Tag Archives: nostalgia

The Mystery is Solved

23 Jul

I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.

There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.

For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.

Not what I was looking for.

I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.

For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.

Beyond that I was stumped.

I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.

I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.

Then I opened the second box.

I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.

The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.

DSC_0887

My heart began to race. Could it be?

I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.

Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.

Filled with books - from the sublime to the absurd.  But all worth the search.

Filled with books – from the sublime to the absurd. But all worth the search.

You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.

Nope.

I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.

And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.

And no, I was not disappointed.

Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.

I love it.

And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.

And be glad.

Tiny Doors of Mystery

4 Dec
A very old Advent calendar kept by my mom.  Isn't it wonderful?  There are angels...and also Santa inside, sitting at his desk, checking his list.  So fun!

A very old Advent calendar kept by my mom. Isn’t it wonderful? There are angels…and also Santa inside, sitting at his desk, checking his list. So fun!

“Guess what?” I said to Boo, age 5, in an attempt to distract her grumpy self from the fact that she HAD to finish her toast, brush her teeth, and get dressed because the daddy-school bus would be leaving in 7 minutes.

“What?” she asked, frowning as she struggled into her shirt.

“Saturday is the first day of Advent!” I said, mustering all the excitement I could into my tone as I shoved her legs into her pants.

Boo's Advent calendar from school.  Each day she gets to color in a "button".  It's awesome.

Boo’s Advent calendar from school. Each day she gets to color in a “button”. It’s awesome.

“What’s ‘Advent’?” she asked, a little curious despite her mood.

“It means that something important is coming,” I explained as I forced her feet into her shoes. “In this case, Christmas!”

“Advent calendars!” Boo exalted, remembering.

“Yep! Now stand up, let’s do your hair.”

Boo dutifully stood, and I looked at her feet.

I had put her shoes on the wrong feet. I had. Not her. me.

“Sit down,” I said, already ripping out the knots.

“I thought you were doing it wrong,” she said.

“Then why didn’t you say so?!” I asked a little crossly.

“I didn’t want to interrupt.”

As we somehow got her into the car along with her siblings, I wondered how on earth we’d be able to fit Advent calendar time into our morning routine. I mean, I might have to wake up a few minutes earlier in the mornings. Heaven forbid.

My Nativity drawing, circa 1975.  How fun is this?!

My Nativity drawing, circa 1975. How fun is this?!

But, the truth is, we love Advent calendars. Though, to be sure, our main one is rather non-traditional. A few years back I bought a felt banner of the Nativity scene – not just a picture, but rather many individual felt characters – wisemen, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus et al – and we began using that as our Advent calendar. I separated them out into little numbered bags, and each day they add to the scene, counting down to the day when the last image of all – Jesus – is placed into his manger.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, we have to keep careful track of who placed Jesus from year to year, otherwise it becomes a fight. Over baby Jesus. Not good.

Little by little, day by day, we count down to Christmas as we add to the picture.

Little by little, day by day, we count down to Christmas as we add to the picture.

This is what it looks like when it's finished!

This is what it looks like when it’s finished!

We love this “calendar” of ours…but we love the more conventional calendars with their tiny doors of mystery as well. I think it appeals to the love of all things miniature that is alive and well within me. Just as I loved my doll house as a child, I love the little numbered doors of the Advent calendars, the wee little pictures of jolly Christmas things hidden behind each opening.

Several years ago my kids made their own Advent calendars and I kept them – now rather ragged –because I couldn’t bear to part with them. My son actually spent quite a bit of his saved-up allowance money last year to buy a Lego Advent Calendar. It was pretty cool, though kind of humorous, too. As I said to him, “What says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than Darth Maul?”

My kid's homemade Advent calendars from several years ago...not very fancy, but they had fun!

My kid’s homemade Advent calendars from several years ago…not very fancy, but they had fun!

Last year we spent Christmas out in Washington State with my family. As we were unpacking parts of my sister’s German LGB train that runs around her Christmas tree, my mouth dropped open in surprise at something I found in the bottom of the box.

The box had come from our parent’s house and there, wrapped in tissue, was a picture I had drawn probably more than 35 years ago, and, along with it, two advent calendars that had been mine when I was a child.

Yes, I come by this love of Advent calendars honestly.

One of the old Advent calendars kept by my mom.

One of the old Advent calendars kept by my mom.

Today my aunt sent us an Advent calendar app for my computer. And, while it won’t ever be found, years from now, at the bottom of a box, it continues the tradition that my family loves: counting down the days to the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Thanks, Aunt Sandy! And Happy Counting to you all!

A couple "real" Advent calendars that I've kept over the years.

A couple “real” Advent calendars that I’ve kept over the years.

Wa Hoo! They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

5 Nov

I have a confession to make (it’s been awhile since I’ve confessed anything on here, so it’s about time): My e-mail inbox has 4042 messages in it.

Now all of you efficient/non-procrastinating/tidy people can pick yourselves up off the floor (or pat yourselves on the back) and know that I wish I was you.

It is possible that, were my inbox emptied on a regular basis, I’d have noticed the lovely e-mail hidden in all the clutter much sooner. As it was, upon checking my blog on Saturday morning, I noticed something rather extraordinary: I’d had over 50 views already that morning and it was only 9:00.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “How can this be?”

I “refreshed” the page again. Just to make sure.

“Yes! It’s true! And I have a bunch of “likes”, too! What’s going on?” I said not a word – barley even acknowledged the thought – as I clicked over to WordPress’ homepage.

“Could it be? Really?”

YES! IT IS!

I shouted to my husband, sitting not two yards away, “I’m FRESHLY PRESSED!”

