Monday, November 30, 2009
It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas
The Friday after Thanksgiving:
Loading up the family into the van, we drove the nearly two-hour drive north to the Christmas Tree farm we have frequented for nearly 25 years, Western Tree Farm, up in Applegate, Michigan. This place really does it right. Yes, there is some commercialism, but it's very minute compared to other places I have seen. The folks here know us - they should after all these years - great people - so it's off we go on the hay ride out to the land of the spruces. As I was not feeling up to my normal self (I felt rather poorly on Thanksgiving Day...the flu bug hit me - - - fever, body aches, headache), I had my two oldest boys do the dirty work of cutting and carrying. Stopping off for good, greasy hamburgers on the way home is another highlight. Just one of our 21st century traditions, I guess. I love a good, greasy burger, but my body doesn't.
I eat them, unfortunately, less and less.
Home, the tree up, awaiting decorating. A fun day after Thanksgiving.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving:
On with our period clothing and its off to Holly with my wife to meet with friends at the Holly Dickens Festival. For 12 years - every weekend between Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend before Christmas - I was a part of this celebration of Dickens and his "A Christmas Carol." In fact, I was Charles Dickens! Unfortunately, the 2008 season, unknowingly at the time, was to be my last. The folks that run the festival, from what I understand, did not have the budget for me and many other participants, keeping only the wonderfully great Festival Singers. Imagine - a Dickens Festival without Charles Dickens.
Ahhh...such is life...
But, we did enjoy being there nonetheless, visiting with my old Dickensian cohorts, watching the skits that I am normally a part of, and shopping the antique stores. Other CW reenactor friends joined us as well, including President and Mrs. Lincoln (I had no idea our 16th President and his wife traveled to England...*just kidding* - - - before all you historians chastise me with "He didn't, you knucklehead!")
From the Dickens Festival, all of us CW reenactors then journeyed northward to Flint, Michigan to the open-air museum of Crossroads Village, where they were beginning their annual Christmas celebration. Patty and I have not been to this Village for Christmas in around 15 or 16 years, and we had forgotten what it was like. I forgot about the countless Christmas lights strung hither and thither - literally everywhere one looked they saw Christmas lights. It was nice, although not historically accurate. But, historical accuracy was not necessarily what they were going after, obviously.
Anyhow, a good friend was able to obtain numerous free passes into the Christmas celebration there for those of us who do Civil War reenacting, and it was asked of us to meet and greet visitors, sing carols, and generally become part of the festive atmosphere. I must say, we had such a time! The customers were so friendly and many posed for photos with us. Stepping into the 150 year old homes decorated for the Holidays was one of my favorite parts.
It was nice to warm ourselves beside the wood-burning stoves in rooms lighted only by oil lamps. Cozy.
However, my most favorite part of this evening was...well...it's a tie between singing the old Christmas hymns inside of the ancient church and/or the half hour train ride on actual period cars. Ok...now you're going to make me choose between the two, right?
Well, I guess I would have to say...Christmas hymns in church (the train ride had canned music...that brought it down a bit).
Just being with such good friends at this mini-makeshift reenactment was a wonderful way to help kick off the season.
But, there's more - - -
The Sunday after Thanksgiving:
It was a very dingy, gloomy day, with the heavy, threatening gray clouds giving the mid-day the appearance that it was approaching evening instead of, well, mid-day. As my dear wife had, once again, outdid herself for our Thanksgiving Day meal, and with all of the activities of Friday and Saturday, I thought she deserved a day of rest, to do what she wanted. So, while she did her thing, I took my two youngest (Miles and Rosalia) and drove to (where else?) Greenfield Village. I LOVE being a member! It's great to be able to come and go as you please!
Anyhow, the kids were all for it, so off we went, listening to hammered dulcimer Christmas music as I drove along the freeway, singing along...except for Miles, who wouldn't be caught DEAD singing.
