Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I will do a giveaway one day!

Congratulations to Isis, over at Fashionable Forties for reaching the century mark on followers! I can't imagine that I'll ever get there, so I'll plan to do a giveaway at 25 followers.

In the meantime, Isis is giving away a gorgeous print:
for posting a comment. I, however, had to send her an e-mail, as I was getting the run-around that Blogger has been doing lately of post...sign in... post...sign in....post...sign in... etc. etc. ad nauseum!

Do pop over to her lovely blog and leave her a comment, if you can! If not, she has included her e-mail address. She's also got a consolation prize of some cute felt flowers she makes. Can't beat that!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hope Chests to Dream On

The days of young girls longing for their future husband to come along and make their lives complete (as soon as legally possible) are deservedly long gone. Girls have more to dream on based on their own merits than the completion of their lives by a man (more likely, a boy!) than our foremothers did. But... what about hope chests? Why'd we stop doing that?

The thing is, kids still grow up and move out of their parents' home. At that point, even if it's at 18 and going off to a college dorm room, there are things needed: sheets, plates, glasses, cups, towels, cutlery, napkins, pots and pans, etc. What happened to collecting these things over the years, getting them as gifts, making them, inheriting them? And the perfect place to keep all these things of impending adulthood? A cedar chest, of course.

This is an ad from my May 13, 1940, Life magazine. Here, actress Deanna Durbin, who was 18 years old at this time, advertises Lane Cedar Hope Chests. The ad proclaims, "When Deanna Durbin, that wisp of a girl who has won the hearts of all America, starts her hope chest, it's news that everybody will love to hear." Of course, this means she is on the market for a husband. Interestingly, she did marry just a year later...and then two more times over the next decade! In 1950, Durbin married for the third and final time, and was married to that husband for 48 years, until his death in 1999. She also turned her back on Hollywood in the late 1940s, which, perhaps, goes hand in hand. She is still living, by the way, maintaining her privacy still. And good for her.

But back to the idea of the hope chest. My mother was of this generation, and had mentioned the idea of hope chests to me when I was a girl. I wanted one so badly, but never got one. I'm determined to get one each for my daughters for their 16th birthdays. It's an old fashioned idea that certainly can be brought up to date. At that point we will also start collecting nice things for their future homes so that they can begin adulthood with nice things and few trips to the box stores for junk.

Lane is still in business, and still makes cedar chests...and still calls them hope chests. Of course, they costs a bit more that the $37.50 quoted in Durbin's day! This one:

rings up at a whopping $799 on the Lane Furniture Web site. Oh well, I've got a few years yet! So what do you think about hope chests in the modern day? Why did we stop doing that?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lunch time at the cafe down the street...

Why'd we stop serving foods and drinks in human-sized portions? I simply love this ad from a 1940s magazine:

I admit, I don't know why this gentleman is wearing his hat at the lunch counter (!!), but notice one important thing (aside from his awesome suit and pocket watch): the glass of Coca-Cola that he enjoys. Is that even six ounces? Well, I'll tell you what it's not:

That's a big difference, isn't it? And it's not just the soda, look at his lunch. A nice sandwich that's not five inches thick. I bet he has a slice of pie after that sandwich, and it, too, would be a decent--not obscene--slice. Even if he has it a la mode, it's probably still less than half the calories total than what the average take-out lunch is today. It's just enough to get him through to dinner with his family.

OK, I lied. Notice a couple of other things: He's eating off of a plate and drinking from a glass. Nothing will go into the garbage but his napkin. He's also not eating at his desk or in his car. There's something very civilised about that. Relaxing. Time away from the office, chewing our food, sipping a treat of a soda. That's good on all counts.

So why'd we stop doing that? Cost and convenience. We want bang for our buck, so the more we can get for less, the better. Not necessarily. And if we throw away the plate and cup when we're done, there's no need for a dishwasher or server. But at what cost? That's two jobs gone, more junk in the landfill, and just that much more human interaction and civilisation down the tubes. I'd spring for a lunch like 1940 any noon time instead of brown bagging it and eating alone. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wearing Advertising

The idea of paying to advertise a company on one's body just goes against everything that makes sense.
Googled image...

