Literally Cavemen

Last year, I spent time with a bored acquaintance.  We’d have breakfast occasionally, swap text messages, and we even had lunch once or twice.  This acquaintance often lamented about mind-numbing boredom; I will not share the circumstances of her life without work but “being bored” was a concept I could not understand.  I tried.  Really, I did.  I walked a few imaginary miles in her shoes.  I tried problem solving and made a few suggestions, taking into consideration all that I knew about her situation.

Sadly, boredom-relieving suggestions I made were tossed aside with a glance that intimated they “sounded boring.”  After several months of this amateur social work, I texted in my resignation.  It was a difficult decision, because I cared about the well-being of this acquaintance.  I’m a better than average listener, but I am not a social worker.

Spending time with a bored person piqued my curiosity because boredom is so alien to me.  I am never bored.  My brain is filled with thoughts and questions.  And that’s in addition to my 40 hour a week job for pay, my part-time writing gigs, my volunteer work with the Moxie Festival and the Gendron Franco Heritage Center, and keeping my house and gardens from looking like BLEEP-holes.

This mental exercise suggested my tombstone epitaph:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘being bored.’”

Over the weekend, I spent time organizing some books and magazines and came across a tattered May, 1943 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.  Skimming through the contents, my eyes settled on a general feature titled “Diary of Domesticity” by Gladys Taber.  Near the last pages of the magazine, Taber’s column began like this:

“May is just around the corner, and May in New England is so close to heaven that I wonder how the early preachers managed to keep the eyes of their people turned to the future life.  Nobody could help being dazzled by the beauty of this world if he rode down a Connecticut country highway in the soft sweet light of a May morning.  Heaven enough for me, at any rate; I wish everyone could see it.”

The column ran about 2,000 words and outlined domestic life at Taber’s Connecticut home.  She worked a recipe into her “diary of domesticity” and ended the article with a feel-good note about her cocker spaniels:

“The clean bright grass and the flower-sweet air and a bevy of cockers—this month in Connecticut is a fine season.”

(As a side note, Taber also contributed fiction to the May, 1943 issue, the first of a five-part story called “Navy Nurse”, illustrated by Jon Whitcomb.)

Gladys Taber.  Gladys Taber.  Why did her name stir up some “déjà vu?”

I clicked around the internet and found some basic information.  Here’s her Wikipedia page.  And here’s a longer piece written by artist and author Susan Branch.

Bingo!  That familiar feeling came from Taber quotes I’d read in my first edition of Branch’s Christmas from the Heart of the Home, published in 1990.  Branch has a lovely style of artfully nestling clever quotes in her books.

Branch’s article is interesting and includes a worthy mention of a club, Friends of Gladys Taber.  Another article on Branch’s website mentions that “Diary of Domesticity” was (in part) the inspiration for the 1945 film, Christmas in Connecticut.

The internet solved a lot of questions I had about Gladys Taber.  What did we do before the internet?  We must have been LITERALLY CAVEMEN!

Yet, my curious mind has so many other questions.  Gladys Taber’s life remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.  For instance, how much was she paid for writing her Ladies Home Journal articles?  What about her books?  She wrote a lot of them.  Did they generate enough income to pay the taxes at Stillmeadow, her Connecticut home?  Or was it some combination of breeding cocker spaniels, writing, and alimony?  Was she a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution?

So many questions.  If time and money were no objects, forensic research on a character like Gladys Taber would be fascinating and right in my wheelhouse.

Sadly, I have no time to do this particular research.  I am busy with other projects.  I’ll assuage my curiosity with a visit to the local library and a request for membership in Friends of Gladys Taber, a mere pittance at $20 per year.

Now you know why I’m never bored.  Frig, there’s the plow.  It’s snowing again.

Diary of domesticity, indeed.

Posted in Books and Reading, Cooking and Food | Tagged , , , , ,

Ignore the Noise

Author and sports writer Mike Shalin wrote an interesting article about the New England Patriots recently.  The Lewiston Sun Journal carried it in the sports section today with the screaming headline “PATS IGNORING NOISE.”

Once again, at this late date in the Patriots’ victorious season, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, and Tom Brady have been spirited about in some kind of controversy.  It’s a gossipy tale of “he said, he said” and if I hadn’t been ignoring the noise all season myself, I might have more insight.  Controversy?  What controversy?

