Monday, December 13, 2010

Grammie Conn's Molasses Cookies

Cookies are great any time of year, especially if you are a child, and this holiday season brought to mind my Grammie Conn’s Molasses Cookies.  She made them all year long and always had some stored in a tin high on the shelf in the pantry. Going to Grammie’s house was fun for so many reasons, but there was nothing so exciting as coming through the door and being given the privilege of collecting the kitchen stool, carrying it to the back of the pantry and reaching for the tin, knowing a cold glass of milk would be waiting on the kitchen table. I would happily help Grammie with all kinds of chores if I was going to be rewarded with molasses cookies.



Click on the photo for the easy recipe and you can enjoy Grammie's cookies too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Thing About Me

There is one thing everyone should really know about me: I get irritable sometimes. I think of myself as direct with a low tolerance for twaddle, but a number of family members have noted by that I can be cranky and whiny. In addition, fair warning to anyone who may ever be an overnight houseguest, I am just not a good morning person, but that is another discussion all together.


Now I know that most of you are thinking that is just not possible for such an easygoing chick like me. You are thinking that I am usually so cheerful, with a big smile and that can-do demeanor, just a picture of delightfulness ready to jump on any passing bandwagon and join in the revelry. You cannot imagine me being disagreeable, much less surrounded by an acrimonious cloud, crowned with disheveled hair and sporting a bad attitude. I know you are having difficulty perceiving me as anything but ready to greet the world with sunshine and goodwill, and you would be right for the most part, but I do occasionally become taciturn with a baleful glare instead of emoting Glinda the Good Fairy happiness. Don’t worry though, it is usually only when I am feeling underappreciated (i.e. like a live-in maid and not Queen of the Household), or if you wake me up abruptly from a dream I am loath to leave (where I am Queen of the Household and not the live-in maid), or when I realize that I am not going to live forever.


Unfortunately, just the other day I had one of those you are not going to live forever moments that make me very cranky. It was my sister Meg’s birthday, she is the baby of the family and I am the eldest. It was a weekend morning, I was lounging around in my pajamas and quite cheerful. I playfully sang her a birthday song of my own creation, and teased her about turning 39 years old. When we finished our conversation, I decided to treat myself to a relaxing bath as I had the house to myself and could enjoy the bathroom, alone, for more than ten minutes. It was just before stepping into the tub of luxurious bubbles that I made the mistake of looking in the mirror and mortality soundly spanked my plump backside.


Seeing myself in full dis-clothes-ure usually does not happen for several reasons: I always remove my glasses before undressing creating a visual world that is wonderfully undefined, plus the lights are usually off; I like my baths and showers so hot and steamy that the mirrors fog over, so if I absentmindedly glance in their direction my nakedness is not reflected back. It is in this fashion I have been able to maintain the body of a twenty-five year old. Have I ever mentioned that I believe God is a comedian? He is, and it was in this indecorous fashion that he sharply reminded me that I have reached an age where the dark magic of gravity is taking its toll, plus he happily pointed out that sitting on my bum at a desk all day long typing is not a form of exercise.


I quickly immersed myself in the tub, covered all my fading glory with bubbles, leaned back, closed my eyes, and practiced deep breathing exercises while my inner 25-year-old came to terms with the outer 49-year-old woman. Steam, dreams, and a promise to drink more water and forgo bread in any form, as well as the reminder that plastic surgery is an option, got me through those few awful moments where reality looked me right in the face and I was foolish enough to look back. That and the fact that getting older sharpens one’s ability (and right) to forget things, like where you left your car keys (in the car), what you walked into the other room for (who cares it wasn’t that important anyway), and the fact that physical nature eventually takes precedence over state of mind in the case of aging.


I was on the road to recovering my cheery self, mixing a happy potion commonly known as a Bloody Mary – hey, it was almost noontime AND it was a Saturday - when Paul snuck up behind me, kissed me playfully on the neck, grabbed my bottom, and cooed something along the lines of what is that nice big pillow you have there. He denies it, but I was pretty damn sure that is what he said, which made me a little irritable. He swears I transformed into a fire-breathing dragon when all he wanted to do was get a little frisky, but as I said, I have a low tolerance for twaddle, besides the maid had to get her big pillow moving and catch up with the laundry, the dishes, and sweeping the ashes from the fireplace.


Paul, being the prince that he truly is, helped with the chores while skillfully avoiding my scathing glances; he waited patiently through my stomping up and down the stairs, the slamming of various doors, the mutterings under my breath, and the brief tears. Using some kind of man radar to determine the most opportune moment, he scooped me into a bear hug asking if the sexy maid would be interested in relations with the Man of the House, while offering me another Bloody Mary and a shoulder massage.

What woman in her right mind could stay irritable under those conditions? Besides, I do not want to be twenty-five again; I am happy with the life that I am living, and I am happy to have a man who knows that sometimes I get irritable and is still willing to hang in there until he can make me laugh again. So, as long as he doesn’t wake me up from a beautiful dream with his snoring tonight, everything will remain copacetic.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH

Wow, I haven't posted anything here since August. Needless to say I had a busy summer, and an equally busy fall, but now that the winter is coming on strong and it gets dark early here in the Northeast I hope to have time to regularly post again.

