this incident led to his being incarcerated in the Elgin Mental Hospital in Illinois. Interestingly, I used to drive past that facility almost every day on my way to work when I lived in Illinois, but I never realized its connection to the soap I like so much. Anyway, after his stint at Elgin, he founded his soap company and printed various writings about his faith on labels of his products. Today Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is a for-profit company run by some of Emmanuel’s descendents. I love the smell of this soap, minty but not overpowering. It’s full of good-for-you things like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, peppermint oil, and sea salt, and it’s certified fair trade. It’s something I feel good about using, and, I must admit, I find its history fascinating. It’s amazing what you can find out about ordinary, everyday things if you just scratch the surface a little.
So there you have it. Three old-fashioned products that I still use today. Do you have any oldies-but-goodies in your medicine cabinet that you would swear by? Drop me at email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s Grace Note is VICTORIA magazine. If you appreciate the grace and elegance of earlier eras, you must take a look. I’ve been reading this magazine since the 1990s, and it’s one of the few that I still insist on subscribing to in the print edition. It’s filled with the most gorgeous photography, home interiors, flowers, profiles of women running colorful, creative businesses, and great travel features. They tour castles and formal gardens and all the things that are dear to my vintage-loving heart, and maybe yours too. In an age of minimalism when so many fashionable trend seem cold, hard-edged, and gray, Victoria offers a breath of color and light. I’ll provide a link in the show notes, which you’ll find at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode Nine. You can also leave a comment. You can sign up for my newsletter there as well. As always, I’d love it if you’d subscribe and leave a review at iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
And I’ll be back next week with another topic in A Sparkling Vintage Life.
In the northern hemisphere, as the days grow longer and the sunshine grows brighter, the dust and cobwebs come out of hiding. Join Jennifer as she discusses that vintage, old-fashioned ritual: spring cleaning. Whether you choose to tackle the seasonal housework head on or pretend the grime doesn’t exist, this week’s episode will inspire you to come clean.
If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.
I’ve been using and highly recommend the HB90 quarterly planning and productivity system for authors developed by Sarra Cannon at heartbreathings.com
Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill
Transcript of Episode 8:
Today’s topic is loosely tied to last week’s Home Ec show, because I’ll be talking about Spring Cleaning, which seems like sort of a home-ecky topic. Don’t worry. I’m not going to bombard you with stern admonitions to vacuum all the lampshades. Although, if they need it, as mine surely do, spring is as good a time as any to get it done. Today, what I hope to give you–and myself–is just some inspiration to get some spring cleaning done. If we need to talk specifics, maybe I’ll do so later on.
But before I get into this week’s episode, here’s a brief update on my own writing. I’m still hard at work on the 1930s-Hollywood novel, so nothing new to report there, except that so far this week I’ve been able to keep up with my daily word count goal, which is incredible. Many thanks to Sarra Cannon over at HeartBreathings.com for helping me figure out a solid productivity method for writing books seems to be working for me. Having a system for managing my writing time has helped me corral my easily-distractible brain. I’m also finishing up an article for Sandpoint magazine about the history of our local beach, the oh-so-poetically named City Beach. I love delving into the history of things and spending large swaths of time at our local museum, leafing through old photographs and documents.
And now, on to the show.
Spring cleaning. Did your family do spring cleaning when you were growing up? Do you do it today? In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, in the olden days, spring cleaning was a time when the whole house was cleaned, top to bottom, attic to basement to garage to gardening shed. Upholstered furniture was taken outside and aired in the sun, rugs were taken up and beaten, heavy winter curtains were taken down and replaced with lighter ones. Basically, picture everything you own spread out on your front lawn for all your neighbors to see and evaluate. Except they’d be too busy to spy on your stuff, because they’d be working on their own.
