28 January 2011

a thoughtful reader observes...

...in response to a previous post, "Why don't people seem to have such looping, graceful handwriting anymore?". A good question, sir, and one that instantly prompted this thought, "Because they are too busy texting and emailing to be bothered".  It is yet one more mournful reality of contemporary life; elegant penmanship is no longer the thing.  Today's thing, of course, the Mac, the Blackberry, leaves no evidence of the human hand at all, no opportunity to know the writer by his or her broadly stroked "t" or stratospherically dotted "i" and certainly not by a  signature which is the guarantee that a piece of writing has been created by a distinct person and that person alone.  The signature confirms the intent and authenticity of a document and without that, your job-seeking letter to the International Tree Society might just as well have been written by a squirrel.  Frightening, I think, that there has been such a fervent impulse to abandon handwriting in favor of the tapping and scratching required to make these devices go and so cast off a unique mark of identity and authority.
So with that, I share a few images from the highly esteemed Gately's Universal Educator, a sturdy authority on nearly every aspect of life in the late 1800's.  Gately's, dated 1883, was described as An Educational Cyclopedia and was created to satisfy the "desire among the people for information on all educational subjects..."  Here, the subject is Penmanship, and on that matter I leave it to the esteemed writer of this most illuminating chapter.

"Its practical value is obvious, and its acquisition is palpably a matter of the greatest importance to every one, no matter in what condition of life.  As has been well said, it is 'the record of the past, the regulator of the future, the soul of commerce, and the messenger of thought'."

'Through the medium of the pen, missives of love, sympathy, and condolence, cementing friendships and reviving pleasant memories, traverse continents and make voyages to every quarter of the globe."

"How to acquire a good handwriting is, then, the question which naturally arises.  Most people admire good penmanship and would like to write well, but is seems to them that their case is hopeless, that only those who are gifted by nature with a genius for such work can ever succeed."

"We claim that nine persons in every ten, no matter what the natural bent of their mind may be, can become, by careful practice, what the majority of people would term, 'excellent penmen'."

"Probably no one accomplishment, within the reach of almost every one, will furnish a better stepping-stone to a successful business life than that of penmanship.  Hundreds of young men, and young women too, are realizing the truthfulness of this assertion every day, many of whom are occupying responsible and lucrative positions secured largely if not solely on account of their ability to write well.  An earnest determination, persistently followed, will make success a certainty."

As is plain, a brief journey through the pages of Gately's is abundantly rewarding and I think I need to share a bit more of its wisdom in future, but for now, I want to wish my wonderful mother a very Happy Birthday.

In keeping with the sentiment of this post, here is a glimpse of the first page of the baby diary kept by my grandmother after her return home with my mother.  It begins, "We've been home for almost two weeks and every day has shown new developments in our Abigail.  She has been a precious baby and so good (we keep our fingers crossed) so far..."

Dear Mum, Many Happy Returns of the Day!

21 January 2011

a brief reminiscence on the alphabet...

As a child, I developed a strong affinity for letters.   Because of this, and after a fair amount of coercive pestering, I convinced my grandmother to teach me how to write in cursive.  This new skill failed to impress my kindergarten teacher, however, and she was never kind to me after that.  Inclined to give this matter of the alphabet sincere consideration, I came to believe that "e" had the most cheerful disposition, and in third grade, developed an emphatic preference for vowels over consonants.  In a spirit of nostalgia, I have included here a few of the needlework letters I've enjoyed making, although I note with some concern that the friendly "e" appears nowhere in my small collection of handiwork.  A regrettable oversight.
Though I've yet to create any embroidered monograms, I take inspiration from the wonderful Yuki Pallis Japanese craft book, Initial & Monogram, which may be familiar to you.

hand carved alphabet stamp

    ISBN 978-4-579-11034-6 

19 January 2011

vintage linens...

I am fortunate to have inherited some beautiful linens from both my grandmother and my stepfather's mother and this is the year that I am going to clean them properly, as they are all looking very much in need of attention!  If you have experience in cleaning vintage linens, I'd love to hear from you.
I've taken a few photos of some of my favorites.  I have a weakness for monograms and show you a few of the best here.  There are also some magnificent damasks in the collection; a huge tablecloth covered with thistles, a set of napkins with three-leaved clovers, and a beautiful set of hand towels bordered by graceful morning glories.

The imagery on this hand towel is quite interesting; a border of elephants interspersed with stars, a maiden bearing a water jug, vertical and horizontal borders of circles, and, best of all, this...