I am writing quite a bit these days as I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month.  Have you heard of it? Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. Of course my computer went on the fritz, because I've spent time doing laundry, dishes, oh yes, and my regular nine-to-five job, I'm just a tad behind on my expected word count, but that is part of the value of this exercise - to learn to shut everything else out for a certain period of time during the day and just write ! As they tell you on their website - Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Oh yes, I have one other problem - I am battling writing forward instead of going back to edit, but I will prevail. Make no mistake, when you wrie this way you write a lot of crap, but you can take that out later and hopefully you will have a nugget of something meaningful to your story that can be tweaked and prodded and coaxed into something worthy - but not now!


The Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric
Trinity College, Hartford, CT


I did attend one write-in at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, just yesterday. It was a beautiful Sunday, warm for the season, and it was inspiring to be out of my home and all the distractions it contains, and into a room with like-minded individuals intent on writing. I'm not quite where I want ot be yet, but I wrote for three hours, it was inspiring.

Honestly, I could end up with 50,000 and a hellacious story, but at least it will be my hellacious story and I can claim my mission accomplished.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Discovering a Red Headed Stranger in Austin, Texas

Paul had to travel to Austin, Texas recently on business. From the onset he was not over whelmed about spending time there. Me, I like cowboys, and barbeques, and long winding dirt roads surrounded by open, empty fields or stands of woods. Of course Austin is a city so my vision is stuck in some old black and white movie, but Paul was still concerned that Austin wouldn’t be, I don’t know, metropolitan enough for his tastes.

A day into his trip he phoned to say he was thoroughly enjoying himself. As it turns out Austin is quite metro. The capital of Texas, Austin is located in Central Texas, situated on the Colorado River, with three man-made lakes within the city limits: Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long.


According to Wikipedia, “Residents of Austin are known as "Austinites" and include a diverse mix of university professors, students, politicians, musicians, state employees, high-tech workers, blue-collar workers, and white-collar workers. The main campus of the University of Texas is located in Austin. The city is home to development centers for many technology corporations and has adopted the nickname "Silicon Hills"… In recent years, many Austinites have also adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird"; this refers partly to the eclectic and liberal lifestyle of many Austin residents but is also the slogan for a campaign to preserve smaller local businesses and resist excessive corporatization.”

Austin's official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World; the city has a happening live music scene revolving around the many nightclubs on 6th Street and the annual film/music/interactive festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW).

Paul was there just a week after SXSW ended but the city was still humming from the vibe. When we were young and growing up in Litchfield County, Connecticut, the live music scene, between local clubs and live venues in NYC and Boston, was alive and kickin’. I loved seeing bands perform live, having a cocktail with friends, and dancing the night away….oh how I miss the 70s and 80s, but I digress. It appears that Austin Texas, of all places, is one of the last surviving enclaves for a lot of good, live music.

Towards the end of 1971, Stevie Ray Vaughan dropped out of high school and moved to Austin, Texas with the band Blackbird. Their home base was a nightclub on the outskirts of town called the Soap Creek Saloon, a classic Texas Roadhouse. Of course, Soap Creek Saloon is now closed, and Stevie Ray has moved on up to that big band in the sky, but I thought he was worth a mention when speaking of Austin.

One thing that Paul did consider very freaky was the fact that Austin is home to the largest urban bat population in the world. Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans the Lady Bird Lake, is home to a colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats. At dusk, from March to September, people line the bridge and lake shore to watch the bats stream out in their nightly quest for insects. I think this would be so amazing to witness, Paul stayed as far away from the bridge as possible.

There were two things that Paul thoroughly enjoyed about Austin Texas: one was Tito’s Handmade Vodka and the other was a Bacon Bloody Mary.

Tito's Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery. It's made in small batches in an old fashioned pot still by Tito Beveridge (yes, that is his actual name), a 45-year-old Geologist. It is micro-distilled in an old-fashioned pot still, like they do for fine single malt scotches or high-end French cognacs. This stuff is distilled six times and it is smooth, hoo-wee boy.  When Paul got home we asked the Cascade Spirit Shop to find us a bottle. They did, and it is truly delicious and not overly expensive. Buy some now before it catches on.

Paul and I LOVE hotdogs.  While he was in Austin he stopped by Frank’s looking to try out theirs. Just looking at their website makes my mouth water. I may travel to Austin just so I can experience Frank’s first hand. I never did ask Paul how the hotdogs were, because he sent me this photo (left).  While waiting for his dog he enjoyed a cocktail called the Red Headed Stranger. It is created with house made bacon-infused Dripping Springs Vodka, Frank’s Bloody Mary mix, garnished with a slice of bacon, a hunk of cheddar cheese, an olive, and a pepperocini. Paul had his glass rimmed in pepper, like you would salt a margarita glass.

