Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rock-a-bye Baby

Earlier this month, I found a wonderful antique cradle of mid-nineteenth century vintage at an estate sale in upstate New York. Such handsome features: the local hard maple wood, the dovetailing, the gently curved top and rockers, the carrying handles, and an early safety feature: two brass knobs on each side with which to “bundle” the baby with rope, ribbon or twine so s/he could not escape!   I quickly paid a very reasonable price for such a handsome period addition to one of my farmhouse's bedchambers!

It must be noted that such cradles as these are of picturesque interest only. Their practical use, holding babies (despite knobs for bundling!), is cast in doubtful light if we consider that one wrong step, on one of the rockers, may catapult the little one who knows where!

Cradles of this vintage were often made by the father or grandfather with locally-milled woods and were handed down in families through subsequent generations.  It is quite likely that my particular cradle has never left the county in which I purchased it.  Early cradles were made to be placed right next to the parents’ bed, since bedrooms were actually a later addition to architecture that came with the ability to heat the home more efficiently.

I hope one day to find a mid-nineteenth century baby quilt at another estate sale!

An Autumn Recipe

Spaghetti Squash Gratin With Fresh Basil

Cassandra loves this recipe for spaghetti squash ~ so plentiful this time of year...

1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (1/4 cup basil leaves)
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino romano

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pierce the squash in several places with a sharp knife. Cover a baking sheet with foil, and place the squash on top. Bake for one hour, turning the squash every 20 minutes until it is soft and easy to cut into with a knife. Remove from the heat, and allow the squash to cool until you can handle it. Cut in half lengthwise, and allow to cool further. Remove the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh, and place in a bowl. Run a fork through the flesh to separate the spaghetti-like strands, then chop coarsely. Measure out 4 cups squash. (Use whatever remains for another dish, or freeze.)

2. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet, and add the onion.  Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the squash. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes until the strands of squash are a little more tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

3. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the milk, salt (about 1/2 teaspoon), pepper and basil. Stir in the squash mixture and the grated Gruyère, and combine well. Scrape into the baking dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan or pecorino over the top, and gently press down to moisten.

4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until nicely browned and sizzling. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or room temperature.

Yield: Serves six as a main dish, eight as a side.

Advance preparation: The baked spaghetti squash will keep for four days in the refrigerator. The gratin can be made up to a day ahead and reheated. The recipe can be made through step 2 several hours before completing the gratin and baking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cassandra ♥ Turquoise!

It all started 30 years ago, on the occasion of our 10th wedding anniversary, with a visit to the trading post of the venerable Charlie Eagle Plume ten miles south of Estes Park, Colorado on Highway 7. I selected the bracelet below and took it over to the elderly Charlie in his wheelchair for a price. His reply: “Nice piece of turquoise – your price is $$$!”

It was my first piece of Native American turquoise jewelry, made very special by the experience of purchasing it directly from Charlie – who I later learned was a man who was not merely the proprietor of a quintessential Colorado Indian trading post but, for over 50 years, a sought-after lecturer and performer of Indian dances and song and, most importantly, an advocate not only for Native Americans but for peace and good will among people everywhere.

According to the current Eagle Plume Trading Post website:

“Established in 1917 [as the Perkins Trading Post], this historic trading post specializes in the art and crafts of the American Indian. Contemporary works in jewelry, textiles, basketry, ceramics, sculpture, and beadwork, as well as historic pieces are available. Also housed at the trading post is the Charles Eagle Plume Collection of American Indian art, comprising over one thousand historic and prehistoric pieces from Native North America, Alaska, and Canada. Off the beaten path, nestled at the base of Long’s Peak, [is] one of the west’s best-kept secrets rich in the traditions and arts. Eagle Plume spent his life collecting, selling, and appreciating American Indian art and culture. He touched the lives of many people with his friendship, ready smile, and many stories… "

Charlie in 1986

Charles was born on a Blackfoot reservation in Montana and took great pride in his Indian ancestry. He was one of the first Native Americans to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder, and while still a student, spent his summers working at the Perkins Trading Post entertaining the tourists with dancing and storytelling. Eventually, he was assisting the store’s owner, Katherine Perkins, in running the business and also travelling around the country performing and speaking. Upon Perkin’s death in 1966, Charles inherited the store and renamed it “Charles Eagle Plume’s Indian Trading Post.” He also inherited part of the collection of Indian artifacts she had inherited from her father, which Charles augmented until he had amassed over 1000 examples of what is considered to be one of the finest, most authentic, and unrivaled collections of Native American antiquities and works of art in existence.