...a small boy being bitten by a dog!
This heartwarming scene is repeated four times.

I found this small tablecloth for less than one dollar at an estate sale.  It was washed with something red and has a pink cast, which you can't make out from the photo.  Again, if anyone has any suggestions as to removing the color cast, please let me know.

13 January 2011

diary of a snow day...

We've finally gotten a proper snowstorm, one that deposited some twenty or so inches of fluffy snow throughout our region.  I awoke at 4:30 AM  and an hour later was outside clearing the front walk.  By the time I had finished this modest chore, another half inch had fallen.   I returned inside and fashioned a small snowball from the snow that had accumulated inside my hood.  I slid this across the floor and into Foof's paws, but she seemed entirely uninterested in it.  

Out again by 7:30, having noticed a large flock of sparrows gathering around the nearly empty feeders. Two mourning doves were perched atop the pergola.  For a species of bird that is famously skittish, these two were remarkably composed. 

Massive plows are trying to clear the streets, and, as is usually the case, not doing a very good job of it.  A plow rumbles by and with its plowing device angled toward the side street, leaves an enormous berm of compacted snow at the intersection.  One intrepid woman drives up to it just minutes later and attempts to make her way across.  I watch this, first fascinated by her persistence then irritated by what seems like thick-headed obstinacy as she tries for the seventh time to make her way through this blockade.  Suddenly, a sleek SUV appears from the opposite direction and a man sporting a jaunty banded fedora and bearing an astonishing resemblance to Justin Timberlake springs from the vehicle to help her.  Then, several men appear out of nowhere, and the struggling car is released from its mire by the chivalrous boy band.

A large cat head has been drawn on one window of my car which has almost completely disappeared into the snow.  I confront Bob, whose throaty purrs and burbles betray his attempt to confuse the matter.  In a conversation with my mother later that day, I mention the curious case of the feline portrait and she, whose arcane perceptions continue to impress on me the idea that we are speaking entirely different languages, says that my description of the image reminds her of...... Stonehenge.    I have learned not to argue with logic like this and I agree that yes, the cat head is undoubtedly the work of Druids.  Or extraterrestrials, she adds.  The usual suspects. 

A smallish crow gang is hanging around and I toss a few handfuls of crackers into the snow.  The crows instantly swoop down to capture the treats.  One crow, his beak full of Carr's Water Biscuit, swans beneath the mock orange to elude the gaze of the other crows.  He hunkers down into the snow and glides gracefully around the magnolia, still clenching his prize.

I am continually amazed by people who claim to take twenty or thirty minute naps and awake rejuvenated.  I am incapable of doing this.  My naps last at least two hours and I always wake up so befuddled and disoriented and useless that I do everything in my power to avoid them.  This afternoon, however, I became helplessly entombed in sleep.  Perhaps getting up at 4:30 in the morning is not a sound idea.

By 8:00 the snow had stopped.  Having enjoyed such a productive day and exhausted by the effort, (see above),  I decided to watch a PBS documentary on happiness.  In an attempt to focus on the sort of things that people find necessary to experience happiness, the documentary profiled a number of people who were not so happy: someone who had been diagnosed with cancer, someone who had fallen from a great height and had extensive nerve damage and seizures as a consequence, someone who had dived into a pool and broken his neck, someone who had been captured during the Vietnam War and held hostage for eight years, and someone who had worked for Lehman Brothers.

07 January 2011


You're going to have to look pretty hard to find signs of life here, but they're there. My button fern, so hot-housey and particular, suffered without water when water was what it needed most and this is what remains. I had lavished attention on this little plant because it was so sensitive and obviously in need of love.  Unlike my orchids, which have proven themselves comparatively brazen and independent, this darling fern has  required constant attention to keep its fronds vibrant and happy.  I excerpt a description of precisely the kind of environment required by ferns:... ferns are delicate plants that only grow in areas where there are suitably moist conditions. They favour sheltered areas under the forest canopy, along creeks and streams and other sources of permanent moisture. They cannot grow readily in hot dry areas... like the Kalahari Desert of a Massachusetts apartment.  When I returned to find it brown and wizened after a weekend away, I was heartbroken.  Odd, I suppose, to become so attached to a plant, but I take the lives of other living creatures seriously and was moved to mourn its sorry state.  Many days had passed before I could bring myself to prune away the dead fronds. Then there, just visible beneath the crisp mat of remains, was a tiny green crozier, then another, and another, and from this, I take heart, because I feel rather like this despondent little plant at the moment. 

There it is, in that gentlest sprout of green, the proof of its will and the promise of its future.