As far as the Bacon Bloody, aka the Red Headed Stranger, well I guess I am going to have to get myself to Austin and try the original with a side of hotdogs, but since my religion involves the partaking of at least one Bloody Mary every Sunday, I will try to recreate the original using Paul as my taste-tester. This will be a good juxtaposition to my beloved Shrimpy Mary served at Jumpin’ Jays Fish CafĂ© in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

From what I can tell there is much more to Austin than I would have ever imagined. Paul thinks we should go back and visit sometime soon. He thinks I would really enjoy it. I think he’s right.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Historic Canterbury Cathedral

The Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, England is one of the oldest Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site. Canterbury's skyline is dominated by the stunning Canterbury Cathedral. Located in the southeastern corner of England, Kent borders the river Thames and North Sea to the north, and the Straits of Dover and English Channel to the south, France is a mere 21 miles across the Strait, and Kent is one of the warmest parts of England. Whether you are interested in history, architecture, art, music, the spiritual aspect or the beauty of the town and country surrounding Canterbury Cathedral there are many avenues to explore.


Almost everyone had to read Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales at some point during their education. Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle-English by Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are written as a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims traveling together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral, as told by Chaucer in his famous tome, and since that time the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims.


Having survived fires, pillaging and attacks by the Danes, aggression from the Puritans, and even aggressive air bombings in the area during the Second World War, the Cathedral luckily remained virtually intact. Today over 2 million visitors come to the Cathedral each year; some come to pray and some come as tourists. If you like to travel the Canterbury Cathedral is a lovely place to visit. The history, architecture, art, and religious aspects, the archival library, as well as the beautiful countryside surrounding the structure, are more than enough reasons for most to consider visiting the area.


First and foremost Canterbury Cathedral is a working, living church and place of worship; Cathedral life begins daily with Morning Prayer and finishes with Evening Prayer. The Eucharist is also offered daily. Many other services take place throughout the year and visitors are always welcome.


Canterbury Cathedral is impressive for its size alone. A unique combination of architectural features from Western Roman and Byzantine buildings, known generally as Romanesque architecture which is known for thick walls, sturdy piers, large towers and decorative arcading, the building is impressive. Equally impressive, as well as revolutionary at the time of construction, are Canterbury Cathedral's pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.


The grandeur of the building's Romanesque Gothic style architecture reflects historic and religious importance, as does the magnificent collection of medieval stained glass windows. Canterbury Cathedral's stained glass windows, many surviving from the late 12th and early 13th centuries, are a sight to behold; in the Middle Ages most people could not read or write, stained glass windows told the stories of the Bible in pictures that anyone could interpret.


A particular grouping, known as the Miracle Windows, depict stories that sometimes involve local people whose names are still known today. These windows provide a fascinating glimpse into medieval life, particularly common illnesses and accidents. Many scenes take place around Thomas Becket's tomb.
The Cathedral now has its own stained glass conservation studio, established in 1973, and a team of seven highly trained conservators. The studio has become a center of excellence in stained glass conservation and restoration throughout the world.



The Canterbury tradition of Cathedral music is also quite special. Music is an integral part of Cathedral life and they take great pride in the music performed at their services. Every day visitors are given the chance to celebrate and enjoy music written for the English choral tradition as well as music from other parts of the world. The choir consists of twelve Lay Clerks, men who are professional singers but also work locally, and the 30-strong choristers, boys of 8 - 13 years old who attend St Edmund's School in Canterbury. They sing at services six days a week, as well as at special events happening in Canterbury Cathedral.


The choir's repertoire is extensive and always expanding, they learn and perform music dating from the 13th century to modern works. Every two-weeks there is a mixture of styles and composers, so that there is something for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Evensong is sung on a Wednesday and is normally sung by the Lay Clerks alone. The twelve Lay Clerks, 4 basses, 4 tenors and 4 countertenors, have a high standard of vocal training and ability. Since the post of Lay Clerk is part-time it requires great commitment to schedule practices and performances in and around other work and family, but the result is heavenly.


For the more serious traveler the Canterbury Cathedral Library may be a point of interest. Since the Reformation numerous donations have formed the majority of holdings. The Library contains about 30,000 books and pamphlets printed before 1900, and a collection of some 20,000 books and serials published in the 20th and 21st centuries. The collection of books on church history, older theology, national and local history, travel, natural science, medicine and the anti-slavery movement is particularly expansive. The Library welcomes all researchers; their holdings are tracked on the internet as part of the University of Kent's online catalogue at http://opac.kent.ac.uk/.


Although Canterbury is a place steeped in tradition it is also a modern and vibrant city. Luxury hotels, fine restaurants, and welcoming pubs combine to give a complete experience. For those who like to shop, Canterbury's array of shop windows beckons with a kaleidoscope of colors. The King's Mile has an atmosphere all of its own, while the city's St Dunstan's, West Gate Towers, and Northgate areas have a range of specialist and individual outlets.




Travelling by foot is a good way to explore the city. Walking trails or guided walks will allow you to make the most of your time enjoying the winding lanes and streets. Alternatively you may wish to relax view the city with a boat trip along the River Stour. You will be able to appreciate Canterbury's historical architecture set against outstanding, scenic views. The crystal clear waters offer a home to ducks, swans, fish and other wildlife, while the river banks have an array of bending willow trees and wild flowers. I can’t think of  better reasons to visit, can you?

References: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/canterbury-cathedral

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canterbury_Cathedral

Thank you to Flickr.com for some beautiful photos

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Preserved and Pickled

I have started another blog, Preserved and Pickled, that will focus on preserving fruits and vegetables, as well as occasional recipes.  Please click on the title above. I  would really like to know what you think.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sweet Potato Latkes


Latkes can be eaten plain as a snack, with a side salad, topped with applesauce, sour cream, or my personal favorite, Greek yogurt.