Windows were washed, and so were walls and ceilings and floors. In Home Comforts, her encyclopedic tome on housekeeping, Cheryl Mendelson explains that this thorough scrubbing of all and sundry was necessary because of the way homes were heated and lighted in those days, with coal, oil, gas, kerosene, and candles. She writes, “By winter’s end, everything in the house was coated with a malodorous layer of black grease and grime, the ugliness of which would become ever more apparent as the days became longer and sunnier.” She points out that modern heating and lighting systems no longer create this layer of soot and grime, so a thorough scrubbing might not feel as necessary. Still, there are cobwebs galore to contend with, and smudges, and mud. Oh, is there mud here in North Idaho. Impossible to avoid it, here on our mountain. Sticky, oozing mud. But it’s not snow, so there’s that.
In the house I grew up in, we didn’t turn the whole house upside down come spring, but I remember certain chores, like removing and washing the storm windows and replacing them with screens. And we had a LOT of windows. The smell of Windex still carries me back to those golden afternoons of wishing I were just about anywhere else, doing anything else than washing windows.
And there was usually a yard clean-up day, with much raking and bagging and wishing I could go ride my bicycle in the warm sunshine. I wasn’t much for yardwork. Or for housework. Or, really, for much work at all. But I digress. The point was, we did some spring clean-up, but we certainly didn’t empty every closet and drawer or scrub every baseboard, the way the housewives of old did, plus whichever offspring they could press into service. Or, in more stately homes, the servants.
As part of cleaning these millions of windows–at least it seemed like millions–we took the draperies off the rods and either laundered them or took them to the dry cleaner, depending on what they were made of. But we didn’t dry them on stretchers, the old-fashioned way. In her 1937 novel Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill, the title character goes about the charmingly antique task of curtain-stretching while enjoying the company of the attractive young man who lives next door. Here’s a Sparkling Vintage Literary Snippet for you, from Daphne Deane by Grace Livingston Hill:
“But Daphne did not wash curtains the next morning, though the sun was shining brightly and she had made her brother bring the curtain stretchers down from the attic and set them in position for her. She had put on a little blue print dress, one of her plainest morning dresses, and was all ready to go to work, but instead she went to answer a knock at the front door and found Keith Morrell standing humbly on the porch, an eager look in his eyes.
“Good morning!” he said. “Are you very busy? Would I be a terrible nuisance if I asked a favor of you?”
As it happens, the young swain gets roped into helping with the curtains, although he doesn’t seem to mind too much. He gallantly carries the curtains to the laundry room and dumps them into tubs of soapy water. There they need to soak awhile, which gives hero and heroine time to repair to the vine-covered porch where they can continue their mutual admiration society. Later they stretch the curtains on the stretchers that the brother had brought down from the attic. I had to look these up, never having seen one. They looked to be heavy wooden rods with measurements marked on them. These apparently kept the fabric from shrinking and wrinkling before being rehung on the windows.
Anyway, how often is it that in our modern world we can enjoy some moments of innocent flirtation while doing spring cleaning? That would surely make the process move a lot faster, in my opinion.
I don’t love spring cleaning. But I do love the results of spring cleaning. The fresh carpets, the sparkling clear windows, the knowledge that all science experiments have been expelled from the back of the whistle-clean refrigerator, the polished cherrywood table just waiting to receive a vaseful of colorful tulips. Something about spring cleaning is as restorative for the soul as it is for the house.
What are your thoughts about spring cleaning? Do you love it? Loathe it? Do it at all? Why, or why not? No judgment here. If you have a spring-cleaning routine, I’d love to know what sorts of chores you tackle. Does the whole family get involved? Or do you shoo the family out so you can work uninterrupted? Do you have any tips to make it more fun, like playing upbeat music or rewarding yourself with a nice dinner afterward? I’d love to hear about it. I need all the inspiration I can get.Just leave a comment below.
And I’ll be back in a moment with this week’s Grace Note.
This weeks’ Grace Note is the book I mentioned at the beginning of this episode: Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson. First published in 1999, this thick volume covers everything you could possibly want to know about cleaning and caring for a home, from scrubbing and dusting to cooking to laundry to household safety. The author goes in-depth, maybe a little too in-depth for some, and even addresses how to care for specialized items like pianos and books. There’s even a section on domestic employment laws, should you be in a position to be hiring help. Ms. Mendelson happens to be a lawyer as well as a domestic maven. If this all sounds dry as, well, dust, it’s not. It’s a well-written book I truly enjoy picking up to read when I need some housework inspiration. The problem is, I’d rather read about cleaning than actually do it. But to paraphrase an old song, “Sunshine on my cobwebs makes me itchy.” I’d better go plug in the vacuum.
