Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Beginnings

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Semisonic, Closing Time

So here we stand at the precipice of a New Year; our feet, firmly on the line of no return, looking at our past right into the eyes of an unknown future. And it is good.

We stood here last year, too. (And with a bit of luck, this same spot will be waiting for us in another 365 days.)
But where have our steps taken us?
Where have we walked and what have we seen?
Have we learned anything worth knowing in 2008?

Thinking back on our mistakes of 2007 and looking forward to rectifying them in 2008, did we really become better or different people this past year?
I wonder. . . aren't we, for the most part, creatures of habit making the same mistakes over and over again?
Or perhaps, 'mistake' is a bit harsh for what
it really is: indecision or postponing or procrastinating?
Most every year, for some of my New Year resolutions, I pledge to:
  • find a 'real' job
  • begin a diet and really, really, lose weight this year
  • get organized
  • tidy up the ever-growing pile of paperwork
  • start projects EARLY so they really do get done in time to give as gifts for Christmas next year
  • sew more
  • volunteer
  • complete home decor projects
  • write real letters to friends I love and miss
And, for the most part, I do give it a go. I try.
Little bits here and there do get done, but, there is no perman
ence about it.
I am still human and flawed.
I still have the same personality and character 'flaws' that make me, me.
And even though I am, by nature, an organized person, why oh why can I not find things I know I have and have put 'somewhere safe' ???

Looking back on 2008, I made some strides in my ever-revolving list of New Year's resolutions, but I am still a work in progress.
And I like thinking about Anne of Green Gables when she said,

"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a ne
w day with no mistakes in it yet?"

So this evening, instead of thinking about all you have missed out on accomplishing in 2008, why not focus on how much you will enjoy 2009; how much you will accomplish and achieve, living and loving, in a fresh new year, with no mistakes in it yet.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

Tick-tock, tick-tock, time is running out . . . is everything ready at your house?
Oh no, not here!
No matter how many things I have on my to-do list, there never seems enough time to get them all finished.
So I was still mailing out Christmas cards today and finishing wrapping some gifts, and shopping - a huge shop - for groceries for the week.
And there is still baking to get done, and even a bit of sewing to do before the big day.
Let the countdown begin!
Tomorrow I will prepare batter for Christmas cookies and let it rest for a day in the refrigerator.
I will sew up some small things, and finish the last of my gift wrapping, and any printing that needs finishing.
Monday I will bake and bring some items to the post office. Should that be considered the 'hail Mary' leap of faith that they will make it to their destination in only two days?
Tuesday I will bake and clean.
And Wednesday, I will rest and enjoy before heading out to meet some friends for some Christmas Cheer.
It is rush, rush, rush, for me and every year I pledge not to have the same again the next year, and every year I break my pledge.
But it is the excitement and creativity in the 'doing' that makes Christmas so enjoyable, and the love that goes into the doing, makes it all worthwhile.
Happy Christmas to you all and may all your New Year's dreams come true.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Halloween Memories: Buffalo & Williamsville New York

It's almost here: Halloween Night!
I can still remember the little poem my children learned in Pre-K:
On Halloween Night
The ghosts come out
Say, "Trick or Treat"
and then they shout-

I can close my eyes and smell what Halloween smells like: all crisp and cold, creating red, dripping noses, with smoke-filled, chilled air, from fireplaces burnin
g wood to keep the chill away from inside rooms.
Stomping through piles of fallen leaves, making crunching, paper-like sounds as we pus
hed our way through them.
The occasional jump in a neatly piled leaf mountain near the road, and laughing as we made a mess of it all.
Those were simple days and exciting times for the little ones.

Although there is controversy regarding Halloween and many people believe it is an un-Christian-like night, kids only believe in the magic and make-believe of the evening.
All they want is a night to be someone they are not, and to run rampant throughout the neighborhoods, shouting and reveling in the fun of it all.
The eerie nightfall; other costumed characters; the scents and sounds of the evening; and of course, getting all of that candy!

