Monday, December 30, 2013

farewell 2013

 Surprises. Sadness. Farewells. New life. Travel. Good times. Fond memories. 
And gratitude for it all.
Welcome 2014! 

Friday, December 27, 2013


The very popular series beginning Season Four next week on PBS always takes me back to many years ago when there was another popular series (that went on for years) on the same network called "Upstairs Downstairs." In many ways it was similar to DA, but without all the "bells and whistles."

During that time we were living "downstairs" in the actual servants quarters off a wonderful kitchen in a large house -- we called it a mansion. An elderly man, bedridden upstairs, was our boss. The Gardener was in graduate school and it was an amazing provision for us at that time. We had our bills paid and I got a salary as his chief nurse, cook and housekeeper. I actually had nurses for him during the day, and students who cared for him during the evening and night shifts, and even someone to clean the house. I charged the groceries to his account, drove his Mercedes, and ran the house. I loved cooking on the old fashioned stove and, yes, his plates needed to be warm so the plate warmer was used every day. We had free reign of his house and had some great Christmas parties there. He made his money rebuilding companies that folded during the depression. His secretary would come twice a week to handle his affairs and read to him.

In many ways it was like living a dream, The house was stately and filled with beautiful antiques. In the paneled library there were seven hiding places from the prohibition time. A 37 year old gold fish lived in a small pool in a heated enclosure outside our servants' quarters. There was a large pantry full of every piece imaginable of Pink Tower Spode transferware. The basement contained a shooting gallery, a root cellar, an amazing old workshop, a wine cellar, and tons of old Dundee Marmalade jars. The grounds contained wonderful flowerbeds, a grape arbor and the first in-ground swimming pool in that area of the country (no longer used.)

I had a lot of responsibility but a lot of freedom too. I often would rise at 5 am to ride my bike a couple of blocks to Lake Michigan to watch the sun rise. We enjoyed living close to the water, and one of my favorite birthdays was breakfast on the beach as the sun rose. That was the year I got the Rocky album (no CDs or i-pods back then.) One time our little staff adventurously gathered our patient up and installed him in a bed at the back of a stream-lined camper and drove him to his son's farm, about 700 miles north of us. I will never forget his joy at being on the farm again, and spending a week with his loved ones. We even rigged a special chair the guys carried with poles, to take him on a hike around the farm.

For three wonderful years we cared for this gentleman. We learned so much about life and responsibility that would be called upon as we continued on in life with new challenges and responsibilities. But we knew it would not last forever. I wondered what would happen when our first baby was born. Sure enough, six weeks after Eldest joined our family, our old man left this earth. After I was up all night at his side as he neared death, he got up into his wheelchair the next morning and had a full breakfast. Then after we got him back into bed, he sneezed seven loud sneezes, and died. After a few weeks we moved to a tiny cottage with no central heat. It turned out to be one of Chicago's worst winters, and since we were responsible for both houses for a time, the Gardener did lots of shoveling of two long driveways, and that included shoveling off roofs due to the weight of the snow.

Our years there made a big impact on us still to this day. We have bits and pieces his family gave to us as they cleaned out, things that still grace our home and help us to remember a time when we served and lived "downstairs."
I apologize for the length of this post, but since I print my blog for "posterity," I wanted this story recorded for my children and grandchildren to read in the future. Only house photos are mine.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Quiet in Heart

"…And we pray, not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here."  ~ Wendell Berry
Looking forward to joy in some quietness . . . to see the Christ Child clearly this Christmas.
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace . . ."

