Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

I obviously haven't been able to make blogging any sort of priority this month! Sewing, wrapping, decorating, baking, cleaning and a little bit of shopping (and partying) seem to have taken all my time and energy.  

One of Mom's ornaments from her and Daddy's first Christmas together, in 1945.

Added to that (and perhaps a blessing in disguise) our internet connection hasn't been brilliant of late.

I believe she painted the stars on this one.

Anyhow, the tree is up, the gifts are wrapped and ready, the house is as clean as it's going to get for now (which is to say it's liveable). 

Mom made a bunch of ornaments one year with styrofoam
balls, pins, beads, ribbons and sequins. They are some of Bill's favourites.

Another of Mom's creations.

We are leaving this afternoon to go stay with Simon in Chester and to see Simone before she goes off to Germany for Christmas with her family. 

This one has a paper top, owing to a metal shortage during WWII.
I may try cleaning these when I take them down...very carefully!

Helen has decided that Christmas Day will be spent at her house this year instead of the three kids and partners coming to us on Boxing Day after Christmas Day at their mother's. 

My friend Joanne made several ornaments and sent them to me,
one each year for several years, after I left Oklahoma.

Another of Joanne's.

And several more of Mom's.


Bill and I are sad they won't be coming to ours but as they get older and form their own families it was inevitable that arrangements would change. 

We bought this fella in Stillwater, MN (where my Grandma grew up) on our travels up there.

His reaction when I pull his string always makes me smile.

On Christmas Day I gather I will be watching the Queen's speech, which I'm excited about. However, it seems unlikely that Simon will be wanting to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special, so I'll have to hope I can watch on catch up TV! 

This monster was bought at Harrod's when Bill took me shopping in
London one of our first Christmas's together.

We briefly debated about whether to put up our 8' Christmas tree but I decided if I didn't I'd feel like the Grinch stole my Christmas!  Putting of the tree takes hours, but I enjoy seeing my ornaments, like visiting old friends.

Another from Harrod's.

We also discussed whether to take our presents to one another to be opened at Helen's. I could list any number of reasons not to do that and since we always used to open our gifts, or at least most of them, before our Christmas with the kids, we decided to keep that tradition. 

From the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (Cowboy Hall of Fame, when I was a kid) in Oklahoma City. There's a cowboy hat somewhere around here...

I'm not sure how it will go, joining in with Helen's arrangements. I expect I can cope with just about anything for one day - and I promise to make a real effort to be positive, but if it's not much fun I would like to have something nice to look forward to when we get home. So we have planned to have a special meal and to open our presents on Boxing Day. 

From our first trip to Prague, many years ago.

We are invited for a meal with Bill's cousins the following Monday. My tummy almost hurts in anticipation, Chris is such a fabulous cook and she pulls out ALL the stops for these occasions. 

Then we'll gather at one of the neighbours' house for New Years Eve. We'll all go out to sing Auld Lang Syne holding hands in the street. Then we'll wander around for nibbles and music at a couple of other neighbour's. Sooner than most, we'll come home and crash.

We got this Father Christmas on one of the ferry rides to Amsterdam. I always think he's so lovely.

Working my way through these holidays always feels like running a marathon; it's very enjoyable but one wonders at times where to find the strength. I find the first week of January very satisfying, looking back on what we accomplished and even more, making plans for what the new year might hold. I like looking back and also living in the present, but mostly I enjoy looking forward in anticipation!

Happy Christmas (as they say here in Britain) and Best Wishes for 2015!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Grandmother's Birthday

I confess that I'm cheating here: creating a post and back-dating it. I've not posted here mainly because we were full of Thanksgiving preparations, hosting 30 people. It all went well - as it should do after nearly 20 years' experience - but there is always some hiccup or other. This year the pumpkin pies tasted good, but weren't very pretty. Never mind. Preparations also included a lot of sewing for the house, which I'll share another time. There is still a lot of sewing and crafting going on here for Christmas! 