According to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, the by-week practice fields are a peaceful playground of football intensity.  Belichick oversees a manly cocoon of gridiron peregrinations, devoid of rumors regarding Brady’s wheatgrass smoothies.  Gronkowski told Shalin “you just gotta ignore the noise and just focus on what we’ve been doing all year and that’s preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready, mentally and physically for the big game, so what’s going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization, just gotta keep grinding, keep going, keep doing our job.”

In my own life, I’ve often contemplated what it might be like to be a New England Patriot.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to literally play football.  What I mean is how does one ascend to the place where there are no distractions and no noise?  How easy it would be to “do my jobs” if I could only transform myself into a Tom Brady-esque trance of focus.  How many assistants would I need to do that?

The Maine State Library in Augusta has a wonderful collection of microfilm readers.  On occasional Saturdays, I sneak away to the library and spend a few hours ignoring the noise of the world.  I generally find myself reading Cold War-era Portland Press Heralds and Maine Sunday Telegrams.  I occasionally have that moment of Belichick-induced nirvana Gronk raved about; like when I zeroed in on this quaint, December 30, 1951 picture in the Maine Sunday Telegram.  The two college co-eds were right in the middle of the page, alongside Marjorie Standish’s “Cooking Down East” column.

My scan of a scan of a scan lacks in clarity, but the caption read:

“Holiday time is party time—the two just seem to belong together.  We’ve passed the big event, Christmas, but the New Year promises to bring its share of pleasure too.  School folks of all ages are the particularly lucky ones for they have extended time away from the books and school chores to relax and enjoy themselves. 

Many of the college students find that in addition to the more formal dances and parties, a spur-of-the-moment party for neighborhood groups can be lots of fun and not too difficult in preparation. 

Alicia Daniels of Tufts College, left, and Nancy Merry, of Georgian Court, Lakewood, N.J., are planning just such a get together.  Luckily there is a congenial group of fellows and girls in their Sylvan Site, South Portland neighborhood all home for the holidays so a party seemed to be the order of the day.  Here they are readying the traditional New Year’s eggnog for the gang who will be pressed into service a bit later for sandwich making, record selecting and other party necessities.  Share the fun and the work’s the idea. 

Theirs will be a happy new year for sure and we hope that all our readers will be too—and many more the same.”

We live in a strange time of isolation and fragmentation.  I would bore readers with my itemized list of cultural atrocities.  Egg nog?  It’s probably not even politically correct to talk about, let alone make.  Senator Susan Collins is probably writing up a bill right now to make it illegal for minors to whisk eggs without a permit and God forbid they do such things as make their own sandwiches.

What’s to be done amidst the cultural noise and confusion?  These wars and rumors of wars?  For me, I’m taking my cue from the Patriots:

Ignore the noise.

Posted in Experiments and Challenges | Tagged , , ,

Trends for 2018

Late December and early January are boring times in media outlets.  Newspapers (both print and digital) catalog the “best” stories of the previous year and list them by dominance, popularity, and virtue signaling “oomph.”  After draining this well of material, the quest is on for new trends.  Tired writers and bloggers across the techno-topia hungrily search for something new to report.  Lists abound.

It’s dependable content, if not boring and ridiculous.  Somehow, the planet never dies in the fortnight between Christmas and Twelfth Night and intellectually curious men and women learn what 10 things they must do in the new year to live forever, save the planet, and end world hunger.   Or at least live colorfully.

Pantone, Inc. is a New Jersey-based company that created and systematized the colors reproduced in printing, fabric production, and plastics.  Since 2000, they have announced a “Color of the Year” and according to Wikipedia, “the color purportedly connects with the zeitgeist.”  Considered by many as the global authority on color, Pantone’s announcement is met with giddy glee in fashion and home interior realms; nourishment for many post-prandial soliloquies and midnight musings among Gotham’s style kings and queens.

On Pearl Harbor Day this year, Pantone announced their 2018 “Color of the Year.”  Ultra Violet.  Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, told The New York Times “it’s truly a reflection of what’s needed in our world today.”

In a December 5, 2014 press release, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, announced “Radiant Orchid.”  This purplish color, was “an invitation to innovation,” according to Eiseman.  “Radiant Orchid encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.”

I confess…I’ve been reading “lifestyle blogs” over the holidays.  With a December painted sparkling white (Pantone 11-0601 TCX) by Maine’s ice and snow, I needed some inspiration.  Briefly hot, carb-laden breakfast bowls of Cream of Wheat could easily have been called “Cream of Beige” as they did little to excite me and raise the sub-arctic temperatures that chilled my own personal winter wonderland.  Even the thawed summer blueberries, looking somewhat “Ultra Violet” in these bland bowls did little to show me what was needed in our world today.

