Out With the Old, In With the …Old!?

German post card, from 1910

German post card, from 1910

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s a clean slate. Out with the old, in with the new…wait! Some things are simply better “old”, or “vintage” (my favorite word). Here’s a look at some of my favorite things whose modern counterparts are not an improvement.

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As I write this, I’m drinking a seltzer from a chic little 50’s glass, listening to 1940’s tunes. (Is there any music better than Louis, Ella, or Billie)? Yes, there’s many modern conveniences I can’t imagine life without. Smartphones – I love streaming music, the ability to “Google” anything, anywhere instantly, or reaching my teen wherever she goes.

Recently, we were treated to a ride in our friends’ 1930 Ford Model-A! Almost all original, it was like a time machine! However, with its wooden frame and no seat belts, I realized how far we’ve come with technology, safety and comfort in automobiles. (Though classic cars from the 30’s to the 60’s can NOT be beat in style)!

What a thrill to ride in this beauty!

What a thrill to ride in this beauty!

Still, I  was “born in the wrong generation” for many reasons, and my adoration for vintage is also an appreciation for things well-made. Not everything “new” is “better”.

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She's only 5 inches tall and wide. I call her "Shirley Temple".

She’s only 5 inches tall and wide. I call her “Shirley Temple”.

At a fabric store recently, my daughter noticed new sewing machines, snubbing her nose at how flimsy they seem compared to vintage machines. I’ve already blogged on the virtues of VSMs (here and here), but this little cutie my husband got me not only sews, she’s also an example of a great vintage toy. The Singer-20 was made from 1910 – 1975. My “Sew-Handy” is from the fifties, with not a speck of plastic! Little girls (and adults, who used it as a “travel” machine) could chain-stitch on this sturdy hand-crank machine. Much of today’s toys are plastic, need batteries or a charge, and don’t allow a child to use much imagination.

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While I do love my modern vacuum, nothing beats the vintage carpet sweeper I bought for $10.00 at a tag sale. From 1957, the “Bissell Breeze Sweeper” came in my favorite color, red, and originally sold for $9.95. Pristine despite being almost sixty years old, it essentially was new. Belonging to the seller’s mother who wasn’t sure she’d ever used it, he was shocked someone would want to buy it! When I got it home, a little oil on the wheels was all it took to get it working. While my vacuum’s nice, the sweeper clears my throw rugs of debris without sucking/eating them, and makes quick touch ups easy. Metal (but lightweight), it’s charming enough to display.

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In a kitchen full of gadgets, sometimes blasts from the past are best. At an estate sale last fall looking for a VSM (surprise), I ran across a dusty little box. My heart sung when I realized it was a 1951 cookie press/decorator! At $4.00, I didn’t know if it was complete but didn’t care (it was – 15 shapes and a cookbook, to boot – yippee)! I had previously owned two “modern” versions, both plastic and one way more expensive. Both eventually broke. The box looks like it got a lot of use. I made Spritz at Christmas (last month, MaryJane posted this awesome recipe), and will use it all year to make appetizers, cream puffs and more. It probably got a lot of use back in the day, but even after using all holiday season, it still looks new, constructed of sturdy aluminum.

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Vintage Pyrex is popular among collectors. For years, I struggled to make my husband’s favorite cookie that called for using a double boiler. I’d do the double bowl method – not foolproof. I came across a Pyrex glass double boiler, on a Facebook tag sale for $5.00. It made my cookie recipe a delight instead of a chore, and I’m in love with this ingenious little piece of Americana. Own a double boiler, and you’ll be surprised how much you really do use it.

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I recently added a glass-pane antique door with a glass knob to my “sun room”. I love the antique charm in my modern home.

As a child, I used to love visiting my grandmother’s little cottage (the sweetest house, on a street named “Cottage”). Inside, I’d marvel at her beautiful doorknobs. Those sparkly glass knobs resembling giant diamonds are prettier than any modern hardware!

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hurley Marsan

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hurley Marsan

One of the most useful tools of the past is a common object, but sadly, it’s difficult to find a “new” one that accomplishes the job it’s made to do. I’ve had hand-held, electric, battery powered, inexpensive, fancy and pricey, but nothing compares to the pencil sharpeners of bygone days! When I was a kid, every classroom had a wall-mounted, hand-crank metal pencil sharpener. They were “old” back then, and I bet decades later those same pencil sharpeners are still working, making perfect pencil points! There’s no comparison to vintage here. I even bought a hand-crank, modern-made metal one. It looked like the ones of my childhood, but all it did was mash and eat our pencils like a crazed termite!

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One thing all vintage items have is charm. Some things don’t have to be old to be great, like my vintage-inspired cooler. We take it to the beach and use it in the car all summer. During the holidays it sat in the dining room with a red and white bow, stylishly holding seltzers at our Christmas party. More elegant than today’s plastic counterparts, the cute design harkens back to antique coolers, now highly-sought after and often very pricey. Even scratched or dented, they ooze charm.

That’s the thing about vintage and antique items from the past: they were made to last and be used, while being visually stylish at the same time.

While I’m looking ahead to a new year, I think I’ll still hold on to some of the past.

I’m looking forward to sharing another year with you all! Share with me some of your favorite “blasts from the past” in comments!

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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A Suburban Farmgirl Dog Tale

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A dog’s love is unconditional. Always happy to see us, they don’t care about our outside, just what’s on the inside. Pets are “family”, and dogs are no exception. The holidays are a time of magic, love and giving. Dogs are our greatest teachers for that, with their selflessness and gift of pure love!

Last month marked my Suburban Farmgirl blogging anniversary. Having started in 2010, my first-ever blog was about Thanksgiving. Next was titled, “Our Other Child”, about Bonnie, our rescued “German-Shusky”, who forever changed our lives.

While all fur-babies are extra-special, sometimes, there’s one that’s different…an exceptional pup. That was our Bonnie. We adopted her from a shelter, where before we were her fur-ever family, she’d been first on a southern puppy mill farm, then adopted out here but inexplicably sent back (thankfully) to the shelter. Somewhere along the way, she’d been abused. One leg was always bowed. Our vet said it’d been previously broken and not set right. She was also deathly afraid of water, screaming uncontrollably if bathed. (We learned to bathe her away from a tub). Her past didn’t define her, and she grew to be a confident, happy girl. My husband first knew she was the dog for us from her online photo, with her goofy smile and giant pink ears.

She had us with those ears...

She had us with those ears…

Six months old, by the time we adopted her, she’d been in a crate for eight weeks. We’d arrived early, just as shelter volunteers were taking her out before our meeting. As we pulled in the parking lot, she was bouncing like Tigger! I panicked a bit at sight of the fluffy ball of energy, but right at meeting, our hearts connected. That first car ride, she calmly sat, like she knew we were going “home”. At the house, she became elated after sniffing our daughter’s toys, excited she’d have a child to play with! When my daughter came off the bus that day, Bonnie and Audrey were forever bonded, best friends.

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She always wanted to be with Audrey and her playmates.

She always wanted to be with Audrey and her playmates.

Bonnie was like a fur-covered human. A vet once referred to her as a “genius”, a label he reluctantly used, but he said he’d never met a dog like her. An intense stare in your eyes “usually means aggression with dogs”, but with “Bon Bon”, it wasn’t. “She’s reading the humans around her”, the vet marveled.

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Bonnie could communicate! She quickly learned (without human intervention) to ring the bell on our door to go out, a skill I’d given up on with our other pups. Once, when my daughter ignored the ringing and I was out of earshot, she pulled the bell off the door, dropped it at my feet, and puddled the floor as if to say, “I rang it. Told ya I had to go out”. Another time, I told her we were going on a walk. Before we could leave, the phone rang. As I chatted, Bonnie became impatient. She went upstairs and opened my closet. All of my shoes were stacked in boxes. I heard rumbling. Soon, Bonnie came down the stairs, my walking shoes in her mouth. She’d gone through the boxes to find the right pair!

Bonnie could answer “yes” or “no” to questions “like do you want a cookie,” or “do you need to go out?” For “yes”, she’d slam her front paws downward and bark. For “no”, she literally shook her head.

Bonnie only knew love from us, but for a while we could tell she had nightmares. She’d come to us and whimper, as if to tell us about some awful ordeal. Eventually, the nightmares stopped. If we were gone for long periods of time, she’d be so gleeful at our return, leaping in the air and howling. She truly loved us with her whole heart.