Our first structure to visit once inside the wrought iron gates is the Firestone Farm, one of my absolute favorite places to visit...anywhere! Being that it was such a cold, dreary day, they had the oil lamps lit and the fireplace going. My daughter stepped into the sitting room and settled into the chair near the hearth to warm herself, stating to me that she wished we had a fireplace at our house.
Sadie, the 'master presenter' at the farm, after a little prodding from her co-workers, went into the parlor and played 'Silent Night' on the 1880's era pump organ, much to the delight of my son (who LOVES the sound of an organ).
We stayed inside the house for nearly 45 minutes before venturing off to see the other homes decorated for Christmas. And, just like at Firestone, the homes were oil lamp lit, giving them the old-timey cozy feeling one does not get from an electric light - even with a dimmer switch!
As we sauntered around the other houses, Rosalia told me how Firestone was her favorite house, how she wishes she could live there, how she likes the way it is furnished, how she wants old-time things for Christmas this year, and how she wanted to go back to Firestone Farm before we left.
You don't have to ask me twice! So, after seeing Noah Webster's home decorated for New Years, the Ford House celebrating an 1876 Christmas, and how the Daggett's did not celebrate Christmas in the 1760's, we hiked back to Firestone Farm. With the daylight now waning, and the hiding sun preparing to set - which cast long dark shadows - the Farm was even cozier. The ceiling lamps were now lit - a rare occurrence here (see photo at the top of this blog). Rosalia was in her glory - the workers were baking cookies, using the recipe from the Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. She stood next to the docent and watched intently the way cookies were decorated back in the 1880's.
After another half hour or so of time well spent, we had to travel back to our own home. Rosalia put up a little fuss, but I told her we could light our own oil lamp and make our own home a cozy home, similar to the Firestone Farm. She knew that was true, and that satisfied her, so off we went.
This was a very Christmas-y, busy, and yet relaxing weekend. Each day was special in its own way, and spending each day with family and good friends made it nearly perfect. (Time-traveling back to the 19th century or, in the least, going home to a farm or to a restored 19th century home would've made it absolutely perfect...I think.)
And virtually everything (but the gas for the car, lunch on Friday, and the tree) was free.
Good friends and family.
And this is only the beginning.
I hope your Christmas Season goes as wonderfully for you.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving (a repeat post from previous years)
A number of years ago, around 1993 or '94, we had a discussion at my previous job about the Thanksgiving Holiday. A co-worker made a comment that of all the holidays of the year, he loved Thanksgiving the best because it was about eating and family and only about eating and family. I threw in that it was also about giving thanks to God, hence the name Thanksgiving. He adamantly denied this, stating that religion had absolutely nothing to do with this holiday. I asked him who did he think the pilgrims were giving thanks to, of which he replied, "To the Indians!"
I told him that, well, not really to the Indians. Being puritans (advocating strict religious discipline), the pilgrims would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending the Indians to them to ensure their survival.
Well, other co-workers stepped in and, as usual in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."
Pretty much shut them down with that.
Now I even have the History Channel to back me up:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.
And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:
"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."
Abraham LincolnMost, if not all, of our older holidays have religious beginnings of some sort. It's the newer Hallmark holidays (such as Sweetess day - a "holiday" my wife and I refuse to celebrate) who's beginnings are mainly secular.
The Mayflower Compact:
"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc."
"Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; "
"and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."
"In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Another Period Dress Meeting of the 21st Michigan Civilians
Since I began having these meetings some four years ago, I have insisted that the attendees dress in period clothing, try to serve period (hopefully, seasonal) food, and, at times, to maintain a first person persona.
At this year's fall meeting, we had a few brand new members join us and, since they had no period clothing to wear as of yet, they wore their modern clothing. But, they enjoyed being with all of us "Victorian wannabees" and were given the opportunity to ask whatever questions they had, examine our garments closely, and listen to and took plenty of notes during the speeches.
