On Mortality and the Eternity of Personal Objects

1927-2 Little Rock Quinton with toys holding doll (2)

This is my father with his toys, and holding his composition doll, 1927.

A strong point of mine is seeing connections between events and objects. So when global events such as the pandemic, police brutality, and Holocaust Remembrance Day converge with my Facebook doll postings and updating my doll records, I find connections.

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Two little antique china heads from the mid 19th century who used to be play dolls.

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Paint rub and wear is visible on the backs of these small china shoulder-heads that used to be play dolls with bodies.

I find it rather poignant that while we value human life over objects, people die, and many of the objects that were part of their life persevere. I was thinking about that as I considered several little china shoulder-heads without bodies in my collection. The heads have rubs to the paint on the back of their hair, which indicates that they were once part of a doll with a body and were played with. Then I envisioned young girls, and perhaps boys, playing with these dolls, and what that would look like. The nursery, bedroom, or parlor of their home most likely had a wooden floor. If the family was wealthy enough in the mid-Victorian era, they may have had rugs on the floor, which very likely were small, and not room sized. So the dolls would have been dropped and bumped on the floor repeatedly, leading to wear to the back of their hair and noses.

Antique photo 1940s siblings with doll

This boy looks quite mischievous with his hands on his sister’s cloth body composition doll. Rough play is definitely in store for this doll who already has a dinged nose! Circa 1930’s

Girls frequently carried a doll by her arm– in her right hand, holding the doll’s left arm. This is why play dolls often have wear and tearing to the left arm more than to the right. Also, boys tend to be rougher with dolls, both their own, and especially with their sisters’ dolls. This accounts for many a broken bisque or china doll, and indeed, is the reason for the advent of the wooden Schoenhut dolls in 1911, because a granddaughter of the company’s founder had a brother who continually broke her bisque dolls.

Antique Victorian post-mortem daguerrotype of a child with her doll who was said to be haunted after the child's death

19th century post-mortem photograph of a young girl and her doll.

Obviously, not all material objects survive the original owner, giving another tangent to my contemplation; however, there are plenty of 19th century objects left to be pondered upon. It is likely that the early 20th century dolls, in the photo above and the one with my passed on father, are still extant, though the people in most antique photos with dolls are not. Certainly, many antique dolls in collections now had original child owners who died as children. Death, even for children, was an even more common occurrence in the 19th century, leaving in its wake orphaned dolls, post-mortem photographs and dolls dressed in mourning costume.

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This china lady with a covered wagon hairstyle , circa 1865, is dressed in her original black silk mourning dress. While the dress is badly shattered from age, her china parts are pristine with no rubs, indicating that she has always been a cabinet doll, and was not played with.

I am aware that today is deemed Holocaust Remembrance Day. One image I saw, to illustrate that one million children died in this atrocity, was that of an old baby shoe held in the palm of a hand. My last post was about little antique shoes. While I don’t have any from the holocaust era, that image still gives pause for reflection about the children, now surely long gone, who wore the shoes that I have. Like the china doll heads, the shoes have wear, indicating their usefulness in the life of that person long ago. It makes me wonder; who was that person, and what became of them? Who is remembering them now?

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Antique shoes worn by a child well over a hundred years ago.

 

As we continue to track the the progress of our current pandemic, and we mourn the vast loss of lives to covid-19, we have again the distressing situation of people leaving the physical plane of the material world, yet their possessions remain. I continue to ponder. Why do these material items of lives long gone remain? At least some of those possessions, no longer needed by the person who is gone, are likely to circulate into the inventory of possessions of someone who is still here. It is incredible to my mind, for example, how an exquisite  Roman tile floor from millennia past can survive all this time under a vineyard, and the individual people who made it and walked on it are not to be known to us in our time.

Genes from ancient Roman civilization resembles those from the ...

People of Ancient Rome–who are they as individuals?

Such are the ponderings of my mind through the recent turn of events in our culture, coupled with my work at home with my antique treasures. I value my antique items for the art and history that they embody, and more so because they were part of a person’s life in the past who found them useful and were prized by them.

To all of the families and friends who have lost precious people to recent events, may you continue to hold onto the stories, to the memories that keep a part of them alive, and to some special material object that retains the remnant energy of your loved one. Record that provenance if you can to carry the story forward.

Blessings,

Jennie

Antique photo bearded man and girl holding china doll

Father and daughter holding a china doll.

 

 

 

Giving Thanks: Food for Thought, and Thought for Food

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My china ladies have prepared their home for a festive occaision.

Are you cooking in or dining out for Thanksgiving? This question is loaded with more than gravy and cranberry sauce! Our national holiday of Thanksgiving is traditionally a day of feasting and community with extended family. (Yes, I am purposely ignoring the televised sports aspect.) Ideally, there are sufficient family members who contribute and share in the preparation for the festivities. These days, though, more and more restaurants offer catered dinners for the day and are open for dining in. A good thing? Maybe.

I am a strong believer in the essential goodness of food prepared at home, and of the community building aspect of sharing food and conversation around the dinner table. However, my reality does not always live up to my beliefs. I am a single “head of household” with two jobs. The two family members who live with me are not willing or able to prepare meals. The third family member with whom I often share holidays chooses not to cook. This usually leaves me in a position of wearing myself out as the sole planner and preparer of the festivities and not able to enjoy the gathering, or of choosing restaurant dining with its attendant foibles. Why is restaurant dining a less desirable meal? Here are some deeper thoughts on this issue.