His blank look did nothing to deter my happiness.

“That means that I‘m featured on WordPress’ homepage! It means they like me! They really like me!” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.)

(By the way, I’m on page two now, if you want to joy of seeing my photo and link in person.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH and WELCOME to my new readers. I am so glad to have you along on the journey! I am still working on visiting all of your pages so thanks for being patient!

I also have to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who’ve been along for awhile, too! I love getting to know you all.

Here’s a fun stat: WordPress chooses TEN new blog posts a day to add to their homepage. This is out of 31.7 million new posts a month. Here’s the link to prove that. And here’s another useful link: So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.

But here’s the truth of the matter: This post was not my best-written post, not my funniest or most emotional or most educational, interesting or sentimental. It’s just that it happened to get noticed. They do say that a catchy title is hugely important so I guess I had that going, at least. (Note, however: my previous post had the same title…and it didn’t get chosen! So titles aren’t everything…it’s a group effort!) Interesting photos are good, too. They also say that having links included in the post is good as it emphasizes the fact that blogging isn’t all about you, the blogger, it’s about world-wide connections.

I find this to be both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because ANYONE can be Freshly Pressed. It doesn’t take a perfect writer or an impeccable blog. Discouraging because hard work on a fabulous post does not necessarily equal “success” – if being Freshly Pressed is a measure of success. I think that the encouraging trumps the discouraging in this scenario.

I know that I have found with my other blog – the one that is through my local newspaper – that they are more apt to print (in their physical paper) timely/seasonal/human interest posts. I know I have seen that play out on the Freshly Pressed list, too, which is another thing to remember if striving after such a thing. For the Love of Vinyl wasn’t any of that, however! They liked it because it was nostalgic.

And, in this day of hurricanes and political stress and terrorism, people like to be reminded of simpler times. So, if you have a turn table, “go, put your records on….” You’ll be glad you did.

PS – my inbox now has 4050 messages. Time to get to work.

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!

A Ten-Year Old’s Epiphany

30 Aug

If I had access to my Dad's pictures more easily, I could have a real picture of his helicopter, but this will have to do! At least you get the idea.

In all the years that my father flew either airplanes or helicopters, I only flew with him as pilot once. He was flying a medi-vac helicopter at the time, and I went with him when he had to re-fuel. It’s the only time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was amazing. I felt like I was in a Vietnam War movie as we took off from the hospital’s helipad. I began to hum the theme music to M.A.S.H. – even though it’s neither Vietnam, nor a movie – and gazed, transfixed, at the city dropping around me.

A Pan Am plane that I never flew on with my Dad! Circa 1985...so at least the era is correct, though he was in 727's at the time...


I don’t know why that’s the only time I flew with Dad. It seems kind of silly now, that in his Pan Am years I never did. Somehow it just never worked out. For 14 years of my growing-up life, his job was located 8 hours away from home, which made accompanying him rather difficult…not to mention the fact that the Air Force tends to frown on pilot’s taking their kids out on rescue missions. We would see him, occasionally though, flying over our house. He’d let Mom know if they were flying to Alaska for training exercises, and the approximate time of their passing overhead, and we’d hang around all day, just waiting for the magic hour when he’d fly over.

It's a Huey...my appologies if it's not exactly the correct one!


You could hear them coming before you saw them, the great-big Hueys with their green paint jobs, their flight-patterns taking them straight over our cliff on the north of Orcas Island. We’d run out to the deck and wave like mad, unable to talk over the noise, our hearts beating in time to the whump of the engines. And then, so quickly, they’d be gone – heading over Matia and Sucia islands, over tiny Puffin, over Vancouver, B.C. – and we were left with our ears ringing, our hearts slowing, the blessing of his wave from the window still reflected in our shining eyes.

I hear it...and I come running!


And that’s why, here in farmland, I love the crop-dusters. I’ll be washing dishes, or folding laundry, and I’ll hear them coming. At first – every time, without fail – I think it’s a maniacal driver on our dirt road, going about 100, and then, when it’s almost too late, I realize what it is and I yell for the kids to come, making a dash for the door as I do so.

Out on the deck we laugh and wave and delight in the noise, the proximity, the sheer overwhelming power. Inevitably, at some point, I run for the camera, though I’ve never been able to get a shot of it directly over my head. The good thing is, I usually have several tries, as the planes come back and forth, back and forth in their job of spraying the corn, the soybeans, the bugs that threaten the crops.

Not all of my friends understand the joy I find in the yellow crop duster, though a few of them understand a little. My husband, bless his heart, gets it, and he runs to the deck with us, shading his eyes against the sun as he admires the dangerous flying. Nevermind the possible philosophical issues with chemicals vs. organic farming, to me these planes are my youth – my wonderful childhood of tidepools and forts and parents who loved me – all rolled up in that airplane sound – fixed wing or not – flying over my house, over the years. The pilot has no idea, I’m sure, why this crazy family comes running to wave. Maybe he doesn’t even see us, focused as he is on the field before him. And then he’s gone, only to return, time and again, rising like the sun on the horizon, like a ship on a sea of grain.

Again, not the actual plane I flew in, but still a cool shot!


My dad had a friend who owned a bi-plane and he came up to Orcas Island one time and gave us rides. I remember putting on the goggles and climbing in behind my sister. I remember my hair flying behind me, the feel of the wind against my cheeks. I remember seeing the town I knew so well unrolling beneath me, the beaches and boulders I had conquered, now tiny and toy-like below. I’m the king of the mountain!

And then we were flying over our house, our trees, our garden. “This is what Dad sees!” I thought. “This is his view. This is his world.” And for a moment, for a brief instant in my ten-year old, self-centered heart, I understood.

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