Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas From The Mitchell Park Conservatory!

Hello! Earlier this week we treated ourselves to a short stay in Milwaukee, a city we always enjoy visiting. And one of our favorite places to visit while there is the domes of the Mitchell Park Conservatory. 

It's especially festive this time of year, when the dome whose display changes throughout the year features a holiday theme. This year, the theme was:

"Not a Creature was Stirring...", although I preferred to think of it as a woodland theme. 

What follows are various photos of the many live trees in this dome, each with a different color scheme and animal theme:

Not an animal theme, of course, but I couldn't resist this fairy garden:

Very charming!

A few plants in the Arid Dome got into the holiday act as well:

The small Christmas ornaments hung on these plants added a sweet touch. This could be done with one's houseplants too, of course. 

Don't think that the plants in the Tropical Dome received any holiday embellishments, perhaps due to the high humidity there that would do a number on decorations. No matter, it's still nice as is. 

We also visited Mitchell Park Conservatory at the beginning of this year, when the 2015 holiday display was still going on. It can be seen here. This previous display had a gingerbread theme, and at the time I enjoyed it very much. But I think I liked this year's animal/woodland theme even better. I really enjoyed how each tree was decorated. I guess I admired the color coordination not seen on my own Christmas trees!

But if you're not in the Milwaukee area in time to see the holiday show at Mitchell Park Conservatory, the domes are still worth seeing any time of year. 

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 19, 2016

RIP To A Beloved Pet

Hello! Spoiler alert: if you're full of holiday cheer and want to stay that way, then stop reading. But if you're an animal lover, pet owner, feline fanatic, etc, then you'll understand. 

We had to have our beloved, nearly 14-year old calico cat, Beauty, put to sleep less than 48 hours ago. She developed a sudden medical emergency, and although it was after hours on a Saturday evening, our vet said she could meet us at her clinic in 20 minutes. 

The vet's assessment revealed a condition with an uncertain recovery. We had to decide whether we wished to go ahead with treatments that might not help and watch Beauty suffer in the meantime (it might have taken up to 2-3 months before we'd even know if such efforts would have worked). She was clearly in great discomfort already and we did not wish to prolong her misery. 

But it was a very hard decision to make, as pet owners who've been through this know. I'd already experienced some sorrow in beginning to watch Beauty's decline, but had blithely thought she'd still be around for another 2-3 years. To have her end come sooner than expected, and so suddenly, was devastating. 

She had come into our lives nearly 14 years ago, a gift to our daughter, who was 7 at the time. But somehow, in rather short order, she became my cat. 

Reflecting after her death on what she had meant to me, I realized that she had come at a very low point in my life. A number of upheavals that had begun more than a year prior to her arrival - and had kept on coming - had left me feeling very uncertain about the world and my place in it. Mid-life crisis? Dark night of the soul? Whatever you want to call it, it was pretty bad. I wouldn't have wished it on my worst enemy (and I don't even have any enemies).

But six-week-old Beauty arrived, clearly needing love (she was taken from her mother too soon, I think). She latched upon me as her mother substitute, to the point of sucking the tip of her tail while lying curled up next to me  - an obvious nursing holdover. This became a habit she continued up to her very last day. 

Perhaps because of this habit of hers, I showered her with love and affection, figuring she needed such attention. And she returned my devotion with love and affection that matched mine. She became a great source of comfort. 

A few months after she joined our family, while petting her I suddenly had a deja vu moment: I realized I had dreamed about  petting her, just as I was doing that very minute in waking life - and I had had this dream about her before she had even been born. I have had deja vu moments all my life. And somehow I know that these deja vu moments are because I'd dreamed about the event prior to its occurance. (Often I don't recall the dream until the deja vu moment happens.) So to me, that was a clear signal that she was meant to be in my family. 

We have but one child, who of course grew up and has been off at college since the fall of 2013. In the years since then Beauty and I became even closer. I knew she couldn't take the place of our daughter, but I'd been in the habit of saying I had two girls, my "big girl" (my daughter) and my "little girl" (my cat). I missed our daughter when she went off to school, but at least I still had my little girl to mother. 

And now I don't have my little girl, Beauty, anymore. I have to remember not to clean a litter pan at night, not to check food and water dishes, and no seeing her head peeking out from around the 2nd floor hallway as I begin to climb the stairs, waiting and hoping I'd join her on the bed for yet another tail-nursing session. 

Will we get another cat? I know that Beauty can never be truly replaced, and I'm not ready to try to do so just yet. But last night we were at a neighborhood gathering, which took place in a house I'd never been to before. The owners have two cats, who were locked up in a bedroom when we first arrived. After things had calmed down and people were seated, the cats were let out. 