The French sometimes serve potato galettes with coq au vin. Those of the Jewish persuasion eat them during Hannukah because they are cooked in oil (and delicious). The Swedes add grated potatoes to a pancake batter, and Germans and Austrians like them with garlic, salt and butter. 

This is such a versatile recipe you can’t go wrong.  Usually all the ingredients you need are already in the house, and even the most finicky eaters are happy with the results. Besides, like loaves and fishes, a little goes a long way. Here is my recipe. Enjoy!

SWEET POTATO LATKES

1 Sweet Potato
1 small Red Onion cut in long, thin slices similar to the grated potato
2 Eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
2 – 3 Tablespoons dried Marjoram
Kosher Salt
White Pepper
Freshly Diced Chives (topping)
Greek Yogurt (topping)
Olive Oil for frying



Grate Potato by hand or in a Cuisinart and place in colander for at least 15 minutes.  Rinse, press to remove water. Lay grated potato on kitchen cloth, roll to squeeze our excess water.  Repeat until potato is as dry as you can get it.


 Mix together the eggs, sliced onion, marjoram, salt and white pepper in large mixing bowl.  Add potato, stir together until well blended.



Coat the bottom of non-stick skillet over medium heat with olive oil until hot, but not smoking.

Using a medium wooden spoon (or comparable spoon) drop mixture carefully into hot pan.  Use a fork to spread to preferred thickness.



Cook over medium heat until crispy on the outside (about 3 minutes). Turn carefully with spatula and crisp other side for another 3 minutes.




Work in batches adding oil as needed Remove to baking pan covered with newspaper and hold in 200 degree oven if not serving immediately.

When ready to serve top with a dollop of Greek yougurt and sprinkle with chopped chives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.


Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in an old house. Made of stone like a castle with large beams and sections of wood throughout, it was large and stately. There were several immense stone fireplaces throughout the building for cooking and warmth. I remember my mother and step-father were there as well as others, but they are the only two that I remember specifically. We were in the Great Room and the fire was blazing. Suddenly there was a strange sound in the room and my step-father said that the chimney was on fire, everyone throughout the house had to move outside for safety’s sake.


The fire was large, blowing from the chimney in swirling red flames, lighting up the night with showers of sparks flying everywhere. Nearby was an immense old oak tree with one large arm sticking out into the night, an “owl hole” noticeable on the side facing me. A spark flew into the hole and started the old dry wood on fire. The flames increased and eventually the arm of the tree fell to the ground sending up a curtain of sparks, but the rest of the tree remained standing.

We rushed over to the area of the tree and underneath covered in moss and debris was an round stone pedestal rising from the ground. At this point I knew that the house we were at was my grandfather’s and that the stone pedestal was a creation of his. I tried to verbalize this to the people around me, but there was a man who was older, a teacher-like figure, crawling around on the flat top, which was quite large, brushing away debris and tracing lines that ran through the old granite, explaining as a scholar would the significance of the stone, but explaining that no one really knew the purpose. I tried to explain several times that it was designed by my grandfather and was similar to a carousel, but the man would not listen and ignored me because I was a child and he knew better than I. Finally I gave up trying to speak and waited.

Eventually the man crawling around on his knees spouting his “knowledge” and tracing the lines came to a square block on the far side of the circle with a cross or an x carved into it, such as you would see on the old stone property markers found in the corners of New England fields. As he was expressing his curiosity as to what this piece was doing here, with no visible tie to the patterns of the other lines, I pressed down on the x and stood back.

The circle of rock began to rise from the ground shaking off the moss. People jumped off its surface and stood to the sides as the rock began to move in a circular motion. The lines the man had been tracing were demarcations and as the rock turned cog-like sections began to pump up and down

“Oh,” the people whispered and breathed. “Look, it moves like a carousel.”

I stood off to the side and smiled. Then I woke up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Flannery O'Connor: The Violent Bear It Away

I must admit, the books I enjoy the most are those that cause me to ponder their meaning long after the final page as been turned, leaving me with angst about the human condition: writings that make me dig deep and examine my own soul. For these reasons I have always been drawn to Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates. 

 I consider O’Connor and Oates to be writers of Southern and Northern, if there is such a category, Gothic. Their plumbing of the human condition touches me to the very core and often leaves me with more questions than answers, the condition of human existence itself.

Having just read O’Connor’s second and final novel, The Violent Bear It Away, I find myself examining my own personal struggles with those who have touched my life, particularly those whom I did not choose to do so, but have left their mark all the same. The Violent Bear It Away is considered a landmark in American literature. 

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, Flannery O’Connor died in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1964.  In that short span she wrote two novels, thirty-one short stories, and a number of reviews and essays. As with her previous novel the main character struggles with an internal battle against the faith that was instilled in him, the life he was told by others he was born to lead.