“…Before his death in 1992, he established the Eagle Plume Foundation and also saw to it that his shop would carry on under the guidance of his adopted daughter Ann [whose Cheyenne name is Maxaaehma’heone - Medicine Eagle Feather Woman] and her family…Under the family’s guidance, Eagle Plume’s remains one of the most remarkable emporiums of American Indian arts, crafts, and culture in the west.”

“When you have an idea, you have something to work with - somewhere to go.”
~ Charles Eagle Plume

History of Turquoise
Native American legend relates that the People danced and rejoiced when the rains came. Their tears of joy mixed with the rain and seeped into Mother Earth to become the SkyStone or Turquoise. Native Americans believe, that the earth is alive; and that all things, no matter how small or apparently inanimate, are precious. To the Native American, Turquoise is Life. Actually, turquoise stone is a hydrous basic phosphate of copper and aluminum formed as water trickles through a host stone for about 30 million years, gradually leaving a deposit.

In the United States, turquoise is synonymous with the Southwest. The Cerrillos Mines on Turquoise Mountain in New Mexico are said to be the oldest known source of turquoise in the Southwest. Native Americans worked the turquoise mines with stone mauls and antler picks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.  Turquoise from this area has been found as far as Oaxaca, Mexico. Kings and emperors of the Mixtec and Aztecs wore crowns and pendants of turquoise as amulets of good fortune and long life.

It was not until 1890 that the use of silver as a mounting for turquoise was begun. The Spanish knowledge of silver and silversmithing was combined with Native American lapidary technology to produce a turquoise jewelry tradition that continues today

“A good stone, in short, must possess an indefinable property call the "Zat," which is something like the water of a diamond or the luster of a pearl. A fine colored turquoise without the Zat is not worth much”
~ Joseph Payne

Perhaps when Charlie Eagle Plume told me that it was a “nice piece of turquoise,” he was seeing the “Zat” in my turquoise bracelet!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Word

(All photos taken by Cassandra last week at her upstate New York farm)

The Word
by Richard Realf (1832-1878)

“O earth! Thou hast not any wind that blows
Which is not music; every week of thine
Pressed rightly flows in aromatic wine;
And every humble hedgerow flower that grows,
And every little brown bird that doth sing,
Hath something greater than itself, and bears
A living word to every living thing,
Albeit it holds the message unaware,
All shapes and sound have something which is not
Of them: a Spirit broods amid the grass;
Vague outlines of the Everlasting Thought
Lie in the melting shadows as they pass;
The touch of an Eternal Presence thrills
The fringes of the sunsets and the hills.”

From Cassandra's Window

Autumn, the year's last loveliest smile...
~William Cullen Bryant

Friday, October 15, 2010

James Whitcomb Riley ~ The Hoosier Poet

He taught us how to understand the music of the birds,
The robin made a tune for us, but Riley wrote the words;
And at his joyous task he wrought with such a wondrous art
That we could feel the happiness that filled the robin's heart.
And when the Spring comes back to us, and once again we hear
The golden song at eventide that rings so true and clear,
And when the April shadows fall across the meadow lane,
The gentle minstrel of the Spring shall sing for him in vain.

He wandered through the village streets the afternoon along,
He heard the children's laughter - and made it into song.
He made it into living song, that down the years shall wing,
And yet in song of simple words that they themselves could sing.
And through all ages and all lands forever - near and far -
In every time and every clime where little children are -
Shall they still thrill at the story time beneath the magic spell
Of him who told them what they thought  - and understood so well.
~ To James  Whitcomb Riley by James J. Montague

Known as the “Hoosier poet of the people”, and also as the “Children’s Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley, was born in 1849 in Greenfield, Indiana on the “National Road” or U.S. Route 40.

Riley's poetry and prose reflect romance, childhood memories, small town life, family life, friendship, nature, patriotism, and humor. Riley’s chief legacy was his influence in fostering the creation of a midwestern cultural identity. Along with other writers of his era, he helped create a caricature of midwesterners and formed a literary community that rivaled the established eastern literati in popular works. Books of his poetry and prose were published in both the U.S. and in Great Britain.

Riley’s most famous works were written in the Hoosier dialect of the simple farm folk of Greenfield and vicinity. As the famous author and literary critic (and Riley friend), Hamlin Garland, aptly stated: “…from this town, and other similar towns, has Whitcomb Riley drawn the sweetest honey of poesy—homey with a native delicious tang, as of buck wheat and basswood bloom with hints of the mullein and the thistle of dry pastures.” Riley’s work is considered whimsical and direct, as if he were telling stories to children around the fireside.