My children were no different: they adored Halloween night. They were dressed-up in costumes I made for them, and carried flashlights and glow sticks and little pumpkin pails in which to collect their candy.
Tradition in our family had it that a pillowcase was used for candy collection, so I always carried three pillowcases and periodically, dumped the tiny collection pails into them, all through the evening.
We would walk in a safe neighborhood, usually where my sister lived, as we joined her children and the other cousins to trick-or-treat, all in the same area.
The older kids would take off on their own, while we strolled along with the younger children.
Sometimes, kind adults would offer the parents liquid refreshments to help keep them 'warm' on the cold, cold nights.

Those beverages were anything from wine, to mulled cider, to hot chocolate or coffee and all were welcomed by us! Since we weren't doing all the running our kids were engaged in, our older bones needed a little boost!

Throughout the years, my children were cats and pumpkins, prisoners and boxed Christmas gifts; fairies and skeletons, Princesses and chefs, but never a ghost. Not one of my children ever wanted to be a ghost, but oh how much I wanted one of them to be one!

When I was little ghost 'costumes' were standard fare! We would raid our mother's linens and steal white pillowcases, cut out two eyes, drop the cases over our heads, and we were off for a night of fun and frolic.
I don't remember mom ever chastising us for our indiscretions with her linens, but I know if my children had done that I would have been very angry, to say the least!
But I loved the ghosts in their simplicity and total coverage for anonymity!
And how much they reminded me of my own youth.

Ours was a different sort of Halloween from that of my children.

The costumes were mostly home-made and they represented inanimate objects, like TV sets, or spaceships. Or simple things like dogs, cats or teddy bears or babies, dolls, or Indians. Or scary things like witches, vampires, devils, and ghosts.
The closest thing you would see to an overly commercialized movie or TV character might be kids dressed up as Raggedy Ann an Andy dolls.
When compared to the costumes my childrens' friends had, costumes of my youth, were innocent and for the most part, non-controversial.
Schools didn't have to resort to limiting costumes to characters found in literature books.
Pretty much, that was all we had anyway.

We carried soap with us to soap the doors and windows of people who didn't offer candy.
Our parents forbid us from carrying the soap, but we sneaked it out of the house anyway.
We rarely used it though - we were too afraid of getting caught!
Some bad kids carried eggs and egged houses that were not offering treats.
They believed that was their 'trick,' I guess. We never did anything like that.

"Trick or Treat," we would shout as we pounded on doors or as we rang bells of the unsuspecting victims of the fright we believed we were causing.
They would open their doors and drop candy into our pillowcase sacks. Some were acting frightened, and some would question us, and all were friendly.

There were some families that actually invited you into their homes for warmed, mulled cider and a donut. I can remember a family who did that on Lexington
Avenue in the city of Buffalo, New York and another one Norwood Avenue.
The ladies on Norwood opened-up their enclosed porch and served cider from a punch bowl and
Freddies donuts.

Some people gave out candy corn, and some gave out smaller versions of our favorite candy bars: Reeses Peanut Butter Cups; Milky Way bars; Butterfinger; Heath; Snickers; Clark bars.

And some gave out our favorite candies: Good and Plenty; Milk Duds; Licorice, red and black; Dots; Mike and Ikes; fireballs; Tootsie Roll Pops; Safety suckers; peach stones
; candy lipsticks. Some families gave pennies, or apples, or popcorn balls, and some gave gum.
But our favorite houses were the houses giving full sized candy bars.

The word would spread from group to group of kids: we all knew where the good candy was being given out and would race to get there before it was all gone!

It wasn't all a selfish, gluttonous evening. We also carried little milk cartons for UNICEF, into which the charitable would drop coins which we would carry to school with us to give back to our teachers.
We'd walk for blocks and blocks, unsupervised by adults, coming home tired and cold but all too ready to dump our sacks onto the floor and take a good long look at our loot.

Most of the time Halloween was icy cold and sometimes even snow was on the ground. The snow was the worst. You had to wear a coat over your costume and oh no, BOOTS too!
And you would be freezing and wet and i
t just wasn't the same as Halloween nights without snow. But either way, the scheme was the same; you were in it for as much as you could get!

When my children were young, someone was alway on hand to give out our own candy. This usually meant that the dads had all the fun of greeting the trick-or-treaters, while moms went out with the kids.

In order to have both parents go out with the kids, some families had grandparents man the doors and some trusting people simply left bowls of candy on their doorsteps with a note of instruction to help yourself to one treat and leave the rest to share with others.