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Hazel offers cream of celery soup made with homemade chicken bone broth.

Deng Ming-Dao says in 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

In cultures where personal contacts are more meaningful and closeness to the earth is a way of life, it is no surprise that people are interested in a complete relationship with their food. They buy it or raise it, they harvest it, they clean it, and they cook it–all before they eat it in gratitude. They don’t become sentimental over their food–practicality is to understand that we kill to survive–but they do give thanks for what has died to sustain them.

Today we have a very incomplete relationship with our food. We don’t see where something grows, we eat foods out of season, we buy prepared foods made by someone we don’t even know. There is a great power in knowing your food, knowing where it came from, preparing it with your own hands. This food, whether vegetable or animal, died for us. The least we can do is partake of it thoroughly and with respect.

Nowadays it is quite common for people to feel isolated. They lament not having friends, not having genuine experiences, not having a sense of who they are. If even the food that we eat and the way that we eat is lacking in wholeness, then how will we feel completion in the rest of our lives? (Tao #277)

Thanksgiving Vintage Family

At least one of my sons has a differing opinion. He believes that with the work-away-from-home structure of our modern lives, it makes more sense for food preparation to be centrally prepared in large quantities for purchase, rather than for individuals or small families to have to spend time in food preparation on a daily basis. This plan frees the limited time we have around work for other activities. (Lucky for him, his wife has a job in a natural foods store that includes a generous deli department. This connection adds an element of locality to their prepared food purchases.) And all three of my sons have a preferred other activity–playing board games! As they proclaim, sharing in playing games builds community, as does sharing a meal.

Victorian Parlour-Games

Deng Ming-Dao continues his thought on food and place with Tao # 320:

Why were people of old so integrated with their surroundings?  Because the objects that they used, the food that they ate, and the activities that they engaged in were straight from their surroundings. They used sticks made from [native wood] as eating implements. They used vines to make baskets. They used gourds as vessels. For food, they grew plants, domesticated animals, and caught fish and game. Their social structure was built around the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. Newborn babies were washed with waters of the nearest stream. The dead were buried in the same earth that provided sustenance.

Now our food is imported from distant places and elaborately processed. We have no idea where objects we purchase come from, thinking that their presence and convenience is all that is necessary. We have means of transport that can bring us to places faster than our minds can adjust. We abuse our wealth and use it to insulate ourselves from our surroundings.

That’s why being of modest means is not necessarily bad. When one is poor, one is forced to use what is at hand. . . . The closer we can be to the earth and to nature, the more integrated with life we shall be.

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Okay, as much as I would like to return to rural 1840, I know that is unrealistic and that I have romantisized expectations of the time. So, is eating at a restaurant for Thanksgiving a bad thing? I think that like being poor in the passage above, we have to make use of what is at hand. I have made the best choice I can for a location for an enjoyable family dinner. I hope the wait is not so long, it is not too noisy, and I will mourn the lack of leftovers to provide additional meals. I will graciously thank the growers, producers, cooks, servers, and others involved in providing the meal for my family. I will greet others who I do not know as they partake of this holiday feast at the same location. I will appreciate the disorientingly fast transportation for reuniting far-flung family members. Perhaps my family will re-convene after our meal at one of our apartments for games. We will admire and appreciate the upgraded game pieces that were artistically handmade by one of our group. Perhaps we will even contemplate who manufactured the forks we take our delicious bites from, and where the plates originated.

Jonathan's game painted by Kendra

Game upgrade painting and photo by Kendra Jackson

My gratitude goes to you, my readers and followers, for making my blog–my creative outlet–a successful one. May you enjoy food that satisfies your body and soul, and may you benefit from community with those you hold dear as well as benefitting unknown people in need of community.

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My doll’s house Thanksgiving table. We know where the dishes came from!

Ming-Dao, Deng. 365 Tao: Daily Meditations: 1992, Harper Collins, New York.

Vintage Victorian Thanksgiving

 

A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Seven: A Connecticut Kind of Summer

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Everything about Ruby’s journey had been delightful! Yet, she couldn’t think of a better reason to travel than to visit family. Even though she was “born” in Connecticut, she was now a “West Coast” girl. How fortunate she was to have an “East Coast” clan to welcome her back! Ruby thought that Oregon City where she lives was incorporated a long time ago, in 1844 (as the first incorporated town west of the Rocky Mountains), but the town where she was staying, Colchester Connecticut, received its charter in 1698–almost 150 years before Oregon City. My, that is old!

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This house has been sold since this photo, and is no longer a shop. Miss Jennie wishes she was the buyer!

Of course many of the houses and buildings in Connecticut are older than in Oregon, too. Ruby liked looking at all of these old buildings.

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A historic Colchester house, facing the town green.

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This interesting Victorian is near the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

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Connecticut is also noted for its beautiful stone fences; even like this one that is unused and hidden away now along Judd Creek.

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After shopping for awhile, Ruby stopped for a rest on this stone wall in Old Mystic Village.

Shopping is always interesting in Connecticut. Everyone likes stopping at Nature’s Art along the way to Old Mystic Village.

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Ruby was quite taken with this large malachite stone. She found that it soothed her spirit.