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Together, we walked many miles. She adored snow and sledding with my daughter. Bonnie knew what holidays were. Her birthday was the day before mine, and she LOVED having the birthday song sung to her and opening presents. At Christmas, she knew exactly which stocking was hers. She was unbelievably smart. She could also be stubborn and mischievous, and never learned to walk on a leash without pulling us like a sled. Bonnie had so much personality!

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Unfortunately, this fall, Bonnie became sick with very aggressive cancer. She held on as long as she could. Our vet office did all they could, but eventually (and quickly), Bonnie couldn’t fight anymore. Two days before Thanksgiving, our last morning together, she mustered all her strength and climbed into my lap on the sofa. She knew we were going to say goodbye, and she wanted to make sure I was okay. Before leaving for our appointment with the vet, our other dogs snuggled with us, both licking Bonnie’s face.

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Putting a dog down is just awful, but our vet couldn’t have made it nicer, with a peaceful, cozy room with a fireplace and fluffy rug. When Bonnie’s heart stopped, mine felt like it shattered. I will always carry her in my heart. I can’t imagine Heaven without our beloved pets!

What I hope I see at Heaven's gate someday...

“Hi! I missed you!” What I hope I see at Heaven’s gate someday…

I love all my furbabies immensely, but my connection with Bonnie was super-special. She “got” me.  My husband would say she was my “other soul mate”, my constant companion. I never liked dogs in my bed, but quickly lost that battle. She knew not to jump on the bed until the “dog sheet” was on, and for eight years, she slept on my feet. I’d often wake up cramped, Bonnie grasping my legs with her paws. What I wouldn’t give for one more sleepless night!

Bonnie at the end of the summer.       2008 - 1016

Bonnie at the end of the summer.
2008 – 2016

There’s a happy ending to this tail tale. A year ago at Christmas, we adopted a puppy, Scarlett. When we first brought Scarlett home, we feared Bonnie would be jealous, but the opposite happened. At first sight, she wagged her whole body in pure joy, as if to say, “You brought ME a puppy! You brought ME a puppy!” Bonnie adopted Scarlett as HER baby, constantly fretting over Scarlett. Bonnie was never happier. She was a great mom, and she raised a good baby.

Our latest addition to the family, last Christmas.

Our latest addition to the family, last Christmas.

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Scarlett’s now full grown, looking after little Pip, and acting as my shadow. She misses her dog mom, as do we, but she’s got us smiling and laughing with her adorable antics. She reminds me so much of Bonnie!

Scarlett and Audrey getting ready for Christmas!

Scarlett and Audrey getting ready for Christmas!

We are so thankful for our little fur-girl. It’s Scarlett’s first Christmas with us, and we can’t wait to show her a great holiday!

Wishing you all the Happiest of Holidays!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Spinning A Good Yarn

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With November comes cool weather and all things warm and woolly! Among everything I love to do, knitting is high on my list. I’ve been teaching knitting and crochet classes for over a decade, and always have several projects going at any given time. I love everything about knitting: the anticipation of starting a new project, the way the needles sound together, the portability, the different items that can be made and the delicious yarn! A good yarn and its texture can make all the difference in a project.

As a child, at my aunt’s house, I would always wander into her front room where she had a large antique spinning wheel displayed. I’d never dare touch – (it was a thing of fairy tales!) but admired with awe!  I still think spinning wheels are stunning, but never really knew exactly how they create the intoxicating yarns that call out to us knitters until recently- when I was treated to “Spinning Wheel 101” by a very talented spinner and alpaca farmer.

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How many times have you said, “When I retire someday I want to live on a farm”? June and Henry Bissonnette are living that dream in Connecticut, having converted the property their home sits on into a beautiful farm where they live with their six alpacas, four cats, and a parrot. Henry, a fellow Master Gardener, and his wife June were not always alpaca farmers.

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In 2004, June was two years away from retirement when they went camping with relatives at Lake Champlain. Terrible weather forced them to cancel outdoor plans, so they went to a craft show at the Saratoga Racetrack. There they saw an Alpaca and Llama agility competition. June had never seen alpacas before and thought they were the cutest animals she’d ever seen. It was love at first sight, and June knew right then and there that she wanted to raise them someday.