One of them climbed up to the back of the chair one of his owners was sitting in and settled in for a nap there. The other kitty jumped up onto my lap and curled up to sleep there. The other owner said this cat didn't typically stay in strangers' laps that long, but this furry guy seemed as content as could be with me.

Perhaps this cat sensed I needed some comforting, or maybe Beauty's spirit was there, giving me some comfort through another feline. I don't know, but it was very nice. I hated to get up and leave when the party was breaking up.

I'd emailed my brother shortly after Beauty's death, for he was the one who had given her to our daughter. Within his reply were these words: "She lived a good long life and was well loved and that is pretty good for any animal."

And he was right. Rest in peace, dearly beloved Beauty. Thank you for your love and what you meant to me. I will never forget you.

(If you'd like to read a happier, earlier post about Beauty, go here.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Christmas 65 Years Ago

Hello! Nostalgia seems to reign this time of year - old holiday movies and songs are played, and books about vintage decorations are published. Collectors display older ornaments, and people like me read the Reminisce magazine compilation The Christmases We Used To Know

I was still in a nostalgic mood after I'd finished that book and wanted more. So I went to the bag where my small collection of vintage Christmas magazines are stored, and pulled out the one on top:

The December 8th, 1951 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, purchased for a quarter a few years back at a library used magazine sale. This copy has slightly beat-up front and back covers, but even at that, 25c was a bargain (according to the eBay listings I checked out earlier today).

I didn't read this magazine while growing up, but from glancing through it, it seemed to have covered a broad range of domestic and international issues. There were stories of politicians proposing changes to election procedures, and worries about the Bad Things  Certain Big Countries May Be Doing To Undermine Other Countries. In other words, in some ways, not much has changed in 65 years. 

So instead I'll focus on some of the ads, where much has changed. For instance, this product:

A REO Royale Power Lawn Mower - which looks exactly like a reel mower with a small motor on top. I guess that's what it is!

Smoking used to be a bigger deal than it is now, so I suppose it wasn't surprising that cigarettes were once considered a gift choice. In fact, by wearing a fur coat and leather gloves, the woman in the ad seems to suggest that Old Gold cigarettes are a sign of high quality.

Ads in color are, well, more colorful, but I loved the Santa line drawing in this one. He looks like he's standing by a chest of drawers, but folks, that's a 21" RCA Victor Suffolk. Cost: $425. In today's money, that's almost $4,000!

Fortunately, this gift would have been considerably less expensive:

Lifesavers Candy Book. A friend and I were talking the other day about the little candy treat bags or boxes we got at Christmastime during our grade school years. She said she always wanted a Lifesavers Candy Book, and I told her I used to give them as gifts to middle school and high school friends (didn't have the money for anything bigger!). Until I saw this ad, I hadn't realized how far back this packaging went. 

I couldn't resist another TV ad, this one by Motorola. This 20" Mahogany Table Model sold for $279.95, which is equivalent to a little over $2,600. Whew, that's better!

Cameras were more reasonable in price than televisions. The camera on the left cost $32 by itself (now: almost $298), $55 (now: around $511) with a variety of accessories included. The model on the right was priced at $14.95 (today: around $139),or $29.95 (today: almost $279)for the complete gift set. 

Still kind of pricey, but hey, at least there's some nice wrapping paper shown!

So yeah, consumer tastes and prices have changed in 65 years, but this gift would likely still find favor today with many men:

Pendleton wool shirts; this pattern is called "Kilgore Tartan". The man is shown wearing the Topster Jacket (then, $18.95, now $176). Below his arm is the Regular Shirt ($15.35, $142.71)and below that shirt is the Sport Shirt. It looks very similar, and has the same price as well.

There were a lot more ads I could have shown off, for there was page and page of gift ads. Consumers were implored to buy toasters, electric roasters, cigarette lighters, pipes, watches, clocks, fountain pens, cuff links, and more. 

I guess that part of Christmas hasn't changed in 65 years either! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my nostalgia trip, courtesy of this issue from The Saturday Evening Post.

Note: price comparisons were courtesy of the US Inflation Calculator website, which can be found here.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Made It: Hanging Snowflake Garland

Hello! A couple of posts back, I showed off a Pilgrim hat with streamers I'd hung up on our side porch in honor of Thanksgiving. Of course, with Christmas now on the horizon, I had to take that decoration down and put up something in tune with the current holiday.

But the felted hanging garland I'd hung up the last two years blew down in a snowstorm last December. I was a little bummed because it was cheerful looking. It had originally come from Target, but I'd only paid a dollar for it at a thrift store. So at least only a little money had blown away with that decoration. 