Connecting to Mary's Monday Mosaics.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Lunch with friends last week … I enjoyed setting the table with "new" plates from
a resale shop, coupled with old plates I used as "chargers,"and topped with 
Hall soup bowls found at an antique store in Lancaster, PA, years ago. It all seemed to
make a good match. My mother's 70 year-old Fostoria crystal added a graceful touch.
 Menu: sweet potato/salmon soup, chicken salad, rolls and fruit. 
Lemon pound cake for dessert. Everyone brought something.
 The hours passed as we sat chatting … we've been friends for many years.
It was so easy and fun I repeated it this week with some other dear friends.
Life slowed down as we lingered at the table, talking about life, and 
looking at the Edwardian advent calendar I am enjoying this Christmas. 
Joining Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Greetings at Christmas

Please visit A Haven for Vee to see more note cards at her Card Party!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Rescue

It's a throw-away culture. Our elderly neighbor had moved to a rest home and her son was cleaning 
out her house. We saw flashlights in the dark behind our house. Not knowing what was going 
on we went over to have a look. Bags of "garbage" were set out along the road for trash pick up. 
Another neighbor was sifting through the stuff, so we joined in to have a look at what was 
being thrown away. We found some precious old photos, 
antique cookie cutters and a beautiful porcelain nativity set. 
We rescued it but at first could not find the most important piece, the baby Jesus. 
Then I spotted Him! How could I let this piece of beauty be trash? 
As I carried it home I wondered how many Christmases it had already helped to celebrate.
That was fifteen years ago. Now it's seen that many Christmases at our house. 
There are a few chips here and there, and a couple of broken ears, but we love it. 
I can't help but think our elderly neighbor would be 
thrilled that another family was enjoying her nativity set.
Guest post by my good friend Jane Smith.

Connecting to Mary's Little Red House for Monday Mosaics.

Friday, December 13, 2013

cents or sense

Sallie wanted to give the best Christmas present ever to her mother. At the end of her mom's wish list was "a quart of judgement." Sallie overheard her mother tell her father, "I need that most of all, at least a pint of it." But what exactly was a pint of judgement and how much did it cost? Sallie's wise uncle told her it was just "good sense." So Sallie found a pint jar and started changing her three dollar bills into cents, trying to get a full pint of pennies.

This little Christmas tale, written in 1939, wove its way into our hearts as Little One and I snuggled on the couch reading the other day. Because Sallie's hands were so cold on a December day she was thankful for her white fluffy muff. "What's a muff, Grandma?" Father, in the story, had on his Christmas list a pipe cleaner (we knew that one), an ink blotter and a pen wiper, and a decorated box of matches. We started to giggle as we read, there were so many strange items in the book---strange, that is, to Little One. We began to make a list as we would research them after the story was finished. With each item we laughed even more. "What's a hot water bottle, Grandma?" "What's a guest towel?" "What's a silver pepper?"

It's amazing to realize how far removed the 1930s-40s are from today. It's difficult to read old fashioned books to today's kids as the lingo is so foreign. I've been told by English teachers to keep reading; they will figure it out. After the story we took our list and went around the house to figure out what everything was. And it all made "sense." For starters, this grandma was in a Christmas wedding many years ago and carried a white muff. Now Little One thinks she may need one.

Little One was hanging out at our house before she went caroling with us to a nearby nursing home. She looked so sweet dressed in her red corduroy jumper (this grandma also had a red corduroy jumper when she was in KG.) One more comment speaks of the times we live in. Not-so-Little One needed to go get a drink or something in the middle of our reading.

"Grandma, could you pause that for a minute?"

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the symbols

Just what is the feeling you get in December, like something good is going to happen? There is anticipation in the air, and the twinkling lights on Christmas trees and front doors just add to the magical feeling. The bustle in shops, the traffic, the scent of baking, the decorations at the mall, the special music at church--all herald something that is coming. Every year I think about this. What is the actual apex or peak of this holiday feeling of anticipation? What are we getting ready for? For me, Christmas Eve is the very best of it all, while Christmas morning seems a bit paler (now that I'm older I suppose), and by the time the presents are opened, there seems to be less sparkle to the tree lights.