My final excuse is that I'm full of cold. At least four people who came to Thanksgiving mentioned they had colds so I have no one in particular to blame. It's that time of year anyhow. We normally come down with something in January; maybe I'm ahead of the game and will stay well in January...fingers crossed.

Anyhow, Grandmother's birthday was a few days ago and she would have been...116! I'm thinking it's a sign of my own age when I can make ridiculous statements like that! I think one of the reasons why I love the interwar years is that they would have been the heyday of my grandparents, and to some extent of my parents, though they were born at the end of WWI in 1918. This Grandmother would have been 16 when WWI began (though the US didn't join in until three years later). She was 41 when the second world war started (though the US didn't join that one until two years later). 

I like to read both fiction and non-fiction relevant to the first half of the 20th Century and often calculate how old my parents and grandparents will have been, wondering how they perceived the events of their time. I think it helps my brain absorb the historical information I'm reading; and to enjoy the background information about the setting of novels.

I like my posts to have photos and I've used most of the ones I have of Grandmother, so I'll show you a brooch I have that belonged to her. I've no idea how old it is, but I'm guessing it dates to at least the 1940s. That is when she had the most money to spend and I certainly remember seeing it as part of her things from my earliest memories. There was a matching set of clip earrings, but over the years one has gone missing. 

I always think of it as green, but it's really more beige and brown, isn't it? Then again, carnival glass flashes is all sorts of colours. I once looked up those dull cream coloured stones to learn the name, but I've forgotten what I found...must do that again sometime, not in the middle of the Christmas season!

Can't say I wear this much: it's rather large for me, not in my best colours and I worry about losing it. Still, I take a lot of pleasure in seeing it each time I happen across it in my jewelry collection. 

Happy Birthday, Grandmother.

Friday, 21 November 2014

"Easy" Patchwork

Here is another project I've done with my style of patchwork. You've seen several others, mostly in the form of tote bags. I wanted to call it 'crazy' patchwork, but that name is taken. It refers to a style of Victorian patchwork which was originally made with luxurious fabrics like velvet. I've tried it and I can't say I think it's very easy. 

My 'easy' patchwork also makes use of luxurious fabrics - and plain ones. I'm the woman at the craft and sewing groups that takes home the bits other people are about to put in the trash. That's what I made my pillows from: mostly samples from interior decorating books but also dressmaking fabric and the bits cut off blouses, trousers and skirts when being shortened. 

Front (never mind the patchwork throw - it's a store-bought knit, a gift from my Aunt Rita from years ago).

My system involves just cutting equal widths of fabric (a rotary cutter and mat help, but isn't mandatory), sewing those together to the required length and then sewing the strips together to the required width. The key is to piece together bits and turn things sideways so that it's not too uniform. The more 'rules' you break the fewer 'rules' you have to follow, is my thinking. If using heavy fabrics, I like to zig-zag the edges on each side of the seams. The stitching shows on the front of course, but if you're using all sorts of fabrics and the thread colour coordinates, it works out fine. 

I raided my pillow stash from the loft. I found three small-ish square pillows used some one's off-cuts from a quilt to wrap each twice. I made the patchwork an inch or so wider that my covered cushions and about two and a half times as long. I stitched the long sides together so that the cushion fit in like a letter into an envelope. The flap was folded down and secured with snaps (Brits call these 'press studs'). 


It takes a while to make patchwork anything, but I love handling all these fabrics and I just worked on it a little each day. When I get tired and start making lots of mistakes, that is when I knock off for the day.

I get great satisfaction from making 'something from nothing'. 

How about you? Do you find a use for things rather than throw them away?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Frugal Failure

I've talked often about how my menu plan is basically to rotate through the healthier options for most of the week with the occasional higher calorie (nuts) / lesser healthy (red meat) option once every week or two. A protein, a green veg, a red veg and fruit for dessert is the goal I set for dinner; pasta, rice and potatoes are included occasionally, when my imagination runs out of other ideas. 