I looked around a bit on our property to see if I could find where the wind gust had taken it, but it was nowhere to be found. Then, while doing yard work last month, I spied half of that felted garland on top of some fallen leaves in the backyard. Where had this garland been in nearly a year? How did it suddenly show up when and where it did? I wondered if some critter - most likely a squirrel - had fancied the garland's cheery colors as much as I had and made off with it after it'd been blown off our side porch. 

(I once lived in a house where squirrels found their way to the attic, and they had a habit of getting into my sewing and craft projects there. They took felt Christmas ornaments I'd made and a sewing project in progress. Both were found outside several months after the thievery).

Anyway, the sight of that now-bedraggled garland reminded me that I wanted another one to take its place. Of course, rather than heading to Target, I combed thrift stores to find something suitable. I didn't find another felted garland, but did find eight snowflake shapes for a dollar. They're glittered-trimmed plastic, so I figured they'd hold up okay outdoors. 

They have holes on top for hanging, which someone had used for threading green florist's wire loops. Rather ugly, I thought, so I replaced the wire with thin blue cording. I could have poked holes in the bottoms of the snowflake shapes for making a garland, but it was easier to just tie the cording on. 

Here's the finished garland:

Alas, the light breeze outside caused some of the snowflakes to move sideways, but you can see the overall effect. The garland is close to five feet in length (each snowflake is about three inches long). 

Here's a close-up:

As you can see from the background, there was no snow on the ground at the time, so hanging a snowflake garland up seemed a little foolish. But I knew that snow was on its way, and sure enough, as of this writing we've gotten close to six inches. And more is on the way for tonight and tomorrow...and Monday...and Tuesday...etc. 

Oh well, at least the snowflake theme of this garland means that I can leave it up all winter. It won't be out of season until spring. That reminds me - a banner I'd hung up several springs in a row also blew away in a storm a few years back (unlike the felted garland, it never returned). So I'll need to work on a replacement for that time of year! 

I added a wire hanger at the top of my snowflake garland and thus was able to attach it tightly to the hook on the side porch ceiling. Hopefully that'll keep the garland in place!


Friday, December 2, 2016

Holidays: More Ornaments With Meaning

Hello! My mom died on Christmas Eve in 2010, so for the next Christmas I made ornaments for my siblings and their kids in memory of Mom/Grandma. My efforts can be seen in this post. 

Well, earlier this year my dad died, so once again I decided to make Christmas ornaments in memoriam. He loved to read, and especially toward the end of his life, his reading reflected several keen interests. Thus, when it came time to divide up his belongings, I took three books to use in this craft project: Handbook Of Denominations In The United States (Frank S. Mead, revised by Samuel S. Hill; chosen because of the pages devoted to the Roman Catholic church, Dad's faith), That Fine Italian Hand (Paul Hofmann; chosen to represent Dad's birth country), and Reader's Digest Fun & Laughter; chosen because Dad loved to tell jokes. I'd gotten him this volume at a thrift store).  

Since they were going to be cut up, I also selected these three because they were either dated and/or already beat up. I didn't want to deface books that still had plenty of life in them. None of the above books are newer than 1990. The oldest, the Reader's Digest tome, came out in 1967 and some of the jokes are now shockingly dated.  

I began my project with two sets of blank wooden ornaments that I'd found at a thrift store and a rummage sale. One set was bare wood in three different tree shapes. The other set was various shapes - angels, birds and stars. These had been painted a rather gaudy gold and had red ribbon hangers. 

Neither set looked all that great as is, so I decorated them to improve their appearances. The bare wood trees were painted with green acrylic paints, stamped with holiday designs, and then embellished with light coatings of gold glitter paint. 

The gaudy gold on the other shapes was toned down with ivory acrylic paint, and I added stamped holiday designs to these ornaments as well. 

I removed those ugly red ribbon hangers and replaced them with gold cord. I had to drill holes in the tree shapes, and put the same gold cord through those holes for hangers. 

And here's how my ornaments turned out - first, an example of the ones I made for my 16 nieces and nephews:

Angel and bird.

Close-up of the angel:

And an example of a tree ornament for my six siblings:

A close-up:

Actually, the above ornament is one I'm keeping for myself. Couldn't resist the "I dream that I'm telling fabulous jokes" phrase, since my dad fancied himself doing just that (even when dementia caused him to say the same jokes over and over). 

I'll include a note to the recipients explaining why these seemingly random statements are on their ornaments. Otherwise, they might scratch their heads in puzzlement!

Yes, it took awhile to alter each ornament, cut out various phrases from my dad's books, and arrange and glue on those skinny strips of paper. But it was a labor of love, and as a memory of our late dad/grandpa - it was well worth it.