Monday, August 28, 2006

Affordable Gifts

Occasionally there is a request for suggestions about easy and inexpensive gifts. Gift giving, although a simple matter in past times, can be quite daunting today.

Life was a lot easier you gave what came from your heart and your hands: a potholder or handkerchief for a lady, pens or knitted socks for the men. One might make for a child a stuffed doll or a set of building blocks.

Children love to open presents. It doesn't matter much what is in them, because they will always be surprised. Some children enjoy themselves enormously just wrapping up their old toys and books and giving them to their brothers and sisters. When a homemaker goes through her things and tries to eliminate the clutter, she may end up with a good collection of gifts that can be passed on. The recipient is then free to pass the gift on to anyone she likes.

The dollar stores are a good source for gifts. It is nice to take a little gift bag filled with scented candles, soaps, or even kitchen utinsels, bought from these great discount stores. Don't think that dollar stores contain products of inferior quality. Some times the stock comes from high-end stores, or have major name-brands on it. The more expensive stores have to make room for the newest lines and will sell the older stock to these stores. If you learn to look for quality, you will get good gifts at the dollar store. Just recently these stores had large cooking utinsels made of high quality stainless steel, costing only one dollar each. In other stores, they are up to $5.00 per item.

For a homemaking High Tea that we will be having, the guests will each receive a bag with a dish towel, scented candle, cookie cutter, and crocheted doily, all from the dollar store. These were purchased in multiples: "four for a dollar," or "two for a dollar," making them even more economical.

It would be a relief if women could teach themselves to be content with simple gift-making and gift-giving. Sometimes they feel that one little thing is just not enough, and they go overboard. If you are very busy and feel pressured, there are a number of young, single girls at home who would probably allow you to commission them to make gifts, such as hand made cards, hair ties, handkerchiefs, hot pads for the kitchen, crocheted items, or embroiderd cloths. For someone who loves a tea party: a tea party box containing homemade shortbread or scones, a bag of tea and a tea cup. Tea cups can be purchased at second hand stores and Goodwill, sometimes for under a dollar. There is no need to match the saucers exactly, as they are most charming when they are slightly different.

A tape recording of a story you read, or tell, or a little hand made book or scrapbook, would probably be a delight to just about anybody.

When you have had family and friends for many years, you might find yourself giving the same thing over and over. Didn't I give my sister in law a candle-holder last year? I can't remember? For this reason, it might be fun to start a gift book to record the occasion and the gift that you gave.

Gifts can be geared toward the interest of the person. For a gardener: a new plant, gardening magazine, special hand cream for gardeners, a pretty pot. For a seamstress: a round box of the new threads on the block with all the metallics and sheens, a new measuring tape that folds up automatically in its own decorative case, a pin cushion.

Flowers are always loved and appreciated. It is better if you have a special cutting garden at home and can give your own flowers. Zinnias are easy to grow, even for those who just don't have any luck at gardening, they come in all colors, are usually long stemmed, and make a beautiful bouquet. A single rose at a grocery store is about $1.00 and can be given in a jar that you have at home. Just cut the stem to fit the jar. One of my favorite jars for flowers is from Motts apple juice. The single-drink bottle has a narrow neck, just right for one flower, and the bottle is shaped like an apple, with embossed apple leaves at the top.

The most cherished gift is the gift of a letter telling the person the may ways in which they have influenced you and the qualities they have that you delight in the most, along with an entertaining bit of chit-chat about every day life.

The best ideas for sensible gift giving will, of course come from the comments on this blog.


"The Gift is Yourself" from Petit Louvre Gallery

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Front Porch

The front porch of homes was commonly used for socializing. Such things as shelling peas or shucking corn, took place on the front porch when friends and relatives came over to help. During the hottest time of the summer, some front porches that were screened, contained beds to sleep in. These were called "sleeping porches." The residents of the home would escape the heat of the upstairs bedrooms by sleeping on the porch in the summer.

Families spent time on porches in the evenings watching other people going for strolls, or waiting to see if someone would drop by. Everyone knew who their neighbor was. If someone moved in, neighbors knew who they were, who their kin were, and where they were from. New neighbors expected the old neighbors to drop by and would have felt very unwelcome if they didn't.

You could tell who was visiting who and who was courting who, by walking past the front porches of the houses. Some people think that the arrival of the automobile moved socialization from the front porch to the front seat of a car, and caused the demise of front porch life, and the front porch itself. With the arrival of the 20th century, many new houses were built completely without front porches. It is a pity, because the front porch allowed everyone to see what was going on in the neighborhoods. Young and old alike were entertained, and everyone was included in activities.

Go here http://www.slideroll.com/publish.php?s=3z6m81h0&browse=1&ref=0 and click on to see a little slideshow of paintings of front porches.

This site shows the rise and fall of the front porch in history:
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CLASS/am483_97/projects/cook/first.htm

As people begin really living at home more, the front porch is gaining popularity again. Some of the newly constructed homes are an imitation of the style of home that had front porches, and the effect is very beautiful. With the addition of front porches, it seems like the homes and neighborhoods are coming to life.

Be sure to click on these titles:

Origins of the American Front Porch
Stylistic Evolution
Popularization
Cultural Significance
The Decline
Recurrence in Modern Times

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Linen Closet


Linens contribute to the feeling of softness and comfort in the home. They consist of bath towels, kitchen towels, sheets and pillowcases for beds, and table cloths. They can be stored in a closet, or a drawer. Some home makers find it more convenient to keep the table things in the dining area in a drawer or china cabinet, and the bedding in the room in which it will be used. Most older homes prior to 1900 had special linen closets for these items. Wands made with lavender tied in voile and ribbon, were stored along with the linens, to keep bugs away and to add a fresh scent.

Most families determine what is the best amount of towels and sheets and tablecloths for them, depending on what they use and how often they wash them. Whatever the homemaker likes and whatever makes her life more pleasant, should be the criteria in selecting linens.

Two sets of towels for each family member will usually suffice, as one set may be in the laundry, while the other set is being used. Some families like to chose a towel color for each person. In damp climates, most people agree that towels have to be washed daily, so that will determine how many towels the family needs. Sets include the bath towel, the smaller towel, the hand towel and the wash cloth. The linen closet will hold the towels that will be used when extras are needed.

Two sets of sheets per bed is enough, since one will be stored in the linen closet, or the bedroom closet where it will be used. Some people like a summer set of sheets, made of thin cotton, plus a winter set made of warm cotton flannel. Babies and children's beds will require more changes of linens, which can be stored in their rooms, for convenient changes. One handy way of storing sheets is to fold up the top sheet and bottom sheet and put them inside one of the pillowcases, then stack the filled pillowcases in the linen closet. Sheets are used to provide a barrier between the rougher textures of the blankets, and the body, and to keep the blankets and mattresses clean.

The table cloths also depend on the seasons and the occasions. If they are used every day, it will be good to have several for the kitchen table and several for the dining table. While in past times, table linens had to be boiled and starched, dried on the line and pressed with a hot iron, it is a cinch to use a tablecloth today. Many of the new fibers seem to repel stains and crumbs can be easily brushed away. Table cloths provide a clean and cheerful background for the table settings.

Doilies and runners and various laces, can be included in the linen collection. If these are from a grandmother's estate, they fare better when used than if stored. To wash old stains or rust spots, some people soak them in cold water to which has been added the juice of a fresh lemon. For especially yellowed doilies and cloths, the process is repeated throughout a day and then the water is gently squeezed out, the piece is rolled in a towel, and placed on another towel outside, for the sun to dry. The combination of the lemon juice and sun create a bleaching effect without weaking the fibres.

The use of table cloths makes a softer sound on the table, which is a blessing in our noise-ridden world. (Table cloths should not be used when there are babies or small children who will accidently pull it off the table.) Table cloths and napkins can be easily washed in the machine and dry quickly in the dryer, and these days not many of the ones you buy have to be ironed. They can be easily home made from just about any kind of fabric.

If the house does not have a linen closet, perhaps a chest made of wicker or cedar would work, or, a special shelf or hutch can be used. There does not necessarily have to be a door on the cabinet, since it is better for air to circulate around the linens. There are good tips on caring for today's linens here:
http://interiordec.about.com/cs/linens/a/orglinencare.htm

and here for antique linens http://pages.antiquelinens-lace.com/1626/InventoryPage/1650203/1.html

Some people who have overcome sleep problems, have thought that the use of natural, non-dyed cloth for sheets and pillowcases, is helpful.

The variety that is available in linens is very appealing. Having spring, summer, fall and winter linens can be a cheerful addition to the home.



Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Poems of Edgar A. Guest


Edgar A. Guest was known as the family poet. Many people grew up hearing these inspirational poems quoted to them. Here is a family favorite:


It Couldn’t Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it.

from Collected Verse of Edgar GuestNY:
Buccaneer Books, 1976, pg. 285


Painting: Hilltop Garden by Lene Alston Casey from Allposters.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Home Scents


The scent of the house says a lot about the attitude of the homemaker and the family. It can smell like no one has ever washed their hands or their clothes, or it can emit a scent of fresh flowers, or spices used in home cooking. It all depends on the care that goes into it. Spraying scented water around the house will do no good unless the house has a basic cleanliness. Before you can add the delightful touch of scent, you have to roll up your sleeves and get to work cleaning all those areas which seem to collect unpleasant odors. These odors will prevent even the strongest bouquet of flowers from permeating the atmosphere of the home. There is a wealth of ideas in bookstores and on the web, for making the home smell good. Here are a few of them:

The kitchen trash can: It is best that this recepticle be small, and emptied daily, than large and emptied once a week. Bits and pieces of things can sit and accumulate bacteria, which then wafts into the house. Clean the trash can with soapy water and let it dry in the sun, then bring it in, spray it with a pleasant room scent or linen water,or wipe it with some kind of scented oil, like lemon. After that, add a trash can liner. This can be anything from a purchased roll of scented bags, some in colors, to the leftover bag you brought your groceries home in. Hook it over the edges of the trash container, and tie it with a wired ribbon or anything to hold it in place. For smaller trash containers around the house, Emily Barnes suggests in her book, "The Spirit of Loveliness," the idea of putting a pretty paper doily just inside, or over the edge. If it is something you are going to throw away anyway, it can be used to make things prettier.

The laundry: Naturally, laundry done daily is not going to create a smell, but if for some reason you are not able to keep on top of the huge amount of laundry that is accumulated daily in your home, there are some great laundry sorter bags made of mesh, which allows the air to circulate around the clothing while you are waiting to wash it. Dish towels and bath towels can be thrown into their separate sections, making it easier to throw in a load of laundry without sorting every little things. These mesh laundry sorters come with a metal frame that they hang neatly on, and it is very easy to set up and use. If your family is not allergic to scent, a small amount of scented dryer sheets or anti-static softener can be used.

Bathroom: This area must be cleaned daily, and it is helpful if there is an outside window to provide the best ventilation. Bathrooms tend to be very small, and this adds to the problem of odors, but with daily cleaning, they can be the most sanitary rooms in the house. The bathroom can be stocked with a small container which holds disposable cloths and cleaning agents to use on the appliances and the floor. One expert suggests that a person can clean some spot in the bathroom every time they take a shower or wash their hands, with the "clean-as-you-go" method. Unwrapping a new bar of ordinary bath soap, creates the best kind of scent for the bathroom.

Kitchen: One woman wrote that she likes to light a small tea light or votive candle in a pleasant scent, and let it burn in a candleholder in the kitchen while she cleans the area and washes the dishes. It lasts just long enough for her to get the job done, makes the work more pleasant, and helps eliminate the odors. Having clean dishes and a clean sink will prevent bad odors from building up. Happily, there are some wonderful scented detergents on the market now, and some for under a dollar. Green apple, berry, lavender, and many other scented dishwashing liquids are available. Of course, the best scent for the kitchen is the scent of food, or cooking!

Living Room: There is an endless variety of scented tea lights, wax melts, or tarts (short candles) for the home, and they don't necessarily have to be lit. Just buy the highest quality type you can find in the scent you like best, and wrap it in a bit of tissue paper, then place it inside a glass holder. It will scent a room for a long time. Fresh flowers provide a fresh scent for the home. They are not expensive if purchased at a grocery store, and sometimes a rose is a little more than a dollar. Windows with screens are a must, to help keep a fresh smell in the living room. Even a clean house will develop staleness, if closed up all day long without fresh air circulating.

Bedrooms: Closets are a problem with stale odors in bedrooms, mainly because of shoes. For this reason, it might be better if only shoes that are worn for special occasions, such as dress shoes, be stored in the closet, and the shoes we wear the most, can be kept on the back porch near an outer area of the house. Cherly Mendellson, in her book, "Home Comforts," recommends turning down the bedding each morning and letting the sheets air out, and not making the bed til later on. Clean sheets help keep the room smelling fresh, and women in the past changed the sheets once a week. You can avoid sour mattress smells by never letting your body actually touch the mattress. Purchase a foam mattress cover or any kind of mattress protection, to put under the sheets, and nothing will stain the mattress.

Home Office and Library: This room tends to be the most neglected, but old books and papers can get an unpleasant smell after awhile. One technique that was used in the past, was to put baking soda or talcum powder between pages of old books and letting them sit for a few days, then shake the soda out. Cleaning out bookshelfs and wiping the bindings of books can help make the office areas smell fresher. The tops of the printers, desks, clocks, and equipment seem to be overlooked when cleaning.

Live house plants are known for their ability to keep the air fresh and sweet. Some research suggests that: " some house plants are efficient in purifying indoor air. These plants filter out pollutants and toxins, replacing them with oxygen. One plant will purify approximately 100 square feet.Plants for indoor air purification include: Golden PothosSpider PlantHeart Leaf PhilodendronChrysanthemumGerbera DaisyAloe VeraChinese EvergreenFicusEnglish Ivy (see http://d21c.com/Sherry727/seasonal/pgs/houseplants.html)

Every woman's house is uniquely her own. One of the ways to express our love for the home is by attention to details like scent.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Home Sewing, Home Decorating

Simplicity Pattern Co. has some colorful ideas for sewing to lighten up kitchens, living rooms, windows, and bedrooms, here:
http://www.simplicity.com/index.cfm?cat=2&type=0&sec=22&startrow=1
On this site, you can click on the list on the left to see the front and back views of patterns.

These are appliance covers and tea cozies, with placemats and napkins. You can make round place mats for round tables, which take up less space. Just trace around a large round platter or pizza pan or the cardboard piece that comes with a take-out or frozen pizza.

This site has patterns for table cloths, also, but you don't really need a pattern for squares and rectangles. Just make a hem on any length of fabric you choose, and add interesting trim.

The concept of table cloths is a very ancient one, and in a way, is quite like having fresh sheets on the bed. It covers the bare table and makes the use of utinsels much quieter. Some people have whole wardrobes of table cloths and accessories, to suit different occasions such as spring and autumn, or celebrations of various types. You can click on the picture for a larger view.

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