The title is taken from a translation of Matthew 11:12, which provides the book’s epigraph: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” These are Jesus’ words to the multitude, and the themes of baptism, violence and the Bread of Life permeate the novel.
The main action of The Violent Bear It Away occurs over seven days, but much of the novel consists of flashbacks that recall incidents in the lives of the main characters. Events are illustrated through the memories of different individuals providing insight into their psychological and spiritual natures, revealing the motivations behind their actions, and offering a family history clouded by personal feelings, religious and intellectual beliefs, and emotional confusion. The novel is divided into three sections, each covering a period in Francis Marion Tarwater's journey of self-discovery.
O’Connor’s last major work to be published in her lifetime, the novel offers no easy truths; Tarwater is an unlikable boy who learns that doing God's work entails violence, unreason, even madness. It is a psychological study of the mysterious and frightening nature of the religious calling. Stark religious symbolism and Biblical allusions unite to explore themes of spiritual hunger, faith versus reason, and the battle for the soul. O'Connor wrote the novel over eight years while suffering from lupus, publishing the first chapter as a story, You Can't Be Poorer Than Dead, in 1955. 
While living at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor completed Wise Blood, which was published in 1952. Then her highly acclaimed collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, was published in 1955. By the end of the 1950s, largely on the strength of her short stories, O'Connor was viewed as a major American writer; a committed Catholic, O'Connor traveled to Rome for an audience with the Pope in 1958.  In 1960, The Violent Bear It Away was published, but like its predecessor, Wise Blood, was poorly received.

For the last few years of her life, as her lupus progressed, O'Connor concentrated on writing nonfiction. She died on August 3, 1964 at her mother's home in Milledgeville. In 1972, she was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for The Complete Short Stories.She also wrote The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960, here. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. A collection of nonfiction prose titled Mystery and Manners edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald was published in 1969. The Complete Stories, edited by Robert Giroux, won the 1971 National Book Award for Fiction. Sally Fitzgerald edited a large collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, published in 1979, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. O’Connor, a committed Catholic,  traveled to Rome for an audience with the Pope in 1958.  Collected Works was published in 1988 as part of the Library of America series, the definitive collection of America’s greatest writers.
Further Reference-
The Flannery O'Connor–Andalusia Foundation, Inc. maintains a Web site at http://www.andalusiafarm.org/ with information about the activities taking place at the Andalusia property where O'Connor lived and worked. 
Comforts of Home, a Web site dedicated to Flannery O'Connor, can be found at http://www.mediaspecialist.org/index.html. This site has links to biographical information about the author and critical analyses of her work. 
A Library of America interview with author Brad Gooch, who has written the only biography on  Flannery O’Connor, can be found at: "http://www.loa.org/images/pdf/Gooch_on_O'Connor.pdf

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vintage Rhinestone Jewelry: How It Originated with Links For Further Research

Even if you're not a fashion maven, you're likely to recognize the name Coco Chanel. Coco Before Chanel was a well-received movie released in 2009, once again making Chanel a household word. Born Gabrielle Chanel in 1883, Coco Chanel became and remains an icon of fashion design. Particularly known for her famous Chanel suits, with boxy button up jackets and knee length skirts that are considered stylish to this day, Coco Chanel was also an integral figure in setting the stage for jewelry in the Roaring 20s; she not only made a more relaxed style for women and helped usher in the flapper era, she made rhinestone jewelry fashionable.  Coco promoted suites of jewels, what would become known as 'parure grand sets', consisting of 4 to 8 matching pieces.  With her influence rhinestone jewelry became an accepted fashion staple throughout the modern world.

More recently, Broadway star, Kristin Chenowith appeared at the show, “Stars Heart the Red Dress.”  The opening night of fashion week found the star dressed in red and sporting heart shaped jewelry designed by Daniel Swarovski.




The word "Jewel" is actually a derivative of the French word "Jouel", referring to the royal table dressings favored in ancient France.  Kings, Queens, and people of great wealth and political prominence wore fine, lacy jewels throughout the 18th and 19th century that were encrusted with the finest gems when they were in attendance at High Court parties.


www.associatedcontent.com/article/2692407/vintage_rhinestone_jewelry.html
 
In general, members of the royal courts of various countries often traveled long distances by coach; lockboxes of jewels and their valuables would travel with them.  Robbery was commonplace, hence the term "highway robbery".  Eventually the wealthy wised up and began to commission artisans to create replicas of their original jewelry.  They would take these replicas to court. These imitations, specifically the stones, were referred to "paste".  Paste was the process of using glass with a very high lead content to reflect and refract light mimicking a precious gem.  This light "refraction" look was sought after and achieved when the backs of the stones were "foiled" with a copper or silver underlay. Paste work was as labor intensive and tedious as fine jewelry making, since the entire process was handcrafted.  As a result even paste jewels could only be afforded by the wealthy. These imitation pieces can be just as valuable as fine jewelry to collectors.

Even though collecting antique jewelry of this variety is not reasonable for most, collecting vintage rhinestone jewelry can bring a bit of old fashioned glamour into your life. Beautiful brooches and earrings created from 1920s through the 1940s are highly collectible, and popular designers include Chanel, Coro, Trifari, Weiss, and Schiaparelli, as well as the ever-popular Swarovski; but before you start collecting let’s revisit a bit more history of rhinestone jewelry.

Czechoslovakian or Bohemian Glass

Created as early as the 13th century in Bohemia and the Czech Republic, originally rhinestones where referred to as Czechoslovakian or Bohemian glass. Both countries have a history of outstanding hand blown glass, as well as molded and cut glass. Rhinestones are manmade from highly refined glass. Various metals were used to color the glass to a desired shade. The glass was then pressed into molds before being ground and polished into a brilliant “stone”. Eventually the stones were foiled on the back to increase their brilliance. 

