Category Archives: Family History

Seasonal Changes: Advent’s Coming!

Life and all that jazz have been happening at a full stop here this past month: My husband, whose immune system is weakened by chemotherapy at the moment, caught the flu at work, and was down for nearly 2 weeks; though I managed to avoid it a week, it finally caught up with me and within a few days had dropped into my lungs (it’s not Covid-19 – I already know what that feels like!). So this month, I’ve been out of action except for coughing and sleepless nights. Ergo, no blogging. I haven’t had enough brainpower to think about any topic for more than a few minutes. I’m now on the mend, with a vaccination cure for bronchitis on the go. Now that I slowly have more energy returning, I’ve come out of that “zone” – that tunnel vision that focuses only on the most elemental priorities, like health – and realized that October is nearly over. Advent is on the way! [I know that, for Americans at least, Thanksgiving is in focus before Advent, though we don’t have that as a traditional festive day here.]

The last few days have been Indian summer here, so we’ve been getting ready for winter and seasonal changes. I’m taking advantage of the sunny balcony to spray paint crafts. I’m starting to think about advent calendars, stocking stuffers, and Samichlaussäckli. I’ve gone through my crafts inventory for the annual Christmas market, where I sell things, and I’ve planned the annual baking day with a friend to make things for our families as well as for selling at the market.

I’ve talked about how minimalistic most Swiss households are decorated, so I won’t have much preparation where that’s concerned. But one thing I do begin to prepare now is the advent calendar. Our advent calendar the past few years has been a decorative ribbon strung along a wall, with small Christmas stockings hung with numbered wooden clothes pegs. I’ve made the stockings (pictured below), and they can double as silverware holders on a decorative table at Christmas – that’s assuming we can have guests around that time, Covid notwithstanding. I’ve also made matching wine slip-coasters (shown) and matching wine charms to go with each glass’s stocking.

It’s getting harder to find good advent gifts; we have everything we need. Larger gifts go under the tree or in a larger stocking, but what are small gifts – about the size of a lip balm? Somehow, every year, I manage to find 12 each that are practical or fun: mini toiletry items, erasers, pens, fun magnets or post-its, small liqueurs for my husband (though this year, that’s a no-go due to chemo), rings or earrings, sampler perfumes or aftershaves and, of course, one individually-wrapped chocolate in each (something like Ferrero Rocher or Raffaello– something that won’t leak, like Mon Cheri).

In the midst of all that, as my energy returns, I’ve been sculpting the ending of my current manuscript (science fiction). That takes a level of mental focus that has been fleeting this month, so I try to catch it when I can and have the grace with my health situation not to stress when I can’t. When I can’t write, I at least have the energy to do something crafty.

While writing this, my curiosity has been building, so now come the questions to you!

Do you have an Advent calendar? If so, what’s it like? Do you have gifts, or simply opening doors with an image hiding behind them? If you have one with gifts, did you make it yourself or buy a store-bought themed calendar? Did you grow up with a culture of Advent calendars where you live/lived as a child? I did not, so I’ve thoroughly embraced the Swiss tradition, adding my own twist of stockings (which are not common here, though the idea is catching on slowly).

I’d love to read your answers in the comments below!

Happy preparation for the coming seasons!

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History Undusted: The Personal History of a Household Apron

Aprons have probably been around since the dawn of clothing; up until the Industrial Revolution, most people only had the clothes on their backs, or at most one additional change of clothing – in which case they were considered either very well off or thieves; a large number of the thefts reported in the 17th and 18th centuries had to do with clothing articles; the clothes made the man or woman, and if they could upgrade their wardrobe through “five-finger discounting,” they might have a better chance at finding a good job with better wages.  The style of aprons has changed through the years, and while sometimes their function was little more than a fashion statement, such as in the painting below, their main purpose has never become obsolete:  To carry out every imaginable chore in and around the home.

Dancing Girl, Levitsky Dmitry, 1735-1822

My paternal grandparents, the Herrings, were Kansas pioneer farmers; my grandmother (Mary Mae) headed west from Indiana in a covered wagon with her parents (James Allen and Carrie Christine Higbee nee Aaroe) as a baby; she grew up on the prairies of Kansas, met my grandfather, and the rest is history.

Nis and Maren Kirstine Aaroe-Aagaard, immigrants from Vonsild, Nørre Tyrstrup, Vejle, Denmark, who settled in Kansas; taken ca 1890. My great-great grandmother is in her daily apron at the spinning wheel.

Most of my childhood memories are of my paternal grandparents’ farm; we spent many weekends there helping out, and I spent a week or two every summer with them.  My grandmother was always in an apron, except for Sunday mornings and special events – and those are the times when photographs were taken, so unfortunately I don’t have a photo of her in an apron.  But I have something much better:  A hand-sewn quilt, made lovingly by her from around 1920 to the late 1970s.  The materials used for that quilt are her old aprons, Sunday dress scraps and other spare cloths; I remember seeing her in several of them.

Apron Quilt, Grandma Herring, sewn between 1920s and late 1970s
Apron – 1950s Vintage Fashionable Aprons

Being a farmer’s wife, my grandmother’s aprons weren’t as fancy as these vintage patterns shown above; they were plain, simple and hand-made; they did what they were needed for, and no more, no less.  But as simple as they might have been, those aprons were worth their weight in gold on a farm:  They protected her scanty wardrobe – she didn’t need much, didn’t want much, and was satisfied to take care of what she’d been blessed with.  Those aprons carried baby chicks, kittens, flowers, herbs, chicken eggs, apples, firewood and wood chips, baby birds fallen from nests in a wind storm, and the occasional sugar cube for the horses.  They wiped away tears, cleaned dirty faces, dusted furniture if guests were walking up the path, took delicious things from the oven, cold things from the freezer, and helped open canning jars.  They shaded a cold pie on her lap in the old Chevy truck while we bounced across the fields to bring my grandfather a picnic for lunch break in the summer heat (she could have used an old quilt for the pie, but that was often used to cradle a large mason jar full of ice cold water, the best thirst-quencher I know). Those aprons helped gather grains, and stones to move either from the garden or to the flower bed.  They carried chicken feed and broken eggs shells to feed the chickens to make their eggs stronger; they held potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, sweet peas, strawberries and squash.  They were the perfect cradle for a garden watermelon, rolling it into the refrigerator to get it nice and cold on a hot day. They warmed her hands on a cold day as she dug for the last of the potatoes before winter’s freeze, and hid her dirty hands when guests arrived unannounced.  They polished cutlery, fanned her face to cool her down on a sweltering hot day, and were the perfect place to hide for shy children.  One never knew what that apron would do next.

Little could my paternal grandmother have guessed that the quilt she made from so many scraps of memories would eventually accompany her granddaughter back over the ocean her mother had traversed as a newborn baby from Denmark, and end up within 20 km from where my maternal ancestors have been traced: Zofingen, Aargau, Switzerland. I can’t imagine any other piece of cloth carrying so much history, authority, importance, practicality, humility, common sense and love.

Adapted from an article originally posted on History Undusted, 5 Oct. 2015

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