Thursday, August 28, 2008

Over Homemade Bread and Jelly

At my grandfather's viewing in April of 2001, one of his friends, a garrulous man named Sam I remember as a more self-assured and quicker-to-laugh Jackie Gleason, sat down with me and one of my cousins, the two of us Papa's only granddaughters out of seven grandchildren, and talked about how he had admired our grandfather. Our own generation would have to do a hell of a lot of work to become the kind of people our grandparents were, Sam told us. Papa and those of his generation seemed quite special and just good and strong in some way that later generations did not. The only other thing I specifically remember Papa's friend telling us was how rare and wonderful it was to know someone who, when you unexpectedly stopped by for a quick visit, would welcome you into his home and say, well, first, Papa's usual "Take your hat off and stay awhile," and then, "Here, pull up a chair. Mum just made some of her bread and we still have jelly from this past summer" and how good it was just to sit with Papa in the kitchen and talk over fresh homemade bread and homemade jelly. Sure, some people offer coffee or cake for a guest, Sam went on, but to be able to visit over bread and jelly! That our grandfather had no pretenses about such things and understood how good it was just to catch up with a friend over homemade bread and homemade jelly...! Sam wanted us to understand this. He went on and on about it. It was such a simple thing, he told us, but that was one of the things he would miss the most now that our grandfather had died, and there just weren't people out there like our grandfather anymore.

In one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, she mentions that her future husband, Almanzo, once asked her, "What kind of man do you think I am?" and Laura admits that she'd never given it any thought. But it is something I've given a lot of thought, and I remember deciding--no, not deciding, just knowing--that day at the funeral home that I would never marry anyone who didn't understand about the bread and jelly

Friday, August 22, 2008

Red Gingham Couch Makeover

One of this summer's big projects in the apartment has been redoing a couch we bought on craigslist last fall. After weeks of hand-sewing and hot-gluing--no sewing machine here--I'm thrilled that this is finished. Mom bought me about five yards of the red gingham fabric for my birthday in May. I haven't made new pillows yet. 'Am all sewn-out, and these will do for now. 'Declaring this done.

Done, done, done.

And Stuffed approves too. 

A Post for Nikki, My Fellow Vintage Clothing Fan :)

I recently "met" the lovely and sweet Nikki of The Scarlett Rose Garden. She has lost more than 80 pounds--which is about the same amount of weight I had to lose when I started my own weight loss/better health journey last year--and thus has been quite an inspiration to me. Her photos and writings just exude warmth and love of life, and I'm so glad to have found her online.

Nikki designed her own wedding gown and asked today to see the one I've had in mind since I was 18, so here for my fellow vintage clothing-loving new friend is my dream gown. Mr. Mike and I can skip a "real" wedding and just head to the courthouse and I'll be happy, as "wedding hoopla" has never interested me much, but even if we got married in a trash dumpster with only the flies as our witnesses, I'd still want to be wearing this dress.  It was designed by Yumi Katsura and was featured in the June 1995 issue of Victoria magazine. I was looking through my grandmother's magazines while staying with her during the summer of 1995, and when I saw this photo, I just knew this was the only wedding gown I ever wanted to wear and even now, 13 years later, it's the one I want. The design itself looks pretty simple, so if I can't find an inexpensive dress that looks enough like this, I'll likely just create my own: An off-white gauzey long-sleeved blouse with a long skirt, a strapless cream corset or swimsuit underneath, a collar and French cuffs and faux bow-covered buttons up the back and along the cuffs...I'm sure we'll find a way to get the look I want. :) It's just such a sweet dress, and since the photo shows the model with her back turned, it's always been that much easier to imagine myself in it. With my hair pulled up and the last 30 or so pounds gone, that back-turned picture's probably how I'll actually look on my wedding day anyway. And I think 18-year-old Val somehow knew that all along, which is why the photo spoke to her the way it did.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

His House Was Perfect....

"His house was perfect,
whether you liked food, or sleep,
or work, or story-telling,
or singing, or just sitting and thinking, best,
or a pleasant mixture of them all."
 ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Although I've found myself loving many of the quotations from A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories over the years and understand the charm of the characters and their (mis)adventures, I've never read the books or felt any urge to do so. While looking for something cottage/decorating-related online the other day, though, I came across two illustrations by E.H. Shephard's that depict Pooh's home, and oh! my! goodness! It's like someone was poking inside my mind and drew the exact picture Of Val's Dream Home (s)he'd found there. Ever see a photo so "you" that you ache to jump right into it? I could happily and most contentedly live in these illustrations, and indeed, I kept thinking things like "Hey, I have that quilted patchwork pillow!" "I already have those tablecloths!" "That looks just like my stool from Papa and Grandma's house!" "That's my pink floral wing chair slipcover!" "There are the brick floor...the pink/yellow wallpaper... the cupboard for canned goods I've always wanted!" Who knew Winnie-the-Pooh and I share the same dream home?