And that’s it for today, my sparkling friend. Have a lovely week, enjoy the changing seasons wherever you may live, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.
According to several reliable sources, home economics classes are being added back into the curriculum at a number of schools. What is home economics, where did it go, and why is it now coming back? Tune in as Jennifer waxes nostalgic (or not) about her own middle-school home ec class, and lists five reasons why home economics matters.
If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.
Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping by Miriam Lukken
Today we’re talking about home economics, which is making a comeback in some schools after being basically ousted as a field of study for a couple of decades. What’s that all about? Grab your saucepans and your seam rippers and find out.
But first, a little news. My short story collection, SONGBIRD AND OTHER STORIES, is now available in paperback in addition to the eBook edition. This is especially gratifying for me, as this was the first book my husband and I self-published under our new imprint, Mountain Majesty Media. It was a learning experience and took longer than expected due to hiccups along the way. But it’s here now! So hop on over to Amazon or wherever you buy books and grab your copy. If you’ve not been introduced yet to my fiction, the short stories in SONGBIRD are a great way to sample my writing and see if you like it. It’s also a lot easier to give someone a print book as a gift, rather than an eBook. Hint, hint.
Also, You’re the Cream in My Coffee and Ain’t Misbehavin’ are getting some good attention with their spanking new covers. So check them out as well.
And now back to our topic: What the heck is home ec?
If you’re of a certain age, or if you talk to your mother and grandmother, you know about the home economics classes girls took in junior high or high school. It was also offered as a college major in some universities–one of the first college majors available to women. More on that in a minute.
The dictionary defines “home economics” as “the theory and practice of homemaking.” Wikipedia expands that definition into “a field of study that deals with the relationships between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.” That’s so broad as to be virtually useless. In essence, if you manage a dwelling of any type, within a community of any type, you are practicing home economics. Over the years it has been called by various other names. My school called it “Home Arts.” My grandmother told me her high school called it “Domestic Science” back in the 1920s. But it was all basically the same thing: classes meant to teach young women how to be homemakers. Boys in those days were assigned to shop class instead, where they learned sturdy things like carpentry and welding and fixing engines.
Now, before we go any further, I must confess that I was a home economics failure, with a capital F. I attended middle school in the waning days of home ec, as it was being phased out of the curriculum.
I did all right at the cooking part of home ec. I have some good memories of making applesauce, chocolate pudding made with cornstarch, and Cornish game hens. My Cornish game hens were a great triumph, as I recall. But sewing was a complete and total disaster. I couldn’t sew a straight seam to save my life and spent many tearful hours with a seam ripper in my hand. I now know that I have real issues with spatial perception. I can’t envision at all how the pieces of a pattern are supposed to fit together and was forever attaching sleeves upside down or a neckline inside-out. Also, at age 12 or 13 or whatever it was, I had the patience of a gnat, and so rebelled at the tedious work of pinning and basting and hemming. Today I fervently wish I could sew, so I wouldn’t be limited to wearing the clothes that are available in stores, which are often poorly made and rather ugly besides. I’m terribly envious of those who sew well. (Is the word sewers? Because that looks like sewers when it’s written out. Are they still called seamstresses? Sewists? Anyway, people who sew. I envy them.) But even the words “inseam” or “facing” or “mercerized cotton thread” are enough to make my blood pressure spike.
When I reached high school, home ec classes were elective. So I elected to stay as far away from them as possible. Sadly, that’s been to my disadvantage, as I’ve had to learn so many homemaking skills the hard way over the years.