I used to use a recipe for peanut sauce with pasta as my go-to option when 'nuts' rolled around but then I discovered how delicious homemade pesto could be. I read somewhere that you didn't have to use basil and pine nuts but could use a whole range of green herbs or red veg as the basis and quite a few different nuts or seeds for the other main component.

However, carrot greens (which I'd grown from carrot tops in saucers, trimmed and frozen) don't work for this. And I've finally got it through my head that Bill really doesn't care for Parmesan cheese. Unfortunately this particular recipe called for quite a bit. I've been reading labels at the grocery and I notice that commercial pesto seems to have other kinds of cheese, eg pecorino.

After I realised how bitter my pesto was I added some tomato paste and sugar to dilute the flavour; I even threw in some lemon juice. But there is a point where you don't want to throw more ingredients in after bad. Bless him, he ate what was put in front of him, I didn't think it was awful, but it wasn't very nice either. I have no trouble throwing my carrot tops straight into the compost bin these days.

On the other hand, Bill started a new experiment which is kind of fun! Can't wait to see how big these will get, and beet greens are definitely more edible than carrot greens! But I'm still not likely to make pesto with them...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Jazz, Jackson & Joan of Arc – Part II

So, we were all standing by the Mississippi River and our tour guide started telling us about the Battle of New Orleans. I thought sure I'd go to sleep standing up - American history has never much grabbed my interest. But she managed to spice it up by throwing a few pirates in there.

Anna on the right...

Apparently the Battle of New Orleans  happened in 1814-15 as part of the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson defended the port of New Orleans against the British with the help of Pierre and Jean Pierre Lafitte and their men. According to Anna, Jackson had barely a cannon to his name, but these pirates had been stealing and stockpiling armaments for quite a while. In return for their help they were all given full pardons for their piracy.

There was also something about a bend in the river, the geographical name for which I didn't catch and cannot now find, which also aided the Americans in that it meant the British couldn't see around the corner and realise the weaknesses in the Americans' defense.

Earlier that day, Jan and I had been sitting in Jackson square trying to remember why Jackson was such a big deal in New Orleans. I think she remembered the Battle of New Orleans but we both remembered there was something about a woman... Sure enough, I spotted a book in one of the museums we visited and read the flyleaf: Being So Gentle: the Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Patricia Brady. It seems that Rachel was married to someone else and he hadn't divorced her as was believed when Andrew and Rachel married. So initially theirs was a bigamous marriage. Not a great thing when one is in politics. 

Oh, and Joan of Arc? Seems the French have presented New Orleans with another statue, this time of Joan of Arc.  It strikes me that given the love hate relationship of Britain and France and the same odd feeling between the US and France, maybe it’s not us…maybe it’s the French?

Much better photos here.

Anyhow, Anna’s tour ended with us sitting in on a free jazz mini-concert. The chat about how the piano player grew up in a musical household was fascinating; he was clearly an academic type, a teacher, as well as a jazz musician. Bill made a video clip of the jazz but can I find it? Nope.

So I leave you with something else.  Enjoy!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Jackson, Jazz and Joan of Arc - Part I

Did you know that the National Parks Department has Passports that you can buy - for grown ups - and collect stamps from each of the Parks you visit? Neither did I, nor that the 'Parks' are sometimes museums in city centres. Jerry had one of these and this is what took us on a walking tour that involved a lecture on the birth of jazz in New Orleans.

Our tour guide was a striking young woman named Anna who said she was a jazz singer as well as an historian. This is what I can recall of what she told us: The French settled New Orleans in 1717-18 and they had African slaves. Their relationship with their slaves was slightly different to that of the British / Anglo-Americans. Their code noir gave slaves Sundays ‘off’ which meant they could work for themselves that day and earn money to buy their freedom, a practice that was not discouraged. The Congo Square was a popular place for slaves to gather and make African music.