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“This room with dinosaur skeletons is a little bit scary–it gives me the shivers. But I still like the fish.”

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“What do you mean, we already have Citrine at home? I want to put THESE in my suitcase!”

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Harry’s Place doesn’t look quite like this any more, but it’s still THE place to hang out on summer evenings in Colchester! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

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Burgers, chili dogs, and onion rings were the favorites with all of these Stewart girls. (Photo by Dave Stewart)

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And of course ice cream for the whole family is the perfect ending for a summer evening. Coneheads had Miss Jennie’s favorite–espresso bean! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

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Ruby liked dressing up in her white summer dress for church in Manchester.

Even this delightful journey eventually came to an end. The dolls in her bedroom were beginning to miss Ruby most dreadfully. When she came home, she petted the housecats, then she sat on the little Windsor chair next to Little Davie. Now all the bedroom dolls could sit or stand for days and days listening to Ruby share story after story about her journey to the East Coast.

THE END . . . is just another beginning!

Red dress girl with flag circa 1850s

East or West, Home is Best

 

 

 

A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Four: Tall Ships on Casco Bay

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Miss Ruby on board The Wendameen, July 5, 2018

After a busy morning seeing all the lighthouses, Ruby and her family rushed back to the hotel just in time to catch the shuttle bus to downtown Portland. The bus was definitely the way to get there because there would be nowhere to park the Salsa Red Pearl van. The bus driver was from Boston Massachusettes and now lives in Portland Maine. Miss Jennie told him the story about the coin flip to name the new (in 1845) Oregon town Boston or Portland. Then he said, “That is a fabulous story! I’m going to tell it to my friends!”

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“What do you mean I have to share!”

Once they were in Portland, there was plenty of time to have lunch at Flatbread Company, right beside the dock where the big ferry boats chugged in and out of the bay. The oven fired pizza was delicious, but Ruby liked her bottle of Maine Root Blueberry soda best of all.

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One of the ferry boats on Casco Bay

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Then they went out to the dock where the schooners were moored to get their boarding passes. Ruby was so excited about going on the ship, she could hardly be still in line. “I thought a schooner was a wagon that took people on the Oregon Trail to Oregon and California,” she said. Miss Jennie told her that she was right; Prairie Schooners did roll across the prairies on the Oregon Trail. Those wagons were smaller than the great Conestoga wagons, and with their white canvas covers or bonnets, they looked, from a distance, like smaller tall masted schooner ships, sailing across a sea of grasses.

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Timberwind (1931) in Casco Bay as seen from Wendameen, July 5, 2018

The Portland Schooner Company sails three tall masted schooners for two hour tours and charter trips. Ruby and her family would sail on Wendameen, the oldest of the three ships. “Goody, goody, I like old things,” said Ruby. Wendameen is a two-masted schooner, built in 1912 by the noted naval architect John G. Alden, and is 67 feet in length. She is the 21st recreational schooner built by Alden, and is one of the oldest to have survived. She sailed on the Great Lakes for 20 years, then languished on land until 1985 when she was fully restored and began her life of “windjamming” cruises in Maine. Wendameen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

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Wendameen (Stock Photo)

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Miss Ruby at the helm of Wendameen

When Ruby leaped on board Wendameen from the dock, she went right to the helm. “Can I steer?” Then the captain came aboard and said to her, “What kind of voodoo is this?” Ruby just looked at him with big eyes and said, “No voodoo, sir. I’m just Miss Jennie’s travel companion.” That seemed to satisfy the captain, and he paid her no more mind on the cruise.

They followed Bagheera as Wendameen’s motor pushed them away from the dock. Then they were in the bay and the sails were unfurled by the two-woman crew. What a lovely evening to be out on the water on a tall masted ship!

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Portland skyline from Wendameen on Casco Bay

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Miss Jennie especially loved being on this historic tall ship, and sailing! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

There were lots of things to see out on the bay. There was a Civil War fort named “Fort Gorges” that is on an island, and they could see the other two schooners, Timberwind and Bagheera, sailing around the bay. Ruby looked and looked at the varnished wood, tall masts, sails, and rigging, on the ship she was on. She was amazed at how the crew members climbed right onto the mast to adjust the sail! “I want to do that!” she said. “Can I have a schooner for my birthday?”

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Octagonal shaped Fort Gorges, finished in 1864. No troops were ever stationed there because it was obsolete before it was completed, being replaced by iron clad ships and long-range guns.

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Bagheera (1924), as seen from Wendameen

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Spring Point Ledge Light as seen from Wendameen

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The captain and one of two crew members aboard Wendameen, July 5, 2018 (Photo by Dave Stewart)

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Mast and rigging, Wendameen

Ruby was sad as the sun sank lower and Wendameen followed Bagheera back toward the dock. She thought she could sail aboard a tall ship for days and days. This had certainly been an experience that she would remember for all of her life.

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When Ruby was home again, she took out her copy of Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, which is a Newbery Honor high adventure story about a tall masted ship and a 19th century girl who sailed on her. This helped keep Ruby’s sailing adventure alive for her.

This beautiful Thursday evening had been the perfect time for Ruby’s sailing adventure. Now it was time for dinner (grilled scallops! Yum!) and another cozy night at the hotel. The morning would bring rain–the perfect day for shopping!

To be continued . . .