Over the centuries, of course, these skills were usually learned at home from mothers and other female relatives. Home economics as an academic field of study got its start in the 1800s as a means of teaching girls how to cook, sew, and manage a home economically. At that time it was assumed girls would be homemakers and boys would become breadwinners of the household. The field got a boost by the Morrill Act of 1862, which started the so-called Land Grant colleges to teach vocational subjects like mechanical arts, agriculture, and home economics. In the early 1900s home economics was organized into a formal field of study. Prominent women such as Catherine Beecher and Ellen Swallow Richards were at the forefront of the movement. Richards helped form the American Home Economics Association, today called the Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Catherine Beecher was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister, for those who are curious. Harriet, of course, was the author of the landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Beecher and Richards and their ilk organized Home Economics around seven areas: cooking, child development, elementary education, home management and design, sewing, budgeting, and health and hygiene. I only recall studying cooking and sewing at my school, although it’s possible we touched on other subjects that I simply don’t remember. I do remember one memorable unit on how to buy a bra, with a bright pink booklet issued by one of the major bra manufacturers, like Maidenform or Playtex. I kept that booklet for a long time. Wish I still had it; it might fetch a pretty penny on eBay. I also remember all of us girls laughing at each other as we applied beaten egg white to our faces, so I suppose there must have been a unit on skin care. But mostly I remember cooking and sewing. I definitely don’t remember discussing child development or elementary education topics.
But back in those early years, home economics emerged throughout the early 20th century as a movement to train women to manage their households and to sort of professionalize job of homemaker. Some schools had “practice homes,” where students would live together and work in actual homes. Some childcare classes were taught using infants temporarily borrowed from orphanages, or from daycare centers set up at the schools for mothers who worked. At the same time, more and more consumer goods were becoming available to the general public. Interestingly home economics moved from an area of production–producing things for the household, such as cooking, sewing, and gardening,–to consumption–how to buy things and become an expert consumer.
After World War II, the so-called Second Wave Feminism led first to home economics classes being opened to both women and men, and later pushed them out entirely as being sexist. Vocational courses in general declined during this period as high schools focused on preparing students for college instead of vocational work, and especially for taking tests in the “No Child Left Behind” era. Then as now, homemaking in general was derided as being somehow less important or less valid than pursuing a professional career outside the home. First of all, that’s hogwash. Homemaking is extremely important to our families and society at large. Witness the range of problems, from childhood obesity to fractured family relationships, that come from a devaluation of homemaking and caretaking. And–newsflash–even professional career people need to make a home, unless they live in a hotel and eat all their meals in restaurants, which is unlikely. So getting rid of home ec to guide women into careers was a bit short-sighted, in my opinion.
But now, some schools are incorporation home economics back into the curriculum, often rechristened as “life skills.” They’re teaching kids of both sexes how to balance a checkbook, how to boil an egg, how to sew on a button. They’re teaching good nutrition, personal finance, and basic childcare, as well as topics like environmentally responsible house cleaning methods that weren’t a “thing” back in 1955. One downside is that there seems to be a lack of qualified teachers working in the field. With home economics eliminated as a college major, in many areas the demand for teachers outstrips the supply.
I think there are several good reasons that home economics needs to be fully reinstated in schools under whatever name. Aren’t schools supposed to prepare for adulthood? What better way to prepare than to learn the practical details of taking care of yourself and those you love? Here are five reasons.
1. Things all adults should know. There is no benefit in not knowing how to feed yourself and your family, or how to wash dishes or do a load of laundry.
2. Eco-friendly. Kids should learn how to fix things vs. replace them, to replace a button or repair a torn sleeve rather than buying a whole new shirt. It’s also better for the environment if they learn how to care for a home without using harmful chemicals.
3. Budget-friendly. Kids can learn how to save money by fixing things or making them instead of buying them. I think home economics went off track when the focus shifted from household productivity to household consumerism. Let’s bring back the production angle: to grow food, sew clothes, be well prepared and resourceful instead of running to the nearest big-box store for everything. Along with learning how to save money, we can also teach kids financial literacy, from how to balance a checkbook to how compound interest works.
4. Practical, applied use of other subjects, particularly math and chemistry. Working in the kitchen or at the sewing table teaches practical application of fractions or geometry or physics in a way that textbooks don’t. How do you follow a recipe, or a sewing pattern? How do you halve or double that recipe, or adjust that pattern to fit your particular body? What happens when you mix various elements of salt, fat, and heat, as a popular book addresses? These are practical applications of scientific and mathematical principles.