Being able to buy their freedom meant there was a class of gens de couleur libres (free people of colour), a sort of middle class between the lower class of slaves and upper class of plantation owners. These free slaves mixed freely (socially and otherwise) with others of European descent and sent their children to France, or later to Spain, for a classical education, which included classical music. These people – of European and African descent - called themselves ‘Creole’, which means native. I found myself seeking the definition(s) of this word throughout our time in New Orleans, as it was given to us differently each place we went.

Soon after the Louisiana purchase of 1803, Anglo-Americans moved in and the city was divided into the Anglo section (possibly ‘uptown’) and the Creole section (‘downtown’). By the 1830s slaves lost their Sundays and were no longer as able to buy freedom. It was no longer acceptable for persons of colour or mixed race to mix socially – or musically – with white people and so they met in brothels, where no one paid much attention to social rules. Jazz was born as a mixing of African music and European classical music. As soon as ‘coloured’ musicians became successful they moved up river to St. Louis and Chicago and spread the jazz sound.

Anna didn't talk much about the period when Spain held New Orleans, which was only about forty years beginning in the mid-1700s. She did tell us about the Baroness de Pontalba. This woman was born during the Spanish period and led a remarkable life between France and New Orleans (her father-in-law shot her and then himself; he died, she lived!) She built the Pontalba buildings on the Place d'Armes, including her initials in the wrought iron work around the balcony. 

Anna then took us down to the river to remind us that New Oleans was first and foremost a port city. More about that later...

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween

This is the first Halloween costume I ever made. It was our first year in Salt Lake City, so my Aunt Rita wasn't near by to save me. Mom was gone. I had to come up with the goods on my own.

My first mistake was to ask Johnny what he wanted to be (I later learned it was best to rummage through my fabric stash and make suggestions based on what I already had). 

My second mistake was something to do with cheap fabric. I don't recall what was wrong with it, but it didn't work out and I literally made two Ninja turtle costumes, one that worked and one that didn't. Total cost about $60. in an already very stretched budget! My third mistake was to hang on to the thing instead of selling it on or giving it away so someone else could get some use of it.

Still, he was very happy with the thing and I felt I'd started to acquire some of my Mom's skills.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Our Creole Cottage

Sunday morning in Ponca City we said our good-byes to my Uncle Pat. He went off to church and we took off for Dallas. Some of the less expensive rental firms are not very flexible about where you return their cars, so we had to take this one back from whence it came. Never mind, flights from Dallas to New Orleans were short and sweet.  However another inflexible matter was the weight restrictions on baggage. I was dangerously near mine but could solve this if I had a slightly larger carry on, so we dashed madly around to find one. One problem solved, another created by miles of road works on the highway down to Dallas. I despaired of being able to fill the gas tank as agreed, but my wish was granted - there is a filling station right on the airport grounds before you get to the rental terminal. It was a stressful morning!

Our friends, Jan and Jerry, kindly picked us up at the airport in New Orleans. They drove down from OKC in a lease car, interestingly, rather than put the miles on their own car.  

The photo of the other bedroom was pretty bad!

We rented a small house to share for the week we were in New Orleans together. I thought it would be a nice way to catch up with them and to show Bill around a new city with a different culture.

We were more than pleased with the aesthetics and conveniences of the house. I really loved the pull down, well lit ironing board with a timer. Brilliant idea that. I want one!

The location was great, only a mile from the tram line, but it was noisy. Behind the wall across the road is a major highway. The train line is about a block away and they were re-building a house behind us; there is still a lot of rejuvenation continuing from the aftermath of Katrina. 