OK, so that's one I find particularly obnoxious. Just my opinion. But once upon a time, there was a way to wear company logos in style. Not a T-shirt in sight!

Just check this out, from a 1940 Life magazine. This article shows some of the "latest" fabrics available:

Tasteful? Why not? Some logos are, after all, works of art, designed by artists, and beloved by consumers. These fabrics aren't screaming a brand-name, but using the artwork as...artwork. Again, why not? And what I wouldn't give for the Coty powder puffs fabric on the first page! Sigh...

So, when did we stop using artful logos, so artful that they would go just fine on a dress or scarf? Hooters? No way. McDonald's? Uh uh. John Deere? It exists, but not for me. IBM? Really? Actually, Apple comes to mind. I'd wear that, maybe. 

So, what do you think? Would you wear these? What about modern stuff? Do you know where I can find some Coty fabric? Maxwell House? Just askin'!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Berries Where You Live

We're suffering from a serious lack of rain here in Texas, USA, this year. We've had exactly one rain in the last three months. This is something that we're used to, for sure, but it doesn't make it any more pleasant. And even worse this year, it is happening during springtime.

Spring is certainly the prettiest time of year most places, but around here, where we suffer dry, brown summers, spring is the time when it's just perfect outside...not too hot, not too dry, no chiggers out yet...and usually, flowers aplenty. While the flowers are certainly nice, they are fleeting and, well, sacred. It is a long-standing rumor that it is illegal to pick Texas wildflowers. While it is perfectly legal, it is seriously frowned upon--and that really is OK! I want them there to enjoy for as long as possible.

But there is another colorful springtime friend out there that no one pays any attention to anymore. In this part of the world, my favorite plant--sitting there free for the picking--is the agarita bush. I'm thrilled that our place has several hiding under brush, just waiting to be let out into the sunshine.

Last spring, the roadsides were filled with these. Mine weren't, because we haven't yet been able to give them the full sun that they love (it's on the way, my lovelies!). Birds "plant" them along fencelines, mostly, but these little prickly shrubs grow anywhere they please.

My grandmother said that they never let an agarita bush full of berries get away. She and her sisters would get the old sheets out to spread under the bushes, and start whacking them with broom handles and rakes. You see the little tips of those leaves? They're sharp! But with a couple of well-aimed hits, those little berries would fall onto the sheets below to be gathered up neatly. Usually, just enough would be left on the bushes for the birds and racoons and other critters who also love them.

And I am one of those critters for sure. I love fresh agaritas. They're tart and sweet and lovely. And they make the best jewel-colored jelly you can imagine. And they're free. If you've priced blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries in the stores, they've left the price range of making jelly from them--it's cheaper (and easier) to just buy the jelly.

Sadly, this year, the drought has meant not a single red jewel on the roadside...or bluebonnet or even much grass. So I'm pining for the agaritas. I can't help but ponder all those lovely berries that just wasted away last year. We picked some along our street (and then ate them all fresh). But not once did I see anyone out gathering berries. I've seen more shamed picking of bluebonnets than gathering of agarita berries!

I've heard stories of gathering wild blackberries, dewberries, mulberries, and even wild strawberries and sloes over across the water. I bet everyone's grandmother knew where the best patches were. So why'd we stop doing that? Free food? It really is everywhere if you know where and how to look. Check out Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (or any of his other books, for that matter). We have all kinds of stuff right under our noses. But really...is there anything more special than gathering sweet, bright, juicy berries, eating all you can and making jelly of the rest? I seriously doubt it.

So, what about you? Do you know where the berry patches are? Do you take advantage? What's your local specialty?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Literary Magazines

Today, there are what are known as "literary magazines." These are magazines that focus solely on fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, literary criticism and reviews, and general high-brow literary ... stuff. They tend to be expensive and rather hard to come by for the average reader--you don't see them on grocery store shelves, nor do you stumble over them in many doctors' offices. 