When I was young, our parents remained at home, answering the door for the Halloween revelers, and we went out alone. As years went by, my older sisters stopped going out (except Debbie) and they helped with the door.
I think I stopped going out about the age of 12. I think Deb carried
on right through High School!
In those days, kids teased you if you were still trick-or-treating at ages much above 11.

My own kids carried on as long as they had breath in their bodies!
I do believe Katie kept going the longest - maybe until she was about 20!

Preparation for the giving of treats began with a trip to the farmers of Western New York.
Our parents would take us out to the countryside to select our own pumpkins.
We weren't wealthy, but there was always enough money for each of us to have our own pumpkin to carve.
We would carve them in time for 'Beggars' Night.' This was traditionally the evening of the 30th of October - a night for brave young children with a thirst for rejection to try to get some extra treats.
The brave ones would go door-to-door, trick-or-treating, with the audacity of a Wall Street risk-taker: they knew the rewards could be good, if they got lucky!
They appeared on your doorstep asking for candy the night before the actual event.
In our house, we didn't give candy out on Beggars' Night. We would politely ask them to return the next evening.
But since we answered the door, they would simply scurry off.

They were luckier in homes where people were afraid of retaliation: soaped windows, et all, if they didn't hand out the goods. Those frightened people gave candy out on beggars night only to find they had none left for Halloween - so they would need to buy more or take a risk of getting soaped - or worse - egged.

Sometimes older kids used toilet paper to toss in trees which left eerie shreds of thin paper flying about on Halloween night.
In our neighborhood, since Halloween was very near to Election Day, the temporary voting booths were set out in places between the street curb and the public sidewalk.
(Do you remember them?)
We had one set in its rightful spot on the corner of Ashland and Highland Avenues.
One neighbor teenage boy climbed upon its roof and hurled water and worse on unsuspecting trick-or-treaters walking past.
Oh the merriment and tricks that were had on Beggar's Night!

But with out pumpkins carved, we would set about doing other traditions to prepare for the big night.
My mom and dad bought the candy, and with all of us sitting around the big harvest table, we sorted and packed; making tiny treat sacks for other kids to have from us.

We spread out white napkins and filled them with candy corn and other treats. Then we tied them securely with curling ribbon and made mini ghosts of the bundles.
The white bundles filled massive bowls and were set near the door awaiting the arrival of fiendish visitors.

Part of the fun of Halloween in those days was the preparation and anticipation of it all.

Here in England, Halloween used to be celebrated when my husband was a child, but it went out of favor for a while. Now, it is beginning a comeback and each year more and more shops are carrying items to decorate homes, and costumes, and candy.

I brought some of my decorations with me, and some, I have purchased since my arrival here two years ago.

This Halloween, w
e again have some candy from home, courtesy of our friends, Esther and Don. We have some candy corn and some mello creme pumpkins, and some Hershey's Kisses in the Hugs style.
I also purchased some candy bars with familiar American brands: Mars bars, (really Milky Way bars in disguise) and Twix.

Tonight, Jim, Katie, and I will wrap small bundles of candy in napkins, the same way we always did at our house when I was a girl, and fill a bowl with the precious bundles.
We'll carve our pumpkins and prepare for our little 'guest' tomorrow evening.
And the traditions carry on.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Theatre of Small Convenience

Our dear friends, Esther and Don, left for home today. Our week together went by so fast!

They had a whirlwind tour of Great Britain and Ireland before joining us here in the Midlands.

They looked
tired, but happy, when we collected them from their hotel in London last Sunday.
We spent the first day traveling back home engaged in
conversation, enjoying the sights, and learning all about their travels.

Blessed with unseasonably good weather, we spent the next three days escorting our friends to many of the towns and villages we love: Stow-on-Wold, Morton-on-Marsh, Chipping Campden, Ledbury, Ludlow, and a special
destination we discovered and have come to love:
The Theatre of Small Convenience.

Who would not love a place so unique and special as this?

Situated in a very steep street in
Malvern, the tiny theater is contained in a former Victorian Gentleman's toilet!