It's the advent, after all . . . it's all about readying and looking forward to Christ's birth, even though it all happened so long ago. The anticipation renews each year, I believe. because of Who was born and Why. What amazes me is that people who may not even believe that His story is anything more than an old tale, still get excited about this holiday. Santa and tinsel may distract them from the true focus . . . but the fact that so many celebrate, in my humble opinion, just proves the power of His story and the truth of it. A story of God becoming man for the likes of me and you.

I have come to view it all through the lens of symbolism. I kind of knew it instinctively, but after reading some and thinking, this is what I see:  the evergreen trees (new life), the wreaths (eternal nature of God), the candy canes (the shepherds staff), the stripes on the cane (the symbol of His sacrificial death), the stars and angels (obvious), the bells (heralding the story), candles (Jesus is the Light of the world), the holly (the thorns in His crown)  . . . and then the colors: Blue for the night sky when the star shone brightly, Gold for the gift of the Maggi and the color of royalty, White for purity, Red for His shed blood, Green for life . . .  .   When I look around with all this in mind, there is so much more richness to this season than just twinkling lights and jingle bells. The Christ story is beloved and familiar, personal and amazing. And at this time of year, I am reminded of it everywhere.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

signs of Christmas

Do you ever think about all the flurry of preparation and anticipation for Christmas?
It's really about the birth of the Christ child, still, 2000 years later. 
There's so much symbolism to appreciate in the decorations if
we take the time to really look and think about it all.
I apologize for my blurry photos. I'm having a challenge with the photo editing 
program I (used to) enjoy using. Furthermore, I had to spend some time knocking
 myself out of the reflection in the giant red Christmas ornament. 
I was, after all, in my pjs.

Joining Mary's Monday Mosaics.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Old Crock

When Bonnie of From a Writer's Kitchen posted yesterday about a (mincemeat) fruit tea bread, I thought immediately of my grandmother's mincemeat pies that she served when we would visit for Christmas dinner. (I always sort of dreaded them, to be honest). My dad loved them, and Grandmother's mincemeat even somehow made it to our house in Illinois the years we could not travel to her home for holidays. I know there is a lot of history about it--back to being served at Henry V's coronation in 1413.

I told Bonnie I would photograph the old crock that I inherited from my mother who got it from her mother-in-law who got it from her mother … and I'm not sure how much further it goes back. But the story is that that is where they made their mincemeat. I don't know much about it, but I do think back then they would dry it to preserve it for use all year long. Now you can buy it ready made, but my grandmother always made hers.

As a small child I couldn't figure out why you would use "meat" in a 
dessert, but I realize that wasn't exactly the case, 
at least by the time my grandmother was making it. 
Bonnie's tea bread, by the way, looks delicious and she shares the recipe. 
If this old crock could talk, the stories we would hear,
particularly the conversations among the women gathered in kitchens!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


My earliest memories include visits to my dad's office and the office of his personal assistant
 or "secretary" as that position was called back in those days. 
There were times when Alice would let me help her, or at least watch 
her work some of these complicated machines. 
This was a church office so she would be addressing envelopes and all sorts of other things. 
Alice taught me to type, and one thing we loved about her was that she wanted us to call us 
by her first name, almost unheard of in that day.

I think eventually I learned to work the "addressograph" machine, which is what she is 
using in this photo. I looked it up and found this exact machine still for sale. 
I remember she would make the little metal plates with the name and address 
engraved on it and each one would slide down and go into the stamping place 
as she put an envelope in pace. As we grew older, every Friday after school
 my sister and I went to the church to fold the bulletins. 
We thought we were the "cat's meow"as we could fold 20 at a time. 
We didn't get paid, we were learning to serve others. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

the week that was

I'm feeling some fatigue tonight. As I amble through photos randomly taken 
over this past week I see why I may be tired. Visiting family left a couple of hours ago.
I've had a little nap and am thinking about the week ahead before I get a load of wash in the machine.
Lots of good things to look forward to this week as the Christmas
 season begins. Meanwhile, some pics of the week that was. 
I think I did a lot of cooking!

I love making mosaics, even of ordinary days, so once again I link to Mary's Mosaics on Monday!

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