And then there are non-literary magazines, some of which are for women (the majority), some for men, and some for children. In these magazines, advertising seems to reign supreme, followed by how-to...cook something, decorate something, make something, build something, be inspired by something, or what have you. Sometimes the articles are in-depth and well-researched, sometimes they depend on pretty photography to really present any information. But often the articles are short, to the point, and shallow. I (and others) call this the CNN-ization or USA Today-ization of the print media. It is assumed that we readers merely skim magazines and newspapers, if we read them at all. We are thought to have the attention span of gnats.

And yet ... people spend hours on the Internet searching for millions of pieces of information a day. We read stories, news, how-to, medical advice, chat/forums, look at photos, and, well, who knows what all!

Once upon a time, magazines filled a need for entertainment, information, how-to instructions, aesthetics, and even community. Just for one example of many, I have a 1936 Good Housekeeping magazine. It's a hefty publication, put together in such a way that it is still a joy to behold all these decades later. It puts me in mind of living in Oklahoma, where my friends called magazines "books." It always struck me as a strange thing, since books are permanent, and magazines are disposable. But that really shouldn't be the case, and it wasn't always.

This magazine is from my collection (thank goodness others saw these treasures as permanent!):

Notice the cover. First of all, it has gorgeous artwork, commissioned expressly for this magazine. The cover literally is a work of art on its own merit. It's not a photo of another work of art or design as most magazines are today. This cover is by Horace Gaffron, whose signature is on the cover art, and he is given billing at the top of the contents page inside the magazine. I'm stunned that I can't find more on this amazing artist...so more later on him!

But... in addition to the wonderful original artwork, there are six names listed at the bottom of the page. Nothing about them, just names. Quite a stark contrast to magazine covers today that scream all kinds of information at you--and then you go try to find the matching story inside and it's either impossible to find or nothing like what you were expecting from the cover!

Inside, on the contents page again, we find--again, top billing--eight pieces of fiction. The pieces are by Achmed Abdullah, Edison Marshall, Margaret E. Sangster, Elsie Singmaster, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Irene Hunt, Helen Topping Miller, and Burgess Johnson (oops! Anyone know anything about Burgess?). These are all authors of varying fame for their day, mostly lost to us now. The stories inside, given prominance at the front of the magazine, are illustrated in color and elaborately, and given enough space that it can take a couple of visits back to the magazine to get each story read completely.

Authors used to look on publication in magazines as a real triumph. It was a way to make one's name as a popular author. Mark Twain did it. Jack London did it. Charles Dickens was the master of serialization. Magazines once were literary--Cosmopolitan was the place to be printed! Additionally, there is a page in my Good Housekeeping dedicated to a single poem, and two pages dedicated to children's enjoyment. What a great idea...

So, this magazine, aimed at women--in fact, specifically homemakers, has a little (really a lot!) of everything. These women readers aren't treated as one-trick ponies (recipes and decorating, oh my!), or as singly focused on their house work. They are given information, yes. Recipes, yes. Some decorating, yes. But also fiction and poetry and fashion and art work. Color. Romance. Fun. Aesthetically pleasing and, yes, escapist material to be enjoyed for a full month or more. This is no magazine to skim through and toss in the garbage. Of course, it's radio, television, print, and a friendly visit or two all wrapped up in a 25-cent magazine.

Why'd we stop including art and literature in forums that reach a wide audience? Let's take it off the pedastal and put it back in our hands. Let's make story writers, artists and illustrators, and poets household names. Now that truly is a "good thing."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Feet in the kitchen!

No, I don't mean those kind of feet. (And one should NEVER have bare feet in the kitchen! And no flip-flips for goodness sake... there's a post for you: Why'd we stop wearing real shoes? But I digress...).

When all the appliances that we now take for granted came along, they indeed looked a little different from what they look like today. Much like cars (and some were made by the same people who made cars), appliances had a brand-specific look to them. They were built to stand out, to look impressive, and to make the homemaker feel like she was in charge--and in many ways, she finally was. No fires to build, no ice to order/carry/clean up after. No worn-down hands after a load of laundry in hot water and caustic detergents. No more was the homemaker subject to some of the hardest labor she (and yes, sometimes he...) had known. She was entering the modern world!

