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Monday, February 28, 2011

A Simple Cup of Tea

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

The British had the right idea. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea requires slowing down and calming down -- at least for a few moments. Tea soothes the soul and provides renewal for mind and body. Sipping tea allows a savoring of the moment.

Tea has been a popular beverage for almost 5,000 years. People have cultivated it, been nurtured by it and fought over it. Black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea. The plant species camellia sinensis, when combined with water, maintains unrivaled popularity worldwide.

Tea is my favorite beverage. Hot or cold. With or without lemon. Spiced or plain. Always sweet. (I'm a native of the south.) I love it! Drinking tea is an important part of each day. And as a tea lover, I have a large and varied collection of tea cups, saucers and tea sets. At last count, the collection includeds 19 assorted fine china cups and saucers, three demitasse (small cup) sets, seven assorted demitasse cups and saucers, and six miniature tea sets.

I never made a conscious decision to collect tea items, and I didn't purchase most of them. The collection just happened. Within a few years' time, a great uncle died, an aunt died, my dear grandma passed away, followed by my husband's grandmother. Wills were read. Household items were divided and distributed, but in each case no one wanted the tea cups and saucers. Family members claimed antique furniture, cherished quilts and silverware, but the tea cups had no takers. No one wanted them -- except me.

I took them, but didn't really know what to do with them. Large, small, plain, delicately decorated, all colors, footed and in various shapes. Each cup and saucer pair was unique -- and to me, beautiful. I hated to see them discarded.

Then I began to hear stories about the origin and history of the cups. The small demitasse cups marked "Occupied Japan" were souvenirs sent to my aunt by a relavite during World War II.

The cups marked "Fine Bone China" -- Anysley, Spoede and Wedgewood -- were given to my husband's grandmother by various friends who
traveled to Europe. She selected and drank from a different cup each morning. (What a lovely routine!)
The great uncle was mayor of a small southern town in the 1920s. He and his wife did lots of entertaining in their home, and served guests from the tiny footed cups at the end of meals.

The bright floral cup with the chipped rim and deeply stained white interior held Grandma's tea. She was a rugged Depression-era farm wife, but enjoyed a soothing cup of hot tea each morning -- a few moments of quiet refinement in a day usually filled with chores and manual labor. The cups' stained finish speaks of a thousand early mornings filled with her favorite warm amber beverage.

Each cup and saucer in my collection is unique. Each has a story. And I enjoy and appreciate each one. I like to think about the people who may have sipped from these cups -- members of the church service guild and the bridge club ladies, a young widow, the weekly quilting group, small-town politicians and circuit pastors, war brides and hard-working rural housewives. I gently hold the cups and feel a connection to those who drank from them long ago.

In today's fast-paced world, tea is often gulped from a coated paper cup or a Styrofoam cup. Tastes great and soothes the soul, but there's something special about sipping from a delicate china cup. It's a way to truly savor a few moments of luxury in a fast-paced world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paper Doll Plunder

Contributed by Stephanie Bearce

Have you ever had a really lucky find? Like discovering a diamond ring in a box of costume jewelry, or a gold coin in an old sewing basket? My friend Valerie and I had a find even better than diamonds or gold. We found the jackpot of all jackpots. A box of vintage paper dolls.

Now I'm not talking about one of those little boxes of two or three paper dolls. I'm not even talking about a shoe box. We found a big box so full of paper dolls that it took both of us to haul it back to the bed and breakfast where we were staying. We took one look at that box and the thirty dollar price tag and bought them without even haggling. We knew we had the find of the century.

When we finally had time to sit and look at our amazing treasure we discovered we had hundreds of paper dolls from the 1930's and 40's all in pristine condition. Some of them were carefully cut out and saved in separate envelopes. Some were still in their original books, never touched by scissors. The graphics were amazing. Oranges and reds that still popped off the page. Swirling ball gowns and cute frilly “play suits”.

There was a “life size” baby paper doll complete with paper bottles and blankets. There were movie stars like Sonja Henie, Deanna Durbin, Vivian Leigh, and Judy Garland.
And the clothes, oh the clothes. I only wish we had clothes like that to wear now. Lovely hats and elegant shoes. Purses to match every outfit. It was a little girl's dream and a big girl's fantasy.

Valerie loved the dolls for the vivid graphics and style. I was immediately dreaming of crafts I could create with copies of them. We both loved the history. Somewhere in time there was a little girl who loved her paper dolls and cared for them so diligently that eighty years later the dolls are still bright, beautiful, and bringing joy to those who see them.

Lately I’ve been exploring websites to learn a little more about the history of these delicate toys.  The first mass produced paper dolls were published in 1828 by the McLoughlin Brothers.  The inexpensive dolls were an immediate hit and have been enjoyed by little girls ever since.  But the great hey-day of the dolls came in the 1930’s and 40’s when due to the depression and WWII actual dolls were too expensive for many families.  Paper dolls were affordable play toys and favorite gifts.

