Three Centuries of Dance

When we lived in California, we attended many vintage dances with our dear friends. All of us ladies had Victorian ballgowns.  The men had frock coats and top hats.  And, once our children were about eight years of age, we took them along too...a rare opportunity to look one's finest and practice exemplary manners!  And although we dance rarely now, my love for it has not waned.  So, when a nearby historical society was hosting a gallery talk on their new exhibit, "Three Centuries of Dance in the Monadnock Region", I put it on my calendar!

"Country dances are very simple and agreeable
and possess the Mind of Youth with
pleasing and sprightly ideas."

- On Dancing and Music
The Portsmouth Gazette, August 1774

In colonial times, dance masters would have traveled from town to town and taught dance classes, so that people in the country could learn the latest dances.  This portrait is of dance master Phineas Barnes Taggart (1812-1892), who taught dance classes in the 1830's and 1840's.


Note the small notebook in the portrait above.  A dance master would've written down a few notes about each dance, as the calls can be quite complicated.  Below is the handwritten dance manual of Thomas Hadley (c. 1850), a farmer, machinist, musician (fiddler), and prompter (the 19th century term for a dance caller).  


My Grandfather's Fiddle

Upon a dusty shelf, I saw, the other day,
That fine old yellow fiddle, my grandsire used to play;
Its tones were of the sweetest, so round so full and clear,
On Christmas and Thanksgiving it always had to go
Where lads and lassies gaily tripped the last fantastic toe;
The "Money Musk" and "Chorus Jig" were danced in merry glee.
"McDonald's Reel" and "Old Zip Coon" -- old-fashioned tunes, you see.
No "galops", "polkas", "schottisches" were in that fiddle found,
No dizzy waltzes, which require a constant whirling round.
But good old contra-dance tunes flowed forth, in a lively stream,
Like "Fisher's Hornpipe," "Speed the Plough," likewise "The Devil's Dream."
But grandsire used to play them as no one else could do,
There was no "let up" on his part, til they danced the figure through;
But now it is dismantled, the strings and bridge are gone;
The "sounding post" no longer stands, the "tail piece" hangs forlorn.
The bow is bent, the hair is loose, the pegs are scattered round.
The back is cracked, the neck askew, it has ceased to give a sound.
Well, I suppose we'll all be laid upon the shelf someday;
Like the fine old yellow fiddle my grandsire used to play."

- A.E.B.
Keene Evening Sentinel, March 23, 1893

Dances were a much anticipated social event!...a chance to see family, friends, and neighbors...to meet members of the opposite sex...to get away from farm work and have some fun!  Since the prudent farmer "makes hay while the sun shines", winter was the season of socializing.  It was interesting to note that all of the dance invitations in the exhibit were for dances held between November and March.  I loved the wording...inviting the gentleman and his lady.




Attendees at such balls would've been given a dance card.  A gentleman might approach a lady and request a polka or a quadrille, and the lady would pencil his name in on her dance card, so she could see all of her engagements for the night.  The gentleman would have a dance card as well, with the ladies' names written down.


This was a lovely, multi-page dance card in the shape of a lady's muff (another reminder that dances were held in the winter).  For the exhibit, they had copied each page and displayed them.  I enjoyed reading the menu for the night.  Old menus are fascinating!  Macaroon ice cream?...yes, please!




Everyone who visits this exhibit is invited to take a paper foot and write your favorite dance memory on it and tape it to the window.  The window becomes an interesting piece of art...a collection of wonderful memories.



I thought for a long time about what to write...so many wonderful memories!...how to choose just one!  And in the end, I chose this one and wrote the following story:

Many years ago, our family was attending "Mr. Fezziwig's Ball" at the Riverside (CA) Dickens Festival.  My husband had gone to get some refreshments.  And as I sat on the edge of the dance floor, in my blue silk ballgown, a stranger approached and asked me if I could polka.  I said, "Yes," and he took my hand and led me onto the dance floor, as the music was just starting.  Well, if you've ever seen "The King & I", Yul Brynner had nothing on this man!  We whirled about the dance floor and my feet barely touched the ground!  He left me, when the music ended, breathless and with a wonderful memory!

Sabbath Rest

A little Downton inspiration today...tweed, tartan, and antique jewelry.  Enjoy the show tonight!
  1. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  2. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  3. - George Bennard (1913)

Winter Dessert


A little winter dessert inspiration for you: vanilla bean ice cream, sliced brandied apples (these were a home-canned gift from a friend), drizzle of caramel sauce, and walnuts.  Delicious!

A Very Brief History of Ice Skating


The image above, and many other historical images like it, remind us that people have been ice skating for a very long time.  We attended a talk on the history of ice skating at Old Sturbridge Village last weekend.  The lecturer/interpreter had his own collection of antique ice skates on display for us to see and touch.  Some interesting facts we learned were:

- Ice skating dates back to at least 3,200 B.C., with the oldest known skates being a pair made of bone and found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland.  They would not have been recreational, but merely for transportation purposes.  The user most likely used them in conjunction with poles to propel himself along.

- There is only one known military battle that took place on ice skates.  It took place in 1572 in Holland, and the Dutch soundly defeated the ill-equipped Spaniards.

This pair of skates dates to the early 1800's, and still has its original red paint.  (They are similar in style and to the time period of the above artistic depiction.)  I loved the lovely acorns affixed to the tips of the blades.


- Ice skating was one of the few sports in which women were encouraged to participate.

- Skating parties were a popular winter pastime in Victorian times, partly because it was one of the few circumstances in which men and women could participate side-by-side and touch (similar to dancing).  It was socially acceptable for a woman to hold a man's arm, or he to slip his arm about her waist.

- Ice skating was even done at night!  In order to see their way about the ice, skaters carried small skating lanterns (seen below...pardon the blurry photo).  Wouldn't that be a beautiful sight?...gentlemen and ladies in their Victorian finery gliding across the ice, perhaps under a full moon, with so many bobbing lanterns dancing like fireflies in the night!  It must have been absolutely enchanting!



Sleigh Rally

Technohubby and I have reached the deliciously indulgent age where we can actually just take off for a day-long date!  And today we did!  We went to the annual sleigh rally at Old Sturbridge Village.  Sleigh and horse owners are invited to participate in a good-natured competition for prizes in various categories.  There's even a category for the best Currier & Ives look, but it seemed that nearly all of them excelled at that.  Each driver steered their sleigh around the field several times and displayed them in the middle to the enthusiastic cheers and applause of the gathered crowd.  The sleigh bells jingled merrily.  The participants wore their warmest furs, for the temperatures were just in the 20's with quite a wind.  It was truly a glimpse into winter in a bygone era.  Enjoy!















Ten Home Design Tips

Our family has primarily lived in two houses...our former house in California (for nearly ten years) and the one where we currently live.

The first house was a fixer-upper.  No.  It was a FIXER-UPPER!  Honestly, when we acquired the keys, it was not even livable.  And after ten days of grueling work, it was livable enough to move our family into, if we kept the kids' bathroom door locked for safety's sake.  From that point on, home fix-up was not our "hobby", it was our lifestyle. Home Depot loved us!  We tore down the strange, termite-ridden family room...including the foundation, for even it was not worth saving...and replaced it with a new one.  We replaced drywall and plumbing.  We hardscaped the backyard and planted grass (a huge improvement over waist-high weeds).  We poured our heart, soul, and blood (sometimes literally) into that house.  And finally, in one big remodeling push, we gutted the kitchen to the studs, put in a brand new kitchen, remodeled two bathrooms, put in hardwood floors...and...sold it and moved 1 1/2 years later.  Ohhh...how I hated to leave that new kitchen.

But living in New England had always been our dream, so off we went!  Before we departed, a friend said, "You know, you're never going to find a kitchen like that one!" Gulp.

Every house we looked at to buy, here in New Hampshire, was lovely, but we always left saying, "But the kitchen...".  And then, at the end of a long day of house hunting, our realtor showed us the perfect house...AND it wasn't quite finished!  The buyer still got to pick out: cabinetry, appliances, flooring, lights, fixtures, countertops, and the color of the front door!  Perfect!  SOLD!  We felt indescribably blessed to be able to create just the home we wanted after leaving one we'd taken so long to create!

All that designing has given me quite the education!  So, today, I thought I'd share five home design tips that I really love, and/or that I have been surprised at how much I love. 


Lighting:

Tip #1 - When it comes to lighting, don't limit yourself to indoor lighting on the inside of your house.  

In California, builders haven't been putting light fixtures in the center of the ceiling of a room, or down a hallway for decades.  So, I was shocked to discover that I had to choose eight(!) of them for this house.  Yikes!  The builder here pointed me to a style that looked straight out of a 1950's California track home to me, and I said, "Hmm...I'll look around." In the end, I choose these outdoor lights, because I loved their seeded glass, black metal, and updated lantern-style.  They were meant to be light fixtures for under a porch, and were very economically priced, which is a consideration when there must be eight of them.


  
Tip #2 - When buying a light fixture, consider where the light will be going and the potential play of light and shadow.  

I choose those fixtures for their style, without a single thought to how they would look when the light switch is on.  Fortunately, I absolutely love the beautiful shadows they create!

Kitchen:

Tip #3 - Put your spices in a drawer!

It is so handy to have the spices in a drawer near the stove and any baking area! Everything is alphabetized and turned label up, so the exact spice you reach for can be easily found.  I had them on wooden racks in the doors of my pantry in our other house, but I vastly prefer the drawers.



Tip #4 - Little drawers are wonderfully useful!

These four little drawers were the suggestion of the kitchen designer I worked with on this kitchen.  Mostly, I designed the kitchen, but was willing to listen to all of her expert suggestions.  She was really sure I'd love these, and she was so right!  They are directly above the desk in my kitchen, and even though the desk has four drawers of its own, these little drawers are the ones everyone finds the handiest.  They contain (from left to right): Things That Stick (tape, packaging tape, double stick tape, and Post-It notes), Things That Go in the Mail (postage stamps and return address labels), Things That Cut (scissors, wick trimmer, and hole punches), and Things To Set Fires With (matches, lighter, and flint and steel...really!).




Tip #5 - A towel-drying rack is a magnificent thing!


In our previous kitchen, the dishwasher was immediately to the right of the kitchen sink.  But in this house, there was a little extra space in that bank of cabinetry, so I opted to put in a towel-drying rack, and just love it!  All the damp towels get hung there until they are dry, and then they got tossed into the laundry basket in the laundry room.  No more damp towels mildewing away in the basket.  Problem solved!


Bathroom:

Tip #6 - If you have the space for it, a jacuzzi tub is really wonderful!

The space and plumbing were there for it when we found the house, and when the builder said, "A jacuzzi tub is going to go there," I thought, "Oh.  That's nice."  But I was wrong.  It's not just nice.  It's amazing nice!  We all use it so much more than we ever thought we would!  Headache?...sore muscles?...hard day on the ski slopes?...need to get away?...it is so soothing and so comforting!


Tip #7 - Frameless shower glass is super easy to clean, and we've loved it in both our homes.  (The shower is just barely visible off to the left of the tub in the above photo.)

Tip #8 - Do the cabinetry on the front of the jacuzzi tub to match your cabinets, and not your mouldings.  Made that mistake and have been regretting it ever since.

Tip #9 - Pay the extra and have the tile man build into the shower wall openings for holding shampoo bottles.

Tip #10 - When having tile installed, insist (INSIST!) that it be done with 1/8" spacers.  We did that on the California house, but forgot to mention it here (bad mistake).  Having 1/8" spacers means essentially no scrubbing grout, since everything gets cleaned when you clean the tile.  But 1/4" spacers leave you scrubbing grout, and that's never fun.

I hope our experiences have provided you with some ideas for your next home project!

Winter, My Favorite Season


For all these reasons, and so many more, winter is my favorite season:

- fluffy snowflakes that flutter from the heavens like downy feathers

- warming bowls of nourishing soup

- pristinely white landscapes

- snuggly scarves

- the comfort of a hot cup of tea when the cold is settling in in the late afternoon

- a quieting of the calendar that occurs when snow envelopes the world

- tranquil gray skies

- tracks in the fresh snow from the forest critters

- the aroma of wood smoke wafting through the air

- warming stocking feet by the fire

- the sparkle of sunshine through glassy icicles

- comfort food on the menu

- exhilarating afternoons of sledding fun with the family

- the smell of winter -- the absence of all other smells

- Sunday evenings lost in the world of "Downton Abbey"

- every excuse to indulge in wool and velvet

- steaming cups of hot cocoa swirling with gently whipped cream

- luxurious hot soaks in the bathtub while watching the snow fall

- the sleep inducing weight of cozy blankets and a warm duvet 

What do you love best about winter?

Bouquet of Lavender

A very dear friend sent a gift to me this week, and her thoughtfulness in wrapping it and its beauty just took my breath away!


Fresh and pretty, yet with the appearance of being touched by time!  Ahh...she knows me well!



"Ladies fair, I bring to you
Lavender with spikes of blue;
Sweeter plant was never found
Growing on our English ground."

Caryl Battersby


Touring the Historic Seacoast of New Hampshire

It was all planned.  Max had a 9-hr. boating class to attend in the seacoast area of New Hampshire.  What to do for NINE hours while he was there?  Then Colette asked if the two of us could go exploring.  The plan was hatched.  We would drop Max off for his class, and the two of us would have a day of mother-daughter exploring.  The class was on a Saturday.  But on Tuesday, both she and Technohubby were down sick.  Sick, sick, sick. Max kept his distance all week.  And I nursed the two of them...and washed my hands a lot.  By Friday, she was better, but decided to skip her usual Friday of snowboarding in order to conserve her strength for our adventure day.

The day dawned, and a bitterly cold one it was!  We were up at 5:30 a.m., and out the door by 6:30.  It was about 2 degrees outside.  Not an ideal day for adventuring, that's for sure.  But off we went.  We dropped Max off for his class, and the two of us sought refuge somewhere warm...our favorite restaurant, Popovers, for breakfast.  It's just on the other side of this beautiful, old church.  (George Washington worshiped there once!)



Piping hot quiche, mini popover, fresh fruit, and large and steaming cups of hot cocoa...all very comforting and warming on this frigid morning.



Despite the fortifying food, her cold was getting the best of her.  Eight hours stretched before us.  Bitter cold was outside.  And she sat with her head in her hands sighing, "I should never have come."  Oh dear.  



We decided to drive to see the historic Wentworth by the Sea hotel.  Here's a bit of its history:


A member of the Historic Hotels of America, Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa, is the crown jewel of Portsmouth, NH...Constructed by the Campbell family in 1874, the Victorian “wedding cake” building guests see today was created by local ale tycoon Frank Jones, starting in 1888. After painting the building a mossy green, Jones and his professional management team modernized the hotel with bathrooms, steam-powered elevators and large elegant rooms that attracted guests from around the world. The central portion of our Portsmouth hotel, beneath the three mansard-roofed towers, is what remains of the original Wentworth, including the main entrance and lobby fireplace.
Wentworth by the Sea was once one of 400 grand hotels situated along the coast and mountains of New Hampshire, and the hotel maintained its international reputation as a premier resort for much of the 20th century. During this time the hotel hosted dignitaries and celebrities such as Annie Oakley, Gloria Swanson, Harry Truman and Prince Charles. 
We sat in the warmth of the car admiring the facade, but reluctant to leave our cozy seats.  We finally decided we'd jump out, snap a picture, and make a dash for the warm lobby.  Don't be fooled.  It wasn't as warm as it looked.  It was 5 degrees now, with a wind blowing about 20 mph off the ocean.  Brrrr.




I love rows of comfortable wicker chairs on grand hotel terraces!


After warming ourselves by the fire in the lobby for a bit, we returned to the car.  Since it was too cold to wander afoot, we opted to drive around all the little, charming streets of Portsmouth and Newcastle, snapping pictures from the warmth of the car.  Come along for the ride, and enjoy the bay views and the fine, New England architecture!






Isn't that the most fun treehouse platform!??!  Oh, my!  What fun must happen there...spyglasses and sightings of pirate ships in the harbor, shouts of "ahoy", and grand defenses mounted against marauders!


A slightly revived girl hopped out for a quick photo.  So nice to see that smile!



Many of the homes in this area are centuries old, and all still sit on their original streets.  The streets are mostly one-way, as they are only wide enough for horse and cart, and not two cars passing.  I do believe a loyalist just might still live on this street.


And this one seemed very old indeed.  I would guess dating to the 1600's.  It truly sits right on the street.  The corner of the house that you can see there must be in constant danger of being hit by the passing snow plow.






And although Portsmouth's streets are simply rich with charming shops, it was just too cold to do much strolling, nor did Colette feel like it.  But I had long wanted to explore two of them, related to each other, and right next door to each other, so in we went to explore Lady Pickwick's and Pickwick Mercantile.


Lady Pickwick's is the girliest shop you can ever imagine!  It's center table is filled with fine hats, scarves, handbags, and such.  And around the room were fine leather gloves, silk clothing, lingerie, and drawers and drawers and drawers filled with all sorts of delights!  The clerk, costumed in a long bustled skirt, white ruffled top, tartan shawl, and hat with small ship on it(!) invited us to open all the drawers and peek inside.


Having purchased a few items, we then went next door to Pickwick Mercantile.  It contains all manner of Victorian-esque delights: soaps, sealing wax, fine writing paper, jewelry, books, and oodles of sweets!


We finished the day by seeing a movie (lots of time for Colette to sit and rest) and having a warm lunch at the British Beer Company.


Max enjoyed his class.  A few more days' rest and Colette was feeling much better.  And now...I'm on day #9 of the cold. Raising the surrender flag and going to the doctor's tomorrow.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...