I turned to “The Glam Pad,” a lifestyle blog written by “Amy” in the Sunshine State.

Yesterday, she published a post that essentially said what I wanted to say about trends, quoting the ever-interesting Karl Lagerfeld and also noting that trend watching sets “in motion a very expensive cycle for the consumer that can be avoided simply by following timeless, classic design principles that will last a lifetime.”

Bravo, Amy, bravo!

Looking brightly forward, I offer to you my readers ten beautiful and not trendy minutes in Vienna, with Strauss’s Kaiserwalzer.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Talk of The Toile | Tagged , ,

The Second Razing of Montpelier

On December 19, 2017, Scott Thistle of the Portland Press Herald reported the Knox Museum in Thomaston (also known as “Montpelier”) was on the verge of closing.  Thistle reported that a December 15, 2017 letter, written by chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, Peter Ogden, noted Montpelier was facing a “dire” situation.

Thousands of cars drive by the Knox Museum in Thomaston during high tourist season.  It sits majestically overlooking Route 1, at a point in the road that curves slightly to the left heading out of town and toward Rockland.  How many happy motorists realize the house is a replica of the original mansion is unknown.  The original mansion, built by Revolutionary War General and first Secretary of War Henry Knox, was demolished in 1871.

Absent from Thistle’s news story and difficult to find on the museum’s modern website is the fact that the replica of Montpellier was built and furnished with a generous gift of the late Cyrus H.K. Curtis and the work of the General Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  The Maine DAR website notes “in 1931 the replica, built and furnished by the Maine Daughters – under the leadership of the General Knox Chapter of Thomaston – was dedicated.”

Ogden’s letter, according to Thistle, is quoted as saying “the museum has largely been funded by a finite gift which has now been exhausted.”

I don’t have a copy of the letter and I’m making an assumption that the now-exhausted “finite gift” was the same one mentioned fleetingly on the Knox Museum website as “the generous gift of the late Cyrus H.K. Curtis.”

Who was Cyrus H.K. Curtis?  He was a very wealthy man.  Born in Portland, Maine in 1850, he made his fortune, in part, from magazine publishing.  The “K” in his name stands for Kotzschmar, and he did, indeed, donate the Kotzschmar Organ to the city of Portland.  According to Wikipedia’s sources, he is still considered “one of the richest Americans ever.”

The Knox Museum managed this gift for approximately 86 years before exhausting it.  Without hiring a forensic accountant to review the records, I can’t comment on the museum’s financial management, other than to say history is replete with gift-recipients who blew away an inheritance in a day.

Back in the early 1970’s, one of the cars that approached the Knox Museum in Thomaston was a Plymouth Fury.  I’m not sure what year, make, and model it was.  My father never bought new cars.  But we visited one summer; it was a family day trip.  I saved the brochure, printed by the Maine State Park and Recreation Commission.  They ran the museum until 1999 and then gave the property to the nonprofit after “failing to make the museum’s operations financially viable itself” according to Thistle’s news story.  My brochure says it was “Published Under Appropriation 5410.”

How old was I?  Not more than 10, I think.  I remember the magnificent house and the semi-flying staircase.  The trip home was fraught with some terror, though, thinking how General Knox allegedly died from an infection after a chicken bone lodged in his throat.

Frightened or not, I often thought of Montpelier after our visit and kept the brochure in my envelope of souvenirs.  I consider this visit the beginning of my appreciation for beautiful things and my passion for their preservation.  Why else would I be drawn to flying staircases at the Foss Mansion, the Ruggles House, and the Victoria Mansion had my child’s mind not contemplated the symmetry of Montpelier’s replica?

Scott Thistle’s Portland Press Herald story did not answer all of my questions; I have many.  Newspaper reports written during the construction of the replica would be rich with names of men and women involved in this project.  I’m especially interested in the role the General Knox Chapter of the DAR played in this project.

Women once did interesting things.  It used to be their work.

Sifting through the internet this morning, I once again chant the old George Bailey mantra of “I wish I had a million dollars.”  If I did, I’d give it to the Knox Museum with the proviso that I am allowed regular access to all of their historical records.

Should any of my readers have a million dollars, please contact the Knox Museum pronto and find out how you can be instrumental in preserving this very interesting building.

Posted in Talk of The Toile | Tagged , , , ,

This Year’s Christmas Portrait

I am year-end busy today.  Maybe that’s a good thing.

Scroll over here next week for “The Ghost of Christmas Present.”