The dolls from WWII are especially touching to me.  I can just imagine some young girl dressing her dolls in their uniforms, and thinking about the father or brother who was away at war.  The dolls represent the hope for victory and a peaceful future.

It is amazing to be able to hold these pieces of history in my hands and to think of the hands that came before mine.  Little girls dreaming of their weddings, their husbands, and children.  Dressing for parties and work.  How lovely it is that paper dolls are still a part of the world today.  Almost two hundred years later, paper dolls still allow little girls to create, dream and pretend.

To learn more about paper dolls, or to print some of your own, visit these great websites:

And enjoy an afternoon playing with your paper dolls.  It will truly make you feel youn again!

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's All In The Cards

I collect postcards. The older the better. I have hundreds -- from beautifully lithographed Victorian penny postcards to quirky mid-century cartoon cards and photo cards featuring 1960s tourist attractions. The graphics are amazing, the supply plentiful, and the best thing -- most are inexpensive.

I search gift shops, truck stops and antique malls, looking for more unique paper treasures. I love to read the names and messages on the old cards, and to note the postmarks. A recent trip to a nearby antique mall resulted in the purchase of three vintage cards for a total price of $.91. Quite the deal!

One of the cards features a black and white photo of a man in a suit and black bowler hat standing among a flock of ostriches. What an unusual image! I had to have it.

The accompanying caption read, "Ostriches at South Pasadena, California, at the Ostrich Farm." The message said, "Cora: Here is something that will interest you. Here grows your feather and right now. Have seen these and many more; 6-8 ft. high. Can carry a man all over lot. Mable." The postmark was Venice, Calif., Nov. 17, 1909, 8 a.m.

I examined the card again at home, and then curiosity led me to do a web search for ostrich farms. Here's what I found --

Clothing styles and trends have come and gone for centuries. In the late 19th century, many clothing items in the U.S. and throughout the world were adorned with ostrich feathers. Demand for the feathers was so high that an enterprising English businessman named Edwin Cawston purchased about 50 ostriches and had them shipped from South Africa to Texas. From there, the birds were loaded on a train and transported to a newly-incorporated area called Pasadena, California -- just a few miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, only 18 ostriches survived the trip, but there were enough to eventually populate Cawston's farm with more than 100 birds. His became the first U.S. ostrich farm. The ostriches were raised for their feathers, but that left Cawston with a lot of large birds on hand and not a lot to do with them while they sprouted new feathers.

But necessity, the old adage says, is the mother of invention. Cawston opened his farm to the public as a tourist attraction, and for the next 30+ years crowds flocked to the farm.

Transportation to the ostrich farm wasn't a problem. The farm sat close to a trolley line that ran from Los Angeles. Guests staying at a nearby hotel frequently visited the farm, too. And the attractions Cawston offered were unique. Where else could folks mix and mingle with ostriches, ride on their backs, or take a ride in an ostrich-drawn carriage? Seems pretty tame compared to today's amusement park rides that reach 60-mile-an-hour speeds and twirl riders like socks in a clothes dryer.

Cawston was an innovative marketer before Walt Disney was even born. He sold souvenirs like ostrich letter openers and -- get this -- more than two dozen different picture postcards. Countless visitors paid admission fees to his farm and posed for family photographs in his ostrich carriages. Cawston made a small fortune.

Cawston Ostrich Farm no longer exists, but ostrich farms are plentiful in the U.S. Ostrichland, U.S.A. in Solvang, California, welcomes guests in much the same way as Cawston Ostrich Farm did decades ago. Ostrich feathers, again a popular commodity, are used in clothing, floral arrangements, Mardi Gras masks, fans, and quill wedding pens. Ostrich skin is tanned and used to make boots, purses and wallets. And ostrich meat is described as America's new red meat -- low in fat and cholesterol.

So that's the story behind my 102-year-old postcard purchased for $.25. It's an example of marketing genius. It makes an interesting addition to my postcard collection, and it makes me smile.

Old postcards, along with other paper ephemera, are a popular segment in the antique market. Thankfully, the supply remains plentiful and affordable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Documenting My Green Thumb (And A Lack Thereof)

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

Many people keep journals. It's a great way to keep track of where you've been, what you've done, who you were with, and how you felt. A few years ago, I decided to keep a journal, but not just a daily or a travel journal. I decided to keep a garden journal.

Moving into a new house surrounded by a half acre of clay-like dirt and mud was like an artist starting work with a blank canvas. First, we got grass to grow. Then it was time for landscaping. Warm-weather weekends were spent strolling through nurseries and outdoor centers. We examined trees, bushes, ground covers, and flowers. Winter months were spent perusing mail-order garden catalogs in search of bulbs and perennials best suited to our Midwest growing zone.