In 1891 Daniel Swarovski created a new glass-cutting machine, literally revolutionizing jewelry making. The machine cut faceted glass, producing a finished product in a short time. Swarovski’s background in glass making, combined with his glass cutting machine, allowed him to produce rhinestones with a lead content of over 30%. The brilliance of these rhinestones was superior to anything previously created. Swarovski then created vacuum plating to foil the backs of the stones with silver and gold reducing the need for hand labor, once again transforming the jewelry industry. Over 80% of rhinestone jewelry currently manufactured in America uses Swarovski rhinestones.

The 1890s was a time for extravagant jewelry heavily adorned with rhinestones.  Eventually jewelry designs became simpler, and figural shapes, smaller and more elegant, made a fashion statement with their rhinestone accents. Around 1918 Czechoslovakian glass began to make its appearance as jewelry. This strain of Czech glass became known as rhinestones. Since that time rhinestones have played an important role in fashion. During the Victorian period common motifs for jewelry included snakes, flowers, and hands, often adorned with rhinestones. During the Edwardian period extravagance made a comeback with diamonds and pearls being the focal point, and although they never completely disappeared it was a while until rhinestones once again became popular.

During the 1920s fashions changed quickly. Dresses became looser and less restraining. Two distinct styles occurred during this era – the feminine style and the androgynous style. American jewelry from the 1920s obviously drew on the Art Deco period. Up until this time the majority of rhinestone jewelry had been made with clear rhinestones; as the 1920s progressed jewelry again became more dramatic in color and style.

During the 1930s the Depression changed everything.  Inexpensive rhinestone jewelry could be used to revitalize an old outfit and bring a little sparkle to hard times. The industry began to produce bright colored enamel pieces accented with rhinestones. Dogs, birds, and cats with a rhinestone eye were common. The jewelry of the 1940s once again became big and bold and large stones set on bold settings became the norm.

The 1950s could almost be considered the Golden Age of rhinestone jewelry.  During this era rhinestone jewelry makers were able to copy write their designs, solidifying the art of jewelry making as an "art form". There were two distinct styles – elegant and sophisticated for the more mature woman, casual and fun for the younger woman.  Rhinestone parures again became popular. In 1953 the aurora borealis rhinestone was introduced to the market and was an immediate sensation.

In the early 1960s women were still wearing functional clothing, but the late 1960s gave rise to hippie fashions with their roots tied to Mother Nature. Tie-dyed shirts, long flowing skirts, and frayed jeans were everywhere. Bohemian comes to mind, but this generation had little interest in rhinestone jewelry. In the late '70s the punk look was born and the rhinestone was once again revitalized. Since then rhinestones have remained mainstream in the jewelry world.

Czech Machine Cut Rhinestones

As previously mentioned, a majority of rhinestone jewelry manufactured in America makes use of Swarovski rhinestones. There are a number of collectors who prefer Czech machine cut rhinestones. These lead crystal rhinestones generally have 8 facets. At distances, these stones flash brighter than do Swarovski, and because of great presence and lower cost, are favorites of many costumers.  Czech rhinestones are known to have a quality quite comparable to Swarovski and are often preferred because they are less expensive without a noticeable quality difference.

Collecting Vintage Jewelry

You don't have to be an antique dealer or a fashionista to collect vintage jewelry. Good advice for any type of collector is: if you like it, buy it. Vintage pieces can be found at tag sales, estate auctions, on E-bay, or from other collectors. Vintage jewelry has become quite popular and the Internet is an invaluable resource for finding pieces as well as educating yourself about styles and collectiblity.

Amazing Adornments (www.amazingadornments.com/Collecting.htm) is a good place to start. This website offers solid advice on collecting and identifying vintage pieces.  They also offer items for sale that run the gamut of designers, from older collectibles like Trifari or Weiss to modern designers such as Vera Wang or Oscar de la Renta.

Another wonderfully informative website focused on collecting vintage jewelry is Illusion Jewels (www.illusionjewels.com). Most artisans marked their jewelry in some fashion, and it was not uncommon for designers to have more than one "mark".  Illusion Jewels is a thoroughly researched, comprehensive website for jewelry history, jewelry marks, and signatures.

One of the largest current sellers of costume jewelry in the United Sates is arguably Avon. The company began as the California Perfume Company (CPC). Started by David H. McConnell in 1886, within a year there were twelve saleswomen selling perfume and toiletries door to door.  The company quickly grew and in January of 1929 the Avon Company was born with the introduction of the Avon line.

"Avon Calling" became the firms slogan and their products were sold directly to homes by Avon representatives. Visit Avon Collectable Jewelry for comprehensive introduction to Avon's vintage jewelry (http://antiques.lovetoknow.com/Avon_Collectable_Jewelry)

Finally, a quick guide to dating vintage and antique jewelry can be found at the popular blogspot, Collecting Vintage Jewelry (http://collectingvintagejewelry.blogspot.com/2008/12/quick-guide-to-dating-vintage-and.html).