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After that, June and Henry could not forget alpacas. June was a Senior Risk Analyst for GE Capital at the time, so for the next two years, the couple visited an alpaca farm in Ballston Spa, New York, and subscribed to Alpaca Magazine. The couple took free time to clear their property of brush, to plant pastures, put up fencing and gather supplies needed to be a working alpaca farm. In the fall of 2006, Lavender Creek Farm was born.

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Some of the alpaca's winning ribbons

Some of the alpaca’s winning ribbons

Henry and June started with three alpacas and currently have six that call Lavender Creek Farm home. They didn’t plan on that number, but have had babies born on their farm and adopted from friends who were downsizing.

Audrey enjoyed our visit, and loved feeding treats.

Audrey enjoyed our visit, and loved feeding treats.

What makes alpaca wool so special (and pricier in stores than other fibers) is that alpaca wool has fine “scales”. Scales hold fiber together. Alpaca has fewer scales than wool, so it has more of a feeling like fine cashmere. The final product of alpaca is a hollow fiber, lighter than wool, that is stain resistant and hypoallergenic. The firmness of a fiber is the micron count. The micron count of wool-bearing animals ranges from 21 – 30 microns. Cashmere has 12 microns, while alpacas having a count of 12 – 30. Juniper and Darcy, younger animals on the farm, have counts in the low 20’s, while Siobahn, an older alpaca has a count of around 30.

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June's spun alpaca yarn is  all natural, with no dyes

June’s spun alpaca yarn is all natural, with no dyes

To process their animals’ wool, they shear the “blanket” across the back. This is known as “firsts”, which is the best, finest and most uniform of fiber. It is then sent to a local mill for washing and carding and finally made into roving.  “Seconds” are made into rug yarn using alpaca-wrapped wool cord blended with wool to help shorter fibers hold together.

Seconds to be picked and spun

Seconds to be picked and spun

Rug yarn

Rug yarn

30 Pounds of roving to be spun being checked out by the "inspectors"

30 Pounds of roving to be spun being checked out by the “inspectors” – Photo courtesy of June Bissonnette

Now a talented spinner who knits, crochets and weaves, at first, June could crochet but did not know how to spin or knit. She called a local spinner who gave her a lesson. June ordered her first spinning wheel and has now been spinning for ten years.

Some of June's weaving

Some of June’s weaving

When you walk through the front door of their beautiful home, visitors notice two things: the couple’s adorable, pure-bred adopted Snowshoe Siamese kitties, and a big, stunning, wooden antique spinning wheel, known as a “Michel Cadorette”. Made in the 19th century by the well-known Canadian spinning wheel maker, this model is a single treadle. Spinning wheels were prolific in Canada in the 1800’s because all materials were spun in cottage industries. This model has tiny bobbins and spins fast, producing a very fine yarn.

The very beautiful Michel Cadorette antique spinning wheel

The very beautiful Michel Cadorette antique spinning wheel

Modern spinning wheels are not as large. Still beautiful, they take up much less room. June’s first wheel was an Ashford “Kiwi”, made in New Zealand. This is a good “starter” wheel. June says it “takes practice, practice, practice” to get the hang of spinning a good yarn. “You can take 100 lessons, but the way you really learn to spin is you practice.” The hardest thing to learn is consistency. Lumpy yarn becomes like “boucle”. The “Kiwi” is a basic wheel style called a “castle” because of the direction of the wheel. It takes up less space and is a double treadle.

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Treadling at a high speed results in a fine yarn, low speeds create thicker yarn.

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Thickness is also affected by how fast you treadle and how fast you “draft”, or feed the fiber into the wheel, and also by how much you draft. “Ratio” of a spinning wheel refers to how fast you can spin. First, you “spin” in one direction, next you “ply” it in another. A “lazy kate” is used to hold multiple bobbins while the yarn on them is wound off, twisting the fiber together so it becomes “2 ply”; it keeps spools or bobbins in place while spinning the yarn off of them. A “knotter” is used after the spool is full, making yarn into a skein.

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June's Lazy Kate sits with  various bobbins that go with her "Rose" spinning wheel.

