25 October 2016

Rudolph Day, October 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

And it's now just two months until Christmas! What are you doing to prepare? Perhaps reading some Christmas books?

A Country House Christmas, John Chandler
Fans of Downton Abbey, plus the older British dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Flambards would probably love this compilation volume from Sutton (part of their "Christmas in..." series of British memories). Passages are taken from the real-life country house reminisces of Phyllis Sandemann, Harold MacMillan, Kenneth Grahame, and Hilaire Belloc among others; fiction in country houses is supplied by the pens of Charles Dickens and Washington Irving (and a nice skewer of the country house set is given in the humorous "Christmas at Boulton Wynfevers"), plus there's the jaw-dropping tale of a real-life mad Christmas Eve in the 1930s delivering "Milord's" gifts ("Pheasants by Taxi"); and many-day-by-day diaries of guests in country homes (and a letter to her mother from one harried hostess). Old favorites like "The Mistletoe Bough" and Robert Herrick's classic Candlemas poetry, plus vintage illustrations, photographs of country estates, and Randolph Caldecott art round out this nostalgic volume.

Christmas Ornament Legends from Old World Christmas 
The Old World Christmas company supplies traditional glass ornaments in Christmas shops all over the country (including The Incredible Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, TN, Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI, and the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in Deerfield, MA), made in Germany by third- and fourth-generation craftsmen (but at an affordable price as opposed to Radko ornaments). This little gift book is worth finding for a dollar or two; it mixes old Victorian "scrap" illustrations (mostly of St. Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus) with pretty full-color photographs of their ornaments that have meaning behind them (grapes for fruitfulness, for instance, or rabbits for good luck) or rare ornaments like the "John Bull" or "Spark Plug" figurals. Cute if you can find one at a reasonable price.

Don't you love the Santa Claus at left? I really love the Victorian Santa Clauses in their hooded robes rather than the modern Santa in his fire-engine red pants, jacket and tassel cap. Some Victorian Santa Clauses even dressed in other colors than red—palest of blues, off-white, green—as shown in these Google images. Even better, a search on "vintage st. nicholas illustrations" brings this delightful result.

Did you know that two of the oldest Christmas songs—not Christmas carols or hymns about the birth of the Christ Child, but songs about the secular side of the celebration—are both about Santa Claus? "Up on the Housetop" was written in 1864 and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" in 1881. ("Jingle Bells" was written in 1857, but isn't about Christmas—it's a song about taking your girl out alone on a fast ride, as later generations would use a sports car.)

13 October 2016

A Country Pick'ns Thanksgiving

More years ago than I can remember, we have been going to the Yellow Daisy Festival, and one of my favorite vendors there are a couple named Tom and Jan Messenger out of Kansas who run a craft business called Country Pick'ns. They make little shadow boxes and then the tiny things that go in them, all with a country theme, and sell them at craft shows all around the country. They have several themes: Christmas/winter, camping/cabins, autumn/Hallowe'en, summer/beach, patriotic, sewing, gardening, kitchen/cooking, farm, and homespun/housekeeping. The "shadow boxes" themselves are vertical or horizontal, and some look like bookshelves, but all are in miniature. Over the years, I've bought several sets from them:

Previous Purchases

The "Me" Shelf Completed

In addition, when my friends Mike and Jen got married, they went camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for their honeymoon, and I did a Country Pick'ns shadowbox as their wedding present, with a deer, a canoe, a campfire, a lantern, and a few other appropriate items.

The one shadowbox I've always wanted to make, however, was a Thanksgiving-themed one, but they didn't have one. I've been thinking and thinking about this for several years now, and when we went to Yellow Daisy this year I went through all the items, bit by bit, to see what I could work with. Below is what I came home with.

As you can see, most of the items have a general fall theme. The closest shadow box background that I could find that would work with Thanksgiving, however, was actually a Hallowe'en-themed item and originally had a goofy-looking cat behind the pumpkins. I took the back off and painted it out before I took this photo. Then I went online and found a cartoon turkey (at left) that was the closest I could find that would approximate the Country Pick'ns style. I cut a slit along the top of the pumpkins in the background image and slid the turkey in.

The bread on the breadboard, the pumpkin and "bittersweet" in the pail, the second pumpkin, the corn in the basket with the leaf on it, the pie, and the "harvest blessings" sign I could use "as is," since they all related to harvest and feasting, but the rest would need a little fixing.

The witch hat I sawed the top off, and also the little curl on each side, and painted the whole black with a brown band and a gold buckle to be a "Pilgrim hat." Yeah, I know Pilgrims didn't wear hats like that, despite the pictures, but it's part of the iconography. Even the Mass Pike has the stereotypical Pilgrim hat as a symbol.

The chicken I took and painted its body brown like a turkey and gave it a big wattle. It still looks chicken-y; I guess we can call it a ticken? :-) Or a churky? Whatever.

I took the autumn lady, clipped the brims off her hat, and then painted what was left of her hat white, giving it some bonnet lines with a drawing pen, and gave her a big white collar as in the paintings of 17th century woman, along with black shoes with buckles, plus I darkened her skirt to a darker autumn color.

The "jump in the leaves" plaque I popped the leaves off with an X-acto knife (losing one in the process) and completely repainted, then glued the leaves back on. (I had to buy extra leaves through an online craft store since Michaels quit carrying them. I peppered a few more on the shadow box frame itself.)

If I had it to do over again I would not have used such a wide drawing pen. It doesn't quite look like Jan Messenger's work, although I tried to duplicate her style as much as possible. I think I'm also going to borrow some matte-finish from James so the repainted areas—I only had gloss paint—won't shine so much.

But...here's the result. I have my Thanksgiving shelf at last.

11 October 2016

Happy Hygge!

Do you know about hygge? it's a Scandinavian concept with an "emphasis on the delights of small pleasures slowly taken." There's summer hygge as well, but in winter it comes into its own, "all about candelight, wood piles, open fires, warm socks, felt slippers and cosy blankets...[i]t's also about cherishing the magic of autumn and winter—from wild walks along stormy beaches to stargazing in clear winter skies to celebrating the year's first frost" and then coming home to warm drinks, good food, and the warmth of fire and friends.

Here are some books about hygge:

The Cozy Life

Hygge: The Complete Guide

Hygge is what some magazines today are calling "mindfulness"—to slow down and appreciate all the good things in your life, even if it's something so small as seeing a new bird, watching a beautiful leaf fall, eating a crisp fall apple, or doing some tiny thing. It can be translated into a way of cooking or a way of decorating, but that's not really "hygge"; it's truly the thought that counts. One of my favorite new magazines, "The Simple Things," tries to celebrate the idea of hygge in every issue: a handful of bright flowers in a drinking glass, a simple meal with friends, reading a favorite book, sitting by a fire and sipping tea.

This fall and winter forget the competitive Christmas shopping and enjoy some hygge!

Incidentally, it's pronounced "hue-gah."

(The quotes in the first paragraph are from the September 2016 issue of "The Simple Things.")

01 October 2016