5. Safety. There are a lot of latch-key kids coming home to empty houses these days. They should know how to do so safely. How to cook a simple meal without starting a fire. How to handle the fire extinguisher if that first option fails. How to prepare and store food properly without getting sick. How to handle a sharp knife. And so on.
Those are just five reasons I think home economics should be reinstated in schools. What do you remember about home economics classes? Do you think they should still be part of the curriculum? Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast. Look for episode 7, where I’ll also leave the show notes. And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is a fun book called Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping, by Miriam Lukken. The jacket copy describes it as “a delightful compendium of homespun advice, cleaning, and etiquette tips, traditional recipes, and Southern wit.” In it you’ll find vintage cleaning hints, kitchen and laundry tips, social advice, and ideas for entertaining, drawn from a variety of old-timey sources. In the spirit of this very podcast, the book promises “Now you can bring the wise, unhurried ways and charm of an earlier time into the 21st century.” Isn’t that what we’re all about?
And that’s it for today. Have a lovely week, enjoy the spring sunshine, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.
Do you enjoy browsing antique and vintage shops? Join Jennifer as she thinks about what draws her to surround herself with old things, and also hear her review of the Amazon Originals series Vanity Fair.
This is a podcast episode. If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.
GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc. Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Ain’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names at the end of the day on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 6
I’ve just returned from a short overnight jaunt to a small town not far away from me called Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I visited a couple of antiques shops while I was there, and the feelings I got while I was in those shops inspired today’s topic.
But first, a bit of personal news. I’m sad today because we just lost our cat, who passed away this morning. He was nineteen years old, which is elderly for a cat, but still, my husband and I are going to miss him very much. We weren’t blessed with children, and while I won’t pretend that raising a cat replaces raising a child, he did fill a little bit of that nurturing instinct in our hearts. I know some of you have lost beloved pets, too, so you know what that’s like. But life goes on.
And now on to our topic for today, which is antique shops. I love them. I love how they smell, that musty, fusty odor. I love the hunt for just the right treasure to bring home. And I love the memories that are sparked when I see a set of dishes that look just like Grandma’s, or a china shepherdess figurine like one that she might have had in her house. Usually just looking at it is enough to satisfy that nostalgia urge. I don’t necessarily need to buy it and take it home with me. But at the antique store, I get to “visit” it.
I have met people, though, who detest antique shops that, as one woman declared, “are filled with dead, useless things.” I don’t think antiques are dead at all. Nor are they useless. But, to each her own, I suppose.
As I get close to sixty years old, I’m in a mode of downsizing my possessions more than I am adding to the clutter in my home. I’m becoming a lot more minimalist in my thinking than I used to be. But once in a while something catches my fancy and I do have to buy it.
A few years ago in an antique mall near my house, I fell in love with a painting. Actually it’s a print of a painting. It shows a young girl looking at a bird. She’s dressed in what looks like 1920s or 1930s clothing, with her hair and ringlets, and looks very much like a childhood photo of my mother. I found an image of the print online, so I’ll put both it and the photo in the show notes so you can see what I mean by the resemblance. Anyway, the print was a little out of my reach financially, but I liked to go into the antique mall occasionally and “visit” it. It always gave me joy. Well, one day I went in and it wasn’t there. There was just a big empty space where it had been hanging. Well, I tell you, I almost burst into tears right there, that someone else had purchased my beloved picture. But to my great relief, as it turned out, it hadn’t been sold, only been moved to another location. But I figured that if I had that strong of a reaction to the possibility of losing it, I should buy it, and so I did. It now hangs in the room where I write, and it gives me joy every time I see it.The point of this story is, one of the joys I get from browsing in antique shops is just that thrill of finding the perfect thing. Even when I come away empty-handed, I feel richer for the experience of looking at so many beautiful old things. And of course it’s good to actually buy things once in a while, when they’re the right things, to help support the store owner and keep the shop open for future browsing.