Large, old trees surround the building's stone exterior, while haunting faces peer up at you from the earth surrounding the front of the building,
but the story only begins there.

proprietor, Dennis, is an artist who, with the help of his family, has transformed the small space into a work of art, with its 'found' stage and decor, hand-painted walls, and hand-made puppets.

We called in on the theater on a day it is usually closed, and this wonderful man arrived to open it just for us. He performed magic on stage with his tiny friends and music with sound effects, much to our delight and amusement.

It was a special engagement and a special time that none of us will soon forget.
Even though this tiny jewel was discovered on the first day of our adventures together, it was the highlight of our outings, and the most memorable.

Time is fleeting and our week together has come to an end, with our friends heading home today.
There were so many places we left undiscovered and so many hours spent and wasted with necessary sleep!

But the magic of the tiny theater will always remain, and the time spent together can always be culled from our memories, and good friends will always be there,
no matter how many miles and days are between us.

Monday, 6 October 2008

There's a Chill in the Air

Please take a look at my Etsy shops when considering gifts for the holidays.
Sweet Scarlett for all things handmade.
And English Preserves for all sorts of vintage items, just right for that person who likes something different for Christmas. I am planning on adding some new hat designs in time for Christmas gift giving, as well as some vintage bookplates that can be personalized with your child's name on them.

Brrr . . . we have had to turn on the heat in the house, it has been that cold here!

Now I am originally from Buffalo, New York, where our weather can be pretty terrible - I mean wind chill temps below freezing and snow storms that come across Lake Erie leaving us snowed-in and freezing!

So this is 'easy weather' for me now situated in the middle of England! Yet, it feels way colder than the temperature reveals; it is cold and damp in a way that cuts to your bones. Damp cold is on par with the bitter dry cold I lived with for so long.

So our heat is on and there is a nip in the air, and it feels like fall has arrived.
You would never know it from the shops here. Instead, you would think Christmas was much closer than it actually is! The shops do not 'do' autumn. They skip right by it and steer directly into Christmas. I miss the Halloween and Thanksgiving displays and the festive atmosphere they encourage.

However, I did see some pumpkins in a vegetable shop on my way into the city today. They reminded me of home and of haystalks standing guard each side of doorways; and the scents of the leaves falling from tress in vivid colours of the season.

I can close my eyes and see the little children walking to school, kicking up the leaves as they walk along the sidewalks, or, as they return home from school, jumping in piles of leaves, left neatly for the town to cart away for mulching and composting.

Ummm, baking cookies seems like a good idea!

My sister Deborah, who lives in Florida, sent me a set of cookie cutters by Wilton.
She purchased them in Joann Fabrics and made some chocolate ginger cookies from Martha Stewart's website. The set has maple and oak leaves in three sizes and some sweet little acorns in three sizes as well. I haven't used them yet but am thinking about baking some soon, soon, soon!

I have been busy preparing for a visit from some dear friends, Esther and Don, from the US who will be staying with us next week. We are so excited about their visit!
They live in Niagara Falls, New York and are already here in England as I type.

They are first taking a UK and Ireland tour and will be returning to stay with us on Sunday.

We plan on taking them to some of our favourite haunts in and around the Midlands, including Stratford and the
Cotswolds. It should be so much fun!
More about their visit next week!


Monday, 15 September 2008

The Comforts of Childhood

My mother moved quietly around the bed, carefully selecting bits of the blanket to gently push beneath me, tucking me in for the night.

A chill was in the air, and even though I could have bundled myself off to bed for the night, there was something so special in knowing that someone else was there caring for me, and making sure I was warm, and loved, as I drifted off to sleep for the night.

We took those days for granted, and our childhood is now but a blink in time and a soft, loving, memory we look back on.

When my own children were small, I used to fight the battle all parents fight; with children who want to grow up, all too fast.
They were teased when collecting trading cards that their peers thought they were too old to collect; and young girls exchanged doll dresses and imagination, for make-up and trendy fashions.

I would remind them that they would have only one shot at being a child and they would have their whole to be lived as adults and to do adult things. I begged them to do as they pleased, to play with their toys and dolls as long as they could, and to ignore taunts from others less informed on the ways of youth.

I suppose those sentiments offered little comfort in those pressure-filled days, of wanting to be included in the 'popular' crowd, with kids who were constantly trying to be someone they weren't.