Three of the most well-known of his hundreds of poems are “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” “The Old Swimmin’ Hole,” and “Little Orphant Annie,” first published in 1885 as “The Elf Child.” This poem inspired not only the Little Orphan Annie legacy but also the famous Raggedy Ann dolls. Interestingly, “The Elf Child” was supposed to be re-entitled as “Little Orphant Allie,” named for a little girl named Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, who was a “hired girl” in the Riley household when the poet was growing up in Greenfield. An error by a typesetter changed Allie to “Annie.”

"Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an brush the crumbs away,
An' shoe the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth an sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an' keep..."

By the end of the eighteenth century and until his death in 1916, Riley was a well-known poet and speaker who toured throughout the U.S. and Europe. He was the first poet in America to receive the gold medal of poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and he was an honored and regular guest at the White House. Every October the people of his hometown of Greenfield celebrate Riley with the Riley Festival, complete with a parade of all the local school children carrying and depositing fall bouquets at the foot of his statue on the courthouse lawn.

When the Frost Is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bare-headed, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ hearty-like about the atmosphere,
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetisin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty rustle of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my heart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Cassandra's James Whitcomb Riley Collection:

Some decorative publisher's editions of James Whitcomb Riley's books:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Lady of Autumn

Currier & Ives "Autumn"

My Lady of Autumn, sing me your song
Play me your tune; tell me I'm wrong
Tell me you don't mean the things that you say
Tell me that we'll find a way.

Your eye clear as winter, your touch fresh as spring
You weigh like the summer, free as birds on the wing
The seasons are changing, it's time you were gone
The colors of you will go on.

Fields that were golden are changing to brown
Leaves that were green now tumble to the ground
The warm sun of summer makes way for the snow
I know it's time; you must go.

The light, it is changing, the sky's overcast
Winter is here now, autumn is past
Deep in this dark world some warmth I must find
Though it's winter in the valley, it's still autumn in my mind.

Dave Webber

(Scroll down to the bottom of the page to turn off Cassandra's Blog Music before listening to the video below.)

Currier & Ives' "American Homestead - Autumn"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paper Doll Memories

As children during the “Fabulous Fifties,” my sister and I enjoyed playing with paper dolls. Many hours were spent on our living room rug or on that of our Grandmother Lavenua, cutting out and arranging the clothes, accessories, and sometimes even furniture of our paper doll families. Our favorites included brides and grooms; ballerinas; movie stars: Doris Day, Vivien Leigh, Debbie Reynolds, and Elizabeth Taylor; and television stars: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; the Mousketeers, Cubby & Karen from the "Mickey Mouse Show;" the Story Princess from the “Howdy Doody Show;” and the Lennon Sisters from the “Lawrence Welk Show.”

A special favorite was our magnetic set, “Magic Mary Jane.”

Paper dolls are a wonderful source of history, culture, literature, costume, art, marketing, and nostalgia and have been around as long as there has been paper. In Asian cultures many years ago, faces or other objects were applied to the paper used during religious rituals and ceremonies. More similar to contemporary paper dolls were the “pantins,” the jointed dancing or jumping jack puppets of eighteenth century France. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain, printers printed paper dolls, mixing fun and virtue by printing stories with morals and values to accompany them. Paper dolls were a valuable treasure in early America, since paper was limited.
By the mid-1800s, paper dolls were produced as a beautifully lithographed full-color collection. The artist, Raphael Tuck, was perhaps the best known manufacturer of the vintage paper dolls of this era. The trademark style of this company was the set of vintage paper doll costumes and interchangeable heads.

There were dolls representing royalty, the children of royalty, and actors from the theater, stage, and opera. Early paper doll sets often advertised a particular product, e.g., sewing, bakery, or medicinal products. With the purchase of the product children would receive a doll or outfits.

The Boston Sunday Globe began printing paper dolls in the 1890s. Characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” were the subject of one of its paper doll supplements in 1896.

Women's magazines often came with a page of paper dolls for children to cut out: Ladies' Home Journal (Lettie Lane Series); Pictorial Review (Dolly Dingle); and McCall’s (Betsy McCall). The website, Betsy McCall Paper Dolls: The First Ten Years, features scanned originals from 1951 through 1961, ready to download, cut and play.  Another web site includes a brief history of McCall’s magazine and the history of the Betsy McCall paper dolls.

The popularity of paper dolls soared during the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Paper dolls were made and sold representing royalty, public leaders, movie stars, fantasy fairy tale style characters, comic book characters, TV characters, family groups, brides, dancers, stuffed animals, babies, and even cherubs. Public popularity waned somewhat during the 1960s , attributed to the increased popularity of television-viewing and the rise of the three dimensional fashion doll industry, i.e., Barbie, Toni, etc.
A site from which to order vintage and mint uncut paper dolls (as well as a real trip down "Memory Lane") is:  You are certain to locate some of your old favorites!

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