Jan 042015
2015 Sparklers

Heard about the guy who took a two-week vacation and came back two years later? That would be me. I planned a new blog and decided to forsake this one in favor of the new one. Except, I never got the new one underway. And then life happened and… Well, I hope to post here a little more often than in the past two years.

I am still working on the new blog. It has taken me a long time to 1) get up the courage, 2) figure out what exactly I wanted to write about and 3) quit procrastinating. I have decided 2015 is the year it begins. So, look for more announcements for that in the future.

In the meantime, I apologize for my absence. I don’t think anyone really missed me besides myself. If nothing else, I need this forum to hold myself accountable for my goals, plans and such. Writing is good therapy. The last two years, I have not accomplished much and tried other forms of therapy. I think this one works better than those.

Here’s to a successful 2015!

 Posted by at 5:19 pm
Dec 232012

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! I love this time of year. There are many wonderful traditions surrounding the many holidays that coexist at the end of the calendar. It seems everyone has something to celebrate. Whatever your inclination, I hope this time of year is wonderful for you and yours.

Growing up, my family had so many traditions around Christmas. We used to hike into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree (always cedar). There was inevitably a bare side we had to disguise with something. Christmas morning, we had to make our beds, get dressed, make breakfast and have the table ready before we could wake Mom and Dad. Then we had to eat breakfast together before we could go see the tree and what Santa had brought. What an excruciating experience for a young child! Those few minutes seemed like weeks to me.

Many of my childhood traditions have hung around for my own family. We have a caroling party every year. We invite a few families over and we wander the neighborhood, singing to anyone who will listen. Once we get cold, we head back to the house for lots of goodies and hot chocolate. I remember doing this for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, we did it Christmas Eve, probably as a method of killing time and tiring us kids out. I remember some of our neighbors checking with Mom and Dad early in the month to make sure we were coming, as “it wasn’t Christmas without the Strattons coming to sing.”

Another tradition is having little green army men hiding in our Christmas tree. That started the year Toy Story came out and our son received a Bucket Of Soldiers. Santa Claus took a few extra minutes out of his schedule to hide them all over the tree. The tradition stuck. Every year, no matter how much I protest, soldiers show up in our tree. We are down to only one this year, but he is on guard, up near the top, next to a silver ball. His lonely vigil is almost sad, yet wonderful. I hope we don’t lose this one.

That is the challenge for this week. Honor your family traditions. Make a few new ones. Step outside your comfort zone. Let us know your favorite traditions we might incorporate ourselves. What are your favorite memories? Please share!

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jun 152012

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell   

I am a fan of British drama. I have enjoyed many British TV shows as well. One of my favorite is Lark Rise to Candleford. We watched a bit of Downton Abbey, but was turned off by the soap operatic nature of the stories. It did lead us to the delightful book Below Stairs.

Margaret Powell “entered service” at the age of 13. Even though she had won a scholarship to continue her schooling, their family couldn’t afford to not have her work for another five years. When her father was drafted into World War I, the destitute situation of the family required she leave home and begin working keeping house for others. She worked six hours each day, seven days a week for 10 shillings, which if my calculations are correct, would be worth about $1.20/hour today. The work was hard and unappreciated.

Powell bounced around from small job to job until she was fifteen and became a kitchen maid. From there, she worked her way up to cook over years of practice and buying a cookbook. Her stories and descriptions of life in service describe the conditions and difficult life. It is no wonder this book became the basis for British drama, looking back at the way the “other half” lived in Victorian England.

Even though Mrs. Powell became a very good cook, it is obvious she has a knack for story telling. Below Stairs is a page turner, packed with story after story, some tragic, most amusing, of life in service. Her views on the gentry were quite opinionated and deservedly so. Most families she worked for were quite harsh in the treatment of those who kept their houses running. A few were quite kind, such as the house that was the basis for Downton Abbey. The job was only three months while their regular cook was recovering from illness. They treated their staff well, giving them gifts at Christmas and even the day off. Most, however, did not treat the people who cared for them as much better than slaves.

After years of cooking for fancy parties and dinners for scores of people, Mrs. Powell eventually married and was able to leave service. It was rather ironic that she struggled to cook for her family, as none of the recipes she had created and mastered would fit into the family budget or her husband’s tastes. She continued to hire out to cook on occasion, but only for special events where extra help was required.

It was interesting to compare Mrs. Powell’s experiences in service as compared to the descriptions given by Bill Bryson in his book At Home, where he details the servants life as well. His descriptions were much harsher of the life, but I felt it matched quite well with those of Below Stairs. Had I lived at this time, I have little doubt I would probably have lived this life. While I enjoy reading about it, I certainly wouldn’t want to live it.

 Posted by at 7:00 am