I learned five days ago the titles of the specific books these illustrations came from, and in the strange way these things tend to happen, I stumbled upon both books at a thrift shop after work today. So now I head to bed to read, at long last, Milne's stories and to squeal over more of Shepard's sweet depictions of my colorful little "someday" cottage.  


Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Began on My Answering Machine Ten Years Ago

Before my fall 1998 semester of college began, I spent a week or so--knowing how involved I get in these types of projects, probably more than a week--planning a re-do of one of my department's designated informational bulletin boards. I was the new president of the department's club and academic honorary that school year, and it meant a lot to me that we have an awesome-looking bulletin board in our building's main hallway. I spent who-knows-how-many hours that summer both writing and typing-up my favorite quotes that applied to our department and our club's goals and then "laminating" them with clear contact paper, searching out relevant words and phrases and pictures in magazines and newspapers and then cutting them out and gluing them to/bordering them with colored paper, making photocopies of cartoons and illustrations I'd saved, and creating informational posters and meeting-notices. When I'd amassed what I considered a big enough and good enough collection of items for the bulletin board, I packed it all into a backpack and a couple of other bags, along with a stapler, staples, colorful thumbtacks, and strong tape, and walked it all over to campus, about a half-mile from my apartment. Once there, I enjoyed a near-empty corridor as I created the bulletin board: no summer classes were in session that day, I guess, and I only encountered a few faculty members as I worked. It was a fun project, and I was thrilled with the results. The bulletin board looked so colorful and so creative and just so completely different from every other bulletin board I'd ever seen hanging on any wall in any department. I already knew, though, that while the bulletin board would obviously draw attention, no one would really share my delight in it, and I was okay with that.

The next day, there was an odd message on my phone's answering machine that went something like this: "Hello, this message is for Val. Val, this is Marylou [Last Name]. We met a couple times last school year, but I don't know if you remember me? Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how AWESOME your bulletin board in the department's main hall looks! I was in there the other day to meet with [So-and-So], and I saw the board and found out you'd done it, and I was just BLOWN AWAY by your talents and your creativity and your obvious enthusiasm, and I just CAN'T WAIT to see what you have planned for the club and department this school year! Really, you just did such an incredible JOB with it! You should be very proud of yourself! It really looks GREAT! Anyway, that's all I wanted to say! I just wanted to let you know! I hope you're having a good summer! Okay. BYE!"

I was stunned--and not only because this person had somehow gotten my phone number. I had never before had someone who was a stranger, basically, take the time to show me such incredible kindness. It was the sweetest feeling. I played the message over and over, sitting on the floor smooshed into one of my roommates' beanbag chairs. After listening to Marylou's message a bunch of times, I managed to write out her message on a scrap of paper so I could keep it with my other saved letters and important notes. I still have that scrap of paper with her exact words on it, and every time I've come across it while looking through my treasured papers, it's touched me again. That a stranger took the time to cheer me on with such kind words, even--or especially--over something as seemingly small and insignificant as a bulletin board, has always meant so much to me.

Although she was a graduate student finishing her thesis-semester and I was still an undergrad, Marylou and I ended up working together and sharing a class together that fall, so we saw each other frequently enough at school. Still, my shyness kept getting the best of me, and although I kept trying to tell myself to approach her and try to talk with her more--You KNOW she's nice! She called and left that nice message! Be brave! Strike up a conversation!--it took me at least a couple of months to psych myself up for an attempt at a friendship with her. One morning at work, though, I overheard Marylou telling a couple of the other grad students something she was sad about that day, and it struck a chord in me, and I sent her either a card with a note inside or maybe just a short letter that shared my own experience with what she was talking about. I don't remember how the next steps were taken, but we have been friends since.

Marylou and her husband and children were in town yesterday, and we all met up for supper. It was the first time Marylou and I had seen each other in seven years. Our 2001 visit found us both facing the challenges of what I remember as the Year from Hell, and yesterday's visit--well, every year, and every friendship, has its challenges and sees its ups and downs, but it was quite something to touch base again in-person, knowing it's been ten years now since that answering machine message.