And, of course, after the morning meetings were over, we had the whole afternoon to enjoy each other's company
And that's one of the main reasons why I insist on period dress meetings - we are given the chance to visit as our ancestors may have; we are allowed to be ourselves - mistakes and all - without the public around to "catch" us in off moments. Generally, we stay away from 20th century speak - it helps to be in a historical or country setting as to give the impression you are in another time. Even though I live in a modern (1940's) house, our back gathering room (also known as 'The Greenfield Village Room') is very period, and while the guests are over we keep it candle and oil lamp lit.
And the Schroeder's farm (see the photo at the beginning of this entry) was built in the 1840's...well, the front half anyway. And they are surrounded by farmland. Very pastoral.
Might I suggest to any reenactors to try the same with the group you are in - - it's almost (I said, almost) as much fun as an actual reenactment!
In some ways, it is!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
My Daughter's School Adventures (followed by a rant!)
Except my daughter.
She wanted history books.
And they had nothing for her.
I know I can find anything she would want on Amazon.com or maybe at the local store, but it's just not the same for her. She wanted to spend her own money and buy a book from her school.
But, since she did not see anything "from the Civil War era or from the time of the Revolutionary War" she chose to hold on to her cash.
She came home so disappointed.
That's when I decided to see for myself what they had. Yup - she was right...nothing history at all. I did, however, find a version of "A Christmas Carol" suitable for one her age and bought that instead.
I brought it home and she was ecstatic! She must've over-looked the book while shopping. It'll be a good introduction for her and will allow her to actually read the "Carol" instead of watching the five or six different versions we own as we normally do multiple times a season. Within a couple years I'll pull out Dickens' own version for her to read - at the rate she's going, she'll be ready to read the original within two years!
It's a shame, however, that out of the literally hundreds of titles for sale that were spread out over the library tables and shelves, she couldn't find one rooted in history to spend her money on. When I was her age and my interest in history began to grow, I was lucky enough to buy many books of this nature - still have a few of them - and read and re-read them constantly. So, I guess I'll have to pull my old books off the shelf and let her enjoy them as I did.
Rosalia, who, by the way, is in the 3rd grade, will be portraying Susannah Winslow in her class project for Thanksgiving this year. And she is so excited about it! The kids dress up in their best make-shift pilgrim outfits (another 3rd grade class portray the Indians) and they become, for a whole week, their chosen person, with the culmination being a presentation for the parents on the day before Thanksgiving. Of course, Rosalia came to me to help her with her research of Mrs. Winslow, so I pulled out a few books I have on the pilgrims so she could write down whatever information she felt was important. We're also going to watch the docu-drama called "Desperate Crossing," a superb DVD about the pilgrims - the best I have seen so far. It will give her more of a feel for what those travelers went through before, during, and after their journey on the Mayflower.
I had to laugh when I found out, during a fun-facts of history segment of class, that Rosalia was the only child in her class that knew what a chamber pot was and exclaimed quite proudly that "I have one, and I use it, too!" She also was the only child to know what hard tack was and volunteered my wife to make a batch for the class. The kids look to my daughter for answers when it comes to history - at the ripe old age of 8! She loves it!
Rosalia is not shy and quite often will wear her Civil War era dress to school, much to the delight of the other little girls. And when she does, she attempts (successfully, I might add) the proper etiquette of the time. Even though so many of her young friends try to dress like the latest popular TV star, they are just as thrilled to come over to our house and try on Rosalia's 150 year old fashions. And, yes, she gives them etiquette lessons, especially during her tea parties.
I really think that's pretty cool and I believe that many of the kids would rather willingly dress in period clothing over some of the new fashions being pushed.
After reading what a blogger friend of mine recently wrote (....As becometh women professing Godliness.) it got me to thinking about my little girl and her place in today's society. It's extremely difficult to raise a child in such a world that we live in. We all want the best for our children, and we all (hopefully) do our best to raise our children in the best way we can. But, when one lives in a society where pretty much anything goes, it can get pretty tough to be a parent and teach right from wrong, especially when society (read: the mainstream media) tries its best to thrust its own morals and values upon our little ones. It's a challenge, believe me. But, we stick by our morals and our values, and it's worked...with my two oldest, and it seems to be working for my two youngest.