I wanted my kids to be true to who they were and not try to be like everyone else.
And I wanted them to always remember they were loved and wanted for themselves, and not for what they might do or not do, when they grew up and went out into the world.

I wanted them to have the little comforts life offers - like being tucked in at night by a mother who wanted them to feel snug and secure and loved.

This morning, as I was making our bed, I thought about my husband who was off at work and how hard life can be when we get older. He ushers in his day at 4:30 am and sets off in the wee, dark hours of the morning while most of our neighbours are still asleep.
He works so hard every day.

Just last night, there was a chill in the air. And as he finished dressing himself for the day, he walked around the bed, carefully tucking me in, repeating, "Go back to sleep, love," several times.

A little bit of my childhood came drifting back to me . . . and I was wrapped in warm memories of days long ago and comforted in knowing that love still can happen at any age.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Virtues of String

A package arrived in the post, all the way from America.
I had purchased an assortment of vintage laces and trims and was excited to find it had been deposited on my front porch during the wee hours of the morning.
As I unpacked the various bundles contained within the package, I noticed that one of the bundles of lace was held together with a bit of imperfect string.
Dirty and damaged, it was wound around, and around, a handful of lace.

As I looked at it, I began to think about string and its uses and purposes and wondered, "When was the last time I used string for anything?"
If it had been me who had packed away these various bits and bobs, I would have used a rubber band or perhaps a bit of ribbon to secure the bundles. Or more likely, I would have stored away my precious trims in tiny ziplock bags to keep them organized and dirt and moisture free.

As I examined it, I began thinking about that little piece of string and the person who may have put it there.
String, and the importance and relevance it must have had to our mothers and grandmothers, seems to have been all but forgotten.
Previous generations didn't have plastic bags or ziplock anything. They didn't have the advantage of twist ties and velcro. They knew nothing of plastic ties and the gadgets that fastened them.
They tied things with string.

Packages in the post came bound with cording; parcels bought at the local shops were tied together in bundles with twine or string; and the loveliest of yummy treats from the bakery were bundled-up in fresh-looking white, cardboard boxes, and tied securely with red and white striped string.

When I was a young child, I can remember standing at eye level with the top of the counter, waiting to be served, at our local bakery. Huge white sugar cookies dotted with raisins and topped with granular sugar and trimmed with scalloped edges awaited me if I were just patient enough. I could buy one or a dozen for the family, or just about any amount, could be ordered-up.
If I purchased just one cookie, it would come in a slick, clean, white bakery bag.
But, purchasing a dozen (which would mean the clerk would carefully pack 13 - a bakers dozen - a common tradition in bakeries of my youth) would mean they would be packed in a white box tied perkily with red and white string. Oh and to see how the clerk accessed the string - that was the best!
A huge cone of the smart looking, festive, red and white striped string was not visible to you in the shop, oh no! All you saw was the string, looking rather plain against the counter looped through an eyelet screw, fastened to the wooden surface. But follow it with your eyes and find that it traveled up the wall and across the ceiling and back to the bakery room, out of sight, where somewhere in the depths of the shop, it finally wound its way to a huge cone of string, permanently affixed to a spindle, waiting for the next tug, for decorating and securing the next pristine bakery box.

And at home, every junk drawer, garage, and broom closet held string. String was a common staple in every household.
It might have been thick and heavy, in the form of jute rope. Or, thin, yet strong, in the form of kite string. And every weight and material in between, necessary for a life where string was an everyday necessity.

Our grandmothers even had special containers for keeping string at hand; safe and ready for use in an instant. These string holders came in many shapes and sizes, in many different materials. I decided to purchase one for myself and begin a new tradition of using string in my home.
I now have the holder, which also holds a pair of scissors, but I do not yet have any string! I am looking for a source of red and white striped string, like the kind the bakeries use, but in a much smaller quantity. Once I find some I will mount my holder on the wall, complete with its own pair of scissors, and use it in place of other, less earth-friendly closures for packages.

Kitty String Holder with Bow at Neck for Scissors

Looking back, upon the virtues of string, and its uses in the lives of women that came before me, made me reflect on its merits over our plastic world of today. And all because a bit of it came to me in a 3000 mile journey from the American past.