One day the sewers were cleaned out, a terrifically loud process, while we four sat on the front porch enjoying some fresh air. We gave up yelling at each other and settled into reading and knitting all the while having our heads vibrate with the noise. Completely crackers, the lot of us.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Attending a Tea

So, this is another pause for real life apart from travel. Very soon after our return home I was scheduled to attend a tea to which Vivien had invited the 'Champagne Sub-group' to (that's Vivien, me, Lucy, and Julia - who is expecting a baby in February!!!). The tea was a fund-raising event by the Rotary of which Vivien is a member.

I tell you these things were tiny!

We learned about this cafe in Killingworth that is a 'social enterprise', that is a non-profit that is run to benefit a particular group. I think I understood this to be 'young people' in the area. 

Social enterprises seem to be a big thing around here but I don't know much about how they work. I didn't have any qualms whatsoever about this one but I remember seeing another that made big questions pop into my head about whether the real benefit went where stated. But that is a post for another day - they may not even still be in business. 

I lovely selection of sandwiches and cakes. I ate my share!

It's amazing how difficult it is to get the four of us together. Between travel, work, school, family and other commitments it is nearly impossible. We don't even manage social networking like teenagers would. I see each of them individually but we rarely are all four together so this was a real treat.

This was also tiny, but very rich.

Flowers for the people who run the cafe.

Thank you, Vivien, for inviting us!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Zipping thru the Marland Mansion

I always think there isn’t much to see in Ponca City but Pat proved me wrong, yet again. We managed to get to this "Marland Grand Home" about 10 minutes before it closed, but since Pat knew the lady working there, we got to wander around at our leisure. 

I really didn’t want to make her stay late so I did a whiz of a tour, snapping photos like mad, mostly bad ones unfortunately.  

These elegant banisters weave their way up three flights.

I definitely want to go back and see it again on our next visit.

E. W. Marland was the 10th governor of Oklahoma and somewhat controversial because of having married his [un-] adopted daughter (niece of his first wife) after the death of said first wife, Mary Virginia Collins

Marland imported red foxes to promote hunting.

The second wife, Lydie Roberts Marland, was a bit mysterious as well, if I recall correctly from our visit a few years ago when we toured the BIG Marland Mansion. I don't think she had a very easy life at all.

The bigger place is called Palace of the Prairie, and we walked around it for about four hours, the day before we were to run a marathon; absolutely not a smart thing to do. That’s the worst run I’ve ever had in my whole life and I have only myself to blame.

The 1920s sun parlor.

I actually like this older, smaller house much better. Who needs 55 rooms?

The dining room is paneled in dark walnut wainscoting and embellished with silver and mirrored wall scones. The furniture is from the Paris family era, who owned this house in later years. The elegant chandelier is Waterford Crystal from Ireland and the walls are hand-painted by artist, George Lasarsky. 

Marland's life sounds like a financial roller coaster, making oil fortunes in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma and then losing each.  

His first wife may have saved herself a lot of trouble by dying in 1926. 

Mary Virginia (Collins) Marland was born in 1876 in PhiladelphiaPa. She married E. W. Marland there in 1903. A noted social and charity leader in Ponca City, much of her work benefited the Salvation Army and the PC Hospital. She was also interested in the humane treatment of animals and she was noted for her hospitality. At her death, three cars were required to accommodate all the flowers to go to her gravesite. All stores and even banks in town closed for two hours out of respect for Mrs. Marland.

Linen Cedar Closet – Designed to hold linens and some clothing for the M family, guests and housekeepers. Original hand-painted labels on edges of cedar shelves, each shelf designated for a particular person or location in the house.

Another chapter for my book (not) Loos I've Loved.

Not that striking except for the sheer size and light.

In fishing around for information about Marland and Lydie I discovered that there was a movie project being considered with Jennifer Lawrence, called "Ends of the Earth".  Sadly, the deal may have fallen through when she won her Oscar.

I can't tell if that's going to happen or not, but I'd definitely go see it! 

I might even pay full price at the theatre, but I don't promise. Better spent, I gave that amount making a donation to this wonderful place.