Appliances--and the space-age new kitchen they were increasingly made for and expected to go in--were life-changers. It's hard for us to imagine just how revolutionary a stove must have been. No more building or tending fires, or cleaning out ash, or trying to regulate temperature with no idea how hot an oven was or how long it would stay that way. If women's lives were changed (and it is certainly debatable to what extent new appliances really affected women's lives as there were/are other issues at hand), men certainly thought they were providing the most innovative and precious gifts to their women. Architect Alfred Levitt said this about his 1940s/50s kitchen designs: "Thanks to the number of appliances in our house, the girls will have three hours to kill every afternoon." (Read more about Levitt and his Levittown here: Alfred Levitt) "The girls" just wouldn't know what to do with themselves, would they?

But let me get back to my question. And I really begin with a question for which I know the answer. Why'd we stop putting feet on our appliances? I know. It's about space, and sleekness. It's better to have everything all the way down to the floor and all the way up to the ceiling in a kitchen. But... How many times have you lost something under a stove or refrigerator or washing machine. It never fails, does it? And how many times do you pull out the appliance and retrieve your item, or egad, clean under it? Admit it... it's a rare thing to behond.

But imagine, if you will:
Isn't it sweet? Sure, there's no storage anywhere (where DID they keep their dishes?), but just look at the legs and feet, glorious feet. Not only will you never lose anything under THAT refrigerator, you can clean under it. Of course, ignorance can be bliss (I shudder to think of the underside and back side of my fridge...). It just looks so clean and cozy in that little black, white, and robin-egg blue room. Something about these appliances looks like furniture, like an investment. Solidly build and attractively presented; there's even something of friendliness about them.

Now... would I want to cook in there? Well, some countertops would be nice. A larger refrigerator and stove, too. And I'm sure the efficiency has improved and the metals and chemicals those old refrigerators had were anything but attractive.

But that's not my point. Should we bring feet and their attached legs back to appliances? You can clean under them, you can raise or lower (with some modification) to suit your height, and no mouse could hide under there! But that's a good, what? Several cubic feet of lost storage under there. (Note for future post: Why'd we stop not having so dang much stuff??) There are pros and cons to this idea. But lately, I've sure been wishing I could get to the underside of mine for a good clean out. But since I can't... well, gee. That probably gives me a good couple of hours "extra" this afternoon. Wonder how I'll "kill" it, Mr. Levitt!

What do you think about appliances that stand tall and proud? Yay or nay? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hello world... About this blog

Good day, dear folks. I am Mrs. Florence, and I will be sharing my ventures into learning knowledge of the past. I am constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge we have gained over the generations: we know how truly small the world is; we can use highly technical equipment practically from birth; so many of us can speak two or more languages; we've learned how to heal illnesses--sometimes even over the counter--that used to kill us; and we've learned so much about increadible food.

But... what knowledge(s) have we lost? Just going back two generations, my grandmother could grow fruits and vegetables; kill animals and butcher them; pick cotton; design and then sew everything from quilts to clothes to slipcovers; play the piano; navigate the great outdoors (knowing all the plants and animals along the way); and do a crossword puzzle in about 10 minutes. She could quote long pieces of poetry and the Bible. She could recall incredible details of living a very different life from mine. (I can't remember what I had for breakfast!)

But what, pray tell, does all this have to do with life in the 21st century? Well, more than we might know. A couple of recent natural disasters have shown just how fleeting technology can be, not to mention running water, electricity, or even a roof over our heads. I'm hardly a back-to-nature type, or an end-of-the-world-is-nigh type, but I am simply amazed at how much knowledge...how many skills... we have lost even as we've made huge strides in learning.

Some of my posts will be about rather large ideas. Many will be about rather simplistic things. And very many, I feel certain, will be things that large numbers of folks will say, "Well I still do that!" or "I've always known that!" But I won't be one of the privileged ones to that knowledge or skill. And if I'm not, I would guess others aren't!

My interests include home skills, social skills, language skills, fashion, politics, and, well, anything that strikes my fancy. After all, I don't yet know exactly what I don't know, do I? I hope you come along on this journey with me, and we'll learn together. Shall we?

More later, dear folks.