I just hope and pray that it continues to work...as long as we keep her focused, it should.
But, it sure isn't easy..................................
The following photos were taken when Rosalia was just three years old. She was a ham and enjoyed making goofy faces for the camera.
I love these pics! They really have nothing to do with this particular entry - - it's just that I smile every time I see them.
(By the way, you might enjoy reading one of my early postings about Rosalia entitled My Daughter).
Thursday, November 5, 2009
A Great Discovery and the Hope for a New (old) Life
Our hope is to one day in the not too distant future move from this obtrusive locale into an area that is more suitable to how we would like to live - - Patty and I plan to put our heads together soon after the first of the year and see what we need to do to make our dream come true. Believe it or not, we spoke of living this sort of old-fashioned life on our very first date! Why we did not grab it with both hands early on...well, all I can say is this fool learned a good lesson. Hopefully, it's not too late.
Anyhow, since we are stuck here in the city for now, we have slowly been decorating the inside of our home in a very traditional style by use of paint color, period-correct wall paper, pulling up the carpeting to reveal our hardwood floors, and, of course, our antiques, of which we actually use. Yes, we sit on our 1890's sette', yes we rock in our 1850's rocking chair, yes Patty plans to learn to spin on our 1830's great/walking wheel, and yes we tell time by our 1880's mantel clock. And there are other items we use as well. There are some things, however, we either cannot find or simply cannot afford. Or, in the case of a butter churn, for instance, our 120 year old crock is lead-based. Don't want THAT butter on my bread!
Well, while searching over the internet for items to help us live a more 19th century lifestyle (quite an oxymoron!) I discovered a wonderful store that can (and has) greatly helped us in our endeavor to live this traditional life: Lehmans, sellers of period appropriate home items. You name it - they got it! And little did I know just how extensive a place Lehman's was - I received their full catalog when I ordered a wall oil lamp recently... (below right)
Holy Cow! My wife and I went crazy looking at all of the wonderful items they carry! Wood burning stoves for warming and cooking, oil lamps of all kinds, churns, juicers, old-time toys, farming and garden equipment, all kinds of kitchen items, milk bottles and glasses, ice cream makers, tools, books...just a treasure-trove of home items for folks who would like to live the traditional life.
Unfortunately, their prices are a little on the high side. I guess they can afford to do that since, as far as I can see, they are a one-of-a-kind store.
Not that we need or want everything they have listed - unless my wife and I decide to quit our jobs to chop wood all day long, I don't believe we could use a wood burning cook stove - but, the idea that we can purchase certain items that we have always wanted but could never find in usable condition is wonderful.
I suppose what I like most about a store such as Lehmans is that such a store exists, meaning that there are others - many others - out there who desire to live a more traditional life.
Patty and I are not alone!
(Actually, I knew we weren't alone in our endeavors...between reenacting and blogging I have met many others like us. That's a good feeling.)
We are hoping to take the 4 hour journey to visit the store sometime in the near future - if my wife has her way, it will be before Christmas. That's doubtful, but maybe in January or even February, as long as the weather is clear. I'd hate to be caught in a snowstorm so far from home.
Now, my dear Better Half has always knitted and crocheted, but, of late, she has found that her interests in traditional crafts has expanded greatly, and she is now doing much more in that vein than she ever thought - - she's sewn herself three dresses, three dresses for our daughter Rosalia, pants and a shirt for Miles, underdrawers (shhhh!!!) for our son Rob and for me, and she has made three bonnets for herself - silk, straw, and a winter bonnet, each one totally hand-made. Although for the clothing she used her electric sewing machine, she refused to use anything but traditional methods in her bonnet making - no glue gun here! - saying, "If I'm going to take the time to do this, then I'm going to do it right!"In fact, that's Rosalia and Patty in the above photo (center and right respectively, with a friend). Everything you see my wife and daughter wearing, except for her gloves and Rosalia's hat, was made by Patty.