As with any personal interest, the more we know about what we collect, the more we can enjoy it. Whether you find your vintage jewelry on E-Bay, at an estate sale, or in your grandmother's jewelry box, or perhaps decide to start with more modern pieces, making a personal statement with a unique piece of jewelry is always in style.



References:

Glam For Less, http://www.glamforless.com/History.htm
Amazing Adornments, www.amazingadornments.com/Collecting.htm
Illusion Jewels, www.illusionjewels.com/costumejewelrymarkscoro.html

Photo Credits:
Amazing Adornments, Illusion Jewels



Friday, February 12, 2010

Milk Paint: Environmentally Safe

Milk Paint is regaining wide usage because it contains only ingredients that are all-natural and will not harm the environment; milk paint is truly a "green paint". Up until the discovery of petroleum and the introduction of toxic chemicals paints were created using natural ingredients such as: linseed oil, lime, casein from milk, turpentine, citrus oils, chalk, and hemp oil.

The formula for milk paint was simple to make and for thousands of years was used throughout the world. Over time different recipes and pigments were tried producing varying results; many of these coatings proved durable while others disintegrated, leaving only a permanent stain on the painted surface. Various recipes included substances such as: olive oil, linseed oil, eggs, animal glue, or waxes.

The oldest painted surfaces on earth were created with forms of milk paint. Cave drawings and paintings were made with a simple composition of milk, lime, and natural earth or vegetative pigments. When King Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1924 artifacts, including models of boats, people, and furniture inside the burial chamber, had been painted with milk paint. Until World War II, many Americans still painted houses and furniture with it.

Although major paint manufacturers are now producing more environmentally friendly paints, a good majority of them can still contain hazardous substances. VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) belong to a family of chemicals that evaporate quickly and leave an undesirable odor, such as toluene, xylene and formaldehyde, and are main components of modern day paint. They are toxic to humans, particularly children or the elderly, as well as toxic to the environment.

Old-Fashioned Furniture Paint

In the "old" days farmers often used milk as the base for their paint. Any milk that was not consumed could be mixed with some sort of color additive and used as paint. It was once common for household furniture to be painted in this way. Since they had to use regular milk, which was quite thin, for their paint, colored earth and lime would be used to make the paint thicker and to give it some texture. Using powdered milk can control the thickness and texture of today’s milk paint. The directions below explain how it's done.

The pioneer recipes for milk paint had two things in common: milk and lime. Together they form a natural binding agent. Color can be added with any natural substance (rust, berries etc.), water soluble dye, food coloring, or pigments found at arts or crafts stores. Classic red barns are most likely the result of an abundance of milk and the availability of red pigments in the form of rust (iron oxide). Livestock blood was also added to milk to produce blood paint. You can use the recipe below to make your own batch of Milk Paint.

Basic Milk Paint
This recipe makes approximately 1.5 Gallons Milk Paint: good for a bureau or larger project. Cut recipe in half for chair or smaller project.

Ingredients:
1 Gallon Skim Milk
2 Cups Builders Lime also called Hydrated Lime (Do NOT use Quick Lime)
One Quart Boiled Linseed Oil
1/2 Cup of Salt
Add color in as needed.

Directions:
1. First of all, choose a container with a tight-fitting lid. A wide mouth jar works best, but just about any jar will do. Determine how much paint will be blended and choose container accordingly.

2. Begin by measuring Skim Milk into the container. Add salt and lime in small amounts, mixing steadily until all the powder disappears. Don't worry about lumps at this point; continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken. What makes milk paint so different from more common products is the fact that milk paint is water based. Oil and latex based paints are much thicker than milk paint; keep this in mind as you blend your batch.

3. Add color additives to achieve the desired shade. If other types of natural colorings are desired, check the Internet for lists of various plants suitable for this use. Mix well. Strain if necessary (this is preferred), or you can let sit until lumps rest at bottom of container and use only the paint at the top of the container.

4. The paint will be ready for use immediately. When painting on wood surfaces or furniture, treat it like any other paint. The coloring can often permanently stain clothing that comes in contact with it before it has had time to dry thoroughly, so be careful. Milk paint has a short shelf life, so it makes sense to mix small batches, ideally just enough for your current project. Any leftover paint can be sealed and refrigerated for 3 or 4 days only. Allow the paint to return to room temperature before using again.

If you prefer to use a pre-packaged milk paint products Gallagher’s Milk Paint (www.milkpaintsamples.com) offers 1 oz. Sample sizes.  They offer a brochure and other literature in each “sample kit”. Their samples are packaged as powder and pre-colored.  All you have to do is add water.


Painting

Choose a good quality, polyester or natural bristle brush. Dip the dry brush into water before starting, and then shake out the excess. Wetting the brush helps prevent paint drying in the upper part of the bristles. The first coat won't flow on as easily as you might expect. Let this first coat dry, it will probably be somewhat transparent and full of overlaps.

Before the second coat lightly rub down the surface with steel wool, a kitchen scouring pad, or even very lightly with fine sandpaper. After applying the desired number of coats, give the whole thing a good rubbing with steel wool (#000) then vacuum off the dust. You are now ready for oil.

An easy standard oil blend is boiled linseed oil cut with a little turpentine, a mixture of about 6 to 1 respectively. The turpentine is used as a drying agent. Spread the oil mixture on liberally with a foam brush. When everything is coated, go over those areas that have dried. Let it sit for a few minutes then touch up the dry areas once more. Give it another half-hour or so then wipe away all the excess oil. Cheesecloth is good for this, or a similar soft, absorbent cloth, usually available at the grocery store; any lint left behind can be vacuumed away once the piece is completely dried.

Your project will probably smell slightly of turpentine for a few days, but this will dissipate and should be completely dry in about 24 hours. The result will be a traditional matte finish. This type of milk paint/linseed finish is susceptible to water spots. If a spill is wiped up right away there likely will be no problem. But if left to dry, whitish spots will result. These are easily removed with a little oil/turpentine, rubbed in and wiped away.

There are a number of tricks to think about when using milk paint. One favorite among chair makers is to paint a chair with several coats of different colors - the most common sequence being dark green, barn red and black. Eventually wear caused by repeated use will cut through the various colors, creating the look of old paint that is prized by antique collectors.

Milk paint is very environmentally friendly; you can throw old paint on the ground. Of course, caution should be used to prevent paint from getting in the eyes. Burning may occur because of the lime content. Also, wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. Always wash hands thoroughly with water after painting.

A great article was published in Fine Woodworking that offers photos of all the steps required along with some great tips for the beginner.  Visit www.nrhillerdesign.com/press/pdfs/011199076.pdf

Painting with milk is quickly becoming a rediscovered craft, and it still has something to offer people of all ages. It's safe for the environment, affordable, and can be made with common kitchen ingredients. Pull out that old chair or chest of drawers and mix up a batch of milk paint. Save yourself some money and save the environment while reclaiming or creating beautiful, timeless furniture.

References:
The Real Milk Paint Company, www.realmilkpaint.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor

"Wise Blood" is written in the Southern Gothic genre. Southern Gothic, a subgenre of the Gothic writing style, is unique to American literature. Like its parent genre, it relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike the Gothic writing style, Southern Gothic uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South. Flannery O'Connor proved herself to be a giant in this genre, joining many other celebrated Southern writers such as: William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Cormac McCarthy and Katherine Ann Porter among many others. Over the years, critics have often referred to Flannery 0' Connor's first novel as dark and grotesque.


Flannery O'Connor was the only child of Edward F. O'Connor and Regina Cline O'Connor. Born in Savannah, GA in 1925, she attended Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College and State University), where she majored in English and Sociology.

In 1949 O'Connor met and eventually accepted an invitation to stay with Robert Fitzgerald, a translator of Greek plays and epic poems and a respected poet in his own right, and his wife, Sally, in Redding, Connecticut. In 1951 she was diagnosed with lupus, and subsequently returned to her ancestral farm, known as Andalusia, in Milledgeville, GA where she died at the age of 39 years on August 3, 1964.

I am particularly interested in the short story which has become less popular in our times. "Wise Blood" originally appeared as four chapters published in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, and Partisan Review in 1948 and 1949. O'Connor then published it as a complete novel in 1952, and the publisher, Signet, advertised it as "A Searching Novel of Sin and Redemption."

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, "Flannery O'Connor was a Roman Catholic living in the American South, and her fictions consistently illustrate not merely religious, but theological points of view. By the time of "Wise Blood", O'Connor was herself diagnosed with lupus and was receiving treatment with hydrocortisone therapy at Emory University hospitals in Atlanta."

After her first major attack of lupus in 1950, she had been forced to return home to live with her mother on the family farm. O'Connor's father had died of lupus, leaving her with no illusions about the outcome. Having previously lived in Iowa and in and around New York City, she found her mother's company and the general area of Milledgeville to be difficult. The smart-aleck child coming home, and resentment of mother figures and parents in general, permeates all of O'Connor's fiction, and "Wise Blood" is true to this context and the exploration of life and religious views.

O'Connor explores her recurring concept of an alienated young person returning home coupled with the theme of the struggle of the individual to understand Christianity in Wise Blood. The main character, a young man named Hazel Motes, sneers at communal and social experiences of Christianity. Having returned from serving in the army Hazel is travelling by train to the fictional city of Taulkinham, having just discovered that his family home has been abandoned. His grandfather was a tent revival preacher, and Hazel is told repeatedly that he "looks like a preacher," and although he purporsts to despise preachers, Hazel is facinated by them and attempts to become an anti-preacher.

An interesting cast of characters follows including Miss Leora Watts, Enoch Emery, and a blind preacher, Asa Hawks and his young daughter, Sabbath Lily Hawks. Leora Watts is a prostitute, Enoch Emery is attracted to Hazel's new "Church Without Christ" and believes himself to have wise blood, Asa Hawks is a blind preacher who is not blind, and Sabbath Lily has a wild side and has fixated on having Hazel for her own.

Hazel Motes tries desperately to find freedom from his conscience by choosing to ignore his belief in God. He believes that if he eliminates morality from his life, he can avoid Jesus. The cast of characters in "Wise Blood" are frequently deceptive, chronically unkind, and brutally violent. "Wise Blood" is a spiritually empty, morally blind, cold, hostile place.

In 1979 "Wise Blood" was made into a movie. According to the Rotten Tomatoes website, "from the The Maltese Falcon to the The Dead, filmmaker John Huston created provocative adaptations of stories and novels -- and Wise Blood is considered to be among his most daring."