Nautical girl antique print

So much to sea!

 

Beyond Oceans and Decades: In Search of Ningyo

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Author’s collection of ichimatsu ningyo

The pursuit of a doll can lead to quite a journey sometimes, in search of the doll itself, and of knowledge about the doll. A journey of this sort can take decades, and can encompass talismans that aid in finding that which is sought. This is the story of one seeker’s journey.

In 1984 I had the unique opportunity to move from Indiana to Okinawa as my husband graduated and accepted a teaching position with University of Maryland Asian Division. Another life-changing event occurred in the Spring of 1985 when, after three years of impaired fertility, I birthed my first son. Just five weeks later, in late June, the three of us embarked on a cultural tour of Japan with a U of M study tour. At this point, I didn’t think that life could get much better!

 

1985 7 July 19 Himeji Shinkansen Station Jonathan Jennie

Himeji Shinkansen Station, July 1985

The tour did include a visit to a doll factory, the Hakata ningyo factory in Fukuoka. While I found this visit interesting, I was not too excited about these dolls which, though beautiful, are stationary and all in one piece, more like figurines.

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Hakata ningyo ready to be placed into the salesroom

While it was relatively seamless for me to tote my young baby around and enjoy the tour (breastfeeding, of course!), it was necessary for me to spend a little extra time with him in our room each evening. On one of these evenings (as I found out the next morning), some of the other tour group members visited a nearby antique shop. One young woman had found an antique boy doll at the shop and was toting it around in her arms, as I toted my baby. I must say, I had more than a little envy that I did not have the opportunity to have found that doll! Yet, I consoled myself with my real little boy for whom I had waited so long.

1985 9 July 21 Ryoanji Kyoto Jennie Jonathan

Ryoanji, Kyoto, July 1985

After this tour, back on Okinawa, I was able to take a kimekome doll making class. These dolls, similar to the Hakata dolls, are stationary dolls to be admired rather than to be play dolls. I worked on several dolls in the evenings, in the seemingly few minutes that my son slept. This way, along with in-class time, I was able to complete several dolls for myself and for gifts. I also bought several more of the kits, which I still have, still in kit form.

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A kimekome ningyo that I made as a gift for my mother-in-law. After her death, it came back to me, and now belongs to my daughter.

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I am proud to have made this detailed kimekome geisha with the help of my sensei.

I never forgot the little antique boy ningyo that I saw in the arms of another, and continued to watch for one of my own. In 1987 we moved to the Tokyo area, and I had another son. Even though there was a doll district in Tokyo, I never made it there. Overall, dolls were not a big priority in my life at that time, and my presumption was that the dolls I would find there would be new rather than antique, and more of the stationary type I had already seen, like those above, or like the wooden kokeshi which are also commonly given as gifts.

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Kokeshi ningyo are regional dolls from Tohoku in northern Japan. Those shown here are of the made-for-tourists variety. These dolls have the kappa hairstyle (defined below). Author’s collection

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Here is a selection of small kokeshi that were made for the Japanese market. I found them at the weekly Salvation Army sale. They all have wobble heads. The tallest pointed hair kokeshi is 4″ while the tiny pair is a mere 3/4″. Notice the fabric-wrapped bun hairstyle on the mid-sized girls, and the shaved hair with hair tufts by the ears on the boys. This is Meiji era, or late 19th, early 20th c. and is earlier than the ichimatsu dolls shown below.

I did find some interesting second-hand shopping while I lived in Tokyo, including a weekly Salvation Army sale. One time I watched a worker unpack a whimsical small scale kimekome set of Dolls Day Hina Matsuri dolls in muted colors. As soon as she unpacked it, I bought it and she had to immediately pack it up again! (This set is still in Connecticut, so I cannot show you photos at this time.)

Japan Hina Matsuri display

Hina Matsuri, or Dolls Day festival on March 3rd, displays a replica of the court, and is perhaps the most well- known of Japanese dolls.

My life in Tokyo continued to include travel, in which I delighted. In 1989 I visited Nagoya and went to the famous Nagoya Temple Market. At one of the stalls there, I found a girl doll with moveable limbs and real hair. I didn’t know what kind of doll she was (a Bunraku puppet doll, I speculated, but there were no strings). I bought her.

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Shopping at the Nagoya Temple Market in 1989. I am on the left with my first son.

The doll was not in the best condition, and I set out to restore her, even though I had no idea how. She smelled of moth balls and the crinkled satin-like fabric that connected her hard parts was deteriorating. Her right arm was hanging by a thread, showing the cotton batting stuffing inside. She was also missing her obi (the belt around the waist of the kimomo). I decided to hand wash her kimono in cold water, and realized that was a mistake! The fabrics began to bleed! I removed them from the water and spread them to dry, but the beautiful floral design on the dark blue kimono was permanenty damaged by my ignorance about how to restore the doll. I did patch the fabric on her arms, then admitted temporary defeat and packed her away in a wicker basket. Luckily, I had the foresight to buy a pink girl’s soft obi to replace the deteriorated one my doll had, and a vintage narrow obi as a substitute for the missing one.

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This is the doll as she came out of her basket when I brought her home to Oregon from Connecticut in 2014.

This ningyo hibernated in her basket on her trip moving to the United States, in Washington for ten years, then in Connecticut where she was initially left behind, and finally came home to Oregon in 2014.

Now a lot has happened, any way you look at it, since I brought this ningyo out of Japan in 1991. At that time, I could not identify the type of doll she is, I did not know about her materials or construction, and I did not even know how to dress her or tie an obi. Over twenty-five years of internet innovation and doll research have made it possible for this sweet Ichimatsu ningyo to come out of hibernation and “breathe” again!

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The doll parts in partially restored condition as I had left her since 1989. The wooden box on the lower right is her squeaker that is now in her tummy. It still works by compressing the front and back together.

The first “talisman” that I found with exciting clues about the nature of my doll was Antique Doll Collector magazine, October 2015, which offered an article on “Japanese Ningyo.” Finally, I was able to identify my doll as an ichimatsu ningyo with gofun (crushed oyster shell) covered parts. Thank goodness I didn’t try to clean her face, or it would have disolved! Other magazine articles, most notably by Japanese doll and antiques expert Alan Scott Pate, followed. Books on Japanese dolls, written for English speakers, which didn’t exist 25 years ago, and internet sources on kimono and tying an obi, are my next talismans, and have given me the confidence to finish restoring my ningyo.

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The water damaged kimono and other parts of the doll’s original clothing, including the little pink soft obi that is faded and shredded.

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The vintage orange adult narrow obi is at the top. Below is the padded cord that goes on top of the obi, then the doll’s faded soft obi. At the bottom is the new girl’s size soft obi that I bought while still in Japan.

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The red fabric is an underskirt that goes on the doll before the kimono. The bottom shows the signature (of the doll’s artist) papers that are wrapped around the doll’s torso before she is dressed. I cannot read the kanji, so I don’t know her artist.

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Here is my restored ningyo with new muslin fabric parts. The original pale green crinkled satin-type fabric is still on her arms.

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My ningyo, restored and dressed. She is 20″ tall.

My ichimatsu ningyo is of the Showa era, or circa probably 1930’s. Her hairstyle is called kappa, meaning “cap” and is similar to western bobbed or pageboy hairstyles of the 1920’s and 30’s. Although she does not measure up to Alan Scott Pate’s “good” condition, I love her dearly because I found her, and I brought her back to life after all these years.

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The boy ningyo. He is 14″ tall. Though Showa era, he may be later than the two girl dolls.

Although eBay has been around for many years, to my knowledge, it is much more recent that dealers in Japan have been offering items for sale internationally on eBay. There is a wide selection of ichimatsu and other ningyo now available to choose from. And choose, I did! I found a small boy doll who is at least similar to the one I saw in 1985–it has been so long, I can’t remember that doll’s details very clearly. And I brought one more girl, perhaps in the “better” category, and two babies into my family of ichimatsu ningyo.

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My newest girl is also Showa era from the 1920’s or 30’s. She may be considered a “better” ningyo because of the quality of her kimono and facial detailing, and because her nails have indented detailing. She is 19″ tall.

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These are gofun dollhouse size play dolls that come in a little basket with a lid. The okasan and otosan are 4″ tall. Author’s collection

The Japanese dolls or ningyo that I have shown you here are the ones that have touched my life the most, while I lived in Japan and afterward. There are many more types of ningyo, and ningyo feature prominently in many aspects of Japanese life, not just for children. I have shared my story with Japanese dolls here, yet I have not told you much about the history or characteristics of the dolls. Perhaps that will be another story . . .

For More Information:

Kaonis, Donna. “A Visit with the Herrings.” (Japanese Dolls) Antique Doll Collector, October 2015.

Kita, Terry. The Sun Shines For Us All: The Friendship Dolls From Japan. Valparaiso, IN: Valparaiso University, 2015.

Pate, Alan Scott. “Good, Better, Best: Evaluating Japanese Ichimatsu Dolls.” Antique Doll Collector, March 2017.

Pate, Alan Scott. Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2008.

Pate, Alan Scott. Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

Stern, Itske and Anthony. “Wonderful Japanese Kokeshi Dolls.” Doll News, Winter 2015.

 

Japanese girl in kimono with Ichimatsu ningyo 1920

Japanese girl in kimono with kappa hairstyle and ichimatsu ningyo on her back, 1920

 

 

 

Knarls and Twists

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My restored ningyo, found in Nagoya, 1989

Sometimes the knarls and twists of life just keep me from writing and sewing for the dolls. The past year has been full of twists, mostly good, that have kept me occupied away from my blog. It included a won trip to Hawaii, a move to a new apartment in a new city, a short trip to visit my son and his wife in St. Louis, and most recently, a 3 week bout of that awful flu.

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My daughter and me on Hawaii, 2017

My apologies to my faithful followers for my inconsistent posting over the past year, and thank you to my new followers for your vote of confidence in my blog as a whole.

I have worked on a few doll projects over the year, and have taken some photos along the way. So now I am preparing a new blog post about a personal story and a long journey (literally and figuratively) to learning about Japanese dolls, or ningyo. I am hoping to have this post ready for you within the week–we’ll see if I can get some good photos in our near sunless Pacific Northwest climate at this time of year. Additionally, the Portland Crossroads Doll and Teddy Bear Show is tomorrow, so perhaps I will find a story there. Then, I have another doll restored and waiting to be dressed that I would like to share with you soon.

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Doll restoration with a Kling shoulder head

I am offering my gratitude for all of your interest in my blog, and blessings for your health and prosperity in the coming year. Take joy in the beauty of antique dolls!  ~Jennie

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Ningyo being prepared to send to American children, 1927

 

Golden August Days

 

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My newest charmer, Augusta, is a Greiner paper mache doll.

In the turning of the days for my family, it is August that routinely brings us fun outings. There is the Aurora Colony Days festival, followed by the Portland Doll Show, with the Oregon City Antique Fair bringing up the rear. And this year our August events were led by a wedding! My youngest son, Jeremiah, married his long time friend and sweetheart, Jazmyne.

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Jeremiah’s first dance with his new bride in a sun-gold haze.

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A formal occaision! Me with Jeremiah and Jonathan. Unfortunately, middle son Alex was not able to be there.

Our path to the wedding, which was held in the Yakima Valley, Washington, led us through Goldendale where I stopped for wine at the Maryhill Winery, my favorite!

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Showing off one of my bottles, along with the Columbia River Gorge-eous view.

The very next weekend we went south of the mighty Columbia to the Pudding River and antiques at Aurora.

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I resisted the urge and didn’t buy any chairs this time, though these caught my eye.

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Artful displays of glass always catch my attention too. A few of these “sun purple” sherbets did come home with me.

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A Victorian curved glass side by side secretary has been on my wish list for many, many years. This one is small enough to fit in my available space, and as a “shabby chic” renovation, it fit my budget–yes, the $1400 ones are still lovely to look at and dream about. I forgot to photograph this one before it left the shop. It was hard to photograph in its new little location. I already love it as my new best protected doll display place!

The next event, the Portland Doll Show did not fail to delight!

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These three mid-19th century papier mache ladies were some of the first dolls to greet me.

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A Martha Chase boy dressed in lace with a wee bisque companion was also a charmer.

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Brighde goes for more modern dolls. She thought this huge brunette girl could be her daughter, and she would have liked to bring her home. (We didn’t.)

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Several china dolls and an all-bisque little girl came home with me.

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Then, Gussie sort of leaped into my arms later in the day.

I will tell you all about these dolls in my next post very soon.

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After attending two other antique and doll events in close succession in August, I don’t often find much at the Oregon City Antique Fair, but I do usually find something unique. This time I found these vintage Japanese kimono remnants for doll sewing, and an oval framed old photograph of two girls dressed in Edwardian white; one holding a bisque doll.

 

 

The Little Sisters painted 1896 (2)

May all of your August days be golden.

P.S. “Can’t I Just Have a Tiny Book?”

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Miss Ruby and Little Davie snuggle in with their “tiny books.” “Davie, how many strawberries did the caterpillar eat before it turned into a butterfly?” “Oh, Ruby, I lost count. I was watching the pearl turn into the moon in Grandfather Twilight.

While working in the bookstore tonight, I witnessed a tantrum. Now, it is not unusual to hear little ones put up a fuss, and it is usually not pleasant to listen to. This, however, had to be the cutest tantrum I have ever heard:

A little girl, about 7 years old, is wailing as she follows her mom who is striding purposefully toward the exit. She sobs, “Can’t I just have a tiny book? They have tiny books!”

What a synchronicity when I have just been writing about tiny books! Now I know that this little girl most likely meant an “inexpensive book” in this situation, but maybe she, too, has a special affinity for small things. And I, for one, hope and wish that little ones will have “tiny books” and big books to their hearts’ content.

Sweet reading, and sweet dreams.

Jennie

A  Long Regard for Small Things

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Karen with the bedroom furniture. 2014

As long as I can remember, I have had a special affinity for small things: little natural wonders like seashells, tiny bright stones, feathers and acorns, and miniatures. As a child, I made rooms for my dolls in any likely place. My mother’s fireplace clock on a table was a favorite spot to make a cozy little doll room, and pulling out blocks of encyclopedias from the bookshelf left nice smaller doll rooms with a book on top for the ceiling. Smallest of all, the low cinder block wall around our Little Rock, Arkansas front yard had cubbies that were perfect room-size for an inexpensive 5″ doll with long brown hair that I bought with my own money. In the summer, she had a magical garden fairy world with an unexpected bit of high tech–if she was kidnapped and stranded on the shelf of a higher stone wall, my brother’s battery powered helicopter would come and rescue her!

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The fireplace clock now belongs to me and is still a favorite centerpiece for little doll displays. The fire is lit with a Christmas tree light bulb. Here are Karen and Vicki’s Ginny and Muffie dolls enjoying the fire’s warmth as they watch the clock for tea time.

As a young adult, I became enthralled with 1/12th scale miniatures after several trips to see the Thorne Rooms at the Chicago Art Institute. I could stand for hours gazing into those glass fronted boxes where everything was so lifelike, even with perfect lighting and shadows. I felt like I could fall right into that eighteenth century kitchen! There were no dolls to break the suspension of disbelief in these tiny realms. You expected a live person to walk in and resume living there.

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Thorne Rooms Pennsylvania Kitchen 1752.

Of course I had to make my own mini house which, given my limited means and space, was made of stacked sturdy boxes. I called it “Der Kline Haus,” which means simply “The Small House.”

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This hand-made intricately detailed 1/12th scale cradle once resided in the master bedroom of my dollhouse. I crocheted the tiny little coat and hat, that are shown here in the cradle, from size 20 cotton thread in the 1980’s when my eyesight was better. This crochet set and the rug, which is actually a vintage lamp mat, were all part of the sadly demolished Der Kline Haus. The china dolls, circa 1850’s and 1860’s, have not had the pleasure of visiting Der Kline Haus in its prime.

Then I discovered the wonder of antique toy furniture in 1/8th scale, perfect for Ginny and 8″ Madame Alexander dolls, at the Fowler House Museum just two blocks from where I lived in Lafayette Indiana. It must have been a joy and an adventure for the original owners of that dollhouse to find those little wooden treasures of furniture, and copper pots and pottery dishes, on world travels! This house was made to be played with, dolls in their settings in the rooms.

My dollhouse has been packed away for many years. The box-rooms were discarded as the wallpaper (some of which was made from wrapping paper from my wedding gifts!) faded and turned brown. Yet I still can’t resist picking up little things in the course of my wanderings. And like Auri in Patrick Rothfuss’ tale, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I listen to the things to know where they best want to be; to know where they will be comfortable and where they belong. Until now, the little things have been in various places throughout the house, some more comfortable than others. Teeny tiny seashells found in the sand of a long-ago Far East beach are in a little bottle in the bathroom. A doll-size Japanese clasp purse is on a shelf of the desk. Little wooden and metal toys are in a small cabinet in the bedroom. Miniature books are in a drawer or on the shelf near larger books. Fingertip sized perfume bottles are in the “powder room” cabinet. Child sized dishes live in a wooden box on top of the antique sewing machine, or get overwhelmed among the larger Depression Glass. (No, they are not comfortable there!)

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These small kitchen items, including a cordial glass, a silver corn scewer, two silver salt spoons, and toy pans and dishes, are now collected together on an antique spice cupboard that is the right size to be a doll cabinet.

Last summer I gave you a glance at my long-ago packed away and brought out anew doll bed and the newly acquired dresser to go with it, along with a coordinating ladderback chair. These, along with some of the scattered minis as accessories, make a lovely little bedroom for the lady china dolls. Paula Walton’s post (IzannahWalker.com) from July 2014 showing Edyth O’Neal’s wonderful large scale closet doll house inspired me to clear off enough shelf space in my hall closet to tuck in a little bedroom for the ladies. Besides, where else would I have room to display this 1/4th scale doll furniture? It could have ended up in the closet packed away for lack of display space, so why not as a display in the closet instead? Near perfect solution! I don’t see this enchanting room every day, but when I do slide open that closet door, I can peek in at Edith and Miss Bettina Bumblebottom as they sit on the bed in their crisp white undies, drinking tea and confiding secrets to each other.

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Edith (in the red boots) and Miss Bettina Bumblebottom spend hours and days with each other in the closet bedroom as they await new wardrobes. Edith is sharing her favorite sentiments from a mini book of Love Letters while her tea gets cold in the little blue Depression Glass cup on the chair to the left. Bettina’s cup is Blue Willow transferware from Occupied Japan, and was an excellent second-hand store find!

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Little white kid leather shoes that long ago belonged to a bisque doll have a home now under the ladderback chair. I have had these shoes for more than 30 years before finding a place for them to truly belong.

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You can see on the dresser-top a doily that I crocheted, and on it is a red English transferware bowl that is probably a salt bowl. It was not intended as a child’s or doll dish, yet it fits perfectly in this setting. Barely visible in the bowl are tortoise shell hairpins for a bisque doll. They also find a place to belong here, even though neither the Chinas, nor the Izannah can wear them! Behind the bowl is a little tintype in its case. Three perfume bottles are on the right, with more small bottles and a little fan on the left.

Like my closet bedroom, Tasha Tudor’s acclaimed doll house is also 1/4th scale, consisting of special items from her childhood dollhouse made for her by her mother, of fabulous antiques collected by Tasha, and of special gifts from her friends and family. Her dollhouse, originally set up on large shelves in her home, was created for dolls that Tasha made herself. Later, a special house was made for her treasures and displayed in Colonial Williamsburg for twenty years. Now, Tasha’s dollhouse is back at her Home, Corgi Cottage. Tours, run by part of her family after her death, are very limited and are quite expensive.

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Note the antique toy Staffordshire plates on the wall shelf, and the matching tureen on the table.

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The furniture in this house is quite exquisite. These dolls have a more affluent lifestyle than my dolls who prefer their primitive style surroundings.

And now, who among China, Papier Mache, and Izannah Walker doll lovers wouldn’t fall in love with an Izannah home like Joy Harrington’s, featured in the August 2015 issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine? Not only is this small house a delightful home for antique dolls, it’s the perfect way to bring together and display a lifetime of collected small antiques! I have pored over this article, gleaning every little whimsy, and again, I am inspired to bring together my own collection in a display that is more doll house-like, if not actually a large scale dollhouse.

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“A Visit to an Izannah Home” by Joy Harrington

At this point in time, my best option beyond the closet bedroom is my stairs which are wide enough to accommodate a multi-level keeping room display. Perhaps later in the fall or winter, when renovations to our apartment building wind down, I can try a two room display on my extra antique dining table.

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On my stairs, an antique doll cupboard holds an abundance of French, and English Staffordshire, doll china and pottery. Laundry waits to be put away in a basket near the cupboard. On the step behind the cupboard is my newest find–a little silverplate coffee pot that came from Goodwill! It is waiting to find its best place to belong.

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More of my stairstep display with twin Hertig dollhouse size little girls on the Seth Tudor made chair.

I am so enthusiastic about the large scale doll houses that I would like to write about more insights in several more posts. Coming up will be postings on miniature scales and choosing the right size of furniture and accessories for the dolls, on furniture and little things for putting together the displays, which seem to be fluid as collections grow and change, and on English Staffordshire toy or doll china, my newest antique collectible love. We could even have a tea party!

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There is so much information on 1/12th scale miniatures, and so little on doll sized small things. The small things, unlike “miniatures” are large enough to be a pleasure to hold. It is also a sensual delight to contemplate small things not meant to be toys that can be seamlessly added into a doll’s space. What a fun and endearing venture into the world of the whimsical and enchantment! Come and play with me!

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Ruby has a new soft and cuddly quilt just her size, and some very special little china dolls to snuggle up with.

Little Davie: A New Brother

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Davie likes his wooden bowling set that is just his size!

In July, when I was three years old, my father picked me up from the neighbors’ house where I had spent the night, and took me on an outing to the nearby hospital. He left me for a little bit at the big red curly slide outside, then took me inside to get a look at my new baby brother through the wide glass viewing window of the nursery. The baby’s face, which was all I could see that wasn’t bound up in a white blanket, was red and wrinkledy. When asked what I thought of him I said, “He’s funny,” and asked if I could play on the slide some more.

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Big sister Jennie can help nine-month-old Davie learn to walk. San Diego, 1964

As David grew, he became more interesting as a playmate, and definitely more ornery as the years went by. Now, he is one of my best friends and advocates. I value him immensely as my only sibling.

Jennie & David Sled 1665 cropped

Winter 1966, Oklahoma City

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The Martha Chase dolls for sale at the Portland Doll Show, February 2015

So, when I spotted this Martha Chase boy in the green velvet suit, I couldn’t resist bringing him home as a new brother for Miss Ruby, my reproduction Izannah Walker girl. His white-blonde hair and bright blue eyes reminded me so much of my little brother, he is perfect as Ruby’s brother!

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Davie’s smile seems bigger now that he is home to play with his sister.

I don’t know much about Martha Chase dolls yet. Here is what I found out: Similar to Izannah Walker, Martha Chase, who was a doctor’s wife, didn’t care for the idea of children being given mechanical creations and fragile bisque dolls as playthings. She thought that the use of “technology” in mechanical playthings overwhelmed the child’s own inventiveness in play. She also thought that the fashion dolls popular around the turn of the twentieth century were likely to teach children to be materialistic. This idea of creating a less materialistic, “pop culture” toy, in favor of one that is made of soft natural fibers was continued in the early childhood philosophies of Maria Montessori in her schools, and by Rudolf Steiner in Waldorf Education.

Mrs. Chase used her sewing skills, beginning in 1899 in Pawtucket Rhode Island, to create lightweight, more life-like and child-like dolls of stockinet stuffed with cotton (which is lighter than sawdust, a popular doll filler in the 19th century). By 1913, she and the workers in her cottage industry were making dolls in six sizes from 12″ to 30″, and the dolls were selling in department stores such as Macy’s and Wanamaker’s.  Mrs. Chase died in 1925, though her company continued to produce dolls into the 1970’s.

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Davie in the buff, just like the time he (my brother, I mean) escaped from mommy after his bath, and ran outside to play!!

I don’t know enough about the Martha Chase dolls to know in what era my Davie doll was made. It seems that his type of blonde boy with blue eyes was common. He measures just short of 18″ with an old cloth torso topped by a sized or gessoed and painted shoulder-head, and he has adorable applied little ears. His left foot has a little stitched-on sole, and his right foot seems to have been re-finished. He has patches on various locations of his body. I could not locate a signature anywhere on him. The outfit he came in is not original. If any of you, dear readers, can tell me more about him, I would be grateful! (I know that you can, Paula! 😉 )

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Notice the difference in construction of Ruby’s slender little girl hand and Davie’s chubby baby hand.

Though Ruby is a reproduction Izannah Walker doll, she is made true to the original ones by Paula Walton. I find the contrast in styling for hands and feet between these two dolls to be intriguing–little girl versus baby, like the difference in china doll heads styled to be ladies or to be children–the face, neck, and hands are so proportionally different for the different ages represented.

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What mischief will these two get into together?–or perhaps Ruby is grown-up enough to be a good girl influence on her little brother.

How the evening has flown! I hear Ruby offering to read a story to Davie to help him relax into sleep to be ready for Independence Day festivities on the morrow.

Jonathan, David, Alex with Pony Fort Summer 1993 (2)

Happy Birthday David, Bro!

Post Script:  When is a computer like a puppy? When it is new, and you have to teach it everything! Okay, maybe I will grow to like my new Windows 8 technology, but at the moment, true to Martha Chase’s prediction, it is interfering with my own inventiveness! Among other technical difficulties, I have not yet succeeded in getting my old and still quite useful and working printer to interface with Windows 8. I want to scan my old photos! I want to play my DVD’s! Can you teach a new dog old tricks? This remains to be seen.

Happy Independence Day!