Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sometimes a Choir Boy is a Girl

We've all heard the bad jokes about castrati … that the man who has an unfortunate injury to his private parts will soon be singing soprano in the choir.  That story is for another day.

The Boys Club of the Choir, where all parts are sung only by the male species, can be traced back to that most famous misogenist of the Bronze Age, Saint Paul.  He claimed that "women should be silent in churches" (mulieres in ecclesiis taceant), and so they were. 

Since girls and women were not allowed to sing in church, neither were they allowed in any other patriarchal venue that developed … like opera.

Having said all this, I am forced to admit that hearing an all-male choir with boy sopranos in a towering medieval cathedral is a treat for the senses. 

Girls are allowed to do almost everything boys do now.  They can even be choirboys.  In the 21st Century, both genders are called choristers. 

Sing on!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Marvelous Mittens Mystery or Fabulous Faux Finally Fails

Has anyone besides me noticed how well modern chemistry is duplicating natural materials now?

I have a couple of faux fur coats that people think are real when I wear them  I have red pleather short shorts that … never mind.  Just kidding.

My recent faux vs. real experience I will call the Marvelous Mittens Mystery.

I acquired a pair of vintage fur and leather marvelous mittens lined with fleece.  They were in great condition.  There was no brand label, just a very worn size label.

A couple of months later I decided to list them in my TangoPony shop and began the listing.  The title was 'Fur, Leather and Fleece-Lined Mittens.'

I photographed the marvelous mittens, edited the fifteen shots down to five, resized them and uploaded them to my in-progress Etsy listing.

As I began to write the description, it occurred to me that the lining might not be real fleece from a sheep.  It felt woolly, but something wasn't quite right.

I discovered the fleece was on a woven background.  Thinking it still could at least be wool, I pulled a few fuzzies off and took them to the Fire Test Laboratory … one of my dad's old glass ashtrays from the 1940's and a box of Rosebud stick matches.

The fleece flunked the Fire Test.

Of course that made me wonder about the leather.  It really looked real.  It felt real.  Even after an examination under magnification I wasn't sure.  I saw what could have been pore marks. 

This time I took the Marvelous Mitten to the Smell Lab along with a couple pairs of kid gloves and an old leather backpack.

The 'leather' on the mittens flunked the Smell Test.

Of course I had to subject the fur to testing and went back to the Fire Laboratory already described in the fleece episode.

And of course the fur flunked the Fire Test.

Now the mitten listing reads, "Wookiee Paws, Mittens, Faux Fur, Faux Leather, Faux Fleece". 

So what are these tests?

♣ The Fire Test for Fibers:  When lit, natural fibers smell like burned hair or paper and turn to ash. Silk threads will actually glow like the filament in a light bulb.  Synthetic fibers smell like chemicals and will melt and disappear when lit.

♣ The Smell Test for Leather:  Leather will always smell like leather.  Synthetic pleathers or vinyls never will. 

And that, boys and girls, is the Science Lesson for today.

Since I am not familiar with the test for wookieeness, I'll go out on a limb and say the mittens are definitely Genuine Wookiee. 


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Are Fair Isle Sweaters Knit by Ponies?

Fair Isle sweaters are named after a tiny island in the north of Scotland. The island is part of the Shetland Islands, famous for little fat, hairy ponies like this pair.
I don't know if they knitted their own sweaters or not, but they are fine examples of Fair Isle knitting. 
Fair isle knitting is a traditional technique used to create patterns with multiple colors. It became popular in the 1920's when the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle tank tops in public. 
Traditional Fair Isle patterns use only five colors and have only two colors per row. Unused colors of the alternating colors are "stranded" across the back of the piece.

'Fair Isle' has become a generic term for a style and is no longer limited only to sweaters knit on Fair Isle.

Sometimes people like me come along, chop up a vintage wool Fair Isle sweeater and use power tools to make a purse.

I call my washer, dryer and sewing machine power tools.  Doesn't everyone?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jonathan Swift, The Mark Twain of the Late, Great 18th Century

Vintage Majolica wall pocket features a gentleman perched in a rose tree playing a golden flute or fife.  He is wearing breeches and stockings, the manly dress of the 18th Century. 

I'm a big fan of the 18th Century, the Age of Enlightenment.  At one point in my life I planned to pursue a postgraduate degree in 18th Century English Literature.  I got over it.

The century is most notable for the American and French Revolutions.  The French went a little overboard popularizing public beheadings as entertainment in my opinion, but at least they gave us the baguette.

Of course you remember that Mt. Fuji erupted in this century.  George Friederich Handel wrote his first opera. His fellow composers, those I call 'My Favorite Dead Guys', were Bach,


and Haydn. 

Antonio Stradivari made violins.

James Audubon painted his birds,

Gainsborough painted his creepy people,

and Goya painted violence.

The city of New Orleans was founded.  Slavery was abolished in Russia.  Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccine.  Bartolomeo Cristofori built the first piano. 

Rubber was discovered.  Modern steel was developed.  Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals.

The 18th Century gave us Voltaire, Jane Austin,

Robert Burns, Walter Scott and my all time favorite, Jonathan Swift, author of 'Gulliver's Travels'. 
Swift stands as the most prolific satirist of the English language.  His works comprise 14 volumes of prose, over 900 pages of poetry and at least three volumes of correspondence. 

Swift was the Mark Twain of his day.  His thoughts are as witty, fresh and stinging as they were 250 years ago......................

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign:  that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.

May you live all the days of your life.
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.

Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse.  Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room. 

Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.

There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake. 

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster. 

Books, the children of the brain.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
Nothing is so great an example of bad manners as flattery.  If you flatter all the company you please none; If you flatter only one or two, you offend the rest. 

There is nothing constant in this world but inconsistency.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Golden Boy was an Earring Wearing Trendsetter

Earring wearing is documented back to 2500 B.C.E.  In many ancient cultures, earrings were reserved for royalty ... like the original golden boy, King Tut.

I'm the Golden Boy.
Throughout the Dark, Middle and Enlightened ages, earring wearing for women was dependent on the visibility of the ear.  High, ear-covering collars meant no earrings. 
Earrings, schmearings!  I can barely move.
Elaborate wigged updo's brought out lobe to shoulder jewels.
You can't see them, but my little dog is wearing earrings too.
In the early part of the 20th century, Victorians thought piercing the ears was barbaric and uncouth.  As bad as saying "sex" or "pregnant" out loud. 
You can't make me say it or do it and don't even try to look at my ears.
As the Victorians eventually got over themselves, hairstyles swept upward, ugly bonnets came off and earrings were popular once again.

Screw backs were invented, allowing women freedom to choose styles and shapes of earrings that were comfortable to wear.  With the surge of the Roaring '20s Art Deco style, women wore long chandelier, angled and straight designs.   
Screw backs do have a downside .... screwing the little screw tight enough to keep the earring on, but loose enough to be comfortable is tricky.  I had a pair of small pearl screw backs in the 1950's and I rarely escaped without throbbing earlobes.  The pearls never made it through Sunday dinner … I always took them off on the way home from church. 
Clip on earrings arrived on the scene in the 1930's and were a big improvement over screw backs.  As hairdos climbed shorter following World War II, earrings filled that space from hair to shoulder. 

Vintage Elee
Vintage Monet
Looks like Bakelite, but is modern plastic.
The 1960's brought back ear piercing and fashion has never looked back.
Mexican 'Alpaca' silver, which is not silver at all.

Every bird deserves shiny feathers.


Sunday, May 26, 2013


CLUE®, one of America's favorite board games, was created in 1944 in England by Anthony Ernest Pratt.  Pratt received a patent for the game, which he named CLUEDO.  He sold the game to Waddington Games, but it was not launched until 1949 due to post-war shortages of various materials.  Parker Brothers obtained the U.S. rights to CLUE® from Waddington's in 1949.  Hasbro now owns Parker Brothers.  CLUE® is sold in over 40 countries from Brazil to Sweden, New Zealand to Abu Dhabi. The same successful murder-detection formula seems to work well in any language. 


Pratt described himself as "an introvert full of ruminations, speculations and imaginative notions".  Who knew that meant murder and mayhem? 

The object of play is to discover who murdered Mr. Boddy, where he was murdered and with what.  In the UK, Dr. Black is always dead.
One of the few pictures of Dr. Black

Mr. Boddy
Players strategically move around the nine rooms and secret passages of a mansion as Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock or Professor Plum. 

Weapons are the wrench, rope, candlestick, revolver, dagger or lead pipe. 
My playmates and I used to play it for hours.  It was always the perfect thing for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
I'm not sure how modern kids view the game.  After 60 years of Perry Mason, Columbo, Rockford Files, Magnum PI, Law and Order, CSI, and Criminal Minds, everyone knows that the solution of every murder case requires that the perp must have the Means, the Opportunity and the Motive to have murdered the victim . . . M.O.M.

Will 21st Century kids immediately spot the lack of motive in Clue?

Why Dr. Black or Mr. Boddy were murdered remains a mystery.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Little Bo Peep and the Lost Porridge

Easter is not complete without an Easter basket.  I think the 'bead and pin' basket fits the bill quite nicely.

The basket pictured above is a fabulous foot tall and made in the 1950's.  Called a Victorian Bride Basket or Little Bo Peep basket, the bottom is open, so it can be slipped over a narrow bud vase.
I think Little Bo Peep would have loved it, but would not have been able to figure out why her flowers kept falling out of the bottom.  She was quite the dim bulb.

Pay attention:

'Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them.'

What? They're big fat puffs of wooly animal! It's not like she dropped her contact in the grass. Sheep are not exactly known for sprinting.  They stand around eating all day and maybe saunter a bit.  How far could they go?  Did she even try to find them? Did she look in the next meadow?  Did she look behind her?
What a lazy pill.  I hope she got a punishment.  Like no porridge for supper.

That would have meant English porridge made by boiling barley flour and water.  ICK.

It's not much of a punishment to miss that tasty treat, but not so with Norwegian porridge. 

Norwegian porridge, called Rømmegrøt, is a thick, warming, filling supper dish that, like many traditional ethnic dishes, is a 'love it' or 'hate it' menu item.

I wholeheartedly vote YUM!  It's perfect for evenings when you are completely snowed in.  Pretend you are in a cozy Norwegian mountain cabin and enjoy your supper.

Good grief!  How do you pronounce Rømmegrøt?

ROOM uh groot (Roll your R's, ignore the funky Norwegian O's and you're pretty close)

What's in it?
1/2 Liter (2 C + 2 T) Full Fat Sour Cream 

1/2 Liter (2 C + 2 T) Whole Milk

2 Deciliters (1/2 C) All-purpose White Flour   

1/2 Teaspoon Salt



Now What?

Heat the sour cream to a boil and boil for about 3 minutes.

Lower the heat and stir in half of the flour.

Stir until there are no lumps.  Try not to lose interest.

Stir in the rest of the flour and milk little by little until the porridge is thick and silky and “hangs” on the spoon.

Bring to a boil.

And then?

Serve with sugar, cinnamon and butter.  Makes enough for four people or go ahead and just be a pig.