Yes, I am proud!
I would love it if we could consistently dress in a more traditional style as well - not just at reenactments. That day may come, for Patty has repeatedly mentioned how she wishes she could wear her period clothing outside of reenactments, including her corset. She just feels more comfortable.
Wouldn't that be something - - - many in my extended family already thinks were wacko (in a cool sort of way) as it is!
Ultimately, what Patty and I hope to do is get out of the city living, find a home either in a small town or village (Romeo, here we come!) or a small farmhouse with a bit of land, and do our best to become as self-sufficient as we can. Use more natural lighting. Eat the vegetables we grow. Take pride in what we're able to do ourselves without society help. I'm not necessarily speaking of becoming Amish (although that is intriguing!) because I do enjoy a good movie, for instance, and I enjoy playing on the computer. Hot showers are nice, too. But, to become more independent of modern society. We have spoken of this quite a bit lately - it's an ache and a yearning we both have.
We just have to, with God's help (for I can see no other way), put it into motion.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Dept. 56 Dickens Village
Why am I putting up Christmas stuff on November 1st? Well, since this village takes so long to do, I'm not going to take 12 hours to put it up only to take it down a few short weeks later. So, it goes up right after Hallowe'en and stays up until the first part of January.
I've been collecting the Dickens Village series since 1989, the year I bought my first lighted house - the original Flat of Ebenezer Scrooge. Since I was (and still am) a major fan of the Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," I thought having this lighted Scrooge home was the coolest decoration ever. I remember telling my wife how "I'll buy one house a year."
The following year we added a couple more houses to my one house collection, and each year thereafter my Village grew. And grew. One year - 1994, I believe - I used my Hudson's charge card and bought a whole slew of houses and accessories, much to the frustration of my beloved. Yes, she was angry...real angry... boy! I sure didn't do that again!
Except for a couple of pieces from other Dept. 56 series, I have mainly stuck to the Dickens Village, and I always have tried to keep it in the theme of Dickens' "Carol:" buying the homes of Cratchit, Fezziwig, Nephew Fred, and the Scrooge & Marley Counting House, etc., as well as structures from other Dickens novels, including the home of Mr. Brownlow (from 'Oliver Twist) and The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also buildings of businesses that every English village had - a blacksmith shop, a pub, a tavern, a coal merchant, and many others.
And then there are the accessories...all of the characters from "Carol" including Scrooge, Cratchit, and the ghosts, as well as a few from the pages of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Plus, vendors of all types, townsfolk, horse and carriages, "gas" street lamps, cobblestone roads, bridges, trees...the list goes on and on.
Little did I know when I bought that first Scrooge house that I would eventually have enough to easily fill four 6 foot tables.
The last year I put the complete collection on display it took me two full days! And it took almost as long to take it all down.
The last few years, however, I cut way back in both the purchasing of and the setting up of my village. It was just too much - too large. Even with a decent size room it was over the top. So, instead, I put just a few of my favorites on the shelf just to have them out.
I didn't like it. It wasn't the same.
So, what do I do?
The thought came to me to expand on my 'favorites' idea and to put out a decent display, but with only two tables instead of the four that I used to have. That would mean cutting out quite a few of the houses and people.
But, it's better than only four or five houses, right?
So-o-o, that's what I worked on all day today; figuring out what goes on display and what stays in the box for another year.
When family members saw me bringing bag after bag filled with the items up from the basement, my two youngest kids were thrilled, and my mom - who lives with us - was very excited.
So now, for the first time in three years, I have my Dickens Village back up...yes, it's condensed...but it's there. And it looks really nice.
Maybe one day I will put my complete village out.
Until then....this is it!
Seen here is roughly half of my Dickens collection. The rest will have to wait for another time...