But sometimes I feel a pang of sadness as I look at things. It’s a feeling of loss, as if something precious has been lost and we can never get it back. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s a feeling I get way down in my gut. It often happens when I look at old sepia-toned photographs of people, knowing this was someone’s loved one at one time. Maybe the photograph had a prized position on a wall or piano in a home. Maybe it was given to a sweetheart or to proud parents or grandparents upon an occasion like a graduation. Maybe it’s someone’s wedding photo, capturing forever a special event that no one left on this earth remembers firsthand anymore. I find myself feeling lonely, missing the people, even though I never knew them.
Another thing that makes me sad in antique shops are the inscriptions in books, say from a mother to daughter or from one friend to another. I don’t think people give books as gifts as often as they used to, although as an author, I think of course that they should. Even when I do give someone a book that I think they’ll enjoy, I tend not to inscribe it, in case they want to return or exchange it. I could do a whole episode just on interesting book inscriptions I’ve come across. Maybe I will do that sometime.
But the thing that makes me saddest of all in antique stores is the sense of loss to our culture, our society, of certain ways of living. Maybe sad isn’t the right word. A better word might be wistful. I’ll see things and think, the times just aren’t like that anymore. Once in a while that’s a good thing, but sometimes the thing we’ve lost seems precious to me. I’ll see a set of formal china dinnerware, and that will lead me to think about big family Sunday dinners people used to have, and that will make me wistful for a more gracious era when such things as china and silver mattered and people made the time and effort for big Sunday dinners. I understand that fewer brides nowadays even choose patterns for china and glassware at their weddings. They don’t ask for these things as gifts anymore. Family dinners are much more casual, and even entertaining has gone the way of paper plates and cups and sitting on the floor. Our more casual lifestyles have their good points, to be sure, but at the same time, something precious has been lost that so many of us have stopped making special occasions out of meals by bringing out the china and crystal. Do you ever feel that way?
I also love looking at feminine frippery like hats and gloves and jewelry. So many people today mock things that are dainty and feminine. They treat them as jokey, or cheesy, declaring they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing or using such things. When I was looking for podcasts similar to this one, I found so many that make a joke of femininity, or give a derisive third finger to traditional womanhood. And so, as a result, I started the podcast that I wanted to hear. You’re listening to it (or reading the transcript).
As I browse in antique or vintage shops, I think, why does all this gentle graciousness have to be over? Why can’t we turn back the clock in certain small and thoughtful ways? We can adopt some of the calmer, gentler, slower behaviors and customs of the past. I believe they will serve us well even–or maybe especially–today. And taking home that china plate or that crystal goblet or that tarnished locket might just be the first step.
Do you like to browse in antiques stores or vintage stores? How do they make you feel? Feel free to leave a comment at jenniferlamontleo.com/blog.
Today’s grace note: I’ve been binge-watching and highly recommend the Amazon Original series, Vanity Fair. It’s beautifully done, with gorgeous costumes and delightful acting. Above all, the story drives home the message of the futility of striving for things in this world that don’t matter. It’s a message that seems as timely these days as it did when William Makepeace Thackeray wrote it in 1848. At that time he wrote, “Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions.” That sounds like it wouldn’t be very fun to watch, but on the contrary, it’s very entertaining. The main character, Becky Sharp, played masterfully by Olivia Cooke, is not a heroine in the traditional sense of the word. True to the name “Sharp,” she’s an amoral, scheming social climber–conniving, brilliant, and cold hearted, in contrast to her saintly friend Amelia. I’ve read that her character may have been Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, to give you an idea of what she’s like. Again and again, Becky Sharp and other characters must face the consequences of their rash and ill-considered behavior, but it never comes across as preachy or didactic…just good fun.
Set in England against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair is a story full of intrigue and scandal, and yet it’s not disturbingly graphic. Much is left to the viewer’s imagination, which is a great relief nowadays, so kudos to Amazon for that. If you enjoy historical fiction and costume dramas, I highly recommend it. You’ll find it on Amazon Prime.
In this follow-up episode to “What is Charm?”, Jennifer shares a list of twenty “shortcuts to charm” written by actress Arlene Francis in 1960. Surprisingly, these tips are as relevant today as they were almost sixty years ago, focusing on kindness, respect, and courtesy.
GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc. Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Ain’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.