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Weather and Seasons

The First Person in Food Writing

Because I am a part-time food writer, I occasionally read about food.  Nothing gets my morning blood pressure elevated like a boring gastronomic account of soup, butter, or bacon.  But is all food writing worth the paper or bytes consumed to produce it?  I think not.  The current tendency of kitchen dwellers calling their diary entries “food writing” is an unfortunate display of the 21st century disease called “look at my cookies.”  Please…don’t boil some vegetables in a stock pot for an hour, puree it with an immersion blender, and tell me you’ve made soup!  That’s a vegetable smoothie, dearest, not a soup.

Put that in your plastic mobile goblet, aka sippy cup, and take a deep draught.

This morning, I’m thinking of the food writer, Cecily Brownstone.  Brownstone was the Associated Press Food Editor from 1947 until 1986 and her syndicated food features appeared in papers across the United States, including the Lewiston Evening Journal.  Her most memorable recipe is “Country Captain Chicken,” a curried chicken dish that has waxed and waned in popularity since Brownstone first published it.

Brownstone knew how to cook and fortunately, she was also skilled in journalistic forensics.  She traced the curried chicken recipe to an 1857 Philadelphia cookbook and then offered her readers an interpretation by Delmonico chef Alexander Filippini.  The internet is full of articles about Brownstone and this chicken recipe; interestingly, no current food writer or blogger has noted the recipe’s first date of publication.

Brownstone was a friend to Joy of Cooking writers Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.  They featured it in their classic cooking volume and the 1975 edition prefaces the recipe with “this dish has become a favorite in America, although it probably got its name not from the sea captain who brought the recipe back from the shores, but from the Indian officer who first made him acquainted with it.  So says Cecily Brownstone, a great friend; this is her time-tested formula.”

There.  After a flavorless bowl of vegetable smoothie and two shots of espresso coffee, I’m back on the beam.  2018 is just around the corner and there will be interesting chefs to interview, local food growers and producers to meet, and maybe even a cookbook author speaking interesting words I can put inside quotation marks.

Carry on.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , ,

Living in History

On Sunday, December 3, the Ruggles House Society hosted their annual Christmas Tea.  According to Peter Winham, a member of the Ruggles House Society Board of Directors, over 100 visitors attended the event.

Winham and his wife Kathy own Teas of Cherryfield and they provided a variety of restorative beverages for the event.  In addition to their tea business, the Winhams also own The Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast located at 122 Main Street in Cherryfield, a few miles down the road from The Ruggles House.   The bed and breakfast, a two-story Federal style building known as the Archibald-Adams House, is located along the Narraguagus River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back in July, when I first visited Columbia Falls and decided to attend the tea, I had only an inkling of the area’s historic credentials.  It was a whimsical idea, taking a car trip in December when the bad weather odds increase exponentially.  But Paul Cousins, Maine meteorologist, predicted “a sublime and unusually mild weekend” and his predictions of fair skies held firm.

I invited a friend, one with Revolutionary War roots dating back to the Battle of Machias and we sallied forth.

Fortunately, since my July visit, I had planted a seed of interest in my friend’s mind, encouraging her to begin her Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) membership.  I told her she might meet a number of DAR members at the Ruggles Tea, and we could even wander around old cemeteries looking for her ancestors.

When we first arrived in the area, we visited the Rock Maple Cemetery in Harrington.  She located the stone of her great-grandfather, George Wellington Stevens.  From a family history written by one of her great aunts, I learned Stevens was a “sturdy heavyset man and he did hard work but was never in a hurry.”

We made it our mantra to not be in a hurry while we were in Washington County.  It was a pleasant respite and in fact, one local woman told us we could slow time to the extent that we could “go back in time” if we visited Jonesport and Beals.

Of course, the allure of reversing time is always of interest to women and so we did visit the suggested idyllic area.

The highlight of the trip came when my friend’s 79-year-old cousin Carole Ann, a DAR since the age of 17, gave us a private tour of the Burnham Tavern in Machias.  The building is significant because it was a meeting place for the local militia prior to the 1775 Battle of Machias.  The Hannah Weston Chapter of the DAR operates the Burnham Tavern today and it’s an interesting repository of information.

After our tour, we took our time heading home and even stopped at the iconic Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a cup of chowder and a piece of pie.  Cousin Carole Ann provided a wealth of historical information in addition to knowing almost everyone at the restaurant.

Stepping back in time courtesy of Washington County towns is a relaxing off-season practice.  If you have any reason to believe your ancestral roots may be planted in this area, I highly encourage you to visit.  And if you do, take a cue from Grampy Stevens and do not hurry.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged , , , ,