From spring 2020 sketchbook. Walking and drawing to help maintain sanity.
This year I’ve created a second, entirely different calendar in addition to the more “grown-up” still-life calendar. It features the inhabitants of the village of Little Pudding, about whom I’ve been inventing stories since my daughter was in kindergarten.
Unless you prefer to be surprised, you can scroll down to see the twelve scenes of village life featured within. (Click twice to see the image larger.) The calendar is 8-1/2” x 11” and printed on sturdy satin stock, substantial enough so the images can be saved as prints.
A single calendar is $20; a set of two is $36. Shipping is 3-day Priority Mail, domestic US.
If you are in my area, you can obtain a calendar from me directly without shipping—just let me know.
Set of two calendars:
Two celebrations fall on February 3rd in 2011: Setsubun, the Japanese demon-expelling festival; and Chinese New Year, the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. Today’s title was suggested by my brilliant husband.
The Rabbit is supposed to be the luckiest of all the signs. If you were born in the Year of the Rabbit, you are gentle, sensitive, modest, sincere, and affectionate yet shy. Rabbits enjoy being at home, surrounded by family and friends. They seek peace throughout their lives, and are sometimes seen as pushovers because they like to avoid conflict. Although the Rabbit above looks like a pretty tough character, he is, after all, defending his peaceful home from demons.
We have decided to celebrate the two events simultaneously, which will be a challenge. Setsubun involves eating as many beans as you are years old for luck, and hanging garlic or a fish head on your door and throwing beans while chanting the verse above (“Demons Out! Happiness In!”)—both useful practices for repelling demons. Chinese New Year means plenty of red decorations, writing good-fortune verses, and shooting off fireworks. For both events there is special clothing (kimonos, or anything red, or a bunny hat are all acceptable in our house) and of course special foods (like friend Mary’s world-famous Bunny Cake). And, although it’s not traditional, we are including Chinese horoscopes, fortune cookies, origami bunny-folding, and an impressive gathering in the dining room of all our children’s stuffed rabbits.
BTW, for our door we are choosing garlic instead of a fish head.
For another sketch of Setsubun, please see Demons Out! Happiness In!
For another sketch of Chinese New Year, please see Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.
Every year I plan to be organized enough to start our vegetables INDOORS instead of succumbing to the purchase of seedlings at the garden center. I’ve managed it only twice, but I remain hopeful. The beautiful High Mowing Organic Seeds catalogue just arrived in the mail, with its tempting photographs of artichokes, fennel, and ornamental gourds… items I know will never be seen in our tiny, semi-shaded Mid-Atlantic garden unless they fall out of the grocery bag on the way to the house. However, those Japanese greens and Red Russian kale look pretty interesting.
I still have time. (And so do you!)
Today is the anniversary of the day in 1775 that Benjamin Franklin was appointed First Postmaster by the Continental Congress of the thirteen colonies. If you do not already know the history of the United States Post Office from the trial scene in the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the fabulous original 1947 version, not the flimsy imitation made in 1994), read on.
This method (above) of delivering mail no longer exists in the United States, except in remote outposts of Delaware, where descendants of 17th-century Swedish settlers cling to time-honored traditions.
Message delivery services have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese had one, as did the Mayans, and the Aztecs. The efficient postal system of Persia inspired Herodotus to write in the 5th century B.C., “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Except he said it in ancient Greek.
When English colonists arrived on these shores in the 1600s, they were probably familiar with the recently developed London Penny Post. Send a letter anywhere in London for a penny! or elsewhere for additional fees (seems rather expensive given the era, though). The cost could be paid by either party, which occasionally discouraged someone from picking up a delivery. (“Who, me? Must be some other Frederick Forecastle.”)
In the New World, letters were delivered by any available means. They might be entrusted to a friend or family member going in the same general direction as the letter. They were carried by traveling merchants, ships’ captains, local Native American tribal members, or servants or slaves running errands—in other words, pretty much anyone who was on the road and headed in the general direction of one’s addressee. If they couldn’t be hand-delivered, they were often left at the closest tavern, to be picked up by a visitor who might know the recipient.
The first “official” post office was Fairbanks’ Tavern in Boston, named in 1639 by the British Crown as a collection site for mail between the colonies and England. William Penn set up a service for Pennsylvania in 1692. By the 1700s, several other locations had been designated throughout the colonies, as well as postal carriers who delivered mail among them. Roads were few, and pretty terrible. Some were existing American Indian trails. (The monthly post rider’s trail between New York and Boston, the Old Boston Post Road, is part of today’s U.S. Route 1.) People didn’t receive mail often, but it’s surprising that so many letters made it.
In 1737, Benjamin Franklin was named postmaster of Philadelphia by the British Crown, and in 1753 one of two postmasters-general for the colonies. As you might imagine, Franklin jumped in and made improvements, setting out on a post office inspection tour, surveying and shortening routes, and installing milestones. He also established a penny-post, streamlined accounting methods, and instituted night riders. The Crown dismissed Franklin in 1774, however, for his ornery revolutionary ideas. By that time, the postal service was operating from Maine to Florida and New York to Canada, on a regular schedule, and for the first time was making a profit. (The British government ought to have known they were in for trouble.)
As early as 1775, postal carriers operating under the Continental Congress were hired as persons of good reputation, sworn to lock and secure the mail they carried (which might sometimes have included inflammatory anti-British sentiments). After the war, the Continental Congress re-hired Franklin, making him the first official Postmaster General of the new United States.
The development of the Postal Service has followed that of the nation, expanding in area served as new states were added. Mail has been carried by horseman, stagecoach, railroad, steamboat, truck, and pneumatic tube. (My mother, who grew up on a sheep ranch in Mendocino County, California, had the responsibility of going to “meet the stage” and fetch the family mail. Although it was by that time a truck, the family still automatically called it “the stage” because in her grandparents’ day it had been a horse-drawn stagecoach.) In 1918 the first airmail routes were established. How exciting, to receive mail that had actually FLOWN in an AIRPLANE, which very few citizens had ever experienced themselves.
Today I can email messages and photos to family and friends living across the country and on other continents, and hear back from them within seconds. When our son studied abroad in Japan, we could sit in front of our respective screens and unwrap our Christmas presents together. This definitely has an Amazement Factor. However, praiseworthy though it may be, these are only ELECTRONIC IMPULSES and PIXELS, folks.
Picture this: your friend, who lives on the other side of the world, wraps a lovely gift and attaches a heartfelt handwritten note decorated with little stars and hearts. He/she (probably a she) takes it to the local post office, and in a few days your Friendly Neighborhood Postal Carrier, who trudges faithfully to your home day after day, year after year, through snow, rain, heat, and all the aforementioned, delivers it Personally into your Hands. Along with heaps of other real stuff too, like offers for credit cards, and Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Wow! Now that is what I call amazing. Think of this, and remember your postal carrier at the holidays. And take a moment to smile and thank your postal carrier, today and every day.
Recently our son moved out of the house and into his own apartment. Until now I’ve been too busy with teaching, deadlines, and end-of-school-year activities to face the remaining detritus. But company is coming, so today is the day. Sing along…if you cannot sing then hum along…
If you were an American housewife setting out to bake a cake or a loaf of bread in the 19th century—or the 18th—or the 17th—you generally relied upon what you had learned at your mother’s side. You assembled flour and milk and sugar and milk and shortening and eggs, estimating amounts as best you could and combining them from memory in the proper order. In 1303 Edward I of England had standardized the pound, and the American colonists brought with them, and still use today, the old English standards of measurement (the British have revised their system several times since then, so we no longer match), and most farm wives could measure in pounds, pecks, and bushels. But as for smaller units you were on your own with vague descriptions (“a dab of cream” “a piece of butter as large as an egg”) or whatever teacups you were fortunate enough to possess.
That is, until Fannie Farmer (1857-1915), who was born on this day in Medford, Massachusetts. Her father was an editor and printer, and her parents believed in higher education for girls, but Fannie suffered a stroke at age 16 (!), which prevented her attending college. What she could do, however, was take up responsibility for the household’s cooking. Evidently she had a natural talent. When the family home became a boarding house, it gained a reputation for its fine meals.
So Farmer was encouraged by a friend to obtain teacher training at the Boston Cooking School, which took a scientific approach to food preparation, and she did so well that she stayed on to become Assistant Principal and then Principal in 1891. And in 1896, Farmer published The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.
Now, cookbooks were not unknown to American housewives. Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery had been self-published in 1796, with colonial favorites like pumpkin pudding, watermelon pickles, and spruce beer (Mmmm!), and by the late 19th century there was an explosion of cookbooks by women, offering medical mixtures (“A wash to prevent the hair from falling off”) and household advice (“Words of Comfort for a Discouraged Housekeeper”—now there’s one we could use) as well as recipes.
Farmer’s cookbook was even more comprehensive, including sections on the chemistry of cooking and cooking techniques, the specific components of food and why each was necessary for health, how a stove works, how flour is milled, what happens during fermentation, and extensive detailed advice on caring for the sick. In addition to these she offered recipes with straightforward, precise directions and—Ta-Daaa!—Actual Measurements, the tools for which (the standard measuring cup, divided into ounces, and graduated measuring spoons) she had created earlier. The publisher, Little, Brown, had “little” faith in the book’s success, and insisted Farmer foot the printing bill herself. When the book became hugely popular (it has sold millions of copies and has never been out of print), this turned out very well for her because she had retained copyright. Ha! Unlike poor Irma Rombauer who unfortunately sold her rights for $3,000 to Joy of Cooking’s publisher.
Farmer’s success enabled her to open her own cooking school. She wrote other books, one of them focusing on cooking for the invalid; was invited to lecture at Harvard Medical School (which lectures were widely printed and read); wrote a regular cooking column in the Woman’s Home Companion; and continued to test and invent recipes and to lecture until the last few days of her life.
You can find Fannie Farmer’s cookbook today—in its 13th edition—at your local library and bookstore. And to celebrate the birthday of the “Mother of Level Measurements,” as she was called, you can make Fannie Farmer’s “Birthday Cake.” If you own a measuring cup and spoons, that is. I have the recipe right here, and if you email me, I will send it to you. (It may be straightforward by 19th century standards but it’s waaay too long to include here.)