I soon realized that landscape gardening can be an exercise in trial and error. Some plantings bloomed and flourished almost immediately. Others shriveled up, fizzled out, or never emerged. Too much sun. Too little sun. Not enough moisture. Fertilization needs. Invasive insects. Overabundant cultivator production. Poor soil quality. Drainage issues. I couldn't keep track of all this in my head. Maybe writing down some of it would help.

I purchased a folder and began stuffing it full of scraps of paper filled with scribbled notes about blooming apple trees, yews, lilac bushes and day lilies. Not very organized, but at least I knew where to find everything related to our gardening and landscaping efforts.

One day while wandering through a bookstore, I spotted Mary Engelbreit's Gardener's Journal. The journal was divided into sections, including Climate & Conditions, Current Garden Grid, Future Plans, Monthly Summary, Plantings Record and Notes. It also featured lots of Engelbreit's colorful illustrations. I could track our lawn and gardening successes and failures, and perhaps make better decisions about what to plant in the future. I could even tuck photos of the "successes" in the back.

Keeping a garden journal has been an educational experience for me. It's interesting to note how variances in weather and seasonal conditions through the years have impacted our plants and landscaping. It's also fun to look back at the names of friends and relatives who have given me various offshoots, bulbs, plants and seeds from their gardens and how their offerings, like our relationships, have matured and developed through the years.

There are no rules for keeping a garden journal. The journal itself can be as simple as a lined composition notebook, or as richly detailed as a bound volume with tabbed chapters, pocket organizers and photo sleeves. A recent search on and showed the availability of an assortment of garden journals ranging in price from $8.95 to $39.95. And the Mary Engelbreit journal like mine from the 1990s is still available.

I've never kept a travel journal, and I haven't kept a daily journal since high school, but my garden journal is a prized possession, and a great source of inspiration on cold, dreary winter days.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fun with Felt

Contributed by Stephanie Bearce

Remember felt?  It was the cloth of childhood.  Sunday school teachers used felt sheep and shepherds to tell Bible stories.  Classroom teachers outfitted us in felt Indian headbands for Thanksgiving.  And in scouts we made felt bags to carry our treasures.

But like all of us, felt has grown up. It's no longer just the province of children and Sunday school teachers.  Felt comes in dozens of colors and patterns.  It's soft, easy to work with, and and makes brilliant craft projects.

I love playing with felt and creating my own patterns.  The materials are inexpensive and easy to find.  Felt costs about 25 cents a sheet, but sometimes you can hit a sale and get it for less.  I frequent Hobby Lobby and Micheal's Craft store sales and buy in bulk.  You can make felt projects on the sewing machine, but I enjoy hand sewing with felt.  It's a great way to play with crafts and catch up on my favorite television shows at the same time.  (I don't feel as guilty about watching T.V. If my hands are busy.)

Lately I have been playing with felt flowers.  I guess if I can't grow flowers, I'll sew flowers.  I cut out free form flowers and embroider accents or outlines.  Buttons add fun details, and I use lots of brightly colored embroidery thread.

One easy to make flower is what I call the zinnia pattern.

You will need:
two buttons
embroidery floss
tapestry needle
floral wire or straight back lapel pin

Cut a piece of felt at least 10 inches long and two inches wide.

Fold the felt in half  length wise. Cut quarter inch slits from the top of the fold to the open end.  Be careful to NOT cut all the way to the end.

Sew a running stitch down the length of the felt and gather the felt to form the flower shape.

Use thread to secure the ends of the flower. 

Place a button on either side of the middle of the flower and sew them together to form the flower center.

If you want to make a zinnia bouquet, you can attach floral wire to the center of the flower.  Or you can hot glue a pin to the back of your flower and have an early spring flower for your coat

               Ah, felt - you have grown up to be so pretty.  And have I got plans for you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lacey Nails for Valentine's Day

contributed by Nichole Finke

Want to give yourself some exquisite nails for Valentine's Day? This do-it-yourself manicure is sure to grab the attention of anyone who sees your lovely hands.

thin lace – any color will work, but black is most dramatic
contrasting pearlescent nail polish
sharp scissors
clear nail polish
toothpick or manicure stick
silver permanent marker

Place the lace over each finger, and trace the shape for each nail with the marker. Cut out each piece of lace to match the fingernail. Be sure to keep them in order. Its easy to get them mixed up!

When all your fingers are covered in lace use the clear nail polish to seal the lace. You may need more than one coat of clear. You want the lace to be totally waterproof.

After your nail polish has dried, use scissors to trim off any frayed edges of the lace.

The lace will come off with regular nail polish remover.