A simpler time.

Remember that time I accidentally visited a National Historic Site?

That day, the Joseph Schneider Haus had been closed, so I could only poke around the exterior of this living history museum.

Before Easter, I arranged for another visit to the restored 19th century Mennonite homestead, this time with the kids in tow.

We had the luck of being one of only a few families there, which meant no crowds (a sigh of relief from this introvert) and plenty of attention from the amazing costumed staff, who helped navigate, demonstrate and explain how life had been different in the region nearly two centuries ago.

We all loved it. We’re geeky that way.

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This visit really highlighted the fact that we’ve lost most of the basic skills that people needed to have mastered for survival and self-sufficiency up until the modern age. Most urban or suburban North Americans are helpless without electricity and wouldn’t know where to start to grow or hunt our own food.

(I barely kept our tomato plants alive last summer. Plus, I don’t usually kill insects – with the exception of mosquitoes – so I’d surely die of starvation if I somehow managed to survive the apocalypse).

Among the features at the Schneider house are a working culinary garden, a smoke- and bake-house, and a wood-stove kitchen where some of these skills and practices are kept alive as staff perform traditional household tasks with observation and participation from visitors.

If the Schneider family killed a goose to eat it, they used all of it – the feathers to stuff the pillows, the fat for moisturizing skin or soothing a sore throat, even the bones were made into toys for the children. In the pre-modern age, nothing went to waste. Now, we throw away everything with little regard for the consequences – out of sight, out of mind.

The kids loved exploring the house, which has been carefully researched and restored, with many original features still intact. On the way to the attic, we passed a little nook in the hallway as the sunlight streamed in through the warped glass of the window. A single wooden chair stood next to a table topped with a basket of needlework. I had to stop and make a picture.

I’m geeky that way.

Going retro.

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It’s not often that I wear a dress while I’m cooking. Nor an apron. (Actually, if I think about it, I’m rarely grinning while I’m cooking, either.)

Not the case, apparently, for the woman depicted in this vintage advertisement.

McClary’s Manufacturing was a London, Ontario-based leader in the production of stoves, coal furnaces, and kitchenware. It was founded in 1847 and merged with four other companies to become General Steel Wares in 1927.

A sign very similar in design to this one had been painted on the exterior of this building in Cambridge, Ontario sometime in the mid-20th century. (I’m unsure if – and for how long – goods were still produced under the McClary name after the merger).

The paint had nearly peeled away, lost to time, when the local Business Improvement Association headed a project to restore the sign in 2012, in an effort to add interest to the downtown core.

And interesting it is. When I look at it, I’m reminded both of how much has changed (the rapid advance of technology and how it impacts our everyday lives; the shift and evolution of gender roles), and of how little has changed (the people in ads are always suspiciously happy to be using the product in question).

I realize that there are people who genuinely look and feel happy when they’re using a stove. I’m just not one of them.

 

P.S.
I read about the McClary company and the restoration of the sign here, here, and here.

Child’s play.

I’ve been bagging on my little ones a bit, haven’t I? Don’t get me wrong – I like them. A lot. Even if they hoard leaves, spill glitter, and refuse to eat anything green. These are things kids do. Sometimes I need a good, clear reminder: if a mess is the most I have to worry about, life is good.

Here are some other things kids do. They laugh loudly and unselfconsciously. They fart and burp and giggle. They talk in funny voices. They cross their eyes. They wrestle. They beg to be tickled and when they’re out of breath from tickles, they beg for the tickling to stop. They do somersaults and cartwheels. They strike poses. They twirl in circles until they’re so dizzy they crash to the ground. They put on old Halloween costumes and dance to Justin Timberlake. They play.

I miss play.

Today we hit the playground in gratitude for the warm November day. We brought the wagon even though the kids are too big for the wagon. My oldest pulled my youngest all the way there. At the top of the hill leading down to the park, they both piled into the wagon and it looked like an overflowing laundry basket. I pulled them down the hill and nearly got bulldozed by the weight of my too-big kids rolling madly downhill in a plastic wagon.

I watched their hands and arms and legs and feet while they cruised the playground equipment. I watched them maneuver and navigate and test their boundaries and surpass their own expectations. I watched them grin and whoop and wince and roll around in the wood chips.

I watched them play.

 

(A rather late submission for the Nostalgia WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge)