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My LGB Train of Happiness

24 Dec

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What is it about toy trains that triggers our smiling muscles? Is it their disarming little chug, chug, chug as they circle around the track beneath the Christmas tree? Or is it their tiny whistle (or not so tiny in some cases) that echoes the steam engines of the past? Or is it just that humans like anything in miniature?

I lived in West Berlin, Germany, for my last two years of high school and I came home from school one day to discover that my dad had bought a wonderful “Lehmann Gross Bahn” toy train! The “Lehmann Large Train” is the largest gauge toy train that I’ve ever seen, though admittedly I am no expert on such things. During their four years in Germany, Dad added to the train each year until he had six cars and many other add-ons such as a Gandy Dancer, gates that rise and fall when the train approaches and passes by, street lights, a signal bridge, people, trees, and even a typical notice pillar (which I can’t remember the German name of) – a common sight around Berlin which lends a small-town atmosphere to the sprawling city.
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In the 25 years since I graduated and moved back to the states, the train stayed with my parents for a few years and with my sister (who had young boys) for quite a few more. But now it has come home to me! In three large “Max Marotzke” boxes (and one smaller one holding nothing but track), the train arrived. Max Marotzke was the name of the moving company that moved Mom and Dad from Berlin to Connecticut…well, Pan Am shipped them – in their own sweet time – but that’s another story!

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My sister sent the first box way back in March and my kids very much enjoyed discovering all the hidden treasures beneath all those Styrofoam peanuts! Then, this past summer, when we were out in Washington, my husband packed the rest of the train stuff and the day after we arrived home the US postal service delivered it to our door.

Now, finally, after all that waiting, the boxes are open and we’re setting up the train! It is easy enough to put together the track and set the train on top of it – even I can do that – but woe betide my children if they didn’t have their dad to make it go, light up the lights and make the engine steam. I am no engineer, but he, thankfully, is. For real. (Yet another reason this English major married a mechanically-minded man.)

The train station needs a little model glue...

The train station needs a little model glue…

And so, thanks to my husband, my father, my sister, and Max Marotzke, the train circles our tree as well as the entire living room here in Southwest Minnesota – thousands of miles and 25 years after it first circled our tree in West Berlin.

(Talk about the passage of time and miles – what about the passage of political tyrannies? I returned to a united Berlin a few years ago – what a joy it was to see the unified city as it was meant to be!)

Yes, there are many reasons that this toy train makes me smile. But the best reason of all is the newest reason – my three kids, engrossed by the circling engine as it chugs into their lives as it once chug, chug, chugged into mine.

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Rudolf the Smooth-Nosed Reindeer

11 Dec
Our tree in all its glory.

Our tree in all its glory.

A few of my favorites.  The bird was my grandmother's, I believe.  I made the polka-dotted ball a few years ago...

A few of my favorites. The bird was my grandmother’s, I believe. I made the polka-dotted ball a few years ago…

My grandmother's Lifesaver clown.  I'm guessing the candy is...oh...about 35 years old!

My grandmother’s Lifesaver clown. I’m guessing the candy is…oh…about 35 years old!

I love unpacking our Christmas things. I don’t even mind the mess, when, for a few days, boxes and storage tubs fill the living room and I can’t get the tree sap off of my elbow. I love unwrapping the tissue from each special ornament – and, truly, each one is precious to me. The ones I’ve had since childhood, the ones my grandmother or mother or sisters made, the ones my children created, the ones that carry memories of places and people – some who are no longer with us – that speak to me of family and friends and love…

The tree was a Grandma creation - the fabulous gingerbread man was made by my niece, years ago.  My five year old daughter said, "This is kind of a weird ornament." I said, "I love it.  Hang it up."

The tree was a Grandma creation – the fabulous gingerbread man was made by my niece, years ago. My five year old daughter said, “This is kind of a weird ornament.” I said, “I love it. Hang it up.”

Okay, enough schmaltz. But, really, I do love them. I just am not usually so gushy about it. I’ve told my husband – more than once – that if we ever have a fire, getting out the Christmas boxes is his number one priority. After the kids, that is. And my computer. And my Cutco knives.

Boo made the white "bell" this year.  She was attempting to make a snowflake and then decided that it was actually a bell.

Boo made the white “bell” this year. She was attempting to make a snowflake and then decided that it was actually a bell.

I love taking every day things and making them ornaments...like this antique cookie cutter!

I love taking every day things and making them ornaments…like this antique cookie cutter!

My son has picked up my tendency to use non-ornaments as ornaments.  Though, to be sure, I wasn't aware that the Death Star from Star Wars was very Christmasy...still, it's quite marvelous!

My son has picked up my tendency to use non-ornaments as ornaments. Though, to be sure, I wasn’t aware that the Death Star from Star Wars was very Christmasy…still, it’s quite marvelous!

Well, the knives can be replaced. But not so the Christmas decorations. There are some which should be replaced, probably. Like the Rudolf which came as a gift tie-on when I was a kid from one of those cheese-sausage-and-petit-four companies. I loved that Rudolf. I played with him so long that his fuzzy, sprayed-on red nose rubbed off and even my kids think he’s hideous but I won’t ditch him. “Mom, why don’t you throw him away?”

“Because he’s part of my history!” I replied, shocked, as I held him gently the other day. And then I put him back in the box rather than in the “to be put on the tree” pile.

Okay, now do you see why he's not on the tree?

Okay, now do you see why he’s not on the tree?

“Aren’t you going to hang him up?” the kids asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I’ve seen him. That’s enough.” They shook their heads at the unexplainable ways of their mother. I smiled to myself as I remembered making Rudolf run across piano keys and the branches of the 15 foot Christmas trees my dad would cut down from up the mountain behind our house. Those trees – so tall that they had to be tied to the beams across our cathedral ceilings – were part of my childhood too. Tossing Rudolf would be like tossing the memories. And, really, how much room does one four-inch Rudolf take up in the box? Please don’t answer that question.

This is Oscar.  I've had him since I was wee.  I've had to replace his shell a few times...

This is Oscar. I’ve had him since I was wee. I’ve had to replace his shell a few times…

My husband's aunt recently gave us this - it was his grandmothers.  A lovely reminder of a lovely woman.

My husband’s aunt recently gave us this – it was his grandmothers. A lovely reminder of a lovely woman.

So many of our ornaments were made by loved-ones. My grandmother would make us all a felt, sequined ornament each year. As she aged, they became increasingly less fancy and also increasingly…odd…but that was okay. I love the tassel octopus just as much as the others. Though, admittedly, if I’m hanging the ornaments it will possibly be placed strategically at the back of the tree. The back needs covering, too!

Two of my grandmother's creations, made in her prime.

Two of my grandmother’s creations, made in her prime.

The stocking was made by my aunt years ago.  I made ones for my family to match.  The marvelous snowman is one of my favorites made by my mother.

The stocking was made by my aunt years ago. The marvelous snowman is one of my favorites made by my mother.

My kids, of course, have been notorious for hanging ornaments on one branch. I think I counted 13 on one tiny twig one year. The older two don’t really do that anymore, but Boo, at age five, still does a little bit. I love it, though. But, yes, I admit that I tend to spread the love a bit after they go to bed. 13 is just a few too many for two inches of twig to handle. But I’m not nuts about moving their stuff. I want it to be their tree…not some magazine-perfect, untouchable thing.

A couple of my newer Swedish finds.  I love these, too!

A couple of my newer Swedish finds. I love these, too!

I always thought our tree was beautiful. Then I looked back at photos from previous years and suddenly it occurred to me that, possibly, it wasn’t as gorgeous as I thought it was. But who cares? I love it as it is and that’s what matters, yes?

The snowflake my middle sister made, the heart our oldest sister made.  The blue ball is my son's work of art, the girl on the swing is from Okinawa in the 60's and the wonderful candycane rocking horse was another of my grandmother's amazing creations.

The snowflake my middle sister made, the heart our oldest sister made. The blue ball is my son’s work of art, the girl on the swing is from Okinawa in the 60’s and the wonderful candycane rocking horse was another of my grandmother’s amazing creations.

More of my sister's handiwork.

More of my sister’s handiwork.

My oldest sister's work again.  Oh, to have her sewing machine!

My oldest sister’s work again. Oh, to have her sewing machine!

And my kids love it, too. All three of them. They corrected me several times when I mistakenly identified certain ornaments as belonging to so-and-so but really they belong to someone else entirely. They know. And someday, when they head off to homes of their own, they’ll have a stash of their very own ornaments to decorate their trees with and I’ll be stuck with the tassel octopus.

Oh, and Rudolf of the rubbed-off nose.

This was from 2009 - looks pretty much the same!

This was from 2009 – looks pretty much the same from year to year, only with a few new ornaments hanging from its evergreen branches.

The obligatory night shot.

The obligatory night shot.

For the Love of Vinyl: Part Two

1 Nov

I’ve been spending time listening to my records, as I discussed in Tuesday’s post. It’s so nostalgic, hearing the imperfect playback. Not exactly relaxing, however, not when listening to 45’s that only last for about three minutes.

I had a few old 45’s that were my dad’s. That’s how I learned “Unchained Melody” sung by Les Baxter and accompanied by his orchestra, on a purple, “Capitol Records” label. My sister and I would sing it dramatically to each other, her from her loft in the bedroom we shared, and I on the swing that hung from the rafters in the center of our room. I wish I had a picture of that room; it was so cool.  (By the way, this version I’ve linked is the exact version I have! If you shut your eyes while you listen to it, you can imagine it’s on vinyl. :-))

We even had a National Geographic record. Remember those? They’d be inserted in the magazine and you could tear them out – they were floppy – and then you could listen to real “Sounds of the Space Age”.  Highly educational. I didn’t listen to that one too often.

We found this 45 of The Hobbit a few years ago at a flea market. Had to get it even though we still have the 33 1/3. It’s a perfect example of those Read Aloud records. And how about that National Geographic record? It’s slightly bent and I couldn’t get it to play correctly at all when I tried today!

On Tuesday I mentioned that my kids love to listen to The Rescuers and The Hobbit. Those were my first-ever 33 1/3’s. The Hobbit is “The Complete Original Soundtrack including dialogue, music and songs” from the Rankin/Bass movie production in 1977. And, of course, it has the “special edition book” with it. My husband is phenomenal at knowing lines from movies, but he can’t hold a candle to my ability to quote The Hobbit. (By the way, I have already written “Go see The Hobbit” on December 14th on my calendar. Can’t wait.)

As for The Rescuers, it’s also from 1977, and actually was the first movie I saw in a theater. My sister gave me the “Songs and Dialogue” album for Christmas that year and I loved it. My dad, sadly, did not realize how much I loved it and he got rid of it in one of their cross-the-country-or-world-moves and I was so sad, nevermind that I was in college by then. I told my husband that story years ago and he, bless his heart, went onto E-Bay and bought me the exact same album. How great is he? So, even though it’s not my original album, my kids – and I –can still enjoy it.

A small piece of my childhood.

Occasionally I’d raid Mom and Dad’s 33 1/3 collection of records, but not too often, because all they had was classical. Oh, but he had Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, “Whipped Cream and Other Delights”. Oy, vey, that album cover!

I was a wee bit shocked when I found this in my parent’s record collection, many, many moons ago. Turns out, it was quite the phenomenon!

But my favorite records of my parents’ were The Smothers Brothers. “Curb you tongue, knave!”, “The Two Sides of the Smothers Brothers”, “think ethnic!”, and “…at the Purple Onion” – these are still the stars of my record collection. There weren’t a lot of times I saw my mom wiping her eyes from laughter, but listening to the Smothers Brothers would make her do that. “The Streets of Laredo”, “Chocolate” and “Black is the Colour (of my Love’s True Hair)” – those were probably our favorite cuts from the albums. They were part of our family vocabulary. And – I love this story – it is partly due to The Smothers Brothers that I decided my husband would be a worthy candidate to be my husband. Never, in all my life, had I met anyone who knew who I was talking about if the topic of the Smothers Brothers came up. Then along he came and he knew. It was meant to be.

These are so awesome!

A few years back I found a duplicate album of theirs and bought it because I was into making bowls out of records – you melt them in the oven and have a cute bowl! (Take a look at how to do it! It’s easy!) I thought it would be extra-fun to have a Smothers Brothers bowl to hold candy AND memories. My husband wouldn’t let me melt it. “It’s the Smothers Brothers! That would be sacrilege!” So we have two of that album. Two, nice and flat records.

I made my bowl from an old Amy Grant album. He didn’t care about that one so much.

A little piece of my teen years: made more useful, according to The Sailboat King. It would be perfect in a Rumpus Room. If only I had a Rumpus Room…

I heard the other day that someone was releasing their brand new album on compact disc AND on vinyl. I love that. There’s nothing like having a record on in the background to sooth your soul.

Here’s a sample of The Smothers Brothers from long ago.  Enjoy!

For the Love of Vinyl: Part One

30 Oct

JUST WANT TO SAY, TO ALL OF YOU IN THE PATH OF HURRICAINE SANDY, THAT YOU’RE IN OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS TODAY AS YOU DIG OUT FROM THIS. BE SAFE. BE CAREFUL. BE WISE. BE BLESSED.

When I was small I had one of those little record players that fit 45’s. The kind that, if you put a 33 1/3 on it, then it stuck way off the side. The kind that, if your 45 had a big 50-cent-piece hole in the middle, you had to insert a little disc into the hole that made the big hole into a hole small enough to fit on the spindle. That’s what I’m talking about.

I loved that record player. I would sit for hours in my room, playing with Lego or my dollhouse or Barbies, listening to those records. I had at least a dozen “Read Along” 45’s, complete with their accompanying books. “You will know it is time to turn the page when Tinkerbell rings her little bell, like this: ting-a-ling.” Those were awesome.

I also had some older 45’s that had been my sisters’. These were mostly songs but also a few stories: “Scarlet Ribbons” (the Harry Belafonte version, different from my 45, but you get the idea), “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (yes, that’s spelled correctly!), “Waltzing Matilda” (not the version I have on my 45, but a fun one just the same) by the Cricketone Children’s Chorus and Orchestra (as were many of my records), “Little Toot”, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by Victor Jory (this excerpt is similar.  There is a link to it from this NPR story.), “Pancho the Circus Donkey”, “Tutu, the Littlest Ballerina”, just to name just a few. I still can hear the last line of the Little Tutu record in my head, “Her name is little Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu…” Remember that fun quirk of records? I’m sure it wasn’t my fault that it was scratched. I’m sure I inherited it that way. I honestly am not sure if there’s more to that song or not, I always just took it off then.

One of the 45’s contained the song, “When I Grow Up”. Not until my kids were born and I put it on for them one day did I realize how…shall we say…unbelievable the song is. Very indicative of the age it was made, circa the 1950’s. Allow me to quote it for you in its entirety: The singer, a woman, sings, “When I grow up I’m going to be a fireman and put out all the fires in the town. When I grow up I’m going to be a fireman and keep those buildings from burning down. When I grow up I’m going to be a mailman and deliver all the mail to my friends. When I grow up I’m going to be a mailman, a mailman does a service that never ends. I want to be so many things as quickly as I can but woe is me it’s plain to see it just can’t be ‘cause I’m not a man. When I grow up I’m going to be a mother and try to be a mother just like mine. I’ll have a son just like my baby brother and he can be a fireman, he can be a mailman and that will be just fine.”

Yes. Those are the lyrics. I listened to it three times just now. No, my kids aren’t home to be unduly influenced. When I did put it on for them a few years back, not remembering anything much about it, I said when the song ended, “BUT WE KNOW THAT’S NOT TRUE, DON’T WE? YOU CAN BE THOSE THINGS IF YOU WANT!” They looked at me like I was nuts. “Umm, yeah, Mom. Whatever you say.” I guess I’m proof that the song didn’t ruin me. After all, I went to seminary to be a pastor, which is about the last bastian of male-only dominance out there. (Yes, I got one hate-mail letter while I was there.) But still the thinking behind the song flabbergasts me as a child of the 70’s.

See the lovely insert in the center of “When I Grow Up”? I’m amazed it hasn’t been lost over the years. I’m not even sure what I’d search for it I needed a new one…”That thing that goes in the middle fo old 45’s”, I guess!

Today I still love to pull out my records, though I don’t have the little old 45 player anymore. My kids and I listen to my vinyl stash when we’re in the playroom. The Hobbit and The Rescuers are their favorites. Complete with the background scritches and scratches, the circular rhythm to the slightly-warped vinyl.

And yes, they know what I mean when I randomly sing, “Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu, Tutu….” But, I hasten to assure you, when my girls grow up they’re going to be firewomen if they want to. Or pastors. Just like their mom.

Thursday: Part 2…because I had too much to say for just one post.

PS: This is an amazing version of Peter and the Wolf, if you have time to watch it. It uses Prokofiev’s music that I listened to as a child on my old 45, but not the original storytelling, in fact, there are no words, just the music and sounds. While I loved (and still do) the old version, this is wonderful! Part 1 and Part 2Here’s a tiny taste if this is all you have time for.

Eggsactly What I Wanted!

6 Apr

I love eggs. No, not eating them – I mean, eating them is fine, so long as they’re not fried. Cannot abide them fried – but, rather, what I love is just the egg itself…the oval, Humpty Dumptyesque shape. (Though if they’re so broken that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put them together again, they might not bring me quite the joy that their whole counterparts bring me.)

The whole collection!


When I was young my mom had a wooden egg within-an-egg-within-an-egg. Kinda like the Matryoshka dolls I love but in egg form. Perhaps this is the root of my love of Matrioshkas? (I posted about them here: http://afinedayforanepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/horror-show-aka-tanyas-most-forgettable-student/)

I loved that egg of Mom’s.

I also loved the few egg cups that she had. Now, I admit: the egg cup has become a forgotten item in the kitchen today. Perhaps this is due in part to the “raw eggs are evil” teaching we’ve received in recent years – and egg cups, let’s face it, are ideal for soft-boiled eggs…ie: evil eggs.

The yellow Lego egg cup - how could I resist?!! It's the only duplicate egg cup I have - as they came two to a package! The cup to the right of it is, I believe a toothpick holder, as is the one next to it. That one was my husband's when I met him.... The red polka dotted egg is in a cup from an antique store in Iowa. There are wonderful egg cups to be found in antique stores, as no one today really uses or makes them compared to long ago. And, usually, they're aren't too expensive.


There’s just something about the sweet little egg cup that I have adored for years. So, when I was in high school, I began to collect them. On a school trip to London we stopped for all of about 15 minutes at Harrod’s…and I found myself in the china department. Oy, vey! That was a lovely 15 minutes.

From there my collecting obsession grew. And, of course, like any collector, my friends and family discovered that I like egg cups and they now enable me in pursuing my fun.

My chicken egg cups - the white one I bought in Chinatown in Vancouver, B.C., in December. The middle one is from Vic's Corner in Millford, Iowa. They have a wonderful outdoor antique flea market on all 3 of the major summer holidays. The egg in that cup is a rythm shaker that I swiped from my kids years ago. They never noticed. The blue egg was from my oldest sister - I love that color of blue. The wee cup in the front holds my smallest matryoshka doll...because she just seemed to be begging to masquerade as an egg in honor of that wooden Matryoshka-esque one my mom had years ago.


I decided a few years ago that I needed get more serious about collecting actual eggs to go with my egg cups. Most of my eggs are just ones I’ve blown and dyed…a craft I actually make time for. But I have also begun to find wonderful eggs in surprising places…and my collection is slowly beginning to take shape. (Ovoid-shape…ha ha.)

One of the things I really enjoy about my collection is that I don’t limit myself. If something looks like it’s the right size to hold an egg…I’ll use it! So I have toothpick holders that have been repurposed, a plastic goblet of my daughter’s…yes, I asked permission…I think…and even a miniature coffee mug. I also, this year, began using a couple dried gourds in the place of eggs…so fun!

Bird’s nests are a related passion…and they come into my collection as well.

A nest I found a few years ago - can't remember what kind of bird - it was in a tree right beside our deck. The acorns just seemed perfect as ersatz eggs!

I have a picture of the entire collection, though I am not including close-ups of all of them. How could I skip over some of them? I don’t know. Now I’m all sad that I didn’t take more pictures because they’re all wonderful. Perhaps next year…

All in all, they are my favorite decorations for Easter.

Two Russian eggs - the red one my husband bought me (here in Minnesota) and the black one my mom bought for herself in Russia, but then gave to me when she learned of my obsession!


Though, to be sure, there is much more to Easter than eggs and adorable holders.

And that, my friends, is truly what Easter is all about. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15

Soli Deo Gloria

The four eggs in the bowl were from my mom...I think they're meant to be like Ukranian eggs...though they're paper mache. The tin egg inside the half egg in the background is the only antique tin egg I have - I'd love more but they're hard to find.

These funny egg guys go perfectly - I love them. The red cup is from an Iowa antique store and the egg in it is another shaky toy of my kid's. The two ducks in the background are from a junk store here in town...

Three eggs I made - none of them pefect, but they're fun. The first cup is one my mom gave me - it's so sweet! The second is, I think, my favorite. It's form an antique store in Red Wing, Minnesota, and the third is made by a local potter on Orcas Island, Washington. It was my mom's...emphasis on the was.

The first egg cup is from Harrods in London, circa 1986. It's the first egg cup I bought! The middle one is from the KaDeWe department store in Berlin last year, and the end one is made out of olive wood and is from Israel - my mom bought it for me there years ago. The egg in that cup is a cedar egg from a tacky tourist trap in North Platte, Nebraska. I love mixing and matching!

A blown brown egg in a plactic goblet of my daughter's! And a gourd in an egg cup that my best friend from college brought back from Africa for me a few years ago. Thanks, Rose!

The three eggs in the basket I bought in Berlin a year ago - the blue painted wooden one that is loose on the cabinet is from there, too. The polka dotted one I blew out last year - put stickers on it before I dyed it and then peeled them off. The egg cup that one is in is from Crate and Barrel. The blue stone egg in a wire nest is from Orcas Island and it rests on a piece of beach glass - a round bottom of a coke bottle - though you can't really see it in the photo.

A real bird's nest I found this spring while I was cleaning up from winter - it was waiting for me all winter long! The egg and bird are from a Swedish shop.

The two smaller bowls were from my oldest sister and the bigger bowl was a baby toy that I pilfered from my babies. The birdie and many of the eggs I bought in Germany. The other eggs are just cheap ones from a local department store...but mixed in with the others, they're adorable!

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