June’s Lazy Kate sits with various bobbins that go with her “Rose” spinning wheel.

An antique knotter now used for display.

An antique skein winder now used as a display

June’s main spinning wheel is also made in New Zealand. Called a “Majacraft Rose”, it folds up and features 27 different ratio settings.

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June says spinning is relaxing, and after ten years can watch television and spin, as she spins now by “feel”. I find knitting to be relaxing, too. I always say it is “my yoga”. (I can’t do yoga. I can’t stop thinking of things like my grocery list, and I have never been that flexible no matter how hard I try. Last time I tried, I lost my balance and fell through drywall). So I knit. Now, when I hold that soft, hand-spun sumptuous ball of color, I will have a new appreciation for how it came to be.

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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It’s Just “Sew” Vintage, Part II

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It was thrilling hearing how many people are vintage sewing machine enthusiasts! Thank you, everyone, who reached out! I’m excited to pass on more tips on vintage sewing machines, share how I’ve re-purposed vintage patterns, and announce the winner of the “September ‘Sew Cute’ Giveaway”!

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It’s Just “Sew” Vintage! (And a September Goodie Giveaway)

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I love sewing. Recently, my sewing machine broke, and replacement parts are unavailable. What’s a farmgirl to do? Find something built to last…something vintage! Be warned, as this summer I discovered it’s easy to become smitten (obsessed?) with antique sewing machines!

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Summer Transitioning

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I hope this post finds you all enjoying some blissful, relaxing summer time. It’s been a good summer here, although it’s fleeting fast! For us, it’s been a summer of transition, and August will bring more changes with back to school, fading summer gardens, and soon, transitioning seasons. Grab a glass of somethin’ cold and relax as I share some tips to make summer transitioning smooth sailing and full of “Hygge”.

(“Hygge” is a Danish word that’s hard to translate, but you know it when you feel it. To me, it’s happiness, coziness, contentment … a place or moment where you want to linger.)  Continue reading

Farmgirl Roadtrip: Head with me to Washington, DC!

 

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Hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July! It’s always been a favorite holiday for me, though we usually spend the day low-key, cooking out and just being together as a family (it’s a “bonus” day off for my husband). July 4th always brings back happy memories, and I love the cheery red-white-and-blue patriotic decor which graces my home the entire summer. Did you know that every July 4th since 1912 Danes in Rebild, Denmark celebrate American Independence Day with a huge celebration? Former President Nixon and Walt Disney are among the famous who have given speeches there. Closer to home, take a roadtrip to our nation’s capital city: Washington DC. I got to experience the city again this past April, when I was chosen as a chaperone for my daughter’s eighth grade field trip to Washington DC and Arlington, VA.

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A Thimble’s Worth of Advice

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Some of the best things in life are also the smallest! A hopeless collector, I adore thimbles! I’ve picked thimbles up as inexpensive souvenirs and at flea markets. However, I had no idea that one day a chance meeting at a tag sale and a cigar box of thimbles would lead to a surprise and a life lesson!

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Chalkboard Paint,101

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“French country”, “shabby chic”, “vintage” – my kitchen has a theme with two favorite things: chickens and cherries. I adore the bright, happy red of cherry-themed items. Much of the decor is antique and vintage, but it was a chalkboard with hand-painted cherries that I ordered from a charming catalog over a decade ago that made me smitten with a cherry-themed decor. As a kid in the seventies, we had a bright red rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen; next to it was a chalkboard. Mom would write phone messages on it, and the family grocery list. (Remember the Brady Bunch? Catch re-runs and take a peek at Carol Brady’s kitchen…there’s a blackboard in her kitchen, too). Through the years, my little cherries chalkboard has been the place we scrawl quick notes, to-do lists, doodles, and of course, the family grocery list. However, after over a decade of use, it no longer was writable. The surface wore out, and chalk no longer would make a mark. Before letting my cute little board go, I wondered if there was a way to bring its writing surface back to life. Could it be revived? Hence, my new love affair with Chalkboard Paint.

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Indoor Gardening, 101

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If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get outside and get the garden growin’! Unfortunately, it will be a few more weeks in my area before we can really get gardening outside. That’s okay – we can garden indoors!

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